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When the house burns – Giorgio Agamben

“Everything I do makes no sense if the house burns.”

Yet just as the house is burning, it is necessary to continue as always, to do everything with care and precision, perhaps even more studiously – even if no one should notice. It may be that life disappears from the earth, that no memory remains of what has been done, for better or for worse. But you continue as before, it is too late to change, there is no more time.

“What’s happening around you / is no longer your business.”

Like the geography of a country that you have to leave forever. Yet how does it still affect you? Right now that it is no longer your business, that everything seems finished, everything and every place appear in their truest guise, they somehow touch you more closely – just as they are: splendor and misery.

Philosophy, dead language.

“The language of poets is always a dead language … curious to say: dead language that is used to give more life to thought”.

Maybe not a dead language, but a dialect. That philosophy and poetry speak in a language that is less than the language, this gives the measure of their rank, of their special vitality. Weighing, judging the world by commensurate it with a dialect, a dead language and, nevertheless, spring, where there is not even a comma to change. Keep speaking this dialect now that the house is burning.

Which house is burning? The country where you live or Europe or the whole world? Perhaps the houses, the cities have already burned down, we don’t know for how long, in a single huge stake, which we pretended not to see. Of some only pieces of the wall remain, a frescoed wall, a flap of the roof, names, many names, already bitten by the fire. And yet we cover them so carefully with white plaster and false words, that they seem intact.

We live in houses, in cities burned from top to bottom as if they were still standing, people pretend to live there and go out into the street masked among the ruins as if they were still the familiar districts of the past.

And now the flame has changed shape and nature, it has become digital, invisible and cold, but for this very reason it is even closer, it is on us and surrounds us in every moment.

That a civilization – a barbarism – collapses in order not to rise again, this has already happened and historians are accustomed to marking and dating caesuras and shipwrecks. But how can we testify to a world that is going to ruin with blindfolded eyes and a covered face, of a republic that collapses without lucidity or pride, in abjection and fear? Blindness is all the more desperate, because the castaways pretend to govern their own shipwreck, swear that everything can be technically kept under control, that there is no need for a new god or a new sky – only bans, experts and doctors. Panic and rascality.

What is a God to whom neither prayers nor sacrifices are addressed? And what would a law be that knew neither command nor execution? And what is a word that does not mean or command, but is truly held in the beginning – indeed before it?

A culture that finally feels lifeless, tries to govern its ruin as best it can through a state of permanent exception.

The total mobilization in which Jünger saw the essential character of our time must be seen in this perspective. Men must be mobilized, they must feel every moment in a state of emergency, regulated in detail by those who have the power to decide it.

But while mobilization was once meant to bring men closer, now it aims to isolate them and distance them from each other.

How long has the house been burning? How long has it been burning? Certainly a century ago, between 1914 and 1918, something happened in Europe that threw everything that seemed to remain intact and alive into the flames and madness; then again, thirty years later, the fire broke out everywhere and since then it has never ceased to burn, without respite, subdued, barely visible under the ashes. But perhaps the fire began much earlier, when humanity’s blind impulse towards salvation and progress joined the power of fire and machines. All this is known and need not be repeated. Rather, we need to ask ourselves how we could continue to live and think while everything was burning, what remained somehow intact in the center of the stake or on its edges. How we managed to breathe in the flames, what we lost, what wreck – or what imposture – we got attached to.
And now that there are no more flames, but only numbers, figures and lies, we are certainly weaker and lonely, but without possible compromises, lucid as never before.

If the fundamental architectural problem becomes visible only in the burning house, then you can now see what is at stake in the story of the West, what it has tried at all costs to grasp and why it could only fail.

It is as if power were trying to grasp at any cost the bare life it produced and, however, no matter how hard it tries to appropriate it and control it with every possible device, no longer just police, but also medical and technological, it cannot escape it, because it is by definition elusive.

Governing bare life is the madness of our time. Peoples reduced to their pure biological existence are no longer human, the government of people and the government of things coincide.

The other house, the one I will never be able to live in, but which is my real home, the other life, the one I did not live while I thought I was living it, the other language, which I spelled syllable by syllable without ever being able to speak it – so mine that I can never have them …

When thought and language divide, one believes that one can speak while forgetting that one is speaking. Poetry and philosophy, while they say something, they do not forget what they are saying, they remember language. If we remember the language, if we do not forget that we can speak, then we are freer, we are not forced to things and rules.

Language is not a tool, it is our face, the openness in which we are.

The face is the most human thing, man has a face and not simply a muzzle or a face, because he dwells in the open, because in his face he exposes himself and communicates.

This is why the face is the place of politics. Our unpolitical time does not want to see its own face, it keeps it at a distance, masks and covers it. There must be no more faces, only numbers and figures. The tyrant is also faceless.

Feeling alive: being affected by one’s own sensitivity, being delicately delivered to one’s gesture without being able to assume or avoid it.

Feeling myself alive makes life possible for me, even if I were locked in a cage. And nothing is as real as this possibility.

In the years to come, there will be only monks and delinquents. And yet, it is not possible to simply step aside, to believe that one can get out of the rubble of the world that has collapsed around us. Because the collapse concerns us and apostrophes us, we too are just one of those rubble. And we will have to carefully learn to use them in the right way, without getting noticed.

Aging: «growing only in the roots, no longer in the branches». To sink into the roots, no more flowers or leaves. Or, rather, like a drunken butterfly flying over what has been experienced. There are still branches and flowers in the past. And you can still make honey out of it.

The face is in God, but the bones are atheist. Outside, everything pushes us towards God; inside, the stubborn, mocking atheism of the skeleton.

That the soul and the body are indissolubly linked – this is spiritual. The spirit is not a third between the soul and the body: it is only their helpless, wonderful coincidence. Biological life is an abstraction and it is this abstraction that we claim to govern and cure.

For us alone there can be no salvation: there is salvation because there are others. And this is not for moral reasons, because I should act for their good. Only because I am not alone is there salvation: I can only save myself as one among many, as another among others. Alone – this is the special truth of loneliness – I do not need salvation, indeed I am truly unsavable. Salvation is the dimension that opens up because I am not alone, because there is plurality and multitude.

God, incarnating, has ceased to be unique, has become one man among many. For this reason Christianity has had to bind itself to history and follow its fate to the end – and when history, as it seems to happen today, dies down and decays, Christianity too is approaching its end.

Its irremediable contradiction is that it sought, in history and through history, a salvation beyond history and when this ends, the ground is missing under his feet. The church was actually in solidarity not with salvation, but with the history of salvation and since it sought salvation through history, it could only end in health. And when the time came, he did not hesitate to sacrifice salvation to health.

Salvation must be removed from its historical context, a non-historical plurality must be found, a plurality as a way out of history.

Leaving a place or situation without entering other territories, leaving an identity and a name without taking on others.

Towards the present we can only regress, while in the past we proceed straight.

What we call the past is but our long regression to the present. Separating ourselves from our past is the first resource of power.

What frees us from the burden is the breath. In the breath we no longer have weight, we are pushed as if in flight beyond the force of gravity.

We will have to learn from scratch to judge, but with a judgment that neither punishes nor rewards, neither absolves nor condemns.

An act without purpose, which removes existence from any purpose, necessarily unjust and false. Only an interruption, an instant poised between time and eternity, in which the image of a life without end or projects, without name or memory – for this reason it saves, not in eternity, but in a ” kind of eternity “. A judgment without pre-established criteria and, nevertheless, precisely for this politician, because it returns life to its naturalness.

Feels and feelings, sensations and self-affections are contemporary. In every sensation there is a feel of feeling, in every sensation of oneself a feeling of otherness, a friendship and a face.

Reality is the veil through which we perceive what is possible, what we can or cannot do.

Knowing which of our childhood wishes have been fulfilled is not easy. And, above all, if the part of the heard that borders on the inexhaustible is enough to make us accept to continue living. We are afraid of death because the part of the unfulfilled desires has grown without any possible measure.

«Buffaloes and horses have four legs: that’s what I call Heaven. Haltering horses, piercing the buffalo’s nostrils – that’s what I call human. This is why I say: take care that the human does not destroy Heaven within you, take care that the intentional does not destroy the celestial “.

The tongue remains in the burning house. Not the language, but the immemorial, prehistoric, weak forces that guard and remember it, philosophy and poetry. And what do they keep, what do they remember of the language? Not this or that significant proposition, not this or that article of faith or bad faith. Rather, the very fact that there is language, that without a name we are open in the name and in this open, in a gesture, in a face we are unknowable and exposed.

Poetry, the word is the only thing we have left from when we still didn’t know how to speak, a dark song within the language, a dialect or an idiom that we cannot fully understand, but which we cannot help but listen to – also if the house burns, even if in their burning language the men continue to talk nonsense.

But is there a language of philosophy, just as there is a language of poetry? Like poetry, philosophy dwells integrally in language and only the manner of this dwelling distinguishes it from poetry. Two tensions in the field of language, which intersect at one point and then tirelessly separate. And whoever says a right word, a simple, springing word abides in this tension.

Whoever realizes that the house is burning can be pushed to look at his fellow men who seem not to notice it with disdain and contempt. Yet won’t these men who do not see and do not think are the lemurs you will have to account for on the last day? Realizing that the house is on fire does not raise you above the others: on the contrary, it is with them that you will have to exchange a last look when the flames get closer. What can you say to justify your alleged conscience to these men so unaware that they seem almost innocent?

In the burning house you continue to do what you did before – but you can’t help but see what the flames show you naked now.

Something has changed, not in what you do, but in the way you let it go into the world.

A poem written in the burning house is more just and truer, because no one will be able to listen to it, because nothing guarantees that it can escape the flames. But if, by chance, it finds a reader, then he will in no way escape the apostrophe that calls him from that helpless, inexplicable, subdued noise.

Only those who have no chance of being heard can tell the truth, only those who speak from a house that the flames are relentlessly consuming around them.

Man disappears today, like a face of sand erased on the shore. But what takes its place no longer has a world, it is just a naked life, silent and without history, at the mercy of the calculations of power and science. But perhaps it is only starting from this destruction that something else may one day slowly or abruptly appear – not a god, of course, but not even another man – a new animal, perhaps, an otherwise living soul …

Header: Leonardo da Vinci – Human Anatomy, Ambrosiana

Original: Giorgio Agamben, Quando la casa bruscia – Quodilibet

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