Notes on the State of Exception – Claire Fontaine

1. War happens. We know nothing of war, as they constantly remind us. War – always one and multiple – has been on our plates, since childhood, in what mustn’t go to waste. They resented us for our presumed ignorance of war, as if we were ignoring pain or an illness, or simply as if this forever absent war was now over for good, and it had to be remembered as one remembers a dead family member. Through grief.

2. Well-being. All those born far from war, or after it, know quite well that it isn’t over. They know it as possibility, as a nightmare that might come true. And this knowledge turns disquieting when war explodes in the distance, laying the childhoods, the kitchen smells, the bed sheets of others to waste. The past has dug a grave in the present and is again burying the living there – so they say — but it’s a lie. Because war is really one of the names for our present, and not a tale of days-gone-by. It lives in bodies; it flows through institutions, traverses relationships between strangers and acquaintances, even here, in this moment, for a long while now. And the more we pretend to be innocent and alien to events, the guiltier we know we are. Guilty of not being present where blood is shed, and yet somehow we are there…They used to tell us, “you kids have it all” as if to say “you sons of bitches,” yet who has raised and built this affluence, this inexhaustible source of war? Sometimes we have even suspected that if war is elsewhere, then life must be too.

3.Rest in peace… We know everything about war just like we know everything about prison, without having been there, since they are at the heart of “peace” and “free life,” already implied in them. Just as we know that nobody in our system is innocent, that only power relations exist, and that the losers and not the guilty are the ones being punished. That is why war has become someone else’s dirty job, which we are obliged to ignore. On every street corner they ask us to forget its possibility and its reality, to be surprised by it though never complicit in it. We are thanked in advance for our vigilance. Our choice is between collaborating in the social peace or with the partisans of terror. War is no longer concerned with us, we look at it and it doesn’t look back, it is too close. Its distance from us is not the same as that between a spectator and a football match, where we can still desire victory for one team and defeat for another. It resides in the limbo of things we would like to abolish. So we never have to take sides or believe that words have a weight that can be felt in the body, or that life has a meaning and that this meaning can also lead to its sudden end.

4. …and live in war. If we don’t know what it means to live in war it’s because we don’t know what it means to live in peace. The more we are governed, the more we live in fear and the more we need other people to arm themselves in our place, and that’s how war continues. We do not know past struggles for rights and freedoms of expression as experience (of conflict and victory), but only as a result. We are nothing but the dazed heirs to a fortune that is impossible to spend: an archaeological inheritance that crumbles a bit more day by day, of no usevalue. Those old victories are not even established, but already lost, because we do not know how to fight to defend them whenever they are threatened. Revolutionary becoming is a process that seems to exclude our participation now. It is by forgetting the oppression of control in exchange for the guarantee of protection that we have expelled ourselves from our own history. And so we mistake the struggle for the war, and we allow it to be simultaneously criminalized and delegated to professionals. While the struggle is what looms up from the discrepancy between what governments demand and what the governed can give them. In struggles we seek those who will accompany and support us, whereas we go to war alone and come back alone (since it’s always the others that die).

5. The game of war. Historical avant-gardes and war: a love story and not even a tormented one, an almost smooth-sailing romance, apart from a few expatriations. One could still – before the state of exception – play the exceptional singularity, play the game of war with one’s friends and rivals. But this is no longer the case for us. The war paradigm of rivalries between small groups, the war-matrix of the guerrilla’s imaginative, paramilitary strategies, the surrealists, the situationists, the Mao-dadaists (and the list goes on) lived in a world where words and experience carried on a passionate conversation that could be turned to the extreme, erupt into a scandal or even be interrupted for good. These were toy-wars, wars for snobs. Nowadays we can frame and exhibit these lovely gesticulations and return to the curfew of our already-filmed everyday lives, to surfaces saturated with advertising images, to our socio-economically integrated solitudes. And understand for once and for all that the battleground has changed, that we need to invent much more ambitious derives if only in order to escape the amplified normalcy of our perceptions.

6. Visions of the world. Our consciousness now disarmed, we’ve been comfortably tucked into the nightmare of an illegible, deaf-mute present, in a territory marbled with anxieties. The cells in which the presumed guilty have been locked up and forgotten, the bare rooms with chairs and a desk where tortures result in confessions, these continue to exist, and even though we can’t see them, we perceive them. Their smell, their silence, their white lights populate the invisible, administrative levels of everyday life. They have not disappeared. The eternal night of the television news brings us this intuition along with images of the actual theaters of war. From the police stations, hospitals, motorways, schools, prisons, high-security zones and barracks, to the trucks, trains and planes exporting hatred in the name of war, or what we agree to call war – all these things fill us with fear. Because they contain us and we contain them.

7. Coherences. Sometimes, in the insecure rhythms of our lives, we recognize a line of coherence. It’s the same line that transmits the knowledge of a war we haven’t experienced but whose effects and affects circulate within our bodies. The line that connects the most common gestures of our everyday life here with the disasters that happen elsewhere – an electric line, a paratactic line conveying this link made of a lack of links. Eichmann lined up numbers upon numbers without ever being bothered by the idea that they represented human beings sent to the slaughterhouse. Contemporary art has even made this habit of participating in the disaster without being able to question it into its basic, structural principle. It builds surfaces of coexistence between incompatible elements, it questions what we can’t understand, and nevertheless it contributes – as much as these lines do – to the functioning of the machine. The means to either halt our becoming or to transform our subjectivity don’t seem accessible to us any longer. Somebody else has designed the form of our lives: now we are only free to choose the form of our products and to hope that our private property will protect us from war. Meanwhile, private property is itself the first stage of war.

8. The night where all singularities are whatever. The simple soldier or the armed partisan of a cause are always represented as anonymous, as cannon fodder. Doomed to be pulverized for a nation or an ideal, they are abstract bodies, clockwork lives. The simple citizen, or the free civilian, on the other hand, is the unique individual, different from any other, involved in the specificity of his social relationships, which are supposed to isolate him from his neighbor, to magnify him in his irreducible identity. Nevertheless, we can look all over for this truly human individual without meeting him or her in any region of the working world: over the counter, in the supermarkets and in the offices, we interact with interchangeable and insignificant singularities, all reproducing the same task so as not to be expelled from the productive process.

9. Exceptions. On the other hand. Experience, as impoverished as it is, teaches us that love is not an attachment to a pre-defined subject, that what we love or what links us to the other is their singularity as such, their whatever-singularity. Because love does not have a specific cause or a reason that can be communicated. The more we are governed or integrated into a discipline, the more controlled and isolated we are in our performances and our behaviors. Government sees the masses, but only looks at individuals. A loved singularity is whatever and non-interchangeable, whereas a productive singularity is isolated and individuated, and yet replaceable at a moment’s notice. The productive rules of universal substitution cause our certainty to vacillate. The knowledge that the organs of control possess of our lives makes us all exceptions in the eyes of power. And when we meet the arm of the law, what it does with us will not depend on established conventions, but on the contingency of this particular friction. Our present has become unpredictable, each instant a potentially exceptional moment. This is precisely the new configuration of war, that of Identifying Power versus whateversingularities, which leads some to guerrilla suicide, and others to an anonymous solitude surrounded by objects.

Oh Good, The War – Tiqqun

The Conscious Organ of the Imaginary Party Exercies in Critical Metaphysics

One begins with principles. Just action follows.

When a civilization is ruined, one declares it bankrupt.One does not tidy up in a home falling off a cliff.

Ends are not lacking, nihilism is nothing. Means are cleared in advance, impotence has no excuse. The value of means correspond to their end.

All that is, is good. The world of the qelipoth1,the Spectacle, is bad, through and through. Evil is not a substance, if it were, it would be good. The mysterious effi cacy of evil resolves itself in that it has no being per se, existing rather as nothingness become active.

Evil consists in failing to distinguish the good. Indistinction is its kingdom, indifference its power.

Men do not love evil, they love the good that is in themselves.

In the Tiqqun2, being returns to being, nothingness to nothingness. The fulfillment of Justice is its abolition.

History is not finished, for that, it would require our assent.

A single free man suffi ces to prove that liberty is not dead.

The question isn’t whether or not “to be of one’s time”, but rather to live for or against it. No argument.

Anything which boasts of some temporal innovation declares only its own inferiority to time.

The new, the original, so many alibis for mediocrity. Up until the present, progress has only connoted a particular accumulation of trivialities. The essential has remained in infancy. Men have moralized, but they’ve yet to think. Negligence for which they no longer posses the means. Here, history begins.

The catastrophes of history demonstrate nothing against the good. Revolutionary movements have not suspended “the normal course of things.” To the contrary. It is the normal course that is the suspension of the good. In their linkages, the revolutionary movements constitute the tradition of the good, up until now: the tradition of the vanquished.

This is our possession.

All of history is encapsulated in this, that a great city had been besieged by little kings. The rest remains unassailable.

Before time, absolutely, there is sense.

A clock that sounds nothing. To which, the crown.

We must act as though we were the children of no one. Men are not given to know their true descent. It is the historical constellation which they succeed in grasping. It is good to have a pantheon. All pantheons are not to be found at the end of Rue Soufflot.

Platitudes are the most beautiful things in the world. They necessitate repetition. Truth has always said the same thing, in a thousand manners. At a given moment a platitude has the power to make worlds oscillate. Besides, the universe itself was born of a commonplace.

This world is not adequately described because it isn’t adequately contested, and vice versa. We do not seek out a knowledge of accomplished states, but a creative science. Criticism has nothing to fear, neither the weight of foundations, nor the grace of consequences.

The age is furiously metaphysical, tirelessly striving to forget itself.

By casting off Critical Metaphysics, one embraces it.

Some have put forth that truth does not exist. For this they are punished. They do not conceal themselves from truth, rather, truth conceals itself from them. They bury not that which will bury them.

We have only to groan, there will be no charitable tailor-made revolt. You will have to put everything back together yourselves. This world requires truth, not consolation.

One must critique domination because it is servitude that dominates. That there should be “happy” slaves is not a justifi cation for slavery.

They are born. They wish to live. And they follow out their moribund fate. They even wish a bit of rest, and leave behind children, so as to birth other deaths, other destinies of death.

Here then, the time of larva, they even write little books in which they speak of their geneology. Since there have been men, and men who’ve read Marx, one has known that it’s a question of the commodity, but one has yet to be fi nished, practically, with all that. Those there are who, of other times, have made a profession of its critique, going so far as to propose that the commodity would constitute a second nature, more elegant and more legitimate than the first, to whose authority we ought to bow.

Their metastasis spread to the ends of the earth; one does well to recall that an organism riddled with cancer collapses in little time.

The old alternatives and the erstwhile disputes have been bled dry. We reimpose them.

Reject one side as you reject the other. Love only the rest. It alone will be spared.

Men are responsible for a world which they did not create. This isn’t mysticism, it’s a given. Let the satisfied feign surprise.

Hence, the war.

The enemy does not posses the intelligence of words, it tramples upon them. Words desire to be avenged.

Happiness has never been synonymous with peace. One must wield happiness offensively.

For only too long sensibility has been a passive disposition for the experiencing of pain, it must become the very means of combat. The art of recasting suffering as a force.

Liberty does not accommodate itself to patience. The former is the practice of history in deed. Inversely, “liberations” are merely the opium of naughty slaves. Critique is born of liberty, and gives birth to the latter.

One is more certain to fi nd liberty in the self’s undoing than to fi nd happiness in receiving one.

“Once, a certain society had attempted, through innumerable means, repeated endlessly, to annihilate the most living among its children. These children have survived. They desire the death of this society.”

Pursue liberty, with it you shall have all the rest. He that wishes to keep himself shall loose himself.

As everything whose existence must be proved a priori, life, as it’s accorded by the age, is of little value.

An ancient order survives in appearance. In truth, it only subsists so as to be documented in all its perversity.

One says that there’s no danger as there isn’t any unrest; just as one says that the absence of material disorder at the surface of society implies that the revolution is far from us. But the forces of annihilation gather upon a path very different from that where one had once thought to find them.

Burgeoning imbeciles, wee cads, obtuse realists, understand that there are more things in heaven and earth than you might dream in your inconsequential solipsisms.

This society functions as an incessant appeal to the restriction of one’s mental faculties. Its best elements are completely estranged from it. They rebel against it. This world turns around its margins. It knows nothing of its own decomposition. All that continues to live, lives against this society.

Abandon ship. Not because it’s sinking, but to make it sink.

Those who don’t understand today have already exhausted all their force so as to not have understood yesterday. In his heart of hearts, man is quite familiar with the state of the world.

All things radicalize. Stupidity, like intelligence.

Tiqqun draws out the lines of rupture in the universe of indifference. The element of time reabsorbs itself in sense. The forms take life. The fi gures are incarnated. The world is.

Every new way of being ruins the preceding way of being, and it is only then, on the ruins of the old, that the new begins. It is known as “the pains of birth”, signifying a period of great upheaval. The old way of being in the world will be ruined, things will be altered.

Once, a certain society had attempted, through innumerable means, repeated endlessly, to annihilate the most living among its children. These children have survived. They desire the death of this society. They are without hate. It’s a war that was never declared. We do not declare it either, we simply point it out.

Two camps. Their disagreement turns around the nature of the war. The party of confusion would like there to be but a sole camp. It directs a military peace. The Imaginary Party understands that conflict is the father of all things. It lives dispersed and in exile.

Outside of the war, there is nothing. Its war is an exordium where forces are composed and weapons are found.

Leave it to the century to combat its specters. We do not fight against phantoms. We brush them aside to lure the target.

In a world built upon lies, lying cannot be vanquished by its contrary, but only by a world of truth.

Complacency engenders hatred and resentment, truth assembles friends.

“We,” which is to say us and our friendships.

Intelligence must become a collective affair.

And the rest is silence.

Venice January 15th, 1999

1. Kabbalistic term meaning “husks of the dead”, the condition of a body that has outlived its soul.
2. A concept issuing from Judaism, often used in the kabbalistic and messianic traditions, which indicates all at once reparation, restitution, redemption, and which covers in large part, among others, the Jewish conception of social justice. “The tiqqun is the becoming-real, the becoming-practical of the world; the process wherein everything is revealed as practical.” (Introduction to Civil War)