“Archives, Voids, Nihilism. State and University.” Talk given as part of the working group “University and State,” a UCI Humanities Commons Research Cluster. University of California, Irvine. March 10, 2017. (By Jaime Rodríguez Matos)

Jaime Rodríguez Matos (CSU, Fresno)


Lo que el Caribe, sin duda, no es insiste en ser idealizado o comprobado como realidad mítica por variados custodios disciplinarios del archivo. (Quintero Herencia 112)



In the 1983 lecture, “The Principle of Reason,” Jacques Derrida points out a question that Heidegger asked himself about the university and its modern architectonics grounded as it is on the axiom that nothing is without a reason.  We read in Derrida’s text, which is paraphrasing and quoting Heidegger’s 1955-56 seminar Der Satz vom Grund:

if today’s university, locus of modern science, ‘is grounded on the principle of grounding,’ nowhere do we encounter within it the principle of reason itself; nowhere is this principle thought, scrutinized, interrogated as to its origins.  Nowhere, within the university as such, is anyone wondering from where that call of reason is voiced, nowhere is anyone inquiring into the origin of that demand for grounds, for reason that is to be provided, rendered, delivered ….  And this dissimulation of its origin within what remains unthought is not harmful, quite the contrary, to the development of the modern university. (Derrida 140).

The reason for reason is that which even American pragmatists allow themselves without further interrogation.  Derrida cites Charles Sanders Pierce: “One cannot well demand a reason for reasonableness itself” (138).  Furthermore, those inclined to pose the question of the (absent) foundation are accused of obscurantism and, above all, nihilism (138).  This accusation of nihilism follows a certain pattern.  Considering the abyss, it is said, goes hand in hand with a disenchantment that corrodes the highest values; it undermines the very nature of what we understand by the word institutions.  Pointing to this groundlessness entails a thinking, a mode of thinking that is not reason, for which, as Derrida puts it, “It is not certain that [it] can bring together a community or found an institution in the traditional sense of these words.  It must rethink what is meant by community and institution” (148).  And this rethinking is something to which the university tends to react in ways that are not always rational, one might even say that it reacts, or some of its representatives react, in violent ways against this rethinking.  Ways that entail foregoing even the most basic protocols of reasonable critique—like reading the texts that one is glossing or contesting.  Though not always, even radical forms of critique like Marxism and Psychoanalysis have an easier time in this regard.  And the claims of something like a “decolonial reason” or those of knowledges that differ from the scientific model are not different in this context.  For what is at issue is the continued valuation of epistemology and the continuity in maintaining the epistemo-centric “fundamental axiomatics and deontology of the institution” (149).  This is also a form of nihilism, but one that is put into action in the name of values that stand in stark opposition to the actions that defend them.  The professor that allows him or herself a visceral anti-rationalist reaction to safeguard the rationality and reasonableness of the university—this is not an uncommon paradox.

Thus, in 1983, Derrida is speaking with full knowledge of the resistance to the question of being within the institution of the university.  When the abyss on which that institution stands is interrogated, everyone involved seems to tremble.  This is not a question of the textuality of the university, of its appearance and disappearance within a chain of signifiers; it is a question that concerns the relation of the university to another thing, the marks of which have no need of language.  The question is that of the university’s very existence and the existence of the people that live (in) it.  And it is a question that cuts equally deep whether you are on the side of those who think that the university is the site of disinterested knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake or on the side of those who see it as a technical training facility with the mission of producing profitable end results.

Perhaps because of this resistance, Derrida’s gesture seems, to my eyes at least, timid or overly cautious.  He insists that there must be a double gesture.  On the one hand, we must ensure professional competence, while, on the other, we must go as far as we can in thinking the abyss itself: “‘Thinking’ requires both the principle of reason and what is beyond the principle of reason, the arche and an-archy” (153).  He adds:

Between the two, the difference of breath or an accent, only the enactment of this “thinking” can decide.  That decision is always risky; it always risks the worst.  To claim to eliminate this risk through an institutional program is quite simply to erect a barricade against a future.  The decision of thinking cannot be an intra-institutional event, an academic moment. (153)

Why do I find this overly timid or cautious?  For one, because it is a petitio, and, in this case, there should not be any question begging.  If we didn’t know this in 1983, I think we know it today: those willing to forego the professionalism that should characterizes the university when it comes putting the lable of “nihilists” on those who opt for thinking through the institutions’ fundamental fantasy are not going to change course for the very simple reason that as an institution the university is not interested in taking risks, certainly not today.  On a different front, it is perhaps high time that we begin to face up to the barricade that professionalism erects against the future of any thinking whatsoever.  Today, as in 1983, the accusation of professionalism and antiprofessionalism can be leveled jointly without anyone batting an eye.  “You are too theoretical and your language is too technical, while your exposition and performance of the archive is too undisciplined.”  However, at the heart of this circumstance what lies is the ever-clearer realization that we now live a situation in which, as Alberto Moreiras has observed commenting on David R. Castillo and William Egginton’s recent book Medialogies: Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary Media, we are

Professors who must consider not just their students as objects but essentially the totality of [our] work to be driven by exploitation (and self-exploitation) for profit[; and thus we] may no longer be in a position to embrace the parergonal critique[, the critique of frameworks,] Castillo and Egginton recommend [but we may add that this is the balance that Derrida’s double gesture recommends as well], [and] which will turn out to be[, as Moreiras adds] only the residual privilege of those … entrenched enough in the institution to consider [that they] still have a few years of relative academic freedom ahead …. (Unpublished manuscript)

The question then is why the double gesture in Derrida?  For no academic program, no intra-academic event, will ever be hospitable enough for a rigorous thinking of the groundlessness of the university?  And even in those cases where such hospitality is given, is it not “professionalism” which reacts and over-reacts always too soon, and always in the name of foreclosing the abyss in question?  With these questions, I simply want to point out not only that today we are in a situation in which it is more important than ever to rethink and reimagine all our activities as they relate to the university: our service, our pedagogy, our research and writing.[1]  But also that today it might also appear that looking into the abyss has become part and parcel of what the various disciplines do almost as a way of auto-immunizing themselves against the effects of rethinking the lack of foundations.  This is something that is at issue in today’s “post-foudationalism” (including the theory of hegemony and various other inheritors of “poststructuralism”), but also in less purely theoretical contexts—so that it is possible today to see the critique of foundations voiced in terms, for instance, of a reading of the Caribbean.  The point being that the questioning of foundations today seems, up to a point, to be more common today than it was either in 1955-56 or 1983, but that this implies not that we are closer to the radical interrogation of the void on which the university and its various disciplines stands but that things are more complicated than ever before.  How are we to understand that questioning the subject as a foundational category of (identity) politics in the Caribbean can lead one to speak of non-subjects in the Caribbean, of the Caribbean non-subject?

It is with this background in mind that I want to turn to the recent publication of Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia’s groundbreaking book, La hoja de mar (:) Efecto archipielago.  It is also a question of the an-archy, of the void, and of the groundless, seen now in terms of the archi-pelago that breaks the horizon of the principle of reason.  For the effect archi-pelago is an effect without a cause (Quintero Herencia 34)—exactly what the principle of reason interdicts.  I hasten to add that I offer what follows as a way of thinking with Quintero Herencia, as an homage to him, and in gratitude for what his work makes possible.




La hoja de mar is an important and profound look at the Caribbean.  I will refrain from attempting a point-by-point summary of it here.  I simply recommend to you that reading this book will be very much worth your while.  If I had to pick only one path of entry, it would be the one that he himself chooses when he writes about the gestation of the book.  Along with the reading the “warrior-texts of the Cuban Revolution,” Quintero Herencia kept company with a poetry that, while in contact with the historical intensity of the revolutionary experience, it opened a different path: toward a perspective which revealed the sacrificial image of the historically acceptable and recognizable subject of politics as a false one.  The intuition was that: “among the letters that made up certain poems, an essay here or there, in some narratives, the image and the body of another form of political participation and sensibility, as it was labored by literature, was detectable” (11).  He adds:

I believed I could glimpse other literary ways of doing and saying the political, inaudible, perhaps un-sensible, and not very sensible, among the … then hegemonic ways of political discursivity and practice …. But the appearing of these traces was and was not there, in the texts that I read and the contexts that saw them emerge.  I intuited that the political quality of these texts deserved to be read in a different mode, to be savored with different senses.  This confounding sensation regarding how to read these other politics from a different constellation of resonances caused me to set aside my research on the Cuban Revolution for a while. (11)

The intuition concerns a way of being political that does not pass the test of the archive: or, in Quintero Herencia’s words, what is at issue is a kind of writing that does not in any way want to present itself as an autonomous and disenfranchised aesthetic sphere, which sits out or is immune to what happens in a putatively different political realm.  It is a writing that is given to “generate perspectives and to assemble its political subjectivities [but] which are difficult or impossible to submit to verification in the Caribbean archipelago” (11).  Moreover, this difficult intuition is one that does not allow for the disciplinary archival machine to go on without interruption.  It brought the research work of a university scholar to a halt.  The book thematizes in various occasions the disciplinary or academic obstacles that emerge when the intuition that it treats concerns something about the Caribbean which is there only as a lack or a void, which at one point is named a “linking void” (47, falta vinculante).  How to write and think, within the university, but in a different mode, about “what is lacking and what fails” (48)?

To deal with the emptiness between the islands that make up the archipelago is to deal with instances in which reason becomes delirious (34).  As Quintero Herencia puts it: “The archipelago,” as the thought of the an-archic, as the thought of the lack of foundation, “disorganizes disciplinary methodologies to the extent that it literally drags and decomposes [arrastra y descompone] the modes of belonging, identifying and naming a Caribbean citizenship, modernity or sovereignty” (29).  This becoming-abyssal of the most fundamental categories of the various Caribbean archives does not result in recovering or repairing something that was lost or broken, thus filling-in a lacuna.  Rather, it is the insistence on not forgetting the void that attaches to any possible object of the archive whatsoever, a gesture that Quintero Herencia marks with what he calls a “fictitious” equation: ( )-(x).  Thus, it is important to emphasize that this lack needs to be inscribed not as a merely experimental writerly preoccupation or as a subjective deficiency, but as the core of a different kind of understanding of historicity: “The archipelagic lack that monkey-wrenches [traba] a writing is the manifestation of a historical circumstance that signs equally its reading objects, the images savored by the critical sensorium, as well as its writing” (49).

Quintero Herencia’s “sensorium,” which is the center of the book’s considerations, is paradoxical in the way that it does not exclude but makes necessary sensing what presences without being present, without being there in the form of an object which is always an object available for knowledge, and for which one can offer a reason and a cause.  In what follows, I will give it the name of a “materialism of absence”—even if this is a provisional term and one that cannot be found in his text.  I use it as a way of displacing of shifting the emphasis from what would seem like a philosophical or metaphysical interrogation of the ontological difference between being and beings to a pre-occupation with the understanding of historicity that opens when we consider “being” as the unfolding of history by way of the non-equation “()-(x).”  In my estimation, this problematic itself constitutes the central insight of the book.  Again, I cannot do it justice in these short remarks, but what we are dealing with is also the central unresolved tension of this work.  I will limit myself to sketching it out as it relates to the function of the word politics in Quintero Herencia’s text.

Politics constitutes one of the most important threads in making the Caribbean visible in a different manner, in making an “other” politics appear if only precariously.  From the Slave Revolution in Haiti to the Cuban Revolution, as C. L. R. James put it, politics has provided the firmest narrative to erase any trace of a lack in the archipelago, it has served better than anything else to foreclose the void and erect foundations (Quintero Herencia 37-40).  As such, it is also a mechanism that erases or voids other forms of politicity, less foundational forms, such as the rethinking of what words like community and institution can mean.  Following Rancière up to a point, though always in an original form, Quintero Herencia understands his sensorium as the redistribution of the sensible that makes audible the part of those who have no part.  This is one of the cornerstones of his understanding of politics.  And not without reason, since for Rancière, as Quintero Herencia himself points out the demos exists only as the rupture of the arche; the people is the supplement that unhinges the population from itself and, in this sense, can also be understood as one of the effects of the archipelago.  Yet, there is a subtle tremor at the heart of this seemingly too political radicalization of the question of politics as that of broken arches.  We can sense it in the use of the word “quizás” in the following passage, which in my estimation illustrates the book’s central ambivalence regarding words like politics and community:

[I]t is those who differ, those who dissent—before others, once the others accept, in that instant, the communality [comunalidad] of the voice of the whole—[they] are the ones who achieve the activation of the always conflictive political arena [arena, in Spanish, is also “sand,” and as such it is one of the images that in the book indicate disintegration].  To differ in this arena (and sand is abundant at the beach) is to put into question the very nature of taking the word [las tomas de palabra], it is to struggle with the various modes of thinking the problem ….  Perhaps [quizás] it could even be a question of going beyond this Rancièrian arena/sand and communality … in order to open ourselves, and get close to some of the non-subjects in the Caribbean, to the multiplicity of subjects and objects that end up at the shore, [and this] as a way of poking holes into the identitarian dialectic that serves as the foundation of politics in the Caribbean. (22-23)

On the one hand, we have the meeting or reunión of those who up until a certain moment had no part in the communal distribution of the sensible.  This is not a truth that can be demonstrated but the possibility of democracy as it emerges “above a void that makes politics possible” (23).  On the other hand, we have a “perhaps,” which points in the direction of going beyond even that sandy political non-foundation and into a consideration of the non-subject as rethinking of what “politics” might mean beyond the identitarian dialectic of the Caribbean.  Quintero Herencia writes “Quizás se trate incluso, de ir más allá de esa arena…”—going beyond, perhaps, the political arena/sand.  How do we understand the positioning here?  Is the sand in question a way of covering over the abyss at the center of Derrida’s 1983 lecture?  Perhaps.  One way of entering into this question would be to point out that the meditation on the non-subject, and here Quintero Herencia is thinking about the work of Alberto Moreiras in Línea de sombra and beyond, is not at all a beyond that one gets to by sheer will.  Rather, it is simply what follows once we take up seriously or rigorously the rethinking of central political categories like the subject and the community which emerge above a void.  Does the “perhaps,” then, have the function of a barricade that is put in place as protection, to prevent us from falling into the abyss?  Perhaps!

Another reading of this “perhaps” was offered last Friday (March 3rd, 2017) when the book was presented at the Library of Congress.[2]  Juan Duchesne Winter’s reading took aim at what he claimed was the wrong way to critique the identitarian dialectic of Caribbean politics.  Which is that of Moreiras and “la gente de Moreiras,” among whom I count myself I should add.  He stood in front of that barricade protecting us from the void and said that beyond it what lies is the practice of those enthralled by the linguistic turn.  Which as we all know is an accusation that seeks to reduce the work on politics that Quintero Herencia himself is undertaking to a mere preoccupation with language games that take place away from history and reality.  Though the efficacy of this phrase as accusation is undoubtedly waning, it still holds sway, particularly when it comes to very disciplinary and institutional ways of being political and fighting against the overwhelming onslaught of capitalist violence on all fronts, including the university.  In his remarks, Duchesne Winter (a figure that has had an impeccable career and represents the best of what is done under the banner of a Cribbeanist or Latinamericanist banner today, is the last person one expected to go into this kind of forsaking of the professional protocols of the university in the name of visceral dismissal) referred to Derrida’s supposedly logocentric dictum about there being nothing outside of the text, and then, in the question and answer period he explained that he was aiming at the work being done today under the name ifrapolitics.  In a tacit manner, Derrida becomes a stand-in for Moreiras’ place not only in our contemporary university, but also, and more important, in Quintero Herencia’s book.  A move that is strange for many reason, not the least of which is that on the second page of the text of La hoja de mar we find the author referring to Derrida’s notion of the text and the trace in the following terms: “The notion of trace or of text is introduced to mark the limits of the linguist turn.  This is one more reason why I prefer to speak of ‘mark’ rather than of language.  [… The mark] is prelinguistic ….” (quoted in Quintero Herencia 10 n. 2).  No where was this complication considered.  However good-humored, and I do not want to overdramatize this (even as I also do not want to let it go unremarked), this scene can be understood within the purview of the axiomatics of an epistemo-centric and deontologized university that suspends its most basic sense of reasonableness when it comes to protecting its Reason—its arche.  Moreover, the central issue is not only about this specific way of reading Quintero Herencia’s “quizás”—for what is more urgent, to me at least, is to ask as to what in the text makes this barricade/interpretation possible in the first place.  And I want to suggest is that the answer touches on the fact that even after the herculean effort to maintain the logic of the equation of the lack, ()-(x), the text struggles with its impossibility to say politics other than as political; it is as if it is not sufficient to simply say another politics, or politics otherwise, without the risk becoming too great for a re-politicization that does not take the archi-pelagic effect into account in any way.  The problematic that opens here is not simply a question of using different words.  If Quintero Herencia had used the word infrapolitics, for instance, the issues would remain.  I want to spend what remains of my time today trying to outline some of the major problems that need to be thought through if we are to be rigorous with the question at hand.




To return to the question of what earlier I called materialism of absence, I want to center my remarks on a recent novel written by Carlos Fonseca, Cronel Lágrimas.  Fonseca was born in San José, Costa Rica, but was raised in Puerto Rico, spent his graduate and undergraduate years between Stanford and Princeton, he currently lives in London, and he has published a novel about Alexander Grothendrieck’s self-exile from fame, politics and cosmopolitan life.  Grothendriek was a pacifist and a mathematician, and you might have already thought deeply about his work if you have invested any time on Alain Badiou’s second volume of Being and Event, published in 2006 as Logics of Worlds.  Badiou’s complex concept of world, a “remodeling … of the relationship between the thinking of place (topology) and the thinking of the multiple” (389), is only his philosophical translation of Grothendieck’s work.  To think Fonseca’s book one must first develop a framework which would allow one to move across many disparate fields of knowledge, but also across the many absences that make up no field, and never serve as the constitutive void of any discursivity.

            Coronel Lágrimas is a book that does not have the Caribbean at its center.  It will not serve to speak of non-subjects in the Caribbean.  It will instead monkey-wrench any possible attempt to domesticate the text by framing it within a disciplinary field.  The life that occupies it most intensely is actually a fictive delirium that unfolds taking Grothendieck as a point of departure, but only to unwork both the historical and the biographical novel, as the author tells us in a final note that was not included in the English translation (Fonseca Coronel Lágrimas 169).  Lágrimas, the anchorite, the hermit, the pacifist that flees from the world, is haunted by one image.  His whole life is structured by it.  Or so he thinks.  Toward the end of the book we read:

The colonel’s guilt is simple: he refused to add a final point to that hallucinatory cartography [which spans the familial itinerary that precedes him: a father and a mother that lived through all the major social upheavals of the last two centuries: Russia, Mexico, Spain, Vietnam, France; he has refused to add a final point to that map:] a Caribbean point.  That’s why, on … his final night … he devotes himself to creating a false Caribbean diva behind whose story lies the key to his life and passion, to the twinge that disturbs his well-being and condemns him to the worst kind of tedium.  Cayetana Boamante is the final guilt of a private man. (Colonel Lágrimas. A Novel 209-10)

The guilt concerns the nagging sensation that the Colonel has in the last hours of his life: perhaps he should have taken a plane, loaded it up with his chalkboards full of mathematical equations, and gone to the Caribbean to build the revolution in America.  Why was it impossible for him to follow in his father’s revolutionary footsteps?  Why the hesitation when it came to go with Cayetana, his only true love, and “hurl himself with pistols blazing into the Antilles war” (210).  Why could he not go draw his equations “in the middle of Caribbean gunfire” (210)?  Cayetana’s face is a “Caribbean face,” the face of a mulata with Asiatic and African features—but it is also, as the narrator tells us, “a face in a pantomime of juvenile militancy” (210).  It is this complex image which makes everything come into focus.  Only through it, the narrator tells us, do “We understand everything—the faces, the maps, the genealogies, the archive in all its density” (210).  However, the narrator immediately adds, the image allows us to understand: “Everything except what really matters: that simple gesture by which the colonel let go of himself in the middle of his life” (210).  This gesture is the reason why we are attending to the last day of life of the Colonel, the reason why we are spying on him and his solitude.  There is a happiness that breaks through his decrepitude, his drunkenness, his sermons, everything he says, but which is foreign to the man himself, a happiness of which he is not conscious but which perforates his every word.  The character’s own explanation of his life begins to sound like a farce to the narrator.  The old man exclaims that he sees Cayetana “ready to free the Caribbean islands,” but he “disregarded her entreaties and was left with a photograph” (211, 212).  He thinks that this is the defining event of his life.  This decision is the one that makes everything else fall into place.  But this is all simply information.  The narrator says:

The colonel speaks in information, as if information could be distilled, then become life.  Perhaps that was his mistake: believing that life was something distilled like alcohol, to be drunk later ….  Perhaps his mistake was in thinking that life could be reduced to the eternal rosary of the consequences of a simple decision.  History, as some bearded man said, repeats itself first as tragedy and later as a farce.  In the case of the man who we now look at face to face … who knows what comes first, the farce or the tragedy.  The colonel’s life requires a new genre, a kind of tragic farce that annuls the distinctions between comic and tragic.  …  No, we cannot understand the colonel.  We can approach him …, we can get closer to his truth from a thousand different angles ….  Limit ourselves to the task of a photographer, the copyist, the archive.  No, we cannot understand the colonel, but we can question the tragedy of his farce and corner him until we see him laugh his last laugh. (212-213)

This is a remarkable text in that it manages to condense a vast number of problematics directly touching on the Caribbean without pretending therefore to offer a clear image and logic of it; in fact, it does so while dissolving the very possibility of thinking the Caribbean as a specific code destined to be guarded by academic discipline.  The image of the Caribbean itself is what is adduced as the false start which turns everything into an object of the understanding—which always seems to come too quickly and therefore always brings with it a certain guilt.  The refusal of the Caribbean point is not an event but the beginning of a retreat from the world.  Yet this absence, if processed too directly leads to the forced creation of the image of Cayetana as a surface upon which to project the pseudo-logic of a life.  And it makes too much sense, it is the production of subjective sense as such, an injection of sense, based on the model of the processing of information.  The Caribbean as the guiding light of redemptive models of history, a place defined by the multivalence of the carnival which, as Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá puts it, is “always a rehearsal for revolution” (57), but which by the very same token puts the Caribbean as the position of being the reverse, and all-too-political, teleological narrative of the sort of historiography that the passages indicates needs to be displaced.  The Colonel thinks that his life is defined by the guilt produced in the act of saying no to the love of Cayetana, the Caribbean mulata.  And this is nothing but information.  Beyond and breaking through this subjectivist projection what the text points to, there is a life and a happiness that has nothing to do with the luxuries and the justifications of the man called Colonel Tears.  The “teary” declarations regarding the formalizing drive of the Colonel are offset by something in him that is not available to him for inspection.  Neither is it available to us.  The ideal of a passive and neutral sovereign act, evoked here in the figure of the photographer and the copyist, and which is a cipher for a relationship with modern aesthetics since the romantics, this ideal can only give us information—such is Fonseca’s wager.  Even if the information in question is that of the dictates of the spirit as it passes through the strings of the Aeolian harp or the void of the lens, rendering the subject as a mere recording devise for a higher authority, but also authorizing his word and exalting it to the point where it is the word of the highest value.  The work of art, this Caribbean work of art, set adrift in the globe, does not give us what is most important: but it lets us know that it is known that that which is most important is not computable by it.

What would be necessary would be nothing less than a complete overhaul of the thought of history as we have inherited from Marx—and therefore, to go back further, from Hegel, and therefore, to go back even further, and this is most important, as we have inherited from the Haitian Revolution.  The Caribbean, then, first as a moment of modernity and not also of modernity (Buck-Morss 138).  The Caribbean in its “experience of impoverished dependence on the global economy, in early struggle against Western policies of genocide, and in its postcolonial, hierarchical articulation of social elites,” writes Susan Buck-Morss in her Hegel, Haiti and Universal History, “stands as the vanguard of the history of modernity” (137-138).  But this formulation, useful as it is for a certain decolonial drive to delight in the secondariness of Europe in all respects, is far from enough.  And Fonseca’s text illuminates this insufficiency.  For what we are saying when we are able to point out that the Haitian Revolution places the Caribbean at the forefront of all those socio-economic and political processes that Buck-Morss collects as so many names of the (now primary) Caribbean (the experience of impoverished dependence, the postcolonial articulation of elites, the struggle against Western genocide), what is left unthought, I want to emphasize, is that this primacy itself is of the order of the image, of the order of a sensorium which would other politics.  The issue is not simply a matter of settling a score with any one school of thought.  It is a rather important point that needs to be made in this regard, if we are going to be able to grasp some of the most extreme connotations in Fonseca’s text, as well as in the consideration of the an-archic engagement with the (Caribbean) archive.

Allow me a short digression.  Eduardo Lalo has written extensively on the problem of this primary secondariness in relation to Puerto Rico and its place within the process of globalization.  For him, Puerto Rico lived through globalization before we had a concept for it, and therefore, he states, “before it was possible to think it” (54).  For Lalo, this globalizing process has allowed certain regions of the planet that were previously invisible to gain a place of visibility in the present world stage.  But this has not been the case for Puerto Rico.  And it would be a dubious honor indeed to claim to be the first to have gone through the globalizing process.  In fact, what takes place is a radicalization of the problem (and this is what is lost in the decolonial explanation of modernity).  As Lalo puts it:

Not only has globalization not made us anymore visible, on the contrary, that form of mundialization of the consumer society has created the conditions in which as other regions take on characteristics that, for some time now, have been ours, we ourselves begin to appear more and more as an unsettling generic image.  Creating the illusion, born out of our condition of inexistence [of being invisible to the world], that it can be possible to think of us as copies of what we were the first to announce to the world. (54)

The question then becomes: the inscription of Puerto Rico into globalization, as a historical process, is it the tragedy or the farce?  Does it become more thinkable, less mute, if we re-inscribe it or mark out a way to sense it, shifting the archive, within the master-slave dialectic?  Or do these questions only serve to make Lalo and Fonseca and the various names of the Caribbean even more invisible, mute and unthinkable?  Lalo’s work is of great importance within this horizon, for as a whole—in books like donde, La inutilidad, Intemperie, or Los pies de San Juan—it is one of the clearest appraisals of what it would mean to be a materialist regarding the historical specificity of the various Caribbeans we have been alluding to so far.  Which is to say, what it would mean to be a materialist regarding the historical specificity of an absence that needs to be placed as the first evidence of any discourse on the various Caribbean archives at issue here.  The paradox, though this might seem paradoxical only from certain points of view, is that this materialism would go after a point that is there only as its absence.  And yet, to close this digression, to leave things here would ultimately give the false impression that what is at issue is the appropriateness of Lalo’s view of things to the reality of the Caribbean.  And I want to argue is that it goes much further than that.

To get back to the Colonel: perhaps it would be useful to think against even the narrator of the novel, and ask: does not the avoidance of saying the name Marx, above all when what is implied is clear to all, tell us something about the naiveté of the voice in question?  Does not the apparently radical questioning concerning a reconfiguration and cancelling out of the tragic and the comic belie the attitude of one who is already too caught up in the invisibilization of the original that becomes generic secondary image as it begins to infect the thought of the European other?  Did not Hegel already lay out that tragedy in its pure form was no longer attainable in a world without the possibility of a spontaneous knowledge of the whole?  What I want to suggest by way of these questions is that it could be possible to see the endgame of this Caribbean novel, which is nevertheless built around the central character’s exclusion of the Caribbean point, as the desire for a theory of the dialectic that we already have at our disposal from Hegel, which neglects to think the place of Haiti in it, and neglects as well to think all that this implies when thinking the dialectic itself.  This reading would in effect obscure the play of visibility and invisibility that I touched on by way of Lalo.  Could we also derive Hegel’s theory of tragedy and all that it implies in his thought from his reading of the Haitian Revolution?  We do not need to go back to Hegel and Marx to think the possibility of a future reconfiguration of the relationship between the tragic and the comic in the Caribbean archive.

The list of Caribbean rewritings of classic tragedies is rife with examples of just that.  Virgilio Piñera’s Electra Garrigó, José Triana’s Medea en el espejo, Luis Rafael Sánchez’s Antígona Pérez, Reinaldo González’s Medea, Iván Silen’s various versions of Oedipus, these works share the impossibility of sustaining the tragic tonality with any assurance.  Even the most earnest of these, as is the case with Antígina Pérez, evoke a smile simply by the juxtaposition of first and last names.  And in many cases the rewriting of the tragedy has no other purpose than to put an end to the tragedy in question.  For example, in González’s Medea, a Cuban exile in what seems to be Florida (though it is not named), keeps her children alive even if only so that they can be turned into idiots by the Imperial educational system.  And rarely do these works give the definitive impression that what is at issue is working out an example of just action in the face of tyranny—in fact, the opposite is more often the case.  In Piñera’s Electra Garrigó the heroine triumphs only to become the embodiment of a totalitarian will to be in all things everywhere.  This is also an example of the farce being itself the tragedy, that the liberated one becomes the oppressor, as if this cycle itself, which is always there if only tacitly, were the real manifestation of the tragic.  The result is a mode in which the tragic elements hover above the manifest elements of plays which achieve the paradoxical effect of entertaining.  One would be tempted to conclude, though things are much more complicated than this, that the point of rewriting tragedies in the Caribbean is to make the audience laugh.  From a different point of view, and to paraphrase Fonseca, I would argue that what is at work in these pseudo-tragedies is a deep questioning of the tragedy of farce, which takes place until the audience laughs its last laugh.  Why, then, are these precursors not seen by the figure that poses the problem as if it were a matter of a radical event to come, or of something still to be thought through?

As a way of beginning to offer an answer to that question, allow me to turn to the Haitian Revolution as it has been thought in the tragic form.  Among the various classic plays written about the Haitian Revolution, including those by Lamartine, Jean Brierre, Langston Hughes, Aimé Césaire, Derek Walcott, and Édouard Glissant, I want only to touch briefly on the work of Glissant and Césaire.  We know that C. L. R. James imagined Toussaint Louverture as a heroic world-historical figure whose tragedy was his loss of touch with the popular base that gave meaning to his struggle—and that Aimé Césaire followed in his footsteps.  The political imagination behind these two versions of the leader is unmistakable.  They were rescuing this figure at a specific moment in history to mark a possible path of struggle.  James, at first in the late 1930s, and with the help of Paul Robeson, wanted to show to what extent civilization was simply the carnage of the colonial enterprise; and later, in the 1950s and 1960s, he rewrote the play as a commentary on the ongoing struggles for national liberation.  Glissant, however, wants to distance himself from this overtly political tack.  In the preface to the 1961 edition of Monsieur Toussaint, he explains his aim in these terms:

… the present work is not politically inspired; rather it is linked to what I would call, paradoxically, a prophetic vision of the past.  For those whose history has been reduced by others to darkness and despair, the recovery of the near or distant past is imperative.  To renew acquaintance with one’s history, obscured or obliterated by others, is to relish fully the present, for the experience of the present, stripped of its roots in time, yields only hollow delights.  This is a poetic endeavor. (15-16)

I want to call attention not so much to the program to relish fully the present, poetically restored to its fullness in connection with an illuminated and restituted past.  It could be argued that the turn of phrase in this instance makes it very easy to misunderstand Glissant’s rather complex ideas on time, which since at least his second novel, The Fourth Century [Le quatrième siècle, published three years later in 1964], hinge on the notion that in the new world the past is a negative plenitude, which can never be fully unfolded in a linear or historicists fashion.  In fact, if it can be said that Glissant’s language as a whole is an attempt to find an Antillean conception of time, then the word “conception” must take into account the negativity at the heart of the temporal that his take on this complex problem implies: a time that is not available to be wielded and presented as a positive quantity.  For Glissant, this is a time that does not fall into the genealogical linearity of project and projection.  And it is for this reason that he can say that the inspiration behind the play about Louverture is not political, or at least not political in the sense that the work of James and Césaire was imagined to be a direct political answer to the question: “what is to be done?”

However, it could also be possible to interpret Glissant’s words as one of the possible not-so-political lessons that can be learned from Césaire’s poetics in general, and in the tragicomic treatment of King Christophe specifically.  In Césaire’s The Tragedy of King Christophe, the initial dispute concerns the provisions against tyranny, which for Christophe were simply a way of curtailing his personal power; the amendment to the constitution limiting the powers of the president were put in place, he felt, not because of a republican principle but as a reaction to the color of his skin.  To this he counters that what his people truly need at that point is the uneasy freedom of the State: “Yes, my philosopher friend,” he tells Pétion, “something that will enable this transplanted people to strike roots, to burgeon and flower, to fling the fruits and perfumes of its flowering into the face of the world, something which, to speak plainly, will oblige our people, by force if need be, to be born of itself, to surpass itself” (13).

For Christophe, the problem of the Haitian people is not that the French, or the rest of the world for that matter, does not respect them because they are black or because of the republican nature of their government.  For him, it is a question of the self-inflicted injury caused by indolence and the hatred of discipline (18).  The remedy is the discipline that comes with the creation of the State.  And the state is, for him, an alternative way of dealing with the temporal negative plentitude at issue in Glissant’s thought.  As Christophe explains, it is because their real names, their past, has been forever lost, that he wants to forget the slave names and create a court with titles which will be the names of “rebirth” and “redemption” (26).  In his own words: “Since we can’t rescue our names from the past, we’ll take them from the future” (25).  The solemnity of the pronouncement contrasts with the King’s new Court and their understanding of the issue.  For the more ironic members of the new nobility, the essence of the founding of the kingdom of Christophe has everything to do with the efficacy of pure form, which for them stands for blind faith in an inane formalism.  As Vastey puts it with irony:

Form is what counts, my friend.  That’s what civilization is … the forming of man.  Think it over.  Form is the matrix of being, of substance, in short, of man himself.  Of everything.  It’s empty, yes, but what a stupendous, generative, life-giving emptiness!  …  There’s one man who understands it instinctively.  That’s Christophe.  With his great potter’s hands, kneading the Haitian clay—he may not know, but what is more important, he feels, he smells, the sinuous line of the future, in a word, the form.  Believe me, that’s something in a country like ours. (22)

The mocking speech paints Christophe’s project as a pretentious and merely aesthetic foolishness (21, 22)—particularly given that the scene revolves around a discussion regarding the precedents for titles such as the Duke of Marmalade, of Lemonade, of Candytown, the Count of Stinkhole, and so forth.  The humor of the scene is hard to miss and it taints the entire catastrophic enterprise until the end.  It is for this reason that one of the lessons that can be gleaned from Césaire’s play is precisely that there is a danger in a merely political solution to the political problem at hand: which in this case means imagining that a certain kind of modern program to mold and form men, and to give them their time, is the be all and end all of politics as such.  Metellus, the chief of the rebels, appears briefly, but for him the Revolution was betrayed the second that “politicos” got involved (30).  That is, Christophe (king) and Pétion (president) are a false opposition: they are a double tyranny (30).  The fear, or the cautionary note being sounded, is that all politics is simply the caricature of politics as it is supposed to really and truthfully be … elsewhere (34).  Césaire does not say it, but the point is implicitly made in the play: the King’s understanding of the problem of having to be a materialist with regards to the absence that is their history has been solved the wrong way—and it has been solved the wrong way in its Hegelian overtones: a rising up from the chaos and toward the idea of the state as the correct form for politics.  If we take Buck-Morss seriously, that Hegel’s reading of the Haitian Revolution was, like the Colonel’s reading of his own life, the wrong kind of reading—the reading that reads only for the information, the reading that forgets that what matters most is not going to be found in any one of the words of the text.  Christophe would stand in for the generic secondariness that Lalo outlines.  It is time to go back to the reason behind the narrator’s naïve questioning of history repeating itself as farce in Fonseca’s novel.

The answer is not that the narrative voice is also forgetting the Caribbean point and thus authorizing itself out of a sanctioned ignorance that ends up transforming what is ignored into a generic copy of itself.  This would imply that is it simply a question of restoring the visibility of what was ignored, after which we would have solved all our problems.  In fact, that is exactly what the text tells us that the Colonel did.  He restored the missing point, the Caribbean point, and explained his life away.  The question is posed in all its naiveté, as if the narrator were the first in history to think of the possibility, to signal to a more profound problematic which begins precisely by mistaking the empty pronouncement for a radical insight.  What this forgetting achieves is the perpetual continuation of the circle of total politicization in the name of a materiality that is in fact only information without thought.  And wouldn’t it be quite ironic that one could say something like this about the dialectic: that it is a machine for reducing existence into information without thought.

I want to conclude these remarks by clarifying a point which I think can be easily misunderstood about what I have been trying to outline here today.  It is well known that the dialectic and the absolute have been intricately linked and in a very facile manner to totalitarianism.  It is one of the great quips of contemporary neo-communist thought that this charge is always used in order to prevent any real politics from ever taking place, that somehow pointing to this link is only a way of infinitely extending a sort of negative or destructive critique, which because it is infinite, simply serves to safeguard the way things are (and as we all know, today things are absolutely horrible).  If we were to follow this admittedly facile line of thought, one could adduce any number of examples from the Caribbean archives and be done with it.  One could cite Reinaldo Arena’s El asalto, a novel that is an acerbic critique and hilarious parody of the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.  One of the things that “El Reprimerísimo,” Castro’s stand-in, decrees is that in a society that has been liberated from all forms of alienation there cannot be the darkness of night, which they will have to abolish—a feat that is accomplished by calling it the non-night  (60).  This desire to get rid of all negativity is not at all unfamiliar as a way of sketching the basic logic of the totalitarian mindset.  But this is not quite what I am trying to get at.  And I think the point can be made by emphasizing that from the perspective of a fierce critique of the Cuban state, such as Rafael Rojas,’ who can be identified as a voice deeply committed to a new form of republicanism and democracy in the island, tarrying with the negative in this sense, such as it was done by that sector of the intellectual tradition which prior to the Revolution made the materialism of absences its own, is identified as a nihilist readying of the of the ground needed for the arrival of the Revolution.  For Rojas, this disbelief in the pseudo-Republic, or this obstinate discipline which insists on pointing out that the first evidence is something that lacks or is not there, heralds the occupation of all political space by a hyper nihilist will to destroy and clear the slate, and to act as Christophe: projecting and molding the human clay into a proper citizen under the time of the absolute State.

However, the link between what I am calling here materialisms of absence and any one juridico-political determination is far from being an obvious and linear relation of cause and effect.  One could argue that it is one of the upshots of any materialism of absence to allow us to think the contradiction and even the error at the heart of any declaration of necessity between the void as first evidence and political determinations in general.  That is Chirstophe’s error as it was Lezama’s (when he compared Castro entering Havana to the Second Coming of Christ).  Yet the leap from one to the other remains beyond the capabilities of all apparatuses of capture.  To paraphrase Fonseca once more: No, we cannot understand ….  We can approach …, we can get closer to [t]his truth from a thousand different angles ….  Limit ourselves to the task of a photographer, the copyist, the archive.  Nevertheless, we do understand the limits this implies.  And in this understanding we also glimpse that inquiring about the void at the heart or foundation of any one political determination is not something that “perhaps even includes” going beyond the “arena” of politics.  It could be one of the tasks of the university today were we to allow it to tremble a little.  Otherwise, and to close with Quintero Herencia’s words: “What the Caribbean … is not” will continue to be “idealized and demonstrated as a mythical reality by the various disciplinary custodians of the archive” (112).  For this to happen, however, it is not enough to say politics otherwise.  For othering politics is one of the contemporary forms that disciplinary and all-too-professional work takes on.



Arenas, Reinaldo. El asalto. Barcelona: Tusquets Editores, 2003. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Logics of Worlds. Being and Event II. Trans. Toscano, Alberto. London; New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.

Buck-Morss, Susan. Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. Print.

Césaire, Aimé. The Tragedy of King Christophe. 1963. Trans. Menheim, Ralph. New York: Grove Press, 1969. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Eyes of the University. Right to Philosophy 2. Trans. Plug, Jan and Others. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Print.

Fonseca, Carlos. Colonel Lágrimas. A Novel. Trans. McDowell, Megan. Brooklyn, NY: Restless Books, 2016. Print.

____. Coronel Lágrimas. Barcelona: Anagrama, 2015. Print.

Glissant, Éduard. Monsieur Toussaint. 1961. Trans. Dash, J. Michael. Boulder; London: Lynne Reiner, 2005. Print.

Lalo, Eduardo. Los países invisibles. 2008. Córdoba: Corregidor, 2014. Print.

Moreiras, Alberto. “Universidad y principio de equivalencia. Hacia el fin de la Alta Alegoría. Borrador de conferencia para 17 Instituto de Estudios Críticos, México DF, 22 de enero, 2017.” Infrapolitical Deconstruction.  https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/universidad-y-principio-de-equivalencia-hacia-el-fin-de-la-alta-alegoria-borrador-de-conferencia-para-17-instituto-de-estudios-criticos-mexico-df-22-de-enero-2017-por-alberto-moreiras/ 2017.

Quintero Herencia, Juan Carlos. La hoja de mar (:). Efecto archipiélago I. Leiden, The Netherlands: Almenara, 2016. Print.

Rodríguez Juliá, Edgardo Caribeños. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2002. Print.



[1]           A good starting point for this rethinking is Moreiras’ “Universidad y principio de equivalencia. Hacia el fin de la Alta Alegoría” (a draft of this talk was presented at “17, Instituto de Estudios Críticos” itself a good example of what a post-university might look like).

[2]           The remarks have since been published online: <http://www.80grados.net/el-telurismo-materialista-de-juan-carlos-quintero-herencia/&gt;

1988: This is not a Review, it is a Call to All to Read “The Heidelberg Conference.”

Jaime Rodríguez Matos

[I do not post this as the general view of anyone doing work on infrpolitics, but as a personal engagement with perhaps the most intimate tradition linked to the emergence of infrapolitics.  It remains for those engaged in this work to point out to what extent infrapolitics is not simply a restatement of the French reading of Heidegger.  For my part, only after there is a concept of post-hegemonic infrapolitics can one begin to think through the political determination of the groundless calling, just as it is only after there is a concept of infrapolitical post-hegemony that it becomes possible to think thought the responsibility of deconstruction without ceding an inch on the philosophical insights that deconstruction has bequeathed us.  In the final analysis, however, the issue here is not whether infrapolitics is a novel endeavor regarding deconstruction (I believe it is simply a more radical continuation, even if this has to be done in tandem with deconstrunists such as they exist today and are academically sanctioned as such), but whether we are or are not better equipped to deal with the possible fascism that Trump and others incarnate today.]

  1. Are we more prepared today than we were in 1988 to deal with the possible resurgence of fascism? Almost thirty years on, there are some significant differences.  On the Left: it is no longer the case that Marxism is in retreat.  The word Socialism has gotten a new wind, even in the USA.  Elsewhere, leftist populisms have appeared (and perhaps also disappeared).  And in academia, a new breed of political theorists, wearing their radicalism on their sleeves, has found support from prestigious research institutions.  On the Center: it is no longer the case that the discourse of the rights of man and multicultural political correctness holds unquestioned power.  It is also no longer the case that the neoliberal agenda that underwrote much of what passed for such things goes without saying.  Hillary Clintons’ failure to secure the presidential seat gives one pause when considering the fate of neoliberalism, even as it is absolutely not a rupture with its most basic structures that we are attending to.  On the Right: a resurgence of a vitriol and violence imagined to be things of the past has left many in a state of deep shock.  The Right defined by a sort of cultural conservatism has given way to a Right of coded and not so coded racism, sexism, homophobia, and all around hate for all things not low or middle brow.  The attack on intellectual life, and education in general, has had profound effects on all facets of higher education, to the point where it is no longer even possible to discern the logic behind decisions made under the false pretense of efficiency and excellence.
  2. In 1988 Alain Badiou published Being and Event. He was, then, a virtually unknown professor (at least on a world-wide scale) with links to a Maoist French militancy.  Today he is undoubtedly one of the central master thinkers of our time.  In that book, and in its more accessible follow-up, Manifesto for Philosophy, Badiou made the case that it was in part due to the influence of Heidegger-inflected thought that the world had lost its way, or more precisely, that the left had lost its way, or, even more to the point, that philosophy had gone awry in so far as it was linked to politics.  The diagnosis had its appeal.  (Slavoj Zizek made a good part of his career on this one claim.)  It is perhaps hard to remember the complete rejection that first greeted this stance.  It was, then, almost a provocation to speak in the name of universality.  At least, one had to assume that doing it would lead directly, and very fast, to accusations of Eurocentrism.  Conjuncturally, however, it was a very astute way of framing things.  The naïve all over the world soon found themselves saying: “finally!, someone is here to legitimize my inability to actually delve seriously into deconstruction, poststructuralism, Being and Time, Spivak’s footnotes, the whole issue of the undecidability of the to-come that nevertheless is a step that has to be taken so that there can be something like my responsibility,” and so on and so forth.  Badiou’s Being and Event went on to go largely unread, or even dismissed as his own fall into the complacency of the Heideggerian deconstruction of metaphysics.  His “philosophy for militants” turned out to be the real draw.  Be that as it may, one thing is absolutely clear today: to claim that the world (any world, even Putin’s under the influence of Dugin) is somehow dominated by Heidegger-inflected thought is a claim that only the question-begging, straw-man-building, preachers-to-the-choir can entertain seriously.  In any case, even if we go back to the situation such as it was in 1988, it turns out that things were more complicated than they seemed from the point of view of (former) Maoists doing academic high theory in order to re-commence Marxism.
  3. In France (and one could say in Europe in general, even if most of the information was already known to anyone who cared enough), the publication of Victor Farias’ book on Heidegger’s ties to Nazism dominated 1988 from the start. And Heidegger inflected-thought, or more generally, the “thought of 1968” in France, was under attack from the simplifying world of media culture for allegedly not having denounced forcefully, or clearly, or loudly enough, Heidegger’s disgraceful involvement with the Nazi party.  The recent publication of the Heidelberg conference, which saw Jacques Derrida and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, together with Hans-George Gadamer, in a visit to Germany, gives us a clear glimpse of the complexity of the issue at hand.  For, in a world that was supposedly at the beck-and-call of deconstruction what emerges is the picture of an establishment that was only too glad to breath in relief at the opportunity of finally dispensing with the difficulty of Heidegger’s questions, and of the reading that some of his most committed French readers had endeavored to put forth since the 1960’s.  It became clear in 1988 that, because of the apparent novelty of Farias’ findings and the mediatic reaction to it, the surprise in question what not simply the result of an uninformed layman who happened to be a journalist, but that the journalists were following in the footsteps of an academic and supposedly informed audience who had taken it upon themselves to simply ignore the work that had been done regarding Heidegger and his ties to Nazism—a work that not only readily accepted the difficulty of assuming his political error, but which also brought to light an even more radical difficulty regarding the possibility of thinking Nazism precisely by reading Heidegger against the grain of this error.  In 1988 Derrida concluded that the Farias’ affair ultimately exposed not anything related to a novel and deal-breaking link between Heidegger and Nazism, for all of it was already known, but the complicity between a hegemonic neoliberal media apparatus and a university which ignored the same information only because the way it was framed, up until Farias’ book, was not only more difficult, but also put in question some of the most cherished assumptions that underwrote the social contract that it sought to uphold.  Derrida: “there is a certain field where one finds united the hegemony of the university, the powers at work in the university, and a structural hegemony of intellectual power that finds expression in the press.  An analysis, and not only a sociological analysis, should be applied to the articulation of these two domains.  It is there that the responsibilities of everyone are called” (77, emphasis in original).
  4. Once again I ask, how are we better prepared today to deal with a possible reincarnation fascism?
  5. In 1988 what was clear was that the political ideology that was supposed to have made fascism impossible was itself very weak. (And no one would seriously question this claim today: for what is at issue is not a strong political stance but the discourse of human rights, the ethics of respect for the other, and the weak claim that capitalist-democracy is the only way to safeguard freedom.)  This weakness was due to the fact that it relied on some of the very same concept that fascism took as essential to its discourse.  Now, it is true that the phrase “the political ideology that was supposed to have made fascism impossible” is still a very vague formulation.  Yet, it remains, for some, a fact that we do have certain positions that, if it were the case that fascism triumphed, would have to assume responsibility regarding the failure to have stopped it.  It is in this regard that Zizek states (citing Benjamin) that every fascism is a failed revolution (152).  [Zizek’s own endorsement of Trump complicates matters somewhat, as it entails that, for him, Trumpism is not yet, or not quite, a fascism, but an acceleration of world history so that contradictions fall into a place where it becomes visible (quicker) what needs to be done (in all its Leninists overtones).  The very idea of a possible acceleration of history should be critiqued, as it entails a very questionable teleological matrix.]
  6. Derrida, 1988, once more: “a certain disquiet, at this point even a certain fear, on the side of the tradition of this discourse—a fear regarding its own fragility and regarding a potential for questioning that is stronger in Heidegger’s work than in many others …” (21).
  7. And further: “… the discourse that dominates European institutions is no longer capable of holding up, and those who put forth this discourse know this in an obscure way. You know that one of the violences to which the people who pose this kind of question are exposed … is that when one says that ethics, that the way that we define ethics today is shaking on its lack of foundation, or when we say that we no longer know very well what it means to be responsible, the violence to which we are exposed is that one says to us: so you are putting forth a discourse that is immoral, an irresponsible discourse!  I maintain, on the contrary, that deconstruction today [early 1988] … is of course not an abdication of responsibility; it is … the most difficult responsibility that I can take.  And to trust in traditional categories of responsibility seems to me today to be, precisely, irresponsible” (24).
  8. And yet, the definition of responsibility cannot be a theoretical act (49). The issue here is not a theoretical voluntarism or decisionism.  Oddly enough, the Marxist and the deconstructionist find common ground on this front.
  9. Deconstruction, in 1988, and in spite of the university ignoring its work almost entirely, had spent a long while looking closely at those concepts that were supposed to have prevented the holocaust. And it had come across the evidence that subjectivity, intention, good will, etc., were not only not sufficient when it came to putting a stop to what from our present point of view is an absolute horror, but that these concepts were also, as it turns out, in complicity with that which they were supposed to have prevented.  Derrida, 1988: “… it is not because deconstruction deconstructs a received concept of responsibility that it is irresponsible.  On the contrary: I believe it is an exercise of responsibility to remain vigilant before the inherited concepts of responsibility.  And it is a fact that the … metaphysical concept of responsibility, such as it was formed throughout the history of philosophy, notably in its Kantian moment, as it was inscribed in the rights of man, in the democratic axiomatic, in Western morality and politics, that these concepts, European concepts, did not prevent Nazism.  And even that, very often, Nazism, Nazi discourse, used the very axiomatic that one opposes to it….  There was, in discourses, in people’s heads, something for which the theoretical concept and the form of injunction of that responsibility were not sufficient. …  [W]hat gives us all a bad conscience today … is that this concept of responsibility is not sufficient.  That all the categories it implies, that of the subject, of intention, of good will, are not sufficient” (50-51).
  10. In contrast to an explanation of Nazism that would place the blame on a “natural” inclination toward conformism—thus exculpating and inscribing Nazism as the natural unfolding of the human thing (see Gadamer’s comments in the appendix, pp.79-80)—Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe attempt a more Heideggerian response to the issue of responsibility and of a responsibility to Nazism. This is the singular contribution of the French, and their reading of Heidegger in so far as it assumes that there was a Nazi commitment on the part of the great thinker.  In what follows I do not intend to give a learned account of it, or to even pay tribute to those who have already understood this.  I simply take the opportunity to alert the reader to the opportunity presented by the transcription of the Heidelberg conference to get a glimpse of the far-reaching consequences that reading Heidegger against the grain can have for us today, thirty years on.  (Though it also goes without saying that taking heed of the work of those who have been careful not to ignore all of this must become part of what we acknowledge as our responsibility.)
  11. Derrida sketches what is at stake by way of the issue of the “question of the question.” As he explains it, for some time Heidegger thought the question as piety (Frömmigkeit)—as beyond science and philosophy.  This piety beyond metaphysics went together with the motif of the quest, of a search for principles or an investigation into first causes of foundations (66).  This piety is later (in Unterwegs sur Sprache) linked, in reference to the Greeks, to the fact of being “already docile; docile means he who listens, who is obedient. … questioning is already a listening—a listening to but also of or from the other.  I do not have the initiative, even of the question, even in this piety of thought that is the question” (67).  Before the question, logically and chronologically, before it, there is an acquiescence (Zusage): “this consent to die Sprache without which there would not even be a question” (67).  The issue becomes how to deal with die Sprache: “this attunement to die Sprache—which one cannot translate … neither by ‘language [langue]’, nor by ‘speech [parole]’” (67).
  12. It would be a question of moving too fast if one were to say that die Sprache was language as the house of being. One has said yes even before questioning—but to what?  To whom? This question mark undermines the authority of the question itself.  And this opens another path to access responsibility.
  13. This is the decisive step. Derrida, 1988: “Heidegger spoke all the time about responsibility, responding to the call of being: there would be no responsibility if there were not, already, the call of being that is not the call of someone, of a god ….  I am, even before responding in terms of moral conscience, I am accountable, responsible for a call that comes to me, I know not from where.  It is not God; it is not another consciousness or conscience.  I am imputable.  Dasein is a responsible being, that is, a being that must respond to a call that already constitutes it.  But from that moment, which is the moment of Sein und Zeit and of the years that followed it, under the authority of the question, at the moment of the Zusage, there is already a displacement of the motif of responsibility. …  I am responsible before even knowing for what, or before whom.  It remains for me to know to what, to whom the Zusage will be determined.  It is there that the political risk of the Zusage is very serious.  …  [I]t is one thing, then, to recognize in this yes an absolutely originary responsibility, which I cannot escape, and it is another thing then to determine to what and to whom I say yes when … I accept being responsible for this or that, before this or that instance of authority.  It is there that the matter is determined politically: between the Zusage in general and then the acquiescence to this or that juridico-political instance for this or that act….  There is a step, and this step is the step of what we call ‘juridico-political,’ which is at once ineluctable and undecidable: because it is necessary to traverse the moment of undecidability.  …  There is no possible responsibility that does not undergo the ordeal of this undecidability, and of this impossibility.  I believe that an action, a discourse, a behavior that does not traverse this ordeal of the undecidable, with all the double binds, all the conflicts …, is simply the tranquil unfolding of a program….  The program can be Nazi, democratic, or something else … but if one does not traverse this terrifying ordeal of undecidability, there is no responsibility” (67-69).
  14. Aware of the complexity of the point, Lacoue-Labarthe explains: “[Heidegger] was conscious of the leap he was making between, let’s say, something like the call of being and the leap it was necessary to take in order to become committed” (69).
  15. The example of Heidegger is an extreme one. His work opens the way to think the ungrounding of his own political error; but this is only possible by reading him in a certain way (which is the singular achievement of, principally, Derrida, Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe).  Heidegger opens the way toward thinking the originary call (of politics), which is not yet political.   When his commitment to the Nazi party is used as a name for the political as radical evil, it is adduced in order to side step or leave unthought the secondary status of the political determination of the call.  The yes is not originarily a yes to God or to a necessary authority.  It is a yes to we-do-not-know-what.  And this not-knowing is nothing less than the ungrounding of the political determination that follows.  This ungrounding is the very possibility of responsibility, for responsibility is only possible if we are able to step back in order to assume that there is no absolute authority that demands obedience in order to assign the call (of politics) to the juridico-political instance of this or that apparatus, whether it is the Nazi apparatus or any other political formation.  Heidegger’s yes is only secondarily a yes to Hitler, and this is not to say that there could have been a primary or primordial yes to a “right” form of politics, but to illuminate that every political determination is always secondary, and can therefore never be absolute.  That is, the militant, or the philosophy for militants, whether it is Heidegger or Badiou’s, can never know if its political determination of the calling, in this or that instance of authority, is the right one.  Responsibility, means, then, not justifying why one is right, but assuming, not that one could be wrong, but that no absolute necessity has ordained that any one particular determination is right.
  16. Are we more prepared today than we were in 1988 to deal with the possible resurgence of fascism? Not at all.  If anything, we are in a more precarious position.  Today what we are witness to, as a possible stop gap to fascism, is the reemergence of a radical militancy that wants nothing more than to declare and “demonstrate” its political determination as the right one.  To the extent that this oppositional force is the only stop gap we have at our disposal against the forces available to figures like Trump, it seems unlikely that we will be able to witness a revolution capable of preventing a new form of fascism.  It remains to us, up to all of us, to interrupt the irresponsibility that enables the efficacy of all the forms of fascist discourse.  This includes our own fascist will to political correctness.
  17. Now, what this entire exposition also exposes is that there has been a recent massive response to a political call, which only by means of an irresponsible denegation of the unnecessary assignation to the juridico-political conservative, and even reactionary, determination, is able to image that what is at issue at the present time has something to do with the plight of the white and rural working class. The populist, or the hegemonic, way to master this circumstance has been traditionally assigned to the role of managing equivalential chains of signification.  Yet, what the gap between call and determination points to is that this choice could have more to do with unacknowledged and ignored ways of being in the world than with the effects of neoliberalism on middle class America.  This does not only point toward unacknowledged visceral racism, it also entails thinking through the rejection of politics that typically lies at the heart of conservative populist movements.  (The recent desire to extricate Trumpism from populism is a wild herring effect of our current nihilist era.)  The rejection of politics should not be met with more politics, even less with morally upright politics.  The people, even according to the old Marxist axiom, have reason.  Even if for the wrong reason.  They have reason in intuiting, in heeding the call of being, which claims abeyance regarding politics as the totalizing discourse of our era.



Books cited

Badiou, Alain. L’Être et l’événement. Paris: Seuil, 1988. Print.

____. Manifeste pour la philosophie. L’Ordre philosophique. Paris: Seuil, 1989. Print.

Derrida, Jacques, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Heidegger, Philosophy, and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference. Trans. Fort, Jeff. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Print.

Farias, Victor. Heidegger and Nazism. Trans. Burrell, Paul. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991. Print.

____. Heidegger et le nazisme. Paris: Verdier, 1988. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj. Living in the End Times. New York; London: Verso, 2011. Print.

Politics, Trace, Ethics: Disciplinary Delirium—On Trump and Consequences

“Politics, Trace, Ethics: Disciplinary  Delirium—On Trump and Consequences”

Jaime Rodríguez Matos

CSU, Fresno

(Paper read at the conference “Latin America in Theory/Theory in Latin America” held at USC, Los Angeles, CA, Nov. 11 & 12)


The first part of my title is meant as a reference to the kind of thought that maintains that it is not possible to neatly separate politics from ethics.  The trace of the ethical in the political and the trace of the political in any radical ethics…. This is a difficult proposition, which I would like to frame today, at least on a first approach, by way of the recent election result that has given us Donald Trump as president-elect of the United States.  I currently teach at an institution where Mexican and Mexican-American students represent a large sector of the student population.  When we went back to our various classrooms on November 9th, there was a palpable sense of dread and mourning.  At least for myself, that day represents the most vivid experience of something like an exposure unto death, an exposure to nakedness, destitution, passivity, and pure vulnerability—to the face of the other as the very mortality of the other, of the absolutely other, piercing, as Levinas put it, “what merely shows itself,” piercing through “what remains the ‘individual genus’” (174 & 167).[1]  When Levinas writes of this kind of exposure in his late work the limits of language are tested at every turn.  For what is at issue here is the singular beyond equivalency, the singular before and beyond the synthetic function of consciousness and re-presentation, the singular before or beyond or not yet under the unity of transcendental apperception—a noema without noesis, an exposure to time as “the deformation of the most formal form there is—the unity of the I think” (176).  This breach of intentionality—in which there is a relationship to the other not of the sort that reduces the other to the thought of the identical as one’s own, thus reducing one’s other to the same—is ethical to the extent that it must remain prior to knowledge.  Which means that as soon as I transform this exposure into a datum that means something within the architecture of a political “what is to be done?” I am no longer dealing with a formless time, still completely historical, but before or beyond intentionality.  I would then be dealing with the presence of the present as the temporality of the graspable and its promise of something solid, material.  Now, this materiality is the only thing that seems to be of value to many of our fellow radical thinkers, who are, quite correctly, concerned with the very political question of what to do now that the entire world of many of my students at Fresno State seems to be on the border of a catastrophe wrought in the name of “making America great again.”  This political, too political, first response would forget all too quickly the fundamental experience of singularity without equivalence, which is ultimately, as Levinas, himself puts it, an experience of love, by running away with its bit of knowledge, its bit of ground on which to found its: “what needs to be done is ….!”  If I could put it in these terms, at the risk of simplifying and doing some concretizing of my own, the less political edge of the ethics of singularity without equivalence would present us with a radical complication in our current climate.  For when I walk out of the classroom where I was in the company of my frightened students I immediately come across a young man wearing cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, and a red baseball cap which orders everyone who reads the white letters on its front to Make America Great Again.  And there it was again, piercing through what shows itself, the face of the other, an alterity without noesis, the vulnerability and nakedness of the other.

As James Hatley has observed (35-36),[2] in Otherwise Than Being (101) Levinas elaborates on a scene of persecution in which he must fear not only for the possibility of a violent act of his own against the other, but also fear for the other’s plans for violence against him.  This fear is not simply a fear for oneself.  Rather: “My very persecution by the other is revealed to be my call to responsibility for the other.  The mere fact … that I have become a victim does not save me from responsibility.”  It is here that Levinas writes of an ethical delirium:

In ethical delirium … No matter how great the other’s assault against me might be …  Not the other’s assault upon me but my vulnerability to him or her is the issue.  My ethical delirium for the other does not cancel out my attentiveness to him or her … but intensifies it beyond any possible recall. (36)

Delirium is, one again, an attempt to explode or exceed the reduction of the other to the same in conscious representation.  What would the politics of this exposure be?  I would propose that whatever politics can be derived from this experience of singularity without equivalence would only be a deformed politics, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing but in the same sense that Levinas writes of a deformed time that is no longer the vision of the presence of the present in knowledge.

Now I believe that this is not simply something that we can learn from Levinas and apply as a ready-made solution to our problems.  For Levinas, this deformed time is also the address of a commandment or an order that is the voice of god, it is the fall of god into meaning.  Again, the thrust of this formulation is to move beyond the idea of meaning as presence or its reducibility to presence.  And Levinas emphasizes this double edge when he insists that this formless temporality is, and has always been, time as the good-bye of theology, while at the same time being the to-God of theology (à-Dieu).  I find this appearance of god consistent with everything Levinas sets out.  I think this is the inescapable conclusion if we follow the path of ethics.  But this is also why I find ethics problematic.  I fear that in this god, even if it is a deformed god, remains the all-too-palpable possibility of a political translation of theology: it is the most minimal, and perhaps for this reason the most effective, safeguarding of the becoming necessary of contingent authority, and authority figures.

The problem opens a different question.  For it would be possible to claim that if we do away with this figure, then we are immediately in the realm of a politicity that remains ensnared in the all-too-political framework of tragedy, where cutting the head of the leader is the central future of that form.  The most vivid theoretical work in this regard, to my mind, is Roberto Esposito’s conclusion to Categories of the Impolitical.[3]  There, in relation to Bataille’s acephalism and the image of Numancia, he points out to what extent Bataille’s writing elides the political and the impolitical:

the impolitical, pushed to its extreme, where what is in evidence is its own acephalism, the cutting of its own head, finds once again a political configuration, it recognizes (or it imagines) a point that is originarily prior to the ‘rupture’ with politics.  This point remains rigorously unrepresentable, but that unrepresentability can itself be represented, in its radical absence from the modalities of presence, but nevertheless represented. (308)

Which results in the perhaps contradictory fact that the impolitical becomes political at the exact moment in which one recognizes that there is something that remains before or outside of the political.

Though it is not the path I want to follow as I conclude, it would be possible to track in some of the literature of the 20th century attempts to think through this problem which eschew both the tragic as horizon for politics and the absolute commandment of ethics while insisting on the singular without equivalent that Levinas has done so much to make thinkable in our time.  Celan, Lezama Lima, Alejandra Pizarnik, among others, would be important reference points.  In that configuration, the issue concerns the relationship between the words of the poem and the deformation of the Muses, who ultimately are interrupted just as intentionality is interrupted in Levinas texts, without the loss of the singularly inequivalent.  But that is not the path that interests me today, as we are gathered here in Los Angeles at a time when people are out on the streets and the sound of police helicopters hovers over our heads.

I would like to return to the situation at hand now that Trump is the president elect.  And to the question of what kind of politicity, if that is the appropriate word here, would obtain if we allow the deformed time of singularity without equivalence to be heard as we think together in this difficult time.  Furthermore, I want to ask you to allow me to shift from the praxis of the militant to our own praxis as people who think and write about what is happening in our contemporary historical situation.  A praxis that is on the same plane as the actions of any militant, for our work can no longer simply be imagined to stand somewhere outside of time.

My feeling is that some of the difficulties that arise today do not only affect and compromise words like ethics, politics, subjectivity, and so forth, but that they also unground the frameworks in which we attempt to make them intelligible.  Latin Americanism is just one of those frameworks.  And whatever politicity can emerge from these ruins must begin by reimagining not only what we understand by politics, but also the function of knowledge when it is exposed to (the) singularity without equivalence (of the other).  It will not come as a surprise for most of you here today, that it is my opinion that the kind of thought that takes it upon itself to work through these problems goes by the name of infrapolitics.  But rather than say anything more about infrapolitics per se, I want to close by turning to the notion of psychoanalytic delirium and point out to what extent the style of that thought can be illuminating in what seems like a very dark post-Trump night.  That is, its style or its way of falling into meaning might be of help not because of any doctrine of the subject or of subjectivity, which might seem to be antithetical to what I have been outlining so far by way of Levinas, but because of what it can teach us, perhaps, as academics struggling with the relationship of knowledge and the exposure to the singular without equivalence.

For Jacques-Alain Miller, whom I cite here without the slightest need to presuppose his dominion over the exegesis of psychonalaisis, the formation of the unconscious is “the signifying alienation ([in which] the signifier represents the subject for another signifier) and sometimes, when a signifier calls upon another, it is produced for the subject as a lapse, through which it appears that he himself has produced it” (12).[4]  The difficult question, or the matter for psychoanalytic debate, is how to take this point of departure into account when differentiating between the formation of the unconscious (in neurosis) and the claim regarding elementary phenomena (in psychosis), while maintaining that these elementary phenomena are not simply a form of organisism.  How to reconcile something like an elementary phenomenon while rejecting organisism?  Miller proposes that there is an elementary phenomenon, but it is not quite certain what it is, much less that it is the address of god to us.  The elementary phenomenon represents a “we don’t know what” for someone else.  Elementary phenomenon, S1, represents an unknown X for someone, for the subject.  “In the formation of the unconscious, signifier links with signifier and the subject emerges as the effect of this link.  … the subject is not aware of this procedure: the signifiers link up among themselves and the subject is a little relegated to the background, as we see in the [case of a] lapse” (12).  And delirium is nothing but the address of this elementary phenomenon or sign, which represents an X for the subject.  Something comes to be taken as addressed to me, this tells me something, it speaks to me (19).  Thus the mysterious perplexity that the intuitive phenomenon produces—an intuitive phenomenon to which we add the delirious intuition implied.  There is here a supplement: the production of meaning.

For the analyst, “it” speaks to him.  The first evidence, the elementary phenomenon, the signifier alone, no one knows what it signifies.  It is only when another signifier appears (S2) that the signification of S1 emerges (22).  My students crying on November 9th, or the Trump supporter walking around campus with his celebratory gear, remain a “sinthomic” or formless thing that is yet outside of the symbolic fabric until I begin to assign them places like oppressor and victim, and the like.  Yet, they are not only both equally deserving of our responsibility to them, but are also responsible one for the other. Only when we instrumentalize in each case their singularity, reducing them to the sameness of our representations, bringing them into the light of conscious attention, do these individuals become the elementary phenomenon that authorize us to say: see, that is the thing that allows me to claim that politics speaks through my academic mouth, that is the ground on which I find the authority to say what needs to be done.  Yet what is happening here is the mistaking of “reality” for the constitution of delirium.  What if meaning comes from delirium in every case?  Delirium as equivalent to S2.  Which is to say that delirium would have an inextricable relation to knowledge.  Knowledge as delirium (22).

I do not mean to be simplistic or dogmatic one way or the other.  Nothing against knowledge, just as there is a new valuation of delirium.  Nothing against the delirium that makes knowledge possible, even as there is no rehabilitation of knowledge as a form of certainty.  For knowledge as delirium is exactly what undoes the certainty of the political or ethical materialist, he or she who thinks that somehow everything has been made clear and neatly tied to Reality.  We are reminded by the most devoted of Lacan’s students that

Lacan invites us to be a little psychotic, a little more perplexed.  He invites us to read things without understanding them and he helps us with his style that produces perplexity.  He teaches us not to efface the moment of perplexity, not to run away with our S2, our knowledge, supported by our phantasm, in order to decipher and affirm that we have no difficulty and that we understand what is happening.  To try not to understand what is happening is a discipline. (24)

Can this be the beginning of a deformed politics, a politics that is no longer the creation of hegemony, of the all too-quick answer regarding “what is to be done”?  To reject the pose of he or she who understands without perplexity?  The risk of running away too quickly with our bit of knowledge, with our S2, with the little plot of ground on which to stand and grandstand, is that we simply could mistake our phantasm for Reality.  Let us not demand of ourselves, or of others, or of the other in us—let us not demand write and think so that I can understand without perplexity!

[1]           E. Levinas. Entre nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other. Trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, pp. 174, 167.

[2]           James Hatley. “Beyond Outrage: The Delirium of Responsibility in Levinas Scene of Persecution.” In Addressing Levinas. Eds. Eric Sean Nelson, Antje Kapust, Kent Still.  Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern UP, 2005, pp. 34-51.

[3]           Roberto Esposito. Categorías de lo impolítico. Trans. Roberto Raschella.  Buenos Aires: Katz Editores, 2006

[4]           J-A Miller. “The Invention of Delirium.” Lacanian Ink 34 (Fall 2009): pp. 6-27.

“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.


  • 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.


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”).

Preguntas sobre infrapolítica/impolítica

Preguntas sobre infrapolítica/impolítica

Jaime Rodríguez Matos

¿Cómo entender las últimas páginas de Categorías de lo impolítico de Roberto Esposito? ¿Podríamos partir de ahí para empezar a pensar una posible distinción entre impolítica e infrapolítica?

Se trata de la imagen de Numancia y de los numantinos que antes de rendirse ante Escipión se dan recíprocamente muerte. En el texto de Goerges Bataille que comenta Esposito, “La représentacion de ‘Numance,’” lo “irrepresentable de la representación es … la decisión de una muerte en común, la comunidad decidida en la muerte” (Esposito 318; Bataille 486-489). Esto resulta opaco desde el punto de vista de la política romana: la pérdida de todo ese mundo es la negatividad sin residuo de lo impolítico (319). Pero más allá de la muerte, lo que se hace imposible representar en este caso es lo común –que no son individuos los que mueren, sino todo un pueblo: “El carácter más irrepresentable de la representación de Numancia consiste en el aspecto común, y por ello, en un sentido sustraído a toda evidencia, político, de su impolítico” (319). Lo político, de su impolítico: lo que se puede representar de lo irrepresentable. Bataille, que tiene como telón de fondo la lucha anti-fascista cuando escribe sobre la representación de Numancia, concluye, no su texto, pero sí el de Esposito con las siguientes palabras:

No hay más que ilusión y facilidad en el hecho de amar a Numancia porque allí se ve la expresión de la lucha actual. Pero la tragedia introduce en el mundo de la política una evidencia: la lucha emprendida no asumirá sentido y no se volverá eficaz sino en la medida en que la miseria fascista encuentre frente a ella algo distinto que una negación agitada: la comunidad del corazón de la que Numancia es la imagen. (en Esposito 320)1

Una negación agitada es lo que sabemos hacer casi de forma automática. Dadas las condiciones de miseria necesarias siempre llega el momento del grito, del “ya basta!” Y no es la imagen de Numancia porque siempre se apoya sobre el presupuesto de una comunidad plena, que no es y nunca ha sido. Y asumirla como el suelo sobre el que nos rebelamos al decir ya basta es haber perdido la batalla antes de comenzar. Entonces: para no quedarnos en la negación agitada es necesario, ante todo, afirmar la irrepresentabilidad irremediable de la de la comunidad y lo común. En este sentido lo común es aquello que no entra nunca en la política. Lo común sería, por ejemplo, la realidad de la catástrofe del esclavo y la esclavitud, que mientras lo tratemos de entender como un problema político solamente no quedará resuelto más que como radicalización de la instrumentalización de la vida. Es decir, mientras el problema de la esclavitud sea sometido a respuestas políticas, éstas solo serán desplazamientos del problema hacia otras zonas. Mientras no nos hagamos cargo de esta imposibilidad, de esa negatividad sin residuo, de lo impolítico, del hecho que en este caso estamos ante aquello que queda totalmente por fuera de la política, nada cambiará –aunque cambien las formas en las que se presente. Esposito, en voz de Bataille, se pregunta: “¿Cómo ‘escuchar’ políticamente lo que está fuera de la oposición política (de lo político), fuera del choque entre partes contrapuestas?” (320).

La cercanía entre Esposito y Bataille es extrema en estas últimas páginas. Esposito recurre al texto de Bataille diciendo que éste provee la conclusión de su libro. Resulta interesante por esta razón prestar atención al hecho de que la conclusión de Esposito/Bataille no es la conclusión de Bataille. En el breve texto de 1937, la conclusión añade una distinción de la que Esposito no se hace responsable más que de forma implícita:

El principio de esa inversión es simple. A LA UNIDAD CESARIANA QUE FUNDA UN JEFE, SE OPONE LA COMUNIDAD SIN JEFE REUNIDA POR LA IMAGEN OBSESIVA DE UNA TRAGEDIA. La vida exige hombres reunidos, y los hombres sólo se unen por un jefe o por una tragedia. Buscar la comunidad humana SIN CABEZA es buscar la tragedia: matar al jefe es en sí tragedia; sigue siendo una exigencia de la tragedia. Una verdad que cambiará el aspecto de las cosas humanas comienza aquí: EL ELEMENTO EMOCIONAL QUE DA VALOR OBSESIVO A LA EXISTENCIA COMÚN ES LA MUERTE. (488-489)2

El recorrido de la escritura impolítica que hace Esposito en su análisis de figuras como Canetti, Weil, Broch, representa una diferencia significativa de cara a lo que se expone sobre Bataille hacia el final del libro. Para Esposito, ésta es una escritura y un pensamiento en el que es observable una elisión que no es visible en ninguno de los otros. En Bataille, el “confín entre político e impolítico, que puede definirse diciendo que lo impolítico, empujado hacia los confines extremos –el corte de su propia cabeza, la acefalia– reencuentra una configuración política, reconoce (imagina) un punto originariamente anterior a la ‘ruptura’ con lo político. Este punto sigue siendo rigurosamente irrepresentable. Pero esa irrepresentabilidad puede ser ella misma representada, en su radical ausencia de las modalidades de la presencia y, sin embargo, representada” (308). La tragedia, lo impolítico sin cabeza y su escenificación, se hace político justo en el momento en el que se reconoce que hay algo que queda antes o fuera de lo político.

¿Podríamos decir que en tanto que trágica esta imagen de lo impolítico se mantiene plegada de forma demasiado comprometida con la política –y más aún, que insiste de forma contradictoria en la negación agitada precisamente porque asume demasiado pronto la necesidad de reinscripción de lo impolítico en la política? ¿Podríamos decir que la impolítica al limitarse a la no-relación con lo político, es decir, al no tener disponible un concepto como el de poshegemonía se ve obligada a habitar un espacio trágico que aun bajo el signo de la muerte del jefe sigue siendo demasiado político? O en otras palabra, ¿sería posible decir que sin un concepto de poshegemonía lo impolítico solo puede pensar su politicidad de forma trágica?


[1] “Il n’y a qu’illusion et facilité dans le fait d’aimer Numance parce qu’on y voit l’expression de la lute actuelle. Mais la tragédie introduit dans le monde de la politique une évidence : que le combat engagé ne prendra un sens et ne deviendra efficace que dans la mesure où la misère fasciste rencontrera en face d’elle autre chose qu’une négation agitée : la communauté de coeur dont Numance est l’image” (Bataille 488).

[2] “Le principe de ce renversement s’exprime en termes simples À L’UNITÉ CÉSARIENNE QUE FONDE UN CHEF, S’OPPOSE LA COMMUNAUTÉ SANS CHEF LIÉE PAR L’IMAGE OBSÉDANTE D’UNE TRAGÉDIE. La vie exige des hommes assemblés, et les hommes ne sont assemblés que par un chef ou par une tragédie. Chercher la communauté humaine SANS TÊTE est chercher la tragédie : la mise à mort du chef elle même est tragédie; elle demeure exigence de tragédie. Une vérité qui changera l’aspect des choses humaines commence ici : L’ÉLÉMENT ÉMOTIONNEL QUI DONNE UNE VALEUR OBSÉDANTE À L’EXISTENCE COMMUNE EST LA MORT” (488-489).


Bataille, Georges. Oeuvres complètes. Vol. 1. Paris: Gallimard, 1970. Print.

Esposito, Roberto. Categorías de lo impolítico. 1988. Trans. Roberto Raschella. Madrid: Katz Editores, 2012. Print.

First collective publication dedicated to infrapolitics: Transmodernity. Volume 5, Issue 1, 2015

Although the work is ongoing, the texts in this issue of Transmodernity reflect some of the questions and problems that the Infrapolitical Deconstruction Collective has engaged with in its first year of activity as a collective.

See link for access to essays by Alberto Moreiras, Maddalena Cerrato, Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, Ronald Mendoza de Jesús, Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís and Jaime Rodríguez Matos.