The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? 9780823276295, 0823276287, 9780823276288

In this book Roberto Esposito explores the conceptual trajectories of two of the twentieth century’s most vital thinkers

574 154 8MB

English Pages xviii+94 [113] Year 2017

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?
 9780823276295, 0823276287, 9780823276288

Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
1 Partitions
2 Truth
3 Principium and Initium
4 Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung
5 Polemos/Polis
6 The Third Origin
7 Nothingness
8 Forces
9 In Common
10 Imperium
11 Topologies
12 In the Grip of Love
13 The Final Battle

Citation preview


Fordham University Press New York 2017

commonalities Timothy C. Campbell, series editor

THE ORIGIN OF THE POLITICAL Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?

roberto esposito Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams

Copyright © 2017 Fordham University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other— except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. This book was originally published in Italian as Roberto Esposito, L’Origine della politica: Hannah Arendt o Simone Weil? © 1996 by Donzelli editore, Rome. The translation of this work has been funded by SEPS Segretariato Europeo per le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche

Via Val d’Aposa 7 - 40123 Bologna - Italy [email protected] - Fordham University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Fordham University Press also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. Visit us online at Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available online at Printed in the United States of America 19 18 17

5 4 3 2 1

First edition

to Giancarlo Mazzacurati in memoriam


Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


1 Partitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


2 Truth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


3 Principium and Initium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 4 Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


5 Polemos/Polis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


6 The Third Origin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


7 Nothingness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


8 Forces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


9 In Common . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


10 Imperium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


11 Topologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


12 In the Grip of Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


13 The Final Battle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



In the twenty years that separate this new publication from its original, much has been written on Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil as well as on the relation between them. Although I cannot reference the extensive critical literature that in Italy alone has enriched the understanding of their work in recent years, I will mention two editorial initiatives that have been of particular significance; I am referring to the texts gathered by Simona Forti in The Arendt Archive 1 and the complete edition of Simone Weil’s London Writings, edited by Domenico Canciani and Maria Antonietta Vito.2 Both collections offer the Italian public partially unedited materials that are indispensable for the ongoing interpretation of Arendt and Weil’s thought. The collection of Arendt’s essays—which address the fundamental themes of knowledge and power, politics and technicity, and evil and conformism in a postwar world suspended between new hopes and ancient fears—restitute certain neuralgic moments to her thought. Simone Weil’s London Writings were written between the end of 1942 and the spring of 1943, when the defeat of Nazism was already foreseeable. They are not only of substantial documentary value, but also constitute a tool of extraordinary value for evaluating the still unresolved problems of a united Eu rope, as the main title of the collection itself, Una costituente per l’Europa (Constituent Europe), seems to anticipate. The numerous essays addressing the relation between the two authors can be placed in the broader frame of a feminist thought that has encountered rigorous and impassioned interpreters in Italy. Within this horizon Arendt and Weil have not only been positioned in relation to each other, but have also been placed in a constellation involving other female thinkers of the

caliber of Edith Stein, María Zambrano and Rachel Bespaloff. Two recent books by Giuliana Kantzà and Nadia Fusini delineate with par tic u lar fi nesse the contours of an exceptional relation in which their spiritual proximity recalls a wealth of difference rather than an improbable confluence of perspectives.3 Arendt and Weil’s real or missed encounters during the dark years of persecution and exile tell an existential, intellectual, and moral tale of rare intensity. At times crossing paths while at other times brushing unknowingly against each other, Arendt and Weil traversed the same spaces, read the same books (beginning with The Iliad), and lived the same emotions in times of upheaval and enthusiasm. Rather than specific perspectives, what unites them is a gaze turned toward a world that is unrecognizable in comparison to the world they inhabited in their youth in Germany and France. It is as if their doubly “other” gaze—as women and Jews—could grasp with extraordinary cohesion what men of great philosophical standing could not recognize with quite the same level of intensity. Perhaps it was because, as women and Jews, they had always been objects of potential violence that Arendt and Weil were capable of narrating the genesis and cancerous emergence of totalitarian power with a clarity that was lacking unto others. In this sense, notwithstanding their clear differences in frame and language, they end up converging frequently in their conclusions, and, in their moments of divergence, share the same original premises. For this reason, The Origin of the Political analyzes various aspects of their relation that are attributable in par ticular to the tension between origin and history, between the originary war (that is, the Trojan War) and the constitution of the political city; or, in the words of Arendt and Weil, to the tension between polemos and polis. How does origin relate to what follows? Does it do so from outside or from inside, as a beginning or its opposite, as a genetic moment or as a point of contrast? War is part of a politics that always implies an agonistic dimension, or the negative it leaves in its wake. While always in dialogue with Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Heidegger, the following pages outline a series of interpretative hypotheses that situate Arendt and Weil often on opposite sides of the same line. For both, we could argue, origin as such does not exist. This is the case not only because it is always preceded by another more remote origin, but because it is also split into the two nonsuperimposable elements, which are, to use Augustine’s language, initium and principium. As we will see, this shared intuition assumes x


different modalities in their work. In the case of Arendt it takes on a differential form, while in the case of Weil it assumes a modality of obsessive repetition from which Western history cannot free itself, but that opens out onto an alterity that appears to push history beyond itself. As is natural, Arendt and Weil’s thought derives from the conceptualizations of the relationship between origin and history, which also produce specific consequences for the entirety of their thought. To such conceptualizations are bound differential valuations of the relation between freedom and necessity, authority and power, or action and knowledge, the overall contours of which the following pages strive to outline. While in Arendt these polarities tend toward extension, in Weil they overlap with antinomic effects. The Origin of the Political also refers to a notion of truth that is most definitely different for both thinkers, but that is rooted in both within a factual dimension that is irreducible to the realm of subjective consciousness. In this respect we should add something more: Neither Arendt nor Weil can be defined as thinkers of inner experience. While the former considers the retreat to intimacy to be an escape from the world— and the primary cause of the depoliticization that has afflicted us for quite some time—the latter even talks of “the temptation of inner life (all feelings not immediately absorbed by methodical thought and efficient action). We need to include all thoughts and actions that do not grasp the object.”4 If I had written this book today, I would have paused longer on the meaning that both thinkers attribute to the dimension of thought. More precisely, I would have emphasized its nonsubjective character. In the case of Arendt, this is a question that traverses the entirety of her work, but that is addressed above all in her 1971 essay “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture,” which later became the basis for the first part of her final work, The Life of the Mind. The idea that thought does not belong to a par ticular social class such as the intellectuals or professional thinkers, but to every human being, situates it within a general sphere that cannot be monopolized by anyone. From this point of view thought is so common to all (though not everyone makes good use of it) that it can be identified with life itself: “Thinking accompanies life and is itself the de-materialized quintessence of being alive; and since life is a process, its quintessence can only lie in the actual thinking process and not in any solid results or specific thoughts. A life without thinking is quite possible; it then fails to develop its own essence—it is not merely meaningless; it is not fully alive. Unthinking Preface xi

men are like sleepwalkers.”5 Even the question “Where Are We When We Think?” which concludes The Life of the Mind evades the facile response that thought is located in the mind. The location of thought—extrapolated from a parable by Kafka,6 in the point of tension between past and future, within a present marked by a perpetual struggle with every thing that precedes and follows it—harkens to a plane beyond personal consciousness. But there is another sense in which thought is a common activity that belongs to everyone it implicates. Without doubt thinking is in itself an impolitical and an unproductive activity. Like the sound of the flute, it is a part of those forms of life that do not leave any material residue on earth. Not only that, in a certain sense it takes us away from the world of appearances in which we become immersed in everyday life. However, it does so in such a way that, contrary to interiority, it moves from the inside outward: “It is true that all mental activities withdraw from the world of appearances, but this withdrawal is not toward an interior of either the self or the soul.”7 We could say, rather, that thought constitutes a bridge between the sphere of sensual experience and its limit, which raises us up to the horizon of ideas. How does it do this? How can an activity of the mind point to “invisibles”— to that which emancipates itself from the world—in such a way as to acquire a common, or even a political, dimension? The answer to such a question belongs to the relation of thought to judgment. As is well known, Arendt did not have the time to write the volume on judgment, which would have constituted the third and final section of her work. Nevertheless, on more than one occasion she connects judgment and thought by making the latter almost the presupposition of the former. It is true that thinking belongs to the invisible, while judgment concerns what is at our fingertips. But both are bound to each other like awareness and consciousness. Thought, moreover, “has a liberating effect on another human faculty, the faculty of judgment, which one may call, with some justification, the most political of man’s abilities.”8 Judgment is the most political faculty not only because it is the means by which we decide on an action, between what is right and wrong, or between the just and the unjust, but also because like aesthetic judgment it explicates itself while sharing out something for everyone. In this sense, thought does not posit itself on an individual or personal but, rather, on an impersonal plane, in such a way that it implicates other subjects and, in the final analysis, all men. By returning to the horizon of the senses xii Preface

rather than to knowledge, the act of thinking implies the capacity to weigh up the consequences of one’s own actions. This is precisely the capacity of the Nazi mass murderer, Eichmann, in a modality that Arendt herself relates more to a lack of thought—“the banality of evil” as she scandalously defined it in her report on the Nazi criminal’s trial—than to absolute evilness. In specific situations in which the majority of men allow themselves to be dragged along thoughtlessly by the acts of others, those who think constitute the only shelter from either tragic or banal evil. Only then does thought, which is the only nonpolitical activity par excellence, acquire direct political relevance. It is a question of the ability to distinguish between what needs to be done and what needs to be avoided: “The manifestation of the wind of thought is not knowledge; it is the ability to tell right from wrong, beautiful from ugly. And this, at the rare moments when the stakes are on the table, may indeed prevent catastrophes, at least for the self.”9 While Arendt binds thought only indirectly to the impersonal—through the “community” of judgment—Weil places this relation at the center of her reflection. She traverses this relation via a series of interconnected concepts that go from the notion of necessity to object, and thence to the limit. While Arendt’s is a thought of the world considered from the perspective of freedom, Weil’s is a thought of the world considered from that of necessity, understanding the latter not as freedom’s opposite but as its objective character. What greater freedom is there than that which spontaneously brings necessity into being, while nevertheless enchaining us? Through a modality that recalls Nietz sche’s amor fati (though reconverting the will to power toward passiveness), Weil sees in our obedience to necessity the supreme form of God’s love. Even the most extreme force, such as the combatant who holds his sword over a defenseless victim, has a limit. When the battle has achieved its final outcome this limit coincides not only with the force of the other but with our own limit itself, that is to say, with the finitude of our own existence. No force or human will can exceed the confines that contain it within objective limits. In this sense, it can be said that the only human sin is that of pleonexia, since it incorporates within itself all other sins. Pleonexia coincides with an excess of subjectivity in relation to the Real: “Sin is the unlimited, the subjective.”10 If we connect such a notion to the character of thought the latter appears fully exposed to an outside, unconcerned by internal affects, always turned outward toward something that Weil defines variously as “reality,” “object,” Preface xiii

or “world.” The content of thought, she sustains, can be nothing other than necessity “ because thought has no other object than the world.”11 Its chosen place is where contact with the object is at its purest—as a consequence of withdrawing every subjective dimension by following the principle of “decreation.” In the same way God lessened himself in order to create the world, man, in order to be his image, should withdraw from his own subjectivity in order to make space for the real. This does not mean that the subject should disappear, but that subjective intentions or declinations should remain on the wane. Reminiscent of Arendt’s inflections, Weil explains this in a passage that is centered on the aforementioned relation between thought and judgment: “Subordinate to external affairs and people every thing that is subjective, but never the subject itself—i.e. your judgment.”12 It is worth paying further attention to this point. The impersonal, that is to say, the rupture of the subjective enclosure of the person, is not at all equivalent to the “collective” or the “social,” which for Weil is the placeholder of extreme idolatry. In contrast, the impersonal is a relation to singularity as the result of an antinomic binding of the singular to the common. In this way, thought is precisely that which binds these two opposite poles in the form of the nonsubjective, the noninterior, and the nonpersonal. Against the oppressive power of the collective “the individual has only one power: it is thought. But not in the conventional idealist sense of conscience, opinion etc. Thought is a force and therefore its right is based solely on the extent to which it enters into material life.”13 Curiously, the most spiritual faculty encounters its own content in material life. Th is is another way for the author to distance herself from a conscious, or even from a more personal, dimension: “To harmonize real existence to real thoughts” means “sustaining imaginary thoughts within the limit of empty imagination.”14 A heterodox Spinozism has been said to underlie this form of thinking, along with a mathematical reference that derives from Weil’s brother André, which is conceived as the entirety of the ideal relations that constrict the world of things and men with its invisible sutures. It is precisely this entirety that, in its absolute impersonality, subtracts truth from personal meaning. Therefore, the author can claim, “If a child makes a mistake in mathematical addition, the error carries the imprint of his person. If he is perfectly correct in his calculations, his whole person remains absent from the entire operation.”15 It is not by chance that in the essay “The Person and the Sacred”— xiv Preface

to which my subsequent research has returned on more than one occasion since it is one of the most power ful deconstructions of the “dispositif of the persona”—the author identifies the impersonal as the place of the sacred: “Far from being the person, what is sacred is that which in a human being is impersonal.”16 With this final reference, which touches upon questions of theology and politics—and indeed upon the very functioning of the theological-political apparatus—I come to my most recent work, which traces the discontinuous line connecting the notions of “the impolitical” and “the impersonal.”17 The following pages, which were written almost twenty years ago regarding the relation between two of the most radical thinkers of the twentieth century, place these notions into tension with each other, while in the process bearing witness to the centrality of Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil’s thought for my own. 2014

Preface xv

Where does the political originate? What binds it to the terrible war of Troy that precedes it and to an extent determines it? What is its relation to freedom and evil? To justice and power? These are the essential questions traversing this book, in which the inquiry into the origin of politics is coterminous with its destiny. But what is of par ticular interest here is that such questions are posed in relation to two major thinkers of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, by one of their most subtle interpreters, Roberto Esposito. From this perspective the book constitutes the first full-bodied debate between two forms of thought that have made politics their privileged object. And yet, despite their singular spiritual and even biographical affinity—both of them Jewish women marked by the experience of persecution and exile— Arendt and Weil provide profoundly divergent responses to the foundational questions that still haunt us today. Greece, Rome, the Christian tradition, modernity, and twentieth-century totalitarianism are the “temporal places” in which this impassioned, yet distant, confrontation unfolds.

1 PA R T I T I O N S

The relation between Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil can be viewed through the sign of a double paradox. First of all, theirs is the sign of a missed encounter: Two of the most impor tant thinkers of the century, both Jewish and both deeply touched by the experience of persecution and exile, never had the chance to meet, each one generating their thought in distinct and distant circles. Nevertheless—and this is the second paradox—it is precisely this conceptual distance that appears to constitute an imperceptible zone of contact, an invisible tangent, a form of mysterious convergence that is increasingly pronounced the more their explicit positions diverge. This strange impression of an approximating distance, of a distance that nevertheless connects, is not only the result of the identity of the object they both address (though, again, from within divergence) in their writings—namely, human community, being-in the-world.1 It originates in the radical nature of their opposition. The differences in their perspectives broaden to the point of establishing the effect of a contrasting overlap in the same way two points extend along the line of a circumference and finally conjoin as each other’s negative. Th is is precisely the relationship that is established between Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil: Each thinks in the inverse of the other’s thought, in the shadow of the other’s light, in the silence of the other’s voice, in the emptiness of the other’s plenitude. To think what the thought of the other excludes not as something that is foreign, but rather as something that appears unthinkable and, for that very reason, remains to be thought. It is precisely this “remainder,” this “boundary,” this “partition” that divides while joining and separates while combining that is the object of my analysis. I seek to avoid the simplicity of a typological comparison

generated through assonance and dissonance, neither of which—when considered discreetly, or, even worse, when placed in immediate juxtaposition— assumes true strategic or hermeneutic significance. Rather, what truly matters is their reciprocal coimplication: in other words, the breaches in meaning, the conceptual variances, the points of flight through which they generate each other. Let us consider the question for which, perhaps more than any other, the two thinkers appear to be most distant: the relation between action and work, between praxis and poiesis, between the political sphere and the social sphere.2 It is an oversimplification to establish a counterpoint without specifying convergence: While Arendt’s entire opus can be characterized as an attempt to defend the contingency of political action from the instrumental repetitive nature of work, Weil considers the latter to be the only action capable of escaping the free will of a pure subjective choice exercised as a means of accessing the real. The distinction seems to be perfectly translatable in the antithesis between freedom and necessity. In fact, this appears to be an extremely simplified interpretation if we forgo the possibility of an alternative set of categorical variants capable of substantially complicating this contrastive scheme. In such a case, such variants would not address the affirmation or refutation of freedom, but rather freedom’s “definition” in the double sense of the expression. What is it that defines—indeed determines—freedom, if not necessity? It is from this perspective that Weil’s response once again enters the realm of Arendt’s question regarding freedom of action. Action is truly free not when it extends infinitely toward a horizon devoid of all necessity, but when it impacts with maximum force both necessity and the anticipatory capacity to minimize all menacing contingencies. This is the basis for Weil’s Spinoza-inspired conclusion, according to which our freedom derives from consenting spontaneously to that which necessity obligates. This step, though by no means insignificant, is always possible. What greater freedom can there be than to choose what cannot be chosen on account of its very nature, which is to say, the necessary (or even suffering itself)? Naturally, this does nothing to displace the profound divergence in Arendt’s view, which is characterized precisely by a decisive option for the unforeseeable, for the unprogrammable, for the contingent. Rather, Arendt carries us toward a different, problematic horizon that no longer addresses the abstract contradistinction between freedom and necessity, but addresses a category— “exteriority,” or, even more forcefully, the “world”—that is shared extensively 2


by both phi losophers. The world is that which includes but also resists the movement of the subject. It is true that in this case “being in the world” could be uncovered in relation to other men or things. However, the bind between the two modalities is quite evident. It is not by chance that labor in Weil acquires the same symbolic function examined by Arendt in the sphere of the political act, that is, it establishes a relation to the world that is different from that of the purely biological-natural sphere beyond the immediate facticity of “bare life.”3 In addition to our reintegrative procedure, which aims to reconstitute the common ground underlying apparently unrelated itineraries, we should supplement, or rather interweave, an equivalent yet contrary movement capable of identifying the different articulations that, throughout the two itineraries in question, render their conceptual unity possible. The most obvious case is that of totalitarianism or, in more general terms, of evil in politics, in which, in addition to the specular nature of biographical destinies forged by persecution, struggle, and exile, we encounter a surprising analytical symmetry. Considering that Arendt was familiar with the duration and full extension of totalitarianism’s curve, while Weil experienced it only in its Nazi-fascist variant (and did so only incompletely, since in fact she never imagined the Holocaust); and considering that as a result, Weil’s interpretation does not have the systematic architecture of Arendt’s great work (as is the case in much of her work), there is a convergence nevertheless that is surprising given the extensive heterogeneity of their sources in relation not only to the overall definition, but also to the individuation of the specific operational dynamics of the totalitarian machine. For both authors, this machine tends toward the annihilation of human presence via the double yet combined procedure of the derealization of that which exists, in conjunction with the ideological construction of a world that is so false that the real appears to be unbelievable. Once deprived of any notion of reality, men are ready for the experience of uprooting and subsequent deportation that consequently allows totalitarianism to reach its ultimate goal; that is, to treat them like things in order to render them “superfluous.” Both authors explain that this is made possible through the arrest of thought—Weil expresses it more specifically in terms of the faculty of attention—which brings about a collapse in the boundary between good and evil that is specifically designed to render each category the mirror image of the other. From this perspective, the concordances between the Partitions 3

two analyses become even literal: there is nothing radical, profound, or monstrous in evil. It is “banal,” as Arendt puts it in Eichmann in Jerusalem, or, in Weil’s terms, it is superficial, “dreary, monotonous, barren and tedious” (Notebooks, Vol. I-B, 140–41), “a frightful desert” (Notebooks, Vol I-C, 205). It is always “normal” in the precise sense that it responds to a norm, to a law that evil itself has posited as a mundane simulacrum of the absolute.4 If we read Arendt’s pages on Eichmann’s “morals” in conjunction with Weil’s pages on totalitarian idolatry the categorical superimposition seems perfect. However, even in this case—and precisely because of it—we should not allow ourselves to be carried away by the effects of an identification that might lead us beyond a given point, only to turn out to be unfounded and in the end even misleading. What is this point? I am not alluding here to the noteworthy historiographical divergences that are constitutive of the genetic reconstruction of totalitarianism, that is, to the differential roles assigned to mass society, imperialism, or nationalism.5 The most relevant issue here—precisely because it puts the entire physiognomy of the two conceptual apparatuses at stake—lies, rather, elsewhere. It is the specific nature of the totalitarian system in relation to both its most recent history— modernity—and its most distant past. This is the point at which the two interpretative itineraries diverge quite abruptly and, as already stated, reveal that they are oriented from the very beginning by deeply contrasting hermeneutical hypotheses. The underlying question to which they give radically divergent answers is the following: Does totalitarianism have a tradition, or is it born of destruction? How deep are its roots? Does it go back two decades, two centuries, or two millennia? And ultimately: Is it internal or external to the sphere of politics and power? Is it born from lack or from excess? It is on this threshold that the two responses, in quite clear-cut fashion, diverge. Arendt reads the phenomenon of totalitarianism in terms of absolute exceptionality—it “differs essentially from other known forms of political oppression known to us such as despotism, tyranny, and dictatorship” (Origin 630; also see “Understanding,” 328–60)—precisely because it does not strive to force men into obedience, but rather works toward their annihilation. It is true that this is in some way “prepared,” rendered possible (but not necessary) by all the twists and turns that exist between praxis and technics, nature and society, and politics and history, all of which oppose 4


and bind modernity to the classical tradition. Totalitarianism is born from within the modern, but not as something originally inscribed in its chromosomes or as a finality predetermined from the outset. Rather, it is the product of different subjective choices taken at specific points that, from that very point, are consequently rendered inevitable by subsuming the overall context in which they were articulated. The fact that all these subjective choices consequently converge—as if in the form of a reversed funnel— through a contracting and flattening out of the “political” with respect to other modalities of practice, is for Arendt evidence itself of the extraneousness of totalitarianism to political life. This is precisely the point that Weil contests, and her reasoning is the perfect inversion of Arendt. It is true that the forms that the totalitarian state has assumed in our century are thoroughly unprecedented in terms of its instruments and objectives. But this is not necessarily the case in relation to its overall logic, which is exactly the same as that which is responsible for the mass destruction that stained both ancient and modern history. The examples utilized by Weil are taken mainly, in the case of modernity, from French imperialism, and, in the case of antiquity, from Roman imperialism. Nevertheless, they can be extended to the point of constituting a line of continuity that concurs ultimately with the dominant line of Western history, and, what is more important, with its constitutively political dimension. If this is the case, and command is not fundamentally different from power, that is, if it does not constitute the perverse outcome of an initially reasonable trajectory—the history of the political—but instead remains its original mark,6 then it would no longer be a matter of revitalizing the notion of origin or of generating a new one, as Arendt suggests, but rather of rereading that very same history from its dark side. It would no longer be a matter of reconstructing the space devastated by politics, but instead of bringing to light its hidden, “impolitical” soul.7 The issue with war presents us with the same divergence. While for Arendt war needs to be “dialectically” overcome through the political act, for Weil it needs to be reversed into the invisible communal face—of the enemies—in order to search for the torn “heart” beating from within extreme “discord.” If it is not possible to put an end to battle, we have no choice but to plant it, like an insuperable contradiction, within ourselves. And in this way we can entrust it to the hands of love.

Partitions 5


It is precisely in relation to this order of inquiry that Arendt and Weil’s interpretations of the Homeric world—and of The Iliad in particular—assume singular importance. This is the case because it is a question to which they both return on a number of occasions, as if the return itself were decisive for the formulation of their own categories. But, above all, it is the case because their interpretations uncover, like nothing else, the aforementioned phenomenon of “concordant dissonance” or of “dissonant concordance.” It is not by chance that the most extensive reference that Arendt ever made to one of Weil’s texts—namely, La condition ouvrière (The Worker Condition)— hinged on a citation from Homer: It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that Simone Weil’s La condition ouvrière (1951) is the only book in the huge literature on the labor question which deals with the problem without prejudice and sentimentality. She chose as the motto for her diary, relating from day to day her experiences in a factory, the line from Homer: poll’ aekadzomene, kratere d’epikeisef anagke (“much against your own will, since necessity lies more mightily upon you”), and concludes that the hope for an eventual liberation from labor and necessity is the only Utopian element of Marxism and at the same time the actual motor of all Marx-inspired revolutionary labor movements. It is the “opium of the people” which Marx had believed religion to be.1 Even disregarding the reference to Homer, the passage is relevant because it confi rms the presence of a line of communication between the two authors that is established precisely in its relation to the very category that

seems to distance them most, namely, the category of “necessity”—not only of material necessity but of labor, which is situated at the heart of Weil’s thought: “Only the intoxication produced by the speed of technical progress,” writes Weil in Oppression and Liberty, “has given birth to the crazy idea that work might one day become superfluous”(54). What Arendt accepts from Weil—and does so to such an extent that she even calls her as a witness in her own argument—is the rejection of the illusion by which the emancipation from labor frees homo laborans from other “superior” forms of activity. Arendt herself admits that it is true that even though the emancipation from labor was unimaginable in Marx’s times, it now appears to be possible on account of the emergence of technology and automation. However, the underlying question does not concern the amount of free time taken away from labor as much as its function, to such an extent that in an economically dominated society—that is, in a society lacking a true public sphere—free time can only orient itself ever more obsessively toward consumption: “A hundred years after Marx we know the fallacy of this reasoning; the spare time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption, and the more time left to him, the greedier and more craving his appetites” (Human, 133). Simone Weil would never have endorsed such a passage, and her arguments against the mechanization of labor are so extensively documented that we need not mention them here. As has been noted elsewhere, it is true that the polemic against consumer society generated by both thinkers has turned out to be asymmetrical.2 While Weil argues from the point of view of a diverse—that is, of a more spiritual—society of labor, Arendt considers the drift toward consumerism to be the perverse outcome of that very same society of labor. And yet the reference to an unbreakable “necessity” carving out the space of our own experience remains common to both: “The easier that life has become in a consumers’ or laborers’ society, the more difficult it will be to remain aware of the urges of necessity by which it is driven, even when pain and effort, the outward manifestations of necessity, are hardly noticeable at all” (Human, 135). The value of the Homeric reference extends far beyond the singular occasion that gives rise to it. We have already seen how the latter binds the two phi losophers negatively in their relation to the theme of necessity. However, for both of them Homer evokes another word, which this time binds them in an affirmative sense. This is the question of the justice, impartiality, or equity of the poet who unites both victors and vanquished in light of the Truth


dignity of two adversarial peoples. Arendt and Weil use almost identical terms. Following are Weil’s observations: “ There may be, unknown to us, other expressions of the extraordinary sense of equity which breathes through the Iliad; certainly it has not been imitated. One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan” (“The Iliad, or The Poem of Force,” 26–27). Arendt, in turn, notes the following: “First, then, it is of decisive importance that Homer’s epic does not remain silent regarding the vanquished; it bears witness on behalf of Hector as much as it does of Achilles, and even though both the victory of the Greeks and the defeat of Troy had been irrevocably preordained by the decree of the gods, this does not make Achilles the greater man nor Hector the lesser, nor the Greeks’ cause more just or Troy’s self-defense less so” (Was ist Politik? 163). Finally, Weil again: “Only a just man made perfect could have written the Iliad” (First and Last Notebooks, 336). Homer’s greatest merit is that of restituting honor to the defeated, of distinguishing victory from justice, reason from success, and guilt from defeat, in strict accordance with Arendt’s beloved motto: Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni (The winning cause pleased the gods, but the losing cause pleased Cato), which was “translated” by Weil as the confirmation that “it is evident in the Iliad that the Trojans are dearer to God than the Achaeans” (First and Last Notebooks, 248). However, consideration for the defeated is not the only thing at stake in Homer. There is something even more impor tant that affects us all, both in the past and the present. Indeed, it is something that constitutes the only way of connecting past and present beyond the limitations imposed by subordination, which submits the weakness of the former to the arrogance of the latter. This “something” is the truth in history and about history. In this regard, we can simultaneously measure the importance of Homer’s legacy and the continuous betrayals to which he has been submitted. It is precisely the defense of truth through the name of Homer that most intimately binds our authors. It would not be surprising, then, that it is precisely in reference to this issue that Arendt turns for a second time to a text penned by Weil: This point is best illustrated by a statement of Planck, quoted in a very illuminating article by Simone Weil . . . which runs as follows: “The creator of a hypothesis disposes of practically unlimited possibilities, and is as unburdened by the workings of his sensorial organs as he is by the instruments at his disposal. It can even be said that geometry is created 8


by its fantasy. . . . For that reason, no measure can directly confirm or invalidate a hypothesis; it can only highlight its greater or lesser usefulness.” Simone Weil points out at length that something infinitely more beautiful than science is compromised in this crisis, namely, the notion of truth. (Human Condition, 287–88) The passage by Weil referenced by Arendt is taken from a text on quantum theory that she published in December 1942 under the usual pseudonym of Émile Novis. In this text, Weil did not limit herself to lamenting the destruction of a notion of truth that had been consumed by the same conflict with which Arendt’s scientific certainty had been so irresponsibly identified. Instead, she focused her own critical attention on the new productive power that had literally displaced it: “As soon as truth disappears utility immediately takes its place, since man always directs his efforts toward some good. Thus, utility becomes something that intelligence is no longer entitled to define or judge, but only to serve” (On Science, 63). At this point, it does not appear to be an exaggeration to state that the entirety of Arendt’s reflection in Truth and Living in Politics—which was born from her research on totalitarianism and was intended to form part of the final incomplete volume of Judgment—originates precisely in the opposition between technical productivity and the faculty of judgment. What else does the totalitarian apparatus do in its attempt to fabricate a truth that is instrumental to its own interests, but translate into politics the very same method that modern technology had “invented” for itself by reconverting the traditional concept of a given or revealed truth into a cause; or, more precisely, by identifying itself with its very own objectives according to the hasty operational principle already found in Vico, verum et factum convertuntur (The true and the made are interchangeable)?: “Whereas truth had previously dwelled in the form of ‘theory,’ which since the Greeks had meant the contemplative gaze of the beholder concerned with, and receiving, reality unfolded before him, now the question of success took precedence and the test of theory became a ‘practical’ one—whether it worked or not. Theory became hypothesis, and the success of the hypothesis became truth” (Human Condition, 278). From that moment, “de facto” truth was hit by a wave of incredulity that gradually undermined its stability to such an extent that, on account of its fragility and contingency, it was banished from the political sphere to which it had constitutively belonged. Truth


It is true that de facto truth in Arendt is not conceived in relation to carefully formulated divergent opinions such as those of a “relativistic” tendency; a tendency that, as we will see clearly below, remains foreign in principle to Weil’s “Platonism.” Having said that, what they do have in common is the affirmation of a specific limit: “fact” is understood as the expression of something that, in itself, is divergent from every thing that has not been verified and that no opinion can overcome. Of course, as today’s “negationist” revisionism demonstrates, facts (and this is the case precisely because they are as such) can always be manipulated, falsified, and erased. In this regard Weil herself packs the following punch: “History therefore is nothing but a compilation of the depositions made by assassins with respect to their victims and themselves” (Need for Roots, 219). But under no circumstance can facts disappear without a trace, for “in order to eliminate Trotsky’s role from the history of the Russian Revolution it would not be enough to kill him and eliminate his name from all Russian records. One would have to kill all his contemporaries and extend power over all the libraries and archives of all the countries on earth” (Promise of Politics, 13). It is this limit—the relation between necessity and freedom—that makes all claims to historical freedom stumble and fall. This limit—precisely the margin of their difference—is the finest point in the partition that unites Weil and Arendt. We have already pointed out that Weil did not think freedom against necessity, but through it. This is also precisely what Arendt does, though from the other side of the looking glass because for her there is no freedom without a limit, without a law that binds it to a common dwelling that by necessity maintains it in its assigned place3: What I want to show here is that this whole sphere, its greatness notwithstanding, is limited—that it does not encompass the whole of man’s and of the world’s existence. It is limited by the things that men cannot change at will, and it is only by respecting its very borders that this realm, in which we are free to act and change, can remain intact, preserving its integrity and maintaining its promises. Conceptually, we may call truth that which we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that extends above us. (“Truth and Politics,” 88) If the dénouement of history seems to coincide increasingly with the drive to overcome this limit—taking away from men the very condition of their being in the world—then at its origin there is respect for what Herodotus 10


himself fi rst taught us. However, even Herodotus’s thought would not have been what it is if it were not for something even more ancient that preceded it, something in which knowledge of the limit took precedence over the freedom of mortals, and united with the equanimity of judgment in reference to war: The disinterested pursuit of truth has a long history; its origin, characteristically, precedes all our theoretical and scientific traditions, including our tradition of philosophical and political thought. I think it can be traced to the moment when Homer chose to sing the deeds of the Trojans no less than those of the Achaeans, and to praise the glory of Hector, the foe and the defeated man, no less than the glory of Achilles, the hero of his kinsfolk. Th is had happened nowhere before. (“Truth and Politics,” 86)




The emphasis falls once again on origin. It is precisely Homer’s originarity— the fact that he precedes even the beginnings of historiography—that attracts the attention of both phi losophers in relation to the event that he translates into verse. The reason is clear: The poem does not deal with just one event in Western history, though this is indeed remarkable in itself. Rather, it deals with the first event, as Hegel had already underlined forcefully: “The highest form that floated before Greek imagination was Achilles, the Son of the Poet, the Homeric Youth of the Trojan War. Homer is the element in which the Greek world lives, as man does in the air. The Greek life is a truly youthful achievement.”1 It is true that Hegel’s evaluation is burdened by a Hellenist inflection that is not only entirely foreign to the Homeric archetype itself, it is characteristic also of the Weltgeschichte to which Arendt and Weil were equally averse. In fact, when Hegel interprets the war waged and won by the Greeks against the Trojans as “the world-historically justified victory of the higher principle over the lower,” or as “the triumph of the West over the East . . . of Eu ropean moderation, and the individual beauty of a reason that sets limits to itself, over Asiatic brilliance and over the magnificence of a patriarchal unity,”2 he does little more than carry what had already been outlined in Isocrates’s ideological bipolarity to its most extreme philosophical limit: “It is owed to Helen,” wrote Isocrates in his homonymous encomium, “that we are not slaves to the Barbarians; we shall discover that thanks to her the Greeks achieved concord, made common expedition against the Barbarians, and for the fi rst time Eu rope raised over Asia its trophy of victory.”3

The indubitable question of originarity, however, remains. Relinquishing all appropriations formulated a posteriori, and even demonstrating the absolute impossibility of its appropriation, the event narrated in the Iliad is understood by both Arendt and Weil as what “comes before.” It is this inaugural character that obliges that they both address its phenomenology, meaning, and effect. This inaugural character is not only at the origin; it is the origin of our story. It is the origin of our story at least to the extent that it has assumed a truly political dimension. The event, in other words, opens up the time of politics and inevitably predetermines it. It is this bond between origin and politics—the political destiny of the origin but also the constitutive originarity of politics—that captures the attention of both thinkers, who had already made the polis the primary concern of their reflection. Nevertheless, even in this case, and, indeed, predominantly in this case, what unites them is equally what divides them. The question to be resolved is, precisely, that of the relationship between origin—a specific originarity—and what originates from it. This is the case because the origin in question is not just any “fact.” It is not just an episode like any other, but a war. It is a war that does not end with a treaty or with the surrender of any one side. It ends with the complete destruction of the city upon, and on account of which, war is waged. Politics, in this sense, is born at the heart of a polemos whose outcome is the destruction of a polis. It is upon this constitutive antinomy that the two authors measure themselves, fully aware of what it means not only in relation to the reconstruction of the initial event itself, but also in relation to the interpretation of every thing that follows. Of war and politics, of their connection and contrast, of the destroyed city and all those reconstructed on and from its ruins. What is the relation between destruction and foundation, between these two temporalities? Or is it a matter of two phases of a single time? And if this is the case, what is the origin and how can it be contemplated in relation to the sequence to which it gives rise? This is, in the end, the decisive question: Should the origin of the political be understood in auroral terms as that which is already integral to it, determining it necessarily? Or should the origin of the political be understood as what precedes and thereby remains beyond it? Is it the very beginning of what follows, or the negative premise that makes the political possible precisely because it remains external to it? Arendt’s response does not coincide entirely with either one of these possibilities. Rather, it is located at their point of overlap and contrast, thereby Principium and Initium 13

demonstrating clearly that it is difficult—indeed erroneous—to approach her writings by applying a binary hermeneutic template. This is the case particularly in relation to the question of origin, which constitutes a kind of fake ground that is continuously deconstructed, pursued, and reelaborated. Without striving to retrace her work in all its detail, suffice it to say that the point of departure is constituted by the critique of the category of “creation” and its substitution by “natality”4: “The very capacity for beginning,” she states in her final work, “is rooted in natality, and by no means in creativity” (Willing, 217). Although creativity is understood in the transcendental sense as the derivation of creatures from the Creator—as immanent, but always derived from the first in a secularized form, or in the sense of the fabrication of a new society—what it nevertheless presupposes is a kind of forced reduction of the multiple to a single directive principle. Though not critically elaborated in explicit terms in the thesis on Augustine, this question had already made its presence felt in the very choice of citations, such as in the following quotation taken from De moribus (II, 8): “Being is nothing but being One. Hence, every thing exists to the extent that it tends toward unity . . . simple elements in fact derive their existence from themselves; compounds imitate unity through the harmony of their parts and exist only to the extent that they achieve that unity” (Love and Saint Augustine, 54). I think there is nothing better than this Augustinian citation to clarify the polemical stand assumed in the author’s later sojourn into a radically divergent understanding of the question of origin. The fact that such a conceptualization grounded in the semantics of nativitas—“[Initium] ergo ut esset, creatus est homo, ante quem nullum fuit” (De civitate Dei, XII, 20: Man was created in order that there be a beginning, before which there was nothing), which does not abandon the reference to Saint Augustine but utilizes it partially against itself—confirms the impropriety of an oversimplistically laic reading of Arendt’s discourse, which is always intertwined with theological terminology of an originary character, beginning, of course, with the term “miracle.” But neither does this eliminate the existence of an abrupt rupture in reference to the Christian model, a discontinuity that is defined precisely by the deconstruction and multiplication of the concept of a unique Creation through the infinite plurality of births. Without citing the canonical texts on this issue, I would say that the decisive point in philosophical terms resides in the differentiation that Arendt traces—though


Principium and Initium

it would probably be better to say, that she projects—between principium and initium in Augustine: According to Augustine the two words were so different that he used one [initium] to indicate the beginning that is man, and the other [principium] to designate the beginning of the world, which is the standard translation of the fi rst verse of the Bible. As can be seen in De civitate Dei xi. 32, the word principium carried for Augustine a far less radical meaning; the beginning of the world “does not mean that nothing was made before (for the angels existed),” whereas in the phrase quoted above he explicitly adds in reference to man that nobody was before him. (Human Condition, 177) Without considering the merits of Augustine’s interpretation, what counts here is the antinomic movement that the distinction between beginning and inception inserts into the semantics of origin: Origin is split into two different origins pulling in opposite directions.5 Such an opposition, however, remains internal to the originary figure itself. In the chapter on Augustine in The Life of the Mind, in which Arendt addresses and develops this very question,6 she expresses the co-belonging of the difference between principium and initium via the distinction between an “absolute” and a “relative” inception. However, for a more forceful characterization—since it was expressed in the author’s mother tongue—we should turn to a passage from the German version of The Human Condition that she herself redacted. This passage does not appear in its entirety either in the original American version or in the Italian translation: Dieser Anfang, der der Mensch ist, insofern er Jemand ist, fält keinesfall mit der Erschaff ung der Welt zusammen; das, was vor dem Menschen war, ist nicht Nichts, sondern Niemand; seine Erschaff ung ist nicht der Beginn von etwas, das, ist es erst einmal erschaffen, in seinem Wesen da ist, sich entwickelt, andauert order auch vergeht, sondern das Anfangen eines Wesens, das selbst im Besitz der Fähigkeit ist anzufangen; es ist der Anfang des Anfangs oder des Anfangens selbst. Mit der Erschaff ung des Menschen erschien das Prinzip des Anfangs, das bei der Schöpfung der Welt noch gleichsam in der Hand Gottes und damit außerhalb der Welt verblieb, in der Welt selbst und wird ihr immanent bleiben, solange es

Principium and Initium 15

Menschen gibt; was natürlich letzitlich nichts anderes sagen will, als daß die Erschaff ung des Menschen al seines Jemandsmit der Erschaffung der Freiheit zusammenfält.7 This origin that is man, in so far as he is a somebody, by no means coincides with the creation of the world. What was before man is not nothing, but nobody. His creation is not the advent of something that, once created, exists in his character, evolving or decaying, but is, rather, the genesis of a character that in itself possesses the ability to begin; it is the beginning of beginning, or of the act of beginning itself. When man was created the principle of origin, which, in the creation of the world remained supposedly in the hands of God and, as a result, external to the world, appeared in the world itself and shall remain intrinsic to it as long as man exists. This, of course, ultimately means nothing other than that the creation of man as a somebody coincides with the creation of freedom. In this passage, the three German terms that are “internal” to the concept of origin, Beginn, Anfang, and Prinzip—terms that correspond only vaguely and deficiently to the English terms beginning, origin, and principle, and that are used at times interchangeably in her American texts even by the author herself—are placed in a relation of close reciprocity. Not only is one not the same as any of the others. They end up being, from a different perspective, counterposed, even though they echo each other. In what follows, we will be able to reference the author whom Arendt draws upon in order to develop the primary elements of this dialectic. In the meantime, however, we should linger for a moment on its antinomic character, for this is the site of Arendt’s oscillation—and contradiction—not only in reference to two divergent meanings of origin, but also in reference to two different ways of interpreting its relationship to the history that derives from it. Excessively abbreviating an argument that requires far more detailed elaboration, the point of differentiation that the author is not always able to master—and, we might say, that she fails to grasp, thereby exposing herself to an array of aporias—concerns the relation between origin and history. Can origin have a history or is history the negation of origin? This is the antinomic tie that binds, and at the same time separates initium, principium, Beginn, Anfang, and Prinzip. If Anfang—man as entrusted to the world by a birth of which he is neither author nor creator—does not correspond to 16

Principium and Initium

Beginn, can it ever contain within itself a Prinzip capable of conferring continuity and duration? On the other hand, can human action—and, in par ticular, political action—endure through time without an Absolute to stabilize and orient it? The negative response to both questions circumscribes the author, providing no way out, despite numerous attempts to identify a side exit such as when she highlights “that the Greek word archē means both beginning and rule” (“Understanding and Politics,” 321), specifying a little later that this defi nition is still present in Machiavelli’s theory “according to which the act of foundation itself—that is, the conscious beginning of something new—requires and justifies the use of violence”(“Understanding and Politics,” 321). However, Arendt does not elaborate on the fact that the passage from “rule” to “violence”8 (but also, as we will see shortly, from “violence” to “rule”) is the aporetic wall against which all her ideas on the political collide. The unresolved question is how to characterize an act in its very inception that is capable of signaling limits at the very moment in which they are surpassed: an act that is capable of combining innovation and permanence, contingency and necessity, discontinuity and duration in a nondialectical figure, thereby congealing them in their structural opposition. Without the first term of these binaries, origin would prove to be little more than the pure repetition of that which has already been, thereby losing any notion of true originarity. Without the second term it would surpass itself in the very instant in which it appears. This is what Hermann Broch—the author to whom Arendt always felt closest—called the “tragedy of every revolution” (die Tragik aller Revolutionen): In such an opinion resides the tragedy of every revolution since not only does the continuity of historical life not allow for a radical caesura; it is precisely the very logic of revolution that eliminates this caesura. Every revolution is grounded in its own essential “exigency.” However, the concept of exigency presupposes the concept of something in respect to which necessity matters, and in general has a meaning that in other words is beneath necessity. But this something is indeed again only historical life, that complexity that through revolution should be destroyed.9 How can something conceived in terms of a caesura lay the foundations for something enduring? How can one derive the fullness of Grund from the emptiness of Abgrund? How to stabilize and institute freedom when it is Principium and Initium 17

born literally from the “abyss of nothingness”? This is the question that returns with increasing intensity in Arendt’s essay on revolution for, in order to be truly revolutionary, revolution must go beyond simple liberation and found a real form of freedom. However, revolution cannot be an inaugural caesura and constitutio libertatis simultaneously. In order for this to be possible, revolution would have to remain in a fluid state of continuous rupture. But how to actualize the continuity of discontinuity and, at the same time, what would that mean? Arendt is fully aware of the difficulty: “The perplexity was very simple and, stated in logical terms, it seemed unsolvable: if foundation was the aim and the end of revolution, then the revolutionary spirit was not merely the spirit of beginning something new, but of starting something permanent and enduring” (On Revolution, 235).


Principium and Initium

4 B E G I N N , A N FA N G , U R S P R U N G

The complexity underlying the relation between object and interpretation is grounded in the fact that in Arendt there are two distinct and even contradictory readings of origin that lie in pursuit of each other, alternating and intertwining throughout the entirety of her work. The first is of a deconstructive nature, while the second is constitutive. In order to identify them separately—and before turning to the antonymic point at which they converge—we need to return to two authors who were both very much present in Arendt’s formative years. The first is Nietzsche and, more specifically, the “genealogist” Nietzsche, who more than anyone else was considered by Foucault to be the first to deconstruct the sacred conceptualization of origin: “The loft y origin is no more than a metaphysical extension which arises from the belief that things are most precious and essential at the moment of birth.”1 The question can be traced back to the strategic distinction— located in at least some of Nietzsche’s texts—between Ursprung on the one hand and Herkunft or Entstehung (but also Abkunft, Geburt) on the other. Whereas the first term refers to absolute truth, pure essence, and the complete identity of the thing with itself—and, for this reason, it refers to what is logically anterior to every thing external, accidental, or supplementary— the second term toward which Nietzsche’s sympathies are directed refers to an “origin”—Herkunft—in which numerous beginnings proliferate and mingle in contradiction and dispute. Thus, the idea of an origin that “always precedes the Fall . . . [that] comes before the body, the world, and time”2 is displaced by another in which the past is grasped in an essential state of dispersion, agitation, and heterogeneity. Naturally, at the heart of this contraposition in respect to the ideal plenitude of Ursprung is Nietzsche’s

discovery of the perfect correspondence between truth and appearance, which places at the root of being not the natural but the accidental, not depth but surface. And from this perspective the relationship with Arendt’s phenomenology of appearance—upon which we will pause shortly—is clear. However, the decisive point in re spect to the deconstruction of origin—a point that Arendt herself signals at the end of her excursus on Nietzsche’s Will to Power—is the rupture in the nexus between cause and effect, which underlies the senselessness of the “rectilinear structure of Time whose past is always understood as the cause of the present, the present is the tense of intention and preparation of our projects for the future, and whose future is the outcome of both” (Willing, 171). It is well known that this is the nexus that constitutes the target for Arendt’s polemic with the philosophies of history that understand the event “only as the end and culmination of every thing that happened before”(“Understanding,” 319), or, in Foucault’s terms, as that which “aims at dissolving the singular event into an ideal continuity—a teleological movement or natural unfolding” (Essential Foucault, 361). But what is most significant is that in this polemic Nietzsche uses a category—Entstehung— that is identical to Arendt’s use of Anfang. This connects to the question of “emergence,” which is understood as “the moment of birth. It is the principle and singular law of an appearance that cannot be rendered in the final degree” (Essential Foucault, 357). For if metaphysics—“monumental” and “ancient,” teleological and archeological history—“makes believe in an obscure purpose that is accomplished in the very moment it arises . . . then emergence is the staging of force; it is its eruption, the leap onto center stage from the wings” (357–58). It would be useless to underline the metaphorical adherence (on occasion even literally, such as in the metaphor of the theater) between this line of reasoning and Arendt’s Destruktion of the universalistic-teleological model, which considers the origin from the point of view of its end and finality. In both instances the concept of origin is gifted with a deconstructive potentiality that, shattering it into a myriad of fragments, subtracts it from all mythical deviations. However, in addition to this demythologizing deconstructive vector lies another that, while divergent, is not diametrically opposed. Th is vector complicates Arendt’s reading of origin, in a sense taking it in a direction that we could call “salvific,” as the author evokes a Platonic “aphorism” that was particularly familiar to her: “For the Beginning that sits enshrined as a 20

Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung

goddess among mortals is the Saviour of all.”3 But, as already noted, perhaps the closest reference is directed toward another author who was close to Arendt, Walter Benjamin, to whom the author dedicated one of her most forceful essays. The text in question is Arendt’s enormously dense and enigmatic “Gnoseological Foreword” to Benjamin’s Origin of German Tragic Drama. Even here, Ursprung is opposed to Entstehung, but in a way that radically overturns Nietzsche’s valorization. What Nietzsche originally refuted is now revalorized, and vice versa. Following is the decisive passage: Origin (Ursprung), although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis (Entstehung). The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance. Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis.4 Here Ursprung refers, rather than to identity and presence, or even to the logical eidos of knowledge (as was the case in Hermann Cohen), to a movement of continuous self-generation that, in its distance from the simplicity of Beginn, is very close to Arendt’s Anfang. While the former exhausts itself—such as in the Creation of the world—Anfang-Ursprung never ceases to give itself origin. It is the very source of commencement. It is what precedes—as commencement’s presupposition—but also what follows; or even better, it is what always leaps beyond itself: “It infuses pre-history and subsequent history.”5 It is, as Arendt would have argued, the “gap,” the nunc stans or the Jetzt-Zeit, between the “no longer” and the “not yet.” This means that Ursprung, unlike Genesis, both belongs to and does not belong to the sphere of history, or, more precisely, it belongs to it from the point of view of its “not”: from what is not yet and what is no longer history. In her moving homage to Benjamin, Arendt alludes to that Abgrund into which history plunges itself in order to rise to the surface—and save—those “original phenomena” that constitute “pearls” and “corals”6: Objects that carry within themselves this “seal of originarity” are “authentic,” and this “authenticity—that seal of phenomenological originarity—is the object of discovery, a discovery that blends itself in unique fashion with re-cognition. Discovery is capable of illuminating . . . what is most singular and strange about the phenomenon.” Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung


The “science of originarity” has the duty to bring to the surface, “from the distant extremes, from the apparent excesses of development, the configuration of the idea as totality.” (Arendt, “Walter Benjamin,” 124–25) The point I would like to underline is the nexus that Arendt establishes between origin and authenticity in Benjamin. This nexus, to the extent that it is prehistoric or posthistorical, breaks the surface of becoming in the eternal singularity of a source—or a vortex—in which all history seems to contract without the possibility of “understanding.” As such, notwithstanding all historical attempts to transform it into genesis, origin always remains incomplete precisely because of its leap beyond itself, its continuous overcoming of itself, its not being fully what it is: an unoriginary origin, an archē that is constitutively an-archic.7 This final passage leads us ultimately to the last and most conspicuous reference for Arendt: Heideggerian philosophy.8 Here the two vectors in her interpretation of origin—Nietzsche’s deconstructive and Benjamin’s salvific lines—intersect with a third figure that is even more complex and “unsolvable,” in which the discord registered in the German fragment from The Human Condition with which we initiated our reading is made evident. It refers to the Einleitung in Heidegger’s first course on Hölderlin, which begins precisely with the programmatic distinction between Beginn (beginning) and Anfang (inception)—a distinction that is explained, and at the same time rendered more complex, as the result of an oblique reference to Ursprung (origination): Beginn ist jenes, womit etwas anhebt, Anfang das, woraus etwas entspringt. . . . Dear Beginn wird alsbald zurückgelassen, er verschwindet im Fortgang des Geschehen. Der Anfang, der Ursprung, kommt dagegen im Geschehen allererst zum Vorschein und ist voll da erst an seinem Ende. Wer vieles beginnt, kommt oft nie zum Anfang. Nun können wir Menschen freilich nie mit dem Anfang anfangen— das kann nu rein Gott—, sondern müssen beginnen, d. h. mit etwas anheben, das erst in den Ursprung führt oder ihn anzeigt. A beginning is the onset of something; a commencement is that from which something arises or springs forth. . . . The beginning is immediately left behind; it vanishes as an event proceeds. The commencement— the origin—by contrast, first appears and comes to the fore in the course 22

Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung

of an event and is fully there only at its end. Whoever begins many things often never attains a commencement. Of course, we human beings can never commence with the commencement—only a god can do that. Rather, we must begin with—that is, set out from—something that will first lead into or point to the origin.9 The meaning of this passage lies in the fact that an origin situated beyond simple chronological commencement inevitably escapes us, since it precedes us on one hand while on the other it surpasses us. Moreover, by preceding us infinitely it surpasses us continuously. But how is this possible? How can that which comes before also be situated “afterward”? How can the nearest “first” be at the same time the most distant “then”? Heidegger’s response—according to Arendt’s profound understanding—is that AnfangUrsprung (unlike Beginn) touches only tangentially upon the historical dimension. Or rather, it touches upon it in a way that calls it radically into question. For that reason, as the philosopher observes elsewhere, we cannot grasp it via an empirical beginning that escorts and conceals it: “The beginning of Western thought is not the same as its origin. The beginning (Beginn) is, rather, the veil that conceals the origin (Anfang)—indeed an unavoidable veil.”10 But what we should not lose sight of is the copresence of the fissuring movement of origin. It is not that there are two origins, one shielding and concealing the other. There is but one origin veiled by its own initial concealment,11 emerging always in the form of its own retreat even before a historical Beginn—or our finite intelligence—can grasp it. Concealment is its originary form of being, in the sense that it is its very eclipse, suppression, and disappearance. It is precisely the co-belonging of the divergent, or the contemporaneity of the successive, that dismantles archeology—the dominium of the principium-princeps over the chain of consequences—in favor of an an-archic origin that is fissured by a difference that removes it from all pretense of unity, completion, and presence. In the difference between “original” and “originary” the origo, precisely to the extent that it is continuous “coming-to-presence,” is never presence unto itself. Thus, it uncovers a double valence between the epochal and the evental, as Reiner Schürmann observes in a book on Heidegger dedicated “to the memory of Hannah Arendt”: “As epochal or diachronic, it inaugurates an age; as event-like or synchronic, it opens the mercurial play of presencing.”12

Beginn, Anfang, Ursprung



In what way does this “passage through origin” take us back to our point of departure, that is, to the complex relations established by Arendt between the origin of Western history as narrated in the Iliad and the very story recounted therein? An initial interpretative template is provided by the fissuring of temporality and history—or at least by their noncoincidence—that is present in different ways in all three of the aforementioned authors. However, the most intrinsic point of convergence between them is to be found precisely in the double dimension of origin—diachronic and synchronic, epochal and evental—that we have just highlighted. In fact, it is precisely this point that gives reason to Arendt’s double, bi-univocal, interpretation of the relation between war and politics. The war of Troy—in its symbolic significance as originary conflict or Ur-teilung dividing the order of things into radical dissimilarity—is both external and internal to the “city” that emerges from it, to the extent that polemos cannot coincide with polis. Rather, the latter can only be born from within the distance that it assumes in respect to the former. And yet, without polemos, politics would not exist. Politics is held in potentia within the event that represents its absolute opposite. As a result, we can speak of both contraposition and derivation or, more precisely, of their contradictory intersection within a contrastive derivation. If one of the contrasting elements were to prevail, that is, if polemos were considered to be wholly external to polis, with the latter originating from the former’s demise, then we could in all rigor speak of two origins in which the second is generated by the exhaustion of the first. However, if we accentuate the issue of contiguity, of the indelible imprint

that war leaves on the city, then the two origins reveal themselves as two poles or modalities of the same originary fragment. Arendt alternates between these two perspectives without abandoning either one completely. On the one hand, and in accordance with a principle that is reiterated throughout Arendt’s work, polis and polemos, city and war, power and violence have been mutually exclusive throughout human history: “Power and violence are opposed to each other; wherever one rules absolutely, the other remains absent” (On Violence, 56). This is the case to such an extent that by building on this perspective Arendt proceeds to institute a precise relationship between the first and what might be the last war: Just as the war of Troy destroyed an entire city without a trace, so another world war would have as its most likely outcome the obliteration of all humanity (Promise of Politics, 163). But the wording Arendt implements elsewhere is more veiled, and this allows us to glimpse a different reality, or, at least, the same reality but from a different perspective: “What is crucial for us here is . . . to realize that coercion and brute force are always means for protecting or establishing or expanding political space, but in and of themselves are definitely not political. They are phenomena peripheral to politics and therefore not politics itself” (Promise of Politics, 129–30). Here the opposition, though explicitly articulated, does not exclude the proximity or even the contiguity of the separated parts. It is true that violence per se is not politics. However, it is still what “founds,” “protects,” and “expands” it, that is, it is what accompanies it along the entirety of its historical arch. This means that although war is other than—rather than contrary to—politics, without it the latter would never have been born. This also means that the political sphere is determined in dialectical contrast to its not being a war waged within its own frontiers. Rather, it remains beyond those frontiers, according to a modality believed therefore to be nonpolitical. Moreover, this can only occur because “the public space of adventure and enterprise vanishes in the moment in which every thing comes to an end, the army breaks camp and the ‘heroes’—which for Homer means simply free men—return home” (Promise of Politics, 123). As such, memorable acts, when entrusted to the precarious memory of a poet, can acquire their consistency and duration within the stable space of the city. However, Arendt continues, the link between war and politics is retraceable not only in negative but also in positive terms. Th is is the case because



the correlative concepts of isonomia and isēgoria, both of which are emblematic of the political city, are prefigured originally in the relation between “equals” that characterized the Homeric warriors who gathered together in a circle in order to deliberate.1 This is the case because the polis assumed the idea of “combat” not only as a legitimate but also as a necessary modality for its internal organization. Its “individualism” notwithstanding, the concept of heroic action, which was derived directly from the Homeric poetic tradition, “became the prototype of action for Greek antiquity and influenced, in the form of the so-called agonal spirit, the passionate drive to show one’s self in measuring up against others that underlies the concept of politics prevalent in the city-states” (Human Condition, 194). Th is is the point of greatest continuity between the spheres of war and politics, in which the “double origin” appears to reunite within the very same semantic vector that was constituted by the combining of agōn2 and aristeuein, understood as the means for the citizen to aspire to be the best: “This one against the other found its originary model in the combat between Hector and Achilles, which, apart from victory and defeat, offers both the opportunity to show themselves as they really are, to unveil themselves in their true appearance, and therefore to become truly real” (Human Condition, 74). This is an extremely impor tant specification because by underlining the issue of visibility in the realm of politics as both qualifying and constitutive, it clarifies the final, or, rather, the first, meaning of the prepolitical origin of politics. It is a source of light. The battle scene is flooded with light for it always takes place in broad daylight, and even when night falls it heralds a new dawn for the political. This relation between light and what it illuminates is exactly the same link that establishes itself intrinsically and extrinsically with—as different from, but rendered visible by—the polis. The space of politics is the place in which human agency literally appears to the world.3 Öffentlichkeit denotes the public sphere, to the extent that it is open to the visibility of all and sundry, in which everybody—and this certainly indicates a way to deconstruct the metaphysical notion of subjectivity—is simultaneously subject and object of appearance. But let us be clear: when we speak of “appearance” (Erscheinung) or, more precisely, of “apparition” in reference to Arendt, we cannot confuse it with what is commonly understood to be “semblance” (Schein, Semblance), that is, as something divergent from reality. From the moment in which we come into “this world from nowhere, in order to then disappear into nowhere, Being and Appearing 26


coincide” (Willing, 19). Revisiting Nietzsche’s theme of esse est percepi (to be is to be perceived), Arendt insists as much on the question of the appearance of reality as she does on the reality of appearance: Appearance is real at the very moment in which reality assumes a constitutively phenomenal character. Appearance—or, more precisely, coming into view—has nothing to do with the semantics of simulation or imposture. Nor does it belong to the realm of representation. Rather, it pertains to the withdrawal of the self from the world of appearance that constitutes so much thought, in order to assume the realm of pure presentation: It is parusia in the literally apophatic sense of manifestation, revelation, and epiphany. Men exist only in their presencing. For this reason, appearance assumes ontological rather than merely phenomenological dimensions, forever reorienting the event of birth as coming-to-presence or, in the full sense of the expression, as coming-to-light. What really matters even in reference to the evental character of Heidegger’s Anfang-Ursprung is the continuously inchoate dimension of “coming-to,” which only ever indicates the impossibility of “being” in presence. As such, presence itself remains unpresentable, as only ever the form of a representational redoubling and therefore, once again, of difference and withdrawal in relation to pure presence: Since mental activities, non-appearing by definition, occur in a world of appearances and in a being that partakes of these appearances through its receptive sense organs as well as through its own ability and urge to appear to others, they cannot come into being except through a deliberate withdrawal from appearances. It is withdrawal not so much from the world—only thought, because of its tendency to generalize, i.e., its special concern for the general as opposed to the par ticular, tends to withdraw from the world altogether—as from the world’s being present to the senses. Every mental act rests on the mind’s faculty of having present to itself what is absent from the senses. (Willing, 75–76) Nevertheless, this does not annul a specifically scenic dimension that constitutes the visible character of the ontology of presence. It is true that to appear does not mean anything other than to exist. However, existence is truly such only in so far as it unfolds before the eyes of others: “To be alive means to be possessed by an urge toward self-display which responds to the fact of one’s own appearingness. Living things make their appearance like actors on a stage set for them” (Willing, 21). Politics accentuates and Polemos/Polis


enhances this theatrical dimension of existence—“theater is the political art par excellence” (Human Condition, 188)—in such a way as to make one wonder whether, at the heart of Arendt’s opposition to Plato, there remains hidden an implicit overturning of Plato’s prohibition of art, and even the substitution of philosophy by art as a prerequisite for politics. On the political scene, the agent is always actor (but not author) and vice versa. It is also in this sense that Homer’s poem lies—in spite of and within its bellicosity— at the origin of the polis: If “nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator”(Willing, 19) then what event has been more spectacular than the war of Troy, first in the (blind?) eyes of the one who narrated it and then in the eyes of those who have listened to him? It is not by chance that according to “Greek linguistic custom ‘heroes,’ acting men in the highest sense, were called andres epiphanies, men who are fully manifest, highly conspicuous” (Willing, 72). In this sense, we can say that the Iliad is the great prism through which every gesture has the possibility of becoming public, precisely by being observed by others (not only observed by others but also gazed upon from multiple perspectives). Was it not precisely the defining character of Homer’s gaze to narrate a deadly war not only from the victor’s perspective but also from that of the defeated? It is this multifaceted nature of confl ict that allows war, and its canto, to enter the life of the polis at the very moment at which weapons yield to words and actions in concert. On the other hand, Achilles had already been described as he who, along with his actions (erga), pronounced “great words” (megaloi logoi). Thus the “second” origin—politics with the characteristics that Arendt assigned to it— can incorporate all the positive potential of the “first” while at the same time discarding the negative: agonism without antagonism, competition without violence, immortality without death.




It might seem that the path traced thus far in Arendt’s thought can best be characterized as the squaring of a circle, as the forging of a lineal solution for the antinomic relation between originality and duration, deconstruction and constitution, violence and power. But things are more complex than they appear to be at first sight. If we take a closer look at the hinge that conjoins and absorbs the “before” and the “after,” we can see that it does not develop without gaps or remainders. As such, in order to guarantee the success of a differential translation of war into politics, of conflict into dialogue, or of a skirmish into an encounter while at the same time maintaining clear distinctions between them all, Arendt must resort to a double rhetorical device. On the one hand, she must downplay the sanguinary forms that underlie all face-offs, challenges, and competition through the semantic enfeeblement of the term agōn. This does not eliminate, however, uncertainties or even out-and-out contradictions, as can be seen when the destruction of the Greek poleis is attributed to an agonal spirit: “Until the Greek polis became impregnated with the agonal spirit it remained an aristocratic form of government, not an oligarchy in which a minority retained power. These aristocratic elements, this passion for distinction and extreme individualism that accompanied it ultimately led the poleis to ruin, because they made alliances virtually impossible”(“Karl Marx,” 55). On the other hand, we encounter a complementary and concomitant “heroization” of political experience. The political actor can repeat the great deeds of ancient heroes with other weapons because in a certain sense he shares their nature: He inherits from the heroes the art of revealing himself—andres epiphanies—even though he does so in the public square rather than on the

battlefield. It is as if the uproar of arms were transformed, by means of an inverted echo, into the voices of political dialogue. Needless to say, such a transition is rendered possible by the fact that a “civil” standard is already assigned to war. Indeed, it appears that for Arendt it is contained from the very outset within the confines of perfectly symmetrical relations. The unlimited, the unbounded, and the excessive end up being the raw materials that heroes control and “form” through their deeds. It is true that they do so with arms, but they do so with the same “rhythm,” with the same recurring beat, that in peacetime regulates competition between citizens. Furthermore, war not only unfolds within defi ned limits. It is itself a maker of limits as if it prepared the field, carved out the site, and orga nized the terrain for political debate. The problem, however, is that this double operation involving the urbanization of originary conflict and the “heroization” of political action is not yet sufficient to bridge the principle gap between polemos and polis, or between violence and power, at least in reference to the way the author herself radicalizes the opposition. Unless a third point of reference, a third archetype, or a third origin intervenes it is impossible to confer stability and duration upon a politics that is still overly exposed to the wound generated by originary scission. Arendt finds her last pole star—a third point capable of uniting the scene of origin in a perfect triangular form—in Rome.1 This is the third origin that fuses all the flotsam and jetsam that distances Troy from Athens, thereby consolidating a broader originary figure finally liberated from all residues of violence. As in her evaluation of the first Greek origin, Arendt here assumes a Hegelian stance, inverting its meaning in such a way as to confront a longstanding anti-Romanic tradition. While Hegel defi ned Rome as being “of artificial and violent, not spontaneous growth,”2 Arendt confi rms its artificiality and nonoriginality but interprets it, rather, as the container of violence. If violence is in the origin, then every thing that limits itself to repeating, reproducing, or artificially duplicating it is for this reason subtracted from its capture. The differential element is to be found in the passage from the Greek concept of physis (from phyein) to the Latin auctoritas (from augere). While the first indicates that which remains in the process of coming into Being, the second expresses, on the contrary, the ratification and extension of something initiated originally by others. Rather than an original innovation, it is the new commencement of a more ancient beginning: “To be Roman means to experi30

The Third Origin

ence the ancient as new, as that which is renewed via the transplant to a new soil, a transplant that makes of the ancient the origin of new developments. Roman is the experience of beginning as (re)commencement.”3 In this lengthy process of reassignment, which searches for the proper in the improper, for the original in the derived, and for the foundation in the refoundation, violence is not lost entirely but sublated. It discharges and sediments itself through a sequence that reconfigures a principle of equilibrium even in relation to those against whom it is employed. This is precisely what Greece had been incapable of doing: seizing origin without succumbing to the abyss itself. What was the abyss, the debt, the crime that the polis had been unable to expiate, but the destruction of Troy? This was the destruction that had somehow been replicated in the phenomenon of fratricidal war of which the Greek cities could never rid themselves. Without doubt a Greek poet, the greatest, had constructed with his impartial canto a form of posthumous compensation for the defeated, but he did so only on the symbolic level. In order for the scale to be truly balanced and for the resulting debt to be effectively settled, something proportionate but capable of inverting that terrible original event would be necessary: the appearance of another city capable of taking the place of the incinerated one, in order to do it justice not by opening up new wounds but by somehow closing the chain of reciprocal destructions. Only by forestalling war through bonds of peace, promises kept, and alliances respected could the ancient origin of flames and ruins be renovated in a new political time opened up by the Greek polis. Such is the role and destiny of Rome: to “fulfi ll” Homer’s poetic impartiality historically by reuniting the two opposing faces, the two discordant hearts, of the fi rst origin. Only in this way—through the justice that the Roman people confer upon the ancient Trojan maternal origin—can origin finally reveal itself as the generative principle of all that exists in enigmatic conformity with the Heraclitean coincidence of eris and dikē: “At this point it is as if at the very beginning of Western history there really were a war that was, as Heraclitus defined it, ‘the master of all things,’ because it forced a single phenomenon to appear in the double countenance of its originary opposition” (Promise, 175). Now and only now can the symmetry of the polis be truly completed, accomplished, and realized in the symbolic chiasm between Hector/Aeneas and Achilles/Turnus, in which the latter flees before the lance of the former. But the difference on this occasion—for this is the The Third Origin


new law of Rome, its pax eterna—is that the “flames” that burned for the chaste Lavinia are now “fanned anew in order to annul destruction” (Promise, 175), to bring it to a close through an origin that seems never to end and, from within that closure, to initiate the new origin of politics: For this reason it is of such importance that the repetition on Italian soil of the Trojan War, to which the Roman nation traced its political and historical existence, did not end in yet another annihilation of the vanquished, but in an alliance and a treaty. It was most definitely not a matter of fanning the old flames anew, of simply returning to the old outcome, but rather of inventing a new outcome for the conflagration of war. (Promise, 176) It is striking that Arendt insists on the constructive, refoundational significance of the new fire. The light emanating from it—unlike that which illuminated the battleground of Troy—is a lex that surpasses the walls of the single polis and builds the great urbes whose dominium and partnership can unite all poleis. This alone assures continuity and duration—the simultaneity of foundation and conservation—via a continuous augmentum that the Greek nomos, which remained encased within the confines of a citizenry with which it coincided fully, could not assure. As such, while Greece replaced Troy by destroying it, Rome replaced Greece by refounding it. The work of Rome “was no more and no less than the creation of politics at the precise point at which for the Greeks it had reached its limit and closed” (Promise, 178). Thus the circle of politics—the triangle of origin—is closed. Beginning with the destruction of Carthage, Arendt certainly does uncover the limits and blind spots of that history. But this does not change the fact that Rome marks the point of no return for the Western political sequence beyond which—in both the Christianity and the Platonism that preceded it—our modern decline commences. In question is always the ambivalent nexus between origin and history: their difference and their intertwining, along with their inevitable confl ict. One tends toward the annihilation of the other. If origin reenters history it is inexorably absorbed into it, but if history is measured in respect to origin it just as inexorably ends up being caged within a descendent model of progressive decadence. It is as if Arendt’s rejection of the philosophy of history in favor of the unpredictability of origin forced history along a “philosophical” path.4 The same applies to origin: The 32

The Third Origin

more it is rendered autonomous from historical development, the more it is exposed to a process of substantiation that tends to drift away from the anarchic dimension of “coming-into-presence” and toward full presence. By this I do not mean to imply that this is the necessary outcome of Arendt’s discourse, that for a moment she would have contemplated the impossible restoration of origin or that she would have experienced nostalgia (in the usual meaning of the term) for such a thing. It is well known that, rather than classically utopian, her thought is atopic in the precise sense that origin cannot be situated within temporal or geographical coordinates.5 As Paul Ricoeur once put it, it is the “forgotten” (oublié) that does not hark back “to some past that would not be experienced as present within the transparency of a society itself conscious of its own one and plural genesis.”6 What I mean is that Arendt’s anti-philosophy of history runs the risk of being interpreted in a decadent register, for this possibility is actually inscribed in the double register upon which her conceptualization of origin rests: unpresentable, but precisely for this reason endlessly tempted to present itself, to make a “memory” of “the forgotten,” or even a longing for a society integrally present to itself. There is a passage from Christian Meier that is absolutely indicative of this hermeneutic twist: The presence of citizens—and therefore the political presence (in the Greek sense of the term) to which political identity was associated— existed in a double sense: on one hand, it existed because citizens were able to make their will present through increasingly lively participation and, on the other, because they enjoyed a par ticular kind of present. The latter was not merely a feeble line of demarcation between past and future, but, rather, a vast and dense “attribute of the present.”7 It is clear that once the “forgotten,” or the “immemorial,” has been historicized in precise spatial and temporal coordinates, every thing that follows acquires the necessary character of an emptying, a loss, and a degradation that can only be indemnified or restored through unbearable force. It is not by chance that within Arendt’s overall schema, at the margins of the originary bloc—that is, at the margins of the Great Origin constituted by the intersection of Troy, Athens, and Rome—all other beginnings have to reproduce the primitive nexus with violence that the Greek polis and the Roman urbs appeared to have destroyed. It is from this perspective that Arendt recognizes the ineludible bond connecting war to revolution. It is The Third Origin


as if what entered the modern political world most recently—namely, revolution—carried within itself and irresistibly evoked from the darkest depths of its historical memory the bellicose violence that always precedes it: The relevance of the problem of beginning to the phenomenon of revolution is obvious. That such a beginning must be intimately connected with violence seems to be vouched for by the legendary beginnings of our history as both biblical and classical antiquity report it: Cain slew Abel, and Romulus slew Remus; violence was the beginning and, by the same token, no beginning could be made without using violence, without violating. (On Revolution, 10) By now the mirror is shattered and from its thousand fragments arise flashes destined, time and time again, to set “the whole world on fire” (On Revolution, 157). Arendt’s conclusion should not surprise those who acknowledge the constitutive aporia of a conceptualization that is designed to forge a politics of nonviolence from a constitutively violent origin. Politics originating in its opposite—war—cannot achieve autonomous consistency, that is, it cannot constitute a stable liberty. It becomes literally unrepresentable unless it is portrayed through those very interruptions in time, those temporal hiatuses, that revolutions in fact are. But in revolutions—indeed, precisely in revolution—the “remoteness” of origin returns with simultaneous explosive and imploding effects, and this is the case across all the confrontations of a modernity that is necessarily characterized in dissolutive terms.8 It is not by chance that Machiavelli, who quite rightly “may be regarded as the ancestor of modern revolutions” (Between Past and Future, 139), reoriented the inaugural act of foundation toward the febrile violence that Robespierre would later take to the level of paroxysm: “You cannot make a table without killing trees, you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs, you cannot make a republic without killing people” (ibid.). Once a single source of light has been defined—ab origine—every thing else that flashes up unexpectedly becomes increasingly feeble and deceptive, or, on the contrary, increasingly blinding and destructive. And this occurs as a result of having aspired to reactivate an already extinguished source. The more modernity strives to replicate, imitate, or repeat origin—the entirety of its origins plus the originary figure that they themselves configure—the more it betrays and displaces originarity. The more modernity tries to 34

The Third Origin

reproduce origin the more it subtracts it from itself. Once dragged beyond itself and immersed in a conceptual framework that is divergent and opposite to its point of departure, and once translated from the practical categories of “natality” and “plurality” into the technical categories of “creation” and “fabrication,” origin emanates such a potential for violence that it destroys not just itself but those who in vain become its standard bearers, and it does so in such a way that “in conspicuous opposition to man’s age-old dreams as well as to his later concepts, violence by no means gave birth to something new and stable, but, on the contrary, drowned in a ‘revolutionary torrent’ the beginning as well as the beginners” (On Revolution, 210).

The Third Origin



With Simone Weil, we confront a different scenario. For her, origin does not collapse under the weight of historical catastrophe. But this is not so because history—in particular, modern history—is conceived in more positive terms. On the contrary, we could say that in many ways Weil emphasizes origin’s negative characteristics. It is merely that, unlike Arendt, the negative in Weil does not affect origin from the outside principally because it is already embroiled in it. The modern therefore is not ailing because it betrays origin, but precisely because it fulfi lls it in all its unbearably antinomic features. Origin does not “fall” over the precipice of the “after,” since precipice and fall are themselves original (both belonging constitutively to the event of creation). We have already seen how Arendt rejects this latter category in favor of “natality.” Th is is the case both for the question of the theological modality of derivation from, and dependence of creatures on, the Creator, as well as for what touches its “poietic” secularization in the formation of a new society (to which the destructive outcome of modern revolutions is in fact attributed). Weil, on the contrary, remains within the semantic frame of creation. However, she submits it to an internal displacement—a true overturning of perspective—that leads to no less radical consequences. For Weil it is impossible to apologize for birth, since birth—all birth—contains within itself a sliver of the originary evil that is immanent in the creative event: “If we are born in sin, it is evident that birth constitutes sin” (First and Last Notebooks, 303), since it is complicit with Adam’s theft. Up to this point we are still moving within what is, from a Christian point of view, a substantially orthodox framework. However, an unorthodox diachronic line suddenly emerges that views original sin as

subsequent to creation. The point of inflection emerges from an idiosyncratic interpretation of originarity. The latter cannot be understood in the sense that original sin precedes all other sins, but in the more absolute sense in which “there is nothing before it.” And there is nothing before it for the simple reason that terms such as “before” and “after” refer to a temporal dimension that is external to it: “Original sin. Sin committed before any sin. Outside time, transcendental. Apurva. Action does not, like thought, produce its consequences immediately, but in Time; nevertheless, every cause is bound to produce an effect when it exists, not when it has ceased to exist; we therefore admit that there is an immediate, imperceptible, potential effect: apurva; forming a link between action and the results of action, germ of all future consequences, outside ordinary time (but not duration)” (Notebooks Vol. I-C, 192). This means that sin does indeed have a subject—Adam—to whom it is attributable in causal, though not in temporal, terms: “Adam before the Fall is inconceivable; one can only conceive a causal, non-temporal anteriority between his creation, his sin and his punishment” (Notebooks Vol. I-D, 268). This specification is particularly relevant because by tracing the crisis back to such a primary moment, it coincides with Origin. To the extent that time does not include sin but emanates from it, contradiction is not the consequence of the behav ior of the child but somehow at least its cause. This is already fully operational in the act of creation. Indeed, this is creation from God’s point of view: “Creation is itself a contradiction. It is contradictory that God, who is infi nite, who is all, to whom nothing is lacking, should do something that is outside himself, that is not himself, while at the same time proceeding from himself” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 386). We should note that what is in question here is not the Augustinian distinction between principium and initium underlined by Arendt, namely, between the creation of the world and the creation of man. Neither is it the temporal epiphany that, according to Arendt, renews itself: “Γεγονεν αρχην, etc.—That indicates a level, not Time, for Time comes ‘after’ Creation” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 373). Rather, here we are before the irreducibly antinomic relation between Creator and creation: “God and creation are one; God and creation are infinitely distant from each other” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 400). Only in one case is this distance reduced, and this is when “God, before creating the world, creates himself” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 371). However, even in this case the difference between Beginning and Initiator highlights a gap that breaks Nothingness 37

with the canonical story of creation, exposing it to a series of repercussions that in the end dissolve all self-consistency. From that moment on, creation— and creation does not exhaust itself for once and for all, but is perpetual— not only does not enrich the Creator, but weakens it: “God and all his creatures are less than God alone” (Waiting on God, 87). Rather than an expansion or an emanation, creation is a contraction that the Creator endures in order to give space to the other-than-himself. From this emerges the perfect coimplication of Passion with Incarnation: “And the Incarnation, the Passion, are also aspects of this act. God emptied himself of his divinity and fi lled us with a false divinity” (First and Last Notebooks, 140). The contemporaneity of the three events implies that this emptying out pertains to each in singular fashion, as well as to the overall logic of the whole. Each constitutes the antinomic counterpart of the other, its eternally present-past that pushes out from within, until it breaks all internal cohesiveness. In the same way, the Word is embodied before Incarnation itself: “God not incarnate is not really God; he has been incarnate and sacrificed from the beginning; ‘the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world’ ” (Notebooks Vol. I-C, 222). Contradiction produces the relation between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Each one simultaneously binds and separates the other two through a dialectic forged in unity and splitting: “If one considers God in himself, the Spirit forms the connexion between the Father and the Son; if one considers Him in relation to the world, the Son forms the connexion between the Father and the Spirit. . . . The distance between the necessary and the good is the selfsame distance separating the creature from the creator. —God, with respect to creation, in so far as perfectly present and in so far as perfectly absent” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 379). Creation immoderately accentuates the moment of scission not only between Father and Son, but—and this is precisely the same thing but observed from a different angle—within the very Person of the Father, who is painfully divided between the divine attributes of power and love. In order to create the other-than-himself, God must tear away from his self and endure the splitting tension between two reciprocally opposed impulses. If power were to prevail, he would destroy the world in order to reconstruct his own infinity. However, the prevalence of love would expose him to the most terrible of renunciations: that of inserting a sliver of emptiness between He and himself, as a consequence of the sacrifice of the Son.1 The deriving torment 38


is inextinguishable unless a countermovement initiated by man can lead to reunification with the Creator, thereby dismantling his work of creation. As is well known, it is that double movement of self-dissolution—first on the part of God and then of man—that Weil defines as the constitutively aporetic concept of “de-creation”: a presence that proposes itself in the modality of absence, as a yes to the other expressed by the negation of self in an act fully coincident with its own renunciation. Where Weil derives this concept, and to what past and present traditions such a category can be assigned, has already been researched extensively. Such an inquiry can take us from the ancient cabalistic theory of the tzimtzum, evoked and reelaborated by Isaac Luria and Hayym Vital, to Meister Eckhart’s Ent-Werden, and from Origins all the way forward to Hamann and Schelling. Perhaps more controversial, however, is the question of the “degree of gnosticism” present in Weil’s position. The difficulty of offering a convincing answer in this regard rests, on one hand, on the array of gnostic models referenced on occasion throughout her work, and, on the other, on the continuous hybridization that the gnostic root undergoes in Weil’s relation to other vectors of Christian or Platonic derivation.2 Personally, rather than avoiding such contaminations, I find it more productive to emphasize the margin of originality and autonomy that contamination allows for in respect to these three traditions. As such, I am interested in tracing the point at which each of these perspectives interrupts and “punctures” the coherence of the other two by means of a nonintegrative graft: for instance, when creation is suddenly interpreted as “the passing from the three to plurality” in Plato’s Parmenides, it is in turn reread by Weil in a Neoplatonic register (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 365). As far as the gnostic reference goes, it seems evident to me that in contrast to its usual formulation it is lacking not only in a self-redemptive hypothesis of man, but also in a preliminary form of superior knowledge capable of offering any kind of theoretical elaboration. The heart of the matter, however, which distances Weil even more clearly from the gnostic archetype (notwithstanding the various ways in which she rejects it), lies in the fact that “deliverance” is not sought. Rather, she even condemns it as escapism, as both ill-fated and impossible from within our irresolutely contradictory condition as finite beings. We should focus attention on this contradiction because this is precisely the element that exceeds the gnostic paradigm, as Weil herself seems to deduce from the frequently quoted Nothingness 39

Anaximander fragment regarding the “injustice of things” and the “expiation” that derives logically from it. In contrast to all forms of gnosis, according to Weil it cannot be said that the finite itself constitutes evil. This is the case both in relation to the natu ral universe, which is defi ned not only as “unexceptionally beautiful, but . . . an inexhaustible source of beauty” (Notebooks Vol. II-C, 514), but also in relation to the creative act when viewed from the perspective of its Author. It is true that “what is creation from the point of view of God is sin from the point of view of the creature” (First and Last Notebooks, 211). But—and this is the decisive point—this is the case for a being who cannot recognize himself as such, and therefore does not yearn to transcend his own ontological status of finite being, which is to say, his status as a non-subject-of-Creation. This passage responds to a question that Weil perhaps intentionally leaves unanswered, but which assumes a decidedly anti-gnostic tone: “Why is creation a good, seeing that it is inseparably bound up with evil? In what sense is it a good that I should exist, and not God alone? How should God love himself through the wretched medium of myself?—that I cannot understand” (Notebooks, Vol. I-C, 191). The fact that we are dealing even here with an original and, in turn, with an antinomic grafting of “Christian Platonism” is demonstrated by another passage explicitly recalling the Timeo (34b and subsequent), in which creation is described as “Good broken in pieces and scattered about over the face of Evil” (Notebooks, Vol. II-A, 414). What really counts, however, is the unprecedented complexity of the gnostic synonyms: finite-evil. Evil is only a specific modality-of-being of the finite. And it is precisely that modality that subtracts it from its “nothingness” in order to make it what it is not—that is, “Being”: “The creature is nothing and believes itself to be every thing. It has to believe itself to be nothing in order to be every thing” (Notebooks, Vol. I-C, 229). From this point of view we can conclude that the created cannot be a “real” evil since it exists only to the extent that it is God in retreat. The created—alongside all that exists such as world, space, and time—is nothing more than the difference interjected between God and God; it is God taking distance from himself. As such the created—that is to say, the absent part of God—cannot be truly evil even though it carries that possibility within: “The mere fact that there exist beings other than God implies the possibility of sin” (Notebooks, Vol. 1-C, 192). This is a possibility, and as such, in order to be made real, it requires an additional intervention by man, such as the presumption of subjectivity, the fi lling of the void, or 40


the infinitization of the finite. Man’s only sin is ultimately that of pleonexia (Col. 3:5): the cancellation of nothingness resulting from something that aspires to become every thing without realizing precisely that the One, who is already all, made himself No-thing for our benefit: “We are nothing but creatures. But to consent to be nothing but that is like consenting to be nothing. Without our knowing it, this being which God has given us is non-being. If we desire non-being, we have it, and all we have to do is to be aware of the fact. . . . To teach us that we are non-beings, God made himself non-being” (First and Last Notebooks, 217–18). Original sin—the selfcreating will—is not the imitation of God, which would lead, rather, to self-reduction. It is a bad caricature that leads us to want to impersonate God; it is the attribute of power instead of love, of being instead of nonbeing. It is as if we were in a sinister optical illusion in which the more we believe we are near to God the more distant we are. The more we try to inhabit him, the more our place remains vacant.

Nothingness 41


The Iliad constitutes the most perfect example precisely because nothingness can be perceived there in all its meaningful resonance. Weil’s definition of the poem as the “picture of God’s absence” (Notebooks, Vol. II-A, 405), as “misery of the man without God” (Notebooks, Vol. I-C, 229) should not be interpreted merely in terms of lack. It should be interpreted in the sense of the powers that fi ll and inhabit, of the plenitude that installs itself most optimally in the absence of God, or, rather, as that absence itself in its most terribly “positive” expression, as the content of Abandonment: “The Creation is an abandonment. In creating what is other-than-Himself, God necessarily abandoned it” (First and Last Notebooks, 103). It is in such abandonment that the dominium of force emerges and imposes itself. The Iliad does nothing more than give the most complete—that is to say, the most transparent—expression to this dominium.1 It is a work of art because it does not veil its own reality. It is an eternal work because the reality represented therein, qua uninitiated and interminable, is eternal. Weil had “discovered” this even before she penned her great Homeric essay, written between 1938 and 1939, which, due to the outbreak of war and Jean Paulhan’s hesitations, could only see the light of day between 1940 and 1941.2 Weil’s discovery is evidenced in the fact that she had already expressed the structuring principle of this work in her letter to Georges Bernanos: “When you know it is possible to kill without risking punishment or condemnation, you kill” (Écrits, 223). Furthermore, the biographical and conceptual relation between her essay on the Iliad and the civil war in Spain is consciously explicated in the first Notebooks.3

However, the text that most closely serves as a prelude to the essay on Homer is probably the fragment, dated 1939, titled “Reflections on Barbarism”: “I do not think we can form clear ideas about human relations without emphasizing the notion of force, in the same way the notion of relation is located at the center of mathematics” (Ecrits, 64). Here the ideology of progress is criticized as much as its complementary ideology of decadence. This is developed in favor of an evaluation of force understood not as measurement but as a universal constant of, and invariable in, human nature. It is the same formulation as the one that would leave its mark in the essay on the Iliad: “For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and loveliest of mirrors” (“The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” 5). War is not the wound destined to cicatrize into the “regularity” of politics, but its ineliminable foundation. It is for this reason that “the reality of war is the most precious reality to be known, because war is unreality itself”(“Thoughts on the Love of God” 75)—it is one’s own dream that forces others to dream, as Renaud hypothesized in Venice Saved. But this is an “unreality” that really governs relations between men even in times of so-called peace, since “in the social and international spheres; it represents two wars on an equal footing, each acting contrariwise to the other” (Notebooks, Vol. II-B, 485). It is not by chance that the theme of war traverses all of Weil’s essays from this period—including those dealing with internal politics—for we could say that not only the political but also the economic and the social are interpreted by her through the lens of war: “After 1914,” she writes to Schumann, “war has never been out of my thoughts” (Écrits de Londres, 203). After all, the references binding the war of Troy to the first half of the twentieth century, understanding both as a single categorical and symbolic plot, are transparent: “So it is that Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter lives again in the capitalists who, to maintain their privileges, acquiesce lightheartedly in wars that may rob them of their sons” (Oppression and Liberty, 68). It is from these “contemporary” cross-references that we can glimpse the difference between Weil and Arendt’s interpretations. The Iliad does not open up Western political history from the outside, through the dilution or



domestication of the potential for violence. It is completely enmeshed in political history precisely because of the potential for violence. It is not simply a realistic exacerbation of what Arendt tends to “aestheticize” in terms of agone. As Weil observes, war appears to be a game only until it plunges itself into, and bloodies, the flesh of those who “play.” Therefore, war is an absolute overturning of all perspectival relations. While we could say that Arendt reads the present in light of the past, Weil reads the past in the shadow of the present. War is not observed from the perspective of Greece being born but from that of Troy dying, since the “story” of Troy does not endure thanks to the accounts of historians, as is the case in the assurances of Arendt’s genealogy, but thanks to the work of tragedians. At the center of the poem lies the destruction of one city rather than the foundation of another. Foundation—of any city, of politics as such—remains inextricably bound to destruction. Foundation contains within itself the mark of iron and fire, and this sinister light illuminates it. Polemos breaches the walls and penetrates deeply into the city, interrupting any passage toward the Good, Peace, and Justice. Indeed, this is the case even in the most “beautiful” of cities such as Venice, saved by an act of pure love which would lead its Secretary to observe that “a city has never been preserved by the piety of the enemy” (“Venice Saved,” 66, 99). For this very reason, Venice “makes the visible effort to annihilate its enemies” (126). At its core, politics is nothing more than war transferred into the city; polemos translated into stasis. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that Troy is located at the beginning of our political history, for it is the fi rst of an infi nite series of cities invaded and destroyed by war. However, the overturning of Arendt’s tale is not limited to the historicalanthropological framework. Weil also demolishes Arendt’s basic philosophical categories such as that of “natality,” which is interrupted and dramatized by a relentless counterpoint with death. This operation is carried out in a manner more consistent with the Homeric poem—which is dominated by death, at least from the demise of Patroclus onward—and, in more general terms, with the perspective of the Greeks. For the Greeks even the immortal gods were characterized negatively in relation to the event of death. In fact, they were held as immortals: as a-thanatoi (let us not forget that all heroes from Achilles onward were always defi ned as minunthadios: “of short life”; or ōkumoros, “life . . . cut short so soon” [Iliad, Book 15, 407]). They were held in a destiny from which they yearned to remove themselves 44


but to which they remained nailed as a result of, and through, the circumstances of their birth. The issue can be considered from the perspective of the relation between freedom and necessity, or from that of subject and object. In contrast to Arendt, here it is not men who use force but force that uses men to transform them into “things,” as all the great hermeneutic traditions have observed. For example, Snell considered that in Homer “mental and spiritual acts are due to the impact of external factors, and man is the open target of a great many forces which impinge upon him, and penetrate his very core.”4 This explains the proliferation of terms that the poet uses in order to substantiate the word “force”: menos (the force that is felt in the limbs), alchē (defensive force against enemy assaults), sthenos (the power to dominate), and so on. On the other hand, Dodds saw in ate neither “a personified operator” nor an objective “ruin,” but insanity caused by an external demonic force.5 For Dumézil, heroes appear “dedicated to Force, they are the triumphant victims of the internal logic of Force, which proves itself only by surpassing boundaries—even its own boundaries and those of its raison d’être. The warrior is the one who finds comfort in being strong, not only in the face of this or that adversary, in this or that situation, but strong absolutely, the strongest of all—a dangerous superlative for a being who occupies the second rank.”6 All of this is to suggest that in the Iliad there are no “subjects” that are not always “subjected” to indomitable powers. This can be seen in the very first word of the poem: menis, understood as “determined and rancorous anger.” This, more than Achilles (through whom it is given voice), is the poem’s true, “objective” protagonist. But the person who insisted more than anyone else on this forced “objectification” of man in Homer was precisely Weil’s teacher, Alain, whose multiple volumes titled Propos must have exercised considerable influence over her: The Iliad is a great work and there is no other epic like it, but we do not understand why. The fact is that we encounter therein the truth of war, which no subsequent poet has contemplated face on. That massacre, wounds and suffering are laid bear is in itself a huge accomplishment, not to mention that atrocious smell for one often sees warriors searching for a space to deliberate that is not fi lthy and stinking of cadavers. The dogs, birds of prey, flies, and maggots feast themselves on the sad remains. . . . Here one destroys and is destroyed, and knows it. Man becomes, then, the most feared of the elements.7 Forces


I will not retrace Weil’s phenomenology of force in its entirety: its procedures and effects, its modifications and outbursts, its gradation and powers; to kill or to be able to do so; to pierce like lightning or to slowly penetrate; to chain, hypnotize, or devastate; to literally tear apart the flesh that quivers under the blow, opening it up and deforming it; but also the question of spirit,8 from which only a consolatory ideology can consider itself immune, as Albert Camus had observed in a register similar to that of Weil.9 What is impor tant to underline is the all-pervasive character of force; its undifferentiated blows and its indiscriminate possession of every thing, even of those who appear to possess it and therefore have the intoxicating sensation of advancing through an environment devoid of resistance, until, that is, they themselves experience the same sensation of malheur that they had inflicted formerly on others, since “in reality, man only submits to force and never actually exercises it, whatever may be the circumstances. The ability to exercise force is an illusion; nobody possesses that ability” (Notebooks Vol. II- C, 499). Force belongs neither to he who experiences the tip of the sword—and is thereby contaminated by it forever— nor to he who holds the sword in his palm. It belongs neither to the underdog nor to the superior who acts in all cruelty, for “whosoever kills runs the risk of being killed” (Notebooks Vol. I-D, 286). The Iliad is inscribed in this pendulum-like motion between momentary victory and the inevitable defeat that is implicit in the constitutive contradiction that is already at the core of Weil’s great text, Oppression and Liberty, between a subjectively infinite will-to-power and a force that is limited objectively by that of adversaries striving strenuously for limitless expansion. This is quite different from Arendt’s agone, in which the limit is nothing more than the point of encounter—and of confl ict—between two nonlimits in the same way measurement is merely a bulwark against the crashing of a boundless wave. Wave, sand, wind, and fire are compared to men qua slaves of the hybris and bria of nonknowledge, of neither dialogos nor kratos, the power contained within definite terms. It is in this continuous delirium, in this uninterrupted trespassing, in this implacable “anger” evoked in the first verse of the poem; it is in all its names—menis, cholos, thumos—that the fatal destiny of a war fought for neither woman nor city is consumed. Rather, it is a war fought for something that escapes all logic and that, precisely for this reason, is trapped in unbreakable chains, as Weil herself had already formulated in a text titled “Ne recommençons pas la guerre de 46


Troie” (“Let Us Not Recommence the Trojan War,” Écrits, 256–72): “Greeks and Trojans once killed each other for a period of ten years on account of Helen. . . . Her person was so clearly disproportionate to that great battle that in everybody’s eyes she alone represented the symbol of the true cause; but nobody could define the true cause, nor could it be defined, because it did not exist” (257). Then as today, today as then, through a repetition that seems to have no end precisely because it is without beginning—or has its beginning in the retreat of every beginning, or in the void that it causes— we are reminded once again, and contrary to all fashionable Hellenisms, of the verses of the great Russian poet of exile and anguish, Osip Mandelstam, whose tragic interrogation of the century refracted desperately into the image of Troy immersed in a cloud of arrows continuously reborn from its own timber: Where is pleasant Troy, where is the king’s, the maiden’s home? Priam’s great starling coop will be destroyed, And the arrows will fall as a dry forest rain, And more will spring up like a hazel grove.10




As already observed, the void is the place of force’s deployment and, as such, of the implacable confl ict that divides and locates men in their opposition. However—and this is the analytical shift that moves in a direction unexplored by Alain—the fact that force deploys in an originary void is not the same as saying that it is the origin of the universe. If things were so, that is, if origin were once again self-coincidental on the side of force, then its plenitude alone would exist rather than the emptiness throughout which it extends. In other words, emptiness is the sign of something lacking because the absence it leaves in its wake is its most luminous trace. Weil intentionally expresses herself in a contradictory manner: The soul knows that “God should be at once present and absent in the natural parts of the soul turned toward the exterior, in the same way as he is both present and absent in Creation” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 358). If God were merely present in the world—as opposed to also being absent—then he would not be God. He would be something that the world comprehends within itself. Instead, however, what is present of Him here is absence. This does not mean that He is simply absent because this would imply that the absence, which is the negative modality through which our existence is made possible thanks to the gift of his Abandonment, would also be absent: “The dereliction in which God leaves us is his own way of caressing us. Time, which is our one misery, is the very touch of his hand. It is the abdication by which he lets us exist” (First and Last Notebooks, 142). It is in the assumption of this contradiction that the greatness of the Iliad, and of Greek culture as a whole, resides. The latter never perceives force as unrelated to the absence it fills. This inaugurates a shift in nuance that is

as imperceptible as the blink of an eye. However, it remains at all times decisive since it marks the passage—or, rather, the copresence—of absolute political realism and realism’s “impolitical” other side. Neither of the two sides of discourse need be lost or weakened, because since the Greeks can recognize the integral predominance of force, they can also despise it. Indeed, it is precisely because they know that force covers the entire canvas that they can direct their gaze to the frame as well as to the internal fractures of the canvas. It is only because they acknowledge, alongside Thucydides, that “of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can”1 that they can highlight, as its own Impossible, the infinite nothingness that surrounds or perforates that necessity. What really counts is the simultaneity of the double gaze, or, rather, of the two overlapping perspectives that extend themselves as the same gaze. It is the same relation that occurs in the Iliad between Dispute and Harmony. Harmony is not the contrary but the other side of dispute; it is the very rhythm that overlooks dispute in its alternating movements. It could also be said that it is this relation that binds the two contenders in a single plot for it ties them together in the unity of a single battle, maintaining them in a state of conflict without which there would be no relation in the first place. This is what Weil underlines in her reading of the finite and the infinite in Philolaus’s fragments, in which one necessarily implicates the other. This is the case not only because without finitude we would have no notion of limitlessness. It is because it is only by forcing the limit— indeed, by running up against hybris—that mortals can perceive the presence of limitlessness. Weil repeats this on different occasions: The limitlessness that surpasses the limit is in fact fi nite in the sense that it comes up against a differentiated limitlessness (indeed, all the protagonists of the Iliad experience this in their flesh), and also against the ramparts of the order of the world, which are understood as the visible expression of the infinite: “Nature is made to accept the limit imposed by the limiting principle, which is the infinite. The limit is the sign of the domination of the infinite over the indeterminate. The eternal order of the world is made up of the limiting and the unlimited. The limiting factor is the One. Limit represents relation (logos)” (Notebooks, Vol. II-B, 425). From this point of view, the relation is stronger than the forces that run up against it because, by transcendentally limiting limitlessness, it carries the latter to its very limit: “There is something infinite in force, but this infinite quality is finite with In Common 49

respect to another sort of infinitude. We should try to conceive the same thing, at the same time, as both infinite and finite” (Notebooks, Vol. II-B, 462). Of course, this complex gaze is impossible for somebody who is directly involved in dispute. But this is precisely the perspective assumed by Homer when in all lucidity he oversees a scenario that comprises both Trojans and Achaeans, and is capable of “seeing” the Achaeans’ retreat in the Trojans’ attack and the defeat of one in the victory of the other without losing sight of the common place upon which the entire movement unfolds. Here there is something that goes beyond the often-mentioned “impartiality” of Homer’s relation to the two adversaries; something that seems to approach an impersonality in which Weil’s notion of “reading” (First and Last Notebooks, 337) loses its subject and adheres to the object, to the point of disappearing into it, of becoming “non-reading”: “It is a question of uprooting our readings of things, of changing them, so as to arrive at non-reading” (Notebooks Vol. I-D, 312). It is only from this point—which does not coincide with any particular perspective and is, rather, an absence of perspective— that the author of the Iliad can frame the scene on the basis of the invisible circle that unites all combatants. Th is circle is the whole within which human affairs reveal themselves in all their contrasting tendencies; this is the coimplication that situates their continual conflict in a single bosom. Or, rather, it is conflict itself in its objective elements that is irreducible to the necessary subjectivity of the parts in question. But we should be careful here, because this does not at all weaken the brutality of the represented conflict. Each action—just like each counteraction— is subject to uncontrolled impulses that remain unaware of their own limits and force. They are therefore the source of irreparable damage for the victims against whom they are unleashed. There is no remedy for such wounds. Each blow is definitive, that is, unassuaged by equal counterblows. Nonetheless, this does not change the fact that a mysterious correspondence approaches and virtually binds the two combating parties, not in spite of the pain occasionally produced but precisely because of it. This is not only a matter of a “sudden evocation, as quickly rubbed out, of another world” (“The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” 6), of lacerations “scattered here and there throughout the poem, those brief, celestial moments in which man possesses his soul” (23). Nor is it a question of a fleeting “regret” for what is not and should have been (peace, as Weil seems to understand it in


In Common

some passages). On the contrary, it is a matter of what it is: the most impenetrable night, the most unbearable pain, the most irreparable misfortune: War in its most mortifying power. It is through this extreme destiny that the heroes of the Iliad are bound, not by the pause between battles, nor by the life emanating from those moments, but by the bond of a common pain; the bond of a community of pain. We cannot disregard the clash that divides because from another perspective it is precisely what unites. If all men were divided by force they would be united, simultaneously, by the suffering that ensues: “Violence obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. And from this springs the idea of a destiny before which executioner and victim stand equally innocent, before which conquered and conqueror are brothers in the same distress” (“Iliad,” 17). This is precisely the meaning of the letter penned by Weil to Bernanos from beyond the frontline, “beneath the moon” in unmarked Spanish graveyards. From this point of view, more than the duel between Hector and Ajax in which the happy ending is “regulated,” interrupted by the Night and refi ned by reciprocal gift-giving, the reference is to the absolutely “disordered” mortal struggle between Achilles and Hector which is interrupted by blood alone, and brought to an end by the cruelty of the victor standing over the cadaver of the vanquished. Both are united, nevertheless, in the common destiny of death. It is not by chance that this common destiny is announced by Patroclus to Hector with the same words as by Thetis to Achilles (“already upon you / death and cruel destiny approach”), almost as a means of synthesizing, through the symmetrical demise of both protagonists, the innumerable passages that represent Greeks and Trojans united—and one might say, bound—in dust: That day ranks of Trojans, ranks of Aechean fighters Sprawled there side-by-side, facedown in the dust. (The Iliad, Book 4, “The Truce Erupts in War,” v. 629–30, p. 163). And now as the armies clashed at one strategic point They slammed their shields together, like scraped pike With the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze And their round shields’ bosses pounded hide-to-hide And the thunder of struggle roared and rocked the earth.

In Common 51

Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath, Fighters killed, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood. (The Iliad, Book 8, “The Tide of a Battle Turns,” v. 71–77, p. 233) If battle “clashes” and “locks horns,” then blood alone unites and founds a “community” that a phi losopher singularly akin to Weil has called the community “of the front.”2 Who else does Achilles kill upon slaying his adversary but himself, in an inextricable superimposition of homicide and suicide reminiscent of his own father’s tears symbolically combining with those of Priam as he cried for his son in the scene that heralds the true conclusion of the poem? Hector’s death—which is brought about by Achilles with a determination that far exceeds any simple relationship of enmity— also surpasses analogy, since it signals Achilles’ very own death in his despised enemy: “To kill is always to kill oneself. Two ways of killing oneself, suicide (Achilles) or detachment” (Notebooks Vol. I-A, 40). Indeed, this is also the case with his other loved double—Patroclus—whose death provokes and anticipates this relation. The commonality of enmity is the placeholder of the Iliad’s poetry. It is no longer, as was the case in Arendt, the solar poem of excellence and immortal glory, of kleos and claritas—“no consoling prospect of immortality; and on the hero’s head no washed-out halo of patriotism descends” (“Iliad,” 6). It is the nocturnal canto of mortality, finitude, and human misery. The poet’s function is not to make what would other wise disappear “appear,” or to illustrate war through tales of heroic deeds. On the contrary, it is to depict war in all its naked violence, and thus also in the suffering that ensues. It does this not in the sense of distinguishing between violence and suffering, but in showing that they are the same thing viewed from different perspectives. The poet should limit himself to forging a pathway from one to the other: “In a poem like the Iliad, there is a transmutation of violence into suffering by the poet” (Notebooks Vol. II-C, 507). He is nothing more than an angle of optical refraction from which opposites such as violence and suffering, force and justice, war and love—even when they remain contraries, or, rather, precisely because they remain contraries—also show themselves to be identical. The Greeks certainly knew this when they obeyed the divine law of Dispute. And this is what Weil means when she imagines that the war of Troy was translated into song at the very moment in which the Greeks were experiencing the same


In Common

defeat that they themselves had previously inflicted upon the Trojans. Hence the commonality of victors and vanquished: If one believes with Thucydides that eighty years after the fall of Troy, the Achaeans in their turn were conquered, one may ask whether these songs, with their rare references to iron, are not the songs of a conquered people, of whom a few went into exile. Obliged to live and die, “very far from the homeland,” like the Greeks who fell before Troy, having lost their cities like the Trojans, they saw their own image both in the conquerors, who had been their fathers, and in the conquered, whose misery was like their own. (“Iliad,” 27)

In Common 53


It is precisely because of this ability to split, to be oneself and one’s contrary simultaneously, that the experience of the Greeks is unrepeatable. This is especially the case in reference to the Romans, who, along with the Jews, constitute their most radical negation precisely for the reasons vindicated by Arendt in the name of their glory. For Weil, the jus appeared to be nothing more than the self-legitimization of force; the traditio built the violent uprooting of all other cultures; and the religio, which she understood to be the theological-political glorification of the Roman State, was judged for that very reason to be worse than its proclaimed atheism. From this point of view, it would be possible to demonstrate the ways in which Weil overturns all of Arendt’s affirmations not by negating them, but, rather, by uncovering the double foundation of violence and deceit that underlies the Latin framework upon which Arendt’s assertions rest. This is certainly the case of the Roman principle of auctoritas- augmentum, which Weil reoriented in its very root toward the implacable logic of an increasingly limitless imperialism. Furthermore, through the Virgilian dictum of “parcere subiectis et debellare superbos” (to show mercy to the conquered and to subdue the proud; Aeneid, VI, 51), Weil defined the basis for the negation of all rights to the defeated enemy who refuses humiliation, not to mention the terrifying project of “totum sub leges mittere orbem” (the whole world placed under law), which is grounded in the gradual identification of Urbs with Orbis, and thus of law, with dominium. In this regard, Aeneas’s nephews “behold beneath their feet (omnia sub pedibus) and reign both where the rising and descending sun look on the ocean waves” (Aeneid, VII, 140).1

The contrast with Arendt’s reading could not be more clear. For the latter (and this despite an increasing awareness of Rome’s disproportionate sense of superiority), Rome “fulfi lls” Greece by placating the limit between the “fi rst” and “second” origin, between the original polemos and the polis that unfolds dialectically from within it. For Arendt, Aeneas’s victory over Turnus—the second conflagration—serves to settle the score, to equilibrate and thereby justify the flames of the first. Weil, however, rejects this in principle because fire cannot extinguish fire, but, rather, can only reproduce and spread it further afar, for violence cannot proportion justice and peace to violence. Furthermore, since there is no fi rst fi re from which to initiate the count—every fire is always second, beginning with that of Troy represented in Achilles’s words as the result of a prior conflagration (“We raided Thebe once, Eiton’s sacred citadel, we ravaged the place, hauled all the plunder here”; Iliad, I, “The Rage of Achilles,” v. 433–34)—fire has always burned transported by the same violence. Carthage—posterior to Troy and prior to Numantia or the Visigothic kingdom of Tolosa—is the very symbol of this interminable chain. Carthage for the Romans is a source of guilt even greater than that of the Greeks in the wake of Troy. This is so precisely because, unlike the latter (which was never denied or displaced by the Greeks), Carthage was portrayed as a necessary and just conflagration by Roman authors. It is true that even for Arendt Carthage constitutes a stain on Rome’s comportment (Was ist Politik?, 90), but what appears to her to be a mistake or a limit in Weil’s interpretation becomes the very essence, the terrible truth, of Romanness, and this in full agreement with Tacitus, for whom the famous pax romana indicated nothing more than the wilderness left occasionally in its wake by the Roman populace. Roman peace was not, in this sense, a principle opposed to totalitarian violence, but its most peculiar prelude. It is not difficult to see—as has already been noted on numerous occasions2—the partial, prejudicial, and factious character of this reconstruction, which has been founded, moreover, on gaps and sources selected on the basis of still unproven theses (Polybius, Diodorus, and Appian, but also Caesar). Yet there is still something that holds sway in this interpretative “excess,” which is not the sole purview of Simone Weil. Neither is it merely reducible to the antirömische Affekt—as Carl Schmitt put it critically3— which permeates the Romantic tradition from Chateaubriand to Michelet,

Imperium 55

in which even Weil’s judgments encounter their sustenance. I am referring to the question of a symbolic connection between two phases in the history of the “political” that are absolutely distant and incomparable. Having said that, it is an element that returns with too much force for it to be a mere product of the spirit of the time, since it appears to encompass something more than just an impossible historical parallelism. I would like to provide three comparisons in this regard, the significance of which lies in the fact that they relate to authors who do not belong to Weil’s inspirational framework. The first is Heidegger’s Parmenides, which was written between 1942 and 1943, in the same period as Weil’s “anti-Roman” writings.4 What is surprisingly familiar in the relation between Weil and Heidegger’s writings is not so much the overall framework of an opposition between Greek and Roman worlds that is always developed to the detriment of the latter. After all, this immediately evokes Hegel’s philosophy of history. Rather, what is familiar is the proximity of their argumentative modalities. Modern nihilism—having achieved its closure in the Nietzschean will to power— is grounded in the passage from Greek aletheia to Roman veritas and, as such, in the radical transformation of the concept of truth. While the fi rst expresses the movement of bringing into appearance, of unveiling (Unverborgenheit), the second encounters its principle in the concept of “command” (Befehl) understood as dominium over the other-than-self (Herrschaft). Weil’s thesis is precisely as follows: the Roman numen is different from that of the Greek gods because, unlike the latter, who can only ever signal a necessity greater than themselves, the former represents the essence of a despotic will akin to the God of the Old Testament. This is in fact the very manner in which Heidegger approaches the spirit of Rome. But what is even more significant for Weil’s arguments,5 and this in contrast to Arendt (for whom Heidegger is certainly closer), is that Roman law— ius, whose intrinsic nexus with iubeo drags the entire semantic frame of iustitia far from the terrain of the Greek dikē—is annexed to the violent sphere of domination. While the latter alludes to the sovereign measure that subdivides parts according to their just proportion, the Roman iustum always belongs to he who stands higher (Obensein) in respect to others who for this very reason are judged to be inferior, or, in the literal sense of the expression, “looked down upon.” This is the principle of a “seeing” that in the Roman actio of war is always bound to “vanquishing,” as seen in Caesar’s golden adage: Veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). But if combat is 56


already predefined by the divergent positions of adversaries, this also indicates that for the Romans it is always associated with the intention of fallere, of bringing to a fall or to a state of checkmate (das Zu-Fall-bringen) not through an attack, but as the result of a trap or a deceit. Weil puts it in the following terms: “The Romans praised their own good faith with contagious conviction, and took great care in giving the impression of defending themselves and not attacking, of respecting treaties and conventions except when they could attack with impunity, and even at times in those very same cases” (Écrits, 221). This clearly has as much to do with war as it does with a pax that is nothing more than war’s complementary inversion. It therefore has to do with the continuous modification of frontiers that the Romans indicated with the term pango; a term that, in fact, provides us with the notion of the falsity of the Roman pax: The properly “great” feature of the imperial resides not in war but in the fallere of subterfuge as roundabout action and in the pressing-intoservice for domination. The battles against the Italian cities and tribes, by means of which Rome secured its territory and expansion, make manifest the unmistakable procedure or roundabout action and encirclement through treaties with tribes lying further out. In the Latin fallere, to bring down, as subterfuge, there resides “deceiving”; the falsum is treachery and deception, “the false.”6 The fact that Heidegger defined the expansion of Rome in almost the same terms as Weil, that is, as the “the foundation for the priority of the false” (which is different from the Greek term pseudos) and, as such, as “the essence of untruth in the Occident” (Heidegger, Parmenides, 46) is in itself symptomatic. But it is also particularly relevant given the historical process and extraordinary interpretative symmetry with which he too locates the false at the heart of Roman Catholicism, and, even more specifically, at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. The second point of comparison can be found in the character of Augustus in Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil. In the dramatic encounter that places him in contrast with the dying poet, Augustus not only posits the idolatry of the State, which Weil referred to as the most nefarious legacy of Rome, the greatest and most cursed of all cities.7 He also addresses other adjacent elements: for example, the State grants freedom to its subjects “by letting the people participate in the state’s momentum” (363). In this sense, Imperium 57

of course, the State can be said to belong to all Romans as a State of the people. But it can only belong to the people in so far as each citizen erases himself as such, as an individual citizen, in order to be considered, in turn, the property of the State: “Ourselves a part of the people, we are the property of the all-commanding state, we are owned by it with all that we are and have, and in belonging to the state we belong to the people; for just as the state personifies the people, so must the people personify the state” (368). Herein lies the theological-political short circuit that, according to Weil, leads the most profoundly atheistic people to devise the very State form that annihilates every transcendent alterity by incorporating it into its own immanence: “The Romans, at least from the time of their great victories, never had any religion other than that of their own nation as the ruler of empire. Gods only served to preserve and increase their greatness” (Weil, Écrits, 261). Just like its subjects, even the gods are of the State in the precise sense that they constitute its innate source of legitimacy. They are the sanctification of its power on earth, where even heaven is situated as if it were the roof of a house: if “the reality of Rome is earthly, its humanity is earthly” (Death of Virgil, 367); or, “The kingdom of the spirit is already at hand; it is the state, the Roman state, the Roman Empire unto its last frontiers. State and spirit are one and the same” (365). For this reason, Augustus continues, in an allusion to the founding destiny of the pius but also to that of the victor, Aeneas: “Piety and the state are one, to be pious is to serve the state and to coordinate oneself with it; the pious person is one who serves the Roman state with his whole being and the whole of his works” (Death of Virgil, 475–76). Nothing sheds greater light on the sacrificial premise upon which such ideas rest than Augustus’s concluding peroration, which once again uncovers a singular compatibility with Weil’s identification of slavery as “a Roman institution par excellence” (Need for Roots, 217): The welfare of the Empire demands slaves, and they have to accommodate themselves to this fact, disregarding the rights due to the oppressed for which they might clamor . . . and should they rebel against this, should another Spartacus arise as their leader, like Crassus I should have to let thousands of them be slain on the cross, as much as a warning to the people as to divert them, and in order to make them, who are always ready for cruelty and fear, realize with fear and trembling, how impotent



the individual is in comparison to the all-commanding State. (Death of Virgil, 368) The fact that Broch and Virgil establish an opposition between this “decision” of the State and the “indivisibility” of Justice (Death of Virgil, 367) is another Weilian allusion that I can reference only in passing. However, this brings us to our third point of comparison, that is, an author who is both most distant and yet particularly close to Weil, namely, Elias Canetti: The history of the Romans is the greatest single reason for perpetuating wars. Their wars simply became the paragon of all success. For civilizations, they are the example of imperiums; for barbarians, the example of booty. But since all of us have both—civilization and barbarity—the earth may be destroyed by the heritage of the Romans. What bad luck that the city of Rome survived when its empire was smashed! That the Pope kept it going! That vain emperors could capture her empty ruins and the name of Rome within them! Rome conquered Christianity by becoming Christendom. . . . Thus twenty Christian centuries were necessary to give the ancient and naked Roman idea a garment for its nakedness and a conscience for weak moments. And now that idea is here, perfect and equipped with all the forces of the soul. Who will destroy it? Is it indestructible? Has mankind, with thousand fold efforts, carefully conquered its own annihilation?8 In this passage—the expressive tonality of which is doubtlessly foreign to Weil’s inflections—we encounter in concentrated form the conditions of Canetti’s condemnation of Rome: from responsibility for wars past and present to the innately barbaric nature of a civilization that opposed itself artificially to barbarism; from the contamination of Christianity to that of an entire modernity that has been, and still is, deemed Roman. But it is not only this anti-Roman accent that binds Canetti to Weil. Above all, it is their anti-idolatrous critique in the face of a power that manifests or hides its idolatry even in God, or perhaps, especially in God: “The religion of power. . . . God is power, and whoever has it is his prophet” (Canetti, 26). Theirs is the common distrust of a history that “is on the side of what has happened detaching it in a stronger context from what has not happened” (Canetti, 124), over and against all those individuals, cities, and civilizations that were

Imperium 59

defeated and consequently eradicated. “Why lament,” echoes Weil, “the disappearance of things about which we know, as it were, nothing at all? We know nothing about them because they have disappeared. . . . It is the same with history. . . . It is the scene of a Darwinian process more pitiless still than that which governs animal and vegetable life. The defeated disappear. They become naught” (Need for Roots, 216). But there is something more (at least in a certain “Kafkaian” Canetti).9 There is the inverted reflection, unspoken voice, and semantic emptiness of a reality—its language, history, and gods—through which the dominium of force extends. Therein attention turns toward the passive declination of a power that is capable of excavating and uncovering the hidden traces of antagonism: “Savor powerlessness, after power, in every phase that matches it precisely; replace every old triumph with the new defeat; strengthen yourself on your weakness; win yourself back when so very lost” (Canetti, 80).



11 TO P O LO G I E S

The overturning of Arendt’s views is not limited to the judgment on Rome, since it also proceeds by means of a symmetrical inversion in the shadow of this argument. By this I mean that the very Christianity that Arendt situates as the commencement of the drift toward the modern constitutes for Weil both its internal rampart and its principle source of contention simultaneously. Indeed, for Weil Christianity is the spiritual thread that allows modernity to continue advancing in light of its originary inspiration. This does not mean that the two interpretative horizons are openly contradictory. They even coincide at one point precisely in their severe judgment of historical Christianity, which, paradoxically, Weil blames for the de-Christianization of our times. However, their two perspectives diverge once again as Arendt observes that this phenomenon surely occurs because Christianity is lacking in mundane, public figures. Meanwhile, and contrary to what Arendt believes, for Weil it is precisely Christianity’s spirituality that makes it the unique, authentic “continuation” of Greece. This is why, according to her rather ungenerous judgment, the sequel to the Iliad should not be sought in the Aeneid—which represents for her a degraded “copy” devised by the apologetic intentions of its author in the face of Augustus—but in the Gospels. It should not be sought in political poetry—in Virgil, for example— but in the Christian book of the impolitical. As is well known, this relation between the Christian tradition and Greek culture constitutes one of the most complex “crosses” in Weil’s writings. Some have emphasized the Hellenization of Christianity in her thought, while others have highlighted the Christianization of the Greek tradition.1 But neither is mutually exclusive in the sense that the fundamental problem

remains that of “Christian Platonism” with all the historical, philosophical, and doctrinal contradictions that this implies. The same can also be said of the gnostic vector that constitutes the most manifestly antinomic bond in Weil’s thought. How can we reconcile mythical religion with revelatory religion? Can it be done through the eternal repetition of the Greek archetype in coordination with the radical novitas of the Christian event? Or can it be achieved via Platonic mediation and mystical expropriation? Indeed, how can we “contain” or bind the distant “One” of Parmenides with the personal Christian God, not to mention the Aristotelian idea, which still appears in some passages, of God as the “thought of thought”? Weil did not in fact intend to reconcile all of the above, at least not in the sense generally attributed to this expression, that is, as a synthesis derived from the weakening of polar opposites in need of mediation. On the contrary, her intention is to forge the contradiction between unreconcilables to the point of reinforcing them precisely through their mutual conceptual and symbolic frictions.2 It is this acute differentiating tension that most profoundly distinguishes her religious universalism from the many models of evangelical praeparatio, or “progressive” revelation, that occur in the philosophical tradition from the aristocratic nature of Neoplatonism to the Schelling of Philosophie der Offenbarung (Philosophy of Revelation). Weil herself claims as much not only when she judges religious conversion to be as dangerous as “a change of language for a writer” (Waiting on God, 117) but, in more general terms, when she posits reciprocal listening between various religious traditions as the condition for the safeguarding of their radical diversity: “We should conceive the identity of the various traditions, not by reconciling them through what they have in common, but by grasping the essence of what is specific in each” (Notebooks Vol. II-C, 502). The essential identity of truth resides in the differential specificity with which it reveals itself. This is so not in the most obvious sense, in which time transforms the way we observe the same truth, but in a more enigmatic sense in which, through a form of mysterious contrasting correspondence, the truth of every religion is in fact the one and only truth distinct from all others, even though, from a different perspective, they still coincide: “Each religion is alone true, that is to say, that at the moment we are thinking on it we must bring as much attention to bear on it as if there were nothing else. . . . A ‘synthesis’ of religions implies a lower quality of attention” (Notebooks Vol. I-C, 228). Herein lies the symmetry between the jealous 62


custody of faith itself and its openness to the dissonant contents that are present in all other faiths. However, we should not understand “openness” here simply as tolerance and even less as annexation, but rather as scission, tear, and rift. In its encounter with the other every tradition is interrupted, wounded, ripped from the pacific stability of its own certainties and put into conflict with itself, liberated from the struggle that originally traverses it. That other is precisely its own “otherness” that it contains as something that both authorizes and unsettles, and corroborates the Truth precisely by challenging its presumed orthodoxy. As in the case of Christianity, when a religion becomes institutionalized into a closed dogma in such a way as to rest on a solid “stone,” it inevitably loses itself or becomes perverted. The only way to breath new life into it is by decentering it, placing it in tension with something foreign that, from another angle of the quadrant, can be seen to belong to it, as its most secret and immemorial origin. Th is is Greece for Christianity: the latter’s unconscious truth and, at the same time, its insurmountable contradiction. However, this is also Christianity for Greece. The confrontation and contrast with Arendt returns. It is Christianity—not Rome—that revitalizes the Greek origin. But this occurs not by repetition, mimicry, or duplication, as the Roman tradition strived to inaugurate. On the contrary, it occurs by subtracting origin from its very originarity, combining it with another spiritual root that “founds” it from the future and “explains” it in its most intimate significance: “Without the haunting of the Passion, the Greek civilization from which you derive absolutely all your thoughts could never be born” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 106). In this sense it is the “after” that generates the “before,” because without the “after” even the “before” would have been deprived of its most significant element: “It is marvelous and unspeakably intoxicating to think that it was Christ’s love and desire that made Revelation spring up once again in Greece” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 124). By now, all chronological planes have been twisted into a nonlinear topology in which origin is both anticipated and postponed, for, after all, “chronology cannot have a determining role in the relation of God to man, a relation in which one of the terms is eternal” (Lettre à un religieux, 19); “We should first rid ourselves of the superstition of chronology if we wish to achieve Eternity” (Lettre à un religieux, 50). In the same way Christianity is rooted in its “before,” Greece is rooted in its “after.” But this root is another “before” from the one produced in the absence of originary self-consistency. Topologies 63

Greece is both what follows it—Christianity—and what anticipates it, as was also the case for its own ancient oriental mother, who in turn gave Greece its origin in a completely reversible order of synoptic succession according to which divergent spaces render different times simultaneous (and vice versa). This is what unsettles and moves Greece from within: the Pythagorean tradition and all the orphic and mystery-bound doctrines that combine in Plato emerge also from beyond: “The Greek and the Hindu traditions represent one and the same” (Notebooks Vol. II-C, 502). This Greece is both itself and its other: India, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Sumatra. But it is also its “enemy” other—Troy—which it fi rst destroyed and then never ceased to lament as its own originary guilt: Herodotus observes that the Pythagoreans took many of their beliefs from Egypt. Another ancient historian—Diodorus Siculus, I believe— highlights analogies between Pythagorean thought and Druid thought, which, according to Diogenes Laertius, was considered by some to be one of the origins of Greek philosophy, all of which leads us incidentally to consider Druid religion to be of Iberian origin, as was the metaphysical and religious component of Greek civilization that originated in Pelasgus. In parenthesis, before historical times Iberians and Pelasgians, to whom we can add Aegean-Cretans and Trojans along with others such as the Phoenicians, Sumatrans and Egyptians, seem to have forged a homogeneous civilization around the Mediterranean which was imbued with pure and supernatural spirituality. (Intuitions Pré-Chretiennes, 109) Setting aside the question of the reliability of such genealogies the decisive point, which distances the image of Greece from the consolidated Philhellenic legacy that developed from Hegel to Husserl—and that was not entirely foreign to Heidegger—is that of the rupture of the nexus between Hellenism and Occidentalism, which not even Arendt contested. It is true that Hegel himself noted the “mixing” and “heterogeneity” that in its origin united the Greeks to other peoples of Asia Minor such as the Carians, Lydians, and Phrygians. But he did so in order to emphasize the overcoming of heterogeneity that emerged at a particular moment as a result of their spirit.3 This is analogous to the way in which for Husserl only the “Europeanization” of the “foreign humanities”—understanding here the “mere empirical anthropological type as China or India”4—could have restituted primacy to a Europe that was already in crisis at that time. Indeed, was it 64


not in the name of a new self-appropriation of European humanity—and of German humanity in particular—that Heidegger invoked the return to Greece? It is directly against this kind of Greco-European “particularistic universalism” that Weil affirms the “oriental” root—and, in a certain sense, an “oriental” destiny—in an interpretative gesture that recalls the solitary figures of Hölderlin and Nietzsche: “Perhaps Europe has no other way of avoiding its decomposition under American influence than through a new, true, and profound contact with the Orient” (Écrits, 373). Other than a singular spiritual and even thematic affi nity with Greek tragedy, Weil shares with Hölderlin the conviction that “the Greeks are indispensable for us. It is just that we could not imitate them precisely in what is ours, in the nation, because . . . the most difficult thing is the free use of what is one’s own.”5 This is the case because the Greeks stand out (perhaps more than any other people) not in relation to what is their own but in relation to what is foreign to them, that is, to the “foreign” that grounds and simultaneously ungrounds origin, separating it from itself following the Heraclitean principle according to which “individuality . . . is nothing more than a product of supreme conflict” (Hölderlin 87), for “the unlimited becoming-One is purified by unlimited self-separation” (Hölderlin 144).6 What else could Weil mean than this, when, in reference to that broken symbol of the cross that she projected into and read through the entirety of Greek culture— from Prometheus bound to Dionysus torn to pieces, or the question of burial in Antigone—she wrote: “The union of contradictories means a spiritual quartering. It is by itself a passion, and is impossible without extreme suffering” (Notebooks II-A, 386). Herein lies the “key” to Weil’s intentionally contradictory discourse. The very metaxy that unifies and composes is absolute division: “The function of mediation, in itself, implies a spiritual quartering” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 380). It is this very same knot that binds Weil aporetically to Nietzsche, since we can interpret her tragic Greece traversed and constituted by the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus in terms of an originary “dismemberment”; of a dismemberment of origin itself.7 It is widely recognized that Weil had obvious reservations about this par ticular aspect of Nietzsche’s thought— further evidence perhaps of her generalized “allergy” to a phi losopher to whom she felt an embarrassing attraction and affi nity8: “Nietzsche,” she wrote to her brother André, “was utterly mistaken regarding Dionysus, not to mention the opposition to Apollo, which is pure fantasy since the Greeks Topologies 65

mixed them up in their myths and only on occasion seemed to identify them” (Sur la science, 192). But what does it mean to lay claim to the inextricable character of the two-faced Greek Janus—the Dionysian essence of Apollo the archer—without also affirming the limit of the intrinsic logic by means of which “Dionysus speaks the language of Apollo, but Apollo finally speaks the language of Dionysus” (Birth, 104)?9 Does this imply that origin here is unidentifiable since it bears within itself the contestation of all identity? Does it indicate that the Greeks are nothing more than the finest inheritors and disciples of Asia in the same way Europe is a Greek civilization to which Thracian and Phoenician elements were added, as if Europe were Asia’s “ little peninsula” (Nietzsche, Human, 365) wishing madly to represent the progress of man? Without doubt, Weil’s understanding of the “tragic” is different from that of Nietzsche because Weil places the Socratic logos at the heart of the tragic as its deformed form, rather than locating it in opposition. Indeed, for Weil Platonism is the conceptual legacy that is consciously “overturned” in Nietzsche (not ignored, but, rather, reinforced in its absolute negative immanence). However, it is precisely here that a subterranean relation emerges that is reminiscent of her relation with Arendt. It is true that for Weil appearance does not coincide, in Nietzschean form, with truth or even with “reality.” Indeed, appearance for Weil remains the only thing humanly granted to us, even though this deprivation of transcendence— its “no” enveloped in absolute immanence— constitutes, as we know, its clearest evidence. This is precisely the relation between identity and overturning that sustains both political realism and the impolitical. For both Nietzsche and Weil, our world is nothing more than will to power unless a sudden and devastating schism opens up and whisks us away; or (and this is the same thing) unless it makes us adhere with an absolutely unconditional “yes” to the transformation of will to power into absolute amor fati (love of fate): “This unconditional ‘yes’ pronounced in the secret of the soul, in pure silence, is subtracted in its entirety from all risk of contact with force. Nothing else in the soul can be subtracted. This method is simple. There is no other. It is amor fati” (Intuitions Pre-Chrétiennes, 58).10



12 I N T H E G R I P O F LOV E

As already noted, this consciousness is the poetic heart of the Iliad. This heart, however, beats not in the verses but in the lapses, pauses, and silences that scan and pierce the poem like a “clearing” suddenly opening and immediately closing in the universe of force, in which force contains its limit as its own oblivious surface. This means that contrary to what Arendt believed, one can never “really” escape this consciousness, and “reality”— which coincides with our notion of the possible—is not infinite in the sense of it being limited by an impossible toward which at least one part of our soul is drawn as if through an irresistible vortex. It is this that allows us to despise the very same force that forces us to acknowledge absolute sovereignty: “The Greeks held force in horror and knew that every thing in the world is force, with the exception of one point” (Notebooks II-B, 461). Their “miracle” lies in evading what are by far the two most common responses: honoring force and, on the contrary, yet much less diff usely, despising it merely on the grounds of not acknowledging it at the center of life. This is exactly what the Greeks do not do: “In having recognized force as something that is absolutely sovereign throughout nature, including the natural part of the human soul with all the thoughts and feelings it contains, and at the same time recognizing it as something completely despicable, therein lies the grandeur of Greece” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 53). In order for this to be possible, in order to despise force at the very moment at which it is assumed as coextensive with existence, it is necessary to distinguish rigorously between the concepts of existence and reality. Existence does not exhaust reality entirely since not every thing that is real exists; or, more

precisely, what exists unfolds into two absolutely coinciding parts, each of which, from our point of view, is the opposite of the other. This is also what happens to force. Allow me to present the following passage in detail: “There is no other force on this earth except force. That could serve as an axiom. As for the force which is not of this earth, contact with it cannot be bought at any lesser price than the passing through a kind of death” (The Need for Roots, 215). Force is the only force because it is the only thing to fill the Earth. But beyond Earth there is something else counterpoised to it from the outside. This has the same name, “force,” and from a certain perspective the same energy. However, it has a completely inverted directionality since, rather than extending downward like gravity, it grows up from below. It is still force but also its opposite; it is a force that is not a force. More precisely, it is a non-force. It is not an entity that has nothing to do with force but neither is it its contrary. It is its negative: something capable of surpassing it without either canceling or losing contact with it; of simply unfolding outward like a circumference containing a circle. But what is this something? What is this non-force more forceful than force, dominating it without itself being dominated by it? It is Love in its relation to Justice: “Force considers itself infinite, whereas it is only something which is in itself without limit and upon which a limit is set from outside. The thing which limits force is not subjected to force, neither is it endowed with force. And this principle is the same thing as Love. There is something infinite in force, but this infinite quality is finite with respect to another sort of infinitude” (Notebooks II-B, 462). Weil’s main point of reference here is Plato’s Symposium, and in par ticular the discourse on love offered by the tragic poet Agathon, which the author defines as “the center of all Greek thought, its perfectly pure and luminous core,” thereby constituting “the inspiration of the Iliad, illuminating almost every part of it” (Intuitions PréChrétiennes, 53–54). What is recounted in this discourse? Quite simply, that “love neither commits nor suffers injustice either among gods or men, because love does not suffer as a result of force when suffering occurs, for force does not touch upon love. When it does so, it does not act by force since everyone consents to obey Love in all” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 52–53). This means that, Agathon continues, “regarding valor, Ares himself cannot stand up to Love. Ares does not grasp Love, but Aphrodite’s love grasps Ares, so to speak. He who dominates, he who is absolutely the most valorous, must be absolutely valorous” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 60). As we have already 68

In the Grip of Love

observed, what needs to be emphasized here is the bind of opposition and affinity between Ares and Eros. Eros battles Ares without utilizing arms, prescinded from force. But he does battle with him and does so forcefully with a strength that is not only equal but also superior to that of Ares. In the end, this allows Eros to grasp Ares in the palm of his hand. Despite its contrary inspiration, Love too fights. It wages war even against the god of war. It opposes war, but with a peace that resembles war, except for the fact that it is not a simple war but its contrary: a war of war, on war. For this reason, Love must be the strongest of warriors because it must fight without arms. It must be so strong a warrior that it does not have to be a warrior 1: Love has Ares in the palm of his hand, which is to say that warring valor (alongside all analogous forms of valor) is in need of a love to inspire it. A base love inspires a base form of courage, an absolutely pure love inspires an absolutely pure form of valor. However, without love there is nothing other than cowardice. Love never exercises force, it has no sword in its hand, and yet it is the source of the foot soldiers’ valor. It contains this virtue in itself in its most eminent form. It contains within itself all that in valor is other than the brutality of armed force. It cannot be imitated to the extent that, without being a warrior one cannot possess more warring valor than warriors themselves. (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 60). Without doubt these texts justify a reading of Weil as a “combative” thinker.2 This is the case not only because, as we have already seen, she has always considered war to be “the main engine of social life” (Intuitions PréChrétiennes, 76), but because of something more deeply rooted in her thought, and, I would add, in her life, that transmits the tone and language of an uninterrupted battle directed primarily against herself. Even in her most passionate phase of pacifism, which was later so stridently set aside, this is something that prevented her from “renouncing the struggle which, according to Heraclitus, is the condition of life” (“Ne recommençons pas,” Écrits, 118), therein revealing life’s internal movement. Love is author of the most complete harmony since it unites the most contrary of contraries. This also allowed her to affirm that: “war itself, especially as conducted in the old days, stirs man’s sense of beauty in a way that is vital and poignant” (Waiting for God, 106). Herein also lies the connection—certainly through contrast, but through a contrast that binds with indissoluble ties—between In the Grip of Love 69

war and love, between Ares and Eros, which is a constant throughout her Notebooks. This is the case not only in negative terms, such as when they are considered to be “the twin sources of illusion and falsehood among men” (Notebooks I-B, 103) or the source of the basest sensual form of Eros drawn most naturally toward the annihilating aggressiveness of war. For Weil, Ares and Eros are also the source of the highest form in which the “combinations of war and love” (First and Last Notebooks, 48), or “the kinship between love and war” (Notebooks Vol I-B, 95), assumes the intensity of a bond so intimate that it allows her ideas to attain their ineludible conclusiveness. It is at this moment that the “image of peace” (Notebooks I-A, 66) is sought out in “war” like sounds imitating silence: the war of peace and of peace in war. For this reason Weil’s entire semantic system loads up with bellicose images and metaphors concentrated at the tip of a sword, “to thrust the tip of action into the flow of time” (Notebooks I-A, 56). On the other hand, the sword—of “love”—lends itself to the critical interpretation of the warrior-saints Krishna and Arjuna, but also of Joan of Arc and Saint Catherine:3 “Reason must draw the two-edged sword from the scabbard: hatred of vice and love of virtue” (Notebooks I-D, 257). Why else would Christ wield a sword—“I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), or “The word of God is a double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12)—other than for the fact that “when the hilt of a sword is held by a pure hand, the point purifies” (Notebooks II-D, 610)? This is the sword that Weil’s hero upholds, and according to Cratylus (398c) it is not by chance that “hero” indicates birth on account of love. Since love carries within itself a wound that does not heal, desire cannot be sated; its fire burns and purifies: “I came to throw fire on earth but what do I desire, if it is already alight?” (Luke 12:49). This is just one final point of contrast by which to measure the relation of distance that, like never before, separates Weil’s hero from Arendt’s. Weil’s is a hero who does not “play” courageously at war, but neither does he elude it, “deceiving” it with excuses of “just cause,” false images of peace, or misguided notions of right or might. He knows, however, that Earth is the kingdom of force and that one can be within force in different ways, in the multiple “stations” or steps of heroism. He can limit himself to “imitating” purity through its “image,” trying to establish equilibrium between force exercised and force endured, between force’s active and passive sides. To limit the exercise of one’s own force, to renounce it partially even when holding a positional advantageous is an act 70 In the Grip of Love

that has something of the supernatural about it: “To kill as little as possible” (Notebooks I-A, 33), or “to infl ict a limited damage upon the enemy, but I am unable to do this, for the use of arms necessarily carries with it the unlimited” (Notebooks I-A, 26). But Weil’s hero can do more. Unlike Achilles, he can uphold love for the life of the other, that is, he can “desire that the other person should live, although necessity be opposed thereto” (Notebooks I-A, 33), or perhaps even better, he can interpret differently a necessity that is in any form impossible to elude, yielding to it without renouncing responsibility, adhering completely to his own dharma to the point of loving it. This is the case of Arjuna, but also of Lawrence when he led his life into catastrophe without ever abandoning his assigned place. Only in this way is it possible to accept necessity while simultaneously elevating oneself above it, accomplishing it freely in a “universal” manner: “Necessity is whatever is lowest in relation to the individual—coercion, force, ‘harsh necessity’—universal necessity delivers from it” (Notebooks I-B, 96). Even in this case it is a question of combining opposites and making them function reciprocally: freedom and necessity, necessity and decision. To decide for one’s own necessity; to make it one’s own. How? By dissolving the “occasional” relation that binds the decision to the moment, or—and this is the same thing—by repeating that moment eternally, expanding it to the point of achieving eternity. This is possible only by “awaiting”: Sooner or later the moment will arrive in which the decision will emerge on the side of necessity. It suffices to “pay attention to such a point that we no longer have the choice. We then know our dharma” (Notebooks I-C, 205). But we should not delude ourselves that this is easy or that there is only a minor price to pay, for it is necessary to arrive at a breaking point. This means to decide for necessity: to make a decision. To separate—within oneself, within one’s body and soul—the part that desires from the part that does not desire, and to choose the latter: to desire not to desire. This is the concept of “not taking action,” of “objectless desire,” or of decreation. It is literally a question of splitting the soul into two with one part tending toward the fruits of action while the other does not. The first says no to reducing itself to, or disappearing in favor of, the other (or the Other) while the second says yes. This supreme “decision”—of the “self” itself—is predicated on the sword of fire brought down to Earth by Christ: “God’s presence cuts the soul in two; the Good on one side, the Evil on the other. It is a sword” (First and Last Notebooks, 300). It is this that Weil’s hero has to In the Grip of Love 71

brandish in his hands: this sword—which is not a sword—gripped in the fist of Love bringing not “peace” but war on one’s self; the assumption within the self of the firmest agōn, of perfect agony not limited to a moment but extended to the totality of time4: “The soul divides into an unlimited part and a part which limits . . . One part of the soul suffers on a level below the temporal, and every fraction of time seems to it to continue in perpetuity. The other part suffers on a level above the temporal and it sees perpetuity as something finite. The soul is divided in two, and between the two parts is the all of time. It is time that is the sword that cuts the soul in two. (In another sense, the sword is Love)” (First and Last Notebooks, 224). It is only in this sense that the hero can carry out his mission, consuming his duty, and consuming himself within it. It is only in this way that the image of true peace can emerge from war in complete adherence to the Object: the pure perception of Reality. To love reality means to understand that reality—all reality, even the rain and the hail, even the coldest wind— is love. In this way even the war we come from can be understood as the final battle: “Believe that reality is love, while still seeing it exactly as it is. Love what is intolerable. Embrace what is made of iron, press one’s flesh against the metallic harshness and chill” (First and Last Notebooks, 260).


In the Grip of Love

13 T H E F I N A L B AT T L E

Despite all of the above, one final twist, acute divergence, or digression still remains in the relation between Arendt and Weil’s notions of heroism. In order to understand this twist, however, it is necessary to approach from afar, for it originates in one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms: “The heroic consists in doing a great thing (or in not doing a thing in a great fashion) without feeling oneself to be in competition with others before others. The hero always bears the wilderness and the sacred, inviolable borderline within him wherever he may go” (Nietzsche, Human, 391–92). The image of the wilderness here—which Arendt’s hero struggles to constrain—provides significant insight into Weil’s notion of heroism. Her hero is always alone even unto himself. It is for this reason that he does not stand opposed to the wilderness but carries it within himself. His soul is deserted, as was that of Christ in the “crucial” moment of his divine Abandonment. He is by definition the abandoned, the humiliated and the despised. Like the character Jaffier, who saved the city in Weil’s Venice Saved, he is always considered a “traitor,” a “coward,” and a “criminal” worthy of death. As the character Apprenti says of Jaffier in Venice Saved: “Can we allow this coward to keep his life? Come, what say ye? Let me kill him!” (Poèmes suivi de Venise sauvée, 125). From this point of view, one can clearly understand what it is that allows Weil’s hero “to accomplish a heroic action without being a hero” (Notebooks Vol I-C, 186). Like the warrior of love, this is a hero without being one, or, rather, a hero precisely because he is not one. He is unheroic, or, rather, an antihero, at least in the context of the characteristics that the epic tradition, which Arendt herself recuperated and deepened, attributed to his figure, as he who achieves glory in the eyes of others. Is this not the light

that Arendt’s Homer reserved for his heroes, rendering them immortal? In contrast, light and immortality are precisely the two traits that are contested most radically by Weil’s hero, who is not characterized by his capacity to rise into the light but by his awareness of belonging to the night, like the factory worker hit by misfortune and crushed in a vise, or anybody else who has faced death with absolute anonymity. It is not for nothing that the most pure hero remains nameless for Weil, for he is the “nameless” and “faceless” who has lost every attribute, remaining unknown and unrecognizable for the simple reason that he is withdrawn from the luminescent sphere of appearance. Herein lies the feature that most distances him from Arendt’s world, for his heroism does not reside in appearing but in its opposite. This is not a question of the person, but of the impersonal, for his is the “action in which the person does not appear” (Notebooks, Vol. I-A, 29). But we should remain attentive to the fact that such ideas do not derive from the underestimation of the sphere of appearance—which in Weil remains of prime importance, since it structures our reading of the world and, consequently, even our behav ior—but in their completely negative valorization. It remains beyond the purview of this work to trace the intricate hermeneutic path undertaken by the thematic of appearance in Weil’s thought, that is, the mutations, variations, and divisions that characterize it from the first essay on perception all the way through to the final Notebooks.1 The fact remains, however, that such a path, even when taking into account the shifts in register that it periodically underwent, still sways more on the side of the semantics of “semblance” than it does on the side of “appearance.” Appearance, in other words, does not coincide with reality, or at least not with its most profound level, even though from another perspective (which is ours, precisely) it remains perfectly real. Indeed, since we never leave the cave entirely, appearance is the only reality we succeed in grasping: “We access nothing other than appearances” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 83). Even though appearance’s shadows can be perceived differently according to our awareness or lack of awareness of them, consciousness does not imply placing oneself on a plane different from that of appearance (such a thing would be impossible), but its opposite: knowing that we cannot emerge from its sphere because it constitutes us; we are ourselves in and of appearance and nothing other than this. But if we are appearance this also means that we are not, and therefore that the only way to be something—All—is by withdrawing oneself from appearance by dis-appearing: “Balance between 74

The Final Battle

appearance and being; when one goes up, the other comes down. To appear as nothing, imitation of God, non-active action; effect of love” (Notebooks Vol I-C, 229). This is the hero’s love; the war waged on his self, on his own real appearance or apparent reality at the price of a painful separation akin to a peeling away of the skin: “Appearance clings to being and only suffering can tear them apart. . . . Whoever possesses being cannot possess appearance, and force is on the level of appearance. Appearance fetters being” (Notebooks, Vol. I-C, 230). The hero is he who has a force divergent to, and greater than, that which appears. In the place of he who has the force to not appear, Reality appears no longer veiled by appearance: “Due to the upheaval caused in human matters by original sin this incompatibility between appearance and reality emerges, which obliges perfect justice to appear here on Earth in the form of a condemned criminal. If we were innocent, appearance would be the very color of the real, rather than a veil to be torn” (Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes, 85). But we are not innocent. Therefore, such a thing is impossible, and “Arjuna’s mistake consists in wanting to raise himself in the sphere of outward manifestation,” rather than aiming “toward the better and non-represented” (Notebooks I-D, 293–4). Perhaps only Antigone succeeded in doing such a thing, but she did so at the price of literally burying herself in the eyes of mortals, and as a result pulling herself closer to the Real, for “what is hidden is more real than what is manifested” (Notebooks Vol. II-A, 363). As already noted, in order for such a thing to be possible, an act of pure love is required alongside an act of pure thought. Weil never loses sight of this connection between erōs and noos as they conjoin at the highest level of reading, that is to say, in none-reading, in impersonal reading, in Spinoza’s amor dei intellectualis. True passion implies an adhesion to the real in itself, which can be achieved only by an extreme effort of thought, as if it were the weighty thought of the real alone that was capable of inducing us to love it. Both love and the thought of the real succeed one another continuously without resolution, to the point of conjoining into a single thought of love: “In order to subordinate oneself to the faculty of love, the other faculties must find their own Good within it; this is the case in par ticular of intelligence, which after love is the most beautiful faculty. This is indeed the case. When intelligence is exercised once again, after having been silenced for having allowed love to invade the entire soul, it finds that it possesses more light than before” (“Lettre a un Religieux,” 59–60). It is this light—as The Final Battle 75

already suggested, surrounded by shadow, invisible to all else, and, ultimately, even to he who is struck by it—that the hero seeks.2 Every one of his acts of love passes through the thought of the one thing that he can truly love. It is not by chance that already at the age of seventeen Weil had written that to think is a “heroic act.”3 This “noetic” characterization of Weil’s notion of heroism is particularly relevant because it brings us closer to our final “long distance appointment” with Arendt’s previously mentioned “thinking.” By the latter I refer to the specific dimension that Arendt assigns to the phenomenon of thinking in her final unfinished trilogy The Life of the Mind, which, in the general context of the critique of voluntarism—in which freedom originating in the will is unachievable—places her in close proximity to Weil’s concerns. It is significant that Arendt’s most immediate reference point is constituted by the very same Socrates who “guides” Weil’s Platonic itinerary, and this is the case even though Arendt attempts in every way to separate the two Greek philosophers. What is the fi rst and most pronounced character for thinking in Socrates? Arendt responds with the words of Xenophon (Memorabilia, IV, iii, 14). The metaphor—and Arendt’s entire trajectory is replete with metaphors4—is that of the wind: “The winds are in themselves invisible but their effect is manifest and somehow we perceive their approach” (Memorabilia, 268). We should pay par ticular attention to the issue of violence—to “the storm of thought,” as Heidegger would put it—to destruction, the dislocations of an activity constitutively oriented to overturn not only received values, the traditional order, or the rules of accepted conduct, but also their very premises: “Its most dangerous aspect from the viewpoint of common sense is that what was meaningful while you were thinking dissolves the moment you want to apply it to everyday living” (Thinking, 176). Here the disquieting, uprooting characteristic of thought—it is without roots, without homeland and without place—is connected directly to an other component highlighted by Xenophon’s Socrates: its invisibility. Th inking manifests itself invisibly, in withdrawal from what “common sense” usually addresses. This something that thought withdraws from structurally— thereby rendering itself invisible and thereby interesting itself only in the invisible—is precisely the same sphere of appearance from which Weil’s hero most clearly distances itself. Without doubt, as we have already seen in Arendt, that sphere is absolutely inalienable as far as political action is concerned. But thought is such precisely because it refers to the spaceless 76

The Final Battle

ground of the impolitical. It is for this reason that it overwhelmingly summons up emptiness and absence: an uncompromising no to every thing that appears, precisely because it appears: “Since this nowhere is by no means identical with the twofold nowhere from which we suddenly appear at birth, and into which almost as suddenly we disappear in death, it might be conceived only as the Void” (Thinking, 200). On this point, Arendt could not have been clearer. However, the reference to Socrates burdens the “emptiness of appearance” with a quality that approximates it even more intrinsically to Weil’s understanding. What we are dealing with is the attribute of love presented, in this case, with unmistakably “Platonic” accents: “By desiring what it has not, love establishes a relationship with what is not present. . . . Because thought’s quest is a kind of desirous love, the objects of thought can only be loveable things: —beauty, wisdom, justice, and so on” (Thinking, 178–79). It is precisely this reference to justice that, above all, serves to introduce Arendt’s next argument, namely, the two affirmative propositions that express, more than any others, the singularity of Socratic heroism. The first states that, “to endure injustice is better than to commit it” while the second says that the most impor tant thing is to be in harmony with ourselves.5 Both Arendt and Weil allude not only to the divergence between what is and what appears, but also to the Socratic choice for the first against the second. In spite of every thing, justice—love and thought, the thought of love—requires that what appears to others be sacrificed to what is, even if it remains obscured, misunderstood, or despised (and this is precisely what Weil’s hero also proposes). Like Weil’s hero Arendt’s concept is grounded in an “original duality,” an “original split” (Thinking, 75) in relation to itself, and from which only thought can undertake the path of self-identification: “And this ego—the I am I—experiences difference in identity precisely when it is not related to the things that appear, but only related to itself” (Thinking, 187). It will not be surprising, then, if, in the end—in the final metaphor to which Arendt seems to almost entrust her own legacy—the hero of thought, heroic thought, assumes the very same “bellicose” traits that Weil bequeathed to us throughout the course of her life’s work. Arendt’s hero has become, in fact, the “He” of Kafka’s parable.6 The scene is a “battlefield where the forces of past and future clash with each other. Between them we find the man Kafka calls ‘He’ ” (Thinking, 203). This “between” is obviously the present upon which, and for which, He desperately fights, and He fights desperately because He is himself the object and The Final Battle 77

motive of the dispute: if He were not present—or simply not there—both forces would have annihilated each other and therefore the battle would have ended. But He is there and He does not move; He does not desist as He heroically resists the concentric attacks of the adversaries until, tired of defending himself and unable to do so without surrendering, He pinpoints his own dharma, what He must do. He decides his own destiny. But He does so—and herein lies the “deviation” in Kafka’s tale—not by fleeing the battle lines, which would assign him “the position of ‘umpire,’ the spectator and judge outside the game of life” (Thinking, 207). Nothing is more illusory than the Western metaphysical “dream” of a region without time; an eternal presence, perfect stillness. This pathway is no longer feasible. It never has been. What is possible, then? All we can do is attempt something more risky but still miraculously open: to remain within the dimension of time and move along the diagonal that derives from the parallelogram formed by the two forces of conflict, originating in the point of coincidence and conflict between past and future. This is what Nietzsche’s Zarathustra did to the “gateway” when he expanded the Augenblick, the Moment, to make it coincide with the Eternal (Heidegger’s reading was right). At that point every thing changes, and He is no longer obliged to flee from conflict, because in the final analysis He coincides with it, for conflict is his origin and destiny to the extent that only in battle can He finally “remain,” having found rest and truce in the “immobility” of the movement, or in “the quiet in the center of the storm which, though totally unlike the storm, still belongs to it” (Thinking, 209). He—thought—no longer limits itself to battle. He is by now, like the “first war,” the battle to which we are eternally entrusted: “The advantage of this image is that the region of thought would no longer have to be situated beyond and above the world and human time; the fighter would no longer have to jump out of the fighting line in order to find the quiet and the stillness necessary for thinking. ‘He’ would recognize that ‘his’ fighting has not been in vain, since the battlefield itself supplies the region where ‘he’ can rest when ‘he’ is exhausted” (Thinking, 208).


The Final Battle



1. See Simona Forti, ed., Archivio Arendt (1930–1948) (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2001). See also Simona Forti, ed., Archivio Arendt 2 (1950–1954) (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2003). 2. See Simone Weil, Una costituente per l’Europa: Scritti londinesi, ed. Domenico Canciani and Maria Antonietta Vito (Rome: Castelvecchi, 2013). 3. See Giuliana Kantzà, Tre donne, una domanda (Milan: Edizioni Ares, 2012); Nadia Fusini, Hannah e le altre (Turin: Einaudi, 2013). 4. Simone Weil, “Appendice al Quaderno 1,” Quaderni 1 (Milan: Adelphi Edizioni, 1982), 182. 5. Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 191. 6. Ibid., 202–11. 7. Ibid., 32. 8. Ibid., 188. 9. Ibid., 193. 10. Simone Weil, Quaderni 1, 191. 11. Ibid., 136. 12. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge, trans. Richard Rees (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 4. 13. Ibid., 8. 14. Simone Weil, Quaderni 1, 270. 15. Simone Weil, La persona e il sacro, ed. M. Concetta Sala and G. Gaeta (Milan: Adelphi, 2012), 19. 16. Ibid., 17. 17. See Roberto Esposito, Two: The Machine of Political Theology and the Place of Thought (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015).

1 . PA R T I T I O N S

1. Both authors share a degree of reticence toward the idea of a fully interiorized existential dimension. In this regard, Arendt says: “The modern discovery of intimacy seems a flight from the whole outer world into the inner subjectivity of the individual, which formerly had been sheltered and protected by the private realm” (Human, 69). Weil says: “The temptation of inner life: Deal only with those difficulties which actually confront you. Allow yourself only those feeling which are actually called upon for effective use or else are required by thought for the sake of inspiration. Cut away ruthlessly every thing that is imaginary in your feelings” (First and Last Notebooks, 4). For Weil, see also Luisa Muraro, “Filosofia, cosa esclusivamente in atto e pratica,” in Obbedire al tempo, ed. A. Putino and S. Sorrentino (Naples: ESI, 1995), 41–48. 2. For a valuable framing of the question, see Robert Chenavier, “Simone Weil et Hannah Arendt,” in Cahiers Simone Weil 2 (1989): 149–69. In relation to the authors’ shared Jewish roots, also see Reiner Wimmer, Vier jüdische Philosophinnen: Rosa Luxembourg, Simone Weil, Edith Skein, Hannah Arendt (Tubingen: Attempto Verlag, 1990), 97–168, 237–308. 3. Giorgio Agamben has recently called attention to this specific point in reference to Arendt’s Essays in Understanding, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). What needs to be highlighted, however, is the singularly symmetrical approach also upheld by Weil: “Affliction, under this aspect, is hideous, as life in its nakedness always is; like an amputated limb, or the swarming of insects. Life without form. Survival is then the one and only attachment” (Notebooks, Vol. 1-C, 223). Also: “Those moments when one is compelled to look on mere existence as the sole end represent total, unmixed horror” (Notebooks Vol. II-C, 546). 4. See Roberto Esposito, “Male,” in Nove pensieri sulla politica (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1993), 183–205. 5. See also the introduction by Marina Cedronio et al. in Modernité, démocratie et totalitarisme: Simone Weil et Hannah Arendt (Paris: Klincksieck, 1996), 7–41. Regarding Arendt, see also Francesco Fistetti, “Totalitarismo e nichilismo in Hannah Arendt,” in Logiche e crisi della modernità, ed. Carlo Galli (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1991), 405–38. For an initial typological comparison between the two models of totalitarianism, also see Laura Boella, “Dialoghi a distanza: Ingeborg, Bachmann, Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt,” in Politeia e sapienza: In questione con Simone Weil, ed. A. Marchetti (Bologna: Pàtron, 1993), 173–84. 6. On this point Weil’s position is not at all unambiguous. On the contrary, there are passages—which, moreover, explain her personal political commitment— in which political activity itself is interpreted as art: “Politics has a very close affinity to art—to arts such as poetry, music and architecture” (Roots, 214); and, even more clearly: “Politics, like every human activity, is an action directed at the 80

Notes to pages 1–5

Good” (Roots, 214). Nevertheless, in these cases the positive evaluation of politics is always influenced by its grounding in a point external and transcendental to it—therefore remaining completely “inoperable.” 7. For the meaning I attribute to the term “impolitical,” see Roberto Esposito, Categories of the Impolitical (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), including two extended sections dedicated specifically to Arendt and Weil. See also Roberto Esposito, ed., Oltre la politica, Antologia del pensiero “impolitico” (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 1996).


1. Arendt, Human, 131. 2. See Robert Chenavier, “Simone Weil et Hannah Arendt. La place du travail dans la modernité,” in Modernité, démocratie et totalitarisme, ed. Marina Cedronio (Paris: Klincksieck, 1996), 114–15. 3. Although Weil’s position in relation to law is more complex and wavering (particularly in reference to her option for justice in the face of law), there is no lack of mainly positive references to law as equilibrium, measure, indeed, limit to arbitrary power: “Laws, the only source of liberty” (First and Last Notebooks, 6); “Grandeur of laws, even the most inhuman” (First and Last Notebooks, 17), which also includes specific reference to Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Law.


1. Georg W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902), 233. 2. George W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Vol. II, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 1061–62. 3. Isocrates, The Oration and the Epistles of Isocrates (London: T. Waller, 1752), 231. 4. On the motif of natality, see the essays included in the collective volume La politica tra natalità e mortalità. Hannah Arendt, ed. E. Parise, (Naples: ESI, 1993). See also A. Cavarero, “Dire la nascita,” in Diotima. Mettere al mondo il mondo, ed. Paola Azzolini and Diotima Research Group (Milan: La Tartaruga, 1990), 93–121. 5. For the “double origin” in Augustine, see the introduction by Alessandro Dal Lago in La vita della mente (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1987), 25. 6. See also F. Ciaramelli, “Il tempo dell’inizio: Responsabilità e giudizio in H. Arendt ed E. Lévinas,” Paradigmi 9 (1991): 477–504. 7. Hannah Arendt, Vita activa oder vom tätigen Leben (Munich: Piper, 1960/1981), 166. Notes to pages 5–16 81

8. Heidegger had already highlighted that “The Greeks ordinarily hear two meanings in this word. On the one hand archē means that from which something has its origins and beginning; on the other hand it means that which, as this origin and beginning, likewise keeps rein over, i.e. restrains and therefore dominates, something else that emerges from it. Archē means, at one and the same time, beginning and control.” Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 189. 9. See Hermann Broch, “Die erkenntnistheoretische Bedeutung des Begriffes ‘Revolution’ und die Wiederbelebung der Hegelschen Dialektik,” Philosophische Schriften (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1974), 1:260.

4 . B E G I N N , A N FA N G , U R S P R U N G

1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 302. 2. Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in The Essential Foucault, ed. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (New York: New Press, 2003), 353. 3. Plato, Laws, Vol. 1, 775e, trans. R. G. Bury (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1926), 471. 4. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (London: Verso, 1998), 45. 5. Ibid., 28. 6. Very similar expressions are used by Weil in The Need for Roots: “In this almost desperate situation, all we can look to for encouragement here below is in those historical atolls of the living past left upon the surface of the earth. . . . It is the distillations from the living past that should be jealously preserved everywhere, whether it be in Paris or Tahiti, for there are not too many such on the entire globe” (51). 7. See Simona Forti’s impor tant monograph, Vita della mente e tempo della polis. Hannah Arendt tra filosofia e politica (Milan: Ed. Angeli, 1994), 78ff. 8. Jacques Taminiaux does not address the question of origin in his other wise quite accurate comparison of Arendt and Heidegger, La fille de Thrace et le penseur professionnel. Arendt et Heidegger (Paris: Ed. Payot, 1992). 9. Martin Heidegger, Hölderlin’s Hymns: “Germania” and “The Rhine,” trans. William McNeil and Julia Ireland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 3. 10. Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking? trans. Fred Wieck and J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 152 (parentheses mine). 11. See also Marlène Zarader, Heidegger et les paroles de l’origine (Paris: Vrin, 1986), 23ff. 12. Reiner Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 56.


Notes to pages 17–23


1. This is a theme also developed in Pierre Lévêque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Clisthène l’Athénien (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1964), 77; Marcel Detienne, “En Grèce archaïque: Géometrie, politique et société,” Annales (1965): 425–41. See in particular Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs: Études de psychologie historique (Paris: Ed. Maspero, 1965). See also more recently (though without quoting either Arendt or Weil), Massimo Bonanni, Il cerchio e la piramide. L’epica omerica e le origini del politico (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1992). 2. The required reference for Greek agonism is Jacob Burckhardt’s The Greeks and Greek Civilization (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999): “To return to Homer, the agon in his poems is never more than an innocent first step compared with its later development. Although in the Iliad all varieties of sporting contests exist, they do not as yet determine and permeate the life of the heroes; at Troy they have other things to think about” (165). 3. See Étienne Tassin, “La question de l’apparence,” in Ontologie et politique. Hannah Arendt, ed. Miguel Abensour, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, and Barbara Cassin (Paris: Tierce, 1989), 63–84. 6. THE THIRD ORIGIN

1. See also Barbara Cassin, “Grecs et romains: Les paradigms de l’antiquité chez Arendt et Heidegger,” in Ontologie et politique, ed. Miguel Abensour, Christina Buci- Glucksmann, and Barbara Cassin (Paris: Tierce, 1989), 17–39. 2. Georg W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902), 283. Hegel goes so far as to say just a few pages prior, “Such a power is the Roman World, chosen for the very purpose of casting the moral units into bonds, as also of collecting all Deities and all Spirits into the Pantheon of Universal dominion, in order to make out of them an abstract universality of power. . . . Through its being the aim of the State, that the social units in their moral life should be sacrificed to it, the world is sunk in melancholy: its heart is broken” (278). 3. Rémi Brague, Europe, le voie romaine (Paris: Criterion, 1992), 35. 4. Along these same lines, see also Laura Bazzicalupo, Hannah Arendt. La storia per la politica (Naples: ESI, 1995), 43–44. 5. The expression is from Remo Bodei, “Hannah Arendt interprete di Agostino,” in La pluralità irrapresentabile. Il pensiero politico di Hannah Arendt, ed. Roberto Esposito (Urbino: Quattroventi, 1987), 120. 6. See Paul Ricoeur, “Pouvoir et violence,” in Abensour, Buci-Glucksmann, and Cassin, Ontologie et politique, 141–59.

Notes to pages 26–33 83

7. See Christian Meier, La nascita della categoria del politico in Grecia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1988), 44–45. 8. For divergent perspectives on the aporias of Arendt’s thought, see Carlo Galli, “Hannah Arendt e le categorie politiche della modernità” (15–28); Pier Paolo Portinaro, “La politica come cominciamento e la fi ne della politica” (29–45); and Franco Volpi, “Il pensiero politico di H. Arendt e la riabilitazione della fi losofia pratica” (73–92), all in Esposito, La pluralità irrapresentabile. See also Augusto Illuminati, Esercizi politici. Quattro sguardi su Hannah Arendt (Rome: Manifestolibri, 1994), and Paolo Flores d’Arcais, Hannah Arendt. Esistenza e libertà (Rome: Donzelli, 1995). 7. NOTHINGNESS

1. See Miklos Vétö, La métaphysique religieuse de Simone Weil (Paris: Vrin, 1971), 76. See also G. Charot, “Le mal: Brisure originelle entre l’Amour et la Puissance dans l’Acte créateur,” in Cahiers Simone Weil 18, no. 3 (1995): 257–83. The problem of evil is also addressed in Cahiers Simone Weil 19, no. 2 (1996); see, in par ticu lar, the essays by Birou (155–75), Sourisse (177–98), and Danese (199–223). 2. On this antinomic connection, see Massimo Cacciari, “Platonismo e gnosi. Frammento su Simone Weil,” in Paradosso 1 (1992): 125–32. 8. FORCES

1. See J. Gaillardot, “ ’L’Iliade, poème de la force,” in Cahiers Simone Weil 3 (1982): 184–91: G. Gaeta, “Sotto l’impero della forza: Simone Weil, i greci, la guerra,” in Linea d’ombra 32 (1988): 58–61: M. Nancy, “Simone Weil dans la guerre ou la guerre pensée,” in Cahiers Simone Weil 4 (1990): 413–23; R. Laurenti, “Il mondo antico nel pensiero di Simone Weil,” in Simone Weil e Raïssa Maritain. Momenti di spiritualità nel primo Novecento francese, ed. Giancarlo Menichelli and Marina Zito (Naples: L’Antologia, 1991), 33–62. 2. For a detailed reconstruction of these events, see Simone Fraisse, “Genèse de l’article sur l’Iliade,” in Simone Weil: Oeuvres Complètes. Tome II Vol. III Écrits historiques et politiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), 304–9. 3. In reference to the Spanish war, see D. Canciani, Simone Weil. Il coraggio di pensare (Rome: Edizioni Lavoro, 1996). 4. Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought, trans. T. G. Rosenmeyer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), 20. 5. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), 5. 6. Georges Dumézil, The Destiny of the Warrior, trans. Alf Hiltebeitel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 106–7; see also the Italian transla84 Notes to pages 33–45

tion by F. Bovoli, Le sorti del guerriero: Aspetti della funzione guerriero presso gli Indoeuropei (Milan: Adelphi, 1990). For this “excessive” characterization of the hero, which is far from balanced or harmonious, see A. Brelich, Gli eroi greci. Un problema storico-religioso (Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo & Bizzarri, 1958). See also, more recently, C. Catenacci, Il tiranno e l’eroe (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 1996). 7. Alain, Propos Vol. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1956), 708–9. 8. See, in this regard, P. Winch, Simone Weil: “The Just Balance” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). 9. Albert Camus, “Préface à L’Espagne libre,” in Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), 1604. 10. Osip Mandelstam, Tristia, trans. Bruce McClelland (Barrytown, N.Y: Station Hill Press, 1987), 93. 9. IN COMMON

1. Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Richard Crawley and Donald Lateiner, intro. Donald Lateiner (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), Book 5, 343. 2. I am referring to Jan Patočka’s chapter on war in Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, trans. Erazim Kohák, ed. James Dodd (Peru, Ill.: Open Court, 1996), 119–38. 10. IMPERIUM

1. Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. John Miller (London: Macmillan & Company, 1863). 2. See P. Desideri, “Il modello romano,” in Politeia e sapienza: In questione con Simone Weil, ed. A. Marchetti (Bologna: Pàtron, 1993), 113–14. See also the bibliography included therein. 3. See Carl Schmitt, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, trans. G. L. Ulmen (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996). 4. See in this regard, É. Escoubas, “Heidegger, la question romaine, la question imperial. Autour du ‘Tournant,’ ” in Heidegger. Questions ouvertes, ed. Collège International de Philosophie (Paris: Osiris, 1988), 173–85. 5. On the rather problematic relation between Weil and Heidegger, see the volume by C. Zamboni, Interrogando la cosa. Riflessioni a partire da Martin Heidegger e Simone Weil (Milan: Istituto Propaganda Libraria, 1993). Not having the possibility of adding anything further at this point, I limit myself to referring to two cryptic fragments by Weil that signal both an affinity and a distance, or, even better, a disquieting attraction, to Heidegger: “[Affi nity] between my notion of reading and the ‘dasein’ of the Existentialists” (Notebooks Vol I-C, 199); Notes to pages 45–56 85

“Dasein—a truth in Existentialism, but they have mixed with it a temptation” (Notebooks Vol. I-C, 203). 6. Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 41. 7. Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil, trans. Jean Starr Untermeyer (San Francisco: North Point, 1983). 8. Elias Canetti, The Human Province, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 28–29. 9. For an in-depth analysis of the Canetti-Weil relation, see Roberto Esposito, Categories of the Impolitical, trans. Connal Parsley (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). 1 1 . T O P O LO G I E S

1. I am referring in par ticu lar to A. Del Noce, “Simone Weil interprete del mondo di oggi,” in L’epoca della secolarizzazione (Milan: Giuff ré, 1970), 154ff. 2. For this interpretation I am indebted to the precise reading offered by W. Tommasi, Simone Weil, segni, idoli e simboli (Milan: Angeli, 1993). 3. See G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. Rubén Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: WordBridge Publishing, 2011). 4. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 16. 5. Roberto Esposito quoting Hölderlin an Böhlendorff from the German, “Briefe,” in Sämtliche Werke, B. VI, 1 (Stuttgart: Kolhammer, 1943), 426. 6. Roberto Esposito quoting from the Italian, F. Hölderlin, Scritti di estetica, ed. R. Ruschi (Milan: SE, 1987). 7. See F. R. Puente, “Simone Weil, Friedrich Nietzsche et la Grèce,” Cahiers Simone Weil 1 (1996): 67–96. 8. “I will not treat The Birth of Tragedy lightly,” Weil confesses, “it is just that I find such a book hateful. I cannot stand Nietzsche, he makes me feel bad even when he says things that I too am thinking. I prefer to admit, trusting his own reputation, that he is a great man, rather than verifying it personally. Why should I come close to something that hurts me?” (Weil, Sur la science, 205–6). 9. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (London: Penguin, 1993). 10. For Weil’s stoic inclination toward amor fati, see G. Kahn, “Simone Weil et le stoïcism grec,” Cahiers Simone Weil 4 (1982): 270–84.

86 Notes to pages 56–66

1 2 . I N T H E G R I P O F LO V E

1. The scholar who has insisted with the greatest acuity on this hypothesis is Angela Putino. See her article “Il concetto di forza nel pensiero politico di Simone Weil,” in Il pensiero di Simone Weil nella politica dei rapporti tra le donne (Venice: Centro Donna, 1989). These arguments have influenced my own interpretation in these pages. 2. See G. Fiori, Simone Weil. La provocazione della verità (Naples: Liguori, 1990), 12. The volume includes useful contributions by G. Longobardi, A. Sanvitto, W. Tommasi, E. Zamarchi, C. Zamboni, and G. Zanardo. 3. See also S. Festa, “Giovanna d’Arco e Simone Weil,” in Obbedire al tempo, ed. A. Putino and S. Sorrentino (Naples: ESI, 1995), 107–21. 4. On such themes also in relation to the essay on the Iliad, see Massimo Cacciari, Geo-filosofia dell’Europa (Milan: Adelphi, 1994), 87. 1 3 . T H E F I N A L B AT T L E

1. See Weil’s 1929 essay “De la perception ou l’aventure de Protée,” Premiers Ecrits Philosophiques, in Oeuvres Complètes Vol. I, ed. André Devaux and Florence de Lussy (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 121–39. 2. This is what Weil wrote to Jean Posternak: “Military heroism is a rare thing; lucidity of spirit is even more rare; the unification of both is almost without precedent, it is an almost superhuman degree of heroism.” Cahiers Simone Weil 2 (1987): 130. 3. See Weil’s “Sur la finalité,” in Premiers Ecrits Philosophiques, 313. 4. While it could be said that Arendt’s figure is the metaphor, not only rhetorically but also linguistically and conceptually, for Weil it is the symbol. Even in this case they diverge in their common function. In Arendt, metaphor constitutes a means of horizontal passage between one level and another, between thought and reality, between the visible and the invisible. She writes: “There are not two worlds, because metaphor unites them” (Thinking, 197). But this unification is “barred” to the symbol, which, as the vertical union of opposites, is always also their split. Weil’s symbol is the Impossible of necessary union. 5. See Simone Weil: “Socrates said: ‘I wish to be neither the author nor the victim of injustice; but, if I have to choose, I prefer to be the victim.’ Well, in fact, one has to be either the one or the other’ ” (Notebooks, Vol. II-A, 414). 6. Franz Kafka, The Great Wall of China, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken Books, 1946), 276–77.

Notes to pages 69–77 87


Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future: Six Exercises in Political Thought. New York: Viking Press, 1961. ———. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking Press, 1963. ———. Essays in Understanding: 1930–1954. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994. ———. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. ———. “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought” (Lecture, 1953). Social Research 69 (2002): 273–319. ———. The Life of the Mind, Vol. I: Thinking. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. ———. The Life of the Mind, Vol. II: Willing. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. ———. “Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers.” New York Review of Books, November 1971, 30–39. ———. On Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1963. ———. On Violence. New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1970. ———. The Origin of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1951. ———. The Promise of Politics. New York: Random House, 2005. ———. “Truth and Politics.” New Yorker, February 25, 1967, 49–88. ———. “Understanding and Politics.” Partisan Review 20, no. 4 (July–August 1953): 377–92. ———. “Walter Benjamin.” Merkur 22, no. 4 (January–February 1968): 50–65. ———. Was ist Politik? Fragmente aus dem Nachlass. Munich: Piper, 1993. Weil, Simone. “A propos de la question colonial dans ses rapports avec le destin du peuple français.” In Écrits historiques et politiques, 364–78. Paris: Gallimard, 1960. ———. Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres. Paris: Gallimard, 1957.

———. First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge. Translated by Richard Rees. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015. ———. “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.” Chicago Review 18, no. 12 (1965): 5–30. ———. Intuitions Pré-Chrétiennes. Paris: La Colombe, 1951. ———. “Lettre à Georges Bernanos.” In Écrits historiques et politiques, 220–24. Paris: Gallimard, 1960. ———. Lettre à un religieux. Paris: Gallimard, 1951. ———. “Ne recommençons pas la guerre de Troie.” In Écrits historiques et politiques, 256–72. Paris: Gallimard, 1960. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Toward Mankind. London: Routledge Classics, 2002. ———. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. Translated by Arthur Wills. New York: Routledge, 2004. ———. Oppression and Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958. ———. Pensées sans ordre concernant l’amour de Dieu. Paris: Gallimard, 1962. ———. Premiers écrits philosophiques. In Oeuvres Complètes, edited by A. A. Devaux and F. De Lussy. Paris: Gallimard, 1988. ———. “Quelques réflexions sur les origenes de l’hitlérisme”. In Ecrits historiques et politiques. Paris, Gallimard, 1960: 11–60. ———. Sur la science. Paris: Gallimard, 1966. ———. “Venise sauvée.” In Poèmes suivis de Venise sauvée, 41–134. Paris: Gallimard, 1968. ———. Waiting on God. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951.



Commonalities Timothy C. Campbell, series editor

Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. Translated by Rhiannon Noel Welch. Introduction by Vanessa Lemm. Maurizio Ferraris, Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces. Translated by Richard Davies. Dimitris Vardoulakis, Sovereignty and Its Other: Toward the Dejustification of Violence. Anne Emmanuelle Berger, The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender. Translated by Catherine Porter. James D. Lilley, Common Things: Romance and the Aesthetics of Belonging in Atlantic Modernity. Jean-Luc Nancy, Identity: Fragments, Frankness. Translated by François Raffoul. Miguel Vatter, Between Form and Event: Machiavelli’s Theory of Political Freedom. Miguel Vatter, The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society. Maurizio Ferraris, Where Are You? An Ontology of the Cell Phone. Translated by Sarah De Sanctis. Irving Goh, The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject. Kevin Attell, Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction.

J. Hillis Miller, Communities in Fiction. Remo Bodei, The Life of Things, the Love of Things. Translated by Murtha Baca. Gabriela Basterra, The Subject of Freedom: Kant, Levinas. Roberto Esposito, Categories of the Impolitical. Translated by Connal Parsley. Roberto Esposito, Two: The Machine of Political Theology and the Place of Thought. Translated by Zakiya Hanafi. Akiba Lerner, Redemptive Hope: From the Age of Enlightenment to the Age of Obama. Adriana Cavarero and Angelo Scola, Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Political and Theological Dialogue. Translated by Margaret Adams Groesbeck and Adam Sitze. Massimo Cacciari, Europe and Empire: On the Political Forms of Globalization. Edited by Alessandro Carrera, Translated by Massimo Verdicchio. Emanuele Coccia, Sensible Life: A Micro-ontology of the Image. Translated by Scott Stuart, Introduction by Kevin Attell. Timothy C. Campbell, The Techne of Giving: Cinema and the Generous Forms of Life. Étienne Balibar, Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropology. Translated by Steven Miller, Foreword by Emily Apter. Ashon T. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. Terrion L. Williamson, Scandalize My Name: Black Feminist Practice and the Making of Black Social Life. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Disavowed Community. Translated by Philip Armstrong. Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams.