At the American Comparative Literature Association meeting that just ended (Harvard University, March 17-20, 2016) we had a series of three panels, very kindly organized by Maddalena Cerrato, Sergio Villalobos and Gerardo Muñoz, and with the additional participation of Ana Carrasco-Conde, Michela Russo, Marco Dorfsman, Pablo Domínguez Galbraith, and Derek Beaudry, which were designed as an engagement with a book I published in Santiago de Chile (Palinodia) in 2006 (“Beyond the Subject and Heritage: Línea de sombra Ten Years After”). I am very grateful to the organizers, the presenters, and the audience for the personal honor the seminar represents. Many interesting and provocative things were said about the book, but, for I hope obvious reasons, I will not comment on them with any specificity. What I want to do here is briefly to register several of the issues that came up rather forcefully in the conversations of the last three days and that seem to me of particular relevance to the infrapolitical project at its present state of self-understanding. Those issues are: the provenance of infrapolitics from subaltern studies; the politics of infrapolitics; marrano infrapolitics; and the connection between infrapolitics and university discourse. Of course I make my own comments, and do not claim to speak in any name but my own.
We discussed, in those panels, many other things beyond those four, and several other members of the collective also presented papers in different seminars, and I was able to attend some but not all of them, so I may be missing any number of crucial developments. In any case, this note does not claim any kind of exhaustivity, indeed it will only mention those specific issues, and it certainly may be supplemented by others in the comments below, or through the posting of other notes that may want to account for other discussions and for other themes. The occasion was important enough, as it brought up new reflections, new thematics, and a certain number of advancements in conceptualization. So let me try to offer a kind of short-hand summary of those four for future reference.
(This seems to me important in general, leaving aside my possible deficiencies in terms of getting things right, or in terms of focusing on the most significant, because infrapolitics is still at a very early stage of development and because, even at this early stage, it is already meeting with some obscure antagonism from certain quarters of the professional fields involved, which of course affects us and exposes us to the self-weakening of our own ideas. But, really, we have no fear—we stay calm and carry on. In the meantime, keeping a register of discussions is useful to us, and we are doing it, even if it only comes up occasionally on this blog, even if we end up misregistering things, misplacing them, mistaking them—further archive troubles for people whose relationship to the archive is problematic to start with.)
Inevitably, the discussions on Línea de sombra that followed the paper presentations quickly moved to the present state of the project on infrapolitics. The book is, by the way, very happy, it just told me, to be considered merely a part of the genealogy of the present project. It was published at a time when my own engagement with university discourse on Latin America was waning, or undergoing a kind of crisis, or a period of disorientation. No doubt the different essays that compose the book were themselves an attempt to continue to deal theoretically with the aftermath of the collapse of Latin American Subaltern Studies. The term infrapolitics is used in the book partially to mark a sense of the facticity of subaltern life—it was clear, it still is, that subaltern lives are subaltern precisely out of some exclusion from the political. And yet even the more theoretically minded Indian scholars in the South Asian Subaltern Studies project probably never broke away from straightforwardly political reflection, as if the problem of subalternity were only available to political analysis, as if it did not exist outside of politics. But that is not the case, eminently not the case, and it was obvious to some of us as early as the late 1990’s that a different kind of reflection was necessary that would deal not only with subaltern lives, but with all infrapolitical lives, that is, with all lives to the extent politics does not and constitutively cannot exhaust them. From that perspective, so-called political thought in our field, and not only in our field, had become a straitjacket that repressed both thought and politics, that reduced both to reciprocal imitation, and that was intent on disavowing the increasingly potent and undeniable realization that the political categories inherited from modernity were becoming woefully inadequate to account for what they meant to account, and even more inadequate in terms of accounting for what was never in their radar in the first place. The situation is even more blatant today, when political thought has taken on increasingly managerial airs, when it has come mostly to bore not just the people it is allegedly meant for, but even their very authors, as everybody knows (it is enough to read them, one is sorry to say). We need a new kind of political imagination, and infrapolitics is a modest attempt to initiate it—at least it has the virtue of looking at the contemporary exhaustion of political thought squarely in the eye, and of telling it also plainly that it is, more than ever, simply incapable of accounting not just for the totality of existence, but particularly for many things that matter the most for any given singular existence, and particularly for subaltern or subalternized existence.
This is also to say that the colleagues who, without even bothering to listen to us, pretend to be full of reason when they accuse the infrapolitical project of not being political enough are sorely mistaken and altogether miss the mark. Infrapolitics indeed proposes, in every case, nothing but concrete analyses of concrete situations. It just does so from alternative questions, it thematizes a different register, it is in no hurry to reach the properly political site, which in any case is seen by us from the perspective of a demotic republicanism that we have sometimes called marrano democracy or posthegemonic democracy. Indeed, if we take into account the ongoing Taylor-Fordization of the professional classes and the ongoing and relentless production of the reserve army of the unemployed and the underemployed, which makes all of us subaltern or potentially subaltern in ways that would have been unimaginable only a generation or two ago, we could say that the cluster of issues associated with infrapolitics and posthegemony, with marrano democracy, with lives that are not yet political or can never have access to political life as such, it would not be beyond reason to call infrapolitical reflection a site of the class struggle in theory. Certainly much more so than many other ostensibly political options of thought or critical reflection, which increasingly, in the managerial university, unthinkingly become themselves little more than managerial criticism, perfectly attuned to the system they claim to abhor. (Could it be that even deconstruction has become managerial today? But infrapolitics is not simply a fold internal to deconstruction.)
The right to use the term “marrano” or “marranismo” to refer to our project—in the specific sense of, for instance, “marrano infrapolitics,” namely, a propositive practice that internalizes the marrano condition and makes it a point of departure for existential exercise—could be questioned, it was hypothetically suggested, from an identitarian perspective: we would not be marranos, since the marranos expired with the Inquisitorial society that produced them in the first place, which then means: we would be illegitimately misappropriating a term that does not belong to us, that cannot form our identity. But we do not use marranismo in any identitarian sense: indeed, there was never a marrano identity claimed as such, since the marranos were historically only those accused of being so, the accusation performatively turning them into subjects (or rather, objects) of a double exclusion where everything was at stake. Marranismo is for us a historically trans-figuring term that appeals to the very loss of the identitarian archive, to the loss of ground, to the loss of legacies of belonging through the monumental expropriation that constitutes the kernel of contemporary infrapolitical life, where all and any politics ultimately play themselves out. Far from constituting the inception of a new, sorry-assed philosophy of history, our use of the term marrano, or marranismo, points to the very ruin of all philosophies of history, to the abandonment of the archives that make them possible, to the exodus from any kind of originary or eschatological (i. e., teleological) belonging. There is only marranismo at the infrapolitical level, we are all marranos, and when we are that no longer we are already into deluding politics. For better or for worse. This is one of the reasons why marrano infrapolitics refuses metaphorizations in principle, is suspicious of them, and would rather engage in a non-administrative relation with the time of singular life. There is of course nothing non-political about it, even if we call it infrapolitics.
It was showed in one of the talks that, in the same way disciplinary society gave way to the society of control, in Foucault and Deleuze’s theorization, the society of control is giving way to surveillance or expository society. If that were indeed the case, the university would not be safe from it. An expository or surveillance university is a university that targets us and puts a price on our heads. We all become subject to machinic operational images that regulate our thought and set limits to our imagination. For instance, to refer to something that concerns all of us, we are not even talking about the fact that, contrary to the golden rule of some years ago, hirings at the university are no longer done primarily or centrally on the basis of quality of work, but are increasingly organized on the basis of perceived affinities whose generalized function in expository and exclusionary surveillance is obvious. This, which would have been called straight corruption just some decades ago, is today a widely extended practice, and it includes the best universities as well, or indeed them in the first place. That this spells the end of the university in the classical sense goes without saying. In the meantime those of us who have reasons to suspect our maladjustment to the new conditions must hide in plain sight, the same talk claimed. Infrapolitical reflection is perhaps such an attempt, risky as such, exposed as such, even as it attempts counterexposure, or even nonexposure. But there is no ivory tower. The university is no more than a symptomal torsion of the wider society. Which is why infrapolitics must abandon its original roots in university discourse, exit disciplinary configurations, and break away from any attempt to surrender at the capture of thought through increasingly domesticated, indexed, regulated, venued, and analytically-ranked self-insertion. This is one of the reasons why infrapolitics claims a savage terrain of engagement, beyond fields: because it understands that battles internal to university politics are always already rigged, always already lost battles. Hence infrapolitics prefers to hide in the plain sight of the world at large, and reflect away from any regulated archive: the real struggle is out there, particularly if we manage to escape from the boredom that threatens us from the rear, and from the sides. Boredom is, after all, the fundamental academic passion, is it not? Hence also our most powerful enemy.