“O friends …”

“O Friends…” (by Jaime Rodríguez Matos)

A friend (someone who is by no means simply trying to dismiss our work by misrepresenting it in order to declare its insufficiency, someone who is aware of the work that happens explicitly under the term infrapolitics) objects that every time the word infrapolitics is used we might as well substitute it for deconstruction. There is the perception that the insistence on the word infrapolitics is problematic, that something has gone wrong. The wrong turn concerns politics. The objection: once we have deconstructed subjectivity, collectivity, history, and so on, we are no longer dealing with a traditional notion of politics and therefore it might be more of a provocation to call the result “politics.” “Politics,” then, understood as the task of deconstruction (assumed to be the proper but denegated name of infrapolitics), is “the work toward and from the other without ground.” So far the objection.

I find this reaction needs to be made explicit and taken into account if one is interested in considering the existence of the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective. It illuminates, inadvertently, to what extent infrapolitics is no longer a continuation of previous theoretical work. It also highlights to what extent the project makes even those in close proximity a little uncomfortable. My aim with these remarks, then, is not necessarily to say anything new, but to make explicit a facet of our project that has been underthematized. Our friends’ objections shed light on some of the more general protestations (sometimes but not always hostile) being made against infrapolitics at the moment. For it is the very refusal to look politics head-on that is at issue. The accusation of a-politicity is made exactly when politics is being questioned most radically. This is important to note if only as a heads-up against any possible question-begging reclamations. The demand for the useful and effective politicity of infrapolitics is possible only by begging infrapolitics to accept presuppositions that are not its own, by begging infrapolitics to destroy itself. That this can happen both in the name of academic discourse and also in the name of political Causes is testament to the non-place that infrapolitics “occupies” at the moment.

Remarks:

  • Steve Buttes recent comments on infrapolitics highlight the extent to which the project can be mistaken as the latest incarnation of a decades long attempt to do theoretical work within Latinamericanism. Following the gesture of John Beverley in Latinamericanism After 9/11, Buttes treats the entirety of Alberto Moreiras’ work, as well as that of scholars associated with him (Patrick Dove, Kate Jenckes, Marco Dorfman), as different instances of a master project geared toward making certain phenomena visible for the fields of Latinamericanism or Political Theory. Everything “theoretical,” regardless of specific circumstance, becomes the work of “the infrapolitical thinker.” This is problematic on more than one front. For one, it fails to see the specific circumstances that led to the emergence of the term. One of the issues at stake, however, concerns the very image of the moment that animates the work on infrapolitics.[1] To put it bluntly: infrapolitics becomes necessary as a project when the theoretical apparatus that informed much of the work that was done in the 1990s and 2000s seems insufficient, or, more radically, when it begins to serve, in many instances, as alibi in maintaining the staus quo regarding the life of an academic discipline like Latinamericanism. It is certainly possible to quote Lacan or Lacanians in order to show how the subject is constitutively divided from itself, but if this is done in the name of producing more readings or contributions to the study of Latin America, then the radical unworking of subjectivity simply serves to prolong the appearance that everything is just fine so far as area studies is concerned. At the same time, this kind of theoretical resourcefulness hides the fact that it is now necessary for “theory” to begin to do theoretical work of its own beyond the masterful reproduction of what is elaborated elsewhere. And this is not simply a question of arrogantly asserting superiority over any archive, but rather of a recognition that, whatever the limitations of our work, it has to begin to push the boundaries imposed by all images of the present that are handed to us regardless of theoretical provenance. (So we are faced with a group of scholars from disparate backgrounds—cultural and literary critics, philosophers, political theorists, etc.—all of whom are faced with the fact that, whatever their credentials, it seems unavoidable to cross into “foreign” disciplinary territory: we lack the paper work that would make us “proper subjects” in those other territories. One way of putting it would be to consider the existence of a trained Hispanist intent on thinking through contemporary global politics by way of a post-deconstructionist notion of the ontological difference.) In a word: it involves acknowledging, and accepting the consequences on our part, that no one is ever recognized as prophet in his own home—which is fine by us, as we deny the possibility of prophesy in the first place, above all when it comes to knowledge of history and politics. For these reasons, the work of the group does not find a ready-made mode of inscription in stable academic frameworks. That resistance to infrapolitics is felt from within (what the “outside” world considers to be just the usual suspects of poststructuralist theory) as well as from without is indication that the claim that infrapolitics simply continues decades long work by a recognizable sector of any field is not quite accurate. One would first need to account for the fact that thinkers who see themselves as deconstructionists (of whatever ilk) find it necessary to situate themselves at a distance (however proximate) from the project as such. This is simply a fact of our situation, not something that has been posited by us. This distance also marks a certain contour of our current situation, and it is not a minor one in my estimation.
  • It would be impossible to do justice to the diversity of approaches that make up the group by pointing to labels such as deconstruction, theory, hermeneutics, posmodernity, subaltern studies, Marxism, pasychoanalysis, political philosophy, and so forth. The line that cuts across all of those terms has a theoretical bent, but it is far from homogeneous and recognizable from the point of view of the current “tool box” approach to academic positionality. But also, and perhaps more important, what is crucial in each one of those cases is that all of those terms are being constantly divided from within: we are heretical in all our theoretical preoccupations. In my own specific case, I have found it perplexing that some label me as a Heideggerian, a Badouian, a Lacanian, and even an old-fashioned literary critic. At the same time historians claim that history is lacking, while literary critics quip that there is too much history keeping me away from the texts. While I can see why that happens, it always results in a reduction that does little justice to what is actually at hand. And more often than not, these acts of labeling go hand in hand with fundamental objections based on the idea that if I am taking Heidegger, or Lacan, or Badiou seriously enough then I should not be doing what I do. These are not simply personal anecdotes regarding my history in the academy: they indicate a fundamental uneasiness when it comes to a certain kind of work that is being done today (not just by me) that refuses the full capture of academic discourse.
  • Why demand a clear demarcation between deconstruction and infrapolitics? It might be counterproductive to take the path of delineating to what extent infrapolitics is not deconstruction. Derrida, Heidegger, Nancy, and others, are fundamental references for many of us. Thus, it is not out of a need for demarcation but out of a need for a more amalgamated existential specificity (an infrathin [inframince] relation to use Duchamp’s term recently invoked by Nancy, 14) that it has become necessary to insist on infrapolitical and poshegemonic reflexion. For Moreiras, the posthegemonic supplement of infrapolitics “es rehusarse al poder del conflicto central a favor de las múltiples intensidades existenciales de una vida, la común y corriente, la nuestra en cada caso, y de hacerlo además en nombre de la resistencia a toda captura” (Moreiras “Comments to Sergio Villalobos Ruminott’s “Literatura y lucha de classes””). It is not simply that the great categories of politics have to be deconstructed, it is also that the shift toward politics (however “deconstructed”) is a shift toward the obliteration of everyday ordinary life to the extent that it does not show itself useful for the politics of the deconstructed community, or subject. To this Moreiras counters: “La pregunta que siempre se plantea en relación con la infrapolítica, es decir, para qué sirve eso, de dónde la necesidad del prefijo, podría invertirse: la política es en cada caso la captura capitalizante de la vida infrapolítica. Y esa es la definición de política que decide también por qué esa palabra debe caer bajo sospecha, y no sólo en general, sino siempre en cada caso, a cada uso” (Moreiras “Comments to Sergio Villalobos Ruminott’s “Literatura y lucha de classes””). Every time the suffering of the world is invoked as the authorizing instance of academic research, as Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott points out, what is at work in fact is the deactivation, not to say the censorship or annihilation, of this existential or lived infrapolitical dimension. He is referring to the objection voiced in the name of “communism,” but we could substitute the specific terms for politics to the same effect: “la tarea distintiva de la infrapolítica pasa por suspender esos automatismos y poner en suspenso las homologaciones empáticas. Advertida ya de la condición contraproducente de la empatía, la infrapolítica no sabe, pero sospecha de las grandes declaraciones y de las formas monolíticas e identitarias del discurso. Y por eso, más que la restitución de la [política] como motor de la historia, la pregunta infrapolítica sospecha de la [política] como forma histórica de la tesis del conflicto central, misma que estructura el horizonte onto-teológico occidental. Desde esta inquietud, la lucha de clases en sus formulaciones más militantes y sentidas no repara suficientemente en su función catecóntica, función que le permite amortiguar, neutralizando, la intensidad discontinua de las múltiples luchas sociales.” Which is to say that the problem of infrapolitics is not simply to offer a resignification of politics, a better sense of the political, but to show how the invocation of politics is always the erasure of the infrathin existence that does not allow itself to be captured by the political in any form.

References

Buttes, Steve. “More Thoughts on Infrapolitics”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/more-thoughts-on-infrapolitics-steve-buttes/, 2016. 3 May 2016.

____. “Some Questions for Infrapolitics”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/some-questions-for-infrapolitics-by-stephen-buttes/, 2016. 3 May 2016.

Moreiras, Alberto. “Comments on Regional Critical Work”. Infrapolitical Deconstruction: Discussion Group, 2016. Facebook. 29 April 2016. <https://www.facebook.com/groups/446019398878033/permalink/875947335885235/&gt;.

____. “Comments to Sergio Villalobos Ruminott’s “Literatura y lucha de classes””. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/literatura-y-lucha-de-clases-comunismo-del-hombre-solo-de-fedor-galende-vina-del-mar-catalogo-2016/ – comments, 2016. 2 May 2016.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Intoxication. Trans. Phillip Armstrong. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Print.

Villalobos-Ruminott, Sergio. “Literatura y lucha de clases. Comunismo del hombre solo de Fedor Galende (Viña del Mar: Catálogo, 2016)”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/literatura-y-lucha-de-clases-comunismo-del-hombre-solo-de-fedor-galende-vina-del-mar-catalogo-2016/ – comments, 2016. 3 May 2016.

 

 

[1]           For Moreiras, the continuity with the work on Latinamericanism, which was always a problematic relation to begin with, is now untenable. Recently he has offered the following exposition of the problem: “there is a void at the place where critical regionalism used to exist as Latinamericanism. Today the position is empty, and our mission … is to work back from that empty critical position into a proper genealogy of historical life: in other words, history is all we have, or history + the void. For me also, this has been developing essentially since the end of the Cold War, but more markedly and more catastrophically since 9/11, 2001—an event that marked the end of postcolonial thought as a genuinely productive possibility. We can note that, today, even people that are enthusiastic about the Latin American progressive politics cycle do not talk about it in terms of any kind of critical regionalism, rather in terms of whether or not the left can become hegemonic, and what mistakes are being made strictly following a political and economic logic given actual conditions, where ‘culture’ is very often simply another fact of political economy. Simply put, from my perspective, geopolitics has shifted to such an extent Latinamericanism, and any kind of great-spaces area studies, have lost their function today. This is a crisis in university discourse because the disciplinary constitution of the university has no replacement for that function but also or primarily because the disciplinary constitution of the university also has no interest in developing it. So we do a genealogy of historical life–perhaps looking for some kind of impersonal democratization as critical horizon, and perhaps looking for singularities of the time of life, what we used to call a ‘metahistory of material practices of power.’ Such is what remains of a Latinamericanism that can no longer sustain an intellectual endeavor in my opinion. My point, once again, is not to be pessimistic, but precisely to avoid all pessimism through an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the state of things as they are. Only a clear understanding of the epochal situation can help orient our own careers, what is a dead end, what is not, what the function of intellectuality connected to languages and historical traditions could be today. My opinion: we owe tradition nothing, but we may want to establish a relationship to it, that is all. How we do it will define our role for the foreseeable future. Finally, I defined myself as a Latinamericanist only to the extent I have an ongoing conversation with Latin American intellectuals, and in no other sense. Same as regards Hispanism” (Moreiras “Comments of Regional Critical Work”).

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3 thoughts on ““O friends …”

  1. I do not want to sound or be glib, it is just that your very fine note causes me some anguish–and not any anguish, but one that is prompted by the memory of many professional events and many years of frustration trying to stand up for the right to think freely in our professional environment. And paying the consequences (note, please, that I am making no claim about the quality of the thought, only about the will to think freely). So forgive me if I do not get the tone quite right in what follows.

    First a little critique of the objections that were raised to you: I think it is brocha gorda to, 1), claim that infrapolitics is deconstruction, 2), claim that calling politics what is specifically defined as a resistance to politics and what nobody would call politics is in any way or manner a productive provocation instead of an empty and self-destructive (but conformist) gesture, and, 3), the claim that politics is “the work toward and from the other.” The problem is not that this person has those presuppositions; it is rather that those are not our presuppositions, so it is frustrating to have to discuss everything on the other’s turf. The very demand is very much typical of our sorry-assed field–nobody in philosophy, say, would want to discuss Marxism seriously starting from phenomenological assumptions: the thing to do is to take Marxism’s philosophical claims and examine them for internal consistency and critical efficacy, otherwise things turn quickly into a quagmire.

    Second, what I would like to suggest is that infrapolitics is indeed a break–it is a break with contemporary thought as such, no matter how much it takes from it. It is a break given the aporias of contemporary thought. It is a break given the patent insufficiencies of contemporary thought in order to address the questions that we have identified as primarily relevant for us. There is no arrogance in claiming that one has questions contemporary thought does not address–and I have no problem saying we ourselves may not be able to produce valid or workable answers either. But we do have those questions. And we need to take the time to explore the questions as radically as we may be capable of. The counterpull is and always will be to make us forget those questions. I would not have any objections to people who want to disagree as forcefully as they may want, but a disagreement must necessarily go through some previous understanding of what it is one disagrees with. Instead, the problem presents itself as an empty problem to their ears, our own confusion, our own search for novelty, or our own closet neoliberalism and the like. This is what is ridiculous. We are rarely given the credit that we may have a problem for which no answers have been provided, so we must look for our own answers. Why not? It is a simple question.

    My concern, Jaime, is that we may become entangled in discussions that will not fail to be counterproductive, to the extent they tame our thinking. Conversation is great, and we have had some good ones outside the group of course, and we are in fact currently having one here in the blog with Steve and others. But there is a way in which conversation is what the father confessor wanted to have with us kids when it was starting to become obvious we were not taking communion at the daily school mass any more. The best thing to do was to ignore the summons–accepting it was when you got into real trouble.

  2. Quizás sea importante insistir en lo que creo que está implícito: las “críticas” al proyecto (o ad hominem)—y ojalá sea obvio para todos los que lean esto que mi comentario es reacción a la noticia de una crítica cuyo espíritu yo no conozco, puesto que no estuve en esas conversaciones, pero también que llueve sobre mojado y que nada es inocuo en este contexto, que tiene una larga historia–que producen angustia son, al menos para mí, las que son o bien “admonishing” o bien “dismissive.” Las primeras porque hablan desde una verdad adquirida o supuesta más que dudosa en cada caso y porque intentan la restitución al corral que ellos dominan; las segundas porque hablan desde una superioridad fingida que nadie les ha dado. En ambos casos lo que está en juego es su propio poder simbólico, que buscan acrecentar o mantener. En ese sentido la polémica en curso con Steve Buttes y Eugenio Di Stefano y Emilio Sauri y otros que mandan sus comentarios más privadamente no está en cuestión y es más que bienvenida. También hemos tenido otras, o muchas, de este segundo estilo, en el que, si bien puede haber malentendidos iniciales, lo que hay es fundamentalmente una voluntad de entendimiento de la cosa misma, aunque sea para establecer desacuerdo (o no: quién sabe lo que pasa en la discusión y sus avatares). De hecho la mayor parte de la gente que ha manifestado algún vínculo con el colectivo mantiene diferencias importantes entre sí, y no hay ninguna línea oficial–en otras palabras, todos estamos de antemano en el segundo desacuerdo, más o menos, y claro que entre ese más y ese menos se juega todo. Pero conviene mantener clara la diferencia entre ambos casos de desacuerdo. Creo que el segundo desacuerdo no le debe preocupar a nadie, aunque sea máximo, sobre todo cuando es un desacuerdo franco y no basado en malentendidos. Lo único que debe importar es que la discusión pase por el respeto necesario a las posiciones de otros, y que eso sea recíproco en cada caso. Entonces para mí, más que las conclusiones mismas que Jaime derivó de sus conversaciones con amigos, que son sus conclusiones, lo que está en juego es lograr, o asegurar, que la gente cercana al proyecto de infrapolítica pueda proceder sin miedo, pueda pensar con libertad. Las discusiones y polémicas que podemos tener en el segundo tipo de desacuerdo nunca producen miedo, pero hay miedo posible en rumores que se esparcen por ahí, porque son descalificadores, y todos sabemos las consecuencias que pueden tener en las vidas de todos nosotros, y especialmente en las vidas de los más jóvenes entre nosotros. Eso es lo que hay que contener. Nada de esto es extraño–habrá mucho más de ello en los próximos años. Es necesario proteger el proyecto, siempre lo es con respecto de cualquier proyecto, no hay nada especial en ello. Pero no hay pelea cuando se trata de hablar, discutir, buscando entender–la pelea es con la descalificación, que aniquila. Y habrá que decirlo con toda claridad–el grupo es el proyecto, no hay más grupo que el grupo de la gente que decide perseguir un proyecto. No hay sustancialidad en el grupo ni nadie la busca–es un grupo enteramente abierto, al que entra todo el que quiera entrar–más allá del deseo de poder dársela al proyecto. Hemos tenido siempre mucho cuidado para que esto sea así. No podemos negar que hay un grupo en el sentido mínimo de una serie de gente, más de uno, más de dos, más de tres, que quiere estar en conversación sobre las cuestiones que interesan. Pero debemos negar que el grupo sea un grupo cerrado que tiene designios de poder académico o cualquier otra de esas acusaciones no por convencionales menos terribles. No es verdad, simplemente. Aunque muchos lo repitan como loritos reales. .

  3. Reading Bennington’s _Scatter_ it seems to me that he offers a way of dealing with the objection to the “Masonic we” of infrapolitics. The belief that we can perform “the politics of…” deconstruction is one more instance of trying to hide that politics is from the first doubled up (and thus it is always impossible to separate essential from inessential politics). He calls this deconstruction: but it would be impossible to speak of a politics of deconstruction. The objection to the “we” might then be the desire to be able to perform as a subject the proper or essential politics of “deconstruction.”

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