“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.

Remarks:

  • 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.

References

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”).

Non-Catastrophic Practice of Non-Knowledge. By Alberto Moreiras.

If there exists something we should call infrapolitics beyond the critical text, in other words, if infrapolitics belongs in the real and is not merely a hermeneutic notion, simply a way in which we have imagined we could refer to certain phenomena that cannot be captured by any proper ethico-political understanding, we might want to assume that it invests a region of experience that must more or less overlap with the political region.   Infrapolitics would be below politics, or beyond politics, it would have consequences for politics, but it would be a bit, perhaps, like a double of politics, like politics´s shadow.   In a similar way, it would determine or inhabit habit itself, the original ethos, and it would be co-presential with ethics, while being ethics’ other side, ethics’s double, or the shadow of ethics.   And all of this is possible, and possibly productive: infrapolitical thought aims at investigating the obverse of the ethico-political relation, what the ethico-political relation leaves behind in every case.   We could remember Heidegger’s mention of the “invisible shadow” that falls upon everything once the human can only be considered a subject and the world can only be perceived in the mode of image.   Infrapolitics can only be the region of the invisible shadow. And infrapolitical thought would then be a theoretical practice in and of the shadow, a thinking of the withdrawal or in the withdrawal of the ethico-political relation.

But this very difference between infrapolitics as region and infrapolitics as theoretical practice raises many questions that may complicate the mapping. If infrapolitics obtains in the wake of the withdrawal of the ethico-political relation, we could ask whether the ethico-political relation is not in the first place an imaginary imposition on the immense and intractable real whose withdrawal opens up a region of experience that vastly exceeds mere obversity; if it is an “other side” it would be like the other side of the iceberg; if it is what the shadow guards or protects, and first of all from language, it could be an unimaginable and unprocessable monster.

So, infrapolitical practice would run the risk of dwelling on a nothingness, of setting its sights on a region that must by definition be excluded from capture, from any capture, also, therefore, from capture by the infrapolitical gaze.   Infrapolitical practice would have become a nice promise, thank you very much, but an unfulfillable one. Or only to be fulfilled in the form of catastrophe.

This is like Nietzsche’s Grenzpunkte: one can gaze into the abyss, but one would not like to fall into it.

So, why would one want to run that risk? First of all, because it is there, and because notice has been received of a facticity that cannot be merely wished away by the beautiful soul’s emphasis on handling only that which can be securely handled. If the totality of our language means to express, with a moderate degree of difficulty, only those phenomena that can be linked to the ethico-political relation, and if that is what our tradition calls knowledge, well then, there is a certain amount of hard-headedness, even of idiocy, in insisting that non-knowledge also beckons, and that it is not just interpreting the world but also transforming it that is at stake in the bid to move beyond more or less secure knowledge.

Who would want to do it?   Who is the subject of infrapolitical practice?   Perhaps a specific libidinal cathexis is required here.   It is not a practice for those whose secure essence precedes them. It is a practice of existence, a form of excess beyond discourse, an ongoing demetaphorization of existence for the sake of something that might always elude.   But how can it elude if it is at the same time always already there?

A Thesis on Culture/Politics. By Alberto Moreiras.

It is no doubt not only arrogant but also silly to state that culture does not exist, or that politics are useless, even if or particularly if we provide a suitable and encompassing definition of what it is we want to do without, which is not easy of course.  Culture and politics are master concepts, whether we like it or not, and one cannot leave them behind without giving up on language and history both.  However, I have insisted and will continue to insist on the fact that without a critical destruction (a destructive critique?) of both concepts, after which we’ll have to see what might be left over, the project of infrapolitics, or even of its associated term, posthegemony, will not take off, will be hampered at the very basic level of articulation.   A few years ago I called this predicament the “cultural-political closure”–as the horizon of thought, which is as ideological as any other horizon of thought, and there is nothing natural about it.  No doubt my thinking was as insufficient and incoherent then as it is today.  But I’d like, nevertheless, in a tentative and risky way, to put forth the idea that the cultural-political closure is as pernicious yet constitutive for our world as political theology was for the 19th century.

Link

“Infrapolitical Action: The Truth of Democracy at the End of General Equivalence”

I. Extroduction

Jean-Luc Nancy refers to general equivalence, in his short book La communauté affrontée (2001), a bit counterintuitively: “What arrives to us is an exhaustion of the thought of the One and of a unique destination of the world: it exhausts itself in a unique absence of destination, in an unlimited expansion of the principle of general equivalence, or rather, by counterblow, in the violent convulsions that reaffirm the all-powerfulness and all-presentiality of a One that has become, or has again become, its own monstrosity” (12). Only a few pages later he speaks about the increasing “inequality of the world to itself,” which produces a growing impossibility for it to endow itself with “sense, value, or truth.” The world thus precipitously drops into “a general equivalence that progressively becomes civilization as a work of death;” “And there is no other form in the horizon, either new or old” (15). If the loss of value organizes general equivalence, it is the general equivalence of the nothing. Nancy is talking about nihilism in a way that resonates with the end of Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Age of the World Picture,” where Heidegger discusses “the gigantic” as the culmination of modern civilization in order to say that quantitative-representational technology can also produce its own form of greatness. It is at the extreme point of the gigantic that general calculability, or general equivalence, projects an “invisible shadow” of incalculability (“This incalculability becomes the invisible shadow cast over all things when man has become the subiectum and world has become picture” [Heidegger 72)]). Heidegger’s invisible shadow could be compared with Nancy’s hint of “an obscure sense, not a darkened sense but a sense whose element is the obscure” (20). Let me risk the thought that this obscure sense, as the invisible shadow of an undestined world, is for Nancy the wager of a radical abandonment of the neoliberal world-image, a notion that has become commonplace in political discourse today. But we do not know towards what yet—the invisible shadow within nihilism that projects an obscure sense out of nihilism is a political alogon whose function remains subversive, but whose sense remains elusive.

In The Truth of Democracy (2008) Nancy says that, in 1968, “something in history was about to overcome, overflow, or derail” the principal course of the political struggles of the period (15). This statement is probably not meant to be understood as springing from any kind of empirical analysis. Rather, the book makes clear that “something in history” is precisely the truth of history, understood as the epochal truth of history along classically Heideggerian lines (“Metaphysics grounds an age in that, through a particular interpretation of beings and through a particular comprehension of truth, it provides that age with the ground of its essential shape. This ground comprehensively governs all decisions distinctive of the age” [Heidegger, “Age” 57). There was a truth that the Europeans, for instance, could only obscurely perceive under the veil of a “deception,” and such a truth is, for Nancy, the truth of democracy that titles his book. My contention is that Nancy’s insistence on that truth of history, or truth of democracy, preserves a Hegelian-Kojèvian position that Nancy proceeds to overdetermine from a critique of nihilism. In other words, for Nancy, a truth of history was about to overcome and derail the main course of political struggles from the left in 1968, and it was the event of true democracy, only accessible on the basis of an opening to an epochal mutation of thought whose necessary condition would have been, would be, the renunciation of the principle of the general equivalence of things, infrastructurally represented by the Marxian Gemeinwesen, money, as the unity of value and as generic unity of valuation. The truth withdrawn under the veil of disappointment is the possibility of overcoming the nihilism of equivalence. Such is the modification Nancy imposes on the Kojévian thematics of the end of history, which now becomes understandable as the history of nihilism. Against it Nancy wants to offer a new metaphysics of democracy. Nancy’s understanding of democracy coincides with his “obscure sense” of the incalculable. In this essay, I will try to explain it, first, and then raise a question at the end.

Read more… (.pdf file)