Afformative, Strike

Werner Hamacher: “Afformative, Strike: Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’
In Andrew E. Benjamin & Peter Osborne (edts): Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience

Routledge, 1994

111: “This more powerful law is the law of historical change and internal structural transformation, dictated by the ambiguity of being both means and end. In connection with this ambiguity, Benjamin speaks of a ‘dialectic’ and its ‘law of oscillation’ (Schwankungsgesetz).”

114: “‘Upon the breaking of this cycle maintained by mythical legal forms’, Benjamin now writes, ‘upon the deposing [Entsetzung] of law with all the forces on which it depends as they depend on it, finally therefore upon the abolition of state forces, a new historical age is founded’.”

115: “Pure violence does not posit, it ‘deposes’; it is not performative, but afformative.”

116: “Deposing is thus not encompassed by any negation, is not directed toward anything determinate – and therefore is not direted. Deposing could not be the means to an end, yet it would be nothing but means. It would be violence, and pure violence, but therefore entirely non-violent.”

117: [Benjamin writes that] “pure means are never those of direct, but always those of mediated, solutions. They therefore never apply directly to the arbitration of interpersonal conflict, but do so only by way of things. the sphere of pure means unfolds in the most material human realm – conflicts relating to goods. For this reason technique [Technik] in the broadest sense of the word is its most proper domain.”

117: “Language in its mediality is pre-positional, preperformative – and, in this sense, afformative. Even before and even during its performative effects, language does not initially lay the foundation for anything outside itself”.

118: “Language is not a medium that can be measured against ‘an objective state of affairs’ – a standard verifiable independently of this medium and already available outside itself. Rather, language is the articulation of a mediacy prior to any distinction between ‘true’ and ‘false’ and is therefore not subject to that distinction. /…/ Mediacy is the field of afformation. Whoever speaks is afformed and afforms.”

119: “On Benjamin’s account, the technique of language as pure means (and thereby as pure violence), which enables peaceful agreements and ‘mutual understanding’ independently of any legal order, has its contemporary political ‘analogue’ in the strike, specifically in the proletarian general strike. /…/
Benjamin explicitly refers only to George Sorel’s /…/ distinction between the political and the proletarian general strike.”

120: “For whereas the political general strike is only concerne with inverting the relation of domination, and is still based on the preservation and strenghtening of state violence, the proletarian general strike aims at nothing less than the abolition of the state apparatus and the legal order maintained by it. /…/
the proletarian general strike is pure means, not means to an extortion that would affect modifications in the working conditions, in the distribution of power or the power structure and as such would be violent. Rather, it is a non-violent means of annihilation of legal as well as state violence. /…/
This strike, directed toward the annihilation of state violence by way of suspension of all positing violence – in other words, directed toward nothing – can be described as being without intention.”
120-121: “For Benjamin, the strike is the social, economic, and political event in which nothing happens, no work is done, nothing is produced, and nothing is planned or projected.”

125-126: “Unlike historical-transcendental pragmatics, which are oriented toward historical forms of linguistic and social action, Benjamin’s sketch of a politics of pure means is a theory not of positing, producing and presenting, not of forming and transforming action, but a theory of the abstention from action”.

128n12: “the use of afformative event is to contrast with the use of performative act – implying that afformatives are not a subcategory of performatives. Rather, afformative, or pure, violence is a ‘condition’ for any instrumental, performative violence and, at the same time, a condition which suspends its fulfilment in principle. /…/
The afformative is the allipsis which silently accompanies any act and which may silently interrupt any speech act.”

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