Infrareligion in the abyss: on Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time. By Gerardo Muñoz.

writing-of-the-formless_2017Jaime Rodriguez Matos’ Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (Fordham U Press, 2016) is an ambitious and truly mesmerizing mediation on the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima in light of contemporary theoretical debates concerning the status of the political in the wake of Modernity’s decline into nihilism. Rodriguez Matos’ sophisticated intervention attempts to accomplish several objectives at once, and in this sense, the book does not pretend to be an exegetical or philological contribution to scholarly debates on the poet. Rather, in the book, Lezama is taken as a poet-thinker of the informe, whose main import into Western history of writing and thought is that of a ‘writing of the formless’ (Rodriguez Matos 171). In its totality, the whole book is a groundwork for such a claim, and it works through a series of tropologies, figures, and debates that extend from Lezama’s specific cultural Cuban context and its readers, to a set of wider debates pertinent to Left-Heideggerianism, political theology, or the event (although by no means, is the complex set of debates reducible to these three philosophical indexes).

If one were to describe the project in its most far-reaching ends, Writing of the Formless is important yet for another reason: by handling several topologies of Lezama Lima’s oeuvre, we are offered an in-depth analysis of the intricate conceptual wager in infrapolitics, or in infrapolitical-deconstruction, which as Rodriguez Matos suggests, is the provenance of Lezama Lima’s contribution as a critical task. The book is divided in two parts. In the first one, four chapters grid an explication of the problem of time, as well as that of the formless, revolution, and nihilism. In the second, Rodriguez Matos engages in an innovative reading of different zones in Lezama Lima that evidence the destruction of principial politics, and the opening towards an (infra)politics of the void. In this review, I can hardly do justice to a book that I truly consider a masterwork of contemporary thought. In my opinion, this monograph comes as close as it gets to being flawless in establishing conceptual premises and argumentative deployment. In what follows I will map some provocative elements of his exposition, in hope that it will be a starting point for a discussion with those critically engaging Latin America, the political, and the stakes of thought in our time.

The point of departure of Writing of the Formless is the temporal question (in Latin America, although it is not localized here as a site of privilege) of Modernity, which is registered as a Janus face machine: on one end, the linear time of Hegel’s philosophy of history; and on the other, the teleological time of the messianic redemption and reservoir to many salvific political theologies. Early in the book, Rodriguez Matos sets up to establish the conditions that guide the development of his task:

“But it now it seems that in fact modernity, and not any possible redemption or liberation from its political and economic deadlocks, is itself a mixed temporality that is constantly battling between a circular and a linear time – a linear time of alienation and a circulation teleological time of redemption. The two need to be taken together, even in the very (im)possibility of such a synthesis. And this would mean that modernity is no longer the other of the revolutionary interruption of empty chronological time; rather, these are two sides of a single coin” (Rodriguez Matos 33).

By way of this dual apparatus of time, it becomes clear that linear time represents the time of alienation, where the eternal return marks its radical detachment only to become the engine of the theological messianic interruption. The two temporalities that frame Modernity, according to Rodriguez Matos, are a policing force, as well as “a residual effect or the symptom of the emergence of order itself” (Rodriguez Matos 22). And it is this formal legislation that synthesizes a duality that veil, in a variety of effective techniques, the formless of any foundation. Throughout the book the formless has different dispositions, such as the “intemporal”, “time of the absence of time”, or Lezama’s own “muerte del tiempo”. These all play key strategic functions and deconstructive relays. It might be the case, at least implicitly, that Rodriguez Matos knows that the history of metaphysics to cover up the void is, at the same time, the narrative produced by its apparatuses. What is important, however, is that by allocating these two times, Rodriguez Matos is able to set up what was otherwise obstructed: mainly, the time of void, which falls right beneath all principial politics, always in retreat and outside legitimizing messianic and developmental policity of Western modernity that governs both the time of the One and that of the multiple. Lezama is the figure that mobilizes a drift away from these two modalities:

“…beyond the politization of politics, and beyond the image of time as synthetic operation, what remains is the possibility of thinking with the poet beyond the current apparatus of academic-imperial) knowledge and all of its returns” (Rodriguez 25).

One would not exaggerate much in concluding that Lezama Lima as a thinker of the informe becomes the necessary antidote and hospitable dispensary against the philological exercises of the traditional belleletrism, but also of decolonial and neocommunist designs that, although attempting at the surface to break-away with imperial semblances, end up carrying the guise of principial politics as the highest flagpole for self-legitimation.

The reading of the informe allows us to move beyond the temporal dichotomy between revolution and conservation, messianic originalism (such as that of catholic, later convert post-socialist official poet Cintio Vitier), and the multiplicity of historical time (such as that endorsed by Rafael Rojas, Cuba’s most sophisticated neo-republican intellectual historian). It must be noted, however, that many other intellectuals and thinkers are tested on this basis. The common ground shared by diverse thinkers such as Rafael Rojas, Ernesto Laclau, Cintio Vitier, Walter Benjamin, Bruno Bosteels, Alain Badiou, and those that subscribe to post-foundationalism becomes clear: mainly, the assumption that the crisis of nihilism of temporality can be amended by always providing an adjustment for the abyss. In this way, Rodriguez Matos offers a frontal critique of any claim instantiated in hegemonic phantasms: “Our task remains to think time in all its radical complexity – that is, to think time as something other than a solution” (Rodriguez Matos 44). Writing of the Formless stands up to this deliverance.

There are many important elements that come forth in this argumentation, one of them being that the covering of the formless, or the lack of foundation, is usually articulated through a master and masterable political theology. It is not just Rodriguez Matos who arrives at this conclusion, but also Bruno Bosteels by way of observing the inscription of Christianity in many of contemporary thinkers of the Left. In a passage cited by Rodriguez Matos from Marx and Freud in Latin America, we read: “All these thinkers [Badiou, Negri, Zizek], in fact, remain deeply entangled in the political theology of Christianity – unable to illustrate the militant subject except through the figure of the saint” (Rodriguez Matos 44). It is even more perplexing then, that Bosteels’ own solution to this problem ends up being just more political theology by way of Leon Rozitchner’s reading of Saint Augustine, and merely exchanging the category of the saint for that of the militant subject, even though this is already part of the history of alienation of Christianity [1]. But the reason for this might be, as Rodriguez Matos thematizes a few pages later, that any predicament for politization as supreme value today needs to ascertain some sort of militant subject of the event in order to guarantee a consensus on “contemporaneity”, and in this way avoids what the present is or what it actually stands for (Rodriguez Matos 109).

The chapters 2 (“Sovereignties, Poetic, and Otherwise) and three (“The Mixed Times of the Revolution”) attend to how the question of time was conceived within the Cuban Revolution. This framing, one must first note, already dislocates the grounds of the discussion centered on the sovereign or the caudillo, a fetish so dear to both revolutionary and liberal imaginations when confronting the ‘Latinamericanist object’. Hence, in chapter two, Rodriguez Matos advances a demolishing reading of the temporality of foquismo, although not on the grounds that one could have imagined. From a historiographical standpoint, it is common to agree on the fact that that both Guevara and Debray’s formulations have little substance in historical experience, since they are theoretical fictions that develop to master a non-repeatable event (the Cuban Revolution), which was far from being successful solely because of the foco guerrillero in the first place. But this is not Rodriguez Matos’ critique. The argument is set up to make the claim that the Revolution, in order to become flesh and conceive the unity and sameness with the people, theory must be first discarded (Rodriguez Matos 60). Rather mysteriously, in foquismo it is the people that ‘act’, while Guevara becomes its narratological supplement. This is the inversion of the Leninist principle that alleged that in order for a revolution to materialize it needs a good theory beforehand.

Guevara, in Rodriguez Matos, takes the role of the anti-Lenin. In fact, in a strange way, Che appears as a sort of naturalist-philosopher: “…what Guevara is after is the same time that was at issue in Marti: the idealism of the Revolution has to become a force of nature, sprouting in the wind without being cultivated…in all its originary ontological stability, phusis) and the people, without the transubstantiation of the idea into flesh yielding intimate unity, and without this force of nature forging revolutionary ideology…this passage would be nothing but the declaration of one individual from Argentina who has recently landed in a foreign land…” (Rodriguez Matos 60). Guevara is a hopeless romantic, who recaps the Romantic ideal of the fragmented temporality in the pedagogical poem, only that for him the impolitical people are in a “time out of joint”. This is why they must also become a New Man. The catastrophe of foquismo, is thus not merely at the level of a massive historical evidence, but an afterfact of a metaphysics that is already one step away from thinking the void, while formalizing it through a dialectical moment. Rodriguez Matos stages the central problem, just after having glossed Guevara’s revolutionary thought:

“For the metaphysics in question already relies heavily on the form in which it makes multiple small narratives. For the metaphysics in question already relieves heavily on the form in which it makes multiple temporalities appears together. That is, modernity is fundamentally and internally committed to the constant confrontation of disparate forms of time. Instead, I suggest taking a closer look at the time of lost time, the time of the void, and what might happen when it is not filled in but, rather, allowed to resonate in all its formlessness.” (Rodriguez Matos 61).

How should we understand this echo? The turn to Celan and Heidegger’s immersion in noise and the ontological difference validates immediately any vacillation in the answer, since what is at stake is ultimately to think not the “standstill of all time” of the messianic force, but our being in time understood as our most basic and intimate relation that we have with time (Rodriguez Matos 70). It is only this absent time of the formless that will be one of majesty, capable of undoing sovereign authority and its governability over the singular.

The third chapter moves against the belief that Lezama Lima can be grasped in interested disputes regarding his intellectual provenance, political ideology, or assumed Catholicism (origenismo). This is an arduous task, but Rodriguez Matos makes it look easy through a threefold operation. First, Lezama is moved beyond the antinomies of secularization and aesthetics, placed in the proper site of the religion of the formless (we will come back to this). Secondly, Rodriguez Matos confronts Lezama’s own interpretation of the Revolution as parusia or Second Coming, which coincides perfectly with Guevara’s own model of the “ways things are” that folds revolutionary Cuba into globalization due an ingrained total administrate apparatus over life (Rodriguez Matos 93).

This entails that revolutions, if we take the Cuban experience as metonymic of the phenomenon, are always already biopolitical experiences, even though Rodriguez Matos does not frame it in such terms. Third, by understanding the ‘mixed’ temporality of communism and revolutionary politics as convergent with the temporality of capitalism, we come to understand that the second is always on reserve in the backdrop of the state and its institutions (Rodriguez Matos 96-97). In sum, the superposition of revolutionary times with the time of capital is here shown, once again, to be two sides of the same dual narrative of modernity that turns away from the abyss at the heart of politics. This complicates many, if not all, of the assumptions that Cuban transitologists have disputed with very futile outcomes, in my opinion, in the last decade.

Finally, the fourth chapter “Nihilism: Politics as the Highest Value” rightly places the question of nihilism at the center. This is a return to the question of political theologies discussed above. Whereas many of the thinkers on both sides, republicanist and communist alike, take up the question of nihilism, the result, according to Rodriguez Matos, is that it is presented as a fight against those that think the problem of nihilism. Thus, the “banality of nihilism must be dismissed or critiqued” (Rodriguez Matos 104). The operation rests on the fact that the question of being must be avoided at all costs. And this is achieved in at least two main forms: discarding nihilism by proposing a “multiplicity of times” (Rojas), or by proposing a “living philology” (Vitier, Bosteels) that would be able to restitute a truth of a text of the past to give proper political ground (Rodriguez Matos 115). Now the tables are turned, and those that seek to cover the void, as if that were an option, appear as agents of a true nihilistic force.

The second part of the book titled “Writing the Formless,” provides a roaming through Lezama’s conceptualization of the void against politico-theological closure, arriving at the unthought sites of the ontological difference after Heidegger and deconstruction, and moving into infrapolitics. This is an exemplary section in the sense that Rodriguez Matos warns that he is in no position to offer a transhistorical formal theory of Lezama’s writing, and in this way he calmly avoids the universitarian-Master demand for a totalizing expertise of lezamianos. This operation is undertaken not for the sake of confrontation against Lezama specialists, but rather due to a more modest motive: it is not the point that drives Writing of the Formless. Anyone to counter argue on this level is rather to sidestep its most important contribution of this book. Finally, Rodriguez Matos lays out what is at stake, which is tailored as a question that by far exceeds Lezama Lima as a single corpus:

“Ultimately what is at issue whether there is a difference between those texts of the Western tradition that forget the question of being and those whose starting point is the challenge and the difficulty that the question poses, the challenge and the resistance involved in dealing with the ground that is and is not there in its absence. What is at stake is whether or not it is possible to imagine a writing and a thought that do not simply fall silent in order to guarantee the continuity of the narrative of legitimacy and sovereign authority in the poem or in politics – but the link between these two is also at issue here. That is, whether or not it is possible for posthegemonic infrapolitics to be something other than the trace of politics” (Rodriguez Matos 136).

What immediately follows is a series of closely knit constellations of the writing of the formless as absent time in Lezama, which I can only register here without much commentary: Lezama’s own critique of T.S. Eliot’s notion of the difficult, a critique of Garcia Marruz’s reading of the aposiopesis as rhetoric’s hegemonic property, Lezama’s understanding of Aristotelian metaphoricity; Lezama’s philosophy of an atopical One, and finally Rodriguez Matos’ own conceptual position of Lezama as an infrareligious and infrapolitical figure that pushes politico-theological legislation of principles to their very limit into a ‘nonsynthesizable reminder’ [sic] (Rodriguez Matos 154). Further, Lezama’s vitalist response to the Platonist pros hen, unlike the immanentist modern reversal, concludes in a Platonist affirmation instead of an overcoming of Platonism (Rodriguez Matos 139). Rodriguez Matos intelligently resolves this bizarre multiplicity vis-à-vis a parallel reading of Paul Claudel, who rejects aposteriori knowledge in exchange for the cognizant objectification of God before the sovereignty of the Poet. Although I am left thinking about the status of Neo-Platonism as it relates to the discussion of Christian Trinitarian thought [2].

But Rodriguez Matos goes further, and the Lezama that emerges from this destructive multi-level procedure is one that resists alleogrization, taking cue from Alberto Moreiras’ pioneering reading in Tercer Espacio (1999), as well as a privileged and secured position of a profane materialism over the question of form. And it is also in this very instance where Rodriguez Matos opens up to a complicated debate, which although unresolved, is the most striking and illuminating kernel of his book. In short: does ‘the roaming of the formless’ [sic] in Lezama offer something other than a trace of politics? I want to suggest, from my first reading of what is certainly a complex conversation, that this remains unresolved in Writing of the Formless. Let’s consider a key moment at the end of the book:

“For part of what I am calling attention to is the fact the staging of the formless in Lezama involves a thematization and an awareness of what should only be there as trace. This awareness goes beyond a more familiar claim regarding the self-deconstruction of discourses of their own accord – this is, after all, also what the trace is supposed to underscore. I would like to read this excess of awareness as a radicalization of deconstruction” (Rodriguez Matos 176).

This radicalization will entail leaving behind the moment of ecriture, which characterized the first wave of deconstruction in literary fixation and textual playfulness. Infrapolitics will be, programmatically speaking, post-deconstruction, or what Moreiras has recently called a second turn towards instituted deconstruction [3]. But the question remains: is infrapolitics then, a trace of politics? It is an unresolved question, but perhaps the most important one. Rodriguez Matos leaves us a clue at the very end of the book. When discussing the baroque – and let’s not lose sight of the fact of how late the question arrives, which is a merit and not a pitfall – Rodriguez Matos cites a letter of Lezama to Carlos Meneses: “I think that by now the baroque has begun to give off a stench” (Rodriguez Matos 181). The Baroque has come become an exchangeable token for the Boom, the last stage of identitarian transaction. But it is more than this: the baroque can no longer account for the informe at the heart of the image and rhythm.

Let’s probe this further. If the baroque is now exhausted, it is because all politics of the frame are insufficient to cope with the formless. The primacy of the critique of political economy today, for example, remains just one of its last formal avatars. But one could also respond to Rodriguez Matos’ final invitation, and say that while the aesthetic program of the baroque is demolished or turned into ashes, perhaps a trace of it remains in posthegemonic politics. To the extent that we understand the baroque as a political of self-affirmation against Imperium beyond hegemony, the baroque necessarily entails a republicanist politics [4].

In other words, while the infrareligious trace depends on the abyss, posthegemonic politics of republicanism sprouts from the baroque in early modernity against any imperial and counter-imperial conversions. Rodriguez Matos interchangeably speaks of infrapolitics and posthegemony throughout the book, therefore this nuance could be taken as a radicalization of the second term in line with the disclosure regarding the baroque. Post-deconstructive infrapolitics remains open. But if Lezama’s legacy is waged on having confronted the formless abyss of the absent time; perhaps, the author of Dador can also reemerge as a political thinker and existential representative not of Paradise, but of the secret Republic. This will entail a republicanism that, in each and every single time, does not longer participate in the eternal arcanum.

 

 

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Notes

  1. This does not mean that St. Augustine cannot be read against the myth of political theology. Such is the task that José Luis Villacañas has accomplished in his Teología Political Imperial: una genealogía de la division de poderes (Trotta, 2016). In my view, Rozitchner’s La Cosa y la Cruz (1997) is a flagrant misreading of Augustinian anti-political-theology in exchange for a superficial materialist affective analysis. Although I do not have space to discuss this at length, I must note that Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of contemporary materialisms is also a timely warning about the easy exists that the so-called “materialisms” offer today as an effective transaction in contemporary thought. For his discussion of materialism see, pgs. 104-108.
  1. The question of Neo-Platonism is a fascinating story by itself, which speaks about the multiple in the One. Pierre Hadot studied its influenced in debates of early Trinitarian thought in his work of Marius Victorinus; recherches sur sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris: Etudes augustiniennes, 1971). Now, it seems that Lezama Lima himself was not foreign to Plotinus and Neoplatonism, which he linked it to the emergence of the modern poem. In fact, while reading Writing of the Formless, I revisited my copy of Lezama Lima’s unpublished notes in La Posibilidad Infinita: Archivo de José Lezama Lima, ed. Iván González Cruz (Verbum Editorial 2000). It was interesting to find that in “Oscura vencida”, a fragment from 1958, Lezama writes: “Si unimos a Guido Cavalcanti, March, Maurice Sceve, John Donne, en lo que puede ser motejados de oscuros, con distintos grados de densidad, precisamos que sus lectores, puede ser los más distinguidos cortesanos, o estudiantes que versifican cuando la hija del tabernero inaugura unos zarbillos…Con una apresurada lectura de la Metafísica de Aristóteles, sobre todo su genial concepto del tiempo que pasa a Hegel (sic) y a Heidegger; con cuatro diálogos platónicos, donde desde luego no faltara el Parménides. Con algunas añadiduras de Plotino sobre la sustancia y el uno…ya está el afanoso de la voluptuosos métrica en placentera potencialidad para saborear una canción medieval, un soneto del renacimiento florentino, o una ingenua aglomeración escolástica que se quiere sensibilizar, o una súmala de saber infantil, regida por un pulso que no se abandonó a la plácida oficiosa…” (252). This does not necessarily dodge Rodriguez Matos’ discussion of Claudel, but complicates it, since the trinity also merges at different points throughout the book. My question is whether any discussion of Trinitarian co-substantialism is still embedded in metaphysical structuration as potentia absoluta, or if Lezama’s informe is a Parthian attack against this influential model of absolute potentiality by turning it into a monstrous infrareligion. At stake here is also the issue of ‘reversibility’ that is obliquely exposed at the end of the book (Rodriguez Matos 189).
  1. See Alberto Moreiras, “Comentario a Glas, de Jacques Derrida”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/comentario-a-glas-de-jacques-derrida-notas-para-la-presentacion-de-la-nueva-traduccion-espanola-clamor-publicada-en-madrid-la-oficina-2016-y-hecha-por-muchos-autores-con-copyright-de-cristina/
  1. The question of the republicanist politics, Imperium, and the baroque is studied in detailed in Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solis’ La República de la Melancolía: Politica y Subjetividad en el Barroco (La Cebra, 2015).

Acts of Engagement: on Marranismo e Inscripción. (Djurdja Trajkovic)

What is the relation between negative engagement and deconstruction? Negative engagement is a singular engagement of separation that instead of proposing a binary problem/solution proper to contemporary thinking, offers new questions and the possibility of pushing thought further. It is negative since it does not look for empathy nor compassion, neither redemption nor recognition. It is an engagement that abandons the “state of things”, only to open up thought to the unthinkable, and to the difficult experience of freedom. It is engagement as a form of life, since what is at stake is a relation to existence outside of hegemony, identity, and quality; that is, at the margins of institution (if there is such a thing anymore).

In Moreiras’ anti-book, Marranismo e Inscripción (Escolar & Mayo, 2016), we bear witness to such a difficult intervention. It is a book made up of heterogeneous writings, some highly intimate, others profoundly distant, which overwhelms the reader with their arduous insistence and demand for thinking. It is as if Moreiras is repeating the Heideggerian conclusion that we have not even begun to think. And what is there to think about in “times of interregnum”?

Firstly, the crucial task that Alberto offers up for thought is what cannot be said: the crisis of the Humanities. Suggesting that we do not posses even the concepts or language with which we could start this process, Moreiras is suspicious of returns to national history and grand (canonical) literature. If this is a crisis of crisis, how do we think about the Humanities within the eye of the storm? What kind of crisis are we bearing witness to? It seems that the Humanities has become sort of a bad word: it is a space where a fundamental interrogation on the state of humanity could have been put into question once, and that today increasingly mirrors only the loss of academic jobs of academics and its contingency. Global capitalism turns a necessity, the cultivation of thought and the letter, into contingency by naturalizing the status quo and refusing to recognize the conflict.

Important as it may be to address the contingency of academic work, however, the crisis is profound since what is at its heart is the very crisis of thought and intellectuality. It seems that the brutal acceleration and instrumentalization of life itself has surpassed our capability to rethink it without falling into nostalgia and melancholia and other “solutions” that lead nowhere. I am not suggesting here embracing all too quickly a “happy” form of living without really dwelling into the question of globalization. But does anyone really need the Humanities anymore, if anyone ever really did? Is the university, as a space of hospitality without condition, possible today? Can the Humanities offer once again a thought of/for transformation? How is transformation to be enacted irreducibly to wishful thinking and pure dreaming? Critical thinking stutters here, as it fears its own disappearance.

There is no room for cynicism or nihilism, however. And even if there is, we must reject it. The situation is difficult, unbearable. Inviting us to abandon recognition, Moreiras underlines the acknowledgment of finitude; the very possibility of doubt and doubting of decolonial and communist impulses (you may want to revise this last phrase, as it is difficult to figure out what you mean). He is one of the rare thinkers who trace the problem of the temporality of thinking itself. For example, he asserts that our accustomed “tools” fail us today as the exhaustion of modern (political) concepts is beckoning us. Perhaps we are bearing witness to the death of modernity. And yet, Moreiras does not offer to salvage those concepts but instead proposes without proposition a further deconstruction of politics. One must ask then what is left of politics and the political after deconstruction? What is unthinkable after deconstruction? Is deconstruction in need of deconstruction? Is deconstruction possible in the eye of a mass depolitization that the failure of neoliberalism made visible?

Infrapolitics, as something that happens, offers itself as the radicalization of deconstruction. It is a labor of difficult passion, of possibilization of the impossible, and a constant search, a desire, for the outside. Moreiras himself is hesitant to affirm if and when such a possibility might open up. Certainly not today when the conditions of possibility of/for thinking in the university of equivalence have closed even the possibility of putting into question the university itself and division of labor. Not even to mention the anti-intellectuality and anti-theoretical turn haunting the Humanities. After all, all is said and done, right? And yet, at the same time, Moreiras does not want to abandon the possibility of a new historicity, a new writing of history irreducible to instrumentalization and to the capture of history for supposedly progressive goals.

How to exercise such a demand? I believe that the question is not anymore ‘what is to be done’ but how to think the end of doing and the beginning of thinking. At the heart of his intervention is a thinking of radical democracy, a demand for a freedom of life liberated from the identitarian and hegemonic drives, a demand for other thought and time irreducible to the techno-political machine which captures experience and knowledge into another fetish and concept to be applied. In Moreiras we are distant from destruction, and what is being offered is the very possibility of experiencing freedom anew.

How so? He suggests in his reading of Javier Cercas’ El impostor that thinking is inseparable from freedom, not inseparable from love as for Jean Luc Nancy, but freedom itself. Thinking is irreducible to philosophy and literature is the risk one must take if there is going to be freedom at all. Thinking is sick thought. And only patient attention to this sickness (how could it be otherwise after the violence of metaphysics?) through the cultivation of other thought and letter could bring about the “cure”. However, the cure is not restoration of health but precisely the opening, the region, where freedom could appear. Moreiras uses here a curious word, “appearing,”- which is not appearance but “appearing.” For example, freedom appears when and if, a (wo)man opens herself to letting it be, when the character is separated from destiny, and when we consider what we are not and what we have not been able to be. Also letting it be so that the unknown can appear. Not doing but being. Is this the attempt to write a history of what has not happened and could have been? It is certainly a demand irreducible to “restorative nostalgia.”

This is a similar suggestion to what Sergio Chejfec exercises in his Los incompletos. We are not speaking here of mourning, but of the possibility of confronting the real as unforeseeable, as imperfect and inconclusive past. When we understand that, as Javier Marias reminds us, grace without use is also “la suma de todas las posibilidades no realizadas en nuestras vidas no como destino fallido”. Perhaps only then we will be ready to let freedom appear in its inexhaustibility. This is the task and promise of brave negative engagement for any Hispanist.

Undigestible Hispanism: reflection on Marranismo e Inscripción. (Brett Levinson)

Marranismo e inscripción, henceforth MI, is both a performance and explanation of its own undigestibility, which is to say, the undigestibility of Moreiras within Hispanism as well as within, let us call them, the theoretical humanities. Undigestible is MI not because it is too hard to read or understand; it is too hard to take. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche explains “Why I write such good books.” In MI, Moreiras explains “Why what I write produces such indigestion.”

As to those who find Moreiras undigestible—I cannot enter into a detailed analysis, which I think is nonetheless important to one day carry out, of the number of figures who can’t take Moreiras because they do not know he is available for the taking, or who do know, but choose not to partake. I am referring to those who do not read Moreiras at all, yet who occupy prominent places within the institution of theory. This non-reading is not the result of some accident in which we can say: “Well, nobody can read everyone or everything; that is the nature of knowledge; we are doomed to specialization. One chooses a discipline to a large degree by accident; accidental too, then, are the books one is obliged to read to “keep up,” as well as the texts that even come to one’s attention. Non-Hispanists cannot possibly sift through a tome that is only partially about theory, deconstruction, Marxism, neoliberalism, mourning, and unhappiness, that is, non-Hispanic matters, even if to conclude that it, MI, is undigestible.

It is just not in the interest of, for example, Derrideans and Heideggerians to do so, even if they can read Spanish (and many, though not enough, in fact can).” This sort of un-digestion—undigestion as as non-reading—is no accident because the entire institution in which we dwell is oriented in such as fashion that a Spaniard, writing in Spanish or English about theory–the entire hegemonic apparatus of the theoretical humanities is organized in such a manner that this kind of person, one such as Moreiras, is not of interest to, does not work in the interest of, any component of institutional knowledge. MI does not serve theorists proper; they do not have the time. Thus, while such folks may be very good theorists, they are completely complicit with the state of the humanities which they pretend to “deconstruct”; Moreiras is the symptom (which, like many symptoms, such as a twitch, appears to everyone but the body of he or she who has it) of that complicity, which symptom remains un-analyzed because many of those who could analyze it—well, it is not in their interest to do so.   In this situation, Moreiras proves undigestible not because potential consumers, namely, those who do not consume Moreiras, do not have the time but, in fact, because they cannot be bothered to make the time.

I will concentrate instead on the engagement with Latin Americanism and/or Hispanism as a field which MI addresses, and which includes the chapter on communism, in which a Hispanist and a Bolivian are featured.   Before doing so, though, I want first to thank Jacques Derrida for casting stupidity as a project of philosophy that philosophy cannot turn into a concept of philosophy, cannot appropriate.   For, in doing so, Derrida allows one to call discourses stupid without insulting their authors, presenting the stupid as a most profound marker of the finitude of knowledge to which thought ought to turn. Indeed, thanks to Derrida, you can now safely turn to a colleague and say: “you fucking bestial idiot—and I mean that in the best of senses of course!”

By bête or betisse, of course, Derrida means the automaticity of the human—which automaticity is not merely technical but also animal and spiritual, of the soul—which repeats itself and repeats itself without being able to humanize the repetitions, which is to say, without (the human is without) being able to contain them within a rational, responsive and responsible, hence human framework.   The human is not bête, to be sure. Man is not animal; he is not the only stupid one necessarily, the only one who can be stupid (the rest are innocent, like a dog who barks too much: what can you do, a dog is a dog)—this is Derrida’s point, in fact: the human is and is not the bête.   For, the experience, sense or intuition of sheer nonsense is impossible without a framework or concept. That each thing be digested as just another stupid thing and another stupid thing, indifferent from all other things, hence undefined, nonsensical, is impossible, since the very concept of bête, disavows the bête, rationalizes it, humanizes it, precisely by grabbing it with both hands, which hands make consumption, thus digestion, conceivable.

Stupidity is too stupid to be theorized, for example, to be deconstructed. Thus, we can say, that Derrida himself, like Lacan in the seminar on Joyce, illustrates that the great thinkers—and Derrida and Lacan, with precious exceptions, only address great thinkers—include and disavow a bit of stupidity. That is to say, there is a bit of the bête in every humanist intellectual operation, which therefore is and is not human, responsive and responsible. The bête is the trace of the human, and the means by which the last Derrida affirms stupidity as the name of the opening to thought, politics, activism, ethics, fiction, and so forth, even though stupidity itself is neither good nor bad. MI is the history of Moreiras as bête and as not bête.

But—and here comes the undigestible component of Moreiras—Moreiras, given his field, given that he is a Spaniard and a Hispanist, in addition to whatever else he is, does not get to address Hegel; he is not granted that right by the institution that MI addresses to show how brilliant Hegel is—to show that Hegel anticipated everything Marx, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Lacan would later say if you just know how to read right, but that he also contains a little bête there where Hegel did not think, the bête by means of which one can demonstrate—those who have the right to read Hegel right—that Hegel did not think everything right, that his thought is finite, and therefore, that absolute knowledge bears a mark of stupidity: a chocolate stain on the tablecloth, food for thought. The double gesture of affirmation and unraveling that deconstruction and/or psychoanalysis perform on Hegel, and on any number of wonderful thinkers and artists, whose perfection, whose magnificent totality, is tainted by imperfection, and whose taint calls forth thought today, for us—Moreiras and MI cannot make this their project their project.

In sum Moreiras, a Spanish whitish guyish individual writing about Spanish things or writing in Spanish about non-Spanish things, cannot subsist writing about Hegel, for that writing is not in anyone’s interest, including Moreiras’s. Thus, Moreiras has to write about scholars who are really stupid as if they were Hegel, as if they could be both critiqued and affirmed. Moreiras, that is, must say what he does not say but that I will say for him, to wit, that the Jameson that he cites and reads so generously, desde luego con todo respeto, the discourses of Jodi Dean, Bosteels, Mignolo, Beverley, and so many others within MI, are stupid—I am not saying the people are stupid; I do not know them well enough to say that: their discourses are stupid, this I do know—and they cannot be affirmed and rescued in any way except by casting them as better than they are, which is to say, as stupid as Hegel is. But you cannot do it, which Moreiras’s previous Exhaustion of Difference showed: you cannot cast the stupid that is in fact fact stupid as smart so as then to say that it is stupid. You cannot deconstruct stupidity. You only end saying the stupid is stupid, which is undigestible to the stupid, and also, fortunately, itself a bit stupid, for it is a tautology.

Which, that is, the stupid, MI shows, is stupid for a reason: because it takes all concepts–rhetoric, destruction or deconstruction, Europe, the West, ghost, desire, drive, deferral, death, Dasein as el no sujeto, philosophy, Marx, de Man, Badiou, and so on—and converts them into brands that it, the stupid, can then reject as brands, taking concepts along with it. Either that or it, the stupid, can take the conversion of concept into brand and then, as competitor, critique it. The competitor qua discourse of critique of the concept-turned-brand (turned, that is, by that competitor himself) poses as the alternative to of capitalism or colonialism (which the brand represents). Of course this competition with the concept turned brand that academic politics undertakes has only one name: branding.   Academic politics (perhaps politics as such, if politics had an as such; yet that is the point infrapolitics: politics as such is naught) emerges, not as a set of concepts or actions but a choice for this or that brand, as an opportunism, brand against brand. And within that discourse the turning to ideas, concepts, and language emerges as a choice, a “buying in”: the choice not to be political but philosophical, textual, literary, historical.   To address concepts or language is the choice, according to politics, to be apolitical, hence not stupid. MI is not stupid, or not stupid enough, and that is perhaps its most objectionable quality, at least for those who find it undigestible.

Moreiras tries to make these points politely, in a digestible fashion; he tries to deconstruct his objects. But deconstruction presupposes concepts, and concepts are not at work in the objects to which Moreiras, as a Spaniard writing in English or an American writing in Spanish, is bound. So he does not deconstruct, intentions notwithstanding. He discloses the stupid, which stupidity cannot take its being “called,” as one calls the other in poker.

Indigestible finally also is infrapolilitics. For the sake of time, I will illustrate with my own example, stupid like all examples, and not at all like the examples in MI itself. In the film “Fences,” which reproduces almost to the letter August Wilson’s early 1980s play, which takes place in 1957 Pittsburgh, the son says to the father—and both characters are of course black—a father bitter about a denied career in major league baseball, that things have changed: “Dad, the Pirates have this black Puerto Rican player named Clemente!” The father’s response, a father who is blind to himself, blind as all tragic characters are blind, can be heard as an case of identity politics, although identity politics is rarely as eloquent as August Wilson. However, the space of that politics, whatever one thinks about, is not defined or determined by politics. It is defined and determined by the word “black,” which is linguistic not political, for it is a trope. Indeed, no skin color is actually black. The field of the politics is determined by blackness, which blackness is not political but rhetorical. There you have the beginning of an understanding of infrapolitics.

First, there must be a claim on politics, a specific claim, like the father makes about the injustice black people face; the claims outlines, forms the boundary, of the domain of politics–politics in the particular, factical circumstance. But the claim itself is not grounded in politics, but in blackness, which is rhetorical, though it could also, in another analysis, be seen as ideological, philosophical, ethical, religious, historical—the point is that is it not political. The claim on politics is impossible without the non-political that grounds the claim. The limit, the boundary, the border, the definition of the space of politics is not given; it happens when you claim it. When you claim politics, and all Hispanism and all theory does for reasons I cannot explain here, you expose the non-politics of politics, the irreducibility of politics to itself, that which is indigestible to any political as such, precisely because it denies the political as such.

Now, the son’s comment, “the Pirates have a black Puerto Rican player named Clemente,” pronounced in either 1957 and the early 1980s (depending on how you look at it) is also pronounced in the film, by Denzel Washington, in 2017. And in 2017, Roberto Clemente, were he alive as, say, David Ortiz is alive, would not be a black ballplayer but a Hispanic one. For African-American, the displacement of a biological referent, a skin color, black (which again is not a skin color but a trope), with an historical/cultural definition of a race, a race of people that came to America from Africa as so many slaves, overcame slavery, then overcame incredible injustices through the civil rights movement, and now faces and combats new injustices—AfricanAmerican now overdetermines blackness, though black and AfricanAmerican are, today, equally proper.

Thus, only African Americans, in the discourse of baseball, which in “Fences” is the discourse of every discourse, and certainly the discourse of justice, are black, while the Dominicans and Cubans and Panamanians and Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans, and so on, who one might have once called black, as the son calls Clements black, are Hispanic.   So the identity politics of baseball regarding race is now defined, at least in part, by the African-American/Hispanic division. Of course, again, the essence of an African-American politics is the definition “African-American”—which, by the way, is not a signifier without signified, a word without definition a la Laclau but definition itself, the determiner of the political space—which is not political; it does not come from politics. The essence of an African-American politics, “African-American,” indeed, is not itself politics but infrapolitical, inscribed into the political as that which is irreducible to it. Now, it ought be clear that any politics concerning race that might emerge in the project of baseball, or any other project, would form at the limit of the political, which is there where African-American and Hispanic meet, which is no place; for there is no place where the division between the two can be grounded.

The Hispanic, as other than the African American and other than the white, Native-American, indigenous, is nowhere to be found.   Its territory emerges only through the sociologiziation of knowledge and culture: everything with a place in its place. Even if other places bleed into that place, as in mestizaje—that is ok—but, for the sociologization of the knowledge to win out, first there must be a rightful place, so that there can be rightful politics, which is the conquest of place, or property, or concepts turned brands.   Politicization is both the exposure and erasure of the infrapolitical, the non-place or non-ground of any definition, in MI, of the Hispanic or Hispanism. And if you start a discourse on Hispanism from a foundation that says that Hispanism is not a place and has no place—well, that is undigestible for Hispanism and non-Hispanism alike.

 

*Position Paper read at book workshop “Los Malos Pasos” (on Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción), held at the University of Pennsylvania, January 6, 2017.

On Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción. (Lacey Schauwecker)

In the preface to Marranismo e Inscripción, Moreiras warns readers of the book’s “carga afectiva,” a valence palpable throughout his rigorously critical, and yet also resolutely personal, chapters. It is “autografía,” which he describes as writing that “busca verdad y produce destitución” ( Moreiras 200). Autography inscribes both oneself and one’s unknowing, always oriented toward that which exceeds it, a surplus that itself produces.

I am inclined also to call this writing – this autography – literature, not as a fetish but as the desire to know that which remains necessarily unidentified ( Moreiras 27). As memoir, history, theory and fiction, Marranismo e Inscripción resists the reduction to a singular genre, or even discipline. In this sense, it performs its very call for radically interdisciplinary scholarship. What interests me most about this book, at least as a first impression, however, is its implications for teaching literature, and particularly Latin American literature. As a committed teacher and mentor, Moreiras makes various references to this aspect of his accomplished career. He is a professor who never had a passion for teaching survey courses, especially those which promote facile understandings of culture, politics, and geography. Additionally, he is a mentor who refuses to claim disciples — instead, he mentions interlocutors and friends with whom he resists hegemony of all types.

Describing himself as neither identitarian, nor a specialist in any one “discipline,” Moreiras likely would scoff at the idea of any systematic or curricular pedagogy (Moreiras 213). Even so, the question of how to create a community (an inoperative or unworked, desobrada, community) of counter-university scholars, both within and beyond the classroom, permeates his work and begs further consideration.

“Es un placer enseñar lo que uno sabe o cree saber a los más jóvenes,” he affirms, “pero es mucho más divertido aprender con otros, tomar riesgos, empujar lo permisible y exponerse” (Moreiras 16). This scholarship, he claims, no longer needs to place itself under labels such as Latinamericanism, which are only metaphors in need of deconstruction as demetaphorization: that is, a thorough consideration of what such metaphors exclude, betray, and foreclose. For Moreiras, the point is to take the field to its own limits. He does this naturally, driven by a question that he cannot yet name but nevertheless yields tentative answers, concepts that resist their own intellectual capture. I wonder if, and how, such uncompromising curiosity – which he also calls “goce” – can be taught: “…habrá quizás otras maneras de serlo en las que el goce que uno quiso buscar pueda todavía darse. Hoy ese goce, en la universidad, solo es ya posible contrauniversitariamente (Moreiras 16-17).

Within the context of Latin American literature, a deconstructive pedagogy requires liberating thought from the signifiers “Latin American,” “literature,” and “Latin American literature,” among others. This happens by researching and teaching from “otros horizontes y otros parámetros ya no regionalistas ni excepcionalistas” (Moreiras 132). Moreiras understands such horizons as beyond any prescribed geopolitical commitments, as well as beyond disciplinary norms and prescriptions, pointing to a theoretical and infrapolitical elsewhere. This “elsewhere” might be imagined through motifs of exteriority (exile, abandonment), but also—crucially and dangerously—as folds within such boundaries and norms: clandestine, secret, marrano. Marranismo e inscripción, dares us to take this risk together.

 

*Position Paper read at book workshop “Los Malos Pasos” (on Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción), held at the University of Pennsylvania, January 6, 2017.

The Secret of Secretiveness: Response to Marranismo e inscripción

Cross-posted from Posthegemony

In the introduction to his book, Marranismo e inscripción, Alberto Moreiras tells us that “the sequence of writings that [he] offer[s us] is more than the history of a professional trajectory, and contains secrets that only appear in its trace and for the astute reader, if there are any.” This, of course, is a challenge: who would not want to be the reader astute enough to pry open the text and reveal its secrets? Who would not want to prove wrong the author’s suspicion that such readers are nowhere to be found? And perhaps Alberto would also want to be proved wrong. After all, he locates the book’s origins in what he calls “a period of profound personal disillusion that had as one of its effects the destruction for [him] of any notion of a public audience [público] for whom [he] might write.” Could now, ten years or more later, this new book appeal to a (new?) public of astute readers? Or perhaps the point is that the unknown, perhaps absent and unknowable, astute reader stands in for and replaces the terminally destroyed notion of public audience. Perhaps this is the book’s own marranismo: a publication or making public whose secret truth in fact only resides in its traces, to be read allusively and privately by a reader who we forever suspect may not even exist. Yet it seems, perhaps precisely for this reason, to invite inquisition.

For on the other hand, in many ways this is a very open book; it is a book in which its author “opens up” about his personal relationship to the academic and intellectual field in a way that is quite unusual. Indeed, also in the introduction, Alberto worries that he has said too much, too personally, too directly. He reports anxiously asking José Luis and the others who had interviewed him: “Didn’t I go too far [no me pasé], are you sure that I didn’t say anything indiscreet, is there something we should re-do?” For here, and for instance in the chapter entitled “My Life in Z,” any codes or attempts to obscure the true object of discussion are, at least on the face of it, all too readable. You do not have to be a particularly astute reader, after all, to know (or feel you know) where “Z” is or was. This is a “theoretical fiction” that may be all too transparent, all too close to the bone for some readers. For this book is also quite explicitly a settling of accounts: the disillusion of which it speaks has a history, and it is time for that history to be written–inscribed for all to see–for it to give up its secrets so we can all move on. Or better, it is time that we confront common knowledge that can only pass as secret because few dare to express it explicitly: “Yes, everybody knows, there are no secrets, we all hear over and over things that were never expected to come to our ears.”

Is there then a tension of some kind between the twin themes announced in the book’s title: between the subterfuge and unknowability of the marrano and the making public and putting on the record of the inscription? Perhaps, but another way of looking at it is that this is a book that declares an end not so much to secrets as to secretiveness. It wants to do away with the practices and rituals of academic life that promote only obscurantism and disguise only the bad faith of its participants. Rituals that everybody knows, but which are repeated and reproduced as the price of admission into the elect–even if one is admitted only subsequently to be churned up and abused, marginalized and disempowered. This is all too often, Alberto tells us, simply a formula for masochism: we accept the academy’s secretive code of (dis)honour so as to be close to institutional power, but that power holds us close only to ensure that we can never really threaten it. This, after all, is the (not so secret) reality of tenure, as well as so much else: a protracted euthanization as life itself is drained out of the institution’s over-eager young recruits. And Alberto’s project, in the end, is to reclaim life, and the possibility of a life well lived, from the twin threats of endless politicization (biopolitics) and bureaucratic obscurantism (unhappy consciousness).

Towards the end of the book, in response to a question from Alejandra Castillo about “autobiographical writing,” Alberto says that “the writing that interests me doesn’t seek constitution in the truth, rather it seeks truth and produces destitution. It seeks truth in the sense that in every case it seeks to traverse the fantasy, and it produces destitution in the sense that traversing the fantasy brings us close to the abyss of the real.” He points out, however, that this psychoanalytic language (borrowed from Lacan) can equally be expressed in terms of the secret. “For me, in reality,” he continues, “there is no other writing than the writing of the secret. Or rather there is, but it is not fit for purpose. The question that opens up then is that of the use of the writing of the secret, but that is a question that I don’t believe I am prepared to answer.” “Prepared,” here, has of course a double sense: it can mean that he is not ready to answer, that he cannot answer the question; or that he is not disposed to answer it, that he will not answer. The question of the use of the secret either cannot or should not be answered. At least, not yet.

In short, for Marranismo e inscripción, what is holding us back is secretiveness, the bluster of those who (believe they) hold the keys to institutional power. But the real secret there is that there is no power to their power; that their chamber of secrets is long empty, and has been replaced by the meaningless transparency of neoliberal quantification in the sway of general equivalence. As the university increasingly becomes a business, ruled only by calculations of profit and loss, we have less and less reason to abide by its masochistic code of omertá. This book aims to break that code. On the other hand, there are indeed some true secrets, and searching for them can unleash destructive forces. The question remains: what do to with them? And perhaps even the most astute of readers is not yet in a position to decide about that.

Ascesis universitatis: sobre Marranismo e Inscripción, de Alberto Moreiras. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

marranismo-inscripcion-moreirasMarranismo e Inscripción, o el abandono de la conciencia desdichada (Escolar & Mayo, 2016), el nuevo libro de Alberto Moreiras, es un compendio reflexivo sobre al estado teórico-político del campo latinoamericanista durante los últimos quince o veinte años. A lo largo de nueve capítulos, más una introducción y un epílogo, Moreiras traza en constelación una cartografía de numerosas posiciones de la teorización latinoamericana, sin dejar de inscribirse a sí mismo como actor dentro de una epocalidad que pudiéramos llamar ‘universitaria’, y cuyo último momento de reflujo fue el ‘subalternismo’. Además de bosquejar un mapa de posiciones académicas (postsubalternistas, neomarxistas, decoloniales, o deconstruccionistas), el libro también alienta una hermenéutica existencial que se hace cargo de lo que le acontece a la vida, y en su especificidad a la “vida académica”. Y los lectores podrán comprobar que lo que acontece no siempre es bueno. Marranismo e Inscripción explicita muy tempranamente en la introducción un tipo de denegación que configura el vórtice de este ejercicio autográfico: “…durante años pensé en mí mismo como alguien comprometido centralmente con el discurso universitario, como la institución universitaria. Hoy debo admitir que ya no – trato de hacer mi trabajo lo mejor posible, claro, pero algo ha cambiado. O seré yo el que cambió. Y entonces, para mí, ser un intelectual ha perdido ya su prestigio, el que una vez tuvo. Habrá quizás otras maneras de serlo en las que el goce que uno quiso buscar pueda todavía darse. Hoy ese goce, en la universidad, solo es ya posible contrauniversitariamente.” (Moreiras 16).

La tesis a la que invita Marranismo es la de abandonar la crítica universitaria (y la conciencia desdichada es un producto de la creencia en el prestigio de la labor crítica) en al menos dos formulaciones principales. Por un lado, la función de la crítica como apéndice tutelar del saber universitario entregado a su tecnicidad reproductiva. Y en segundo término, tal vez menos vulgar aunque no menos importante, el abandono de la crítica como operación efectiva y suplente de la crisis interna de la universidad. El ejercicio autográfico marcaría una modalidad de éxodo de la suma total de la razón universitaria hacia lo que se asume como una estrategia hermenéutica que implica necesariamente la indagación de una situación concreta que da el paso imposible ‘del sujeto al predicado’ [1]. Pero el paso imposible del marrano solo dice su verdad no como persuasión interesada de un sujeto, sino como hermenéutica inscrita en cada situación irreducible al tiempo del saber. En el ejercicio hermenéutico, el marrano deshace íntegramente la incorporación metafórica, sin ofrecer a cambio una paideia ejemplar, un relato alternativo, o recursos para el relevo generacional. Es cierto, hay un llamado a cuidarse ante un peligro que acecha, aunque esto es distinto a decir que el libro está escrito desde una situación de peligro. En realidad, el tono del libro es de serenidad.

En un momento del libro, Moreiras escribe: “…el próximo expatriado potencial que lea esto debe saber a qué atenerse, y protegerse en lo que pueda” (Moreiras 18). La pregunta que surge en el corazón de Marranismo es si acaso la universidad contemporánea está en condiciones de ofrecer un mínimo principio de autoconservación de la vida del pensamiento; o si por el contrario, la universidad es solo posible como pliegue contrauniversitario post-crítico, léase poshegemónico, para seguir pensando en tiempos intempestivos, atravesados por el ascenso de nuevos fascismos, y entregado a la indiferenciación técnica del saber en el seno de la institución. O dicho con Moreiras: ¿habrá posibilidad de ‘mantenerse en pie’ en los próximos años? Y si hay posibilidad de hacerlo, ¿no es una forma de contribuir a mantener en reserva el general intellect en función de una ecuación humanista? (ej.: más saber + más estudiantes = más progreso; pudiera ejemplificar lo que queremos decir). Todo esto en momentos, dicho y aparte, en donde la lingüística aplicada o la pedagogía derrotan en rendimiento a la ya poco digna tarea del pensar. Y si es así, la universidad contemporánea no estaría en condiciones de ofrecer más que humanismo compensatorio, donde el pensador solo puede disfrazarse de civil servant de la acumulación espiritual de la Humanidad. Desde luego que no hay curas ni bálsamos para dar con una salida a lo que Moreiras se refiere como un futuro “incierto e indecible abierto a cualquier coyuntura, incluyendo la de su terminación” (Moreiras 57). Pero tal vez hayan formas más felices que otras de entrar en relación con el nihilismo universitario en sus varias manifestaciones opresivas.

Por eso es que me gustaría invitar a leer Marranismo e Inscripción como una contestación a las formas sofísticas dentro y fuera del campo académico, exacerbadas en el momento actual del agotamiento de la universidad en el interregno. Y como sabemos, el interregno no es más que la imposibilidad de hacer legible el pensamiento en el momento del fundamentalismo económico. Pero es también la diferenciación cultural substituta como se ha demostrado con la hermandad entre multiculturalismo identitario y neoliberalismo. En el interregno el sofismo no solo crece y se alimenta, sino que dada la caída de toda legitimidad, la mentira solo puede asomarse como performance desnudo de la no verdad, puesto que ha agotado su efecto de persuasión posible, su validez efectiva, y cualquier ápice de razón. La tecnificación del pensamiento a través del marco equivalencial de la teoría supone la codificación del sofismo como valorización sin necesidad de apelar a la razón.

Por ejemplo, el éxito universitario de la decolonialidad, ¿no es la victoria de la irracionalidad como valor? A la decolonialidad no le hace falta ni le importa la razón – que para los llamados pensadores decoloniales es ya de antemano contaminación ‘eurocéntrica’ o ‘ego-política colonial’ – sino la afirmación nómica de un absolutismo cultural y propietario. La irracionalidad prometeica de las finanzas en el momento de la subvención real converge con un neomedievalismo crítico, y de este modo las piedades y doxologías retornan como figuras luminosas de un saber que parece haber saldado sus cuentas con la Historia. La anomia de la universidad contemporánea es principalmente una crisis de legitimidad, entendida como fin de su efecto de auto-convencimiento y ejercicio del pensar singular. Y así, no es sorprendente que la irracionalidad brille, triunfe, y cobre un peso irrefutable en las medidas tecnocráticas que regulan las Humanities.

La irracionalidad comparece a la tecnificación donde todo se ventila de antemano. Pensemos, por ejemplo, en la jerigonzas concurridas como ‘¿cuál es tu marco teórico?’ o ‘¿desde donde hablas?’ ‘¿cuál es tu archivo?’. Estas indagaciones solo pueden entenderse como formas de una máquina inquisitorial que la universidad alberga como principio de autoridad ante la caída medular de su legitimidad. Sería coherente pensar, entonces, que si estamos ante una máquina confesional, solo la mentira puede ofrecer salvación o posibilidad de ‘mantenerse en pie’ sin tocar fondo, o sin que le vuelen a uno la cabeza. Justo es esto lo que esgrime en En defensa del populismo (2016) el filósofo español Carlos Fernández Liria, quien sugiere que ante la consumación de la mentira en el campo político contemporáneo, no hay verdad que esté condiciones de legibilidad, ni de escucha, ni de generar efecto alguno ante un macizo ideológico impenetrable. La única posibilidad es expresar una contramentira. ¿Pero es ésta la única forma de contestación? Podemos ‘testear’ esta pregunta en un momento decisivo del libro, y que aparece condensado en la forma de un chiste. Valdría la pena reproducir el pasaje:

“La sospecha de no ser lo suficientemente correctos en política, con todo el misterio terrorífico que esa determinación tiene en la academia norteamericana, pesó siempre sobre nuestras cabezas como una grave espada de Damocles, y todavía pesa, y no importa lo que digamos o hagamos, porque estas cosas, como todo el mundo sabe, se solucionan a nivel de sospecha y rumor y susurro malicioso. O incluso: es una cuestión de olor u honor, como el cristiano nuevo perfectamente devoto que no puede evitar caer en manos de la Cruz Verde porque todo el mundo sabe que su piel no reluce con la grasa prestada de la sobrasada. O, en palabras de algún fiscal federal asistente en la nueva serie de televisión Billions, «Si alguien dice que Charlie se folló a una cabra, aunque la cabra diga que no, Charlie se va a la tumba como Charlie el Follacabras» (225-26).

Lo que he llamado la forma sofística de la retórica contemporánea transforma a todos en Follacabras, en miembros potenciales de algún siniestro grupúsculo de Follacabras, y no importa la verdad que salga de la boca de la cabra (si es que la cabra habla), o del propio Charlie, puesto que una vez que la marca de Caín reluce sobre el pellejo de la frente, ya estamos automáticamente condenados a participar de una exposición que nos arroja al juego de cazadores y cazados. Este ha sido siempre el campo de batalla de la hegemonía, y que hoy se vuelve sistemático desde su inscripción en la equivalencialidad general. Esto es, no hay quien se escape a su lógica. Es más, no hay quien no sea, a la vez, una excepción sacrificable a esta lógica.

Pero habría otra opción: los Follacabras o los condenados pudieran también rechazar el sofismo y sus afligidas metáforas, aceptando la verdad como ascesis, esto es, como ejercicio en éxodo de todo juego hegemónico efectivo. Es lo que parece estar pidiendo Moreiras en Marranismo e Inscripción, y eso es ya bastante, y nos obliga a repensar la cacería como único juego posible. Y es el ascesis donde pensamiento y vida entran en una zona de indeterminación, y desde donde la verdad puede comparecer como alternativa al yoga acrobático que ofrece la universidad contemporánea, ya sea en su forma inquisitiva que obliga a la mentira, o en su produccionismo metabólico desplegado en el consenso, o en la politización, o en las buenas intenciones. Fue Iván Illich quien notó que el ascenso de la crítica académica monástica, y cuya secularización es la sospecha hermenéutica, coincidió con la declinación del ejercicio ascético del singular [2]. Y esto tiene sentido, puesto que la función crítica solo puede apelar a una radicalidad en expansión, siempre y cuando se retraiga de pensar la facticidad que supone la irreversibilidad del capitalismo. No es casual que Moreiras hacia el final del libro, y en réplica a una pregunta de Ángel O. Álvarez Solís, recurra al arcano del ascesis, como abandono del juego hegemónico de las mentira, y que dibujo los contornos de una vida sin principio:

“La palabra «ejercicio» puede servir si la entendemos etimológicamente, desde ex + arcare, desenterrar lo oculto, des-secretar. Digamos entonces, todo lo provisionalmente que quieras, que la infrapolítica es una forma de ejercicio en ese sentido –busca éxodo con respecto de la relación ético-política técnica, busca su destrucción desecretante, para liberar una práctica existencial otra. Yo no tendría inconveniente en usar para esto una expresión que he usado en algún otro lugar, la de «moralismo salvaje». La infrapolítica, en su condición reflexiva, es un ejercicio de moralismo salvaje, anti-político y anti-ético, porque quiere éxodo con respecto de la prisión subjetiva que constituye una relación ético-política impuesta ideológicamente sobre nosotros como consecuencia del humanismo metafísico. Sí, ese paso atrás salvaje con respecto de la relación ético-política es an-árquico, porque no se somete a principio.” (Moreiras 208).

La ascesis dice la verdad en la medida en que siempre atraviesa una hermenéutica existencial, y da un ‘paso atrás’ que renuncia a las determinaciones fundamentales de la subjetividad. El ejercicio tiene como objetivo el cuidado ante previsibilidad del síntoma. Si la ascesis es contrauniversitaria, lo es no en función anti-universitaria, sino por su instancia necesariamente atópica, ejercida como expatriación y desvinculación de todo sentido de propiedad y pertenencia comunitaria. Para el marrano no hay pasos aun por dar, sino solo un paso atrás, que es siempre el paso imposible al interior del tiempo de la morada. Esto supone abandonar el fantasma hegemónico del campo académico como avatar del pensamiento. Se piensa siempre en otro-lado. Es este también el sentido, de otra manera incomprensible, desde el cual podemos entender el intercambio epistolar entre Celan y Bachmann: “No recuerdo haber salido nunca de Egipto, sin embargo celebraré esta fiesta en Inglaterra” [3].

Ese paso atrás es el de la posibilidad imposible para seguir adelante desde un pensamiento que renuncia a la presbeia para ser radicalmente amonoteísta. ¿Podemos acaso imaginar una universidad en Egipto? Solo esta sería una universidad post-deconstructiva. Marranismo e Inscripción invita a este éxodo como única posibilidad de mantenernos en pie, y de echar adelante. Y hoy, ya no perdemos nada con intentarlo.

*Position Paper read at book workshop “Los Malos Pasos” (on Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción), held at the University of Pennsylvania, January 6, 2017.

Notas

  1. Arturo Leyte. El paso imposible. Mexico D.F: Plaza y Valdés, 2013. p.24-53.
  2. Iván Illich. “Ascesis”. (Manuscript, dated 1989).
  3. Paul Celan & Ingeborg Bachmann. Tiempo del corazón: Correspondencia. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2012.

Life During Wartime: Eleven Theses on Infrapolitics

RACAL

“Life During Wartime: Infrapolitics and Posthegemony”
(with a coda of eleven theses on infrapolitics)

Presented at the III Seminario Crítico-Político Transnacional
“Pensamiento y terror social: El archivo hispano”
Cuenca, Spain
July, 2016

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time.
Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard.
I can’t write nothing at all.
–The Talking Heads

In what is no doubt the most famous theorist of war’s most famous claim, Carl Von Clausewitz tells us that “war has its root in a political object.” He goes on: “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means. [. . .] War is not merely a political act, but a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means” (119). There is, then, for Clausewitz an essential continuity between war and politics; they share the same rationality and ends. And this notion has in turn led many to think of politics, reciprocally, as a form of warfare. The German theorist Carl Schmitt, for instance, defines politics in suitably martial terms as a clash between “friend” and “enemy”: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy” (The Concept of the Political 26). Moreover, this invocation of the term “enemy” is scarcely metaphorical. Schmitt argues that “an enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity” (28), and he further qualifies the particular type of enmity involved in political disagreement in terms of classical theories of warfare: the political enemy is a “public enemy,” that is a hostis, as opposed to a “private enemy.” He quotes a Latin lexicon to make his point: “A public enemy (hostis) is one with whom we are at war publicly. [. . .] A private enemy is a person who hates us, whereas a public enemy is a person who fights against us” (29).

Likewise, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci also calls upon the language of warfare to describe political activity, which he classifies in terms of the “war of manoeuvre” by which a political party bids for influence among the institutions of so-called civil society, and the “war of movement” when it is in a position to seek power directly from the state. Indeed, the notion of an essential continuity between armed violence and civil dispute informs Gramsci’s fundamental conception of “hegemony,” which characterizes politics in terms of a combination of coercion and consent, the attempt to win or secure power alternately by means of force or persuasion. War is politics, politics is war: the basic goals and rationale are the same, we are told. It is just the means that are different.

Keep reading… (PDF document)

eleven theses on infrapolitics

  1. Infrapolitics is not against politics. It is not apolitical, still less antipolitical.
  2. There is no politics without infrapolitics.
  3. It is only by considering infrapolitics that we can better demarcate the terrain of the political per se, understand it, and take it seriously.
  4. The interface between the infrapolitical and the political cannot be conceived simply in terms of capture.
  5. Only a fully developed theory of posthegemony can account properly for the relationship between infrapolitics and politics.
  6. Infrapolitics corresponds to the virtual, and so to habitus and unqualified affect.
  7. The constitution (and dissolution) of the political always involves civil war.
  8. Biopolitics is the name for the colonization of the infrapolitical realm by political forces, and so the generalization of civil war.
  9. But neither politics nor biopolitics have any predetermined valence; biopolitics might also be imagined to be the colonization of the political by the infrapolitical.
  10. None of these terms–politics, infrapolitics, biopolitics, posthegemony–can have any normative dimension.
  11. Hitherto, philosophers have only sought to change the world in various ways. The point, however, is to interpret it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Notes

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

Stasis: Civil War as Threshold Between Infrapolitics and Politics

Agamben, Stasis

Crossposted from Posthegemony.

Giorgio Agamben’s short book Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm comprises two brief essays, one on the Athenian concept of “stasis” or civil war, the other on the role of the multitude in Hobbes’s Leviathan. What links them, he tells us, is the notion that “the constitutive element of the modern State” is “ademia [. . .] that is, [. . .] the absence of a people” (vi). Obviously enough, this will come as something of a surprise to “the Western political tradition” for which, as Agamben notes, the “concept of people” is “arguably the fundamental concept” (39). Think after all of the opening of the United States constitution, for which “we the people” are presented as that country’s basic political bedrock.

Agamben proposes instead the multitude as the core concept of political theory. So far, so good, and no doubt also so Italian. But what Agamben adds to the work of (say) Toni Negri and Paolo Virno is the observation that “the multitude is the subject of civil war” (40) and, further, that it is thus through civil war that the political realm is established. Or, as he puts it in his discussion of the Greeks:

it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family [oikos] and the political space of the city [polis]. [. . .] In the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicization and depoliticization, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticized in the family. (12)

For, as Agamben points out, Solon’s law explicitly punishes those who do not take part in civil war: such people forfeit their rights to citizenship; “not taking part in the civil war amounts to being expelled from the polis and confined in the oikos” (13). Civil war is, therefore, not (as we tend to see it) simply the point at which the political dissolves, as the state fractures and society is reduced to warring factions. It is also constituent, “the unforgettable that must always remain possible in the city,” however much today, by contrast, we regard it as “something that one must seek to make impossible at every cost” (16).

To put this another way (in terms that Agamben himself does not use), it is civil war that is the threshold or hinge between infrapolitics and politics per se. He offers here a theory of the ways in which the political emerges and is dissolved. Moreover, in his study of Hobbes, Agamben further offers civil war as the process by which what he calls the “dissolved multitude” (the multitude subject to biopolitical power) is transformed into the “disunited multitude” that makes itself known by turning on the absent people (absorbed into the figure of sovereign power, the Leviathan). And though it is not entirely obvious how these two conceptions mesh with each other, in both cases civil war has to remain an intimate possibility in the heart of any and every political order. For sovereignty, at least until the coming of the end times, can only remain an (optical) illusion, a trick of representation. In the meantime, “no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into a multitude” (49). Agamben thus reverses the eschatological tendencies inherent (as I have argued elsewhere) in Negri’s vision of the multitude: here it is only the state that dreams of a substantial presence and unity to come. The multitude, by contrast, is located on a perennial threshold, figured as civil war, between house and city, infrapolitics and the political.

The sting in the tail of Agamben’s analysis, however, is given only sotto voce, in a digression or coda to the first essay that’s presented in smaller font than the rest. This is the observation that “the form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. [. . .] Global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stake of politics” (18). This only goes to show once again that (whatever Negri thinks) nobody should look to the multitude for their salvation. But instead of denying the possibility of civil war, trying to exclude it from the political order, we need to recognize that order’s indebtedness to it, and pick one of the many sides (who says there should be just two?) that any such conflict opens up. For this is the very paradigm of the political, of the perpetual emergence and dissolution of political activity as such.

San Camilo, 1936 I: Infrapolitics Par Excellence

Cela, San Camilo

Crossposted from Posthegemony

Camilo José Cela’s San Camilo, 1936 opens with a scene in front of the mirror, and consistently returns to this same site of reflection and self-observation. At first, the mirrored gaze brings familiarity, perhaps a sort of comfort. The English translation has it: “A man sees himself in the mirror and even feels comfortable addressing himself in a familiar way” (3). In the Spanish, though, this is not a particular individual, but a generic, impersonal third person: “Uno se ve en el espejo” (13). This is the way things are in general, at least at first sight: in the mirror, we see ourselves and feel we know what we see. But it is not long before the reflection becomes both more uncertain and more specific, revealing something that perhaps we would rather not see. A second glance is less reassuring: “the quality of the pane is not good and the image that it reflects shows bitter and disjointed features [. . .] maybe what’s happening is that it reflects the astonished face of a dead man still masked with the mask of the fear of death” (3). So by the time the second chapter comes around, also opening with a mirror, the address is both more personal (second person rather than third) and more desolating: “Look at yourself in the mirror and don’t break out crying, it’s hardly worth while for you to break out crying because your soul is already more than damned” (32). And it is not long before the reflection provokes a real ambivalence, the mirror seeming to exert a strange hold on a spectator who can’t bear to look but can’t turn away: “look at yourself in the mirror and escape from the mirror, it’s like a gymnastic exercise, look at yourself in the mirror, escape from the mirror, look at yourself in the mirror, escape from the mirror and so on until you can’t take it any more” (34). And why? Why “are you scared to look at yourself in the mirror?, yes, you’re scared to look at yourself in the mirror, are you afraid of finding the mark of the murderer on your forehead or on your cheeks?, yes, you’re afraid of finding the mark of the murderer on your forehead or on your cheeks” (49). Here as elsewhere, in the novel’s insistent repetitions and reiterations, we end up discovering that what we are returning to is the scene of a crime, a crime in which we are both victim and victimizer, murderer and murdered, the dead and the damned.

The crime, of course, is the Spanish Civil War, and the second-person narrator is both particular and general: it is a young student, about twenty years old; it is Spain; it is all of us. “You, you, you,” the narrative voice addresses himself, but also the reader, in a tone that both strives for self-knowledge and seeks at all costs to avoid it, in what is effectively one long, sprawling denunciation of the murderous desire written on all our faces–or, what is perhaps worse, the nonchalant ignorance and self-preoccupation that allows others to murder in our name. For sometimes it is by looking too hard in the mirror that we miss what is going on elsewhere, the violence that is about to break out without our lifting a finger to stop it. For we are both perpetrators and bystanders to a history that could not take place without us, but which we barely notice, or only indirectly. We are too close to the scene of the crime either to avoid its implications (and our complicity) or to understand them: “Seen from close up history confuses everyone, both actors and spectators, and is always very tiny and startling, and also very hard to interpret” (61). Because ultimately “history is full of Narcissuses” but “it will do no good to run away, do not close your eyes, contemplate your full and true (or full and false) image in the mirror, take advantage of your being as though hypnotized, [. . .] the miracle is not likely to occur but you must not give up that hope” (112). Cela is here returning to the civil war, to the very outbreak of hostilities, recognizing the narcissism involved but unwilling to give up on the miraculous possibility of hope for self-understanding none the less. You can’t look at it directly; but you can’t quite look away. Self-reflection and self-ignorance alike open up to moral quagmires. The best you can do, perhaps, is a gaze that looks aslant: indirect, interrupted, but repeated and insistent.

Hence this novel of the civil war is also somehow about anything and everything but. In the first instance because (at least as the first part comes to a close) the war itself has yet to break out. The conflict is (only) on the horizon; it’s a matter of rumour and fear, potential but not full actuality. We hear of the murder of Lieutenant José Castillo, a Republican policeman–a murder that took place on July 12, 1936. We register the assassination the following day of the right-wing politician José Calvo Sotelo. Who is behind these deaths? Falangists? Communists? Or was Castillo, for instance, merely the victim of a crime of passion? Cela passes on all the various stories that circulate around and try to explain the violence: “Listen, couldn’t he have been hit by a taxi as he was crossing the street?” (68). Meanwhile, off stage, something larger is brewing: “They say there is going to be a military coup to guarantee law and order and to save the Republic” (68). No wonder that fear stalks Madrid, that “the country is nervous, the spark can fly at any moment, maybe it has already flown with these stupid deaths, and the fire, if it breaks out, will be hard to contain” (71). But none of this is shown directly or straightforwardly. For (in the second instance) everything is at the margin of the narrator’s own concerns and preoccupations: with his family, his friends, his girlfriend Toisha, his own anxieties and fantasies about sex and health and the day to day. To put this another way, this is less a political novel than an infrapolitical tale par excellence. Cela’s interest is less in the political shenanigans and conspiracies, or even the broad structural tensions and open conflicts, that lead to the open violence of the war itself, than rather in everything that is not itself directly political but without which politics itself would be unthinkable, unworkable. Hence also the novel’s meandering, nonlinear, repetitive style, a “stream of consciousness” that belongs to no one single individual, but which presents the fragmented reflection of an uncertain, ambivalent multitude that at any moment will be cast as two great forces–Fascist and Loyalist, Right Wing and Left–that are supposedly mutually incommensurable. Cela writes against that political fiction, with all its reductiveness, to give us instead a more complex (non)narrative glimpsed in a distorting mirror for which we are inevitably always on both sides of the divide.