Poiein Kata Phusin. On Reiner Schürmann. By Alberto Moreiras

At the end of Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy (286-89), Reiner Schürmann explicates four “Consequences for the Direction of Life.”   This is to comment on some punctual sites in the explanation with no pretense of exhaustivity but with a view to establishing their possible productivity for infrapolitical thinking.

  1. Schürmann mentions a “heuristic” function in Being and Time’s concentration on “everyday activities” in view of the need to establish a “fundamental ontology.” But “there is another priority of praxis in Heidegger, which appears as early as in Being and Time and which remains operative throughout all of his work: to retrieve the being question from the point of view of time, a certain way of life is required. To understand authentic temporality, it is necessary to ‘exist authentically;’ to think being as letting phenomena be, one must oneself ‘let all things be;’ to follow the play without why of presencing, it is necessary ‘to live without why.’ Here the priority of praxis is no longer heuristic . . . According to the mainstream of the metaphysical tradition, acting follows being; for Heidegger, on the other hand, a particular kind of acting appears as the condition for understanding being as time. Here praxis determines thinking. In writings subsequent to Being and Time, it is suggested that this praxis is necessarily of a political nature” (287)

This second (non-heuristic) priority of praxis is fundamental to the infrapolitical constellation, which emphasizes it and names it “existential.”   A praxis of existence—not a politics, not an ethics, certainly not a disciplinarization or institutionalization of existence—opens the way to infrapolitical reflection to the very same extent infrapolitical thought cannot be premised on anything but a specific relation to existence.   Whether Heidegger himself indicated the possible political relevance of this existential understanding of praxis is probably irrelevant for infrapolitics, but it may not be irrelevant regarding the fundamental thrust of Schürmann’s interpretation.   There is, in the attribution to the late Heidegger of a (reluctantly) “anarchic” political drift, an assumption I would not share: that changes in thinking, in order to be relevant, are necessarily epochal (even if, at a certain point, under the hypothesis of the closure of metaphysics, their epochal stance would mark, according to Schürmann, the end of epochality, the end of epochal history), and, as epochal, they reach and affect and shape and force the compliance of the totality of the political collectivity as such.   For Schürmann “anarchy,” on his terms, is not the singular choice of a thinker but rather the offspring of the contemporary economy of presencing with which the (contemporary) thinker should comply.   Anarchy would be a “nomos” at the end of principial (metaphysical) epochs. “The nomos or injunction always and everywhere determines the oikos, the abode of man” (235). There is a certain ultimate incoherence in claiming both that thinking presupposes a particular exercitium that belongs to the thinker’s singular existence and that thinking only lives through attunement with a nomic or temporal presencing that affects everyone.

  1. “Being can be understood as time only through its difference from history. The investigation into the concrete epochs and their regulation is what binds the later Heidegger’s phenomenology to experience. Since this is, however, not an individual’s experience, the issue of phenomenology proves to be political in a broad sense. An economy of presence is the way in which, for a given age, the totality of what becomes phenomenal arranges itself in mutual relations. Any economy is therefore necessarily public” (287)

The politicality of epochs has to do with the fact that epochs force an order of the visible (things, words, actions) into an order of domination. Principial epochs guarantee the domination of the principle as hegemonic domination (at the time of modernity subjectivism dominates hegemonically, and so forth, and it dominates all orders of existence: politically as well as philosophically or artistically, etc.)   But Schürmann’s distinction between history and time prepares his affirmation of an end of epochal history that opens the visibility of presencing as non-domination. At the end of the cycle of principial epochality, where we hypothetically are (this is the closure of metaphysics), the thinker can move or prepare the way for anarchy as non-domination. But the politicality of the thinker is then either prophetic or it has the character of a historical vanguard.   In both cases it appears as messianic, as it incorporates and enables a promise (the “early” correspondence of the thinker, as response to an unconcealing presencing, is a commitment to and an announcement of a general dispensation to come).   Infrapolitics prefers to consider posthegemony as the deconstruction of all political legitimation, including the preparatory, anticipatory, or transitional legitimation of a purported, posthistorical economy of presencing of universal reach. Infrapolitics gives up on preparatory thinking as it refuses the distinction between history and time.

  1. “The hypothesis of closure results from the reduplication ‘will to will’ substituting itself for the difference ‘being and entities.’ Enframing, then, is not like any other principle. It is transcendence abolished. Total mechanization and administration are only the most striking features of this abolition and reduplication, of this loss of every epochal principle; a loss that, as Heidegger suggests, is happening before our eyes” (288).

For Schürmann technology would be “the age without a beyond” (285) that terminates the epochal cycle, the history of being.   He claims that, at the end of the epochs, “originary time” resurfaces into a presencing no longer to be understood as the constant presence of the metaphysical dispensation.   Responding to originary time—the worlding of the world, the thinging of the thing—is what the thinker today prepares: “to think is to follow the event of presencing, without recourse to principial representations” (286). But the withering away of epochs needs not be thought as the welcoming of an unepochal dispensation, about which we know nothing and we experience nothing others may not have also known and experienced in any of the previous transitional times. Infrapolitics is an intraepochal affirmation of “simple dwelling” in the here and now, not a “step into the blue” (284) at the abyssal end of the history of being.

  1. “Poein kata phusin . . . Thinking is essentially compliant with the flux of coming-to-presence, with constellations that form and undo themselves. To think is to follow the event of appropriation, to follow phuein” (289).

Schürmann proposes two master terms for such a compliance: non-attachment and releasement, both taken from Heidegger in specific reference to Meister Eckhart. There is certainly a difference between submitting to ordering principles and “acting according to presencing,” in compliance with the worlding of the world and the thinging of the thing.   But who guarantees the public, collective, universal compliance with the second under the guise of the (transitional) principle that there are no principles?   A second-order hegemony, in this case presumably guaranteed by the thinkers and the poets to come, is no better than the pedestrian economy of the principle.   Infrapolitics prefers the suspension of compliance, not out of any fundamental suspicion towards the mysterious dispensations of the fourfold, rather out of a fundamental suspicion of its interpreters.   Letting-be is infrapolitically to be thought as existential releasement for the sake of a radical attachment to the free singularity of existence.

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Imperative Self-Defense. By Alberto Moreiras

Living in Texas I am routinely exposed to the national passion here—self-defense and home defense, not just as a response to possible merely personal crime but also (perhaps more importantly even) now in connection with terrorism: newspaper and magazine articles, and the like.  There is something self-defense theorists call, taking it from the military, “situational awareness,” which has to do with paying attention to your “bubble,” they call it, essentially a perimeter of about fifty feet from where you are.  They recommend always to be on “yellow alert,” that is, always attentive to your environment and scouting any possible threat.

Now, I wonder whether and to what extent situational awareness can be thought of in Heideggerian “existential analytic” terms: is it authentic or inauthentic behavior?  Most of my Facebook friends would immediately say:  “Inauthentic!!”  I guess it could go both ways, like anything can, but, given the fact that self-defense is such an atavistic aspect of one’s personal relation to his or her own death, what I find of particular interest is the possible (plausible?) connection of self-defense, manifested in a passion for situational awareness, that is, for a guarding attentiveness, to authentic behavior. I only need to establish its possibility. But it may be contested.  I would welcome the discussion.

In Country Path Conversations Heidegger establishes a distinction between warten and erwarten. He privileges the first, as something like a waiting uncontaminated by its object, a destinal or historical awaiting.  But I think the decision for “waiting,” where waiting has no specific object, applies to precisely meditative reflection, in other words, it has to do with a particular capacity of the human—an opening to the clearing where things and world can be let be.  It cannot and would not rule out other capacities, particularly in the context of the existential analytic.  The sticking point is, letting-be also applies to one’s own life.  Or, as the self-defense theorists will tell you, to our loved ones against an external threat.   So there is no “das Man” necessarily here (although there could be, say, if one is mimicking the gestures of self-defense, trying to imitate buddies, trying to be cool or tough, and so forth), at the limit (which is where I want to think it), there is precisely “jemeinigkeit” to zero degree, we could say—self-defense could also be about protecting our inmost possibility for being.  So situational awareness, which of course in itself pretty much incorporates finitude and a deep involvement with temporality and death, could in fact be an essential, enabling part of existential “authenticity” in its more radical sense, which is the confrontation with one’s own death.   Again, it could also be mere bs.  But it is not that necessarily. The question here is whether self-defense is a mere matter of a subjective appropriation of one’s own life or whether it itself opens up to, indeed, whether it conditions, a meditative change in existence in view and full experience of the world and its worlding.   Self-defense is immediately and for the most part our only path towards letting things be, after all. Without self-defense we are all broken.    Mortality means ongoing and radical self-defense.

The question arises, is the “waiting,” as defined above, the condition of possibility of authentic care, of authentic existence, or is it the other way around?  Is it the defense of—that is, the insistence in–authentic existence that opens up, for the first time every time, the possibility of a “waiting for no object,” that is, of a different (non-subjective, non-calculative, non-representational) attunement to existence? If self-defense is irreducible, then it seems to me infrapolitics is irreducible.

Heidegger said many times that the existential analytic was the basis for everything that came later.  Perhaps in a modified form, but I am not sure the modification hits this particular spot.  There is an imperative dimension in it: you must strive for authenticity, and authenticity is always radically self-defense. Which of course happens at a level other than the level of the subject—at the level of “a life” individuated or singularized temporally in the Dasein we each are.

Heidegger discussed many times what he called “fundamental attunement”—this starts in Being and Time (actually, before) and goes on through the middle period and all the writings surrounding Contributions up to and through the Hölderlin lectures.  In Contributions it is said that the fundamental attunement of our historical period, no longer the modern one, is terror (Erschrecken, I think).   And it is the case that we can only think historically starting from the fundamental attunement of our epoch  (this is in itself very controversial, but I think this is Heidegger’s position).   If so, then terror—which is primarily terror in front of the abandonment of being—is irreducible, but also the very site of “das Rettende.”  In other words, terror is also the trace and the hint of the divinities, the sending of being, and a condition of Ereignis, worlding, thinging, and so forth.  (On this see Andrew J. Mitchell, “Heidegger and Terrorism.”)

If terror is the essential existentiell for our time, then self-defense is (could be, authentically) an enabling characteristic of our capacity to listen to being, or for an openness to the clearing. As death—finitude—is a radical condition of life, ongoing, not just at its terminus, which is what makes Heidegger something entirely other than a biopolitical thinker, self-defense is also a defense of one’s own ongoing death, a defense of temporalizing, of the temporalizing of a life, any life, starting with what is closer by, more intimate.

Of course we do not have to equate self-defense to what the Texan theorists reduce it to—policing the perimeter. There are other possibilities. But—does this work at all?  Or am I overly influenced by newspapers and magazine articles?

 

 

 

Rethinking Community from Peru

[Crossposted from Posthegemony.]

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What kind of political philosophy should one expect of a novelist? Irina Feldman’s fascinating Rethinking Community from Peru: The Political Philosophy of José María Arguedas prompts this question, as it proposes to present us with the political philosophy of José María Arguedas, the Peruvian author of Los ríos profundos, Todas las sangres, and El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (among much else). Her starting point is the (in)famous 1965 Mesa Redonda sobre Todas las Sangres, in which (as she explains) Arguedas’s vision of Peruvian society was “severely questioned by a group of progressive scholars” (p. 3). His interlocutors felt that Arguedas had spurned class analysis in favor of an atavistic (if not reactionary) attachment to indigenous cultural forms such as the ayllu. For Feldman, what they missed was that Arguedas saw in such forms “an alternative project of community” that might carry over to a socialist society. But the more fundamental problem with this discussion was that the social scientists reading the novel had overlooked the fact that ultimately it was literary artifact, not sociological analysis. And to some extent Feldman replicates that mistake in seeking to squeeze a full-flown “political philosophy” from Arguedas’s fiction.

The bulk of this book is a reading of Todas las sangres highlighting the failures of the Peruvian state to achieve anything like hegemony in the highlands. What we see instead, we are told, is something more akin to what Ranajit Guha terms “dominance without hegemony” (p. 85). But in fact, in the Andes the state is not even dominant. As Feldman shows, Arguedas’s novel documents at least three other competing powers: the traditional hacendado system of large landowners with quasi-divine authority over “their” Indians; the indigenous ayllu, with its rotating leadership of varayok’s; and the forces of multinational capital, represented here by the Wisther-Bozart mining consortium. And though the haciendas are in decline–also, if more arguably so, the ayllu–the pressures of capital investment and resource extraction are such that the state can hardly carve out space to institute a liberal civil society, even if it wanted to do so.

Arguedas has a surprisingly positive view of the landowning class, perhaps because–like the varayok’s–they manifest the “solid bodily presence of the figure of authority” in contrast to the absent, “ghostly state” (p. 33). Hence the novel presents us with Don Bruno, a landowner who mobilizes his authority on the Indians’ behalf. But he can do so only by means of a self-sacrifice that destroys any chance of an effective alliance with the indigenous, and that further undercuts the state’s claims to sovereignty, rendering ordinary people all the more defenseless in the face of the mining corporations.

The saving grace of Andean culture, Feldman tells us, is its refusal to grant a “negative connotation” to physical labor, enabling “the indigenous serfs [to] escape the process of alienation” thanks to “the ritual appropriation of work in the mine [. . .] which signals a possibility of symbolic appropriation of the means of production” (p. 116). It is not clear, however, how much the real owners of the means of production are concerned about such symbolic reappropriation, so long as the workers continue to do their jobs without grumbling. In other words: is this not the most minimal, even self-defeating, revolution imaginable? Yet this is a phenomenon that Arguedas repeatedly depicts in his novels, from the communal road-building in Yawar Fiesta to the procession demanding a Catholic mass in Los ríos profundos: even in hegemony’s absence, the indigenous continue to struggle for their own servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation.

This may indeed be (as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari suggest) the fundamental problem of political philosophy, but it is not clear that Arguedas grasps it as such. Should he? I am unconvinced that Arguedas ever satisfactorily rethinks the concept of community. His work is more symptom than solution, and if anything its weakness is that too often he does think like a social scientist, not least in his anguished concern for a Peruvian national project. The fact that Feldman’s examples of an Arguedan “political philosophy” in action all come from Bolivia, not Peru, shows the error of taking the nation-state as political horizon. More fundamentally, rather than trying to extract a political project from Arguedas’s fiction, it is more rewarding to see it as among the best mappings of Andean infrapolitics; that is, as an exploration of the conditions of possibility (and impossibility) of politics tout court.

A Note on Gabriela Basterra’s The Subject of Freedom. Kant, Levinas (New York: Fordham UP, 2015). By Alberto Moreiras

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This note does not measure up to a review, and it does not intend to. I simply want to point something out, controversial as it may be. The Subject of Freedom takes its initial bearings on an intricate examination of several antinomies of reason as presented by Kant in the first Critique and goes through Kant´s practical philosophy (essentially through the second Critique and Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, although there are references to other texts) into some key issues in Levinas’ later thought as represented by Otherwise Than Being.   The discussion includes the debunking of some influential positions on Kant´s ethics, such as Dieter Heinrich´s.   Basterra is interested in showing how Kant´s critical categories must be subjected to the scrutiny of a post-structuralist understanding of reason as essentially connected to language rather than to the forms of spatio-temporal intuition.

The significance of Basterra’s book is the critical double turn that consists in presenting Emmanuel Levinas’ thought as a philosophy of freedom in the Kantian sense, and, conversely, Kantian thought as a philosophy of auto-heteronomy. The implications of this double move for political thought are significant: essentially, but still rather superficially, The Subject of Freedom gives us a chance to understand the Kantian-Levinasian subject of the political as a non-liberal if still republican subject, and consequently gives us the chance to revise our notions of democratic republicanism through an alternative understanding of ethico-political subjectivity. This is revisionist in terms of the dominant traditions in political philosophy that have linked Kantian republicanism with a mostly liberal, or perhaps liberal by default, conception of both subjectivity and the political.

But there is a more daring task for interpretation. Once through Basterra’s analyses, and thanks to them, it is legitimate to wonder whether Kantianism is as securely established in autonomous subjectivity as it has been presumed.  Or whether Kantianism, in its ethico-political articulation, opens necessarily onto a radical critique of subjectivity—this would be a stumble, a scandal in Kant’s path, or in the path of Kantianism, hence of modern philosophy.   And, conversely, it also becomes legitimate to wonder whether the path of freedom does not necessarily go through a renunciation of the liberal notion of the subject, which is of course also the modern one.   Not that a new image of the subject needs to be formed as a consequence—rather, another game opens up, which goes through the difficult terrain of wondering whether there is, after all, a subject of freedom, as opposed to a freedom beyond the subject.

 

 

 

On Charles Hatfield’s The Limits of Identity. Politics and Poetics in Latin America (Austin: U of Texas P, 2015). By Alberto Moreiras

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This is an important book that, in its understated and unassuming rhetoric, actually establishes a generational challenge of fundamental importance to the totality of Latin Americanist discourse in the humanities. Beyond that, it subverts the very basis of Latin American cultural self-understanding since at least José Martí´s “Nuestra América.”

Hatfield organizes his book on the basis of four chapters, with a short Introduction and an equally short Coda, although both of the latter are significant.   The chapters cover four master concepts, namely, Culture, Beliefs, Meaning, and Memory.   Through them Hatfield offers a relentless critique of the Latin Americanist cultural tradition and its bearing on the present. He also makes a historical argument, hence a genealogical analysis of how the apparent truisms of the present came to be what they are.   His theoretical sources are to be found in a soft North American pragmatism, fundamentally indebted to the work of Walter Benn Michaels and Stanley Fish in particular.   It is a politically committed book whose urgency derives from the fact that, as the book establishes, contemporary literary-cultural reflection, or at least its mainstream, has lost its bearings and fails to realize that, contrary to its own claims, it will have no impact on “correcting the region´s most grievous injustices.”

The Introduction presents an idea of universalism as neither a belief nor an ideology, but as an irreducible dimension of any truth statement as such. It is because truth claims assert themselves as universally valid that there can (and should) be disagreement.   If truth could be taken to be always and in every case particularist, that is, only valid for a given location or site of enunciation, then the very notion of disagreement would become useless and incomprehensible. For instance, the very opposition to racism, sexism, or colonialism that a certain number of Latin Americanist thinkers, if not most, would consider their own privilege or obligation against Eurocentric impositions, Hatfield shows, is already universalist, and it would be considerably weakened if we were to claim that it is only the result of the particularism of their victims.   In other words, it is not because of “our” particular identity but because of a belief in the universal wrongness of racism that we can successfully and persuasively oppose racism.

So that universalism already commits us from the moment we have beliefs. Universalism is therefore not a particular form of ideology, much less a Eurocentric one, but rather a constitutive and irreducible dimension of everyday speech that cannot be disavowed without a cost. The cost is the reduction of thinking to an identitarian program–we, in other words, would not endorse a truth because we believe in it, only because it is ours or we have come to be persuaded that it is. The consequence is nefarious: “to invoke identity as the reason for a belief in a disagreement is to actually end the disagreement by refuting the universality that enables it” (“refuting” does not seem the right word here, as there is no refutation at play: “refusing” seems more like it).

It just happens to be the case that Latinamericanism in general has been throughout its history essentially preoccupied with “preserving, no matter in how contradictory or tense a manner, an idea of Latin America as the repository of a cultural difference that would resist assimilation by Eurocentric modernity.” The way this has been done–the rhetoric that sustains the concern for cultural difference–has followed patterns of anti-universalism that could only lead to identitarian dead ends. “Latin Americanism´s crucial work involves converting what is true or false into what is yours and mine.”   The net result of this, in practical terms, is not a resounding denunciation of cultural oppression, or even a brave refusal of racism, but rather the trap of proposing a “liberationist” discourse that “implicates itself in many of the same discourses that it sought to repudiate.”   When Doctor Francisco Laprida, in Jorge Luis Borges´s “Poema conjetural,” experiences a “secret joy” at the moment of his violent death, the complications of Sarmiento´s inaugural discourse on “civilization versus barbarism” are rendered moot: “liberation” is for Laprida, as for so many Latin Americanists, a mere return to atavistic identification with a tellurian force and a more than dubious authenticity, from which nothing but disaster can ensue.

If “Laprida´s demise at the hands of gauchos is, in a sense, the fulfillment of what Latin Americanist thinking ever since José Martí´s ‘Nuestra América’ has desired,” Chapter 1 offers an analysis of “Nuestra América” whose main thrust is the recognition that Martí´s discourse, “far from offering a post-racial vision,” “reinstates the concept of race that it repudiates” at a cultural not biological level.   It also happens to be a reinstatement that has become functional to the neoliberal regime of rule, which thrives on cultural difference as a substitute for economic equality.   Given Martí´s status as a cultural hero, this chapter is bound to be controversial if not fiercely polemical, and it is of course part of the merits of this book that Hatfield is courageous enough to risk the cost of debunking civilizational figures.

Chapter 2 deals with yet another cultic intellectual presence over the last century, namely, José Enrique Rodó, whose Ariel has been described as “the most important Latin American essay.” In Ariel Rodó inverts Sarmiento´s dichotomy and claims that Latin America, far from being the site of an impotent failure of civilization, should emerge as the true repository of spirit–the culmination, not the limit place, of Western civilization.   But Rodó does this through a reaffirmation of “nuestroamericanismo,” that is, through the repeated assertion, which organizes the core of his essay, that a pursuit of identitarian strategies counts as the highest example of thought, and the only one available to Latin Americans.   Hatfield complements his analysis of Rodó with the analysis of a book that would seem to be its direct antagonist, namely, Rodolfo Kusch´s Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América, to the extent that, if Rodó´s target audience is the Latin American liberal-criollo class, Kusch places his civilizational bet on a recovery of indigenous cosmovisions. But Hatfield persuasively shows that Kusch shares with Rodó “the idea that the only arguments that we can make for or against beliefs are that they are ours–or not.”   An understated aspect of this chapter happens to reside in the fact that today the field of Latin American studies could be easily defined as the combat between “arielistas” and “decolonials,” which is still a combat between Rodó and Kusch, were it not for the marginal if persistent existence of a number of dissidents (Hatfield himself, for instance).   One of the arguments that Hatfield deploys with devastating effect is that this kind of thought is circular and therefore vicious: “Seminal thinking is the thinking to which Kusch wants to return and simultaneously the theory that makes available that return.”   And he shows that the contradictions internal to current-day proposals for a return to indigenous thinking have a terrible price, if it all comes down to “lining up your philosophy with your skin:” “all of this in no way means that it is impossible or intrinsically contradictory to make a case for indigenous thinking, or any mode of thinking. It means only making a choice between the commitment to indigenous thinking on the one hand, and difference on the other.”

Chapter 3 opens up the frame of reference and avoids the concentration of the analysis into one master figure, like Martí or Rodó. In this chapter Hatfield goes through a number of more contemporary critics and writers in order to show the pervasiveness of the nuestroamericanist ideology in the present. He starts with a masterful reading of Borges´ “Pierre Menard: Author of Don Quixote,” examines a number of critical takes on it, seeks to establish its correspondence with pragmatic conclusions, and moves on to deploy those conclusions in the context of the work of people such as Roberto Fernández Retamar, Ricardo Kalimán, Octavio Paz, and Doris Sommer.   Through all of it Hatfield argues that identitarianism must recognize an impossible resistance in the literary text, which may point us in the direction of a denunciation of literature as insufficient for the political tasks it is expected to perform.   But it can equally point in the direction of literature “as a site of disagreement, rather than of difference, and in so doing” show that “literature gives us a model for a better politics.”

Chapter 4, on “Memory,” is one of the most original and brilliant in the book.   Taking its departure from the disturbing thought that neoliberalism has already managed to enthrone cultural difference and has hence deprived the contestatory dimension of mainstream Latinamericanism of any conceivable ground, it moves on to an analysis (again, understated and unassuming, but very powerful) of the critical constellation associated with “politics of memory.”   In other words, this chapter analyses “the shift away from culture and towards history and memory as the cathected objects for Latin American identitarian thinking.”   But history and memory are not the same thing: if history refers to knowledge, memory refers to experience. The thought that we could rehearse the memory of experiences we have not had is at the core of memory thinking over the last two generations of Latin Americanism.   And it is a deeply limiting thought, because the project of turning history into memory cannot be distinguished from the project of turning knowledge into identity.   Hatfield makes a historical argument that goes back to the 1960´s and the beginnings of testimonial writing in Latin America, through the rise of oral history as epistemic practice in the 1980s, through José Rabasa´s radically nihilistic account of the Acteal massacre in the 1990s (“truth and falsity do not matter for Rabasa, because the idea of truth makes identity irrelevant”), and into the curious conflation of apparently irreconcilable subjectivist thought in contemporary critique (Beatriz Sarlo and John Beverley are the examples in this section).   But Eduardo Galeano, Gustavo Verdesio, Diana Taylor, and Raymond L. Williams are also gently brought to task, together with Carmen Boullosa.   All of these authors are of course only examples of a widespread metonymy in the field.   It is part of the elegance of the book´s rhetoric that the author lets the reader draw her own conclusions as to the general state of the field, including the position taken by some of the more popular or well-known critics that are barely mentioned and not frontally analyzed.

The Coda on New Latin Americanism is essentially an analysis of John Beverley´s recent Latin Americanism After 9-11.   Hatfield presents the thought that, on Beverley´s own premises, if the neoliberal market has brought about “a play of differences that is not subject, in principle, to the dialectic of master and slave,” then the current predicament “equals a game-over on two counts for Latin Americanism itself. First, if ideologies of Latin Americanism at heart have always been about cultural dehierarchization, which is just another way of saying identitarian anti-universalism, then the recognition of cultural dehierarchization´s hegemony leaves it without anything to do. Second, the fact that Latin Americanism´s project of cultural dehierarchization was achieved by and in neoliberalism poses the question of whether that project ever–but especially now–counts as a progressive form of political resistance to capitalism.”   This is the fundamental impasse today, and of course Hatfield shows that Beverley´s counterproposal does not work: “Beverley´s new Latin Americanism, boiled down, is almost like a definition of the old one,” which is quite unfortunate.   There is a lot of genuinely new work to do, and it can change the game, but only if the playing field, Hatfield suggests, is rebuilt from scratch.

 

 

On Professional Bliss. By Alberto Moreiras

So many constant misunderstandings eventually come to our ears one no longer knows the battles one wants to fight—surely not the battles we have not sought, whose result is indifferent in the best of cases?   Yes, this group (not the blog, but the group the blog is connected to) is composed mainly of people who are not professional philosophers, whatever that means, and mainly of people from the academic disciplines of Hispanic Studies, which is for many a double problem (first, we are said to speak out of line, as whatever we say has “nothing to do with our language and tradition,” whatever that means, which makes us incomprehensible; second, we are said to speak as mere impostors and amateurs, because we have no proper legitimation—say, through the Heidegger-Gesellschaft or the Derridean establishment, one would suppose, or through philosophy departments perhaps?)   And yet we are trying to develop a path of thought, which takes many years, particularly against such obstacles, depressing. And that is rarely granted. Much less helped. We do not complain (we like marranismo, and dis-inheritance is part of what we do), but at some point—now, for instance—this must be registered.

Infrapolitics is to be understood, genealogically, as a repetition of the Heideggerian adventure in the destruction of metaphysical thought (which of course Derrida took up and continued). It seems to me we can date the notion of infrapolitical legacy, in the restricted but nevertheless immediate way that concerns Heidegger, to the moment, in the 1920 lecture course on Phenomenology of Intuition and Expression, in which he says: “Philosophy has the task of preserving the facticity of life and strengthening the facticity of Dasein.” This is of course the precise moment that Agamben takes up–quoting, through Foucault, some other, later text–at the beginning of Homo Sacer, and that marks the beginning of what he conceives of as his own project in biopolitics. Essentially, if philosophy, or thought, which is in itself a particular way of factical life, must make it its business to understand that which it is a part of, then two main possibilities ensue: one of them has been called biopolitics. But the essential problem with biopolitics is that its horizon is and cannot not be politics. The other one is infrapolitical, which includes politics but is not constrained by politics. I suppose this is difficult to understand, or to accept, for many? But we only claim to want to do what we can.

So yes, there are many of us by now but we are on our own (like in the old joke about Galicians lost in the desert), provided we keep it up (otherwise, not even that). It is hard to know why–surely we have not historically militated in favor of isolation and silence? And yet that is what we usually get, insofar as we speak up. But never mind: the real thing, if it ever was, is no longer in these battles that we cannot win precisely because they are battles we have not sought and do not want to fight. What seems much more sensible is to persist, to persevere, and the writing will have to speak for us by itself eventually and in the future, if that is important.

 

Postscriptum a Tiempo universitario y deseo. Por Alberto Moreiras

Se me pregunta qué es o cómo se define “lo que no tengas más remedio” que escribir, o enseñar, o servir.   Depende de la situación en cada caso. Para un profesor asistente que busca continuidad en su empleo “no tener más remedio” que terminar un libro y empezar la publicación de materiales para un segundo libro es condición de su salud laboral, con la que no vamos a interferir.   Lo demás debería en cada caso depender del estómago y de sus señales—no hay que escribir para producir cháchara que no le sirve a nadie para nada, hay que escribir porque pesan las palabras de las que hay que librarse, y sólo por eso. Ahí es cuando el “no tener más remedio” coincide con el deseo. Y los habrá que escriban mucho y los habrá que escriban poco, o quienes no tengan prisa porque la prisa mata, y específicamente mata no ya el pensamiento sino su misma posibilidad.   Pero vaya usted a decírselo a su comité de evaluación, a quien en general le importa sólo la publicación cuantitativa, y que estructuralmente no sabe ya qué es la cháchara.

En cuanto a la enseñanza uno enseña sólo lo que sabe y a veces se sabe poco. Pero enseñar—que nunca es otra cosa que dejar aprender–lo que uno sabe, en su pobreza misma, es todo lo que deberíamos hacer para no inundar las cabezas de los estudiantes de tontería. Enseñar lo que no se sabe es malo para todos—para el enseñante y para el enseñado, porque lo que no se sabe no puede dejarse aprender. Claro, a veces dejar aprender lo que se sabe, algo que uno mismo aprendió, puede llevar años.   Pero nuestra profesión, en su ritmo cada vez más condicionado a lo que se presume “gustable,” traiciona toda enseñanza en nombre de una pedagogía barata e instrumentalizada por razones hoy ya explícitamente meretricias.   Sin vergüenza alguna.

Y en cuanto al “servicio,” ¿a quién servimos? Sí, los comités son necesarios para llevar adelante el departamento.   Pero es “servicio,” por ejemplo, y de la peor especie, orientar nuestro tiempo universitario a buscar bequitas (no otra cosa es accesible en humanidades, o muy raramente) y premios, señal de supuesta “excelencia,” queriendo la recompensa de la palmadita en la espalda por habernos esforzado en adaptar nuestro deseo y por lo tanto nuestro ser, y nuestro estar, a las demandas con frecuencia inanes de esos grupos anónimos designados por la administración cuya función es aplicar en cada caso el criterio raso de una “excelencia” que no es más que conformidad a las normas corporativas en la mayoría de los casos.   Lo cual no quita para que ningún trabajo no excelente deba hacerse (nada peor que el que busca la “excelencia” convencional y aun encima lo hace mal.)   En fin, lo “estrictamente necesario” en el servicio tiene que ver con la lealtad a la idea de la universidad que todos deberíamos entender, y justamente con ninguna otra cosa.

Un viejo profesor mío, Bernard Dauenhauer, decía que hay libros que son meras colecciones de páginas y libros que son otra cosa, en los que hay algún favor o gracia, y que en la universidad norteamericana—supongo que en todas—la noción de libro está falseada desde el principio por la noción de publicación urgente, enemiga de la gracia. Que uno se puede pasar la vida escribiendo sin llegar nunca a un libro, y que así son las cosas, aunque por el camino se publiquen muchos “libros.”   Y que por lo tanto hay dos clases de escritores, dos clases de intelectuales: aquellos que entienden que el libro se espera y aquellos que entienden que el libro se produce.   “Libro” aquí significa otra cosa que libro como mero producto editorial, por cierto, al menos en la imaginación de mi profesor.   Y tiene todavía menos que ver con su “éxito” o “impacto” público. La universidad nunca tuvo ese valor como valor, y deberia volver a olvidarlo.

 

 

Roberto Esposito’s L’origine della politica. Hannah Arendt o Simone Weil? (1996). By Alberto Moreiras

(The news that this book will soon be published in an English translation by Gareth Williams and Vincenzo Binetti in Fordham UP prompts me to post this review here.  The connections between infrapolitics and Esposito’s “impolitical” are as intricate perhaps as the connections between Arendt and Weil Esposito explores here.)

This 1996 book occupies an important place in the context of Roberto Esposito’s work.   It marks the transition from a dominant or primary concern with the deconstruction of the fundamental concepts of political modernity associated with a sustained reflection on the “impolitical” to the emphasis on the understanding of the constellation of concepts around the Latin munus (immunity, community) and its derived biopolitics.   And it marks it in rather complex ways.

For instance, there are different ways in which Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil are thinkers of the limits of the political. On their lifelong reflections, however, it is possible to sustain that they are both still thinkers of the limit, and that both were finally unable to renew the ontological horizon of political modernity.   If L’origine studies both authors, it is primarily with a view to the dismantling of a tradition in and through the work of two of the authors that, for Esposito personally, nevertheless originate the possibility of a genealogical move towards an ontology of the present.   But, if Esposito will later sustain that Arendt’s entire discourse becomes exhausted in its very productivity as a modality of political thought, Weil will retain her force in the post-munus stage of Esposito’s thought, and will be influential in his formulation of a renewed concept of “the impersonal,” which today sustains his project.

The grounds for such moves are explicitly treated in L’origine—a book that opens by announcing that Arendt and Weil each think the shadow within the other’s light, the silence within the other’s voice, the void within the other’s fullness.   A thought of “life” is already prefaced here when we understand that political action fulfills for Arendt a function similar to what the notion of labor fulfills for Weil—and how both thinkers, who paradoxically think of what the other negates, do it for the sake of establishing “a rapport with the world” that would not let itself be reduced to the immediate facticity of “bare life.”

In the process, we learn, for instance, that while Arendt’s critique of totalitarianism is based on the positing of its radical opposition to a political life, for Weil 20th century totalitarianism stems from the same logic as political modernity. It is therefore no longer a matter of rescuing the origins of politics from themselves, and thus rescuing politics and the possibility of a political life, but rather of understanding that there will be no political life that is not at the same time the unworking of politics and its abyssal confrontation with its impolitical underside.   In other words, and this is already Esposito’s parti pris, Modernity is not sick because it has betrayed its origins, rather it is sick because it has brought out its antinomical foundations in full force.   So—what is there to do?

The succession of chapters studies the relationship between the two major thinkers of the 20th century on the basis of a thematic constellation—truth, beginnings, war, third spaces, nothingness, force, the common, empire, topology, and love.   This is not just any thematic constellation. It means to point out how, in the Western tradition of realist political thought, the conflict between power and interests has always resulted in the suppression, on the side of power, of conflict itself, as major violence and major political violence. If Arendt and Weil are indeed major thinkers, it is because both of them, in different and even complexly different ways that were paradoxically, even chiasmatically, related, were able to replace a thought of conflict at the site of its symbolic mediation or suppression, thus liberating the terrain for a fresh, genealogical look at political ontology.

If politics is after all always already a thought of the real, then the real is what comes through the Auseinandersetzung of the two thinkers. Esposito will say that true passion, through the most extreme effort of thought, always results not only in a passion for the real, but in a loving passion as well: in other words, the passion of thought is only a loving passion of the real, as Alain Badiou will claim himself in quite a different key. But, if so, that means that thought is not and can never be an attempt at the suppression of conflict. Thought does not just fight—it is the fight itself.   This is the impolitical reflection of political thought, the radicalization of the realist tradition, and finally the possibility of a new beginning for (im)political thought, away from the aporias of modernity and of its classicist internalizations.   That political thought turns impolitical for Esposito is another way of saying that Esposito moves on the basis of a fundamental ontology of war. For him, as for Heraclitus, perhaps Nietzsche, perhaps Heidegger, perhaps Derrida, war marks what a previous tradition would have called “the unity of being,” which has implications.

The development of those implications is of course what Esposito has been trying to accomplish with his work.   L’origine della politica constitutes a privileged vantage point into it, not only through its masterful conceptual analysis and through its insights into the two key thinkers it studies and critiques, but also because, as it makes explicit the stakes of the impolitical approach, it also ruins so many of the foundations of modern political thought and prepares the way for its fundamental renewal.

 

 

 

Tiempo universitario y deseo. Por Alberto Moreiras

Supongo que no estamos preparados para reconocer que nuestra situación como profesores universitarios en las humanidades es el resultado de un fracaso íntimo de carácter inmemorial—estaríamos donde estamos porque nunca supimos cómo hacer otra cosa. Supongo, por lo tanto, que todavía alienta en nosotros una noción positiva de la vida intelectual, que en algún momento pudo ser llamada vocación, y que para nosotros nunca estuvo vinculada a la adquisición de saberes técnicos sino a su contrario estricto—a una especulación libre vinculada a las posibilidades de una lengua.   Pero ese deseo, que es un deseo de libertad, acaba profesionalizándose, y a partir de ese momento se convierte en un problema: o bien el deseo mantenido contra viento y marea pervive y sobrevive como fuente siempre secreta de alegría, o bien el deseo se desvanece y queda enterrado y olvidado entre las miserias de una vida secuestrada por la mera ocupación sólo aparentemente productiva. Sin duda hay épocas y generaciones en las que la sobrevivencia del deseo se hace más plausible, mientras que hay otras en las que la supuesta presión de profesionalización, según criterios que pertenecen siempre al Gran Otro y que por lo tanto no pueden menos que ser vividos como opresivos, prevalece. Estamos en el medio de una época de la segunda clase.

¡Tantas cosas que hacer!   Eso se oye por doquier, y a veces es todo lo que se oye. Uno está muy ocupado en la universidad. Uno está tan ocupado, entre enseñanza (pero ¿qué enseñanza?), papeleos, emails, servicio de resultados siempre dudosos o más que dudosos, estudio y escritura—pero ¿qué escritura?—que justamente no hay tiempo ya para el juego del deseo, que queda diferido sine die—pero un deseo que se abandona es necesariamente un deseo que abandona. El abandono del deseo es vida dañada.

¿No es hora ya de abandonar el abandono del deseo, impuesto por un mandato de profesionalización opresivo?   ¿No es esa la primera necesidad de politización real en la universidad para todos nosotros?   Hemos permitido que la presión social, hostil en su naturaleza misma, enemiga resentida de toda libertad posible, entre en nuestro cálculo de manera exhaustiva. Hemos internalizado valores que no son los nuestros ni pueden serlo: productividad, fama, apariencia de ocupación infinita, proteísmo ridículo del que se esfuerza sólo para poder llenar líneas de curriculum y casillas de la evaluación anual.   No hay ya felicidad posible, ni tampoco satisfacción. Sólo queda el goce oscuro del esclavo universitario, que sueña con no serlo a través de la frenética actividad que lo esclaviza, y en la que ilusamente ha puesto toda su esperanza de placer.

Cada uno sabrá cómo lucha con sus propios demonios. Esta breve reflexión, motivada por cierta desoladora experiencia (del otro) que no puedo hacer pública, sólo quiere preguntarse si es posible imaginar—o si es ya demasiado tarde para imaginar—algo así como unas reglas básicas de conducta profesional que permitan salvaguardar la vocación de deseo, contra su sacrificio.   Que permitan, por lo tanto, salvar el tiempo de nuestra vida, y no jugar a su pérdida infinita justamente allí donde creemos que nuestra apuesta dará mejores resultados.

Yo propondría sólo cuatro para empezar:

  1. No escribas más que lo que no tengas más remedio que escribir.
  2. No enseñes más que lo que no tengas más remedio que enseñar.
  3. No sirvas más de lo estrictamente necesario.
  4. Cambia tu vida de forma que tu tiempo coincida con tu deseo, y sostén siempre que esa es tu verdadera misión universitaria y tu única forma de responder al vínculo social en el que se sostiene.