A reply to Steve Buttes on infrapolitics. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Chillida 1970

Steve Buttes’ “Some questions for infrapolitics” is an intelligent and generous effort that engages with several key problems at the heart of the ongoing collective project of ‘Infrapolitical Deconstruction’. Although, it begs to say that Moreiras’ works – from the early Interpretación y Diferencia (1991) to Línea de sombra (2006), have been central to thinking de-narrativization and the critique of metaphoricity, bringing these problems into new light from different registers (the literary, the cultural, and the political), I think it would be incorrect to frame the particular project of infrapolitics as a culmination of Moreiras’ own thought and itinerary. In this light, what I find of importance in Buttes’ intervention is the fact that he does not just hinge on a particular problem, but is able to juggle and render visible a series of common elements of the project that merge with his own research (1).

Indeed, it was unfortunate to have missed Prof. Buttes at the last formal meeting during the Harvard ACLA 2016 conference, but we could only hope that there will be another timely encounter for discussion. For what it is worth, I want to lay down a few commentaries on some issues raised by Buttes. My aim is not to correct or even less defend a programmatic way of infrapolitics, but perhaps to think about his recent inquiry as parallel with some of the problems that have been pertinent to my own intellectual reflection over the last two or so years. I hope this will serve as a reparatory outline for future discussions to come.

In a precise moment of his commentary, Buttes writes: “That which escapes regulation, visibilization through the metaphors chosen to organize the world—the unthought thought, that which “what was never [on the] radar” (“Some comments”), freedoms that remain beyond writing (Williams, The Mexican Exception), the unfinished manuscript (Cometa, “Non-finito”), averroist intellect (Muñoz “Esse extraneum”) and so on—always remains invisible, and as a consequence always emerges as something that looks like the thing it is: real life beyond calculation, beyond visibilization, beyond metaphoric capture. In other words, it is the image, as Dove has called it. This image, of course, is characterized by its invisibility, by its ability to be sensed but not seen, experienced but not known, used but not valued”.

I am entirely in disagreement that infrapolitics could be thought as invisibility in opposition to visibility, since that opposition itself remains caught in calculation that renders the operation of unconcealment and the existential analytic obsolete. The very idea of the averroist intellectual has nothing to do specifically with the image as such, but with metaxy (or metaxu as rendered by Weil’s anti-personalist Platonism). This is why life as pure means constitutes itself impersonally from the outside. Hence, to reduce the question of the image to a division of the senses (sight) or to the disciplinary arrangement made possible by modern art historical discourse (Fried et al) is interesting, but not relevant, at least not for averroism. It is true, however, that averroism is crucial for infrapolitics. To some extent averroism, like the existential analytic or marranismo, is an important referent for infrapolitical existence and posthegemonic democracy.

א In her important research on the saturated image, Camila Moreiras Vilaros has emphasized the transformative nature of images from a regime of the society of control to one of saturation and exposure. If the first still has a mode of coercion over bodies and subjects, the second one is hyperbolically without subject, substance, and extension. Exposure coincides fully with the image of the world in positionality. In this sense, infrapolitics fundamentally thinks not the invisible, but the invisible as already fully visible. To be marrano in the open means to dwell in the event of total exposure.

Weil, Esposito, Coccia, Agamben, or Moreiras are thinkers of this outside as metaxy, although do not particularly wish to install an “invisible iconology”, or “an icon of potentiality over actuality”. I am convinced that the question of iconology features centrally in Prof. Buttes’ research, but from my own understanding, infrapolitics cannot be separated from an actuality granted by a form of life or the second division of existence that renders inoperative the very distinction of actuality and potentiality. In fact, in recent months some of us have understood the importance of undertaking Heidegger’s influential seminar Aristotle Metaphysics 1-3: the actuality over force, as to cautiously rethink the difficulty of the Aristotelian category (actuality) that is at stake here. In terms of the icon, in my own research project I have thought of another relation with pictorial space that is not possessed by iconicity, which allows possible oikonomical arrangement and sacrament institution [2]. I would say that, indeed, landscape is important for infrapolitics, but far from rendering a dichotomy between the visible and the invisible, the expropriated and the appropriated, it seeks to think distance and dwelling.

א It was something like this that was at stake for Heidegger in one of his rare essays written as a general reflection on art, but specifically meant as a commentary on a Spanish sculptor that he very much admired: Eduardo Chillida. In Die Kunst und der Raum (1969), Heidegger writes: “Solange wir das Eigentümliche des Raumes nicht erfahren, bleibt auch die Rede von einem kunst-lyrischen raum dunkel. Die weise, wie der Raum das Kunstwerk durchwaltet, hangt vorerst im Un-bestimmten.” Before the pictorial space there is the question of space. How to account for the peculiarity of space? That was Heidegger’s question, since spacing meant to ‘erbringt’ (don) freedom and the life (wohnen) for da-sein.

The word “value” appears in different ways about seven or eight times in Buttes’ piece. I am not sure I can take up the different ways in which it appears, at times in opposition to use. However, it is clear that infrapolitics does not seek to value any ontic or ontological position, since it departs necessarily from a critique of the principle of general equivalence as the contemporary determination of nihilism (an argument made forcefully, I think, by Moreiras, Villalobos-Ruminott, & J. L. Nancy). Thus, it is inconsistent with infrapolitics to argue that “infrapolitics, creates […] a fetish—“a form of thinking the political that fetishizes the undoing of power as a value in itself”. Undoing power arrives at the non-subject or post-hegemony as democratic condition for social existence. But how is this “value” or instrumentalized for “value itself”? In some cases, Buttes seems to take value for ‘preference’. Infrapolitics does not make that decision for preference’s sake, but for understanding the non-correspondence between life and politics in thought.

א The question of value tied to the problem of ‘poverty’ and ‘exploitation’ is a register that infrapolitics does not take for granted. However, I am convinced that the pursuit of a new jargon of exploitation today is always in detriment of the possibility of understanding the existence of man otherwise. It is a very strange turn that some today on the Left– take Daniel Zamora, who fundamentally misinterprets Foucault’s work – keep insisting on the question about the necessity to reintroduce proletarian identity as determinate subject against diversity. It makes no sense to do this in a time like ours, where work and labor have completely disappeared. I prefer to discuss inclusive consumption (Valeriano) and uneven pattern of accumulation (Williams), not labor and exploitation.

In one of his footnotes, Buttes claims that “infrapolitics spans writers from Javier Marías, to Borges, to Lezama Lima to Cormac McCarthy to, as I note below, Ben Lener, and also, plausibly, Sergio Chejfec or Alberto Fuguet, then infrapolitics is the canon, it is the archive itself”. It is a surprising remark, but I understand that I might not fully understand its implications. Does it entail that infrapolitics is an archive of a particular style, or that it coincides merely with a work-for-the-archive? I agree with Moreiras that infrapolitics is a type of relation with the archive, and in fact, at the moment the collective is currently thinking through the archive in relation to the general historiography of the imperial Hispanist tradition [3]. Does this mean that infrapolitics is merely a relation with Hispanism and the Spanish letters? I am not convinced. I do think that there is intricate relation between writing and infrapolitics, but it could be extended and explored in other forms of art (painting, music, cinema, or even dance). Most of us work on writers such as Roa Bastos or Raul Ruiz, Lezama Lima or Oscar Martinez, Juan Rulfo or Roberto Bolaño; but these proper names are far from constituting an infrapolitical archive. There can never be an archival infrapolitics.

א In a recent intervention on the subject of infrapolitics, Michele Cometa suggested that infrapolitics was indeed the place to use literature as a thing for thought [4]. The modern invention of university disciplines and faculties, archives and practices such as “literary criticism” is a perversion of an an-archic space of unity where there is no differentiation between literature and thought, the image and life. One has to break away from the modernist fantasy that there is a ‘proper location’ for an object of studies. There are only relations of force constituted by tradition. This is why Dante at the dawn of Modernity, and later Leopardi during the bourgeoisie revolution, could see themselves as poets, thinkers, political theorists, and lovers. There was no separation.

 

 

 

Notes

*Image: Eduardo Chillida, drawing, 1970.

1. Buttes, Steve. “Some questions for infrapolitics”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/some-questions-for-infrapolitics-by-stephen-buttes/

2. Mondzain’s research is fundamental here, since her work on early Byzantine Church’s articulation of hegemony is intimately tied to the operation of iconology. See, Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary. Stanford University Press, 2004.

3. Alberto Moreiras. “A response to Steve Buttes”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/a-response-to-steve-buttes-by-alberto-moreiras/

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ddjE_sL5w

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10 thoughts on “A reply to Steve Buttes on infrapolitics. (Gerardo Muñoz)

  1. Not a culmination: a burrowing. Your reply reminds me of something it is ever so easy to forget: once a certain form of retreat from, say, university discourse, the various forms of hegemony, political metaphysics (political theology), accomplished narration, the subject as the horizon for thought, etc, takes place, everything opens up, everything becomes thinkable again. Which is one of the reasons why this will take ten years, which is another form of saying we will never be done with it: we can only betray it. There is so much to say–but, let us face it, against the grain of almost everything in our usual path–that the task is truly daunting. The issue of the archive is for us, maybe, primarily and for the most part, the issue of a fundamental trans-figuration of the archive. Which requires infinite reading. But it is not just any reading: there is a previous engagement which exceeds reading as processing. It is like the Borges poem, “Alguien:” A man, a woman, anyone, experiences one given morning a state of intense felicity, the passing recovery of an “ancient innocence” beyond hope or hopelessness. Perhaps infrapolitics is nothing but the attempt to put that ancient innocence into words. But those words are hard to come by.

    • I agree with this. It is hegemony again and again. That is why for me it was so important to encounter Broken Hegemonies (instead of just Laclau, still part of the disciplinary populism of Latinamericanism). G

  2. In the same poem Borges makes it clear: that “anyone” always has the option of submitting to her or his duty: the “obligation to be wretched” (I am going by memory, apologies if the quotations are inexact). This submission to the “obligation to be wretched”–is it not the common state of affairs, also in intellectual endeavors?

  3. or university discourse. I speak for myself here. But it is interesting that every single time that i have come to know an “intelectual” that opposes what he/she believe is the “American University” they have done so in the name of the “intellectual”.

  4. This has been a great exchange! But after reading Gerardo Muñoz’s thoughtful response, I’m wondering in what sense exactly have “work and labor completely disappeared”? It seems to me that while labor has undergone a drastic recomposition in the course of the last nearly 40 years, there are still plenty of folks assembling our iPhones–or grading papers and teaching courses for that matter–who would suggest otherwise, no?

    I also think Daniel Zamora would strongly disagree with the idea that he is trying to “reintroduce proletarian identity as determinate subject against diversity.” On the contrary, he understands that any attempt to do so is to misinterpret the problem of class itself. If anything, it seems to me that Daniel’s account cleaves to the idea of class as a logical position within a system of logical positions, though he can probably explain it better than I can.

    One last thing: I think that to claim “exploitation” itself is a “new jargon” kind of mischaracterizes the point of Steve’s intervention (as well as Daniel’s, among others). I don’t think it’s too much to say that exploitation has been with us for some time now, and I don’t think the attention to it today is an attempt to make something new out of it. Rather, it’s just to insist on its absolute relevance to understanding the present.

  5. Many apologies for the delay in re-posting this from Facebook. I hope the conversation will continue.

    Thank you both to Gerardo and Alberto for taking time to respond to my comments. I should say that I wrote my comments specifically in response to the frame given by the ACLA seminar (rather than me), which was to comment on Línea de sombra. I recognize that Moreiras does not equal infrapolitics, and so my comments were perhaps too focused on his work to be of use to the entirety of the infrapolitical collective. But I also sought to incorporate a number of different thinkers (not all important thinkers, unfortunately) who have reflected deeply on these questions, and the goal of the response was to generate conversation by seeking a common space or set of terms around which lots of different groups of scholars are thinking through various aspects of parallel projects. This was the point of trying to make an inference between the punctum and infrapolitics or the Neobaroque and infrapolitics. It was not to police disciplinary borders or to reduce infrapolitics to one thing but rather to suggest commonalities that I see (in my partial vision, from my own set of questions, beliefs and interests) and to attempt to begin a dialogue between bodies of scholarship that sometimes operate in isolation from each other. I recognize that there are a number of thinkers who inform the infrapolitical project whose work I have not yet considered and hope to do so in the future. I also recognize that a response like this one somewhat ham-fisted since it cannot tease out all the nuances of so many different arguments that I attempted to bring together. Nevertheless, I do think it is useful to think through the commonalities (however partial) and disagreements (which are no doubt many) so that they can be discussed, and to include as many voices and points of view as possible. This was the goal behind the questions that I generated. I may be alone in having to answer them. As Alberto notes, they are not questions that strike a chord in him. But, I have some more specific things I would want to say in response to both Gerardo and Alberto, who have generously taken time to read what I wrote and to begin a dialogue. I will write more later, but for now, I want to say three things. First is in regards to the question of exploitation. I bring that up through my reference to Gutiérrez’s definition of material poverty in liberation theology in the text that I cite. I don’t think that exploitation has disappeared today, and of course it is true that even when someone is exploited that their lived experience cannot be reduced to that exploitation. But it is certainly limited by it, framed by it and influenced by it. And that’s why I bring up Sen at the end, who defines poverty in terms of deprivation of freedom to live the kind of life one has reason to value: income, housing, access to nourishment, health, access to resources, access to the life of the community and so on are all components of the kinds of freedoms that the capabilities approach brings in to characterize aspects of existence that many people value. Money, yes. Food, yes. Housing, yes. But that’s not all that people find important, that is not all they value. This leads to the next point, which is the rejection of value or calculation in infrapolitics. Moreiras in his response notes that “[Infrapolitics] sees what it can, it desires what it must, and it lets it be.” This seems to me an acknowledgment, at least in some limited sense, of a type of value: the can, the must and being. And in Gerardo’s comments, there is desire to reject “a new jargon of exploitation” in favor of “the possibility of understanding the existence of man otherwise.” This also seems, to me, to be articulating some sort of valorization, a better or worse way of understanding the world, a valuing of certain types of thought (existence of man, philosophy) over other types of thought (exploitation, literature, social science), a valuing of a certain kinds of freedom over others. Sen talks about the non-commensurability of freedoms, and while his frame is liberal democracy, which I know the infrapolitical frame would reject, there seems to me to be a shared sense of defining existence broadly and accepting non-commensurability as a fact and also that people inevitably choose with consequences following. And this, to me, seems something that does dialogue with infrapolitics: “it knows and acknowledges whatever pain or joy [the can, the must and being] bring along.” Capabilities poverty is the deprivation of freedom to live the kind of life one desires (has reason to value). Infrapolitics “sees what it can, it desires what it must, and it lets it be.” Perhaps infrapolitics does not account for deprivation or has a different account. I am not sure. The final thing I want to say for now is that my use of invisibility was meant to evoke potentiality, the hidden possibility in life. This is one that I think is particularly important because it is no doubt the case that previous antipoverty projects (“progress”) have caused all sorts of problems. This is one of the important critiques of infrapolitics, in my view. So when I discuss visibility or invisibility,it’s not so much those terms themselves (though I do believe those terms apply) but rather tensions between actuality and potentiality, the latter of which is in its very nature invisible: “the problem is not that people cannot see the forest for the trees. The real problem is that we have educated our students to believe that all trees are nice pine trees. But there are other trees out there, some of them beautiful, with obscure shapes that you will only recognize if you develop the sight for them.” There is potentiality that we can’t see, and we have to learn how to do that. This what I was trying to get at with the behavioral science experiment: what are those modes that we need to learn? This also relates to the point I was trying to get at was saying that infrapolitics seems to value making us “miners of life’s raw material,” the beautiful, obscurely shaped trees we cannot see because of modes of calculation. In this model, what do we do with the pine trees? I have more to say, but I hope the dialogue will continue.

  6. Pingback: More thoughts on infrapolitics. (Steve Buttes) | Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective

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