Infrapolitics and the exhaustion of the political

Infrapolitics and the exhaustion of the political

                       By Villalobos-Ruminott



Ten years have passed since Alberto published his third volume dedicated to Latin America and/or to Latinamericanism. I would like to suggest the almost organic link between those three volumes, Tercer espacio (1999). The Exhaustion of Difference (2001). And Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo politico (2006). A link that does not forbid diversity among the different topics of each book. While Tercer espacio was an attempt to deal with the reflexive potential of Latin American literature (and others) that has been systematically overlooked by traditional criticism, due to is pervasive sociologism and historicism, The Exhaustion of Difference was a similar attempt to come to terms with the cultural field and with the hopes and investments in cultural practices that Latinamericanist scholars were showing by the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Almost by the same token, Linea de sombra is an interrogation of the conceptual and historical limits of contemporary political thought and, up to certain point, contemporary political philosophy.


Somehow the notion of exhaustion was crucial in identifying the disciplinary crisis in traditional literary studies, cultural studies and political thought. In fact, the commitment that, as an ethical self-assertion, warranted the overlapping and the co-belonging between intellectual and political works, the satisfaction of knowing that one was working in favor of the liberation, was also in question and, we know this now, the series of principles articulating the historical discourse on and from Latin America were also traversing a radical process of weakening. To put it in other words, the historical imagination related to Latin America was withering away and not just because of the lack of financial support or the change of the geopolitical interests in the contemporary university, and the ongoing redefinition of Area Studies; Latinamericanism was suffering a radical exhaustion due to its inability to deal with a new facticity brought about by what we call globalization.


Globalization nonetheless is not only an ongoing process of destitution of the classical social contract and its institutions and categories (nation-state, sovereignty, people, citizenship, democracy, History, reason, representation, revolution, and so on), globalization is also a radical process of reorganization of the historical architecture that defined the modern university as a national university, folded to the nation-state and its sovereignty.


Alberto’s contributions, therefore, were timely and thoughtful, as he did not attempt to criticize, just for criticism’s sake, any other paradigmatic configuration within Latin American Studies, Hispanism, and the university at large. I am not suggesting that in his books there is no sing of destruction or even devastation of some endemic shortcomings of Latinamericanism, but criticism was secondary to a most important demand, the demand for thinking. Already in Tercer espacio, this demand invited the readers to produce a more careful confrontation with the literary imagination _not from the imperatives of the literary institution or the conventions of the literary studies_; a confrontation oriented by the writing practices of Latin American writers as thoughtful elaborations of a particular historical situation, already beyond the limits of an endemic “criollismo” that subordinated this imagination to the fictive ethnicity and the social contract of the Latino American tradition. Tercer espacio interrogated the work of Borges, Cortázar, Lezama Lima, Elizondo and many others, not to confirm the allegories of identity and liberation, the exotic archive of a magical region, neither to place literature as the referential practice to force the social process of mourning that would allow a compensatory overcoming of the brutal reality of pot-war and post-dictatorship in the continent. Its demand for thinking was very precise; a demand for the interruption of the semiotic machine and the metaphoricity inherent to literary studies that, by an infinite narrativization, repeated the forgetting of being and forbid a reflexive engagement beyond the reproduction of the university’s discourse.


         The Exhaustion of Difference, by the same token, should not be reduced to a partisan denunciation of post-colonialism, cultural hybridity and “first order subalternism[1], as these academic approaches were somehow placed at the principial and hegemonic position within Latin American Studies in those years. By all means, Exhaustion was a too-early interrogation of the shortcomings of these new paradigms, since we still have to endure at least 10 to 15 more years to claim the end of subalternism or the radicalization of post-colonialism as decolonial delinking. And here we are, in the middle of the profession, as if the semiotic machine and the surplus value of the cultural difference were more alive than ever. But again, it would be wrong to read Exhaustion as a partisan intervention in the battle for hegemony within Latin American Studies. Its demand was simple and radical, what if we haven’t even started yet, beyond identitarian models and the philosophy of history of capital, to deal with the savage hybridity and the différance of Latin America. What if, instead of conditioning a thinking always instrumentally subordinated to the politics of hegemony, the very first condition for a radical thinking was, precisely, to suspend the will to power feeding the hegemonic articulation of intellectual fields? Thus, Exhaustion was not a book committed to the hegemonic battles within the university, nor a new hegemonic promise within Latin American studies, but a radical questioning of the very onto-political will-to-power that feeds the intellectual work in the time of flexible capitalist accumulation.


Línea de sombra came to radicalize this demand for a thinking that interrupts the metaphoricity and the semiotic machine of contemporary university and its intellectual practices, not to confront the whereabouts of the new left (Zizek, Negri, Badiou, Laclau, Butler, etc.), denouncing their epistemological mistakes or whatever. Línea de sombra came to demand a thinking of the political able to deal with the overt exhaustion of the modern political imagination. And thus it already pointed to infrapolitics as a terrain of thinking that is not governed by any nomic induction or imperative, neither identitarian, liberationist, hegemonic, or else.


But, after 10 years of that, it seems that nothing much has happened. Or better, what is going on is still at the infrapolitical level. Let me clarify. I do not want to place Línea de sombra or Alberto’s work in general in any canonical or central place from which to deploy a strategic re-definition, a hegemonic capture, of Latin American Studies today. Please, keep your hegemony. I don’t even think that 10 years are enough for any kind of commemoration, and we know this is not the leitmotiv of our seminar. But I do think that Tercer espacio, The Exhaustion of Difference, and Línea de sombra, by themselves and as a set, configure a field or territory of thinking on which many of us dwell today, and as a territory of thinking, it is one that does not follow the nomic induction of the university and the consequent principle of sovereignty informing modern politics. This third space of thinking opens to a series of questions and problems that are not to be dealt with using the conventional tools of literary or cultural studies and political philosophy. This space opens to infrapolitics not as a discipline or as a philosophy that can command the re-articulation of the relationship between theory and practice. Infrapolitics dwells, precisely, at the disjunction of theory and practice, in a sort of exhaustion of the philosophy of history, and in an an-archic constellation of problems and traditions that forbid the very reconfiguration of the principle of reason that informs knowledge and theory as norm and command.


So, what is infrapolitics? I have no answer for this kind of questions, neither for this rather particular kind question, as there is no a substantive or conceptual identity in infrapolitics. On the contrary, infrapolitics is another than political relation to the political, and we want to emphasize in this apparent paradox that infrapolitics is not a renunciation to politics (as if infrapolitics were an apolitical vocation), but a demand to think carefully and beyond the natural reproduction of the narrative logic informing Latin American Studies and political philosophy at large. Infrapolitical thinking is not to be “en-framed” within the logic of Area Studies, since we claim that infrapolitics is an interrogation of the exhaustion of western metaphysics and its multiple disciplinary manifestations.


Línea de sombra exposed the exhaustion of the political imagination that was at stake, and still is, within the academic left, and supplemented the very exhaustion of the cultural and literary production at the center of Latin American Studies. It pointed to a sort of interregnum, anomic and an-archic, and we decided from then on, to dwell in it and not to overcome it reproducing the classical paradox of re-inseminating what we wanted to disseminate in the very first place. This interregnum doe not lead to any safe or rentable position, as it demands a permanent interrogation of any given discourse that produces compensatory mechanisms when dealing with the brutal condition of our times.


But, Infrapolitics, the name of our work, was not fully articulated by the time of Línea de sombra, or better, Línea de sombra expressed the uneasiness of thinking within disciplinary discourses, but it did not know (as it is not a matter of knowledge) how to call this anomic region in which there is not final principle, king or sovereign. Alberto has opened a window and has abdicated from the commanding position of being a sort of Kafkian guardian ad portas of that window. This is his gift to thinking, a gift that we recognize today thinking-with and not thinking in favor or against it.

[1] A notion that refers to a group of scholars more sympathetically identified with the subalterns, from which a more deconstructive approach to subalternism took place and split, a group that has been called “second order subalternism”.

Interregnum and worldliness: on Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s Heterografías de la violencia. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Heterografias de la violencia 2016Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s Heterografías de la violencia: historia nihilismo destrucción (La Cebra, 2016) is, at first sight, an assorted compilation of fifteen programmatic essays. Mostly written during the last decade or so, these texts attend to a wide range of theoretical specificities, such as the baroque and performative violence, imperial reason and contemporary literature, sovereign-exception law and flexible capitalist accumulation. It is to Villalobos’ merit that none of these issues are restituted to academic knowledge production or leveled out as a selection of “hot topics” within the neoliberal marketplace. As in his prior Soberanías en suspenso: imaginación y violencia en América Latina (La Cebra, 2013), what is at stake, far from erecting the edifice of a ‘critical theory’ aspiring to fix the limits of reflection – as postulated in “sovereignty” “nihilism” or “destruction” – is the composition of a constellation that circumnavigates the vortex of the general horizon of the philosophy of history and the university machine.

In some way, Heterografías is auxiliary to Soberanías en suspenso, but not in the parasitical sense of amending or filling previous generalities. This new collection pushes thought beyond the specificity of the insular ‘Chilean scene’, providing for the indeterminacy of the logic of sovereignty as the arcanum of both interruption and continuity of the philosophy of the history of capital in Latin America. This is not to say that in Soberanías en suspenso the ‘local Chilean scene’ operated self-referentially as the archive for the reassertion of a cultural investigation. In the prior book, the Chilean scene is understood as a paradigm, in the sense of a singular relation to the singular, which Heterografías converts into a topical ensemble that interrogates the displacements, variations, and narratives of principial Latinamericanist reason from both nomic and anomic spatial formations.

Heterografías resists positing a new metaphorization of history, as well as yet another ‘political theory’ for what Latinamericanists identify as the object of “Latin America”. Although Villalobos does not thematize it as such, his book is full-fleshed post-Latinamericanist, and the reason is not just because it moves and weaves through the Schmitt-Kojeve debate on geopolitics and colonialism to the politics of the baroque and Catholic imperial katechon; from Latin American literature (Borges, Lamborghini, Perlongher) to debates on memory and indexing (Richard, Didi-Huberman, Segato). It is post-latinamericanist because it challenges the university praxis that administers, organizes, and provides for a linguistic transculturation to a post-katechontic ground that is today insufficient except as onto-theology and reproduction of cliché.

On the other hand, one also appreciates Villalobos’ minimal gesture of displacement of Latinamericanism not as a mere abandonment of the Latinamericanist object – which amounts to another exception, another distance with the object of desire, or its mere dis-placement – but as an otherwise relation that is not regulated by what Moreiras has called the ‘pleasure principle’ at the heart of hegemonic investment of the Latinamericanist intellectual [1]. A post-Latinamericanism, thus is necessarily posthegemonic to the extent that:

“…no se trata de elaborar una ‘mejor crítica’ de lo real ni de desenmascarar el carácter ideológico de un programa en competencia, sino de debilitar la misma lógica “fundamental” que estructura el discurso moderno universitario…. desistir del nihilismo en nombre de un pensamiento que no puede ser reducido a un principio hegemónico de producción de verdad y de saber. La post-hegemonía de la que estamos hablando, no es solo una teoría regional destinada a evidenciar los presupuestos de la teoría política contemporánea, sino también la posibilidad de establecer una relación no hegemónica entre pensamiento y realidad. Ubicarnos en esa posibilidad es abandonar el discurso de la crítica de la denuncia y particular de una práctica de pensamiento advertida de las fisuras y trizaduras que arruinan a la hegemonía como principio articulador del sentido y del mundo” (Villalobos 36).

What is offered to radical “destruction” is the principle of sovereignty that, as Villalobos painstakingly labors to display, is always already an-archic and indetermined. If according to Reiner Schürmann, the principle (archē) is what structures and accounts for the ground of presencing in any given epochality; Villalobos bears witness to the an-archic instance of every form of apparatus (literature, geopolitics, the national-popular, ethnicity, war, neoliberalism, etc.) that seeks to ground itself through principial formation, as both origin and commandment. In this way, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is not taken here as a teleo-phenomenological compression reducible to the very hyperbolic presencing of mere principles, but as a folding process that transforms the critique of metaphysics to that of its apparatuses. This has radically consequences, since it is no longer a debate about the university regime of knowledge production, or about the co-belonging between the destruction of metaphysics and the metaphysics of destruction, but rather: “…como concebir el carácter moderna y prosaico de las prácticas históricas, ya no investidas con un secreto transcendental, sino que constituidas como aperiódica radical de de-sujeción” (Villalobos 136).

The gesture does not wish to open a second order of exteriority to thought (whether geopolitically or subject-oriented), but a practice of the “non-subject” within the interregnum that lends itself to the radical historicity beyond the historicism of its apparatuses. The interregnum highlights the radical dislocation between philosophy and history, disinhibiting the categorial determinations that attest to its in-determinacy (Villalobos 145). By putting emphasis on the indeterminate character of violence, Villalobos is also indicating the flexibility and modality of effective law in every specific historical instance [2]. Thus, to amend the anomic status of the interregnum is always already to fall a step forward into nihilism and its epochal structuration of the given conditions. This is the instinct of all hegemonic principial incorporation as a pastoral or geopolitical formation. Heterografías consistently points to the folds that open to a potential constellation of singulars as an otherwise of experience de-contained from the duopoly philosophy-history and the cunning of capital (Kraniauskas).

As such, Heterografías advances the destruction of three transversal lines that feed the apparatuses of the philosophy of the history of capital in the interregnum: sovereignty, war, and accumulation. It is not the case that these lines have their own autonomy, historical foundation, or even ‘substance’. Rather, these folds that act as an assemble that partition and make up what I am willing to call the Latinamericanist exception in its metamorphosized transformations that aggregate knowledge, practices, and discourses. To dwell otherwise on the interregnum entails precisely to ‘free the lines’, as Deleuze & Guattari’s proposed in A Thousand Plateaus, crisscrossing the modalities of war (in times of peace or what Villalobos calls pax Americana); sovereignty (as still rendered in the katechontic determination of the State and fictive ethnicity); and accumulation (as an always ‘ongoing appropriation and expropriation’ from modernization processes to neoliberalist dispossession).

The scene of the interregnum as traversed by the flexible pattern of accumulation (Williams 2002) is a baroque scene. Not so much ‘baroque’ in the literary or even pragmatic sense that seeks to provide agency to subaltern informal workers in the Latin-American peripheries, but as a modal process that counteract the dynamic of sovereignty while re-inseminating a heterogeneous (heterographic) processes of violence at the heart of the common political experience [3]. The baroque also dramatizes the fissure of finitude that could put a halt to the sovereign exception. To this end, the critical gesture during times of interregnum is to abandon first principle of action, whether as purely conservationist katechon, or as immanentization of the eschatology. Villalobos calls for a third option, which is infrapolitical relation with the worldliness and the mundane freed from exclusion-inclusion logic. In an important moment in his essay on Kojeve and the geopolitical philosophy of history, Villalobos writes:

“Faltaría pensar la no-relación entre el ni-amigo-ni-enemigo, lo neutro blanchotiano, que se des-inscribe del horizonte sacrificial de la tradición política occidental, esto es, de una cierta tradición política asociada con el principio de razón, con la comunidad y la amistad, como decía Derrida, o del sujeto, como dice Alberto Moreiras, apuntando a una dimisión no afiliativa ni fraternal, no principial ni fundacional, sino infrapolítica” (Villalobos 92).

Infrapolitical relation is given as a promise that retains freedom of life during the time of the interregnum against all apparatuses of capture and conversion (it is no by accident that the marrano figure appears a few times through the book in decisive ways). How can one participate in conflict without necessarily open to war? How could one instantiate exchange without reproducing the principle of equivalence? How could there be a relation between literature and politics beyond representation and the productionist aesthetic institution and the literary canon? The potential to render thought otherwise, profanes every articulation of the apparatus allowing for a political exigency in the interregnum: an infra-political relation with the political, which brings back democracy to its post-hegemonic site. It is in this sense that Heterografías it is not a book disconnected from the “political practices” or what the althusserians call the material “conjuncture”. On the contrary, the task is achieved through a reflexive gesture that attends to every singular determination of the ‘ongoing accumulation’ that exceed the libidinal and memorialist investments in Marxian locational archives [4].

The purpose is to avoid a calculable relation with the conjuncture as always already shorthanded for hegemony, will to power, ‘movement of movements’, subjection, etc.; as to de-capture the radical historicity no longer ingrained in History’s metaphoricity. This is why Borges, the a-metaphorical thinker, disseminates Heterografías at various key moments juxtaposing politics and imagination and undoing the master-theory for political movements that always speak in the name of ’emancipation’. (The fall of Brodie in Borges’ short-story is the absolute comic negation of the Pauline’s militant conversion at Antioch).

As already specified in Soberanías, the threshold of imagination becomes the task for intra-epochal (interregnum) experience. Imagination, of course, does not point to an anthropological faculty of humanity, the prevalence of a sensible component over reason as in Kant, or a new intellect that as post-universitarian is able to secure a new site for prestige. Imagination is a preparatory relay for a turbulent de-formation of the apparatuses in to a common universality of singulars. Villalobos does not deliver a general theory of imagination, since imagination is already what we do as a form of dwelling, in the course of every form of life. I would like to un-translate Heterografías in these terms not because imagination remains the unsaid in every practice of destitution as what always escapes identity, equivalency, or the friend-enemy relation. But then, is imagination the outside of nihilism?

Imagination accounts for the heterographic processes that are flattened out by the master concepts that capture and dispense principial thought. In this sense, imagination is not reducible to the institution of literature or culture, but inscribes a singular relation with language; the possibility of speaking in the name of that which lacks its proper name [5]. The fact that today everyone speaks in the name of something it is the most visible asymptotic of the fall into technical nihilism. On the contrary, imagination is always the potentiality to speak for a minor people that interfere with the grammar of grand politics. In the last chapter “Crítica de la accumulation”, the site of imagination is the necessary metaxy for an otherwise politics of contemporary Latin America:

“En última instancia, se trata de pensar los límites históricos de la imaginación política latinoamericana, misma que necesita trascender la nostálgica identificación con una política reivindicativa y radicalizar su vocación popular en una suerte de populismo salvaje, que no se orienta heliotrópicamente a la conquista del poder del Estado, para una vez allí, disciplinar a las masas. Un populismo sin Pueblo, pero con muchos pueblos, heterogéneos y contradictorios, con una énfasis insobornable en los antagonismos y no en las alianzas, en las figuraciones catacréticas y disyuntivas…En suma, un populismo post-hegemonico…” (Villalobos 228).

The political mediation insofar as it is post-hegemonic ceases to dominate in the principial totality where life and the social, as based on fictive identity, coincide or collapse unto each other. This post-hegemonic populism cannot be said to be one at odds with institutions, or merely just cultural or charismatic supplement. Villalobos seems to be opening here the question of a distinctive form of law that would require imagination, not heterographic violence; attentiveness to singularity, and not another politics of the subject. How could one think a law that exceeds the citizen and the exception? Is it not isonomy – as the principle of the integral movement towards citizenship – what hinders and captures political life over its heterographic excess? Could one imagine a law that is consistent with democracy as the self-rule of a minor people, of a people without history, a savage people, inhabiting the true state of exception?

The answers to these questions are not to be found in Heterografías de la violencia. Villalobos-Ruminott has made a striking effort to sketch a set of common objectives, tasks, nuances, exigencies, and considerations for the possibility of critical thought (in the deleuzian sense) against the grain of interregnum’s anomie. The task is immense, even when its transparent language is deceiving: to open a fissure of worldliness (mundanidad) in preparation for a savage democracy to come; enabling the conditions for a way of thinking that is not oblivious to the production of violence within the ongoing accumulation that unfolds and whitewashes the present.





  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Poshegemonía, o más allá del principio del placer“. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.
  1. It is in the quasi-concept ‘effective operation of law’, where Villalobos comes nearest  to Yan Thomas’ studies on the juridical flexibility of law. See his Les opérations du droit (EHESS, 2011).
  1. I am thinking here of Veronica Gago’s recent book La razón neoliberal: economías barrocas y pragmatica popular (Tinta Limón, 2015) which seeks to render a micropolitical form of neoliberalism from below deploying the concept of ‘baroque’ to ‘express’ its emancipatory and empowering dynamic in the informal sector. For Villalobos, on the contrary, informal economy is not an exception to the visible form of accumulation, but its flexible difference in the age of an-archic capital. The baroque is not a given instance for “emancipation” or “subjective agency”, but where sovereignty becomes dramatized in its most extreme degree: “Es decir, necesitamos pensar el barroco como una problematización de la filosofia de la historia del capital, con una interrupción que trastoca la especialización del atemporalidad propia de la metafísica moderna y más específicamente, de su correlato, política, la versión liberal-contractualista del orden y del progreso social” (78).
  1. “Diría que hay, al menos, dos formas de confrontar este problema; por un lado, la posibilidad de repensar el marxismo, Marx y sus diversas apropiaciones, según su historia, sus filologías y tradiciones, para determinar la “verdadera” imagen de Marx, hacerle justicia a su corpus, exonerarlo de los excesos de la tradición y traerlo al presente según una nueva actualidad. Por otro lado, sin renunciar a un horizonte materialista y aleatorio, la posibilidad de elaborar una crítica de la acumulación….” (215).
  1. Giorgio Agamben. “In nome di che?” Il fuoco e il racconto. Rome: nottetempo, 2014.