(The following is a guest by John Barner, author of the weblog Slow Learner.)
On February fifteenth of this year, the partisan lost a friend.
Anna Marly (formerly Anna Betoulinsky) died at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy that included two variations on the theme of the partisan. The Chant des Partisans (1943), was initially written by Marly in her native Russian and was translated, with Joseph Kessel and Maurice Druon, into French. At the same time, Resistance fighter Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie penned the lyrics to another song, to a tune of Marly’s, entitled La complainte du partisan (1943). Armed only with her voice and a guitar, Marly would travel around London to perform the songs either for BBC radio broadcasts (heard by comrades via pirate radio in France) or small audiences. The former has risen to anthem status in France, while the latter is perhaps best known for its inclusion (in a modified form) on Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room (1969). In his theorizing of the partisan, Carl Schmitt notes that a historian “finds examples and parallels in history for all historical situations”1. Given that I have spent a significant portion of my life as a musician and songwriter, I have written the following while searching, in a way, for a lyrical parallel in the example of Marly’s songs—a voice, perhaps, that embodies (or is embodied by) Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan.
The French lyrics to the Chant des Partisans [mp3]:
Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines?
Ami, entends-tu les cris sourds du pays qu'on enchaîne?
Ohé partisans, ouvriers et paysans, c'est l'alarme!
Ce soir l'ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et des larmes.
Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, camarades,
Sortez de la paille les fusils, la mitraille, les grenades;
Ohé les tueurs, à la balle et au couteau tuez vite!
Ohé saboteur, attention à ton fardeau, dynamite!
C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères,
La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère.
Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves
Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève
Ici chacun sait ce qu'il veut, ce qu'il fait quand il passe;
Ami, si tu tombes, un ami sort de l'ombre à ta place.
Demain du sang noir séchera au grand soleil sur les routes
Chantez, compagnons, dans la nuit la liberté nous écoute.2
Immediately in the first stanza, we notice the song places itself within Schmitt’s conceptual framework of the political: namely, the distinguishing of “friend” and “enemy.” Laborers and the peasant classes are called upon to leave the mines and fields and, as irregulars, take up the accoutrements of classical warfare against the forces of hatred, hunger, and oppression. In a sense, the partisan is always before the law of conventional warfare, inasmuch as Schmitt theorizes how the partisan transgresses that law. Within the Chant, the law is internalized, but it is unclear just how these abstract motivations become concrete in the lyrical context as a singular motivating voice. We might well ask: who is speaking? Who sings the Chant des Partisans? Here we might juxtapose Blanchot’s discussion of the revolutionary qua Marxist “voice,” the voice that encapsulates the promise of an emancipatory demands that chain (enchaîne) and radically connect the nation and its people. This voice is:
…brief and direct, more than brief and more than direct, because it short-circuits every voice. It no longer carries a meaning but a call, a violence, a decision of rupture. It says nothing strictly speaking; it is the urgency of what it announces, bound to an impatient and always excessive demand, since excess is its only measure: thus calling to the struggle, and even (which is what we hasten to forget) postulating “revolutionary terror” recommending “permanent revolution” and always designating revolution not as a necessity whose time has come but as imminence, because it is a trait of revolution, if it opens and traverses time, to offer no delay, giving itself to be lived as ever-present demand 3.
The call resounds from the earth itself—or at least the grounds of the conflictual situation. The chains of oppression or domination function to bind together those who are uncounted, irregular in Schmitt’s definition. Emerging from the earth, and thus retaining the telluric character Schmitt grants the partisan, the call of the Chant spurs the partisan into action by announcing that the partisan must make the nation or people whole again by joining the fight, not so much burdened by teleological determinants that classify the regular military, i.e., defeating a perceived enemy 4, as attempting to satiate the “ever-present demand” to be no longer just a part, no longer a voiceless party to the affairs of combatant states and other interested parties, but as residual to the nature of violent conflict itself. As Schmitt states, the political:
presupposes both friend and enemy. The powerful third party who is interested in the partisan may think and deal in an entirely egoistic way, but with his interest he stands politically on the side of the partisan. This functions as political friendship and is a kind of political recognition, even if it is not expressed in terms of public and formal recognition as a warring party or as a government 5.
The partisan fights, then, perhaps not out of the strong ideological commitment, but out of a strong commitment to exist within (and be recognized by) the dominant situational ideology (or sovereignty). Before this recognition, the partisan is uncounted, and yet, when the partisan appears as “irregular” and challenges, on the level of the “regular”, only then is there an “accounting,” as such. The final stanza of the Chant des Partisans seems to hint at this unavoidable hole in the wholeness of an absolute distinction between regular and irregular, friend and enemy. The Chant offers a promise (or warning) to the partisan that, if fallen, another “friend” will emerge from the darkness to replace them. In the Chant, the idea of constant mobility (marche) of the partisans complicates and solidifies the defensive position of the partisan to the enemy for Schmitt (p. 66), but is also a reproductive mechanism, by generating a constant flow of “friends” to the partisan cause, all heeding the call of the Chant des Partisans.
If the Chant des Partisans is the call to armed resistance, then what is the response? A version perhaps exists in the articulation of the “plaint” of the partisan as being stuck between at within the interstitial space of legality and transgression, mobility and autochthony, embodying, for Schmitt, the dangerous ground in-between the political and philosophical distinctions of friend and enemy. It is mourning the human toll exacted by the struggle—and a testimony to its necessity. It is La complainte du partisan
Les Allemands étaient chez moi / On m'a dit résigne toi / Mais je n'ai pas pu / Et j'ai repris mon arme. / Personne ne m'a demandé / D'où je viens et où je vais / Vous qui le savez / Effacez mon passage. / J'ai changé cent fois de nom / J'ai perdu femme et enfants / Mais j'ai tant d'amis / Et j'ai la France entière. / Un vieil homme dans un grenier / Pour la nuit nous a cachés / L'ennemi l'a su (Les Allemands l'ont pris) / Il est mort sans surprise. / Hier encore nous étions trois / Il ne reste plus que moi / Et je tourne en rond / Dans la prison des frontières. / Le vent souffle sur les tombes / La liberté reviendra / On nous oubliera / Nous rentrerons dans l'ombre 6.
In La complainte, we are given, in exacting detail, a list of losses, of things to be mourned. Home, family, even name are vanquished in the wake of an insurgency, and yet there remains the push “go around in circles” (tourne en rond) or as Cohen [mp3] sings the lyric, there is only the thought remaining that “still I must go on”). There are no replacements as promised by the Chant, even as the numbers dwindle from three to the solitary voice singing La complainte. Resolve seems to blend with resignation in the final verses, as the wind blows across the graves and the lone partisan admits that, when victory comes, he will be forgotten and blend back into the shadows, remaining uncounted as friend or enemy. But the damage, at least according to Schmitt, will have been done.
“Disappearing into the dark is one thing, but to transform the darkness into a space of combat where the traditional theater of the empire and the great stage of the official public sphere can be lifted off their hinges” (p. 58)—this amounts, for Schmitt, to the sum total of the sins of partisan, but only if by “traditional” and “official” we assume a political template that, in Derrida’s terms, advances the “presence of war […] as ‘real possibility’” 7. Since, politically, the partisan is problematic in that the acts committed are real, in a political sense, the partisan remains elusive, in Schmitt’s analysis, as an aberrant entity, complicating the political on the level of its physical manifestation in armed conflict. The partisan, both in Schmitt and La complainte du partisan, is at once embraced and enveloped, obscured and elided by the populace—in which “the protection of the population potentially means the protection of the partisan” (p. 18). This protection legitimizes the partisan act while allowing the partisan-as-agent to simply disappear into the night (where, according to the Chant, “freedom listens”) or, as for the narrator of La complainte, it is only those who “know” (i.e., who are involved in the political aspects of the conflict” who “cover up [the partisan’s] footprints”.
We have become attuned to a certain effect of haunting. Where it seems inaccessible to intuition and concept, the purely concrete starts to resemble the ghost, just when you start to believe that you can tell them apart. This is the tormented experience of the inversion of signs. Such an experience allows itself, then, to be revealed in Schmitt’s obsessional insistence on the ‘concrete’ and on the ‘real possibility’, at the very point at which these values were opposed to the spectral […] But there is a spectre, lodged within the political itself; the antithesis of the political dwells within, and politicizes, the political. The spectre might well be…this ‘partisan’ who no longer respects the normal conditions and the juridically guaranteed boundaries of war. And this has not begun today, nor did it begin yesterday, or the day before8.
The partisan, then, cannot, on one level, be said to exist. The partisan is a “spectre”—a ghost—haunting the songs and stories that emerge from history. Anna Marly and her co-writers could only point indirectly to the promise the partisan brings, as well as the promise under which the partisan functions—couched as it is in the inky blackness of shadow or night, or borne on a funereal wind. Yet, Schmitt states that the “concretely varying” reality of the partisan is “key to recognizing political reality” (p. 43). Perhaps, it is in both its incorporeal and yet exigent aspect that the partisan emerges—every time the songs of Anna Marly are heard.
1Schmitt, Carl. “The Theory of the Partisan: A Commentary/Remark on the Concept of the Political.” A. C. Goodson, trans. CR: The New Centennial Review. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004. p. 61.
2Marly/Kessel/Druon, from Les chants de la Résistance et de la Libération par Anna Marly (Compact Disc). Association Expositions de Résistance Intérieure/La Fondation de la Résistance (2003).
3Blanchot, Maurice. “Marx’s Three Voices.” Friendship. Elizabeth Rottenberg, trans. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. p. 99. Author’s emphasis.
4cf. Jacques Derrida’s discussion of this point in The Politics of Friendship (G. Collins, trans. Verso, 2005) in which the figure of the partisan “is no longer an enemy, and has no enemy in the classical sense of the term” (p. 141). Schmitt also mentions that, for the partisan, the enmity of confrontation declares the enemy as “real, but not an absolute enemy” (p. 65).
5Schmitt, op. cit. p. 65. Author’s emphasis.
6Anna Marly/Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie dit "Bernard", from Les chants de la Résistance et de la Libération par Anna Marly (Compact Disc). Association Expositions de Résistance Intérieure/La Fondation de la Résistance (2003).
7cf. Derrida, op. cit., p. 132.
8cf. Derrida, op. cit., pp. 138-139.