For fragments, and not debts, we are

by Thanos Zartaloudis • 25 February 2015 published at Critical Legal Thinking

We are epicurean fragments and not debts, our life is not the life of rights (as debts that will never be paid), but of their use.

It may be the case that one could note the peculiar appearance of the thinking minister. A thinking minister is not suddenly a liberated or a good minister, but at least a minister who thinks and does not just administer or govern; thus maintaining for a number of possibilities previously and thoughtlessly curtailed. What possibilities? Not towards this or that eschatological or even other more modest end but towards good living. A living that cannot be separated from the good, and a good that cannot be separated from the living. For the potentially good minister may have realized, after all, that there is no sovereign master to whom his ministry owes its existence and validation of the good. Then what of the good if there is no program or end?


T. Zartaloudis, Athens 2008
You have to start from somewhere. A chance, for instance, presents itself to attempt to socially renegotiate and crucially redesign the key sub-​systems of Greek cultural life: education, the arts, heritage, tourism, and the neighborhood (in its spatial as well as wider ethical sense: a local and common way of living). One hears and sees promising things, by people who do not appear to like neoliberal promises and that is quite hopeful. So we are told Syriza has found itself in the middle. That is good news.

Since thinking requires questions, the return of the latter is also to be welcomed and hoped for; for questions appear to shine in a particular way under the Greek sun. A government that asks ‘which debt?’, ‘which immigration policy?’, ‘which welfare system?’, and that does not simply rely on the comforting and long-​standing mess of the already existent patchwork of, for instance, earlier numbing paradigms, is a provisionally engaging government with the life of the people affected, rather than with its own supposedly transcendent image. To render these policies in tune with reality on the ground, as it is said, could regain, not trust, but a rhythmical faith in the life of institutions as living commons.

And since questions require some parrhēsía it is also to be welcomed that one hears some, at least, of the new ministers make statements of ever-​less political rhetoric; and even in some minor instances of, in fact, no kind of political-​speak at all (the kind of generalities, vertigoes, banner-​makings, vulgarities and career building manifestoes that we have been used to, and which one always fears shall return). It is to be hoped that more ministers will state that they are not afraid to fail and to hold their power as of their own genuine responsibility. That would be the euporia of, even, failure.

These elements could assist especially when the biggest challenge, currently, is entailed in the question — ‘which political economy for Greece (and Europe)?’ Here the term political becomes, in a sense, equal in emphasis to the term economy. And so it should be. In the new finance minister in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, to refer to one example, one finds (it seems at least for now) some of the above characteristics, and that is most intelligent a negotiation he appears to have made with himself this far. And it is equally refreshing for Syriza to enable his decisive participation in perhaps the arguably most significant, this far, contribution to the European political economy’s chessboard. Sure it remains that politics is such a chessboard, how could it be otherwise? Yet for chess devotees it is well appreciated, that the best game of chess (which is not a game, but a state of mind) is not necessarily the one that has a winner. It is the moves that matter, and what if this European chessboard could be decisively one day separated from a winning table, for good?

Still it is also important to refrain from the dithyrambic person-​centered politics that the Greeks, and others, are so attuned to. It is a tense trampoline that impatient Greek psyche, and much has changed since Aristotle. Setting aside any already much celebrated (and, why not, significant) personal attributes (which enable as much as hinder, the Finance Minister, as much as each one of us), the fact remains that a non-​politician, who, for the most part, does not speak or act as a conventional politician, is already a positive step in the right direction of reviving, unexpectedly, political life in Greece and perhaps elsewhere too. That you can actually listen to a minister speak and maintain a sense of an argument without rushing to empty your stomach, remains a genuine astonishment in recent weeks. And in politics, as in life, one has to first of all listen to their stomach. Especially when political speeches have been unbearable or hilarious, or indeed both, for too many decades.

Furthermore, on the point of the re-​politicization of the economy it is worth noting the second biggest challenge, as I see it, in that it is not just the political in political economy that deservedly attains some greater emphasis now, but the elephant in the room that underlies every political economy, like a phantom third word, within and adjacent to the phrase political economy: a just political economy. Justice, the much-​maligned goddess, is of course not for us. Justice remains ever not for us, though, not in the sense of an impossibility (that is already too sovereign and present a miracle to side one’s thoughts, actions and hopes with). Justice, rather, in the very sense of existence: justice as the rendering visible of what there is to (political or common) living. If the country’s significant numbers of the poor are so, then a just political economy will not ignore this fact (it will have nothing to avenge or memorialize: justice demands nothing of existence). It will be instead: the political economy of the poor. If institutions are malfunctioning in certain respects, then that too will not be as ever re-​managerialized and repackaged within some kind of bubble speak (resulting in a new file entry in the archives of governmental dark space), but it will be noted, accounted and deplaned. If the system of social welfare is not actually social or welfare, then let that be seen to be so and so forth. Since this was not possible in Greece before, at an existential, let alone political-​economic, level, it is now, it seems to me, a very good thing that it can be thought as a matter of living, rather than as a matter of utopian willingness or greekness (an euphemism).

And it needs to be said that if the first blocking force, to rendering visible what there is, is political-​speak and economic managerialism; the other equally crucial hurdle is the very mediatization of existence as such. It was said once that the social relation itself has become a spectacle (Debord); well, in Greece this has been accomplished (like in most places), but it should be remembered that the good old days of consumerism (or poverty distorted as under-​consumerism) have also been taken further: the spectacle that replaces the social relation has actually always been absolutely empty (consumed). Only now this emptiness has the chance to be exposed as lying within our very so-​called subjectivity. And our common fragmentation could ever up-​stage the ever-​last big act of consumption. Happy days.

When everything, thus, mediated tends towards the cancellation of fragmented noise even, that noise one hears before a white wall, then life itself is seen as a mere form; a story perhaps to be told or forgotten, each time, according to the supply logistics of the happy days. But we are not logical or logistical stories, nor can we ever be. Fragments we are and our debts are not awaiting judgment, (or resolution), but instead encounter the becoming of their life. A life logistically archived, cunningly, in real abstractions, hiding away our ever-​lasting becoming-​failure. Failure, yet, is not a problem in search of a solution, nor does it seek some heroic account of the self who will repent and be forgiven. Failure is instead a play in the composition of a life. Or have you never experienced the modest and yet expansive joy of failure? Failure could be, thus, read for what it is: not in the Greek hamartia (sin), but in apo-​tychia (out of amor fati). To learn from such amor fati, not the nihilistic tendency of yet another anything goes, but the life of the most difficult: the free use of the proper (Hölderlin).

T. Zartaloudis, Athens 2014
If you happen to choose to venture such an existence or justice between melancholy and hope so be it, for you, but what will matter more (apart from feeling better now when so many need it) is the exposed existence of things (their visibility away from the obsession of meaning) and our ever negligent caring (not careful!), epicurean engagement with things. Common things at the level of existence will always necessarily expose us in things as common fragments and vice versa, there is no end to this. If only the narcissus’s reflection was perhaps properly seen … it could render us able again to fail, and to fail joyously.

Which brings me to the qualities of those … without qualities. While courage, truth-​telling, thinking and questioning, innovating, and some, yes, loving hope are fragmented but eternal exemplars of the common good (that lies outside us for all good a reason!), there are, in addition, on their other side, the not so epicurean attempts at scraping stills of existence: negotiation, combination, compromise, constitution etc. are the benign, we are told, terms of crisis. To those that render these as more important than all else … they get the truth that they deserve as Deleuze would have it. Equally, though, to those that consider these to be mere apparitions, they also suffer the fate of their truth as if it can be justice. No. There is no need for those two stand offs before the strangling of life. There is no crisis.

Certainly there needs to be negotiation (yet with thinking and truth-​saying), combination (yet with equity), compromise (yet with dynamic contracts and encounters), and constitutions (yet with destituency, the turn to a frequent renewal) and so forth. As to the latter, in fact, it is worth reminding one’s self that constitutions were meant to constitute the freedom of a subjectified people (which can only, ironically, be constituted in the sense of a destituency (Agamben), a desubjectification, in common). When destituency is silenced, constitutions become the mere functionalism of a formal neoliberal freedom-​binding as the lowest common denominator of life. It is to be hoped that the so-​far good Greek government will be able to expose its ungovernable destituency ever so frequently within itself. For we are epicurean fragments and not debts, our life is not the life of rights (as debts that will never be paid), but of their use. Right, let it be said, is fulfilled only when it is a living, rather than a life that remains forever indebted to its unrivaled ever-​future fulfillment. No people should ever be made to suffer in this way a life that cannot be lived, but only in the future. So here is to hope that Syriza will at times, at least, also fail well.


T. Zartaloudis, Andros, 2009

Thanos Zartaloudis is senior lecturer in law at Kent Law School, University of Kent, and Lecturer at the Architectural Association (AA).

2 responses to “For fragments, and not debts, we are

  1. Content-wise the article is interesting, but the English is so bad syntactically, that it detracts from it as it distracts so much the reader. Please get someone to proofread if you cannot do it.

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