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.

 

 

 

 

 Notes

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).

Pious Humor: on José Luis Villacañas’ Freud lee el Quijote. By Gerardo Muñoz.

villacanas freud leeThe almost banal simplicity of the title of José Luis Villacañas’ most recent book, Freud lee el Quijote (La Huerta Grande, 2017), could incite false expectations. This is not a book about the esoteric references of the Quijote in the father of psychoanalysis, and it is most certainly not a psychoanalytic contribution on Cervantes, the author. Although these principles are at the center of Villacañas’ meditation, they do not exhaust his argument. There are, I think, at least two other important premises that deserve to be noted at the outset: on the one hand, Freud lee el Quijote is a continuation, a sort of minimalist diagram, of Villacañas’ massive Teología Política Imperial (Trotta, 2016); while on the other, it is an exoteric ongoing polemic with Carl Schmitt, who understood Quijote as a Catholic hero of the European destiny in the wake of secularization and the crisis of the Catholic ratio. Although Villacañas does not explicitly cite Schmitt’s early essay on Quijote (preferring to polemicize with the late work Hamlet or Hecuba), Schmitt lingers as an accompanying shadow figure throughout Villacañas’ intervention [1].

It must be said that, at a time of contemporary debates around political theology and the future of Europe, Freud lee el Quijote is a salient exposition of a decisive question on the political and historical defeat. Villacañas’ book is really about an affirmation of defeat as an irreducible condition of the political. It does not come to a surprise that Villacañas is fully honest when he writes in the prologue: “… [este libro] es mi hijo menor, pero en verdad el de más larga gestión, y el más querido de todos mis libros” (Villacañas 9).

The names of Freud and Schmitt work jointly and at opposite ends and they limit the frame of Villacañas’ strong reading of the Quijote. The central idea is that Cervantes wrote neither a work of cruelty or tragedy, nor of comedy.  El Quijote for Villacañas is a work of humor. But let us step back from this assertion. Villacañas is generous and attentive to the archival sources (Freud’s letters to Silberstein, among other things), which allows him several factual connections, such as the mimesis between the Academia Española as an antecedent of the Psychoanalytic Association, or even the Coloquio de los perros as a formal precedent of the psychoanalytic session. But more importantly, these juxtaposed scenes pepper the ground for the question that Villacañas is after: how to think the heroic figure of the Quijote, and what relation does it contract with the origin of psychoanalysis?

Villacañas’ thesis is that the Quijote is an eruption beyond the comic and the tragic into the humorous. This is, he tells us at the very end, a process of moral rationalization that Freud understood only after Cervantes’ discovery of the “pious humor” (humor piadoso) (Villacañas 25). To understand the way to Freud’s reading of humor in Cervantes, Villacañas first needs to cross paths with Schmitt. He recalls that in Schmitt’s reading of European secularization, there are three potential mythical representatives. We should bare in mind that the three are intellectual representatives: that of the Catholic Quijote in Spain, the Protestant Faust in Germany, and that of the rational and doubtful Hamlet, pulled by the tragic phantasm of the Law-Father. Throughout the essay, Villacañas wants to correct Schmitt’s perhaps too hasty typology of the first heroic type. It is not that Villacañas wants to dispute Schmitt’s circumscription of Cervantes’ Quijote into the Spanish catholic tradition; the problem is that Quijote only emerges in the ruinous aftermath of the catholic imperial ratio. Quijote in La Mancha is an existential and moral figure of a defeat that confronts reality without resentment or guilt. Hence, Quijote, like the Marranos and the Spanish pícaro, affirms without reserve the time of the interregnum as a profane Post-Reform location. Spain is the land of a double fissure into modern secularization. Villacañas tells us:

“…allí donde dominó el catolicismo nacional posterior, tal proceso fue imposible, pues ese catolicismo se puso al servicio de toda tradición mundana. Entre un catolicismo que ya no podía ser universal y un Estado que nunca sería soberano, don Quijote es el héroe errante en un mundo escindido y roto, sin soberano estatal ni Iglesia universal: el mundo español. Por eso es que es mito existencial y concierne a cualquier español que reflexione sobre su destino histórico” (Villacañas 32).

Cervantes’ profane epoch is that of the newborn Leviathan, which Villacañas reminds us did not need to wait for Hobbes, since the myth was noticed by Juan de Santa María, a Felipe III’ censor, in his Tratado de república y policía cristiana. The mythic Leviathan demolishes the old principles of medieval history based on the absolute potentiality of God in the name subjective freedom protected by the new mechanicist secular state (Villacañas 34). Up to this point, this narrative is very much consistent with Schmitt’s The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. But Villacañas abandons Schmitt when contenting that Quijote cannot amount and should not be reduced to a mythical Spanish katechon. Quijote is, in fact, the very opposite of any positing of time restrainer of terrestrial time. He is, unlike Schmitt, not the last witness of the European ius, but the prima witness of the time of ruin and devastation: “Don Qujiote es un héroe católico, pero su figura emerge de entre las ruinas de Roma y del Imperio” (Villacañas 37). Villacañas seems to place Schmitt, vis-à-vis Quijote, on its head: whereas in Hamlet and Hecuba, Shakespeare’s tragedy inscribed the irruption of history within the work, in Cervantes’ Quijote irrupts the historical end of the roman imperium, and the Catholic Church as form of the gnosis. But how does the humor play out within this configuration?

Quijote represents a turning point of the triumph of the modern gnosis, which in a turn to Hans Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, equips Villacañas with the possibility of fleeing the stereotype of the reformist and salvific composition of the modern subject. For Villacañas, Don Quijote “es la paranoia del impotente y del solitario, mientras el reformado se entrega a la experiencia entusiasta y sin fisuras del que es consciente de su poder y lo ve compartido por los que confiesan con él” (Villacañas 68-69). Quijote is a marrano figure away from Protestant salvific subjection, but also turning its back to the messianic kingdom of the Catholic fidelitas. The wonder and uniqueness of the Quijote is that he represents a third option that does not run through resentment or will to power, since its compensation is a pious humor in the face of the ruinous and the powerlessness (impotencia). Villacañas summarizes the point in an important moment of his book:

“Lo decisivo está en la forma de interpretar las derrotas. La autoafirmación moderna no trata de culpabilizar a un poder mágico por sus fracasos, ni a una finalidad perversa del mundo, ni a un manipulador chapucero y cruel, sino solo a una falla del principio epistemológico respecto a lo real, lo que constituye un nuevo reto a la curiosidad” (Villacañas 73).

The disheveled Quijote can only compensate the wake of the imperial absolute trauma with humor. This is a complex game, Villacañas notes, since it is done through phantasy as the possibility of exodus for what otherwise could amount to the acceleration of the death drive, the sublimation of the Ideal, and the proximity with the speculative teleology of the genius and the superhuman. This latter was the rubric by which German Romanticism read and appropriated the “Catholic” myth as fetish after the failure of the Protestant bourgeois transformation. The work of humor is the possible thanks to the work of self-affirmation in the face of tragic finitude: “Está diseñado para mostrar la finitud del héroe que un día fuimos, y que todavía somos, y ese el trabajo del humor, el que asegura a pensar de todo el triunfo del yo y su condición narcisista” (Villacañas 88). While the joke and comedy are blind to loss, Villacañas goes as far as to claim that the joke or the prank are always potentially on the side of aggression (Villacañas 92). Not so the humor, which can divide itself in a psychic equilibrium between the Ego and the Super-Ego, between the playfulness of the youngster and the theatrical seriousness of the elder. The joke, as reactive mechanism, does not recoil back to the Ideal. Humor – as in “tiene sentido de humor” – is always a singular form of humility.

This is, at heart, the latent gnosticism of Cervantes as Quijote, and Quijote as Cervantes. The function of comedy, which Giorgio Agamben has elevated in work as a phantasm of Italian culture and of his own potenza, dissolves in the Hispanic Marrano tradition in which Villacañas places Quijote as a humorous figure [2]. The work of compensation of the super-ego makes humor a substrate of the psychotic figure of disbelief, while affirming the narcissist drive of a modern fragile and gracious “I”. It makes sense that Villacañas argues at the end of his book this superego cannot be tyrannical (Villacañas 99). This could open rich and important discussions that we can only register here.

As a treacherous hidalgo, Alonso Quijano is never a psychotic leader, but a humorous madman. And humor is only an aftereffect of an epistemological rupture of the modern, of an unclear and unforgotten defeat that characterizes modern man, and that characterized, no doubt, Cervantes himself in his attempt to find a proper balance to nihilism. But, did he succeed? The book does not say openly, but it is fair to say that the impossible balance to nihilism is also symmetrical to the nihilism of the political.

 

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Schmitt in his early essay on Quijote notes some of the aspects that he will take up in the late book on Hamlet, such as the “image of the Hispanic heroism”, and the “great sense of humor of the work”. See, “Don Quijote un das Publikum” (1912). There is a Spanish translation of the essay by Isabel Moreno Salamaña (2009).
  2. For Agamben on the comic as a category of Italian thought in the wake of Dante, see “Comedia” in Categorie italiane: Studi di poetica e di letteratura (2010). Most recently, this is also the problem at the heart of his book on the Neapolitan puppetry figure Pulcinella, Pulcinella ovvero divertimento per li regazzi (2016).

A partir de Marranismo e inscripción…, de Alberto Moreiras, Madrid: Escolar y Mayo, 2016. Por Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia.

I

La toma del tiempo

“¿Te gustó el libro, te parece que funciona?” me preguntas. Cuando contesto que sí, que me gustó, siento que la afirmativa es, de inmediato, la tachadura de toda la incomodidad e intensidad asociadas a los libros que he disfrutado. Y éste, como otros que me han gustado, me tomó tiempo. Los que me gustan, me toman tiempo, necesito acompañarlos —por razones que no sé ni quiero explicar— con otras lecturas, con otros textos. Por eso me tardo. Hace tiempo, mucho antes que se pusiera de moda la lentitud académica o universitaria, que abracé las consecuencias y la singularidad de mi “tardarme”. No hay nada que hacer. Además, evité leer las reseñas hasta haber terminado de leer el libro. No quiero que me dañen la película, ni me predispongan, ni me lo cuenten en ninguna dirección.

Ya que se trata de un libro eminentemente autográfico, me gustaría acompañar tu gesto en Marranismo e inscripción con las condiciones, algo del contexto desde donde te vengo leyendo hace un tiempo. Consignar aquí todo el ruido que tengo que poner al lado para poder leer(te).

No creo que nos hayamos dado las manos. No recuerdo un estrechón de manos. Es probable que hayamos coincidido en los pasillos de alguna conferencia profesional y recuerdo algunas fotos colgadas en un panel en el último LASA en Washington, DC. Tu nombre fue primero una cita, una referencia, un pasaje —de hecho recuerdo el uso de The Exhaustion of Difference (2001) en el libro de Juan Duchesne Winter, Fugas incomunistas (2005)— luego devendría parte de esa suerte de epicentro polémico, de chismes e incesantes rumoreos académicos. Esta última situación, de hecho, se convirtió en un escena que precisamente estorbaba o neutralizaba cualquier lectura o comentario mío sobre tus textos. Cuando en medio de alguna conversación con amigos —intelectuales, escritores o universitarios— mencionaba alguno de tus textos, en demasiadas ocasiones, se instalaban rostros, “peros” y muecas. La plantilla de adjetivos, juicios (morales), calificativos o descalificaciones que de inmediato procedían, tenían el efecto (en mi) de abrir ese estúpido “disclaimer” que no me interesaba mediar, que quién carajos va a saber lo que sucedió, que no sé lo que en verdad allí pasó, ni me interesaba, etc., etc. Este gesto mío tampoco ayudaba a mantener la continuidad de la conversación, pues pocos o casi ninguno parecían haberte leído o querían hacerlo. Para muchos, a pesar o quizás debido a su filiación o endeudamiento disciplinario, decir cosas como “ese tipo es un_____________” o “esa tipa es una _____________” es parte de una carga y descarga afectiva y moral que acompaña y firma su labor crítica, aunque dejen esto para el cotilleo y el aparte entre panas. Quería y quiero hablar de otras cosas que no pasan por ahí. ¿De qué estamos hablando, de los textos, de la labor de pensamiento que allí se despliega o de la “estatura moral de las personas envueltas”, de cuán humildes, simpáticos o arrogantes son? No creo que en estos asuntos existan víctimas y victimarios absolutos, impolutos. Ni me importa. En fin.

Creo que el “affaire en Z” o el ground zero que estalló con el “subalternismo” y “post-subalternismo” tiene los visos de un concurso de popularidad, de torneo político-institucional ante los administradores y ganaron los más astutos, los mercadeables, quizás “los más agradables”, los instrumentalizables, los que hablan o hablaron un mejor “Decanish” (la lengua del decanato). Me consta haber sentido y escuchado la “sospecha”, el pasarle la cuenta, el goce ante el —entonces— extraño “latinoamericanista”, al “antipático” español que para colmo no visitaba los santos lugares de la diferencia o la identidad “latinoamericanista”. Nada de lo que aparece entre comillas ni lo afirmo, ni me interesa desmentirlo, porque nada de esto, repito, me consta, ni me parece relevante, ni mucho menos ando por ahí buscando versiones o contra-versiones. De la misma manera, ya se pasea con nuevas vestiduras la “sospecha” y la paranoia ante el deseo infrapolítico por hablar de la esquemática histórica heiddegeriana de cara a América Latina.

Siempre he dicho que me parecen mucho más retadores e estimulantes los lugares de tu enunciación y algunos de tus textos que cualquiera de los textos de tus “enemigos”, adversarios o sus epígonos. Incluso los disfruto más aunque difiera de ellos o cuando todavía no los “entiendo” del todo. Para mi esta es la marca de un texto que “funciona”. By the way, la discursividad decolonial se me cae de las manos porque telegrafía, le sirve la mesa a la simplificación y reduce la diferencia o la complejidad desde la salida. Todo termina cayendo en su sitio y desde la salida se sabe cómo y qué se va a “concluir”.

Creo que mi distancia y desconocimiento íntimo asociados a los días convulsos en “Z” me ha permitido escapar tanto de la moralina institucional, del torneo citacional sectario, de la verbosidad teórica, como del fisiculturismo discursivo o del craso anti-intelectualismo que nuclea, en ocasiones, el bochinche sobre lo que pasó en “Z” y sus consecuencias. Con lo anterior ni niego, ni dudo de los dolores y sufrimientos realmente vividos durante esos años, como subestimo la “realidad” de movidas y maquinaciones que pueden “testimoniar” o negar cualquiera de sus participantes o testigos. En verdad, Alberto, me aburre el tema. Igual me siento como quien se asoma a una escena obscenamente íntima y no tiene manera de salir de allí. Esto en particular ni lo celebro, ni lo agradezco, lo doy por recibido. Sobre el sujeto que escribe Marranismo e inscripción este relato sobre “Z” parece una herida sin sutura. Espero, sin embargo, que esto sea lo menos discutido, leído o comentado de Marranisno e inscripción. O que por curiosidad malsana permita que otros lectores se acerquen al libro. Si se va a convertir en otra re-edición del dime-y-direte entre los que son y los que no son (algo), paso. Las reseñas que he leído ya enfatizan lo que me parece importante del libro.

Creo que la mejor funcionalidad de este libro, es esa funcionalidad averiada que tan productiva y dialogante me parece y que firma lo que me atrevería a subrayar como una singularidad de lo literario y, borgianamente, de lo teórico. Algunos de los aspectos me parecen contribuciones del libro son: 1) la inscripción decisiva del daño y regocijo anti-teórico que plaga la academia contemporánea. Necesitamos asediar la hegemonía de la pulsión anti-intelectual, anti-teórica que regentea la universidad tal y como la conocemos hoy. Fue toda una sorpresa, más que estimulante, leer en las páginas dedicadas al episodio en “Z” el espejeo de un momento efervescente en el campo intelectual puertorriqueño del pasado fin de siglo. Me refiero a las discusiones y debates, además de las histerizaciones de algunos ante el denostado corpus “post-moderno” en el Puerto Rico universitario de finales de los 1990’s y comienzo de los 2000’s, 2) la puesta en discusión de las posibilidades e imposibilidades críticas de la “infrapolítica como una crítica del giro político” (33) y 3) el abandono de la secundariedad intelectual, del enmarcado cientista de la labor crítica, en tanto ficción crítica o ficción teórica. La voluntad escritural, literaria del libro lo coloca serenamente, si se me permite, entre “nuestros extraños libros” latinoamericanos. Nada de esto merece meramente aplausos, sino discusión y deliberación amplios.

II

Asociaciones libres y preguntas. Asocio y pregunto recordando las palabras de mi madrina santera quien me decía, cuando veía venir una pregunta sobre el secreto: lo que se sabe no se pregunta. También porque aquí, tal vez, expongo, no sé, algunas de mis resistencias o confusiones ante MI. Uso MI autorizado por el gesto indigerible, indigesto con el que Brett Levinson presentaba la performance de tu pensamiento en Marranismo e interpretación: “Marranismo e inscripción, henceforth MI, is both a performance and explanation of its own undigestibility, which is to say, the undigestibility of Moreiras within Hispanism as well as within, let us call them, the theoretical humanities.” Recordé que MI es también la abreviatura utilizada por los productores de la película-franquicia de acción y espionaje Mission Impossible protagonizada por Tom Cruise. Y más que cualquier extrapolación efectista o el relleno del vacío que desaloja lo imposible con la proeza visual, me gustaría seguir pensando el carácter imposible de tu crítica al “latinoamericanismo del yo” y el “llamado de una lengua no metafórica”.

En tu lectura del “latinoamericanismo del yo”, éste parece ser consecuencia de una movida cartográfica, de haber padecido una “cartografía” donde se te convirtió en personaje capturado por dicho mapa. Más o mejor que una concepción cartográfica del “yo” ¿podríamos repensar lo “yoico” desde otras coordenadas? Que al igual que la resistencia a la experiencia psicoanalítica se manifiesta con ese “psicoanalizarse es lo que siempre necesita el otro”, también pudieramos evitar la trampa de que “más yoico eres tú” y responsabilizarnos por ese estar implicados hasta el tuétano en la opción de la primera persona. Creo que MI expone un “yo”, tal vez indigesto pero también en vías de fuga, abandonándose a otros placeres y por lo mismo, ojalá, camino a otra interlocución. Ahora bien, más o menos que el diseño o una captura cartográfica lo “yoico” me parece un privilegiar, un totalizar la presencia y el actuar del “yo”, volverlo escenario y protagonista indispensable de la labor crítica, la reducción de lo personal o de lo íntimo a la primera persona. ¿El “no hay un nosotros” que exhibe la infrapolítica sería una marca de su carácter post-yoico, infrayoico, su posibilidad imposible?

III

La espalda de lo imposible-lo posible del pensar (:) Deconstruir, desmetaforizar, desnarrativizar ¿des-equivalenciar? “Despertar en el pensamiento”

“No sabemos lo que podría ser una vida sin metáforas, pero sabemos o podemos intuir lo que la metáfora traiciona. Marranismo e inscripción (135)

Me consta, por varias instancias, lecturas e intercambios por Facebook, tu deseo reflexivo por continuar o asumir la tarea de-constructiva derrideana como un despertar del sueño sonámbulo del metafísico —a diferencia del, pero relacionado con el sonámbulo poético (sobre el cual dices poco)— pues el sonámbulo metafísico es quien sueña “sin romper el carácter metafórico de la lengua” o citando a Derrida  despertar como la escucha de la «llamada de una lengua no metafórica imposible» (278).” Es casi seguro que aquí y ahora pulse mi condición crónica, poética, o mi inhabilidad para elucidar, o habitar la lucidez del sujeto de la luz (si se me perdona la redundancia) que ha despertado. Romper la metáfora es producir otra metáfora o al menos suspenderla por un instante. ¿Qué haría posible políticamente esta lengua-no-metafórica-imposible? ¿Con qué tipo de oído escuchas ese “llamado”? ¿O escuchas tal vez el llamado desde una viscosidad literalizante en la que creerías como escritor, como marrano y que nunca deviene discurso en tanto expondría tu secreto? ¿Por qué no lidiar, des-obrar con ese tacto, con el pálpito con “lo real” que también recorre lo meta-phorein como escape de lo dicotómico, como transferencia a otro o cualquier lugar?

Si la metáfora “traiciona”, falta o delinque, sino es leal, ¿cuál es el problema de este “sueño”, cuál es la naturaleza de su deslealtad y qué o quién decide su “politicidad? A veces me parece —puedo, sin duda, equivocarme colosalmente— que si “desmetaforizar es deconstruir” bajo el signo de lo imposible, este des-obrar el trabajo de la metáfora tal vez arrastre una noción muy específica, quizás muy parcial o limitada de lo metafórico que todavía transporta un binario y sólo percibe y reconoce espasmódicamente la potencialidad múltiple, abierta de lo metafórico. ¿La infrapolítica “sospecha” de toda voluntad, más bien de la inevitabilidad-potencialidad metafórica? ¿Insiste alguna voluntad equivalencial, alguna ideologización en el trabajo de la metáfora?

Espero que estas notas (menores) te hayan sacado de las “ascuas”, de allí donde mis salidas o silencios en el pasado te habían colocado.

Gracias por el libro y en cuanto me lleguen ejemplares de La hoja de mar te paso uno firmado. Un abrazo.

Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia

20 de marzo de 2017, Silver Spring, Maryland

San Camilo, 1936 I: Infrapolitics Par Excellence

Cela, San Camilo

Crossposted from Posthegemony

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

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

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls I: The Infrapolitical Paradox

More of the same

Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Halfway through Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, the protagonist Robert Jordan is thinking both forwards and back to Madrid. Forwards because, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, stuck in a cave behind Fascist lines waiting to begin a tremendously risky and seemingly ill-fated operation to blow up a bridge, he distracts himself by imagining what he will do if and when his mission is successfully concluded. “Three days in Madrid,” he thinks. The capital is under siege, of course, but even so it would offer creature comforts unimaginable on the front lines: a “hot bath [. . .] a couple of drinks.” There would be music and movies: he’d take his peasant lover Maria to see “The Marx Brothers at the Opera” (231). He’d have dinner at Gaylord’s, a hotel that “the Russians had taken over” where “the food was too good for a besieged city” (228).

But all this also leads him to think back (unusually, for a man not given to reminiscence) to other experiences he has had at Gaylord’s, a place of intrigue thick with rumor and “talk too cynical for a war.” It was here that he’d met the shadowy Russian Karkov–introduced by the last dynamiter to work in the zone and described as “the most intelligent man he had ever met” (231). And it was largely Karkov who’d made “Gaylord’s [. . .] the place you needed to complete your education. It was there you learned how it was all really done instead of how it was supposed to be done” (230). For in Jordan’s (and Hemingway’s) jaded eyes, the Republican cause may be right, but it is far from pure. Behind “all the nonsense” (230) is a murky world of machination and deception that only fully comes into focus at the Russian-held hotel. This is the epicenter of disillusion and corruption, but it is also the only place to “find out what was going on in the war” (228).

The hidden reality of the war is not pretty, but in some ways (Jordan reflects) it is “much better than the lies and the legends. Well, some day they would tell the truth to everyone and meanwhile he was glad there was a Gaylord’s for his own learning of it” (230). And Jordan and Karkov talk about when and how this truth will emerge: “out of this will come a book,” Karkov says, “which is very necessary; which will explain many things which it is necessary to know” (244). Jordan himself, a Spanish instructor at a US university, has already written a book–about “what he had discovered about Spain in ten years of travelling in it”–but it “had not been a success.” Some day soon it would be time to try again:

He would write a book when he got through with this. But only about the things he knew, truly and about what he knew. But I will have to be a much better writer than I am now to handle them, he thought. The things he had come to know in this war were not so simple. (248)

Now, Jordan is not Hemingway–and Hemingway is not Jordan, though the author has surely invested plenty in his character, a man of few words who prides himself on his powers of observation and his knowledge of the human psyche. But is this novel the book that Jordan would have wanted to have written? The work of a “much better writer” that is to explain the truth of a complex war whose surface veneer is attractive but whose grim interior is more fascinating still. Perhaps.

But For Whom the Bell Tolls is not really about the war’s covert machination. Indeed, what’s interesting about the novel is that Hemingway refuses to accede completely to Jordan’s notion that the “truth” of the conflict is to be found amid the cynicism and corruption that his protagonist tells us “turned out to be much too true” (228). Or rather, Jordan himself is shown as struggling to determine where the reality of the situation lies. Up in the hills, he knows that the situation is bad, not least when he sees the “mechanized doom” (87) of the Fascist planes that roar overhead and announce, as clearly as anything, that the enemy knows of the forthcoming Republican offensive. But he can’t quite admit this: asked whether he has faith in the Republic he replies “’Yes,’ [. . .] hoping it was true” (91). To admit to the precariousness of their fate, the difficulty of their mission, would be to fall into the trap that has ensnared Pablo, the local guerrilla leader who has let fear (and alcohol) overwhelm him, because he knows that their cause is long lost: he toasts “all the illusioned ones” (214) and explains himself by saying that “an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend his time with fools” (215).

Ultimately, Jordan–and Hemingway–know that Pablo is right. But that cynical truth has to be both acknowledged and at the same time staved off, postponed, in the name of another truth that resides within the illusion itself, the legends and lies. So what we get is an ebb and flow, a tense and agonizing interchange between these two truths, between an apparent simplicity and purity (incarnated above all perhaps in the figure of Jordan’s lover Maria–who can never be taken to Gaylord’s–but equally in Hemingway’s characteristically terse and understated style) and a darker, more cynical complexity that can neither be denied nor allowed to dominate. So the paradoxical result is that simplicity ends up being far more complex than the web of machinations that it endlessly has to deny, precisely because in fending them off it recognizes and so includes them, while the cynic can only destroy all that is pure. It preserves, in other words, the infrapolitical paradox: that what is necessary for politics is never inherent in it, but vanishes with scarce a trace.

Crossposted from Posthegemony.