Monday, 05 January 2009

Ranciere 2 - Preface to the new Hindi translation of 'Nights of Labour'



The Indian reader who opens this book in 2009 will no doubt think it is a strange thing. How can these stories of nineteenth-century French lockmakers, tailors, cobblers and typesetters be relevant to the information revolution, the reign of immaterial production or the global market?

This question, it should be said, was already present for the French reader who opened this book twenty-seven years ago. We did not speak yet of globalisation, nor of the end of the proletariat, of history or of utopia. Quite the contrary: France had recently elected a combined socialist and communist government, which proudly laid claim to the traditions of Marxism and of working class politics. And it is in this context that the book seemed to run counter to its own time, and became difficult to classify.

The author was a professional philosopher who had struck his first blows, in the 1960s, by participating in the theoretical enterprise of Louis Althusser, who wished to rebuild Marxist theory. Now, instead of offering philosophical theses, he was telling stories about the French working class of the nineteenth century. And he offered nothing by way of Marxism – no analysis of the forms of industrial production, of capitalist exploitation, of social theories or of class struggles or worker movements. His workers, moreover, were not “real” workers; they were artisans from olden times, dreamers who dabbled in poetry and philosophy, who got together in the evening to found ephemeral newspapers, who became intoxicated by socialist and communist utopias but for the most part avoided doing anything about them. And the book seemed to lose itself in the aimless wanderings of these people, following the dreams of one, or the little stories others recounted in their diaries; the letters they wrote about their Sunday walks in the Paris suburbs, or the everyday concerns of those who had left for the United States to try out their dream of fraternal communalism. What on earth were readers to do with these stories in 1980?

The question is not, therefore, one of geographical or temporal distance. This book may seem untimely in an era that proclaims the disappearance of the proletariat, but it also seemed so in the previous era, which claimed to represent the class that had been united by the condition of the factory and the science of capitalist production. Let me put it simply: this book is out of place in a postmodern vision for the same reasons that it was already out of place in a classical modernist vision. It runs counter to the belief, shared by modernism and postmodernism alike, in a straight line of history where cracks in the path of time are thought to be the work of time itself – the outcome of a global temporal process that both creates and destroys forms of life, consciousness and action. This book rejects this because, despite its apparent objectivity, such an idea of time always places a hierarchy upon beings and objects. The belief in historical evolution, said Walter Benjamin, legitimises the victors. For me, this belief legitimises the knowledge that decrees what is important and what is not, what makes or does not make history. It is thus that the social sciences have declared that these little stories of workers taking an afternoon walk, or straying far from the solid realities of the factory and the organised struggle, have no historical importance. In doing so they confirm the social order, which has always been built on the simple idea that the vocation of workers is to work – “and to struggle,” good progressive souls add – and that they have no time to lose in wandering, writing or thinking.

This book turns this idea of time on its head. In the grand modernist narratives of the development of productive forces and of forms of class consciousness, this book sees a way of diverting the intimate energy of the very struggles they claim to represent, and re-attributing it to the order of time that was struggled against.It
sees such narratives as a way of reinforcing the power of those who believe they have a masterful, external perspective on the history in which they declare everyone else to be collectively imprisoned. This idea of imprisonment, and this position of mastery, had found their radical form in the project of Louis Althusser that I had participated in. For this project, the agents of capitalist production were
necessarily caught in the ideological traps produced by the system that held them in their place. That is to say that our project itself trapped them in a perfect circle: it explained that the dominated were kept in their place by ignorance of the laws of domination. But it also explained that the place they were in prevented them from knowing the laws of domination. So they were dominated because they did not understand, and they did not understand because they were dominated. This meant that all the efforts they made to struggle against their domination were blind, trapped in the dominant ideology, and only intellectuals, who were capable of perceiving the logic of the circle, could pull them out of their subjection.

In the France of 1968 it became abundantly clear that the circle of domination was held in place in fact by this so-called science. It became clear that subjection and revolution had no other cause than themselves and that the science that pretended to explain subjection and inspire revolution was in fact a part of the dominant order. It is with this lesson in mind that I undertook in the 1970s the long period of research in the labour archives that culminated in this book. On the way, many surprises awaited me. I set out to find primitive revolutionary manifestos, but what I found was texts which demanded in refined language that workers be considered as equals and their arguments responded to with proper arguments. I went to consult the archives of a carpenter in order to find out about more about the conditions of labour; I first came upon a correspondence from the 1830s where this worker told a friend about a Sunday in May when he had gone out with two friends to enjoy the sunrise over the village, spend the day discussing metaphysics in an inn, and end it trying to convert the diners at the next table to their humanitarian social vision. Then I read documents in which this same worker described an entire vision of life, an unusual counter-economy which sought ways to reduce the worker’s consumption of everyday goods so that he would be more independent of the market economy, and better able to fight against it. Through these texts, and many others, I realised that workers had never needed others to explain the secrets of domination to them, and that the problem they faced was having to submit themselves, intellectually and materially, to the forms by which it inscribed itself on their bodies, and imposed upon them gestures, modes of perception, attitudes and language. “Be realistic: demand the impossible!” the protesters cried in 1968. But for these workers in 1830, it was not about demanding the impossible but making it happen themselves: of appropriating the time they did not have, either by spying opportunities in the working day or by giving up their own night of rest to discuss or to write, to compose verses or to work out philosophies. These hard-won bonuses of time and liberty were not marginal phenomena, they were not diversions from the building of the worker movement and its great ideals. They were a revolution, discreet but radical nonetheless, and they made those other things possible. They comprised the work by which men and women tore themselves away from an identity forged for them by a system of domination and affirmed themselves as independent inhabitants of a common world, capable of all the refinements and self-denials that previously had been associated only with those classes that were released from the daily concern of work and food.

It is the necessity of acknowledging this revolution which gives to this book its unusual form. The book plunges us directly into workers’ words, in all their forms – from personal confidences and everyday anecdotes to fiction composed in diaries to philosophical speculations and programmes for the future. It does not seek to impose any differences in status, any hierarchy between description, fiction or argument. This does not arise from some fetishistic passion for the lived. This is generally the excuse for a division of roles in which the people are made to speak in order to prove that they do indeed speak the language of the people, which allows the poor to have the experience of the real and the flavour of the everyday in order to better reserve for itself the privilege of creative imagination and analytical language. It is precisely this division between the language of the people and literary language, between the real and fiction, between the document and the rgument that these “popular” texts call into question. We will never know if their memories of childhood, their descriptions of the working day or their accounts of their encounters with language are authentic. A narrative is never a simple account of facts. It is a way of constructing – or deconstructing – a lived world. The learned philosopher and the child of the people go about it in the same way. In the third book of Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks his interlocutors to accept an unlikely story: if some people are philosophers and legislators while others are workers, it is because the gods mixed gold into the souls of the first group and iron into the souls of the second. This outlandish tale is necessary in order to give consistency to a world in which differences in condition must be accepted as differences in nature. The worker narratives presented here are like counter-myths, narratives that blur these differences in nature. This is why it was so important to me to unravel the mesh of words, in which narrative, dreams, fiction and argument are all part of the same enterprise, in order to upset the order of things that puts individuals, classes and forms of speech in their place. There is no popular intelligence occupied by practical things, nor a learned intelligence devoted to abstract thought. There is not one intelligence devoted to the real and another devoted to fiction. It is always the same intelligence.

This is the message proclaimed in the same historical period by Joseph Jacotot, a teacher who broke with all tradition. While his contemporaries wanted to give the people just the instruction that was necessary and sufficient for them to adequately occupy their place in society, he called them to free themselves intellectually in order to demonstrate the equality of all intelligences (1).

In the very diversity of their expression, the workers whose stories are told in this book demonstrate precisely this equality. In order to show the subversive power of their work I needed to break with the conventions of the social sciences for which these personal narratives, fictional writings and essays are no more than the confused expression of a social process which only they can know. I needed to remove the conventional labels from these texts – of testimony, or symptoms of a social reality – and to exhibit them as writing and thought that worked towards the construction of an alternative social world. That is why this book renounces the
distance of explanation. It attempts instead to weave a sensory fabric of these texts so that their radical energy may resonate again in our own time, and threaten the order which gives categories to times and forms of speech. And this is the reason why our severe theorists and historians decided that this book was literature. The issue for me was to recall that the arguments of philosophers and
intellectuals are made of the same common fabric of language and thought as the creations of writers and these proletarian narratives.

This is also why I am not afraid that this book will suffer too much from distances of time, place and language. For it does not simply tell the story of the working class of a far-off time and place. It tells a form of experience which is not so far away from our own. Contemporary forms of capitalism, the explosion of the labour market,the new precariousness of labour and the destruction of systems of social solidarity, all create forms of life and experiences of work that are possibly closer to those of these artisans than to the universe of hi-tech workers and the global bourgeoisie given over to the frenetic consumption described by so many contemporary sociologists and philosophers. In our world, just as in theirs, the
challenge is to obstruct and subvert the order of time imposed by a system of domination. To oppose the government of capitalist and state elites and their experts with an intelligence that comes from everyone and anyone.

It remains for me to offer my warmest thanks to the editors and translators who have made it possible for the voices of these anonymous people, forgotten for so long, to speak in an Indian language, and so to encounter new voices with which they may mix and extend their appeal.

Jacques Rancière

(1) See Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Stanford
University Press, 1991
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Ranciere 1 - excerpt


What is first at stake is the configuration of the possible. This also means what is first at stake is the distribution of the capacities. The struggle is between opposing ways of understanding the relation between the particular and the universal, the relation between the present and the future. The same goes, you know, for instance when networks of mostly anonymous social actors oppose the rational policy of the immigration quotas decided by our governments, when they oppose it with another idea of who can be counted as a member of our national communities.

The collective intelligence of emancipation is the collective capacity at work in those scenes of conflict. This collective intelligence has nothing to do with high-tech virtuosity. What it sets to work rather is the capacity which is common to that virtuosity and to the virtuosity that allows for instance the immigrant worker to cross all the geographical and legal boundaries, all the material and symbolical boundaries in order to prove that he is a French worker similar to any other French workers, if we take the example of France, and I think that this may prove a form of universalisation, a struggle for the universal, stronger, sometimes, then many discourses on universal values.

So, what is at stake is the common capacity of those different virtuosity, their common capacity to shift places and identities to break through the distribution of places, identities and competences in order to reframe the given situation of the capacity of producing a new configuration of the visible, the intelligible and the possible by implementing the capacity of anybody. That is the kind of universality the politics is about: the capacity of anybody. The political subject is not a part of the social structure, an element of the process of production. It has to come as a supplement to the distribution of powers, places, functions, and identities that make up a society, a supplement to the distribution of the capacity. But what comes as supplement to the distribution of capacity is undistributed capacity, the capacity of anybody, or rather the capacity created by the collectivisation of the power inherent in the equality of anyone with any other one. I called it “the part of the uncounted” or “the part of those who have no part”. It was sometimes misinterpreted as the power of the excluded. But what it truly means is the power of anybody, no matter who, the qualification of those who have no specific qualification. I think that investigation of this power, maybe more fruitful for the sake of artistic and political invention today by the endless denunciation of the power of the beast. The endless unmasking of the ghost.

Universality has been for long associated with the demonstration of the power of necessity. It might be time to explore its conjunction with the powers of contingency, with powers of indifference to difference that don’t amount to the equivalence of anything with anything, but with the empowerment of the capacity of no matter who.

Thank you.
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Under Siege: A poem by Mahmoud Darwish

Under Siege

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.

Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.

On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters...

You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!

When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].

Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.

Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.

We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]

Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?


A little of this absolute and blue infinity
Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.

It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.

On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here...not over there.

In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.

The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.

The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.

The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!

The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.

And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.

Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!

Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.

My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.

by Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Marjolijn De Jager
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Greece: A letter to students

Struggle News, December 16 2008

An open letter to students by workers in Athens, against the background of the social upheaval following the police shooting of a young boy.

A letter to students

Our age difference and the general estrangement make it difficult for us to discuss with you in the streets; this is why we send you this letter.

Most of us have not (yet) been bald or big-bellied. We are part of the 1990-91 movement. You must have heard of it. Back then, and while we had occupied our schools for 30-35 days, fascists killed a teacher because he had gone beyond his natural role (that of being our guard) and crossed the line to the opposite side; he had come with us, into our struggle. Then, even the toughest of us got to the streets and riot. However, we didn’t even think of doing what you easily do today: attack police stations (although we sang “burn police stations…”).

So, you’re gone beyond us, as always happens in history. Conditions are different of course. During ‘90s they passed us off the prospect of personal success and some of us swallowed it. Now people cannot believe this fairy tale. Your older brothers showed us this during the 2006-07 students’ movement; you now spit their fairy tale to their faces.

So far so good.

Now the good and difficult matters begin.

We’ll tell you what we’ve learned from our struggles and our defeats (because as long as world is not ours we’ll always be the defeated ones) and you can use what we’ve learned as you wish:

Don’t stay alone. Call us; call as many people as possible. We don’t know how you can do that, you will find the way. You’ve already occupied your schools and you tell us that the most important reason is that you don’t like your schools. Nice. Since you’ve already occupied them change their role. Share your occupations with other people. Let your schools become the first buildings to house our new relations. Their most powerful weapon is dividing us. Just like you are not afraid of attacking their police stations because you are together, don’t be afraid to call us to change our life all together.

Don’t listen to any political organization (either anarchists or anyone). Do what you need to. Trust people, not abstract schemes and ideas. Trust your direct relations with people. Trust your friends; make as many people as possible in your struggle your people. Don’t listen to them when they’re saying that your struggle doesn’t have a political content and must seemingly obtain. Your struggle is the content. You only have your struggle and it’s in your hands to preserve its advance. It’s only your struggle that can change your life, namely you and the real relations with your fellowmen.

Don’t be afraid to proceed when confronting new things. Each one of us, as we’re getting older, has things planted in their brains. You too, although you are young. Don’t forget the importance of this fact. Back in 1991, we confronted the smell of the new world and, trust us, we found it difficult. We learned that there must always be limits. Don’t be scared by the destruction of commodities. Don’t be scared by people looting stores. We make all these, they are ours. You (just like we in the past) are raised to get up every morning in order to make things that they will later not be yours. Let’s get them back all together and share them. Just like we share our friends and the love among us.

We apologize for writing this letter quickly, but we do it swinging the lead from our work, secretly from our boss. We are imprisoned in work, just like you are imprisoned in school.

We’ll now lie to our boss and leave work: we’ll come to meet you in Syntagma sq with stones in our hands.

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Saturday, 03 January 2009

What is postcolonial thinking?

Eurozine, September 2008

An interview with Achille Mbembe

The faults in Europe's universalism, especially when confronting its colonial history, have nurtured a variety of critical perspectives in the West. Talking to French magazine Esprit, theorist Achille Mbembe says that postcolonial thinking looks so original because it developed in a transnational, eclectic vein from the very start. This enabled it to combine the anti-imperialist tradition with the fledgling subaltern studies and a specific take on globalization, he says.

Esprit: "Postcolonial theory" is present in Africa, India, Great Britain, Australia and the United States, but hardly at all in France. Can you tell us what it is all about and what lies behind it? How, in particular, does it differ from anti-western and third-world currents of thought?

Achille Mbembe: What's known in the English-speaking world as "postcolonial studies" and "postcolonial theory" is characterised by its heterogeneity, so what constitutes its originality cannot be summed up easily in a few words.

Perhaps I'd better start by making clear that it has little to do with the caricature of "third-worldism" projected by the chorus of penitents in France. In truth, it's a way of thinking that derives from a number of sources and that is far from constituting a system because it is in large part being constructed as it moves forward. That's why it would in my opinion be an exaggeration to call it a "theory". It derives both from anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles on the one hand, and from the heritage of Western philosophy and of the disciplines that constitute the European humanities on the other. It's a fragmented way of thinking, which is both a strength and a weakness. In spite of its fragmented nature there are some forms of reasoning, and some arguments, which distinguish this current of thought and which have made a major contribution to alternative ways of reading our modernity.

To begin with I'd draw your attention to the critique, not of the West per se, but of the effects of cruelty and blindness produced by a certain conception – I'd call it colonial - of reason, of humanism, and of universalism. This critique is different from that once made by the existentialist, phenomenological and post-structuralist movements in post-war France. Of course, it is chiefly concerned with the issue of self-creation and self-government. But its approach is not wholly confined to the problem of the "death of God" à la Nietzsche. It differs in many respects from the Sartrean idea of "man without God" taking the place vacated by the "dead God", and hardly subscribes either to Foucault's notion that "God being dead, man is dead too".

On the other hand, it does put its finger on two things. Firstly, it exposes both the violence inherent in a particular concept of reason, and the gulf separating European moral philosophy from its practical, political and symbolic outcomes. How indeed can the much-trumpeted faith in man be reconciled with the way in which colonized people's life, labour and world of signifiers got sacrificed so unthinkingly? That is the question Aimé Césaire poses in his Discourse on Colonialism, for example.

Secondly, postcolonial thinking stresses humanity-in-the-making, the humanity that will emerge once the colonial figures of the inhuman and of racial difference have been swept away. This hope in the advent of a universal brotherly community is very close to Jewish thought – as projected by Ernst Bloch at least, or even Walter Benjamin – minus the politico-theological dimension.

That said, the postcolonial critique operates on several levels. On the one hand, like Edward Said in Orientalism, it deconstructs colonial prose: that is to say the mental set-up, the symbolic forms and representations underpinning the imperial project. It also unmasks the potential of this prose for falsification – in a word, the stock of falsehoods and the weight of fantasizing functions without which colonialism as a historical power-system could not have worked. In this way it reveals how what passed for European humanism manifested itself in the colonies as duplicity, double-talk and a travesty of reality.

Indeed, colonization never ceased telling lies about itself and others. As Frantz Fanon explains so clearly in Black Skin, White Masks, the procedures for racializing the colonized were the driving force behind this economy of duplicity and falsehood. In postcolonial thinking, race is the wild region, the beast, of European humanism. To borrow Castoriadis's terms on racism, I'd say that the beast puts it more or less this way: "I alone possess value. But I can only be of value, as myself, if others, as themselves, are without value".

Postcolonial thinking aims to take the beast's skeleton apart, to flush out its favourite places of habitation. More radically, it seeks to know what it is to live under the beast's regime, what kind of life it offers, and what sort of death people die from. It shows that there is, in European colonial humanism, something that has to be called unconscious self-hatred. Racism in general, and colonial racism in particular, represents the transference of this self-hatred to the Other.

There is a second level in the postcolonial critique of European humanism and universalism which, if the term had not given rise to so many misunderstandings, could be called biopolitical. The face of Europe which was experienced by the colony (and before that, under slavery, by the "plantation"), and which gradually became familiar, was far from being that of liberty, equality and fraternity. The totem which colonized peoples discovered behind the mask of humanism and universalism was not only deaf and blind most of the time, it was also, above all, characterized by the desire for its own death, but insofar as this death was necessarily conveyed through that of others, it was a delegated death.

It was also a place where law had nothing to do with justice but, on the contrary, was a way of starting wars, continuing them and perpetuating them; and above all a place where wealth was but a means of exercising over others the right of life and death. As a result it could be said of postcolonial thinking that it is not a critique of power as usually understood, but of force – a force that is incapable of transformation. Once again it is Fanon who has analyzed, better than anyone else, this kind of necropolitical force which, in passing through fiction, becomes sick of life or else, in an act of permanent reversion, takes death for life and life for death. That's why the colonial relationship fluctuates constantly between the desire to exploit the other (seen as racially inferior) and the temptation to eliminate him, to exterminate him.

What – thirdly - characterises postcolonial thinking is entanglement and concatenation, unveiled chiefly through its critique of identity and subjectivity. From this viewpoint it is opposed to a particular Western illusion, that there can be no subject other than in the circular, permanent referral to oneself, to an essential and inexhaustible singularity. In countering this, postcolonial thinking stresses the fact that identity arises from multiplicity and dispersion, that self-referral is only possible in the in-between, in the gap between mark and demark, in co-constitution. In this situation colonisation no longer appears as mechanical and unilateral domination forcing the subjugated into silence and inaction. Quite the reverse – the colonized person is a living, talking, conscious, active individual whose identity arises from a three-pronged movement of violation, erasure and self-rewriting.

Moreover, as Ghandi himself suggested, the universalization of imperialism cannot be explained by the violence of coercion alone: it was a consequence too of the fact that many colonized people agreed, for more or less valid reasons, to become consciously complicit in a fable which they found attractive in a number of respects. The identity of the colonized and of the colonizer was shaped by the intersection between ellipsis, disengagement and renewal. Postcolonial thinking endeavours to analyse this vast area of ambivalence and the aesthetic reasons behind the confusion and its paradoxical effects.

This is perhaps the moment to point out that postcolonial thinking, the critique of European humanism and universalism, is not an end in itself. It is carried out with the aim of paving the way for an enquiry into the possibility of a politics of the fellow-creature. The prerequisite for such a politics is the recognition of the Other and of his or her difference. I believe that this enrolment in the future, in the interminable quest for new horizons for man through the recognition of the Other as fundamentally human is an aspect of this thinking that is all to often forgotten. It is a constituent part of Fanon's quest, of Senghor's in the Poetical Works during his imprisonment in a German camp (Front Stalag 230), of Edward Said's meditations at the end of his life or, more recently, of Paul Gilroy's considerations about the possibility of convivial life in a henceforth multicultural world (Postcolonial Melancholia). The same note is struck in much Afro-American thought, confronted as it is with the difficulty of reappropriating the heritage of slavery and racism, with organising them in the service of the resistance of the dominated without however falling into the trap of racialization and race glorification.

One last point. What constitutes the political strength of postcolonial thought is its enrolment in the historic social struggles of colonized societies and especially its rereading of the theoretical praxis of what we call liberation movements. So it is a way of thinking which, in several respects, still believes in the postulate that the only true learning is the leaning that aims to transform the world. It is a way of thinking that belongs to the being-subject, to the being-for-itself, to the manner in which the dialectic of master and slave, of colonist and native, might be transcended. Finally, if postcolonial thought today is the preserve of British and American academic institutions and of English-speaking intellectuals, it should not be forgotten that this current was largely inspired by French thinking. I've mentioned Fanon, Césaire and Senghor; I could have added Glissant and others too. Today, certain works of African francophone literature have taken their place among the canonical texts of postcolonial criticism.

But added to this is the influence of French thinkers of Otherness like Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Levinas and many more besides; also the contribution made to postcolonial thinking by the analyses of Foucault, Derrida, and even Lacan. It's therefore a way of thinking that in several respects is very close to a peculiarly French approach to reasoning, so it's rather paradoxical that, because of its cultural insularity and the narcissism of its elites, France has cut itself off from these new ventures in world thought.

Unfortunately it looks as though absolutely nothing can be salvaged from the post-war French critical tradition, in spite of the well-known fact that it placed centre-stage not only the phenomenon of Nazism, but of colonialism too. It's as if the colonial event belonged to another age and another place, and as if it had absolutely nothing to teach us about how to understand our own modernity, about citizenship, about democracy, even about the development of our humanities. As a result France finds it difficult not to speak solely about itself: contemporary French thought is no longer capable of speaking about the Other, even less to the Other; it prefers, in the good old colonial tradition, to speak in the place of the Other with – we know – catastrophic results, as during the urban riots recently, and on the occasion of the surreal debate about the benefits of colonization.

A way out of third-worldism

Can a link be established between globalization and postcolonial thought?

It can be said that postcolonial thought is in many respects a globalized way of thinking, even if initially it does not use that term. In the first place, it shows that there is little disjunction between the history of the nation and that of the empire. The Napoleon of the restitution of slavery and the Toussaint Louverture who represented the revolution of human rights are dual aspects of the same nation and the same colonial empire. Postcolonial thought demonstrates that colonialism itself was a global experience which contributed to the universalization of representations, techniques and institutions (in the case of the nation state, even of merchandise of the modern kind). It shows that this process of universalization, far from being a one-way street, was basically a paradox, fraught with all sorts of ambiguities.

Moreover, where the Atlantic is concerned, the "colony" was added to another power-formation, the "plantation", a key unit of an earlier age which could be called the age of proto-globalization. The postcolonial critique shows that our global modernity needs to be viewed in context well before the nineteenth century, starting with the period when the merchandization of private property was conducted hand-in-hand during the slave trade with that of people. The age of the Atlantic slave trade is also the age of the great migrations, even if they were carried out under duress. It was the age of the forced intermixture of populations, of the creative fission in the course of which there arose the creole world of the great contemporary urban cultures.

It was also the age of the great planetary experiments. As Paul Gilroy shows in The Black Atlantic, and as do historians like Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker (The Many-Headed Hydra: Slaves, Sailors, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic), it was the moment when people, torn from the land, blood and soil, learned to imagine communities that transcended the bonds of land, blood and soil, forsook the comfort of repetition and invented new forms of mobilisation and transnational solidarities. Before colonies became the great laboratories of modernity in the nineteenth century, the "plantation" prefigured already a new consciousness of the world and of culture.

Alongside these historical factors there exist other levels of connection of a theoretical nature. This is particularly the case where a dialogue starts to take shape between postcolonial thought and Afro-modern thought, in the United States and the Caribbean especially. This Afro-modern thought is one of interconnections and of the in-between. It maintains that an appeal to the world can only truly be made where, by force of circumstance, one has been alongside others, with others. Under these conditions "returning to oneself" is above all "leaving oneself", leaving the night of identity and the lacunae of my little world. So here we have a way of reading globalization that rests on the radical affirmation of the density of proximity, of displacement, even of dislocation. In other words, consciousness of the world arises from the actualization of what was already possible in me, achieved through my encounter with the lives of others, my responsibility towards the lives of others and towards seemingly distant worlds and, above all, towards people with whom I have apparently no connection: the intruders.

To what extent can the development of this current of thought be explained by the historical and political situation? It's doubtless no accident that the current emerged after the failure of postcolonial nation-states. Isn't the problem today the reconstruction of politics?

AM: This question requires a lengthy answer. It can be said that there were three cardinal moments in the development of postcolonial thought. Anti-colonial struggles were its starting point. These struggles were preceded and accompanied by extended reflection upon themselves by the colonized – a reflection on the contradictions arising from their dual status as "natives" and imperial "subjects"; an examination of the forces that enabled them to resist colonial domination; debates on the relationship between "class" factors and "racial" factors. The discourse then centred on what may be called the politics of autonomy, that is, to adopt Vincent Descombes's terms, the ability to "say I", to "act independently", to acquire citizen status and, thereby, to participate in the universal. In the French-speaking African and black diaspora tradition, Césaire, Fanon, Senghor and many others, including novelists and people of action (trade unionists and political leaders), have written the canonical texts of this period.

Next comes the second moment, which I would situate around the 1980s. It is the moment of "high theory", and its high point was the publication by Edward Said of his major work, Orientalism – a work he extended and clarified a few years later in The World, the Text and the Critic and in Culture and Imperialism. It was Edward Said, a stateless Palestinian, who laid the first foundations for what was gradually to become "postcolonial theory", in the sense this time of an alternative form of knowledge about modernity and a separate academic discipline. One of Said's decisive contributions was to show, in opposition to the Marxist doxa of the period, that the colonial project was not reducible to a simple military-economic system, but was underpinned by a discursive infrastructure, a symbolic economy, a whole apparatus of knowledge the violence of which was as much epistemic as it was physical. The cultural analysis of the discursive infrastructure and of the colonial imagination would gradually become the very subject of postcolonial theory and give rise to severe criticism from intellectuals in the Marxist and internationalist tradition like Aijaz Ahmed (In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism), and Benita Parry.

In the Indian context, three other thinkers would help widen the breach opened up by Said. First up was Ashis Nandy, who in The Intimate Enemy advanced the proposition that colonialism was, above all, a psychological affair; that, as such, the struggle against colonialism was both a material and mental war, and that in any case the resistance to colonialism, and the nationalism that was its corollary, were forced to operate in the terms defined beforehand by the West. It was Nandy who, well before the rest, facilitated Fanon's passage into India. At the same time he introduced psychoanalysis into postcolonial discourse while at the same time opening up a dialogue between that current of thought and Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of the Enlightenment. Then there was Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian academic and translator of Jacques Derrida's De la grammatologie, and author of a famous text that has since become a classic (Can the Subaltern Speak?) and of a summa entitled Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Finally there was Homi Bhabha, editor of the symposium Nation and Narration and author of The Location of Culture and of a commentary on Fanon.

It was during the 1980s, too, that a start was made on forging links between postcolonial thought and several other currents of distinctive pedigree. Suffice it to mention two, the merit of which was to offer a historiographical foundation to what, up till then, had chiefly consisted of the analysis of literary texts. First of all, subaltern studies, a current of historical thought that arose in India, developed a critique of nationalist and anti-colonial historiography while at the same time trying to recover the historical voices and capabilities of decolonization's rejects (peasants, women, the untouchable caste, the underprivileged, inferiors) through a revision and selective rereading of Marxism (see in particular Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe). Because of the pride of place accorded to the "voiceless" and the "powerless", a good part of the initial theoretical inspiration of the subaltern-studies school derives from Gramsci. But the "translation" of Marx into non-European languages and contexts was aimed above all at understanding why, in India, the anti-colonial struggle led not to a radical transformation of society but to a sort of "passive revolution" characterized by the return of "communalism", that is, in the last resort, to an anti-nationalist scenario.

On the other hand there is a whole Afro-modern current of thought which developed around the shores of the Atlantic and which took this oceanic and transnational formation as its basic unit of analysis (notably Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic). Its proponents are Afro-American, Black-British and Afro-Caribbean intellectuals, and its central concern is the rewriting of the multiple histories of modernity at the meeting point between racial factors and factors of social class. In that perspective, this Afro-modern current is just as much interested in the question of diasporas as in the procedures by which individuals are subjugated to ignominious categories blocking all access to the status of subject in history. Such is the case particularly with confinement in a race.

From this viewpoint W.E.B. Dubois, author of The Soul of Black Folks, is the Afro-American thinker who has offered the best analysis of the effects of the "sombre veil of colour" in which people of African origin have been confined in the New World. He highlights the fact that such a "veil" not only covers the individual forced to wear it, but makes him or her unrecognizable and incomprehensible, prey to a "double consciousness".

This current of thought is also alert to the themes of the "liberation of minds" and of memory in conditions of captivity (religion, music and the performing arts in particular) and to the issue of dispersion (diasporas), as well as to what Glissant calls the "poetics of connection". Artistic and aesthetic experience occupies a central place in this current. In discussing slave songs, "old, mysterious songs through which the soul of the black slave spoke to people", Dubois says that "those who walked in darkness, in olden times, sang songs of grief – because their hearts were weary". Paul Gilroy, too, takes up the theme of black music, in his analysis of jazz and reggae.

As can be seen, the postcolonial current is an intellectual constellation the strength and the weakness of which have their origins in its very fragmentation. Being the product of the circulation of knowledge between different continents and across different anti-imperial traditions, it is like a river with multiple tributaries. What gives it its strength in English-speaking universities is not only the radicality of its eclecticism; it is above all because it has managed to decentre the question of the humanities. Thanks to its anti-systematic syncretism, its creative syntheses, its recourse to hybrid methods, its insistence on cultural and epistemological pluralism, even its generally intelligent and fertile misreadings, it has made possible the installation of other questions and other forms of knowledge at the very heart of the academy.

The third moment is marked by the central phenomenon of our epoch, globalization, that is the generalized expansion of trade and its grip on the totality of natural resources, of human production, in a word of living in its entirety. It seems to me that in these circumstances the literary text alone can no longer be the sole archive of choice. But critical reflection on contemporary forms of life-instrumentalization can gain in radicality if it accepts that slavery and colonization – capitalism's old and recent formations – need to be taken seriously. It's clear, indeed, how constant was the refusal, in the way colonial capitalism functioned, to institute the sphere of the living as a limit to economic appropriation. As for slavery, it was a mode of production, circulation and distribution of wealth grounded in the refusal of institutionalization in any domain whatever of the "non-appropriable". From every point of view, the "plantation", the "factory" and the "colony" were the principal laboratories in which experiments were conducted into the authoritarian destiny of the world that we see today.
Reinvention of the subject

Is the postcolonial era both the hope of an exit from an inhuman world – with consequences in terms of religion – and a time of necessary reinvention?

AM: To my mind it's the era both of the end and of reinvention, starting with the reinvention of what has suffered the most damage, the body. But it's also a time of fresh struggles. In the context of extreme poverty, of extreme racialization and of the omnipresence of death, the body is the first to be affected, the first to be hurt. Fanon had already drawn attention to this at the end of his first book Black Skin, White Masks, where he turns to his body and utters this prayer: "Oh my body, make of me a man who asks questions".

As is clearly shown by the example of South Africa on its emergence from apartheid, nothing can be reinvented unless one is capable both of glancing backward and of looking forward, because if what began in blood ends in blood the chances of a new beginning are lessened by the haunting presence of the horrors of the past. Put another way, it is difficult to reinvent anything if one simply repeats against others the violence once inflicted on oneself. There is no "good violence" that can follow on automatically from "bad violence" and be legitimized by it. All violence, "good" or "bad", always sanctions a disjunction. The reinvention of politics in postcolonial conditions first requires people to depart from the logic of vengeance, above all when vengeance wears the shabby garb of the law.

That said, the struggle to escape from an inhuman order of things cannot do without what may be called the poetic productivity of the sacred. After all, what would Africa be without the sacred? Here the sacred represents the imaginative resource par excellence. The sacred is to be understood not only in relation to the divine, but also as the "power of therapy" and of hope in a historical context in which violence has touched not only material infrastructures but psychological infrastructures too, through the denigration of the Other, through the assertion of the latter's worthlessness.

It's this discourse – sometimes interiorized – about worthlessness that is challenged by certain forms of the sacred, the ultimate aim being to enable those who were on their knees to "arise and walk" at last. In these circumstances, the philosophical, political and ethical question is how to give support to this "ascent in humanity" – an ascent at the end of which person-to-person dialogue becomes possible and replaces commands delivered to the object.

When you speak of this ability to be oneself, to say "I", to "arise and walk", are you thinking in terms of individuals, or of peoples and collective entities?

AM: Both. I'm referring to the task of learning again to envisage oneself as a universal source of meaning. Harm has been done to individuals quite as much as to communities. Liberation struggles always bring centre-stage people who emerge from a community and who are expert at scrutinizing the hour, keeping a weather-eye open, and shouldering on the community's behalf the question "When?". They are people who probe the night sky for a glimpse of the dawn and who lead the community towards the light. This was what Martin Luther King did, and Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi – heroes for whom revolutionary asceticism began with the drive for self-transformation.

South Africa shows clearly that the injunction to "arise and walk" is addressed to all, to the oppressed of yesteryear and to their enemies. It is pseudo-liberationist to believe that it is enough to kill the colonist and take his place for relationships of reciprocity to be restored. South Africa enables us to see what it is in the politics of revenge that merely reproduces the Cain complex. What could lie beyond destruction and resentment can only be imagined in a painful confrontation with the questions, "What is to be done with the enemy? Who is my neighbour? And how can we answer in a responsible fashion for both?" That said, the desire for reconciliation alone cannot easily take the place of the radical demand for justice. In order to enable those who were on their knees not long before, bowed down under the weight of oppression, to arise and walk, justice must be done. So there is no escape from the need for justice.

Esprit: What do you think of the experience of the "Truth and Reconciliation" commission in South Africa?

AM: It was the path that had to be followed. I'm not saying that everything has been achieved. But people, blacks and whites, had to be wrenched from the jaws of the dog-mentality, the pig-mentality and the rabble-mentality that is so characteristic of racism in general. The cornerstone of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the notion of deliverance from self-hatred and from hatred of the Other. Indeed, what centuries of racism had done was to lead everyone to the narrow gate of the sepulchre. Having lived beside the sepulchre, people had to be brought back to life.

What the South African experience teaches us is that to make a fetish of the fact of having been a victim in world history often makes the person who has been prey to such a misfortune wish to shed blood, any blood; unfortunately, all too frequently, never that of the torturers but almost always someone else's, no matter whose. Because, in order to be able to function, the fetish requires endless sacrifices and thus fresh victims killed to appease the sacrificer-god. Central to the victimary economy is the desire for expiation: it takes the form of the spirit of vengeance - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – in line with the ancient monotheistic religions. Indeed, insofar as the transcendent is never grounded in one's own death, it has to be through the sacrificial killing of someone else that the sacred is established.

That was what South Africa sought, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to avoid, and what distinguishes the South African experience from that of a country like Israel. Indeed, those states which define themselves mainly as victimary subjects often appear too as subjects filled with hate, that is subjects that can never stop miming death by sacrifice and inflicting on others all the acts of cruelty of which they were once themselves the expiatory victims.

On the question of victims' memory, is there a specifically black dimension, of blacks and their history, different from that of the experience in India, for example? Or are these specificities transcended by reflection on these issues?

AM: First, a general answer. It doesn't seem to me that people in South Africa believe in a primary, endless mourning compared to which all other grief is merely pagan. People don't think, either, that in order for one's own suffering to be acknowledged it's necessary to deny the suffering of others and empty it of all human meaning. The issue of memory in South Africa is not about which human suffering should be sanctified and which suffering is basically only of incidental significance, of no value on the scale of lives and deaths that truly matter. Every human life is universal, as it every death. And what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has taught us is how to free ourselves from the addiction to the memory of one's own suffering that characterizes all victimary consciousness. Because freeing oneself from this addiction is the necessary condition for learning to speak a human language again and, potentially, to create a new world.

That said, apartheid consisted in establishing a total distinction between whites and everyone else (blacks, Indians and coloureds), in creating subdivisions within each of these groups, in translating these subdivisions into institutions and governmental technologies specific to each group, and in translating all of that into the geographical space by setting up Bantustans and by barring blacks from taking up residence in the cities. Before apartheid (which began in 1948), colonial ideology had in any case been based on the conviction that for "civilization" to advance it was necessary to wage war on the "inferior races". So there had, historically, been a specific way of depriving the blacks of their humanity. But in the vocabulary of South Africa, "negritude" included the Indians and the coloureds too: anyone who was not "white" was "black".

So I'd say that in contemporary South Africa the question of memory is posed in terms of a painful past, but also a past full of hope, which all protagonists try to accept as a basis for creating a new and different future. That presupposes the exposure of the suffering once inflicted on the weakest; that the truth, the whole truth, be told about their sufferings; that concealment, repression and denial be renounced in return for pardon, that is the desire on the part of everybody to begin everything again on the basis of a mutual recognition of humanity of each and every one, and of the right of everybody to life in freedom before the law.

What is striking is that a considerable part of the work of memorialization that is in progress is being carried out with this aim in mind. It translates, for instance, as the appropriate burial of the remains of those who died in the struggle, the erection of funeral steles where they fell, the consecration of trado-Christian religious rituals aimed at "curing" the survivors of anger and the desire for revenge, the creation of numerous museums and parks devoted to the celebration of people's common humanity, the encouragement of the arts, and above all the launch of policies of reparation aimed at making up for centuries of neglect (a roof, a school, a road, a clinic, clean water, electricity, and one person one vote).

As can be seen, the work of memory is inseparable from meditation on the way to interiorizing the presence of the physical destruction of those who have been lost and reduced to dust. Meditation on that absence, and on ways of symbolically restoring what has been destroyed, here in large part consists in giving the theme of the sepulchre its full subversive force. But the sepulchre is not so much the celebration of death as the reference to the extra bit of life that's needed to raise the dead which lies at the heart of a new culture that promises never to forget the vanquished.

So this is an approach which both embraces and transcends the question of specificity. It is not without its tensions and contradictions. The process is not complete. The tensions can be seen in the way the de-racialization of urban spaces, as well as of institutions and the economy, is being carried out. In any event the future, viewed from this angle, is not some sort of afro-centrism, but what I'd call afropolitanism – a way of being "African" open to difference and conceived as transcending race.

Memory and responsibility

In your book, On the Postcolony. Studies on the History of Society and Culture, you mention Cameroon frequently. In current controversies in France victims competing with each other – blacks from West Africa, from Martinique and from other islands – are taking up different positions. They are very mindful of what is said about their memory.

In many respects my book adopts a different approach from that of most postcolonial thinking, if only over the privileged position accorded by the latter to questions of identity and difference, and over the central role that the theme of resistance plays in it. There is a difference, to my mind, between thinking about the "postcolony" and "postcolonial" thought. The question running through my book is this: "What is 'today', and what are we, today?" What are the lines of fragility, the lines of precariousness, the fissures in contemporary African life? And, possibly, how could what is, be no more, how could it give birth to something else? And so, if you like, it's a way of reflecting on the fractures, on what remains of the promise of life when the enemy is no longer the colonist in a strict sense, but the "brother"? So the book is a critique of the African discourse on community and brotherhood.

So it can be said that it is concerned with memory only insofar as the latter is a question, first of all, of responsibility towards oneself and towards an inheritance. I'd say that memory is, above all else, a question of responsibility with respect to something of which one is often not the author. Moreover I believe that one only truly becomes a human being to the degree that one is capable of answering to what one is not the direct author of, and to the person with whom one has, seemingly, nothing in common. There is, truly, no memory except in the body of commands and demands that the past not only transmits to us but also requires us to contemplate. I suppose the past obliges us to reply in a responsible manner. So there is no memory except in the assignment of such a responsibility.

What is postcolonial thinking's position with regard to Europe? Is it an anti-European current of thought, or does it adopt Europe's values? Shouldn't the reflections of the postcolonial school be understood, too, as reflections on the decentring of European thought?

AM: postcolonial thought is not an anti-European thought. On the contrary, it's the product of the encounter between Europe and the worlds it once made into its distant possessions. In showing how the colonial and imperial experience has been codified in representations, divisions between disciplines, their methodologies and their objects, it invites us to undertake an alternative reading of our common modernity. It calls upon Europe to live what it declares to be its origins, its future and its promise, and to live all that responsibly. If, as Europe has always claimed, this promise has truly as its object the future of humanity as whole, then postcolonial thought calls upon Europe to open and continually relaunch that future in a singular fashion, responsible for itself, for the Other, and before the Other.

But postcolonial thought is also a dream: the dream of a new form of humanism, a critical humanism founded above all on the divisions that, this side of the absolutes, differentiate us. It's the dream of a polis that is universal because ethnically diverse. It's what, in his poetical writings, Senghor hoped for: the "rebirth of the world", which he speaks of in his "Prayer to the Masks", for example.

The thinking of the postcolony, on the other hand, is a thought of responsibility and life, seen through the prism of what belies both. It is in the direct lineage of certain facets of black thought (Fanon, Senghor, Césaire and others). It is a thought of responsibility, responsibility in terms of the obligation to answer for oneself, to be the guarantor of one's actions. The ethics underlying this thought of responsibility is the future of the self in the memory of what one has been in another's hands, the sufferings one has endured in captivity, when the law and the subject were divided.

Postcolonial thought cannot fail to be valid for the relationship between Europe and itself. If one were to apply the postulates of postcolonial theory to France, for example, one would say that since the time of the slave trade and colonization there is no French identity or French heritage sites that don't simultaneously encompass the elsewhere and the here. In other words, the elsewhere is a constituent of the here, and vice-versa. There is no longer an "inside" cut off from an "outside", a past cut off from the present. There is a time, that of the encounter with the Other, which unfolds constantly and which consists not of scission but of contraction, winding and joining. Here, in any case, is a map of the subject and a geography that makes it possible to pose in another way the burning questions of the suburban ghettoes, the nation, even of immigration.

Third-worldism is chiefly aimed at the United States. What is postcolonial theory's view about that?

AM: As far as I'm concerned the controversy is about the way in which, historically, successive US governments have claimed to build universalism and promote democracy on the basis of crimes that are presented as so many earthly fulfilments of God's law and divine providence. So it's the political theology of the American state that is what people have a problem with insofar as the god it invokes is a melancholy god, irascible and vengeful. Mercy has no part in his laws and precepts. He is a jealous and unforgiving god, swift to destroy and forever requiring human sacrifice.

This critique of the political theology underpinning American power-politics (hyper-hegemony) is absolutely necessary in the current climate. And in any case the best critiques of this theology come from the United States itself. How, indeed, can one claim to "make world" on the basis of a politics almost exclusively founded on a single question: Who is my enemy, mine, here and now, and how can I exterminate him?

So it's not the United States as such that people have a problem with, but an idea of politics and of the world that is closely associated with the history of the enemy – the enemy as an ontological, even theological entity in the sense that my enemy is, as a matter of principle, always the enemy of God – no more, no less – and the hatred I feel for him is, necessarily, a divine hatred.

I don't think one can "make world" on the basis of a relationship between human beings in which all idea of morality is suspended precisely at the moment when morality is constantly being invoked as acts of immorality and barbarism are being carried out. The global politics of the United States today is a politics that seeks to free itself from all constraints. In the name of security it seeks exemption from all responsibility. This politics of boundless irresponsibility must be subjected to a firm, intelligent and sustained critique.

Interview by Olivier Mongin, Nathalie Lempereur and Jean-Louis Schlegel

Published 2008-01-09

Original in French
Translation by John Fletcher
First published in Esprit 12/2006
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