Before the War

Claire Valier, University of London

Before the war, or so said Merleau-Ponty in Sens et non-sens, politics was unthinkable. Politics appeared unthinkable, as a 'statistical treatment of man', and becuase there was no sense in treating by general rules those singular beings for whom each is for himself a world. In the perspective of the mind, Merleau-Ponty said, politics is impossible. To the mind's eye/I, politics is a nonsense, a non-sens. It has no sense, it makes no sense. War, though, brought a duty to arrest and to judge that could not be left to others. Before the war, he wrote, policing and judging din't concern us, and we never dreamed of ourselves having to do it. But before the war, in the face of war, confronted with the prospect of war, we really had to change our minds, to see that it was now our job to judge. What implications does this conjunction of war, crime and the political have for the maximum that 'politics is the art of the impossible'? Through a reading of some texts on war by Freud, Merleau-Ponty and the Czech dissident Jan Patocka, this paper considers the sense, and the nonsense, of the political that becomes apparent before the war.

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Updated 05/20/2006