On Exploitation. By Alberto Moreiras.

I will eventually get to the question of the frame in Latin American Studies and in my own work, but first let me attempt to say something regarding the critique that we have not been able to thematize exploitation.

Sauri and Di Stefano (see below) say:  “while infrapolitics offers a compelling means for a critique of domination that foregrounds the failure of every hegemonic articulation . . . by taking into account the excluded nonsubject, how might it lead to a transformation of a mode of production defined, above all, by exploitation?”   Well, that is the one-million dollar question, as they say–which unfortunately can only have a trivial answer.  It amounts to asking, for instance, how it would be possible for feminism, or for the civil rights movement, to put an end to capitalism.  They continue: “How might we map the movement from the infrapolitical to politics itself.”

So, just to clear up a possible initial misunderstanding, the infrapolitical is always already in a relation to politics.  That`s why they call it infrapolitics.  Now, if we combine this latter question with the first, as we presumably are meant to do, the real question is not about mapping the movement from the infrapolitical to politics, but rather about mapping the movement from the infrapolitical to a revolution that would signal the end of exploitation.   And, again, this is a question that can only have a trivial answer, as not even Marxism has an answer on its own terms (“how can we map the movement from Marxism to the end of exploitation?”  “Well, it is for history to decide, it will only happen where there are mature global conditions, political voluntarism will not work, there cannot be socialism in one country, and so forth.”)

But perhaps, in the spirit of free discussion, just to continue to develop the idea, we could say that, if infrapolitics in general allows (if it is the name for the form of thought that can only allow) for reflection on the non-political underside of any political irruption, then not only is infrapolitics the very condition of any thematization of exploitation (as well as of exclusion), but it is also the condition of their reduction and tendential elimination (just as it can also be the condition of their intensification).

If politics is in every case, and necessarily, an enactment of the sacrificial structuration of history, as María Zambrano liked to say, then infrapolitics is the dimension of life where the end of sacrifice can be experienced liminally, potentially.  To that precise extent infrapolitics is the hyperbolic condition of democracy.  No democracy without infrapolitics, no infrapolitics without democracy!

I think infrapolitics has no problem with producing and, in fact, actively welcomes every critique of exploitation, every critique of exclusion.  Its task is, furthermore, not to stop there, but also to examine the conditions of such critiques in order to radicalize them towards non-sacrificial structurations of political life.   Which, on the other hand, we know will never obtain.   This is, as far as I can see, the necessarily aporetic dimension of  the relation infrapolitics-politics.

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7 thoughts on “On Exploitation. By Alberto Moreiras.

  1. Well, if infrapolitics offers a means toward making the structure of exploitation visible, then all the better. Yet, if it is the case that infrapolitics “has no problem with producing and, in fact, actively welcomes every critique of exploitation,” this isn’t, as you’ve already noted, foregrounded in the various accounts offered. So, we were, in part, responding to this. But in asking how we might “map the movement from the infrapolitical to politics itself,” we didn’t imagine ourselves to be saying that infrapolitics has no relation to politics (of course it does). Rather, we’re asking what the relationship between the two is insofar as these aren’t the same thing.

    Furthermore, it seems to us that the question isn’t so much what kind of solution an attention to the problem of exploitation might yield, but one that is more modest–or shortsighted (depending on tastes): what makes the critique of exploitation possible in the first place, or as you put it, what are “the conditions of such critique”? In the terms elaborated in the essay, part of the answer is that an emphasis on exclusion alone fails to make visible the relations of production that organize that structure. And this seems particularly important to us at a moment when a good deal of criticism has tended to leave this question aside altogether.

  2. Emilio, before I continue let me insist on the fact that there is no question of defensiveness on my part, I am just interested in pushing this forward. So I agree with you, once again, that, yes, exploitation is not foregrounded or appropriately thematized in my written work, and yes, an emphasis on exclusion, which as you yourselves rightly point out is and has been a dominant theme in cultural studies and in the general atmosphere for cultural criticism in the United States over the last thirty years, fails to give exploitation its necessary dues as a central aspect of life in our world.

    But I am not necessarily in the same boat as most cultural critics–my emphasis on exclusion, for better or for worse, has never argued that inclusion is either the solution or even the beginning of the solution to all problems, because I am far from believing in it (take a look at my comment on Oscar Cabezas’ book below, where there is a hint of this), and I have argued many times that identitarian ideologies and so-called counter-hegemonic ideologies calling for more inclusion and recognition and denouncing it all in the name of a rejection of cultural imperialism, although they fulfill a role, are at the end of the day all functional to the neoliberal system of rule, which thrives on them. To a certain but perhaps dangerous extent we could even say that the inclusionary theme clears the ground for more and better exploitation, as we can see, if we are not blind, in the very history of our university institutions. Some day someone will be brave enough to write on this. Of course this does not mean I think we should argue against inclusion.

    So, as you yourselves say, my own emphasis on exclusion has to do with establishing the notion that there is no political articulation that fails to establish itself on a sacrificial basis–in other words, that all hegemony is always necessarily exclusion; that there is a fundamental negative violence even to constituent power that manifests itself as exclusionary; and that this fact turns politics into always already anti-demotic. That subalternity, in other words, can never be eliminated. So my intuition has consisted for a very long time in attempting or wanting to attempt to find a way to think politics otherwise: politics not as redemption, politics not as vindication, but politics as an apparently necessary evil, in any case as a factum where a certain set of members of the group are always and in every case destined to the sacrificial altar. Within that structure, and given that I always find myself in the position of scapegoat, or given that the people I like usually end up in that position, whereas those that I dislike rarely have a problem, I have tried to find a way out, to clear a space, as it were: a space for existence within the political, but also against the political, politically, but also impolitically, understanding the constraints but not yielding to them. My current name for it is infrapolitics, which is connected by that basic intuition to dirty atopics, to marranismo, to subalternity, to Zambrano’s thought of the vanquished, to the non-subject of the political, to posthegemony, and so forth. (I don`t want to simplify–every one of those terms exceeds the limits of my intuition, because things have a way of turning complex the very minute one starts thinking of them, so let me posit a caveat here.)

    It is in that context that I think exploitation is not simply something that infrapolitics can tolerate–a consistent thought on exploitation is necessarily part and parcel of it. Because exploitation is constitutive of politics, and there is a distinct correlate between those that are sacrificed and those that are exploited. Politics is systematic exploitation, in other words, which is perhaps my fundamental difference with Marxism–I do not think political economy, with an emphasis on the second term, is primary; rather I think political economy, with an emphasis on the first term, is primary.

    And I think a consistent theory of infrapolitics will help in allowing us to see the exploitative-sacrificial nature of every political articulation. Infrapolitics represents therefore something like a step back from politics for the sake of a better framing of politics. (Not just that, because, once you think of it, infrapolitics takes on a form in its own right, and it won`t allow itself to become merely an instrument to think some other thing.)

    Which brings us to the question of the frame. I can`t speak for Josefina Ludmer, John Beverley, or Jon Beasley-Murray here, but in my case I think the frame, far from having been dissolved in my work, actually constitutes its very core. It is like the camel in Arabian poetry, like Borges used to say–no need to mention it, because it is always there.

    So, I would respond to your critique by returning the critique in this way: it is not that I “dissolve the frame,” it is rather that my frame is not the formal frame circumscribed by Marxist humanism, which is, I would argue, always already fallen within the aesthetic-historicist paradigm through its quite univocal emphasis on ideology critique. This is, ultimately, the positive proposal your essay makes, and I must disagree with it. I do not think a reinvention of formal criticism based on the artwork quality of the work, by revealing both intended and unintended effects that can then be submitted to the ideology critique operation, is a step forward today. Because all of that will necessarily remain within the aesthetic-historicist paradigm that I associate with metaphysical modernity–obviously the dominant hegemonic articulation of thought.

  3. And quickly, as I hope later to offer a fuller account of my own position… Exploitation is central to my conception of Posthegemony, which is one reason why I have problems with precisely the stress on inclusion/exclusion that is prevalent in much cultural studies and reproduced also (to some extent with bells on) by subaltern studies. I agree that I don’t say much specifically about labour exploitation, but I don’t see any fundamental contradiction or problem there. Moreover, I really don’t see a stress on the “frame” or on the distinctiveness of the literary text as in any sense making up for any supposed lacunae in my work. I’m enough of a Bourdieusian to be deeply suspicious of such categorical distinctions.

    Again, however, I’ll respond at more length at the weekend.

  4. However, and as a way to foster good conversations I would declare my distance with these invocations of materialism and marxism in general, which remain mostly in a very speculative and idealist dimension. The critique of accumulation is, however, crucial as it implies a radical critique of the philosophical fundaments of the present (its conception of history and its reduction of politics to subjective action). My problem is this, most of the people who invoke this critique remain in a sort of generality that ends up being abstract. Indeed, I would not renounce to the critique of accumulation as it is a good way to see how decolonial, criollist and cultural studies people coincide in the forgetting not of exploitation but of the question of being, to say, in the permanent re-inception of the very metaphysical logic feeding their understanding to theory and practice. So, yes, infrapolitics does not concern itself with exploitation, primarily, since exploitation is not the real issue but rather one among many other consequences. Infrapolitics is a “supplement” to the critique of accumulation, but when such a critique has been remade and is not a regional interrogation any longer (it is not an economic device or procedure)…in other words, the very critique of the philosophy of history of capital, the critique of the subjective politics of recognition, and the critique of the accumulation of criticism (criollism, decolonials, culturalism, etc), are what we call “critique of accumulation” which like the heideggerian destruction, is not just negative but also enabling of the infrapolitical reflexion, which in turn is not the mere repetition of western philosophic-political tradition, but its radical problematization. To reduce infrapolitics to a mere speculative thinking is to ignore the very material set of conditions that explain its emergence as an historical thinking that is also a polemos against the state of affair in Latin American studies. I would like to think that the questions asked by Sauri and Di Stefano are pointing to the same unsatisfactory experience that motivated our post-hegemony and infrapolitical reflexions…

    • We certainly don’t take your reply to be defensive at all, and instead see it—and the other replies offered on this thread–as comments generously offered in the spirit of debate. And we hope that those others who are mentioned in the essay, including Jon, John Beverley and Josefina Ludmer also understand our motivation within these terms. That said, we’ve tried to demonstrate that you have “never argued that inclusion is either the solution or even the beginning of the solution to all problems” and that you show how “identitarian ideologies and so-called counter-hegemonic ideologies calling for more inclusion and recognition and denouncing it all in the name of a rejection of cultural imperialism . . . are at the end of the day all functional to the neoliberal system of rule, which thrives on them.” And in fact, this is precisely what distinguishes your work from several of the critics the essay considers. And we would say the same thing about Jon’s account of posthegemony.

      What we would like to stress, however, in order to clarify any possible misunderstanding, is that our point is not simply about adding exploitation to the conversation. Rather, the point is to demonstrate how the emphasis on exclusion/inclusion alone (along with identity, difference, subject positions, etc.) renders the structure of exploitation invisible, and how in so doing, it offers a somewhat incomplete picture of exclusion as such.

      With this in mind, we’d like to take up the question of infrapolitics, which we feel still doesn’t get to the heart of our critique. Undoubtedly, infrapolitics is related to politics; this is obvious enough not simply in the name, but also in the logic, (the logic being that infrapolitics is the constitutive outside of any hegemonic articulation, and as such marks the exclusion upon which even the most radical forms of democracy rest). To us, this not only seems indispensable to any notion of democracy worth its name, but is also a step toward refusing easy co-optation by, say, the state or the market.

      So what of exploitation? Is exploitation a hegemonic articulation as well? Exploitation, as you say, can be included here into an infrapolitical critique, and it can be included in the same way exclusion is included, or even democracy is included. And presumably this is the kind of indistinctness you mean to point out in your previous comment when you say that the stress in infrapolitics lies on the political and not on the economic. But exploitation, as the essay understands it, has everything to do with relations central to capitalist production. Indeed, from our position, insofar as one is unable to bring it back to the economic, a conversation about exploitation becomes interchangable with a conversation on exclusion; which, of course, still leaves us with the invisibility to the economic frame. Or said differently still, one of the things the essay aims to demonstrate is that the (political) solution to one problem (exclusion) isn’t the same thing as the (economic) solution to the other (exploitation).

      Which is not to say that the one has nothing to do with the other. Indeed, as Sergio’s comments point out, one of the things we’ve tried to show is the degree to which infrapolitical thinking, as a particular form of thought, is tied to a “very material set of conditions”–one which we, following you, identify with the moment of intellectual labor’s real subsumption under capital, which now reorganizes the production of knowledge (in places like the university) and orients it toward the market.

      Perhaps we can simply say that our points of departure are different; your point of departure is a sacrificial structuration of history, ours is exploitation. Again, these two paths overlap, but they are not the same. Nevertheless, the question still remains: how can infrapolitics take up the question of exploitation when the very force of the theory seems to be not only to think the constitutive outside of any hegemonic articulation, but all to reduce all politics to the same (sacrificial structuration of history). Beyond a conversation about exploitation, what does an infrapolitical critique of exploitation look like?

      • Eugenio, briefly, as I think it is time for other people to participate in this: infrapolitics is not the constitutive outside of hegemony–that was a conceptualization used early on for subalternity, but infrapolitics is not subalternity: it is a different thing entirely. Also, I would say that infrapolitics is not at all a reduction of all politics to the same–it does attempt to define politics as structured around sacrifice all the while saying that democracy is to be understood as the antisacrificial thrust, which of course sets the ground for political conflict of an aporetic kind. Which means interpretation starts not ends here. But let us do one thing: once you show me your critique of exploitation I will show you mine, how is that? Jokes aside, your demand is not straightforward. Exploitation can only be analyzed on economic grounds, and we don´t do economics, or at least I don´t. Al l can do is to create a space for the productivity of a critique of exploitation. Which is actually all you do, isn´t it? In other words, you invoke a critique of exploitation, but you do not do a critique of exploitation. I am not surprised, insofar as the task is beyond literary criticism.

  5. Deal! I’ll show you mine and you’ll show me yours, but at a later date. In the meantime, I just wanted to let everyone know that the special issue of nonsite on Latin American literature is now up on nonsite.org. Alberto, thanks again for contributing your excellent piece on Castellanos Moya! Everyone should also check out the amazing essays by Steve Buttes, Susana Draper, Charles Hatfield, and Dierdra Reber in the same issue!

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