Infrapolitics and the exhaustion of the political

Infrapolitics and the exhaustion of the political

                       By Villalobos-Ruminott



Ten years have passed since Alberto published his third volume dedicated to Latin America and/or to Latinamericanism. I would like to suggest the almost organic link between those three volumes, Tercer espacio (1999). The Exhaustion of Difference (2001). And Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo politico (2006). A link that does not forbid diversity among the different topics of each book. While Tercer espacio was an attempt to deal with the reflexive potential of Latin American literature (and others) that has been systematically overlooked by traditional criticism, due to is pervasive sociologism and historicism, The Exhaustion of Difference was a similar attempt to come to terms with the cultural field and with the hopes and investments in cultural practices that Latinamericanist scholars were showing by the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Almost by the same token, Linea de sombra is an interrogation of the conceptual and historical limits of contemporary political thought and, up to certain point, contemporary political philosophy.


Somehow the notion of exhaustion was crucial in identifying the disciplinary crisis in traditional literary studies, cultural studies and political thought. In fact, the commitment that, as an ethical self-assertion, warranted the overlapping and the co-belonging between intellectual and political works, the satisfaction of knowing that one was working in favor of the liberation, was also in question and, we know this now, the series of principles articulating the historical discourse on and from Latin America were also traversing a radical process of weakening. To put it in other words, the historical imagination related to Latin America was withering away and not just because of the lack of financial support or the change of the geopolitical interests in the contemporary university, and the ongoing redefinition of Area Studies; Latinamericanism was suffering a radical exhaustion due to its inability to deal with a new facticity brought about by what we call globalization.


Globalization nonetheless is not only an ongoing process of destitution of the classical social contract and its institutions and categories (nation-state, sovereignty, people, citizenship, democracy, History, reason, representation, revolution, and so on), globalization is also a radical process of reorganization of the historical architecture that defined the modern university as a national university, folded to the nation-state and its sovereignty.


Alberto’s contributions, therefore, were timely and thoughtful, as he did not attempt to criticize, just for criticism’s sake, any other paradigmatic configuration within Latin American Studies, Hispanism, and the university at large. I am not suggesting that in his books there is no sing of destruction or even devastation of some endemic shortcomings of Latinamericanism, but criticism was secondary to a most important demand, the demand for thinking. Already in Tercer espacio, this demand invited the readers to produce a more careful confrontation with the literary imagination _not from the imperatives of the literary institution or the conventions of the literary studies_; a confrontation oriented by the writing practices of Latin American writers as thoughtful elaborations of a particular historical situation, already beyond the limits of an endemic “criollismo” that subordinated this imagination to the fictive ethnicity and the social contract of the Latino American tradition. Tercer espacio interrogated the work of Borges, Cortázar, Lezama Lima, Elizondo and many others, not to confirm the allegories of identity and liberation, the exotic archive of a magical region, neither to place literature as the referential practice to force the social process of mourning that would allow a compensatory overcoming of the brutal reality of pot-war and post-dictatorship in the continent. Its demand for thinking was very precise; a demand for the interruption of the semiotic machine and the metaphoricity inherent to literary studies that, by an infinite narrativization, repeated the forgetting of being and forbid a reflexive engagement beyond the reproduction of the university’s discourse.


         The Exhaustion of Difference, by the same token, should not be reduced to a partisan denunciation of post-colonialism, cultural hybridity and “first order subalternism[1], as these academic approaches were somehow placed at the principial and hegemonic position within Latin American Studies in those years. By all means, Exhaustion was a too-early interrogation of the shortcomings of these new paradigms, since we still have to endure at least 10 to 15 more years to claim the end of subalternism or the radicalization of post-colonialism as decolonial delinking. And here we are, in the middle of the profession, as if the semiotic machine and the surplus value of the cultural difference were more alive than ever. But again, it would be wrong to read Exhaustion as a partisan intervention in the battle for hegemony within Latin American Studies. Its demand was simple and radical, what if we haven’t even started yet, beyond identitarian models and the philosophy of history of capital, to deal with the savage hybridity and the différance of Latin America. What if, instead of conditioning a thinking always instrumentally subordinated to the politics of hegemony, the very first condition for a radical thinking was, precisely, to suspend the will to power feeding the hegemonic articulation of intellectual fields? Thus, Exhaustion was not a book committed to the hegemonic battles within the university, nor a new hegemonic promise within Latin American studies, but a radical questioning of the very onto-political will-to-power that feeds the intellectual work in the time of flexible capitalist accumulation.


Línea de sombra came to radicalize this demand for a thinking that interrupts the metaphoricity and the semiotic machine of contemporary university and its intellectual practices, not to confront the whereabouts of the new left (Zizek, Negri, Badiou, Laclau, Butler, etc.), denouncing their epistemological mistakes or whatever. Línea de sombra came to demand a thinking of the political able to deal with the overt exhaustion of the modern political imagination. And thus it already pointed to infrapolitics as a terrain of thinking that is not governed by any nomic induction or imperative, neither identitarian, liberationist, hegemonic, or else.


But, after 10 years of that, it seems that nothing much has happened. Or better, what is going on is still at the infrapolitical level. Let me clarify. I do not want to place Línea de sombra or Alberto’s work in general in any canonical or central place from which to deploy a strategic re-definition, a hegemonic capture, of Latin American Studies today. Please, keep your hegemony. I don’t even think that 10 years are enough for any kind of commemoration, and we know this is not the leitmotiv of our seminar. But I do think that Tercer espacio, The Exhaustion of Difference, and Línea de sombra, by themselves and as a set, configure a field or territory of thinking on which many of us dwell today, and as a territory of thinking, it is one that does not follow the nomic induction of the university and the consequent principle of sovereignty informing modern politics. This third space of thinking opens to a series of questions and problems that are not to be dealt with using the conventional tools of literary or cultural studies and political philosophy. This space opens to infrapolitics not as a discipline or as a philosophy that can command the re-articulation of the relationship between theory and practice. Infrapolitics dwells, precisely, at the disjunction of theory and practice, in a sort of exhaustion of the philosophy of history, and in an an-archic constellation of problems and traditions that forbid the very reconfiguration of the principle of reason that informs knowledge and theory as norm and command.


So, what is infrapolitics? I have no answer for this kind of questions, neither for this rather particular kind question, as there is no a substantive or conceptual identity in infrapolitics. On the contrary, infrapolitics is another than political relation to the political, and we want to emphasize in this apparent paradox that infrapolitics is not a renunciation to politics (as if infrapolitics were an apolitical vocation), but a demand to think carefully and beyond the natural reproduction of the narrative logic informing Latin American Studies and political philosophy at large. Infrapolitical thinking is not to be “en-framed” within the logic of Area Studies, since we claim that infrapolitics is an interrogation of the exhaustion of western metaphysics and its multiple disciplinary manifestations.


Línea de sombra exposed the exhaustion of the political imagination that was at stake, and still is, within the academic left, and supplemented the very exhaustion of the cultural and literary production at the center of Latin American Studies. It pointed to a sort of interregnum, anomic and an-archic, and we decided from then on, to dwell in it and not to overcome it reproducing the classical paradox of re-inseminating what we wanted to disseminate in the very first place. This interregnum doe not lead to any safe or rentable position, as it demands a permanent interrogation of any given discourse that produces compensatory mechanisms when dealing with the brutal condition of our times.


But, Infrapolitics, the name of our work, was not fully articulated by the time of Línea de sombra, or better, Línea de sombra expressed the uneasiness of thinking within disciplinary discourses, but it did not know (as it is not a matter of knowledge) how to call this anomic region in which there is not final principle, king or sovereign. Alberto has opened a window and has abdicated from the commanding position of being a sort of Kafkian guardian ad portas of that window. This is his gift to thinking, a gift that we recognize today thinking-with and not thinking in favor or against it.

[1] A notion that refers to a group of scholars more sympathetically identified with the subalterns, from which a more deconstructive approach to subalternism took place and split, a group that has been called “second order subalternism”.

1 thought on “Infrapolitics and the exhaustion of the political

  1. Thank you, Sergio. It is an honor for me to have this published here. I think you are right that, for better or for worse, there is a certain continuity between work undertaken (by me certainly, but not only by me) in the 1990’s and what seems to be a necessary task today. For better, because all writing work, when genuine, which mine has at least always aspired to be, is always a sort of thinking journal in which the parameters of “a” life develop, and grow or shrink, according to a certain habitus that we have grown accustomed to calling “subjectivity” but may be no more than the persistence of a certain evil in Augustinian terms–the evil that precedes the awakening that never happens but always seeks to happen. For worse, because that habitus is always worthy of suspicion–what does it hide? What personal, all-too-personal hang-ups conceal themselves in and through the very enterprise of putting them to work in writing? And you are right of course that infrapolitics, although the word was used in the early 2000’s, was not yet the name of a collective project or “programatic” space of thought–those years were already doldrum years, and there was then a certain lack of confidence, certainly on my part, on any possibility of a sustained project that would do the kind of thing you describe in your paper. It is still pretty hard, as you know. And it is not just our limitations that make it hard–but that would be hard to prove as well. But, yes, no heroics, and no commanding principle can inform infrapolitical work, only the sense of a task that, if it was ever recognized by the university as part of its structuring ethos, can no longer find its anchor there, for essential reasons. At any rate, the university is still the space where it can partially develop, and that may be all we can count on. To that extent infrapolitics stands today, it seems to me, for an-archic freedom: and it is not that we claim it, in the sense that we cannot and would not claim to have it. But we do want to establish a relation to it. At this point in history that does seem, indirectly, a crucially important “political” task.

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