Again, points for discussion on Acosta’s Thresholds of Illiteracy. Not that Bram’s proposal is illiterate, but illiteracy is his major name for a critical apparatus that unsettles and overturns many of the fundamental tropes of Latinamericanist criticism over the last fifty years or more. If literacy/orality, as Acosta claims, is a foundational polarity, beyond the criollo/indigenous divide, and in fact giving it legibility, Acosta presents a number of highly articulate destructions of its critical deployments–on indigenismo, for instance, or on testimonio. I will limit myself to these two for the time being.
Illiteracy marks the terrain of collapse for the critical productivity of the literacy/orality divide, and attendant tropes. Acosta opposes Vargas Llosa’s take on José María Arguedas to Cornejo Polar’s, not in the name of some interpretive error, but in the name of the obvious impossibility for final coherence in the critics’ position. And he opposes Miguel Barnet’s to John Beverley’s understanding and presentation of testimonio not in the name of their incoherence but rather in the name of their inability to account for a proliferation of questions that rent the productivity of their positions. In both cases, what finally emerges and is exposed is the gap between critical positions and primary text.
An interesting slip, not more than a typo repeated, emerges in page 138, when the informant in Miguel Barnet’s Biografía de un cimarrón is called Ernesto, rather than Esteban, twice–Ernesto is of course the first name of the protagonist of Arguedas’ Los ríos profundos, a novel studied in the previous chapter. Through the fusion of the two names, Ernesto-Esteban come to stand in for a Latin American life that both primary and critical texts attempt to represent and/or come to grips with. This is not just a life, but it is a life determined by historical tensions and conflicts, a subcontinental bios, or the allegory of one whose biopolitical containment, as it emerges, it has been the historical function of Latinamericanist criticism to produce or co-produce.
And in page 141 Acosta refers to making the life speak, “making an informant speak.” He is addressing Barnet’s testimonio theory (“a narrative structured around the encounter between a subject and the state. After all, ‘making an informant speak’ is not a politically neutral metaphor, nor one consistent with de-subalternization; in fact, it amounts to its reproduction.” Zivin would no doubt call this an emergence of Inquisitional logic.
Illiteracy comes to mean the failure of the subject to come into its own, to respond to its interpellation from the mouth of a criticism understood as state or para-state apparatus. The life will not comply, as it refuses equally to serve inside the parameters of the oral authenticity or of the artificial literacy, in resistance against nuestroamericanismo as much as in resistance against any ideology of radical heterology or wild indomestication, since both of them are shown to be the two sides of the same coin. The illiterate response would be a screen of arrest for the critical machine, except that there is no illiterate response, there is a rather a non-response, an impossibility to respond, a silence more devastating in its anarchic potentiality than any possible articulation of an alternative contestation. Illiteracy is therefore just an effect–an effect from the real’s unguarded possibility, as Acosta will say towards the end of the testimonio chapter.
This effect is presented as a “theoretical residue” in 119. It is a residue of undecidability, and it is a residue of critical destruction; it may be in fact, precisely not a theoretical residue, but the residue no theory can assimilate.
How, then, not to think about the structural parallel between Acosta’s fundamental stance and Zivin’s in Figurative Inquisition? Could we not say that Zivin’s division inquisitor vs. marrano, which produces marranismo as the field of non-assimilation, as the field of the secret, is replicated in Acosta’s division literacy-orality, which produces illiteracy as its opaque precipitate?
In the same way Zivin analyzes the field of indetermination that opens up between the two figures of Inquisitor and marrano, Acosta says: “what we have here are two foundational conceptual models of [indigenista criticism, testimonio criticism, etc.] that are ambiguously interrelated but whose interstitial space remains critically unexplored” (140).
As in Zivin, we read in Acosta’s text that the critical destruction is undertaken at the service of “a truly progressive politics” (238) within the context of “a sustained reflection on contemporary understandings of democracy, power, and resistance in Latin America” (239).
And, in Zivin, but more explicitly in Acosta, we are also told that there is an implicit appeal “to the logic of hegemony” (Acosta 240) in the critical apparatuses under question, not just on the side of the Inquisitor or on the side of literacy, but on both sides, which are mirror sides, which it would be necessary to dismantle.
Again, the question that opens up, and it is not just any question, is the question of the production or the constitution of democracy. Don’t we know it won’t happen? Already? Or not as an effect of the critical machine of destruction? Or is it a willful, hence strategic forgetting? Or is something else at stake?
Zivin and Acosta radically question the legitimacy of all critical proposals in the tradition. What is left is the legitimacy of illegitimacy–if nadie es más que nadie, if no critical tradition can offer itself as authoritative, then nobody has any right to impose hegemony. From the radical absence of social authority, from the illegitimacy of social authority, democracy may arise. Is that it?