- Madness and the Night of the Poetic Community:The Just Desert of Malika Mokeddem’s Century of Locusts
In the preface to a slender volume entitled La communauté affrontée, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy writes: “The present state of the world is not a war of civilizations. It is a civil war: it is the internecine war of a city, of a civility, of a citizenry [citadinité] that are being deployed up until the limits of this world, and because of this, up until the extremity of their own concepts” (11). Globalization, or the limitless expansion of the West driven by totalizing notions such as “History, Science, Capital, Man and/or their Nothingness” reaches a point where such concepts must of necessity break apart, where “a distended figure bursts, [and] a chasm appears” (13, 1). This chasm signals a rent in the supposedly unified essence of a community, a tear within the fullness of an immanence completely present to itself. The gap is the sign of a community confronted with itself [“la communauté … affrontée à elle-même” (17)], or rather, exposed to itself at its limit, facing the outside with which it is joined edge to edge. In an earlier essay entitled La communauté désoeuvrée (first published in 1983 and translated as The Inoperative Community), Nancy notes that it is at this point of withdrawal or retreat from the infinite plenitude of communal fusion, from within the divide of this separation (le partage in French is both a division and a sharing) that a thinking of community, of a being-with or a being-in-common can take place. A being-in-common is a being-together of singularities that cannot be welded together into the unicity of a single being of togetherness. Nancy describes the experience of community as the “clear consciousness of the communal night – this consciousness at the extremity of consciousness” (19). Community takes place in an exposure to the outside of a self, in a consciousness of the difference of immanence from itself.
Three years after the initial publication of La communauté désoeuvrée, and the same year that Nancy’s essay appears alongside two other reflective pieces on community in book form, the Indian postcolonial critic Partha Chatterjee cautions against the boundless reach of Enlightenment Reason, which coopts the political legitimacy of anticolonial and post-colonial struggles in Asia and Africa by viewing them as dark, atavistic, [End Page 107] and primeval forces of communitarian violence that are opposed to the rationality of the modern state and the order and stability of civic society. “Reason,” warns Chatterjee, “has not exhausted its cunning” (Nationalist 170). Contesting the ethics of rationality that evacuates what is properly political about such resistances to colonial power, Chatterjee invites us, in his subsequent work, The Nation and Its Fragments, to explore the ‘imagined communities’ of colonized nations not as mere derivatives of modular forms of European nationalism (as Benedict Anderson considers them to be), but as autonomous modes of invention of communal life that refuse to surrender to the disciplinary project of the modern state. Community, in other words, is to be understood not so much as a primordial, pre-political, and prehistoric threat to the civic coherence of the nation-state, but as a suppressed narrative of love and kinship that cannot be contained within the regulatory mechanisms of state and civil society. A self-admittedly “strenuous reading” of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and the section entitled “Ethical Life” provides the basis for Chatterjee’s argument that the repressed narrative of community marks a crucial resistance to the only form of community legitimized by modern civil society: the community of subjects of the nation-state.
Chatterjee’s reading of Hegel would appear to be strenuous insofar as in the Phenomenology of Spirit, and particularly in the section “The Ethical Order,” Hegel often equates the word “community” with “civil society,” “state,” and “nation,” all of which are opposed to the Family. Hegel divides the ethical order between two spheres, the Family, which is governed by divine law, and the community, which is regulated by human law. While each of these two realms is...