Undigestible Hispanism: reflection on Marranismo e Inscripción. (Brett Levinson)

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. Undigestible is MI not because it is too hard to read or understand; it is too hard to take. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche explains “Why I write such good books.” In MI, Moreiras explains “Why what I write produces such indigestion.”

As to those who find Moreiras undigestible—I cannot enter into a detailed analysis, which I think is nonetheless important to one day carry out, of the number of figures who can’t take Moreiras because they do not know he is available for the taking, or who do know, but choose not to partake. I am referring to those who do not read Moreiras at all, yet who occupy prominent places within the institution of theory. This non-reading is not the result of some accident in which we can say: “Well, nobody can read everyone or everything; that is the nature of knowledge; we are doomed to specialization. One chooses a discipline to a large degree by accident; accidental too, then, are the books one is obliged to read to “keep up,” as well as the texts that even come to one’s attention. Non-Hispanists cannot possibly sift through a tome that is only partially about theory, deconstruction, Marxism, neoliberalism, mourning, and unhappiness, that is, non-Hispanic matters, even if to conclude that it, MI, is undigestible.

It is just not in the interest of, for example, Derrideans and Heideggerians to do so, even if they can read Spanish (and many, though not enough, in fact can).” This sort of un-digestion—undigestion as as non-reading—is no accident because the entire institution in which we dwell is oriented in such as fashion that a Spaniard, writing in Spanish or English about theory–the entire hegemonic apparatus of the theoretical humanities is organized in such a manner that this kind of person, one such as Moreiras, is not of interest to, does not work in the interest of, any component of institutional knowledge. MI does not serve theorists proper; they do not have the time. Thus, while such folks may be very good theorists, they are completely complicit with the state of the humanities which they pretend to “deconstruct”; Moreiras is the symptom (which, like many symptoms, such as a twitch, appears to everyone but the body of he or she who has it) of that complicity, which symptom remains un-analyzed because many of those who could analyze it—well, it is not in their interest to do so.   In this situation, Moreiras proves undigestible not because potential consumers, namely, those who do not consume Moreiras, do not have the time but, in fact, because they cannot be bothered to make the time.

I will concentrate instead on the engagement with Latin Americanism and/or Hispanism as a field which MI addresses, and which includes the chapter on communism, in which a Hispanist and a Bolivian are featured.   Before doing so, though, I want first to thank Jacques Derrida for casting stupidity as a project of philosophy that philosophy cannot turn into a concept of philosophy, cannot appropriate.   For, in doing so, Derrida allows one to call discourses stupid without insulting their authors, presenting the stupid as a most profound marker of the finitude of knowledge to which thought ought to turn. Indeed, thanks to Derrida, you can now safely turn to a colleague and say: “you fucking bestial idiot—and I mean that in the best of senses of course!”

By bête or betisse, of course, Derrida means the automaticity of the human—which automaticity is not merely technical but also animal and spiritual, of the soul—which repeats itself and repeats itself without being able to humanize the repetitions, which is to say, without (the human is without) being able to contain them within a rational, responsive and responsible, hence human framework.   The human is not bête, to be sure. Man is not animal; he is not the only stupid one necessarily, the only one who can be stupid (the rest are innocent, like a dog who barks too much: what can you do, a dog is a dog)—this is Derrida’s point, in fact: the human is and is not the bête.   For, the experience, sense or intuition of sheer nonsense is impossible without a framework or concept. That each thing be digested as just another stupid thing and another stupid thing, indifferent from all other things, hence undefined, nonsensical, is impossible, since the very concept of bête, disavows the bête, rationalizes it, humanizes it, precisely by grabbing it with both hands, which hands make consumption, thus digestion, conceivable.

Stupidity is too stupid to be theorized, for example, to be deconstructed. Thus, we can say, that Derrida himself, like Lacan in the seminar on Joyce, illustrates that the great thinkers—and Derrida and Lacan, with precious exceptions, only address great thinkers—include and disavow a bit of stupidity. That is to say, there is a bit of the bête in every humanist intellectual operation, which therefore is and is not human, responsive and responsible. The bête is the trace of the human, and the means by which the last Derrida affirms stupidity as the name of the opening to thought, politics, activism, ethics, fiction, and so forth, even though stupidity itself is neither good nor bad. MI is the history of Moreiras as bête and as not bête.

But—and here comes the undigestible component of Moreiras—Moreiras, given his field, given that he is a Spaniard and a Hispanist, in addition to whatever else he is, does not get to address Hegel; he is not granted that right by the institution that MI addresses to show how brilliant Hegel is—to show that Hegel anticipated everything Marx, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Lacan would later say if you just know how to read right, but that he also contains a little bête there where Hegel did not think, the bête by means of which one can demonstrate—those who have the right to read Hegel right—that Hegel did not think everything right, that his thought is finite, and therefore, that absolute knowledge bears a mark of stupidity: a chocolate stain on the tablecloth, food for thought. The double gesture of affirmation and unraveling that deconstruction and/or psychoanalysis perform on Hegel, and on any number of wonderful thinkers and artists, whose perfection, whose magnificent totality, is tainted by imperfection, and whose taint calls forth thought today, for us—Moreiras and MI cannot make this their project their project.

In sum Moreiras, a Spanish whitish guyish individual writing about Spanish things or writing in Spanish about non-Spanish things, cannot subsist writing about Hegel, for that writing is not in anyone’s interest, including Moreiras’s. Thus, Moreiras has to write about scholars who are really stupid as if they were Hegel, as if they could be both critiqued and affirmed. Moreiras, that is, must say what he does not say but that I will say for him, to wit, that the Jameson that he cites and reads so generously, desde luego con todo respeto, the discourses of Jodi Dean, Bosteels, Mignolo, Beverley, and so many others within MI, are stupid—I am not saying the people are stupid; I do not know them well enough to say that: their discourses are stupid, this I do know—and they cannot be affirmed and rescued in any way except by casting them as better than they are, which is to say, as stupid as Hegel is. But you cannot do it, which Moreiras’s previous Exhaustion of Difference showed: you cannot cast the stupid that is in fact fact stupid as smart so as then to say that it is stupid. You cannot deconstruct stupidity. You only end saying the stupid is stupid, which is undigestible to the stupid, and also, fortunately, itself a bit stupid, for it is a tautology.

Which, that is, the stupid, MI shows, is stupid for a reason: because it takes all concepts–rhetoric, destruction or deconstruction, Europe, the West, ghost, desire, drive, deferral, death, Dasein as el no sujeto, philosophy, Marx, de Man, Badiou, and so on—and converts them into brands that it, the stupid, can then reject as brands, taking concepts along with it. Either that or it, the stupid, can take the conversion of concept into brand and then, as competitor, critique it. The competitor qua discourse of critique of the concept-turned-brand (turned, that is, by that competitor himself) poses as the alternative to of capitalism or colonialism (which the brand represents). Of course this competition with the concept turned brand that academic politics undertakes has only one name: branding.   Academic politics (perhaps politics as such, if politics had an as such; yet that is the point infrapolitics: politics as such is naught) emerges, not as a set of concepts or actions but a choice for this or that brand, as an opportunism, brand against brand. And within that discourse the turning to ideas, concepts, and language emerges as a choice, a “buying in”: the choice not to be political but philosophical, textual, literary, historical.   To address concepts or language is the choice, according to politics, to be apolitical, hence not stupid. MI is not stupid, or not stupid enough, and that is perhaps its most objectionable quality, at least for those who find it undigestible.

Moreiras tries to make these points politely, in a digestible fashion; he tries to deconstruct his objects. But deconstruction presupposes concepts, and concepts are not at work in the objects to which Moreiras, as a Spaniard writing in English or an American writing in Spanish, is bound. So he does not deconstruct, intentions notwithstanding. He discloses the stupid, which stupidity cannot take its being “called,” as one calls the other in poker.

Indigestible finally also is infrapolilitics. For the sake of time, I will illustrate with my own example, stupid like all examples, and not at all like the examples in MI itself. In the film “Fences,” which reproduces almost to the letter August Wilson’s early 1980s play, which takes place in 1957 Pittsburgh, the son says to the father—and both characters are of course black—a father bitter about a denied career in major league baseball, that things have changed: “Dad, the Pirates have this black Puerto Rican player named Clemente!” The father’s response, a father who is blind to himself, blind as all tragic characters are blind, can be heard as an case of identity politics, although identity politics is rarely as eloquent as August Wilson. However, the space of that politics, whatever one thinks about, is not defined or determined by politics. It is defined and determined by the word “black,” which is linguistic not political, for it is a trope. Indeed, no skin color is actually black. The field of the politics is determined by blackness, which blackness is not political but rhetorical. There you have the beginning of an understanding of infrapolitics.

First, there must be a claim on politics, a specific claim, like the father makes about the injustice black people face; the claims outlines, forms the boundary, of the domain of politics–politics in the particular, factical circumstance. But the claim itself is not grounded in politics, but in blackness, which is rhetorical, though it could also, in another analysis, be seen as ideological, philosophical, ethical, religious, historical—the point is that is it not political. The claim on politics is impossible without the non-political that grounds the claim. The limit, the boundary, the border, the definition of the space of politics is not given; it happens when you claim it. When you claim politics, and all Hispanism and all theory does for reasons I cannot explain here, you expose the non-politics of politics, the irreducibility of politics to itself, that which is indigestible to any political as such, precisely because it denies the political as such.

Now, the son’s comment, “the Pirates have a black Puerto Rican player named Clemente,” pronounced in either 1957 and the early 1980s (depending on how you look at it) is also pronounced in the film, by Denzel Washington, in 2017. And in 2017, Roberto Clemente, were he alive as, say, David Ortiz is alive, would not be a black ballplayer but a Hispanic one. For African-American, the displacement of a biological referent, a skin color, black (which again is not a skin color but a trope), with an historical/cultural definition of a race, a race of people that came to America from Africa as so many slaves, overcame slavery, then overcame incredible injustices through the civil rights movement, and now faces and combats new injustices—AfricanAmerican now overdetermines blackness, though black and AfricanAmerican are, today, equally proper.

Thus, only African Americans, in the discourse of baseball, which in “Fences” is the discourse of every discourse, and certainly the discourse of justice, are black, while the Dominicans and Cubans and Panamanians and Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans, and so on, who one might have once called black, as the son calls Clements black, are Hispanic.   So the identity politics of baseball regarding race is now defined, at least in part, by the African-American/Hispanic division. Of course, again, the essence of an African-American politics is the definition “African-American”—which, by the way, is not a signifier without signified, a word without definition a la Laclau but definition itself, the determiner of the political space—which is not political; it does not come from politics. The essence of an African-American politics, “African-American,” indeed, is not itself politics but infrapolitical, inscribed into the political as that which is irreducible to it. Now, it ought be clear that any politics concerning race that might emerge in the project of baseball, or any other project, would form at the limit of the political, which is there where African-American and Hispanic meet, which is no place; for there is no place where the division between the two can be grounded.

The Hispanic, as other than the African American and other than the white, Native-American, indigenous, is nowhere to be found.   Its territory emerges only through the sociologiziation of knowledge and culture: everything with a place in its place. Even if other places bleed into that place, as in mestizaje—that is ok—but, for the sociologization of the knowledge to win out, first there must be a rightful place, so that there can be rightful politics, which is the conquest of place, or property, or concepts turned brands.   Politicization is both the exposure and erasure of the infrapolitical, the non-place or non-ground of any definition, in MI, of the Hispanic or Hispanism. And if you start a discourse on Hispanism from a foundation that says that Hispanism is not a place and has no place—well, that is undigestible for Hispanism and non-Hispanism alike.


*Position Paper read at book workshop “Los Malos Pasos” (on Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción), held at the University of Pennsylvania, January 6, 2017.

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