'How Long Our Present Misery Has Been in Preparation?': Reading Cicero as Enemy
14.11. 2018, 6pm – 8pm,
in MayDay Rooms,
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
In this session Cooper Francis will set out to read Cicero's De legibus in order to explore the possibilities of 'enmity' as a specific method of historical hermeneutic. He will situate Cicero's text within the intersections of the Roman civil war on one hand, and the formation of the Western legal tradition on the other. Looking in this way into the making of our present misery, he will try to clarify the fault lines of our time. Respondent: Maria Chehonadskih.
This talk will explore the possibilities of "enmity" as method within a long durée historical process. Where between an account of the impersonal and contingent process that has produced the forms that dominate our present, and a concrete history of the conflicts that accompanied it all along the way, are we to locate a concept of the enemy? We will look to the work of Walter Benjamin for such a hermeneutic of enmity in the paradoxical figure that he constructs of a historical practice grounded in both happiness and hate, not sorrow, that "learns to recognise how long one's present misery has been in preparation": a non-melancholic and indeed invigorating experience of history that is motivated by a "picture of enslaved forebears" rather than an "ideal of emancipated heirs".
We will attempt to apply such a method to a reading of Cicero's De legibus, placing it within the context of the plebeian secession and the Roman Republic's civil war. It will thus be read, not as a utopian text similar in form to Plato's Republic, but as at once a rhetorical move to protect the traditional foundations of the Roman constitution against plebeian intervention and as a formal intervention in the history of law. This reading will be advanced in light of the dual place accorded to the Roman Republic in Marx' work: on the one hand, the Roman invention of law constitutes a key moment of the "world's history" culminating in that day when "the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power", and, on the other, his account of "the history of all hitherto existing society" as the "history of class struggles" begins precisely in Rome. We will thus look to create an experience of the past that, rather than resuscitating Carthage, serves to clarify the fault lines of our present, asking whether in fact it is not the end of the Republic, rather than the Empire, that serves as a sign of our own time.
Cooper Francis is a translator and PhD candidate in Philosophy at Kingston University London. His research concerns the question of subject in Foucault and Hegel.