A Friendly Katechon: on Adam Joseph Shellhorse’s Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina. By Gerardo Muñoz.

shellhorse 2017Adam Joseph Shellhorse’s Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina (U Pitt Press, 2017) is a bold and timely intervention in a dire moment for “literary studies” in the field of Latin American Studies. What is the epistemological status of the ‘literary’ today, if not an ambiguous force driven by machinistic inertia? The institutional erosion of the discipline’s legitimacy cannot easily be ignored, as every scholar is confronted today with interrogative demands for ‘definition’. Ambitious in scope, theoretically sophisticated, and generous in its readings of a heterogeneous corpus, Shellhorse attempts to understand “what is meant by “literature in contemporary posthegemonic times” (Shellhorse 3). Whether such interrogation opens up a desirable future, is the very heart of this important book.

Anti-Literature departs from the wake of the exhaustion of a well known triad: the Boom as a last attempt to generate a strong allegorical machine; Ángel Rama’s culturalist thinking to come to grip with the uneven development through transculturation; and the political vanguard experiment of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The aftermath of these watershed moments has led to what is now a permanent state of crisis. The end of ‘hegemony’ in Shellhorse’s reflection demands the end of the centralized state form of the literary, but also the turning away from models of ideological Marxist critique, over that of affect, the multiple, and the experimental in writing. Compensatory to this insolvent condition, Shellhorse proposes ‘anti-literature’ as a new framework for literary studies. Although, more urgently, it offers the minimal condition for the task of reading in a present devoid of objective legitimacy, or what Shellhorse calls, perhaps more prudently, a ‘perilous present’ (Shellhorse 16).

The archive Shellhorse attends to is minimalist, functioning hyperbolically for a larger and more programmatic invitation to read in the anti-literature key. The works sketched throughout the book are the following: Lispector’s language of life and the specular feminism of immanence; David Viñas’ ‘half made literature’ as a de-spiritualized materialist gesture in his novel Dar la cara (1962); concrete poetry as a post-culturalist and post-conceptual artifact; Haroldo de Campos and Osman Lins’ poetics of the baroque; and last but not least, a mediation on historical redemption and the messianic in Salgado’s photography and De Campos’ poem “O anjo esquerdo da historia”. Irreducible in style and geopolitical demarcations, all these anti-literary projects negotiate language within the limits of its own materiality while assuming a writing of finitude. This is crucial, as it is what distinguishes Shellhorse’ anti-literature from John Beverley’s known ‘against literature’.

Whereas Beverley demanded an exception to literary hegemony in the name of a subalternist ‘subject’ formalized in the testimonio, Shellhorse’s following Moreiras’ predicament on exhaustion, does not seek to close off the promise and secret of literature, but only to interrupt its identitarian and representational pretensions (Shellhorse 42). Therefore, against the Boom as an ideological critique towards state building on one hand, and testimonio as exception to high literary sovereignty on the other, Shellhorse proposes anti-literature as posthegemonic experimentation through affect and the sensorium. Whereas testimonio demanded hegemonic filiation until the triumphant victory, anti-literature endorses the post-hegemonic in the face of defeat. Anti-literature is only anti-literary to the extent that it demands a relation to the secret of ‘what might come’. This is why Shellhorse’ Anti-Literature is untimely tied to literature as a singular procedure of writing, instead of organizing a counter-canon, in what could be taken as an effort to immunize itself through an alternate ‘aesthetic form’. This is why, it is important that Shellhorse tells us very late in the book:

“…it could be said that anti-literary writers hook up writing to literature’s outside, to nonwriting and egalitarian modes of imaging the community. What is at issue is precisely this: the concept of anti-literature need not restrict itself to an avant-garde, modernist paradigm of the arts. Rather an approach to the anti-literary entails reconceptualizing the problem of writing as a sensory procedure and perpetual force. The question of what is anti-literature can perhaps best be posed only in the wake of literature’s exhaustion, when the arrival of defeatist accounts demands the time for speaking concretely” (Shellhorse 164).

This comes as a warning to careless readers who, perhaps too hazily, will try to inseminate periodical categories of sociology or history of literature to ensure the timelessness of the boundaries of literature’s autonomy. Indeed, Shellhorse immediately writes: “Indeed, bibliography on the nature of literature in the field is marginal” (Shellhorse 164). We can only guess that the very asymmetry between an understudied Argentine writer (Viñas), ranked among giants of modern Brazilian literature (Andrade, De Campos brothers, Lispector), functions as the affective corpus of Shellhorse’s own singular judgment. This is his secret posthegemonic cabinet, just like everyone has his or her own.

By taking distance from an overdetermination based on a ‘historical period’ or a particular ‘literary movement’, Shellhorse performs his own affective caesura against the hegemonic temptation that demands age-old historico-metaphysical entelechies; such as periodization, social context, base/superstructure dichotomy, form, or aesthetic framework. If the book’s starting point is the fall of the legitimacy of Latinamericanism or Hispanism at large, this means that there is no calculative arrangement that can sustain the alleged bona fide of ‘literature’. The polyphonic assemblage regime of tones and signs is also irreducible to a life, to any life, that belongs to the student and professor of literature in the exercise of the imagination. And as I see it, this is what the anti-literature tries to register so suitably to us.

Yet, at first sight there appears as a latent paradox in the book, and it is a problem that I would like to convey, since it remains of one the strong effects of its reading upon me. Of course, I can only hope to solve it in my own name and style, and I hope that others find their own ways to wrestle with the problem. Basically, the problem could be advanced in this way: if we are in a present condition of interregnum, of the total transitional epoch in the field within a larger transformation that Moreiras has called full machination through the principle of general equivalence, where anything is replaceable and interchangeable, why does the book offers yet another frame to re-invent literary studies? [1]. What is the need of literature at a time in which it can no longer speak for itself (the ‘being’ of Literature)? Isn’t the literary today a mere defunct fossilized object, a repetition for commemorations, and museum-like artifact that only seeks the stimuli of social-media to imagine itself Eternal? Literature automatically wants to be part of the ‘museum’, but the trade-off is that the museification of the new demands its own concrete death. It is difficult to name anything interesting in contemporary literature (nothing that can compare with the Boom), and the fact that we keep reading Lezama Lima or Haroldo de Campos or Borges, bears witness to the aftereffect of being able to establish some livable relation with nihilism at the end of literature. Shellhorse does well to inscribe this important symptom in a crucial moment at the end of the book, which opens to an important discussion:

“If “literature” persists in crisis in our field, the task today is to reconstitute its critical force. Literature becomes anti-literature when it subverts itself. My contention is that it is only by bearing witness to this relation of non-essence, non-identify, and non-closure – literature is not literature – that we can begin to read anew” (Shellhorse 166).

I would like to advance the thesis that Anti-literature as a project comes to us in the form of what I would call a friendly katechon. While it is clear that Shellhorse is not proposing a new “turn” beyond literature, anti-literature is not just repetition of the same as the new. To do so would be “old”, since it would be integral to the register of High Modernity up to the readymade, that is, to the museum. Rather, anti-literature is something akin to a shadow that overlaps in what we call “literature”; a sort of dirty stain in the tradition and in the immemorial institutionality of texts. At same time, anti-literature has a reformist undertone, in the theological sense of celebration and transformation through transference.

But it is a katechon to the extent that Anti-literature retains and delays the temporal disappearance of the evermore so irrelevance of literature. As we know, the Pauline Greek word katechon (κατέχον) means restrainer (who or what), a mysterious force that helps avoiding the fall unto the anomia that imposes illegitimacy in any particular historical epoch. Although at times the katechon is understood in tandem with its own archaic regression, I do not think this is Shellhorse’s intention or effect in inviting us to partake in Anti-literature to “begin anew”. The reason is fairly simple: to the extent that we have literature, there is always already excess to every hegemonic phantasm, and that is enough to retain literature as a residual condition for thought, even when we move beyond textualism or politization.

Like Carl Schmitt, who appears in Ex captivate salus, as the last conscious representative of Modern European Law of Nations, Shellhorse appears to us as the last existential witness of the literary in the form of the anti-literary. But like an Anti-Schmittian, he does not succumb in the myth of political theology and Empire. His katechon can only be one of friendship: in the love of the text, and for the friendship of an-other to come. Anyone, at any time. But isn’t this a mirror of the measureless principle of democracy? The friendly katechon does not seek what Nietzsche called the antiquarian relation to History, but rather a reflexive and disinterested democratic thinking. The katechon, in the platonic reading that I favor here, thoroughly deters disintegration of the authentic life of the mind, which is consistent with Lispector’s language of life [2]. That is, literature is no longer revealed as accumulation and principle (archē of the archive), but as homecoming of Justice. Shellhorse explicitly sets foot on this trail this in his reading of De Campos at the very end of the book (which I would like also to de-center from the given messianism):

“Such a field no doubt defines the logic of domination. Justice as a continuous line of singularities: blurs, bends back, and breaks up the reified character of social relations as well as banal accounts of “progress” that fail to count the part that has no part in society. Citable in all their moments, as freed expressions that articulate the desire to be exception, to think the relationless relation, the affective dimension of Campos’ text inscribe the crisis of poetry in the wake of subaltern tragedy” (Shellhorse 196).

But can the Poem be a secondary substitute before the ruin, a safeguard against tripping into the abyss? It is useful to paraphrase Derrida here to remember that, neither the poem nor deus absconditus, neither decorative baroque nor the messianic community, neither the experimental sensorium nor philosophy of history, can exert as hyperbolic condition of any possible living democratic construction [3]. This is only literature’s task. Anti-literature as friendly katechon, keeps this unavowable promise as its dearest secret that nourishes from the democratic expectancy in an incalculable waiting. A politics among friends? It could well be, but only with the caveat that like friends, literature also comes like a stranger late in the day. Will it come again? All of this to say that anti-literature resists succumbing in the nihilistic abyss of equivalence as the last avatar of the contemporary university’s death-drive. The friendly invitation of anti-literature confronts us, once more, as a lux acarna. We only hope that it is not too late, and that another path could open in the very place of what has always been.






1. Alberto Moreiras. “Universidad. Principio de Equivalencia”. Enero 17, 2017. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/universidad-y-principio-de-equivalencia-hacia-el-fin-de-la-alta-alegoria-borrador-de-conferencia-para-17-instituto-de-estudios-criticos-mexico-df-22-de-enero-2017-por-alberto-moreiras/

2. For example, at one point the baroque/ neo-baroque appears as a trope for anti-literature. In my account, this will amount to the ‘catholic’ affirmation the katechon, raising its status in a complexio oppositorum between archaic and an-archy of the eschatology, which is always political theology. Consider this passage cited from Haroldo de Campos: “…Brazilian culture was born under the sign of the baroque…it cannot be understood from ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood from an ontological, substantialist, metaphysical point of view. It should not be understood in the sense of an idealist quest for “identity” or “national” character. Baroque, paradoxically, means non-infancy. The concept of “origin” here will only fit if it does not imply the idea of “genesis”, of a generative process with a beginning, middle, and maturity…Baroque is, therefore, a non-origin. A non-infancy. Our literature, springing up from the baroque vortex, was never aphastic; it has never developed from a speechless, aphasic-infantile limbo in the fullness of discourse”. 115 pp. The baroque as literary form, even deprived of genesis, seems to lead stray into the “frame” whether in transcendental or immanentist planes of the modern metaphysics of the political.

3. Panagiotis Christias has recently offered a very interesting reading of the figure of the katechon in a platonic key, in which he suggests that the restrainer stands against potential rise of tyranny, thus making the Philosopher, the Greek antecedent of the katechon fearing the disintegration of the polis. To what extent philosophy can deter anomia today is a completely different question. I am interested in the figure of the Philosopher as metonymic for life as it converges with passion without sacrifice. See, Platon et Paul au bord de l’abîme. Pour une politique katéchontique (2014).

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.


  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.

‘Chasing the hare with the ox, swimming against the swelling tide’: Towards a Posthegemonic Institutionality. (Gerardo Muñoz)

*(Paper read at the workshop “Left Behind: The Ends of Latin America’s Left Turns”, held at Simon Fraser University, December 5, 2016. Organized by Jon Beasley-Murray.)

In an important moment of Alberto Moreiras’ new book Marranismo e inscripción (2016) we read: “La sospecha de no ser lo suficiente correctos en política, con todo el misterio terrífico que esa determinación tiene en la academia [norteamericana], pesó siempre sobren nuestras cabezas como una grave espada de Damocles y todavía pesa…” (Moreiras 125). It might be a good ocassion to say upfront that the waning of the progressive cycle in Latin America will most likely revive old affective demands and well-known pieties that the Left never affords to give up. Someone will be blamed for the broken plates, and the burden of those “left behind”. But this moment should be seized to think not what ‘politics’ should or must do (in Latin America and beyond), but rather how to think politics in what already is taking place. Or to question if perhaps the political today amounts to nothing more than what Arnaut Daniel said of the poet: “[He] chases the hare with the ox, swims against the swelling tide”. Can the paralysis of politics be something other than hunting or resistance?

As this 2016 comes to a close, we have witnessed a series of drawbacks in the political landscape of Latin America: from the outcome of the referendum in Bolivia to the electoral victory of Mauricio Macri’s PRO in Argentina, not to speak of Dilma Rousseff parliamentary impeachment in Brazil. There has been other lesser-known events, although no less disturbing, such as Roxana Pey’s arbitrary dismissal as First President of Universidad de Aysén by the current Chilean Minister of Culture after proposing a debt free and non-corporate public education. The sense of ‘exhaustion’ is at the thicket of the progressive cycle and has only deepened in the last two years, although this prognosis is more than just a motto of ‘ultra-leftistism’. Recently, high profile figures of the so-called Pink Tide governments have also voiced a sense of political stagnation and defunct space to reignite the original rhythm that took place at the turn of the century.

Just about a week ago, in a conversation that took place at Columbia University between philosopher Étienne Balibar and Vice-President of Bolivia Alvaro Garcia Linera, the latter stated that we are now in turbulent times where no horizon is in clear sight. It might be true that the unsettling remark might have partly been influenced in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death as the symptom of Latin American Left’ symbolic orphanhood, although Castro died far from leaving a relevant political legacy. I think many will agree that the guerrilla warfare, the Partido Único, or the concept of ‘struggle’ plays no role in the future of the Latin American Lefts. Yet such announcement from the Vice-President of the Bolivian Plurinational State seems to put to a halt the deep political conviction for transformation that he himself theorized in a wide range of orienting categories such as ‘creative contradictions’, ‘planetary ayllu’, or ‘communist horizon’.

The deficiency of a visible political vista means that we are in times of interregnum; a time when the modern epochality is left behind and a new one that has yet to materialize. The interregnum describes an extraneous temporality that fissures the antinomies of architectonics of modern politics – autorictas and potestas, constituent and constituted power, legitimacy and legality – carrying the very economy between thought and action in a threshold of indeterminacy. At the closure of epochality we are obliged to rethink once again the limits of the Latinamericanist conditions of reflection in light of the contemporary transformation of the space or object of knowledge that we call Latin America. A few years ago, John Beverley made an attempt to propose a new paradigm in his Latinamericanism after 9/11 (2011) under the preliminary notion of post-subalternism, which he defined as an alliance between subaltern and the new progressive State:

“The question of Latinamericanism is, ultimately, a question of the identity of the Latin American state…I would like to suggest here an alternative that is post-subaltenrist, ‘post’ in the sense that it displaces the subaltenrist paradigm but is also a consequence of that paradigm in that it involves rethinking the nature of the state and of the national popular from the perspectives opened by subaltern studies. …This possibility has a double dimension: how can the state itself be radicalized and modified as a consequence of bringing into it demands, values, experiences from the popular subaltern sectors, and how, in turn, from the state, can society can be remade in a more redistributive, egalitarian, culturally diverse way (how hegemony might be constructed from the state, in other words). (Beverley 110-116)”.

The post-subalternist option largely depends on the temporalization of the State-people alliance, which leaves pressing questions relative to State form and patterns of accumulation untouched, or any excess that disrupts the culturalist consensus at the heart of every hegemonic articulation. The problem that arises from this specific conceptual design is that with the rise of the New Rights, which continue to operate on the basis of the expansion of social inclusion through consumption, the hegemony of a ‘non-State that acts as a State’ (another way through which Beverley defines postsubalternism), will be set to accomplish two simultaneous tasks: on the one hand, contain and polish the heterogeneity or savage dimension of ‘the people’ into the metaphoricity of national-popular representation; while on the other, reducing the State’s structures and institutions to the management of geopolitical processes and rent distribution. In a rather counterintuitive way, the post-sulbanternist option reenacts the decionism from the instrumentalization of the state as the exception to post-sovereign capital in the name of the people.

At the same time, facticity is now fully post-subalternist, but for the opposite reasons as those imagined by Beverley: hegemony’s de-hiearchization and economic administration convergences with the neoliberal general equivalent as real subsumption of capital renders hegemonic politics obsolete for substantial change. Ultimately, post-subalternist alliance curbs posthegemonic temporal intrusion, which forces a relentless displacement of its object of identification to disregard the constitutive tragic repetition of the fissure in its closure.

Post-subalternism is an attempt to reawake the specter of hegemony from the ruins of the political: from the inside it stands politics of subjectivization by the State, and from the outside, as a metapolitical form of order (katechon) to detain internal social explosion (Williams 61).

In recent years the post-subalternist paradigm has been somewhat displaced by what I have called elsewhere a ‘communal or communitarian turn’ (Muñoz 2016). Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, a key thinker of communal horizontalism and also the author of the influential book Los ritmos de Pachakuti: Movilización y levantamiento indígena-popular en Bolivia (2008), at the end of last year conjured a radical turn towards the “communal” as the site for a new political program. In a more urgent tone, Huascar Salazar Lohman in Se han adueñado del proceso de lucha (2015) defines the position as following:

“Lo relevante es afirmar que la transformación heterogénea y multiforme que emerge de los entramados comunitarios implica la capacidad de dar forma a su reproducción de la vida social, trastocando, trans-formando o reformando la propia forma de la dominación…La manera en que los entramados comunitarios enfrentan al capital es a partir de vetos que permiten conservar, establecer, o restablecer relaciones sociales para reproducción la vida. En este sentido, el telos o el horizonte de deseo que media la lucha comunitaria es el despliegue de su propia forma de reproducir la vida, es decir, ampliar su capacidad de formación” (Salazar Lohman 35).

For both Gutierrez Aguilar and Salazar Lohman, the communitarian horizon requires breaking away from the dichotomy of civil society and State in order to relocate the temporal vitality of an autonomous re-production of life and the re-appropriation of that which the state has expropriated from communal property. However, if the communitarian form is not determined a priori by domination and capital, why is the emancipatory potential of the communitarianism emphasized solely on the basis of re-appropriation of what is valorized in the State? Salazar Huascar himself provides the answer to us when alluding to Bolivar Echevarria’s reconceptualization of the notion of use-value as yielding something like an inner exception within the logic of exchange. Communitarism, then, re-translates use-value as locational propriety.

Ironically, this is not very different from Álvaro Garcia Linera’s own attempt to “restore the communal (ayllu), against the logics of subsumption, through a re-functioning of culture and democracy and the recent juridical-political attempting to contain the ‘cunning of capital’ as it imposes its logics through its others…” (Kraniauskas 48). Although it seems the polar opposite of Huascar’s position, Garcia Linera’s instrumentalization of the communitarian through use-value mediates an indianization of the subject of social emancipation in the ‘community form’” (Kraniauskas 48). In fact, communitarianism ends up offering yet another exceptional particularism legitimized by the normative assumption of propriety and properness via-a-vis collective decision-making ( as ‘participacion directa y obligatoria’), and an alternative biopolitics of the ‘reproduction of life’ (reproducción de la vida). Communitarianism as a locational politics of resistance is already contained in the State’s shadow of community use-value, which is inverted on behalf of communitarian decisionism.

A similar paradox is at the heart of Diego Sztulwark and Veronica Gago’s essay that expands the temporality of the ‘end’ of the Latin American progressive cycle from below. On the one hand, they note that neoliberalism runs parallel to constituting a governmentality from above, and is also “inextricably linked to popular consumption, apparatuses of indebtness, and new forms of violence” as two dynamics that permute and sustain one another” from below (Gago & Sztulwark 610). While discerning the spectral dimension of contemporary flexible capital, they immediately move on to claim that it is on this plane where new counter-powers are transformed, modes of weaving together a resistance and a set of practical actions for political efficacy… (Gago & Sztulwark 612). However, counter-hegemonic subjective vitalism is already captured by the plasticity of financial subjectivization. Thus, this new vitalism framed solely as resistance only lifts political imagination to the domain of stasis or civil war already taking place in the territories, in which the struggle for subsistence takes the form of a neo-Francicanism eschatology (minimal relation to propriety) immanent to the financial subaltern bodies.

I would like to suggest that the two reflexive options sketched above, that of a post-subaltern state and the particular communitarian horizon, coincide in fashioning a politics of resistance after the closure of hegemonic principles. At the same time, the failure of hegemonic theory in the region is in this sense neither accidental nor limited to the temporalization of the so-called progressive cycle, since it also characteristic of the phenomenology of the originary fissure in the State form over the last two hundred years.

Hegemony or hegemon as an ultimate ontology of the political constitutes itself as a phantasm, which following Reiner Schürmann, denies the tragic dimension of the singular, translating norms and legislating laws in the name of its own sovereign principle. A phantasm is hegemonic when an entire culture relies on it as if it provided that in the name of which one speaks and acts. Such a chief-represented (hêgemôn) is at work upon the unspeakable singular classifying, inscribing, and distributing proper and commonality (Schürmann 22). In this sense, communitarianism and state hegemony are not just contending procedures of political decisionism, but more importantly, the two poles of a same structure waged on life as ultimate referent.

This is why, according to Schürmann, there is a “kind of joy of violent submission to it. Perhaps the intoxication they wish for us, or that we wish for ourselves through them” (Schürmann 29). To the extent that is waged on life, there has always been hegemony, although only as a phantasmatic economy to flatten and systematically erase the time of the tragic, whenever it appears to interrupt and ascend into the political principle. This is the time of the singular that is neither reducible to a subject in the eventfulness of history (a movement, a people or a multitude), nor a cultural schematization of identity and difference.

The challenge for thought is necessarily post-hegemonic, which I define as the potentiality for institutionalization of the tragic (singularity) in the anomic epoch of neoliberal administration. It is no coincide that both communitarian and hegemonic options define themselves against institutions, and they both respond to the moment of crisis of political epochality. A reformulation of an institutional form can mediate the ever-present pendulum movement that oscillates from neoliberal deregulation to the populist anti-institutionalism and back. But it so happens that populism does not posses a theory of institutionality, therefore is in no condition of providing a strategy to cope with the movement of the pendulum (Villacañas 2016). Since populism is always a decision on a concrete existential situation, it always remains attached to the perpetuity of the state of crisis as a decision made on and for life (understood in the Greek sense of krisis as judgment). As such, populism is the temporality of expropriation, and its process of abstractation into finite demands coincides with the money form (general equivalent) that structures the contemporary financial body of the living.

In the introduction to their edited volume Left Turns (2010), Beasley-Murray & Cameron & Herschberg noted that “if the Latin American states are to survive their current crisis of legitimacy they then need to be better funded, more efficient, and more reflexive of public preferences…the entire political class confronts the challenge of refunding the Latin American State” (Cameron & Herschberg 6). This was the promise and the stakes .Since then, the Latin American Progressive Cycle’s extreme presidencialism led to the withering of institutionalization making it easier for an accelerated restructuring of the State’s institutions by the New Rights technocrats. As the populist interpellation between friend and enemy evaporates in each political cycle, the price to be paid is life as thetic communitarian identity formation or as counter-hegemonic biopolitical vitalism. Constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman alerts in his The Decline and Fall of the American Republic (2010) that the expansion of the powers of the ‘most dangerous branch’ (executive) effectively prepares the ground for an ominous neoliberal anti-institutionalization. This is what lurks in United States’ political future after the President-elect Donald Trump, and more generally, what haunts the spatial configuration of every western state’s void of legitimacy.

A posthegemonic institutionality for post-hegemonic times seeks the thinking of another relation with the political that is not reducible to the principle of a hegemonic phantasm as the oblivion of its own excess to equivalence. But perhaps more importantly here is how to think a posthegemonic institutional form that that would break away from the indeterminate concrescence of law as always already short-handed for internal exceptionality in order to redirect and put in motion the temporality of development. Thus, a posthegemonic institutionality will thrive to move beyond a notion of interruption or an insurrectionary moment dispensed in the phantasm of hegemony.

How can we imagine a form of life instituted not only in its irreducibility to the movement of vital ‘rhythm’, but in the arrival of the day after, when the last lights have gone off, after everyone has returned home, and mobilization gives way to demobilization? In his book on the Spartacist uprising, Furio Jesi says that the ‘decisive day of freedom’ is that which takes place the day after tomorrow, in which the time of living is not exhausted in life or death (Jesi 134). The crucial distinction here is a temporal one: living against life or death.

To institutionalize not life in the frame of biopolitics or communitarism, constituent power as passage to constituted power, but a destituent time of the living. The day after tomorrow is posthegemonic demobilization as distance from political ontology and its conversion into metapolitical community. Only by institutionalizing the temporality of an improper singularity could something like an inequivalent and ungraspable form of democracy and radical freedom could be conceived as the new truth in and beyond politics.


Ackerman, Bruce. The Decline and Fall of the American Republic. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Beverley, John. Latinamericanism after 9/11. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

Cameron, Maxwell & Herschberg, Eric. Latin America’s Left Turns: Politics, Policies, and Trajectories of Change. Boulder: Reinner Publishers, 2010.

Gago Verónica & Sztulwark Diego. “The Temporality of Social Struggle at the End of the “Progressive” Cycle” in Latin America”. SAQ, 115:3, July 2016.

Kraniauskas, John. “Universalizing the ayllu”. Radical Philosophy, 192, July-August, 2015.

Moreiras, Alberto. Marranismo e inscripción. Madrid: Escolar & Mayo, 2016.

Muñoz Gerardo (ed.). “The End of the Latin American Progressive Cycle” (dossier). Alternautas (3.1, July 2016). http://las.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2016/11/Alternautas_End-of-Progressive-Cycle-Dossier-2016.pdf

Salazar Lohman, Huascar. “Se Han adueñado del proceso de lucha”: horizonte comunitario-populares en tensión y la reconstitución de la dominación en la Bolivia del MAS. La Paz: autodeterminación, 2015.

Schürmann, Reiner. Broken Hegemonies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Villacañas, José Luis. Populismo. Madrid: La Huerta Grande, 2015.

Williams, Gareth. “Los límites de la hegemonía”. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina (Castro Orellana, ed.). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

Can the poem be thought? on Marco Dorfsman’s Heterogeneity of Being. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Dorfsman Heterogeneity of Being_2016In the last chapter of Heterogeneity of Being: On Octavio Paz’s Poetics of Similitude (UPA, 2015), Marco Dorfsman tells of how he once encountered a urinal in the middle of a library hallway. It was a urinal possibly waiting to be replaced or already re-moved from a public bathroom. The details did not matter as it recalled the origin of the work of art, and of course Duchamp’s famous readymade, originally lost only to be replicated for galleries and mass spectatorship consumption. Duchamp’s urinal, or for that matter any manufactured ‘displaced thing’ reveals the essence of technology, at the same time that it profanes its use well beyond appropriation and instrumentalization. I recall this late anecdote in the book, since Dorfsman’s strategy in taking up Octavio Paz’s poetics is analogous to the dis-placing of a urinal. In Heterogeneity of Being, Paz is de-grounded from the regional and linguistic archive, dis-located from the heritage and duty of national politics, and transported to a preliminary field where the aporetic relation between thought and poem co-belong without restituting the order of the Latianermicanist reason.

Heterogeneity of Being is Dorfsman’s leap (a versuch that gathers also the innate ability for failure in the Nietzschean sense) to cross the abyss of the poetic identity; fleeing from the national-popular frame, as well as from the pitiable origins that enable every ground of transcultural articulation. Against the good intended “–abilities” to “speak on the name of” and in the “place of” the other, Dorfsman offers an exercise in thought. The initial hypothesis is how to assimilate, or render thinkable, an ontology of Pazian poetics in the way of a ‘stimmung’ facilitating the endeavor for thought (12). Heterogeneity of being is nothing more than this, but it happens to be also a stroll around Paz’s poetical constellation– not without accidental turns, missed encounters with transient signatures, interrupted articulations and rhythms – as an attempt to arrest the fold between thinking and the poematic. The poematic is understood here as a strange habitation of sorts; a stanza for the (im)possibilities of thought.

Indeed, the poematic is that which allows a tropology that exceeds the compartmental and sheltered demands of the political, subjective, and ethical drives. Against the temptation of disciplinary binds (which are, after all, signs of university semblance), Dorfsman calls for an incomplete Paz that cannot be an objectified signatory authority, but rather as what unveils the temporality of being (11).

Pazian poetics co-belong with the existential time, since it is a now time (the time of a life), which appears at the gates, without entry, of the culturalist and conventional literary methodologies responsible for the organization of poesis legistlation. Dorfsman is not interested in what we could call a “signatory local scene” of the poetic (“Paz in Mexico” or “Mexico un Paz” – the usual postal-service that is always the currency of exchange) as if the “poem”, as the poet’s standing reserve, could supplement what remains on the side of the unthought or the repressed. (Say an ancient cosmogony, a non-Western mantra, or a temporality that derails the homogeneous or messianic time of the modern). Rather, “Paz” is depository of a heterogeneity of inheritance that fails to assume the form of an identity, a destinial time, and therefore is always “anachronistic and it involves a ghost, a specter” (Dorfsman 18-19).

Laberinto de la Soledad, Postdata, or ¿Águila o sol? attentively read in the initial chapters of the book are displaced from the topical discussion of ‘Mexican identity’ to one of difference and inheritance, or as Dorfsman’s conceptualizes it, of “dif-herencia”, following Derrida’s elaboration of spectrality and heritage in Hamlet-Marx. The temporalization of the poematic allows Dorfsman to unveil in Paz’s thought as a language of dif-herencia that: “is not a concept or a metaphor; it is more like a simile or a pun. It thrives on its ambiguity and imprecision” (23).

Dif-herencia brings to halt the logic of identity and difference, while attending to the exposure of a wound (herida) internal to the process of deappropriation and splitting. Thus, more than drift towards a criollo fictive ethnicity, Paz is reservoir of specters that punctuate through a politico-ethical relation that bring forth responsibility and the practice of witnessing emptying identity formations. Pazian poetic time, suggests Dorfsman, does not inaugurate something like a “national I” or a “principial Mexican inheritance of the letter”, but a dwelling that opens a singular existence and disavows every nomic allowance. Pazian poematicity is an atopic temporal relation with a groundless tradition.

But the heterogeneity of the singular also resists – although “resistance” or “stasis” are not the appropriate words – a negativity that feeds the labor of dialectics. Here Dorfsman deploys along with his concept ‘dif-herencia’ that of ‘similitude’, which could be conceived as nocturnal knowledge or the failure of every effort into constructing a people, an ‘alternative subject’. In his strong reading of Laberinto de la Soledad, contaminated by Heidegger’s expository understanding of the essence of technology, the Mexican essence-problem is turned inside-out as one of masking and simulation. Following Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia, we could say that in every expository relation one always remains strange or improper [1]. De-attaching the codifications of masks from Christian morality (shame, guilt, or purity), Dorfsman reads a poetical-speak of similitude, where appropriation (of meaning) is de-appropriated in the name of an echo-plurality that is always-already unappropriable threshold for a “modality of truth” (45). In a substantial passage from the third chapter, Dorfsman writes:

“…the revolution, perhaps the most authentic because it set up a confrontation with the interior nothingness of being, only managed to produce a new mask, an institutional mask, the PRI, whose transfigurations and unmasking continue to this day. The chain of identities, Spanish, Indian, Mestizo, Catholic, liberal,….etc, can all be inherited and disavowed, they are all interchangeable and all empty” (47-48).

The poematic in Paz is in the order of the profane, although not because it dwells in the radical historicity of the singular seeking to ‘represent’ or ‘donate’ the real world with measured political action, but because it has no desire in instantiating a historical event (or a new politics). The profanity of the mask vis-à-vis the logic of similitude is a space of potential use that trans-figures the other for becoming. It is a style that is both singular and disjointed. In Dorfsman’s propositional hermeneutics, Paz’s discussion of identity is only preparatory for a de-identification of a singular-plural that destitutes every politics of location, and in fact, all politics of being within history.

Pazian culturalism is dissolved not only in similitude / simulation, but also in the poetic temporality of language. Here, similitude coincides with the event of language itself, making the poetic the very singularity of profanation. In Piedra de sol, Dorfsman reads the verse “unánime presencia en oleaje” in light of Heidegger’s poetological exegesis of Parmenides poem and the poetic universe of Georg Trakl (94-96). But Dorfsman goes further, since for him the Pazian poematic bear witness to the rhythm of singular life (I would also argue of the ‘immanent cause’, although this is not explicitly in the analysis) where the way of language builds its own path or “camino”.

Hence, it is no longer a subject that enacts or wills, but the time of being which against the order of signification, stems from the stasis of language (“en el seno del lenguaje hay una guerra civil sin cuartel”) (97). Crossing tracks with Heidegger and Trakl, Dorfsman’s disobeys the exegetical command of the Pazian archive, only to re-direct it to the spiral of errancy of language. This is the proper region of the poetic temporality or the silence or the simulation in the poem.

The temporality of the poem becomes for Dorfsman the possibility of speaking in language, in the tongue of the other. This is why the end of Heterogeneity of Being should be read as poetic desistence, as the call for a practical exodus from every determination of the poetic arrival in meaning or History for a ‘peal of language’ [102] [2]. The poem, in its exigent silence and means of desistance, opens in this way to thought:

“To say no the world is to flee, to escape, perhaps towards an elsewhere: poetry. At least towards a certain kind of poetry, the kind of hermetic, escapist aestheticism which Paz seems to be attacking but which, paradoxically, he was himself accused of writing. But no, what the poem here says is not no or yes; it a refusal of both. Is it a negation, then? Rather, it is the recognizing of the aporetic status of the world, to which affirmation and negation are irrelevant. The poet hears a call to either affirm or deny, but he cannot place the call.” (109).

It is here, however, where the poematic becomes a problem for thought, as well as an impersonal exigency. This is why it is odd that Dorfsman vacillates in calling Paz’s poetics “mysticism” as temporalizing of language, since it is the mystic reverse what allows for the tracking of silence, for the breathing in of a permanent wound that is its second voice. This is the silent voice that dwells in the event of the calling of thinking, which turns (and the turn here is not just in passing, but indicative of the taking place of language) any iteration of everything unsaid in the event of language [3].

The exodus of the poematic does not lead to the desert but to the nocturnal and illegible knowledge of the pyramid. The pyramid knowledge knows no disclosure. This is where Duchamp’s readymade crosses path with Heidegger’s thought on the essence of technology. This very encounter is pyramidal (or at least triangular: Duchamp-Heidegger-Thing), even if Dorfsman does not attempt the elaboration and keeps it secret. But Dorfsman’s suggests that Duchamp’s painting as philosophy is what speaks (in silence) to the unveiling of modern technology.

The duchampian injunction poses another tactical movement: it radically suspends the modern closure on aesthetics (aisthesis), which entails the ruin of the technology of “critique” (Thayer) for the production of ‘visibility’, of the ‘made visible’. It is only in Duchamp where the Heideggerian maxim “the painting spoke”, earns something like a covert instance of life; or in Dorfsman’s terminology, a poetic similitude. The notion of the poem itself becomes profane simulation of every distance relative between language and world. It through this transfiguration of the power of the dichtung (still a revelatory substitution in the later Heidegger) to the readymade, that a heterogeneity of being ceases to be supplementary to the order of history and of epochal destiny.

And it is at this instant where the poematic touches and falls into the strange welcoming site “where literature, paintings, shoes, and urinals may speak, but their secretions may be otherwise than meaning” (124). This is no longer a region for aesthetics or production, but desistance in language. Perhaps at this point one could say that the poem has conducted an exodus from itself into the inner sense of silence.





  1. Emanuele Coccia. Sensible Life: a micro-ontology of the image. Fordham University Press, 2016.
  2. For a take on desistance in the specific context of the Chilean Avant-Garde and the readymade, see Villalobos-Ruminott’s “Modernismo y desistencia. Formas de leer la neo-vanguardia. Archivos de Filosofia, N.6-7, 2011-2012.
  3. Giorgio Agamben. “Il silenzio del linguaggio”. Arsenale Editrice, 1983.

“O friends …”

“O Friends…” (by Jaime Rodríguez Matos)

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Is communitarianism a substitute for State-University discourse? (Gerardo Muñoz)

Julian Velez Bolivia 2015

As we witness the exhaustion of the Latin American progressive cycle, it is obvious that new demands emerge for thought. What began more than ten years ago in Venezuela, Ecuador, and a little later in Argentina and Bolivia, has now come to a full close. Concretely, this signifies a halt in the processes of democratization in the region. It also entails the need to think new categories, demand imagination to other possible configurations, and abandon principles that have been subsumed into the ‘duopoly’ of market-State formulation [1].

If the last decade was characterized by democratization through consumption, this could well mean that the Latin American plebs will now consume less, will party only part-time under surveillance, and will have to reimagine themselves otherwise (even if it is around a Coca-Cola late at night in the villa). The runfla lives (the lives of the marginalized, of the popular sectors, the villeros, etc.) will have to regain the time of life, which is the time of the commons in consumption.

Out of the many concepts that circulated in the ‘Universidad Posible’ Conference (generously organized by Willy Thayer & Raul Rodriguez Freire) that took place in Santiago (April 18-21) it was that of ‘the commons’ which had intellectual political purchase to ‘invert’ and transform the waning of progressive political structuration, now in the hands of right-wing administrative governmentality. But the idea or concept of ‘commons’ was in itself ambivalent: on one hand, the ‘idea of the commons’  (it is always an idealistic affirmation) thrives on the general horizon of resistance from below, but on the other, it necessarily feeds off the crystallization of the crisis of hegemonic articulation.

This resonated in the phrase that Eduardo Rinesi repeated throughout the four days of the conference: ‘let us not forget that something has happened all these years in Latin America’ (“recordemos que algo ha venido pasando en América Latina”). On one hand, this introduced the experience of someone implicated in a progressive State apparatus, but on the other, this was also an implicit response to those who called for radical suspension of university epochality [2].

But what is that that has happened (in Latin America)? In any case, what happened must remained silenced, and merely evoked. The event cannot be given its proper weight, its semantic density, and its full hermeneutic dis-closure. Perhaps, because what has happened is democratization, but also (now) the crisis of democratization. In other words: in the time of the ruin of hegemony proper, there is a decline and trans-formation into its other, the shadow of post-hegemony as translated and incorporated against the time of democracy. Hegemony flows back as time past to avoid its spectral present.

More importantly, that ‘that which has happened’ provides for political verisimilitude that guarantees specificity of location, which is also a guarantee of the political. But in its closure, it also unveils a temporality of the past. A past that cannot assume the present, and when it tries to do so, it renders a telic result of what has already taken place. In this variation of university discourse, thought is incorporated into the prison of consequential necessity of time. It has happened, but it must remain outside of the now. If according to a maxim of the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, the prison is maximum time with minimum space; university discourse is maximum past with minimum present. In the carceral reflection on the university in time of crisis, thought itself enters prison with no possibility for parol.

It is at this point where the communitarian option emerges from below as co-substantial with the crisis of democracy. In fact, its demand appears as its supplement that affirms time present of horizontal an-institutionalization with the ‘something has happened’ of partial (interrupted) democratic life. Communitarism becomes a safety-vowel to recast hegemony form from below in the crisis of hegemony form. Thus, communitarianism is a necessary supplement of hegemony to keep its ground intact.

It is in this double movement – between hegemony of the effectual past and the localization of the movement in the present – where something like a crisis of university discourse could be located in the Latin American intellectual reflection when confronted with the inevitable sinking progressive cycle in the region. This movement is full stasis in a double sense: it provides balance and form to principal (intellectual) reflection, and it also guards the conflict between fracture of institutional hegemony and immanentization of hegemony translated into community.

Can the Latin American crisis assume the form of a political plebeization to save itself? What is the time for a plebeization of the university? This was the question posed by Oscar A. Cabezas against reflexive modalities of political closure or the substantialization of the political (as stasis) into thinking the present [2]. Plebeization becomes a possible horizon when it demands the integration of the unity of conflict. But the turn to a communitarian unity of intellect must first posit political struggle as a primary antagonism of the friend-enemy divide, as Luis Tapia forcefully argues [3]. In fact, this is the argumentative core in Tapia’s Universidad y Pluriverso (2014), an inverse but affirmative schmittianism.

Plebeization (a term that interestingly Tapia himself does not deploy) organizes the time of the ‘future’ as a way to govern the present, in the name of forgetting the singular. Or is plebeiazation an invisible remainder of what is always taking place? Or is it a dirty eschatology for post-katechontic times? In both cases, the ‘something has happened’ and the ‘immanentization of the ultimate struggle’ amount to a dual machine of a particular historical fabric that, in the face of the fissures the political, is unable to see the open.





*Image: Popular procesion after Tiwanaku, by Maria Alejandra Escalante & Julian Velez, 2015. (Do not reproduce without their permission).


  1. The duopoly of State and market was thematized by Gareth Williams following Brett Levinson’s Market and Thought: Meditations on the Political and Biopolitical (Fordham, 2004).
  2. Moreiras referred the a-positional ‘ex-universitatis’, Villalobos-Ruminott a suspension of the principle of equivalence, whereas I called for a ‘postunivesity form beyond community’. Rodrigo Karmy’s averroism against ‘epistemic personhood’ was also consistent with these positions. These were all rehearsals for an infra-university, as Williams called it.
  3. Oscar A. Cabezas. “Los intelectuales y la universidad norteamericana”. (Paper read at Universidad Posible Conference, 2016).
  4. Luis Tapia’s Universidad y Pluriverso (2014). The reference to Schmitt’s concept of the political is thematized explicitly in Tapia’s essay.

Línea de sombra ten years after: introductory remarks | ACLA 2016 Harvard University. (Gerardo Muñoz & Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott)

linea de sombra

Ten years have passed since the publication of Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político (Palinodia, 2006). It seems that this seminar received neither the most appropriate of titles, nor the most desirable one. At the end of the day, others are the ones that live by anniversaries, ephemerides, and revivals. In a way, to commemorate is a convoluted and dangerous move that recaps the jacobinist principle ‘down with the King, long live the principle!’

Something radically other is at stake here, or so we wish to propose. To the extent that something is ‘actual’ is so because it allows conditions for thinking and thought; that is, conditions of doing in thought. Then, of course, there are activities and activities. As Lyotard observed, there are some activities that do not really transform anything, since ‘to do’ is no a simple operation (Lyotard 111). So much is needed for this encounter to happen – and the purpose of this encounter with many friends here is Línea de sombra ten years after. This was Alberto’s fourth major book – after Interpretacion y diferencia (1992), Tercer espacio (1999), and The Exhaustion of Difference (2001), and that is without counting his early La escritura política de José Hierro (1987). Línea, we should not forget it, was published in Chile in 2006, under turbulent circumstances. We are referring here of course to Alberto’s exodus to Aberdeen, and in a way his “exile” from the enterprise of Latinamericanism. The drift to suspend the categorial structure of the Latinamericanist reflection was already underway in Tercer espacio and Exhaustion, books that radically altered the total sum of reflections on and about Latin America, in the literary and the cultural levels, and whose consequences were felt, though we are not too sure that they have been fully pursued and taken to its outermost transgressive limits. As Alberto has repeated often, the issues on the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s are still among us, but we have yet been able to deal with them radically, which means, to deal with them without just reproducing the constitutive limited structures and categorical systems that have informed Latinamericanism and Hispanism at large through the twentieth-century.

In this sense, Línea de sombra is an unfinished intervention. In part because it did not produce many interlocutors and readers when published, or perhaps because it was taken (and it is understood as such still today) as a book that transgressed the ‘Latinamericanist reason’, opening itself to a region of thought that was in itself undisciplined, savage, and for the same reason, considered an outlaw intervention (and we should keep in mind this tension between thinking and law). It does not matter. But what really does matter is that we consider the silences around Alberto’s intervention not as a personal affair, but as a particular effect of a certain disposition of hierarchies and prestige within the contemporary university. As if Línea (and the other books) were dammed from the beginning due to the constitutive limitation of Hispanism and due to the lack of interest in theoretical approaches coming form Latinamericanism, a field that was usually identified with the exoticism of political conundrums and the curiosities coming out of Third World countries.

Of course, the reverse side of this underprivileged condition of Spanish language for intellectual reflection is that it (re)produces reactive effects. For example, the decolonial option demands a constant revision of the privilege that Spanish has had in the process of representing Latin American realities. However, the paradox arises when this decolonial turn limits itself to the glorification of native languages as if they carry with them a more authentic access to the real, without questioning the self-limitation that both, Latinoamericanist criollo scholars and decolonial ones, show in restricting themselves to the same ethnographic task, avoiding not an explicit politics of identification, but avoiding the most urgent and radical politics of thinking. This politics of thinking doesn’t belong to disciplines and doesn’t follow University structruration. This is what we call infrapolitics.

In fact, we recently called this self-imposed limitation in Latinamericanism ‘late criollismo’ in relation to the last manifestations (political practices and historical forms of imagination) of a particular tradition of thought that, reactively, is confronting the dark side of modernity and globalization with a dubious re-territorialization of affects, practices and politics: from neo-indigenism to neo-communitarianism to literary New Rights, from neo-progressism to neo-developmentalism and neo-extractivism.

On the other hand, we should not forget it, Spanish was an imperial language, and the current (rhetoric of) privilege for ‘Spanish’ is also at the heart of the neoliberal university. In fact, it is what allows the expansion of the language programs, and by consequence, the expansion of ‘adjunct professors’ and ‘part-time post-PhD students’ that carry departmental duties. An exponential process of subalternization that professors that defend far-away subalterns always seem to forget. One might say, the psychotic decolonial affect is possible by the foreclosure of a minimal distance in favor of the maximization of their subjective drive, in a process of identification that is also a process of libidinal investment and insemination.

Línea de sombra appeared in this context, but we do not think it wants to take part on either the side of defending the underdog or assuming a counter-hegemonic capitulation of Spanish as the master language or even the variations of Spanish as a sort of a new pluralism against Iberian hegemony. Línea renounces what Derrida calls in an essay of Rogues the ‘presbeia kai dunamei’, which is roughly translated as ‘majesty and power’, but it also renounces to the privilege of the predecessor or forbear, the one that commands, the archē (Derrida 138). Alberto’s text is a call for releasement of such a demand as principle of reason into a different relation with thought – now we think it is fair to say that that relation is always an infrapolitical relation – positing the archē of the political parallel to the category of the subject. In the introduction Alberto lays the question:

“El subjetivismo en política es siempre excluyente, siempre particularista, incluso allí donde el sujeto se postula como sujeto comunitario, e incluso ahí donde el sujeto se autopostula como representante de lo universal…el límite de la universalidad en política es siempre lo inhumano. ¿Y el no sujeto? ¿Es inhumano? Pero el no-sujeto no amenaza: solo está, y no excepcionalmente, sino siempre y por todas partes, no como el inconsciente sino como sombra del inconsciente, como, por lo tanto, lo más cercano, y por ello, en cuanto que más cercano, al mismo tiempo como lo ineludible y como lo que más elude” (Moreiras 12-13).

So, el no sujeto is an excess of the political subject, an incalculable and unmanageable rest, since the non-subject of the political just is, without a why. Just like the counter-communitarianism cannot constitute a principial determination, the non-subject does not wish to do so either. Indeed, Línea de sombra unfolds a complex instantiation against every nomic determination that guarantees the truth of the idea or the concept. But the non-subject haunts its violence, its transgression. Following our recent encounter with Schürmann’s work, we can say it confronts the latent forgetting of the tragic condition of being.

Indeed, the political has rarely been thought against the grain of its nomic and decionist principles, and Línea de sombra was (and still is) an invitation to do so. Our impression is that it is a book that does not want to teach or master anything, but thematizes something that has always been already there, even if some prefer to sublimate it into the principle of satisfaction. The price to be paid for that is quite high. Hence the desire to move thought elsewhere: indifferent to legacy, proper name, inheritance, masters, and subjects.

We propose, then, to think collectively these days around the promise, the offer, and the gift of this book, but not necessarily to place it in a central canonical position. Rather we intend to open its questions to interrogate our own historical occasion.




Alberto Moreiras. Línea de sombra: el no-sujeto de lo político. Santiago de Chile: Palinodia, 2006.

Jacques Derrida. Rogues: two essays on reason. Stanford University Press, 2005.

Jean François Lyotard. Why Philosophize? Polity, 2013.

*Image by Camila Moreiras, 2016.

Movement and Sacrifice: On Samuel Steinberg’s Photopoetics at Tlatelolco, Afterimages of Mexico 1968. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Photopoetics SamSamuel Steinberg’s Photopoetics at Tlatelolco, Afterimages of Mexico 68 (U Texas Press, 2016) is a timely contribution to the field of Mexican Studies. It posits itself as a sort of culmination of that field, and we would not exaggerate to say by saying that it is an archive of an archive that thrives to undo ‘Mexicanist ideology’ towards a different opening. Steinberg powerfully states at the end Photopoetics: “Mexicanism, in turn, is the name of the ideology that regulated the dutiful carrying-out of the relation between art and the people that the Mexican state organized until Tlatelolco…According to this procedure, one can constantly make art speak the name of Mexico as its truth, as the discontinuous thought, the spirit that haunts and must be revealed by thought” (182). This is a strong and devastating assertion that should also be strategically posited in whatever remains of ‘area studies’ structuration as institutional inertia as well as against its dominance over knowledge production of Latin America within the contemporary university. Photopoetics’ boldness lays precisely in this intersection within archive and reflection, between cultural inscription and disciplinary containment in the wake of the Tlatelolco massacre during the Mexican 68. This ‘event’ is symptomatic of the hegemonic haunting of principial Mexicanist reflection and of its multivalance inscription that continuously translates and archives itself as ‘defeat’ (37).

But Photopoetics is more than a book about the co-belonging between photography and literature, the image and life. Rather this very relation, and the limits thereof, is what is tested and taken to the edge in the different folding case studies that make up the book – from Monsivais to Poniawtoska, from Paz and Volpi to contemporary artist Francis Alÿs. The name of that operation depends largely on ‘photography’ as a medium but is not entirely reducible to it. Indeed, photopoetics is the term that establishes a transversal relation with the archival 68 without necessarily being a master trope that seeks to subordinate the archive to “photographic studies” or the “visual culture” discipline (in the W.J. T. Mitchell line or otherwise). The ‘photopoetic’ is not even a concept, but rather a dispositif that varies according to the object in question, allowing for a phenomenology of the onto-photographic effect on the Real and process of encrypting the event as event, as well as the indexical repetition of the archive (25-28).  

This has potent consequences for an analytical comprehension of the political, which fundamentally entails the displacement of hegemonic structuration (not only for ‘Mexicanism’ or the ‘global 68’). Indeed, for Steinberg, hegemony is the consignation of an archive, if by the latter we understand the reduction and principial limitation of the political to calculation (27). It is thus not surprisingly that Steinberg situates his own reflection within a post-hegemonic horizon primarily defined as the destruction of the differend between theory and practice (and throughout the book there is critical engagement with Moreiras, Williams, Yúdice, and Beasley-Murray) (8). This is the unsaid ‘althusserianist’ wager in Steinberg’s book, which is, at the same time, consistent with a politics beyond the subject and a defiant a-principial thought. There are two major and unexpected figures that support this general horizon: José Revueltas and Francis Alÿs. In fact, the book opens with Revueltas and closes with Alÿs; a double movement that although not fully developed, is preparatory for an atopic ground in relation to a post-Mexicanist horizon of reflection, a new form of thought, and a democratic (and communist?) promise.

The first two chapters – “Archive and Event” and “Postponed Images” – situate the general economy of the book, that is, the relation between archive and event and archive as the hegemonic force proper to the 68. The hegemonic phantasm is that of situating the 68 as a sacrificial horizon of history against what should be read as the contingent and democratic student movement that remains encrypted or translated into a reiterated and diversified figures of closure (victims, heroes, the people, or melodrama). Understood in a rancierean key, Steinberg’s post-hegemonic articulation rests principally on the contingent heteronomy of the movement:

“…What we call 1968: “an unforeseeable coming of the other, of a heteronomy; “the event of what or who comes” as incalculable exposure to that other and to the event that is other. […]. No: it is “the event of what or who comes”, that change encounter in which ‘students are confused with workers”, and in which the peasants are also present – absent from where they properly should be. Unconditionally”. (44).

It is not just that the archival event orders them into a grammar of visibility, but also the fact that it translates it (them: the students, or what is to come) into a principle. This is what in “Postponed images” Steinberg sees in Monsivais’ popular melodrama and “national unity” that reinserts “mexicanidad” within the general analytical economy. In a similar way, although folded, this is what is analyzed in the chapter on testimonio (“Testimonio and the future without excision”) taking Elena Poniatowska’s famous La noche de Tlatelolco as interchangeably positing the sacrificial structuration of history vis-à-vis civil society. La noche de Tlatelolco tames the democratic dis-order of the movement into one of the “People” within a broad ‘collective memory’ of the nation (112). We are not too far here from a ‘fictive ethnicity’ grounded in testimonio and its politics of truth. Again, an indexical photopoeticology is what guarantees – in Monsivais’ melodrama as well in Poniatowska’s civil society deposition – the encryption of 68 and its ‘afterlife’.

“Exorcinema” and “Literary restorations” are secondary moments of the 68 archival fantasies and unusual atopics for carrying out the lasting effect of this event. “Exorcinema” takes up films, such as Fons’ Rojo Amanecer and Raygadas’ Silent Light as resurrections of the photopoetic act, but it also has strong declinations that spill over Chris Marker monumental Grim without a cat (1967-77), as well as other figures of Mexican cinema. In “Literary Restoration”, the transition is folded from the ‘spirit of revolutionary sixties’ to the ‘neoliberal age of restoration’. Restoration here is not deployed lightly. Following Badiou, the staging of restoration announces an impasse in the face of historical nihilism, but also makes evident the fascination with the ‘past’ as melancholic repetition and restitution. In this sense, the work of Jorge Volpi centrally figures itself as the symptom of neoliberal restoration, and more specifically his pedagogic novel El fin de la locura (Seix Barral, 2003) sketches something like a narratological aleph of the sixties, revolving around “French theory”, Fidel Castro, psychoanalysis, the “Padilla Case”, and revolutionary ethos. This is an ‘after the fact’ historical novel that condenses – meant for a middlebrow public – major events of the leftist politization and heroic drives. Against Volpi’s own authorial intentions, however, Steinberg concludes that Volpi’s narrative halts at complete politization (hegemony) making possible an infrapolitical register. This is not to say that Volpi is an infrapolitical writer himself. There is no doubt that Volpi’s literary program – the Crack Manifesto, his novels, also his journalism – amount to literary nihilism in the wake of Mexico’s turn towards neoliberalism after NAFTA trilateral economic adjustments. Steinberg pushes for what I would call an infrapolitical interruption in Volpi as a secondary effect of what hegemony and counter-hegemonic literary depolitization cannot hold itself up to.

The last chapter, “An-archaeologies of 1968”, is the fleeing territory from the Mexican archive, and it does so with the help of contemporary artist Francis Alÿs. In this chapter, there are at least two major problems at stake for Steinberg: on one hand is the question of the de-territorialization of the Mexicanist disciplinary (and disciplined) boundaries of knowledge formation, and on the other, the possibility of rendering inoperative any ideal of emancipation (and resistance) based on history, subject, and work (192-93). The relational aesthetics piece “When faith moves mountains” is taken as a precarious negative community that exceeds national borders, as well as any possibility of subjectivation for the Mexican being. Alÿs is resistant to the resistance of Mexicanism. While this is true, perhaps some readers are left desiring further confrontation but this time not against the Mexican archive, but on the grounds of what I would call the transnational circuit of global contemporary art. Bourriaud and Claire Bishop’s theories on relational aesthetics make an entry into the discussion, but I am tempted to say that both of these critics, in different ways, are fully committed to hegemony theory, or at least to hegemony for contemporary art relations to the political, whether in consensual or antagonistic terms [1].

I am not arguing here that Steinberg endorses either Bourriaud’s or Bishop’s assessments or “contemporary art”, but that the an-archeology releasement opens to a critical assessment of the very machinistic operation of contemporary art in its very economical precocity, autonomous circulation, and so called “democratic inclusion” of extended practices and subjects. In this sense the problem of “faith” (189-91), is also about “the faith” of contemporary art: the “pistis” (credit) that in the aura of participation and immateriality ends up repeatedly bounded within a logic of exchange value through the practice of documentation.

Photopoetics at Tlatelolco inaugurates a post-sacrificial reflection on Mexican culture and its conditions of possibility. Making no concessions to ideological or locational authorities, Steinberg calls for a post-hegemonic desire that affirms the real movement of thought that is the concrete potentiality of politics beyond principles and idle chatter.



  1. I am thinking here of Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (Les Presses du Réel, 1998) on the side of consensual political practice, and the article “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics “ (October, Fall 2004), by Claire Bishop on the side of antagonism.

Ironic gramscianism: on Patrick Iber’s Neither Peace nor Freedom: the Cultural Cold War in Latin America. (Gerardo Muñoz)


Iber Peace Freedom 2015Patrick Iber’s Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America (Harvard Press, 2015) is a very much-welcomed piece of historiographical investigation on Hemispheric Cold War in the Americas, and I think it is not just circumscribed within conventional historiography, since it also speaks to us as Latinamercanists, that is, some of us not precisely invested in writing history of Latin America. Its publication coincides with other recent books that reexamine the “culture battles” during the Latin American Cold War, such as Jean Franco’s Cruel Modernity (Duke, 2014) Mabel Moraña’s Arguedas/Vargas Llosa (Iberoamericana, 2014), or Rafael Rojas’ Fighting over Fidel (Princeton, 2015). Neither Peace nor Freedom studies the Cold War structuration in the region as a long durè process– spanning from the late twenties (take the assassination of Julio Antonio Mella in Mexico) to Sandinismo and the Marea Rosada or Leftist progressive governments that began with Hugo Chavez’s 1999 election. The Cold War took place in a climate of political and cultural conflictivity that the historian is not hesitant to call a “civil war”: “…the work of political and intellectual currents whose existence predate the Cold War, and whose sources lay in what might be described as the international Left’s civil war. The arrival of the Cold War meant that the Left’s internal conflicts would be inscribed onto superpower competition, and thus that struggles for justice around the world would be refracted through imperial interests of the United States and the USSR. In Latin America, that would leave the Left with almost no viable options for pursuing its aims without compromising them” (3).

The event of the Cold War in Latin America was in this sense a long and costly civil war overdetermined by a dual structuration. However, as Patrick Iber’s studies moves on to argue, this structuration didn’t always lead to political or cultural closure on either side. This duality had multiple replications throughout the book: there was the World Peace Council (WPC) and the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), Casa de las Americas and Mundo Nuevo, along with the principles of “peace” (promoted by the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union) and that of “freedom” (promoted by anti-communist and largely financed by the CIA). Of course, every reader could input their favorite artist, intellectual, or country for either side. It might be superfluous to say that Neither Peace nor Freedom maps a heterogeneous and conflicting history of the Cold War in the Americas (as opposed to being a “Latin American narrative” that only “happened to them” so engrained in the common position of anti-imperialist mapping. Some of us, not all, associate this second with John Beverley’s work and in particular with his Latinamericanism after 9/11).

But perhaps less obvious is the fact that Iber’s commitment to historical writing has abandoned a model of political militancy to generate an otherwise relation with the cultural Cold War archive. I want to expand on this point. At the center of Iber’s argument is that this dual structuration – whether you were anti-communist or anti-anti-communist – encompassed both a technology of liberation and a position in favor of occasional oppression (149). If this is in fact what ‘contained’ the logic of the Cold War, then one can see that Iber’s own position as a historian is consistent with not being on the side of ‘liberation’ or of ‘oppression’. To affirm this, either side would have to hold on to some principle of imperialism. These are the stakes in Patrick’s own book, and I am bringing up this point as to allow for a reexamination of the “dual structure” of the Cold War epoch in light of our present. I think there is something to this. If Patrick is neither on the side of “peace” or “freedom”, ‘liberation’ or ‘oppression’, ‘Latin American anti-imperialism’ or ‘neo-conservative domination’, what is his ground? Where is he standing?

I think there is commitment in Neither Peace nor Freedom, but only in so far as it uncovers another space beyond ideology. This dislocation is the excess of the cold war duopoly. One of the places in which one could start discussing this space, is where Iber argues the following, which can be found at the very end of the introduction of his book:

“Each camp would accuse the others of corruption and operating in the service of foreign empire. But it was not so much an issue of corruption as of the inscription of intellectuals’ preexisting campaigns onto Cold War. The evidence from Latin America suggests that the Cultural Cold War is best understood within a framework of “ironic gramscianism” – the pursuit of cultural hegemony through a combination of coercion and consent, incorporating many agendas. But the consequences were so varied that cultural fronts produced nearly as many ironies as they did movement in the direction that their patrons hoped…And the experience of Lain America’s Left during the Cold War was less a betrayal of democracy than a true paucity of options” (18).

This notion of “ironic gramscianism” – that also makes an important come back at the very end of the book- remains an underdeveloped quasi-concept making it even more suggestive for understanding the endgame of the cultural Cold War [1]. To finish, I want just to elaborate on two aspects that seem latent in this fragment of Iber’s text, and I take them to be hyperbolic of some of the strong claims laid out. First, “ironic gramscianism” seem to be understood by Iber as the contamination by way of the effects of hegemony. Hegemony here is taken as producing not just ‘other effects’ than those desired or intended, but more importantly, perverse effects. As I understand it – not just explicitly in this fragment, but more implicitly in Iber’s study cases– ironic gramscianism breaks the very closure and suture logic of hegemonic articulation, opening itself to an excess that it cannot contain ideologically. That explains why there were “many ironies counter to the direction that the patrons hoped”.

Iber seriously puts hegemony theory in crisis. As we know, hegemony theory is not just a theory, but also inevitably the principial political theory of and about modern Latin America State form. I do not know to what extent hegemony theory can come back unscathed as a viable political option (another example: to what extent the valence of Estado Integral as Estado Aparente in Álvaro Garcia Linera not an ‘irony’ in a deep sense?) [2]. If gramscianism is always ironic, this means that gramscianism does the work in the negative (the “cunning of imperialist reason”), and this negative is the limit of what is no longer “tolerable” in history (think dictatorship, or forms of oppression) (244). If Gramsci (consent and coercion) is always a machine that generates other effects, then it cannot but be ironic. A fundamental consequence here is that hegemony theory does not produce democracy (it cannot do this labor). It is my impression that it is not just a matter of perception, but that gramscianism (hegemony) is irony tout court. Is the ‘irony’ constitutive of hegemony not the very excess and ruin of itself as shown consistently through the Cold War disjunction?

Secondly, I want to raise the question of democracy that lies at the heart of Iber’s intervention. Fundamentally, the question about the Cold War is also a genitive question about democracy in the region: why has there always been a demise and impossibility of democracy? Why the condemnation, the open repudiation across intellectual groups and politico-cultural ideologies? I don’t think that this is something that Iber takes up in his book, nor should we demand an answer from it. In my view, Patrick Iber makes a modest plea: democracy (or let’s call it republicanist democracy) was impossible because there were no options that allowed for such a drift. It is here where I want to open another question for Patrick – as well as for our debate more generally– and this is: what about populism in the Cold War? The national popular State (Peronism, Cardenismo, Varguismo) with all its limitations and authoritarian drives has been the closest to true democratic experiment in the region. Early castrismo, for instance, is in a sense-liquidated populism [3]. Perhaps populism is what the negative does not let be in time. My point is not that populism is something like a “Latin American destiny”. What I wonder is if populism is not what could allow for a republicanist drift (as I suggested recently reading Jose Luis Villacañas’ Populismo) as to establish long lasting democratic institutionalization, perhaps for the first time in the region’s history since the independences of 1810.

I realize that this a highly speculative question, since with the demise of what some of us are calling the “exhaustion of the Latin America political progressive cycle”, populism is not even a viable option. What is worse, the neo-populisms from the Right are neither desirable nor consistent with a democratic opening. The Marea Rosada was a fundamental moment of the Latin American Leftist democratic desire, but not for the reasons proposed by Beverley (geopolitical inversion or State-subaltern alliance), but rather because of the implementation of a certain “fiesta del consumo” that expanded the borders of democratization. Now, to keep insisting on ‘gramscianism’ – and its categories, such as the Integral State, hegemony theory, “identity”, “correlation of forces”, albeit the admiration for Garcia Linera’s thinking, whose work is the most systematic effort to re-inscribe Gramsci in the present – is more of the same, and in an ‘ironic’ way, an option that is highly consistent with neoliberal machination and de-hiarchization (Hatfield 2015).

The end of the Latin American progressive cycle puts to the test the populist democratic articulation that conditions the national popular state form. As we know, this past Sunday, Evo’s MAS lost the referendum in two of its most important political bastions (Potosí and El Alto). If las nuevas derechas are able to keep the level of consumption on the side of large underprivileged popular sectors, then this would mark the final collapse of Latin American populism as a potential democratizing force, obliging us (scholars, and students) to rethink the nature of the political anew.




  1. Patrick Iber. Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America. Harvard University Press, 2015. In the conclusion, Iber writes: “The history of the MLN is another reminder that prodemocracy movements in Latin America, whether of the anti-Communist or anti-anti-Communist variety, used languages of liberation that were implicated in support for empire somewhere on the globe. Perhaps there was no other way” (149). Also see (195) his emphasis on “truncated Leninism” as the modernizing drive of the anti-communist intelligentsia.
  1. For this conceptual translation in Garcia Linera, see Gareth Williams’s excellent “Social Disjointedness and State-Form in Álvaro García Linera”. Culture, Theory, and Critique, 2015.
  1. On the Cuban Revolution as hegemony, see El Viejo traje de la Revolución: identidad colectiva, mito, y hegemonía política en Cuba (Universidad de Valencia, 2007) by Sergio López Rivero.

*Introductory remarks for Patrick Iber’s book worskshop at Priceton University, February 23, 2016.