the Politics of the Melancholic Wager

Josep Maria Antentas



Daniel Bensaïd's 1997 book the Melancholic Wager brought togheter two concepts, "melancholy" and the "wager" that constitute a synthesis of a profane understanding of revolutionary political commitment against the limits of the present world.
Bensaïd embraces the Marxist reinterpretation of Pascal’s Wager on God's existance made by Lucien Goldmann in the fifties in his Le Dieu Caché.
Political commitment is a wager, Bensaïd claims, as does not have “the tranquil doctrinaire security of an absolute and definitive truth”.
If Goldmann offered an optimistic perspective of the outcome of the wager as did Pascal for God's existance, Bensaïd's wager is more balanced. The chances of barbarism are not less than the ones of socialism. In fact, Bensaïd makes a wager against the tide.
Melancholia is a complex concept whose meaning has changed over the course of history, with as many negative as positive connotations. In his classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton stated: “So that take melancholy in whatever sense you will, properly or improperly, in disposition or habit, for pleasure or for pain, dotage, discontent, fear, sorrow, madness, for part, or all, truly, or metaphorically, 'tis all one”. One of the key concepts of Western culture, its uses in the contemporary political debate has risen as a consequence of the end of political and ideological certainties. The commitment to change the world becomes melancholic, for Bensaïd “when the necessary and the possible diverge”. Other than embracing an active non contemplative and not self-paralyzing melancholia, Bensaïd does not fully develope its links with revolutionary commitment. Starting from him in order to go beyond, it is possible to state that melancholia is a useful tool for revolutionary politics if dispossessed from the darkest elements that have sourrounded it. Self-controled, dosified and tamed melancholia brings to revolutionary commitment a necessary distance from itself, but always from within, that allows a better understanding of its political limits. It can also help to cement the most firmest of revolutionary commitments, because it prevents tomorrow’s disappointments. Melancholia can be read, in this sense, strategically.
The politics of the melancholic wager is, this way, a politics that seeks for an strategic thought to manage the uncertainties of struggle and history and of the very wager itself.

Melancholia - Wager