Serres on Diogenes and Power

| April 2, 2012

From Serres – Stakes, Fetishes, Merchandise (trans. Raymond Federman). SubStance, Vol.14, No.1, Issue 46. (1985), pp.3-31.


“I have told, I have staged the very scene of Diogenes.  He is there, in front of his barrel, on the public stage, he waits, exhibiting himself.  He waits for the Great.  He hopes for the greatest.  He waits for the sun.  Perhaps he waits for God.

He presents his case.  He prepares the drama.  He breaks the bowl, drinks in his hands like the child at the fountain leaning over the water.  He drops his cloak, embraces the mass of snow.  We spectators hidden in the shadow of the square, we understand, we know that the verminous cynic is destroying the parasites, that he is forsaking intermediaries.

Alexander passes.  The drama is at its apex.  Alexander and his shadow are in the order of the broken vase, of the discarded coat: all of them screens of the object, of the greatest object, of the sun.  Let us push Alexander aside.  But it is not a question of the king -Nowel, Sun!

On the contrary, it is only a question of the king.  The scenes within the Scene abound, they create shadow within Shadow, as if implicated.  Creon the king enters unexpectedly under Alexander.  Antigone answers him standing before Diogenes who is seated.  This is the stable dialogue of the weak against the strong whose minimal state is that of the lamb and the wolf, and whose maximal state is that of wretched Job in his manure before God Almighty himself.

The whole space before the sun is occupied, including the sun, including the one who seeks a sun-bath for his body and soul.  The entire mass is invaded by the scalar path of order.  Even the sun is not the sun.  It is not the object of innovation, the nova of knowledge, it is, inexorably and ferociously, the Great.”


“The circus fascinates people and locks them in their relations.  Nothing else exists for them but the ties which unite them.  The clamor of the stadium drowns the noises of the world.  Even the sky, the ceiling, is painted.  The representation is filled with the network of ties and thus carries on.  It is empty of objects.  The theater only circulates things which are relations in the network.  It only knows stakes, fetishes, merchandise.

To come out of the maelstrom, to come out of the black hole in which the group has fallen, where space becomes more and more rare, where objects disappear, where knowledge deceives, will almost cost life, credit, but not to come out will cost the world.  Pity for the world and not pity for me!”

We are troglodytes of our collectivity.  The group closes on itself.  It ignores the world.  It only knows what it produces, its own representations.  Politics has no need of the world.  Philosophers no longer mention it, they remain inside the circus.  They no longer inhabit the earth, nor the sea, nor the forest, nor the sun. They lock themselves inside the cave of media, inside the grotto of politics, inside the well of representation, in the scoop of the letter.

Even those who know or try to invent descend into the sap of the politics of science.  How long has it been since we have erased the world, our antique necessity, the unique object?  The philosopher no longer needs the world, he has no more experience.  He lives in the shelter of lined books -his writing.

This closure is harder than we think since it is the whole of our relations.  It is made of invincible solidity.  Proof is that if in order to preserve its present state, in order to assure its permanence, one had to decide to destroy the sea and the whole earth, no one in the circus would hesitate a moment to do so.  Rather die than stop the movement of stakes and the staging of struggles, the mass production of fetishes, and the circulation of merchandise.  One would rather annihilate the world than let the closure of the circus dwindle away.

Since the world is not here, to suppress it does not count.  Let us continue to drug ourselves with relations inside the mortal comfort of the cave.  That is the point of the fable at noon today, that is the point of our headway: we have decided to destroy the world rather than exchange the gladiators’ amphitheater for the whole of our relations.  We have decided to destroy the world in order to have the means to destroy those who want to destroy us -twins bound together by feed-back, obvious escalation, and the circle of history.  Last tragedy in the oldest theater in the world.  All tragedies have as a goal to make the circus exist and reinforce it, to imprison us in its walls, drooling there with the drug of obedience.

We will stay inside the theater while outside the nuclear sun ravages the earth.  The peasant earth, its sun; the sea of the cape-horners, its winds; the forest of wandering; their high knowledge.

Last tragedy which ought to make us aware of a new knowledge.

To remain in the theater, one must fight for places.  The places are scarce.  The circus is built, is made to cause this scarcity.  I have made it so that weak and strong, suns and shadows, abound.  See now forty Diogenes inside forty barrels close together on the public square, waiting for Godot.  What quarrel of misery in sight.  What struggle of rage.  What theology to be argued!”

As far back as one can think, from these forty Godots we know war, gods, and kings-sun.  The battle is the permanent spectacle of the theater, the definition of each place, the devastation of space.  It comes and publicizes that it is mother of all, that all things and history are engendered by pugnacity.  What a fine stroke of publicity.  What a beautiful surplus of closure!

The passage of a squadron can ransack a body of water, the pugnacious in their revels can trample the harvest, the bomb can annihilate the world, public dialectics can put new shoes on old mules and weaken the collective until it becomes anaemic, scientific polemics can mask with its clanking new ideas and have them abort, the vulgarity of the scuffle can kill beauty, each, however, continues to go on saying that debate is the father of things and war its mother.  The loss of the world will not awaken us from our sleep of war, from the drug of representation.  Pity on the world!