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.

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Cabezas’ A-Positional Freedom. By Alberto Moreiras

“No infrapolitics without exploitation; no exploitation without infrapolitics.”   The Introduction to Oscar Cabezas’ Postsoberanía: Literatura, política y trabajo begins by stating that post-sovereignty would be the condition of capital’s “absolute sovereignty,” that is, a capitalism without restrainer.   The hypothesis, or thesis, is that such is the regime of rule today, in virtue of which there is no limitation to the slavery imposed by capital. Post-sovereignty would describe the political terrain of globality, understood as the political terrain of exploitation.

But in the first chapter we read that there is no formal or real imposition of sovereignty, as the history of modernity shows, without the simultaneous production of a “judaizing remainder” (22), the organizer of the marrano figure, or register, as a radical exception to the sovereign community.   The marrano exception is an error or errancy as such, and marks or provides the “enigmatic experience” of something that, interpellated and informed by the law, is never quite subordinate to the unity of command” (23): an overflowing or desbordamiento “before the law.”

If the “community,” certainly in its modern form as national community, but presumably beyond that, is always an invention of power, even of inquisitional power (in the same way that the marrano is a figure within the law that exceeds the law itself, its counterpart, the Inquisition, or inquisitional logic, is “a power within the state superior to the state itself,” in Henry Charles Lea’s definition), then the marrano marks a decommunitarian option or position that, towards the end of the chapter, Cabezas will indicate as an a-positional position, an exodus from position (81).

Cabezas corrects Heidegger’s Parmenides by insisting that it is not the Germans, precisely, who could mark the very possibility of a non-Roman, non-imperial understanding of the political, but rather the marrano, as inquisitional excess.   He links this to Derrida’s messianism without the Messiah, hinting at, without fully developing, the idea that Derrida was the first to thematize political de-capitalization for a properly counterimperial, non-Roman thinking of the political.

But I wonder whether, within the confines of this chapter at least, Cabezas’ move is really towards counterimperial politics and not rather towards infrapolitical decapitalization.   Perhaps the most moving pages in the chapter are the central ones, the section entitled “Sovereign T-error, Exile’s Truth.” In them Cabezas pursues notions such as “subjectivity without subjection,” “apátrida thought,” “erratic language,” and “sovereignty without sovereignty” in order to affirm that it is only in them that a possible “relation to freedom” opens up in modernity and beyond modernity (43).   The radical sadness of exile, of ex-communication, of de-communitarization, is a condition of freedom under every regime of sovereignty, which the marrano abhors.

But can a radical opposition to sovereignty be identified as a political position? The language of the marrano is always a losing language, a language of loss or in loss (51). “Only a language of unity turned sovereignty can fulfill the function of union” (51). There can be no union under a marrano register, only separation.   But this then means, “the marrano condition of language” (61) is never political, and can only be infrapolitical. Cabezas says “clandestine,” “subterranean,” “invisible,” that is, it never rises, because it can never do, to heliotropic regions.

Marrano a-positionality is always already infrapolitical, which is its condition of freedom.   Freedom is never defined, only invoked.   So this chapter powerfully raises a question that it is not easy to come to terms with: the answer would be, there is no political freedom, in the same way there is no good community in community. But there is something like infrapolitical freedom, invoked, never defined.

Cabezas concludes: “Exile unbinds freedom doubly, as an experience in the open, but also as the impossibility for it to take place in the name of any modern genealogy of sovereignty or its criollo variations. Freedom is the experience of exile, and the whisper of a marrano who blows into your ear the destruction of the images of idols” (91).