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The Rose of the People

25 November 2022

The Rose of the People
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The Rose, Jay DeFoe, 1958-66; Image credit: The Jay DeFoe Foundation, & Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art

This article discusses the meaning of “people” today at the moment of emergence of new forms of fascism and populisms. The main thesis is that we are facing rather the disappearance of the people precisely when its meaning becomes more and more empty the more it is performed and spectacularized as “the” people or “a” people. The voiding of the people entails not merely the emptying of its meaning once “people” become public and audience, once they have been converted into the numbers and statistics of population censuses, reduced to an avatar and a simulacrum. Rather, the people has a face, indeed it is comprised of millions of faces; the faces of the rest of the people, the leftovers, the remainders. I would like, then, to propose a change of focus in how we tackle today’s political questions. Instead of insisting on the question of the people, or of a people, or even of people, I will look at the faceless faces of the many who, since Greek antiquity, were called oclos, ochlos, the populace, the Pöbel – the rabble. For that I will let myself be guided by the poem “The Rose of the People” by the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

In die Mulde meiner Stummheit

leg ein Wort

und zieh Wälder groß zu beiden Seiten

daß mein Mund

ganz im Schatten liegt. (1) 

        Ingeborg Bachman                                                          


The questions “what is a people?”, “who is a people?”, “where is a people?”  seem to be most urgent in the face of the rise of new forms of populism and fascism today. Discussions about the uses and abuses of the people by ideologues, the dangers and promises of gathering people as the people, the loss of faith in the power of the people (demos) to rule over the power of the world, the attempts to empower people to face the world of power, are some of the recurrent issues in political and philosophical discussions tasting the “bitter fruits of democracy” (2) as new forms of populism and fascism are on the march. Since “populism” literally says the people, but says it by converting it  into a prefabricated ideology,  an “ism”, (3) it seems quite obvious that any discussion on “populism” must take the question of the people as central and guiding. But is “the people”, is “a people”, really a question for populism today? Should we not, on the contrary, depart from the very disappearance of the people, of a people, of people, in order to understand contemporary populisms. And even if we consider that what is at stake today is less populism, but, rather, a new form of fascism, of a togetherness, fascio, that changes the very meaning of “the people”, we have to ask if this change of meaning is not one that precisely empties the meaning of the people, of a people, indeed of people, through the way it is performed when spectacularized? Which is to say, when people become the public and audience, when the people is the spectator that spectates its own spectacularizing, when, to put it otherwise, the been seen as people becomes the basic meaning of being “a” people, can we still use the historical juridico-political category of the “people” to understand today’s populism or fascism? If we maintain the word “populism” as the concept that today designates not only the rise of the far right but also is meant to serve as the remedy to it (left populism), we should first consider how populism today relies on the voiding of the meaning of people. In the following, I will try to show that the voiding of the people entails not merely the emptying of its meaning once “people” become public and audience, once they have been converted into the numbers and statistics of population censuses, reduced to an avatar and a simulacrum. Rather, the people has a face, indeed it is comprised of millions of faces; the faces of the rest of the people, the leftovers, the remainders.  I would like, then, to propose a change of focus in how we tackle today’s political questions. Instead of insisting on the question of the people, or of a people, or even of people, I will look at the faceless faces of the many who, since Greek antiquity, were called οχλοσ, ochlos, the populace, the Pöbel – the rabble. Used already by Pindar, (4) the term ochlos means the thronging crowd, the moving troubling horde, to which the ancient Greek historian from the Hellenistic period, Polybius, attributed such a force of disturbance that he used the term οχλοκρατια, ochlocracy. (5) Maybe,  attention to those closed eyes, muted mouths and sunken bodies of the rabble,  a focus on begging hands, on the Pöbel of today can point towards what I consider a crucial contemporary task for thought:  to think how existence resists the politics of the destruction of existence. For this task, I will follow the eyes of poetry, so as to look at the troubling facelessness of those who are nothing except an existence, and to find words for the troubling force of resistance that existence – brutal, naked and bare existence – is. 

Who is the “rabble”? In what does its force consist? As noted above, for the Ancients,  ochlos meant a troubling movement, a kind of maelstrom, in the middle of the people. The term “rabble” means a pack of animals.  Pöbel and also populace, coined from the French in the 16th century,  underlines a troubling movement of the crudest and basest class of people, “le bas peuple” – marginals, beggars, waifs and strays, those who act on their own initiative, pursuing short-term destructive goals: looting, lynching, plotting revolts, and rebelling for the sole sake of destruction. This picture of the rabble remains throughout modern political thought, where it is essentially opposed to the concept of the people. Johan Gottfried Herder, whose romantic ideas and conceptions of the people align with Rousseau’s thoughts,  laid the ground for the modern concept of the people as coinciding with the nation, where the  people is strictly counterposed to the mass or the crowd. “A people”, he says, “is not the rabble on the streets, who never sing or make poetry but only scream and stumm”. (6)  It is relevant to remark that for Herder “the people” is what has to be defined and built; people have to be educated to become a people and indeed the people of a nation. This basic assumption implies that the people does not exist; rather, it’s in process of  becoming. This means that people are in themselves the possibility of being the people to come. If this idea implies the passage from not being a people to a having become a people, then it entails a poetics, in the platonic sense of the passage from non-existence to existence. (7) The people is defined as a process and is opposed to a non-people, the crowd, the rabble, the mass, the mob.  Karl Marx incisively opposed the mob from the masses, the crowd from the people, the lumpenproletariat from the proletariat. (8) The crowd is dangerous because, as the English Victorian poet Matthew Arnold stated, it can do whatever it likes, it never gathers for the sake of a revolution. Arnold’s definition sums up some guiding lines in this common picture of the danger of the rabble in  modern times, when he affirms that, as a vast portion of raw and half-developed working class, it “has long lain half hidden amidst its poverty and squalor, and is now issuing from its hiding-place to assert an Englishman’s heaven-born privilege of doing as he likes, and is beginning to perplex us by marching when it likes, meeting where it likes, bawling what it likes, breaking what it likes – to this residuum we may with great propriety give the name of Populace”. (9) It is the violent disorder of doing whatsoever, where and whensoever, the “wilde Menge”, the wild crowd within a people, as Kant put it, (10) which presents the residuum and testimony of what Hegel seized as the result of an excessive wealth that nonetheless is not wealthy enough to control the excess of misery and the creation of a rabble. (11) Referring to the “revolution of the masses”, considered by Ortega y Gasset as the most dangerous phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th Century, Hannah Arendt added in the Origins of Totalitarianism a further reflection,  opposing the mobs rather to the masses, arguing that “the people” addressed by Nazism is more closely linked to the mobs, to the criminal and marginal rebellious elements who are excluded from both society and political representation. (12) For Arendt, Hitler’s hysterical fanaticism and Stalin’s vengeful cruelty had stronger affinities with the mobs rather than the masses. From Rousseau’s thought on the people becoming a sovereign people and Herder’s becoming people of the nation,  up to and including the fanaticism of the people under totalitarian rule, the concept of the people has oscillated between defining itself in opposition to the common rabble and with the masses, both extremes keeping as the main trait  the  force of attraction it has to both evil and criminality. (13) 

So understood, the common hordes have been seen as a moving troubling maelstrom arising from the center of society, a kind of disrupting force irrupting from within, either to be controlled or released. But what are we to say when the groundswell of popular forces no longer move, once crowds  lain down on the streets, cracked by absolute misery, building “the untouchables” (14) residuum of bare existence, the numbers of whom grow the more global capital expands? What does the rabble moving and threatening the order in the streets or leaning down on the ground exposing the disorder or every order of today’s societies, reveal to us today? What can be seen if instead of looking at the rabble as a pack and cramming of bodies, or even as an assemblage of insignificant points upon the surface of the earth – such as in some images of the Chinese artist Weiwei that capture  migration flows – we look into the eyes and faces of the so-called untouchable residuum or trash of society? Didi-Huberman, the French art historian and philosopher known for the extraordinary work on the Eye of History, found a precise answer to this question when speaking of “peoples exposed to disappear”. (15) Keeping his insightful expression, I would like to claim that the mass of the people, those who cannot sing or make poetry, who can only scream and be mute, whose bodies move without a where to go or lain on the ground insofar as the ground is the place of wasteful remains, whose faces are faceless and whose hands sometimes emerge  as the sole point of linkage to the world, show in their bodies that they are peoples exposed to disappear. Questions about a people to come or the staging of a people, issues about how to preserve or  reinvent the sovereignty of a people in a world where the real ruling subject is technique and the self-regulation of systems, should consider the number of untouchables among people; for it is they who show in what way today peoples are exposed to disappear.  


The impulse of Didi-Huberman comes from a reading of Primo Levi, from the eye of history that cannot erase Auschwitz, a place epitomizing a people exposed to disappear. It is however from the viewpoint of a people exposed to disappear that “we” become ourselves exposed to the hope of seeing man as a singular existence and a world where the recognition of the other is not an exception. (16) In his book, Didi-Huberman presents and discusses the many images in which people are exposed to disappear, rendering sensible what words leave unseen: the visibility of the invisible people, of the mass of people opening up the possibility to glimpse, even if for an instant, the rest of a people, what exceeds the peoples; that is, the rest of a people which abides in the remains of peoples. Every leftover (i.e. the rest, the remains) resists; the rest of a people resist the disappearance of a people. This gesture presents indeed a method, a method of resistance by way of tracing the rest who resist. 


Transit, Miroslaw Balka, Galería Juana de Aizpuru 2016; Image credit:
Transit, Miroslaw Balka, Galería Juana de Aizpuru 2016; Image credit:

Didi-Huberman does not track the modes of exhibiting the disappearance of peoples, or of disappeared people. Rather, the force of his book lies in the pursuit of the image of people exposed to disappear. From photographs of disfigured people by war to the first filmed images of a crowd, a large spectrum of images of being exposed to the act of disappearing are presented in the book, including artistic photographs of newborns just emerging from disappearance (of not yet existing) to old people facing the onset of natural death, from different images of groups in the history of painting to different pictures of groups of races and human species. Within this rich archive of images, encompassing different levels and meanings of people exposed to disappear, Didi-Huberman aims to seize the movement of passage from the appearing to the disappearing of a people, and the other way around. He intends to grasp when a visage becomes a type, (17) when  an experience becomes the interdiction of experience, when a “biopolitics of the human aspect” (18) becomes a pattern of formation in the space of the world, and people are reduced to totally insignificant points in the design of the world of innumerable and infinite numbers.  Showing the figures of groups of people, groups of dead people gathered in a common place, it is possible to “see” what words can hardly say, namely how the images of peoples exposed to disappear reveal the subtle but most decisive transfer of meaning from the place of the common, to a commonplace (topos). At this point in the transfer of the meaning of common place,  bodies that lay as corpses,  people who enter the stage of public spaces as crowds and mobs, are deprived of their singularity, their capacity to appear. They are just omnipresent, part of the background to which we have become blind and insensitive. Paying attention to the birth of film, Didi-Huberman shows,  with specific reference to Lumière’s movie La Sortie des usines, (The exit from factories) from 1895, in what ways people disappear in late Modernity:   once industrialization and urbanization have taken center stage as ineluctable social processes; once the people are condemned to appear as peuples figurants, (figurating, additional people), as people trapped within a spectacle for which they are themselves spectators. The figuration of the people, in which people are spectacularized as spectators, shows the transformation of all qualities of peoples into peoples without qualities, evoking the suggestive title of Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaftern. This figuration bears witness to the undifferentiated people, to its disqualification, to the erasure of its social role, to its reduction as a mere ornamentation. The phenomenon of the masses and the mob, so discussed in relation to the rise of totalitarian and fascist regimes in the 20th century, indicates how the figuration of “the people” cannot be dissociated from the disappearance of the people.  Thus “the people” of the nation, the Arian people of the Reich to come, is a fictional people. More precisely, it is a figuration of a crowd of people without qualities to whom any quality (superior, pure race, and so on)  can be attributed and onto which whatever meaning and value can be assigned, as Arendt understood very well, to the people of a disappeared people. The question, of course, is how is this disqualification of a people accomplished, through what means and methods? People are exterminated not only by killing and murder but mainly by practices of de-humanization, of which the horrors of colonization and slavery,  concentration camps and contemporary practices of violence expose in brutal forms. Extending the insights of Didi-Huberman, I would propose that the more globalization as a process advances, the greater the exponential rate of the  people’s undoing. This happens mainly in the sense that people – either understood as a people or as the people – become increasingly the figuration of being, the spectator of its own spectacularizing. It becomes the consumer of its own consumption, and the number of its voice rather than the voice of its number. Today we live indeed in the age of numerus populis and no longer of the vox populis

In these images, Didi-Huberman shows how the crowd, the rabble and the mob, terms of which he does not distinguish from the mass, all present in their formation a people that is exposed to its own disappearance. Such collective phenomena are different to the formation of the people. Didi-Huberman shows that people exposed to disappear are people exposed  as figuration, exposed to the spectacle of people and to the bodies becoming mass.  He sees in Pasolini’s work the faces of the masses, the gaze of people who are exposed to disappear, presenting Pasolini’s cinematography as the poet of poems of the peoples. In his view, Pasolini read and listened to the rest of people, the residuum and the dregs,  as poems, that is, as a specific making or action in a world pulverized and exterminated by techno-capitalism and the cultural and anthropological genocide it unleashes. (19) Didi-Huberman’s discussions of Pasolini’s filming of this residual people assumes that they are the remainder of a living sense of a people, glimpsed from the perspective of the hell of its disappearing. 

In Pasolini’s films, the rest of the people is the remainder of the people. This is something quite different from an idealized past participle of a people –  “there was a people before” – that becomes the object of retrotopic dreams. These remainders of people, to whom Pasolini passionately attached himself, are rather “affronted bodies”, using Didi-Huberman’s expression; they are affronted by this loss of the people by the people. These remainders or residues are bodies that embody the confrontation between the singular and the social body, bodies in which  the violence of this confrontation are visible, and are “poems of action”. In these we can trace the doing of an action that leads to an  undoing of the singular body of the people,  as is made so clear in the film La Sequenza del fiore di carta, from 1968, where the “popular”, in the sense of a poetics of a unified togetherness confronts a politics of a people without people, namely a crowd of anyone and everyone. If the people disappear into a mass of nobodies, of bodies with no-body, Pasolini’s attempt is to expose the remainders of a unified body of togetherness (one which speaks the language of dialects) on the verge of its own destruction. Pasolini gave figure and voice to a certain appearing of the rabble or lumpen-proletarianism – to the “pauvres diables”,  the “poor beggars” – not as an act of  pity but as  a way of showing the force of resistance acting within them. Pasolini confesses his need to enter the circle of misery, of social hell, to meet “the people of hell”, as in Salò, who act poetically today, just as Dante had done in the Middle Ages. People exposed to the disappearing of people, are the rest of the people, who resist destruction and disappearance not as a people or whatever form of unity that could be drawn but as what is left over, the residue, as remainders. Pasolini is the poet of life exceeding life, of the afterlife once paradise is lost. His  films, both short and long, are pursuits in documenting the excrescent parts of “popular” culture, of dialectal languages, of a past still untouched by historical and mass mediatic destruction. His work does this not for the sake of preserving them as nostalgic or retrotopic resources but to seize the way they come to rest as unassimilable remainders, thereby discovering the critical gesture of the past and of Antiquity, which like weeds flourish from within the cements of historical violence. Here, the ancient and the new  encounter one another in the absurdity of the rest of the people who resist nothing other  than their own destruction. Pasolini gives figure to the nameless, write- and wordless, rightless, placeless and timeless of all those who have no name, no word, no right, no place, no time to exist, as much as the past itself. He  is thus a poet of the rest of the people, the left-overs who speak a language that is itself  a surplus language,  a social hell that still roams and stirs among “us”. Pasolini lives biographically and poetically – in him the two are inseparable. He remains close to the moving and troubling miserable people, a misery that still speaks and sometimes sings. In Pasolini, the “masses” are those exposed to disappear in the sense of being affronted bodies by social- economical brutality. Precisely, the masses maintain a residuum of singularity precisely in this affronting, insofar that; these bodies are this very affronting. 


Still from La Sequenza del fiore di carta, Pasolini
Still from La Sequenza del fiore di carta, Pasolini


But still, in what sense should we speak of a rest or remainder of a people, of  those who resist existing without existence, in order to face the disappearing of the people in today’s globalizing world?   How can “these” people, the people exposed to disappear, these affronted bodies who show or say – with their nameless, wordless, rightless, placeless, timeless existence – a line of resistance when existence itself is exposed to disappear? It might be strange to call for a poetic view on the question of the people today and not for a political one. But the task is in my view to think what appears when the people is exposed to disappear. To push these questions further, I wish to bring to this discussion a book of poetry written by the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, called the Rose of the People, published in 1945. (20) This decisive book in the history of Brazilian twentieth century poetry, is considered one of the most engaged poetical writings by Drummond, insofar as its main subject is the destruction and devastation of the world due to the World War II. The poems in the collection can be read and heard as a question for the meaning of the word people in “times of parted humans”, “times of cut people”, “times of crutch”, “of half silence”, of “indirect words and warnings”, times in which “our so happy children / truthful heirs of fear/ populate the city”. These poems emerge from listening to how, once it is exposed to disappear, existence exists both bare and nude. It searches to listen to the making of  existence, in this sense to its poetry. Poetry here has nothing to do with beautiful and expressive words, with powerful and impressive expressions but solely to a making that existence itself is, a sense-making. To bring poets to our discussion about the meaning of people when peoples are exposed to disappear is to inquire into the language of the rest who resist; it is to ask for a language of re-existence.

The quotations above are from verses belonging to Drummond’s book. The Rose of the People begins by considering how the poem is the search of poetry. Poetry is not given. It is a search. But not a search for the poetical or even for the poetics of whatsoever. It is the search of a song that shall not be sung. The second poem, “Search of Poetry” presents strict rules: “don’t make verses on what happens” [Não faças versos sobre acontecimento], “don’t make poetry with the body, this excellent, complete and comfortable body, so impervious to lyric effusions” [Não faças poesia com o corpo, esse excelente, completo e confortável corpo, tão infenso à efusão lírica]; “Don’t reveal me your feelings” [Não me reveles teus sentimentos], “Don’t sing your city, leave it in peace” [Não cantes tua cidade, deixa-a em paz]. Why not? Precisely because the song is not what is usually meant to be: “the song is not the movement of machines and neither the secret of the houses” [O canto não é o movimento das máquinas nem o segredo das casas]; “The song is not nature and neither men in society” [O canto não é a natureza nem os homens em sociedade]. Indeed, “Poetry (don’t extract poetry from things) elides subject and object” [A poesia (não tires poesia das coisas) elide sujeito e objeto]. In the search of poetry, the list of proscriptions greatly expands: “don’t recompose your graved and melancholic childhood” [Não recomponhas sua sepultada e merencória infância]; “Don’t oscillate between mirror and dissipating memory” [Não osciles entre o espelho e a memória em dissipação]. But what is then to be done? “Penetrate as if deaf in the reign of words. There you find the poems waiting to be written” [Penetra surdamente no reino das palavras. Lá estão os poemas que esperam ser escritos]. As if deaf, one has to “come closer and contemplate the words” [Chega mais perto e contempla as palavras]. Indeed, there is a song in not having a song. A song that is so low that not even an ear to the ground can hear it. A song that at the same time is so high that the stones absorb it. (21) This song, we read further, is traversed as blade by “the people, my poem”. (22) The poem of the poet is the people crossing as blade the song, the song infiltrated in the walls, inhabiting a table open in books, letters and remedies. It is “my poem”, the people, that pervades this low and high song of relations, which are commonly referred to as things, and not the song that crosses “my poem”. In what sense is “my poem”  the people and why does it pierce the song, which for the poet means the gift of the real? If we think according to the poet’s strict rules, then we should first penetrate as if deaf and listen to the reign of the word people. 

When we consider that each word “has a thousand secret faces under the neuter face”, one comes closer to the word people. Thus, what is a people if not precisely “a thousand secret faces under the neuter face?”  Though not explicitly stated, it would not be arbitrary to infer that, for the poet, the people is another word for the word. Not only is “people” a word, but every word is a people, thus every word is said and pronounced by a thousand secret faces under its neuter face, carrying along with it each life and destiny. “Words are not born tied, they sault, kiss each other, dissolve/in the free sky something a drawing/ they are pure, large, authentic, unavoidable”, since every single existence, just by virtue of existing, is “large, authentic, unavoidable”. For the poet, “words have skin” and it is under the skin of words that ciphers and codes exist. It is because words have skin that the poet has words in him which are “searching for a channel”, words which being “hoarsed and hard, irritated and energic, compressed for such a long time, have lost the meaning, wanting only to explode”. The word people, the word that is people, has “lost its meaning, wanting only to explode”. 

Words are “my poem”, the people. Words have people, a thousand secret faces, under their neuter faces. But how do words show these secret faces? How are words people? Words are people and show themselves as people in the same way “a secret [is] told in the ear of a man of the people fallen on the street” [como um segredo dito no ouvido de um homem do povo caída na rua]. In the poem, “the people”, o povo is scarcely named. Except as “my poem”, “the people” is named in the poem as that which “disperses itself in the world”, a scattering force. Things can be “shown to the people”, “people laughs at one”,  scarcely used in the poem, the word “people” sustains its current and main sense in Portuguese, meaning a lot of people, of bodies, of anyone and everyone. The word appears twice in the verbform populate, povoar, observing how a city and life itself is populated, povoada, that is full of people. There is no adjective connected to the people such as the “Brazilian”, the “French”, the “German” or the “American” people, the nationalist, populist and fascist formula ‘adjective + the people’. (23) It is the people, many of everyone and anyone, living and dying bodies, alive and half-dead bodies, inhabiting cities and life. What defines the people, providing an opening into the meaning of not only the word “people” but also to the definite article “the”, which must be allowed to resonate with its demonstrative origin of a “this” or “that”, i.e. what shows itself when being looked at, is “a man of the people fallen down on the street”. 


Carlos Drummond de Andrade; Image credit: Wikipedia
Carlos Drummond de Andrade; Image credit: Wikipedia

The people are not the raised people, either with the right to raise themselves or even without the “right to have rights”, as Hannah Arendt formulated. This is because with or without a right, the people are generally understood and presented as a raised people, or at the very least, as having the potential to be raised. As we saw before, even traditional concepts of the the rabble are defined as raised, moving trouble. In the poem, things are presented differently. It is the fallen man on the street who shows the meaning of the people, of “my poem” pierced by the song, which is nothing else than the gift and poison of reality.  Drummond’s poems are echoes of this falling on the street, with ears to the floor, moving closer to the ground, though a ground with no profundity, a ground that simply lays on the surface. The poem is a descent into hell. From Orpheus to Lautréamont, from Dante to Baudelaire and Rimbaud, it is the outermost poetic motif among all poetic motifs.  And yet Drummond  differs from other poetics of hell; his poetry is replete with surprises of the life of those fallen to the ground, focusing on the miserable and crazy guitar battered on the floor by febrile voices [vozes em febre, que golpeiam esta viola desatinada no chão, no chão], on the fallen men and abandoned dogs laying down. Drummond shows that the unsupportable is the only support.  

Much has been discussed in recent years about the need to think a people, rather than the people, i.e, the need to conceive of an indefinite people rather than a defined one, circumscribed neither by territorial boundaries, by ethnic belonging, nor by historical ties,  nor for that matter any other juridico-political category. Furthermore, stress  has been placed today on the force of a people to face inequality, injustice, unfreedom by means of the people’s right and capacity to assembly, not for the sake of an identity or hegemonic principle but for the sake of safeguarding people’s differences and processes of differentiation. People should therefore mean the exercise of the “noncoincidence of oneself with every “self”, [la non-coincidence avec soi de tout “soi”], i.e. the movement  through which the people is continuously distancing from itself”, recalling a formulation by Jean-Luc Nancy, (24) which is itself not very far from Judith Butler’s performative embodiment of a people. (25) Such attempts to secure to a people an understanding that proscribes forms of exclusion and segregation as much as fusional identificatory bonds without falling into the dispersive atomization of individuals in globalized neo-liberal societies, depart from the idea of a “risen people”, from people raising themselves as a people, an assembly, a knot of commons, even when such attempts pay attention to different levels and meanings of expatriation of citizenships and identities. In contrast to those conceptual elucidations that draw attention to a people assembling through conflict, dissensus and difference – that is, to an assembly or being-together that aims to give place and voice to the in-between people, to a sharing that also shares what cannot be shared – the poet turns his body to the grounds and floors where men of the people are laying low. “I lay down in the floor in the manner of the desperate”, says the poet. And fallen on the ground, with ears to the floor, the poet says: “I am dark, I am rigorously nocturne, I am empty, I forget I am a poet, that I am not alone, that I have to accept and compose, my measures are broken, but I need, I need, I need”. [Estou escuro, estou rigorosamente notturno, estou vazio,/esqueço que sou um poeta, que não estou sozinho,/preciso aceitar e compor, minhas medidas partiram-se,/mas preciso, preciso, preciso]. This laying on the ground breaks down all measures that, in human terms, are organized around the rising and upright body. It is from the perspective of what is upright that  rights are conceived, and injustices are registered also.  What then of the ears to the ground that, in contrast, is measureless?  It gives precision to the verb to need; in fact, to need in Portuguese also means precise, precision. I need, I need, I need, preciso, preciso, preciso, meaning at the same time, precise, precise, precise. Thus, a man of the people, who has fallen to the floor, gives precision to need. Fallen and ears-to-the-ground, the poet crawls among pieces of glass,  seeking to get closer to the precision of the need in such a way that, even if ‘the poet does not want, he needs (preciso) to touch the skin of man, to evaluate the cold, to see the color, to see the silence, to know a new friend and spill himself over him.’ [Rastejando, entre cacos, me aproximo./ Não quero, mas preciso tocar pele de homem, / avaliar o frio, ver a cor, ver o silêncio,/ conhecer um novo amigo e nele me derramar.]. The poet plucks the eyes and sees [Arranco os olhos e     /vejo]. The blank space after “and” in this verse, followed by a strong enjambement, indicates the broken vision of a broken reality.  Set in this position, a position that unmakes the system of positions –the cardinal orientation of thought and sensibility – the poet travels downstream along the rivers of the many countries housed within the one country, of the most diverse brazils – a word formed from brasa, meaning braze or ember: the fire that could warm but that history has turned into incendiary fires. And in a short poem inside one of the poems, comprised of brief verses, the poets recalls  en passant a few landscapes, as words pass through the body of the soul. Alluding to “the diverse brazils”, to a “beyond the brazils”, to “invented regions/ desired countries/fantastic/but sures and unavoidable”, he sees “the open rose of the people”.    

Today the orienting dreams and desires to give sense to the experience invoked in the word “people” are dreams of giving time and place to peoples beyond discourses and authoritarian discourses of one people, one nation, one race, one history. They are dreams of differences, differends and différances, of diversity, plurality and multiplicity, of the “noncoincidence of oneself with every self”. But in the poem, the poet sees the “open rose of the people” as something that goes beyond desired and fantastic dreams of diversity and multiplicity, “beyond the brazis”. Not because he appears in search of a naïve, romantic, beautiful and fragranced people united beyond diversity, as a rose. No, because “the rose of the people” is an open rose, and as open, it ready to shed its petals,  petals falling to the ground. Indeed, after the last verse of one of the poems, “the open rose of the people”, the following verse, which opens the next poem, reads: “the rose of the people sheds its petals” [A rosa do povo despetala-se]. Open, with its own petals falling to the ground, a secret communicates itself, and the poet speaks. The verse does not express any syntactic relation between the open rose, the communication of the secret and the conveyances  of the poet, whether causal or temporal. One comes after the other, building a paratactic sentence: “one rose opens itself, a secret communicates itself, the poet has announced”. [e uma rosa se abre, um segredo comunica-se, o poeta anunciou]. This falling to the ground – of a man of the people, of the petals of a rose – names the movement of  getting closer to things, opening up the possibility of listening as if deaf to the reign of the word. In reaching closer, frames begin to emerge. In Portuguese, frame is referred to as quadro, meaning what has four sides, as in the frame of a painting, but it also refers to the painting and picture itself. Quadro is that through which something can be seen and shows itself. The frame emerges once one has begun to make an approach, once one begins to fall to the ground. It is not the common frame of visions that demands distance, an upright position, a perspective. Rather, it is what could rather be called an un-perspective that enables the vision of “down to earth people”, expressed in Portuguese as gente de pé-no-chão, literally, foot-on-the ground people.  These verses approach the final poem of the book, indeed the end of the collection. The framing-images of the open rose of the people, with its petals falling to the ground, when these are seen from the un-perspective of the falling down, are  more echoes than images, echoes that frame the vision by doing exactly what echoes do, namely unframe. The poet listens to some still resonating echoes of diverse oral traditions in Brazil, voices: “fetishes, religions, animals…”, echo-images of “hands shaking”, of “entering and leaving immense corridors”, of being “bound to sparse companions”. Framing-images, echo-images, indeed a “robust shadow” and a “reminiscence” –these are only “pictures” or  “portraits”, retratos, mere “hollow pause/ and beside all vinegar”. 

The final poem recalls Charlie Chaplin and his poetics of the vagabonds, those who are repulsed by the world, “whispering a secret in the ear of a man of the people fallen on the street”, an ear that shows how “our people”, nossa gente, resembles any people in the world, since people – these secret faces under the neuter face of the words – this open rose with its shedding petals is everyone, anyone. The rose of the people does not belong to anyone and to anywhere, since it is anyone, anywhere. The open rose of the people is the rose of no-one. This rose, which blooms from the trash and the waste, in the faceless faces and mute mouths, from leaning bodies, from all forgotten and nameless, rightless, placeless and timeless, is the rose of the coup d’existence, existence overthrowing existence. It refrains from giving another meaning to the people, but nor does it dispense with it –  in the falling away of its petals what is given is a chance to pay attention to it, in search for a word capable of saying thou to every no-one. 


“The rose of no-one”:  the title of another book of poetry, by another poet, in another language, the German language spoken of a Jewish poet, suffering the “destiny” of having as his mother tongue the tongue that exterminated his people, the words of his poems, Paul Celan. People, in German das Volk, can hardly be heard today without the loud resonance of its history as a political juridical category used to destroy peoples and exterminate his people, rendering “my people”, my exterminated people, the poem of every poem.  


Celan’s Die Niemandsrose, The Rose of No-one, was written between 1959 and 1963, almost twenty years after the book by Drummond. It is his fourth published collection of poems, in which, more than in any other of his books, is permeated by Jewish names, concepts, rituals, mystical and theological motifs. It would not be strange to connect the title with the famous verse by the Christian mystic Angelus Silesius, quoted so often by Heidegger, a thinker that Celan read expecting an excuse in regard to the Shoa. The verse by Silesius reads: Die Rose ist ohne Warum, (26) the rose is without why. Primo Levi, without referring to Silesius or to Heidegger, wrote that in the camps there is no why: “And it was in fact so. Driven by thirst, I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand's reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. " Warum?" I asked him in my poor German. " Hier ist kein warum" ("Here there is no why"), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.” (27) The Rose is pronounced in Celan’s poetry of the people literally exposed to disappear as the image of the question of a why rendered obsolete, absurd and meaningless before the irrational rationality of the extermination of the Jewish people. The “Rose of No-one” can be read and heard in response to this question. At the same time,  this Rose is also an evocation of other roses, the proper names of two women that appear in Celan’s poetry and his poetical universe: Rosa of Luxembourg and Rosa Ausländer, the rose of revolution and the rose of a poetical verse of a friend woman poet who inspired Celan’s famous poem die Todesfugue. Both roses, the rose of revolution, of the people to come through a process of liberation, and the rose of poetry, of words that are a people, echo in Celan’s “Rose of No-one”, where the force of presence of becoming no-one comes to the word.  In this book, the question of the why of creation, the creation of man in the Biblical tradition is confronted with the Shoa, which is the destruction of man by the instrumentalization of tradition. Dedicated to Ossip Mandelstam, the great Jewish Russian poet who was killed in Siberia by totalitarianism, and a book traversed by his poetical friendship with Nelly Sachs, the Jewish German poet, who lived as dead for not having died in the camps,  Die Niemandsrose presents what Celan called elsewhere a Gegenwort, an anti-word, a word affronted and affronting the creation of the word. The poem in which the title appears as a verse is called Psalm. However, it is an anti-psalm, a Gegenpsalm, which cannot deny the echo of another Psalm, Ingeborg Bachman’s poem, written in 1953, which sings as the demand to “In the hollow of my muteness lay a word.” (28) The question for Celan is to say a word to a thou, who is no-one, the no-one of ashes buried in the air, the no-one of a collective dust. The thou is the one exposed to disappear. Celan’s anti-psalm is an anti-song for the thou of no-one, since it sings without songs; the impossibility of recreating the world  is replaced with the uncontrolled blooming within this impossibility, in the direction of the thou of no-one.   “No one kneads us again out of earth and clay”. No-one, meaning not even God can recreate the world or sanctify our dust. The no-one takes the place of God - as the only one who can knead us from earth and clay, who can sanctify – insofar as the no-one is now the one who does not knead again, who does not sanctify. The no-one shall though be blessed since it is for his/her sake, zulieb dir, that we bloom. We bloom in the direction of no-one. Rhythmically we listen to how “you” breathes as nothing and how nothing breathes “we were, are and will remain blooming”. Blooming what? The nothing - breathing, the No one’s Rose, a rose whose stylus is soul-bright, the stamen, heaven-bleak and the red crown,  the “purple word we sang over, o over, the thorn”. 

By evoking Celan’s  The Rose of No-one in connection to Drummond’s The Rose of the People, this reflection brings to word the hard task of addressing a word to a people, which is exposed to disappear, in our own present context of the disappearing of the people in contemporary societies. Beside the screams  of “we are the people” when facing destruction, not only of peoples but of existence itself, there is a need to find a thinking-language that departs from the capacity to say thou to a no-one, who remains as the rest of existing, that is, a resisting rest that exposes existence as what makes sense uniquely by existing, when existence cannot be recreated and the dust of our existence cannot be sanctified. That might be what millions of faceless faces, of mute mouths and begging hands, of millions of bodies leaning toward the ground expose us to: the search for words weaved like roses by no-one. 


No one kneads us again out of earth and clay, no one sanctifies our dust.

No one. 

Blessed art thou, No one. For your sake

we bloom.

In your direction, 


A nothing

we were, are, will remain, blooming: 

the Nothing-, the No one’s Rose. 

With the stylus, soul-bright, the stamen, heaven-bleak,

the crown red

from the purple word we sang over, o over 

the thorn.


Niemand knetet uns wieder aus Erde und Lehm, niemand bespricht unsern Staub.


Gelobt seist du, Niemand. Dir zulieb wollen

wir blühen.



Ein Nichts

waren wir, sind wir, werden wir bleiben, blühend:

die Nichts-, die Niemandsrose. 

Mit dem Griffel seelenhell,

dem Staubfaden himmelswüst, der Krone rot

vom Purpurwort, das wir sangen über, o über

dem Dorn. (GW, 1:225) 



1. Ingeborg Bachman, Die gestundete Zeit: Gedichte. 2. Aufl. München: Piper & Co, 1957. “In the hollow of my muteness /lay a word /and grow tall forests on both sides, /such that my mouth /lies wholly in shade.” 

2. Paul Valéry, Les fruits amers de la démocratie, Paris: Espaces & Signes, 2017. 

3. About the “isms, see Carlyle T, Traill HD (ed.) The Works of Thomas Carlyle [Elektronisk resurs] Volume 10. Past and Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2010.

4. Pindar, Pythian 4, 150,  ἐστάθη γνώμας ἀταρμύκτοιο πειρώμενος85ἐν ἀγορᾷ πλήθοντος ὄχλου. And in the middle of the square stood among the thronging crowd.

5. Polybius: The Histories. The Loeb Classical Library (in Ancient Greek, English, and Latin). Translated by Paton, W.R. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012. 

6. Johan Gottfried Herder, Volkslieder. 2 Teil, Vorrede (1779) in Sämtliche Werke, Bd 2, Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1885, p. 323. “Volk heißt nicht, der Pöbel auf den Gassen, der singt und dichtet niemals, sondern schreit und verstümmelt”. 

7. Plato, Symposium, 205b  οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι ποίησίς ἐστί τι πολύ: ἡ γάρ τοι ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος εἰς τὸ ὂν ἰόντι ὁτῳοῦν αἰτία πᾶσά ἐστι“, ‘Take the following: you know that poetry is more than a single thing. For of anything whatever that passes from not being into being the whole cause”.

8. Karl Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Critique. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House; 1956.

9. Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1869] 2009.

10. Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

11. Hegel, Grundlinien des Philosophie des Rechts, § 244. For a profound discussion about Hegel’s rabble see Frank Ruda, Hegels Pöbel: eine Untersuchung der "Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts". Konstanz: Konstanz Univ. Press; 2011. Eng.  Hegel's rabble: an investigation into Hegel's Philosophy of right. London: Continuum; 2011.

12. Hannah Arendt, The origins of Totalitarianism, New York NY: Harcourt Book, 1976, p. 317, 326, 339, 351. 

13. Arendt, The origins of Totalitarianism, p. 307. 

14. See the novel by Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable. London: Penguin; 1986.

15. Georges Didi-Huberman. Peuples exposés. Peoples figurants, Oeil de l’histoire 4, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2012, p. 13.  

16. Didi-Huberman. Peuples exposés

17. Didi-Huberman. Peuples exposés, p. 69

18. Didi-Huberman. Peuples exposés, p. 75. 

19. Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Saggi sulla politica e sulla società. Milano: Mondadori, 1999. 

20. Carlos Drummond de Andrade. ”A Rosa do Povo” in Poesia Completa, Rio de Janeiro: Nova Aguilar, 1973.

21. ”Ele é tão baixo que sequer o escuta/ouvido rente ao chão. Mas é tão alto/que as pedras o absorvem”. 

22. "Tal uma lâmina, o povo, meu poema, te atravessa." 

23. Alain Badiou, “Twenty-four notes on the use of the word People” in What is a people? New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2016. 

24. Jean-François Bouthors et Jean-Luc Nancy. Démocratie! Hic et Nunc, Paris: Editions François Bourin, 2019, p. 97.

25. Judith Butler, “We, the People: Thoughts on Freedom of Assembly” in What is a people? New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2016. 

26. Angelus Silesius; see Heidegger’s engagement with this sentence in his Der Satz vom Grund, published 1957, the complete poem of Silesius from Cherubinischer Wandersmann Buch 1, 289, reads: 

Die Ros' ist ohn warumb 

sie blühet weil sie blühet 

Sie achtt nicht jhrer selbst 

fragt nicht ob man sie sihet.

27. Primo Levi, If This is a Man, for a comment on this phrase in relation to Heidegger’s ethics see, Jacob Rogozinski, “Hier ist kein Warum”, Heidegger and Kant’s Practical Philosophy in: Heidegger and Practical philosophy, ed. François Raffoul, David Pettigrew, Albany, New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002, p. 43-61. 

28. Ingeborg Bachman, ”In die Mulde meiner Stummheit/leg ein Wort” in “Psalm” in Die gestundete Zeit: Gedichte. 2. Aufl. München: Piper & Co; 1957.

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