Translator’s Note: Marcello Tarì, a “barefoot philosopher” writing in both French and Italian, shares this cutting piece, draped in nostalgia and examining the tension between everyday acts that contribute to revolution and the impending sense of catastrophe that marks our current moment.
This piece first appeared in the online journal Lundi matin in January 2017, as an “existential introduction” to the original Italian edition of Tari’s book, There is No Unhappy Revolution: The Communism of Destitution, newly translated into English and available from Common Notions Press. – Emily Brown
There is a Eurythmics song, an old hit from the 90’s, called “I Saved the World Today.” The title is repeated in the refrain: “Hey, hey / I saved the world today / Everybody’s happy now / The bad thing’s gone away / Everybody’s happy now / The good thing’s here to stay / Please, let it stay.” It’s a good theme.
Let’s tell now a short fairy tale, one that begins as a dark fable. The world we live in deserves to be annihilated more and more with each passing day, and yet every day, we awake: sometimes with a sigh of relief, other times asking ourselves: why and how can this horrible civilization still exist? In reality, this world has, outside of it, beside it and within it, many other worlds. And, almost always unintentionally, when one of these worlds is saved, by extension, all of the other ones are saved too, including this world that so deserves to be destroyed. Either because the other worlds are too weak to depose it definitively, or because this world, the world of capital, has a peculiar parasitic ability to feed off the energy of other worlds.
The truth is, the world of capital is just one world among many: hegemonic, but caught in an anarchic configuration of a world of worlds. Every day, the world is saved through one or many gestures, through beauty, through sharing, through destruction, through love, through things freely given, through compassion. The only difference that can persist between these things—the difference is subtle, but decisive—dwells in the awareness, or lack thereof, of the effect that this gesture will have on the world, and on the extent to which this awareness is circulated, shared, or even organized. It is this flash of awareness that allows us to make some peace with the idea that we live in this world, but we are not of this world.
Communism is many things, but among them, there is at least one that relates to this fable. In addition to its more well-known definitions, communism also means a disciplined attention towards changes in the world: developing an awareness of what might save it, an appreciation of the work and many hours that have been given by and for justice, the art of sharing them, in the magic of their composition. The more profound the awareness, the deeper the sharing, the more the awful world weakens.
When I hear someone who says, “Live communism, here and now,” I can imagine these words on the tune and in the lyrics of this song. It happens sometimes that in a pop lyric, there is everything that matters: collective happiness, evil on its way out, justice on its way in, here and now, so wanting to stay. There is the world that, in this very moment, is saved, but also the call: Hey, heyyyy! It is an invitation to everyone to see what is there, to be open to what is happening, to what is developing right now. Obliviousness, our old friend Frantz would say, is one of the gravest sins. A sin for which we never seem to finish serving the sentence, through the continuation of this world, in this present that we hate as much as it hates us. Maybe this is why we have such a need for those who call us back to true reality: poets, musicians, philosophers, painters, playwrights, sensitive souls, the expert witnesses of gesture.
Of course, by mobilizing this attention, there is a melancholic musical tonality that cuts through the sweet joy of this moment, because we are perfectly aware that it will not last—and for it to last, or for it to return to us, the good and just things must fight, over and over again. We might be troubled by the thought: will there ever be another day like this one? Maybe it will take the passage of many years. Perhaps an entire generation will have to cross the nauseating swamp of History, with the solitary goal of destroying it. And yet, for this one day, the world is saved. Me and the world, the world and us.
Every fragment of communism that rolls into the world breaks the continuity of the present, causing a collapse of this ridiculous theater, so historical life shines in a new constellation. At the end of the day, we are left with one question, perhaps ingenuous but still inevitable: can we make it last?
Communism is the totality of justice, always immanent to that other totality, the dominant totality, that of injustice. Deleuze and Guattari said once that the State has always existed as a virtuality, even when it did not yet exist. But they forgot to mention that the same is true of communism; it is always there, even when not in force, it is there as inexhaustible power of the angel of justice. But it becomes real through the everyday, and not in abstract time, like that of History—the domain in which the State always dominates, and reproduces itself.
“Actually existing” communism comes to peace with itself in this day that is saved. As for what the next day will be like, it depends only on the strength that I, you, she, he or we—with the help of the angel—will be able to rally. Often, it is the force of despair that summons it into being. And it comes.
The world we are living against fractures a little more with each passing day. The increasing fragmentation of its territories—political, natural, imaginary, linguistic, existential—corresponds to the daily erosion of its reasons for existence. The glorious image of a world-Empire that will unify one and all—imagined by Hardt and Negri in a renowned book from several years ago—was only a passing fad; they hadn’t realized that this image was but a final, desperate effort of the liberals of capital to hold out against the increasing fragmentation.
However, instead of allowing this phenomenology of fragmentation to become a perverse instrument of the most varied types of reaction, we should consciously embrace it, because proceeding by fragments has always helped us, since these fragments continually flee the homogenizing regulation of Law. Each fragment, like each territory, has the potential to become a world, and the more that are created, the more they become self-aware, and therefore stronger; the more the dominant weakens, pales, and ultimately disappears.
In fact, this is always how communism manifests itself in our lives: in fragments that, for a single day, or in a candle’s flame of time, can come together in a unique configuration. To be precise, a world—one which remains a mosaic of fragments, not only because of some weakness inherent to human creations, but precisely because ensuring that fragments remain fragments is the only way to resist the (re)-formulation of Law, whether it be new or old. The justice of communism can never be reduced to the rule of law. And so, this world-way, or this moment where the world is saved, or this act that brings it to life, or this gesture that loves—whether the singular creatures forget them or not—stay with us forever; it is the accumulation of these fragments that makes up the grandiose poverty of the communist tradition.
Each fragment is perfect in and of itself. The ability demanded of us consists therein: tracing the path that leads us from one to another, finding what is missing and what has been lost, ensuring that this path becomes our element, even if we know that ultimately only Revolution can allow these things to exist freely. We must understand how to walk this path when—especially when—this time has not yet come; knowing that it will only arrive in force when we are sufficiently powerful to save all the worlds in one fell swoop, made common to everyone.
But here, a warning! Each time it seemed possible and even necessary to permanently unify the whole of communism, we saw the return of the State-institution instead of its decline, rule of law instead of autonomy, the economy of life instead of its free use, rights instead of justice, the loss of the world instead of its salvation. Once the Tables of Law have been destroyed, it is a mortal sin to try and remake their mold. Saving the worlds must mean letting them exist in their multiplicity and not imposing upon them an old-new unifying hegemonic principle.
To return to the present moment, the important thing is that each of us, when we allow ourselves to be conscious, recognizes our fragment, and remembers everyone that so joyously interrupted our lives—whether they are one, a handful, or more. Because it’s up to each one of us to be free, to say: on that day, I saved the world.
Hey, hey, do you remember when we sacked the Bastille?
Hey, hey, do you remember when we chased off the police?
Hey, hey, do you remember the words of that day, those otherworldly sounds?
Hey, hey, do you remember when all the power was with the soviets, and then there was no more power?
Hey, hey, do you remember when we served a meal on the hill and we were eight-hundred strong
Hey, hey, do you remember the day when the factory stopped humming?
Hey, hey, do you remember the day of the kiss that was so intense, the sky fell down on us?
Hey, hey, do you remember the day I saved the world?
The history of communism is the history of all of these days, and only of these days, the days of an eternal history made up of so many anonymous, sparkling fragments. And of all those who never cease to come, again and again and again, against History. Somehow, the strength of a memory can, sometimes, bring this day back, and give it another chance.
And if ever it comes, please, please let it stay. ♦
Insanity laughs, under pressure / We’re breaking / Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? / Why can’t we give love that one more chance? – Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure”