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.

On Alberto Moreiras’ Marranismo e Inscripción. (Lacey Schauwecker)

In the preface to Marranismo e Inscripción, Moreiras warns readers of the book’s “carga afectiva,” a valence palpable throughout his rigorously critical, and yet also resolutely personal, chapters. It is “autografía,” which he describes as writing that “busca verdad y produce destitución” ( Moreiras 200). Autography inscribes both oneself and one’s unknowing, always oriented toward that which exceeds it, a surplus that itself produces.

I am inclined also to call this writing – this autography – literature, not as a fetish but as the desire to know that which remains necessarily unidentified ( Moreiras 27). As memoir, history, theory and fiction, Marranismo e Inscripción resists the reduction to a singular genre, or even discipline. In this sense, it performs its very call for radically interdisciplinary scholarship. What interests me most about this book, at least as a first impression, however, is its implications for teaching literature, and particularly Latin American literature. As a committed teacher and mentor, Moreiras makes various references to this aspect of his accomplished career. He is a professor who never had a passion for teaching survey courses, especially those which promote facile understandings of culture, politics, and geography. Additionally, he is a mentor who refuses to claim disciples — instead, he mentions interlocutors and friends with whom he resists hegemony of all types.

Describing himself as neither identitarian, nor a specialist in any one “discipline,” Moreiras likely would scoff at the idea of any systematic or curricular pedagogy (Moreiras 213). Even so, the question of how to create a community (an inoperative or unworked, desobrada, community) of counter-university scholars, both within and beyond the classroom, permeates his work and begs further consideration.

“Es un placer enseñar lo que uno sabe o cree saber a los más jóvenes,” he affirms, “pero es mucho más divertido aprender con otros, tomar riesgos, empujar lo permisible y exponerse” (Moreiras 16). This scholarship, he claims, no longer needs to place itself under labels such as Latinamericanism, which are only metaphors in need of deconstruction as demetaphorization: that is, a thorough consideration of what such metaphors exclude, betray, and foreclose. For Moreiras, the point is to take the field to its own limits. He does this naturally, driven by a question that he cannot yet name but nevertheless yields tentative answers, concepts that resist their own intellectual capture. I wonder if, and how, such uncompromising curiosity – which he also calls “goce” – can be taught: “…habrá quizás otras maneras de serlo en las que el goce que uno quiso buscar pueda todavía darse. Hoy ese goce, en la universidad, solo es ya posible contrauniversitariamente (Moreiras 16-17).

Within the context of Latin American literature, a deconstructive pedagogy requires liberating thought from the signifiers “Latin American,” “literature,” and “Latin American literature,” among others. This happens by researching and teaching from “otros horizontes y otros parámetros ya no regionalistas ni excepcionalistas” (Moreiras 132). Moreiras understands such horizons as beyond any prescribed geopolitical commitments, as well as beyond disciplinary norms and prescriptions, pointing to a theoretical and infrapolitical elsewhere. This “elsewhere” might be imagined through motifs of exteriority (exile, abandonment), but also—crucially and dangerously—as folds within such boundaries and norms: clandestine, secret, marrano. Marranismo e inscripción, dares us to take this risk together.


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

The Secret of Secretiveness: Response to Marranismo e inscripción

Cross-posted from Posthegemony

In the introduction to his book, Marranismo e inscripción, Alberto Moreiras tells us that “the sequence of writings that [he] offer[s us] is more than the history of a professional trajectory, and contains secrets that only appear in its trace and for the astute reader, if there are any.” This, of course, is a challenge: who would not want to be the reader astute enough to pry open the text and reveal its secrets? Who would not want to prove wrong the author’s suspicion that such readers are nowhere to be found? And perhaps Alberto would also want to be proved wrong. After all, he locates the book’s origins in what he calls “a period of profound personal disillusion that had as one of its effects the destruction for [him] of any notion of a public audience [público] for whom [he] might write.” Could now, ten years or more later, this new book appeal to a (new?) public of astute readers? Or perhaps the point is that the unknown, perhaps absent and unknowable, astute reader stands in for and replaces the terminally destroyed notion of public audience. Perhaps this is the book’s own marranismo: a publication or making public whose secret truth in fact only resides in its traces, to be read allusively and privately by a reader who we forever suspect may not even exist. Yet it seems, perhaps precisely for this reason, to invite inquisition.

For on the other hand, in many ways this is a very open book; it is a book in which its author “opens up” about his personal relationship to the academic and intellectual field in a way that is quite unusual. Indeed, also in the introduction, Alberto worries that he has said too much, too personally, too directly. He reports anxiously asking José Luis and the others who had interviewed him: “Didn’t I go too far [no me pasé], are you sure that I didn’t say anything indiscreet, is there something we should re-do?” For here, and for instance in the chapter entitled “My Life in Z,” any codes or attempts to obscure the true object of discussion are, at least on the face of it, all too readable. You do not have to be a particularly astute reader, after all, to know (or feel you know) where “Z” is or was. This is a “theoretical fiction” that may be all too transparent, all too close to the bone for some readers. For this book is also quite explicitly a settling of accounts: the disillusion of which it speaks has a history, and it is time for that history to be written–inscribed for all to see–for it to give up its secrets so we can all move on. Or better, it is time that we confront common knowledge that can only pass as secret because few dare to express it explicitly: “Yes, everybody knows, there are no secrets, we all hear over and over things that were never expected to come to our ears.”

Is there then a tension of some kind between the twin themes announced in the book’s title: between the subterfuge and unknowability of the marrano and the making public and putting on the record of the inscription? Perhaps, but another way of looking at it is that this is a book that declares an end not so much to secrets as to secretiveness. It wants to do away with the practices and rituals of academic life that promote only obscurantism and disguise only the bad faith of its participants. Rituals that everybody knows, but which are repeated and reproduced as the price of admission into the elect–even if one is admitted only subsequently to be churned up and abused, marginalized and disempowered. This is all too often, Alberto tells us, simply a formula for masochism: we accept the academy’s secretive code of (dis)honour so as to be close to institutional power, but that power holds us close only to ensure that we can never really threaten it. This, after all, is the (not so secret) reality of tenure, as well as so much else: a protracted euthanization as life itself is drained out of the institution’s over-eager young recruits. And Alberto’s project, in the end, is to reclaim life, and the possibility of a life well lived, from the twin threats of endless politicization (biopolitics) and bureaucratic obscurantism (unhappy consciousness).

Towards the end of the book, in response to a question from Alejandra Castillo about “autobiographical writing,” Alberto says that “the writing that interests me doesn’t seek constitution in the truth, rather it seeks truth and produces destitution. It seeks truth in the sense that in every case it seeks to traverse the fantasy, and it produces destitution in the sense that traversing the fantasy brings us close to the abyss of the real.” He points out, however, that this psychoanalytic language (borrowed from Lacan) can equally be expressed in terms of the secret. “For me, in reality,” he continues, “there is no other writing than the writing of the secret. Or rather there is, but it is not fit for purpose. The question that opens up then is that of the use of the writing of the secret, but that is a question that I don’t believe I am prepared to answer.” “Prepared,” here, has of course a double sense: it can mean that he is not ready to answer, that he cannot answer the question; or that he is not disposed to answer it, that he will not answer. The question of the use of the secret either cannot or should not be answered. At least, not yet.

In short, for Marranismo e inscripción, what is holding us back is secretiveness, the bluster of those who (believe they) hold the keys to institutional power. But the real secret there is that there is no power to their power; that their chamber of secrets is long empty, and has been replaced by the meaningless transparency of neoliberal quantification in the sway of general equivalence. As the university increasingly becomes a business, ruled only by calculations of profit and loss, we have less and less reason to abide by its masochistic code of omertá. This book aims to break that code. On the other hand, there are indeed some true secrets, and searching for them can unleash destructive forces. The question remains: what do to with them? And perhaps even the most astute of readers is not yet in a position to decide about that.

Ascesis universitatis: sobre Marranismo e Inscripción, de Alberto Moreiras. Por Gerardo Muñoz.

marranismo-inscripcion-moreirasMarranismo e Inscripción, o el abandono de la conciencia desdichada (Escolar & Mayo, 2016), el nuevo libro de Alberto Moreiras, es un compendio reflexivo sobre al estado teórico-político del campo latinoamericanista durante los últimos quince o veinte años. A lo largo de nueve capítulos, más una introducción y un epílogo, Moreiras traza en constelación una cartografía de numerosas posiciones de la teorización latinoamericana, sin dejar de inscribirse a sí mismo como actor dentro de una epocalidad que pudiéramos llamar ‘universitaria’, y cuyo último momento de reflujo fue el ‘subalternismo’. Además de bosquejar un mapa de posiciones académicas (postsubalternistas, neomarxistas, decoloniales, o deconstruccionistas), el libro también alienta una hermenéutica existencial que se hace cargo de lo que le acontece a la vida, y en su especificidad a la “vida académica”. Y los lectores podrán comprobar que lo que acontece no siempre es bueno. Marranismo e Inscripción explicita muy tempranamente en la introducción un tipo de denegación que configura el vórtice de este ejercicio autográfico: “…durante años pensé en mí mismo como alguien comprometido centralmente con el discurso universitario, como la institución universitaria. Hoy debo admitir que ya no – trato de hacer mi trabajo lo mejor posible, claro, pero algo ha cambiado. O seré yo el que cambió. Y entonces, para mí, ser un intelectual ha perdido ya su prestigio, el que una vez tuvo. Habrá quizás otras maneras de serlo en las que el goce que uno quiso buscar pueda todavía darse. Hoy ese goce, en la universidad, solo es ya posible contrauniversitariamente.” (Moreiras 16).

La tesis a la que invita Marranismo es la de abandonar la crítica universitaria (y la conciencia desdichada es un producto de la creencia en el prestigio de la labor crítica) en al menos dos formulaciones principales. Por un lado, la función de la crítica como apéndice tutelar del saber universitario entregado a su tecnicidad reproductiva. Y en segundo término, tal vez menos vulgar aunque no menos importante, el abandono de la crítica como operación efectiva y suplente de la crisis interna de la universidad. El ejercicio autográfico marcaría una modalidad de éxodo de la suma total de la razón universitaria hacia lo que se asume como una estrategia hermenéutica que implica necesariamente la indagación de una situación concreta que da el paso imposible ‘del sujeto al predicado’ [1]. Pero el paso imposible del marrano solo dice su verdad no como persuasión interesada de un sujeto, sino como hermenéutica inscrita en cada situación irreducible al tiempo del saber. En el ejercicio hermenéutico, el marrano deshace íntegramente la incorporación metafórica, sin ofrecer a cambio una paideia ejemplar, un relato alternativo, o recursos para el relevo generacional. Es cierto, hay un llamado a cuidarse ante un peligro que acecha, aunque esto es distinto a decir que el libro está escrito desde una situación de peligro. En realidad, el tono del libro es de serenidad.

En un momento del libro, Moreiras escribe: “…el próximo expatriado potencial que lea esto debe saber a qué atenerse, y protegerse en lo que pueda” (Moreiras 18). La pregunta que surge en el corazón de Marranismo es si acaso la universidad contemporánea está en condiciones de ofrecer un mínimo principio de autoconservación de la vida del pensamiento; o si por el contrario, la universidad es solo posible como pliegue contrauniversitario post-crítico, léase poshegemónico, para seguir pensando en tiempos intempestivos, atravesados por el ascenso de nuevos fascismos, y entregado a la indiferenciación técnica del saber en el seno de la institución. O dicho con Moreiras: ¿habrá posibilidad de ‘mantenerse en pie’ en los próximos años? Y si hay posibilidad de hacerlo, ¿no es una forma de contribuir a mantener en reserva el general intellect en función de una ecuación humanista? (ej.: más saber + más estudiantes = más progreso; pudiera ejemplificar lo que queremos decir). Todo esto en momentos, dicho y aparte, en donde la lingüística aplicada o la pedagogía derrotan en rendimiento a la ya poco digna tarea del pensar. Y si es así, la universidad contemporánea no estaría en condiciones de ofrecer más que humanismo compensatorio, donde el pensador solo puede disfrazarse de civil servant de la acumulación espiritual de la Humanidad. Desde luego que no hay curas ni bálsamos para dar con una salida a lo que Moreiras se refiere como un futuro “incierto e indecible abierto a cualquier coyuntura, incluyendo la de su terminación” (Moreiras 57). Pero tal vez hayan formas más felices que otras de entrar en relación con el nihilismo universitario en sus varias manifestaciones opresivas.

Por eso es que me gustaría invitar a leer Marranismo e Inscripción como una contestación a las formas sofísticas dentro y fuera del campo académico, exacerbadas en el momento actual del agotamiento de la universidad en el interregno. Y como sabemos, el interregno no es más que la imposibilidad de hacer legible el pensamiento en el momento del fundamentalismo económico. Pero es también la diferenciación cultural substituta como se ha demostrado con la hermandad entre multiculturalismo identitario y neoliberalismo. En el interregno el sofismo no solo crece y se alimenta, sino que dada la caída de toda legitimidad, la mentira solo puede asomarse como performance desnudo de la no verdad, puesto que ha agotado su efecto de persuasión posible, su validez efectiva, y cualquier ápice de razón. La tecnificación del pensamiento a través del marco equivalencial de la teoría supone la codificación del sofismo como valorización sin necesidad de apelar a la razón.

Por ejemplo, el éxito universitario de la decolonialidad, ¿no es la victoria de la irracionalidad como valor? A la decolonialidad no le hace falta ni le importa la razón – que para los llamados pensadores decoloniales es ya de antemano contaminación ‘eurocéntrica’ o ‘ego-política colonial’ – sino la afirmación nómica de un absolutismo cultural y propietario. La irracionalidad prometeica de las finanzas en el momento de la subvención real converge con un neomedievalismo crítico, y de este modo las piedades y doxologías retornan como figuras luminosas de un saber que parece haber saldado sus cuentas con la Historia. La anomia de la universidad contemporánea es principalmente una crisis de legitimidad, entendida como fin de su efecto de auto-convencimiento y ejercicio del pensar singular. Y así, no es sorprendente que la irracionalidad brille, triunfe, y cobre un peso irrefutable en las medidas tecnocráticas que regulan las Humanities.

La irracionalidad comparece a la tecnificación donde todo se ventila de antemano. Pensemos, por ejemplo, en la jerigonzas concurridas como ‘¿cuál es tu marco teórico?’ o ‘¿desde donde hablas?’ ‘¿cuál es tu archivo?’. Estas indagaciones solo pueden entenderse como formas de una máquina inquisitorial que la universidad alberga como principio de autoridad ante la caída medular de su legitimidad. Sería coherente pensar, entonces, que si estamos ante una máquina confesional, solo la mentira puede ofrecer salvación o posibilidad de ‘mantenerse en pie’ sin tocar fondo, o sin que le vuelen a uno la cabeza. Justo es esto lo que esgrime en En defensa del populismo (2016) el filósofo español Carlos Fernández Liria, quien sugiere que ante la consumación de la mentira en el campo político contemporáneo, no hay verdad que esté condiciones de legibilidad, ni de escucha, ni de generar efecto alguno ante un macizo ideológico impenetrable. La única posibilidad es expresar una contramentira. ¿Pero es ésta la única forma de contestación? Podemos ‘testear’ esta pregunta en un momento decisivo del libro, y que aparece condensado en la forma de un chiste. Valdría la pena reproducir el pasaje:

“La sospecha de no ser lo suficientemente correctos en política, con todo el misterio terrorífico que esa determinación tiene en la academia norteamericana, pesó siempre sobre nuestras cabezas como una grave espada de Damocles, y todavía pesa, y no importa lo que digamos o hagamos, porque estas cosas, como todo el mundo sabe, se solucionan a nivel de sospecha y rumor y susurro malicioso. O incluso: es una cuestión de olor u honor, como el cristiano nuevo perfectamente devoto que no puede evitar caer en manos de la Cruz Verde porque todo el mundo sabe que su piel no reluce con la grasa prestada de la sobrasada. O, en palabras de algún fiscal federal asistente en la nueva serie de televisión Billions, «Si alguien dice que Charlie se folló a una cabra, aunque la cabra diga que no, Charlie se va a la tumba como Charlie el Follacabras» (225-26).

Lo que he llamado la forma sofística de la retórica contemporánea transforma a todos en Follacabras, en miembros potenciales de algún siniestro grupúsculo de Follacabras, y no importa la verdad que salga de la boca de la cabra (si es que la cabra habla), o del propio Charlie, puesto que una vez que la marca de Caín reluce sobre el pellejo de la frente, ya estamos automáticamente condenados a participar de una exposición que nos arroja al juego de cazadores y cazados. Este ha sido siempre el campo de batalla de la hegemonía, y que hoy se vuelve sistemático desde su inscripción en la equivalencialidad general. Esto es, no hay quien se escape a su lógica. Es más, no hay quien no sea, a la vez, una excepción sacrificable a esta lógica.

Pero habría otra opción: los Follacabras o los condenados pudieran también rechazar el sofismo y sus afligidas metáforas, aceptando la verdad como ascesis, esto es, como ejercicio en éxodo de todo juego hegemónico efectivo. Es lo que parece estar pidiendo Moreiras en Marranismo e Inscripción, y eso es ya bastante, y nos obliga a repensar la cacería como único juego posible. Y es el ascesis donde pensamiento y vida entran en una zona de indeterminación, y desde donde la verdad puede comparecer como alternativa al yoga acrobático que ofrece la universidad contemporánea, ya sea en su forma inquisitiva que obliga a la mentira, o en su produccionismo metabólico desplegado en el consenso, o en la politización, o en las buenas intenciones. Fue Iván Illich quien notó que el ascenso de la crítica académica monástica, y cuya secularización es la sospecha hermenéutica, coincidió con la declinación del ejercicio ascético del singular [2]. Y esto tiene sentido, puesto que la función crítica solo puede apelar a una radicalidad en expansión, siempre y cuando se retraiga de pensar la facticidad que supone la irreversibilidad del capitalismo. No es casual que Moreiras hacia el final del libro, y en réplica a una pregunta de Ángel O. Álvarez Solís, recurra al arcano del ascesis, como abandono del juego hegemónico de las mentira, y que dibujo los contornos de una vida sin principio:

“La palabra «ejercicio» puede servir si la entendemos etimológicamente, desde ex + arcare, desenterrar lo oculto, des-secretar. Digamos entonces, todo lo provisionalmente que quieras, que la infrapolítica es una forma de ejercicio en ese sentido –busca éxodo con respecto de la relación ético-política técnica, busca su destrucción desecretante, para liberar una práctica existencial otra. Yo no tendría inconveniente en usar para esto una expresión que he usado en algún otro lugar, la de «moralismo salvaje». La infrapolítica, en su condición reflexiva, es un ejercicio de moralismo salvaje, anti-político y anti-ético, porque quiere éxodo con respecto de la prisión subjetiva que constituye una relación ético-política impuesta ideológicamente sobre nosotros como consecuencia del humanismo metafísico. Sí, ese paso atrás salvaje con respecto de la relación ético-política es an-árquico, porque no se somete a principio.” (Moreiras 208).

La ascesis dice la verdad en la medida en que siempre atraviesa una hermenéutica existencial, y da un ‘paso atrás’ que renuncia a las determinaciones fundamentales de la subjetividad. El ejercicio tiene como objetivo el cuidado ante previsibilidad del síntoma. Si la ascesis es contrauniversitaria, lo es no en función anti-universitaria, sino por su instancia necesariamente atópica, ejercida como expatriación y desvinculación de todo sentido de propiedad y pertenencia comunitaria. Para el marrano no hay pasos aun por dar, sino solo un paso atrás, que es siempre el paso imposible al interior del tiempo de la morada. Esto supone abandonar el fantasma hegemónico del campo académico como avatar del pensamiento. Se piensa siempre en otro-lado. Es este también el sentido, de otra manera incomprensible, desde el cual podemos entender el intercambio epistolar entre Celan y Bachmann: “No recuerdo haber salido nunca de Egipto, sin embargo celebraré esta fiesta en Inglaterra” [3].

Ese paso atrás es el de la posibilidad imposible para seguir adelante desde un pensamiento que renuncia a la presbeia para ser radicalmente amonoteísta. ¿Podemos acaso imaginar una universidad en Egipto? Solo esta sería una universidad post-deconstructiva. Marranismo e Inscripción invita a este éxodo como única posibilidad de mantenernos en pie, y de echar adelante. Y hoy, ya no perdemos nada con intentarlo.

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


  1. Arturo Leyte. El paso imposible. Mexico D.F: Plaza y Valdés, 2013. p.24-53.
  2. Iván Illich. “Ascesis”. (Manuscript, dated 1989).
  3. Paul Celan & Ingeborg Bachmann. Tiempo del corazón: Correspondencia. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2012.

Life During Wartime: Eleven Theses on Infrapolitics


“Life During Wartime: Infrapolitics and Posthegemony”
(with a coda of eleven theses on infrapolitics)

Presented at the III Seminario Crítico-Político Transnacional
“Pensamiento y terror social: El archivo hispano”
Cuenca, Spain
July, 2016

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time.
Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard.
I can’t write nothing at all.
–The Talking Heads

In what is no doubt the most famous theorist of war’s most famous claim, Carl Von Clausewitz tells us that “war has its root in a political object.” He goes on: “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means. [. . .] War is not merely a political act, but a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means” (119). There is, then, for Clausewitz an essential continuity between war and politics; they share the same rationality and ends. And this notion has in turn led many to think of politics, reciprocally, as a form of warfare. The German theorist Carl Schmitt, for instance, defines politics in suitably martial terms as a clash between “friend” and “enemy”: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy” (The Concept of the Political 26). Moreover, this invocation of the term “enemy” is scarcely metaphorical. Schmitt argues that “an enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity” (28), and he further qualifies the particular type of enmity involved in political disagreement in terms of classical theories of warfare: the political enemy is a “public enemy,” that is a hostis, as opposed to a “private enemy.” He quotes a Latin lexicon to make his point: “A public enemy (hostis) is one with whom we are at war publicly. [. . .] A private enemy is a person who hates us, whereas a public enemy is a person who fights against us” (29).

Likewise, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci also calls upon the language of warfare to describe political activity, which he classifies in terms of the “war of manoeuvre” by which a political party bids for influence among the institutions of so-called civil society, and the “war of movement” when it is in a position to seek power directly from the state. Indeed, the notion of an essential continuity between armed violence and civil dispute informs Gramsci’s fundamental conception of “hegemony,” which characterizes politics in terms of a combination of coercion and consent, the attempt to win or secure power alternately by means of force or persuasion. War is politics, politics is war: the basic goals and rationale are the same, we are told. It is just the means that are different.

Keep reading… (PDF document)

eleven theses on infrapolitics

  1. Infrapolitics is not against politics. It is not apolitical, still less antipolitical.
  2. There is no politics without infrapolitics.
  3. It is only by considering infrapolitics that we can better demarcate the terrain of the political per se, understand it, and take it seriously.
  4. The interface between the infrapolitical and the political cannot be conceived simply in terms of capture.
  5. Only a fully developed theory of posthegemony can account properly for the relationship between infrapolitics and politics.
  6. Infrapolitics corresponds to the virtual, and so to habitus and unqualified affect.
  7. The constitution (and dissolution) of the political always involves civil war.
  8. Biopolitics is the name for the colonization of the infrapolitical realm by political forces, and so the generalization of civil war.
  9. But neither politics nor biopolitics have any predetermined valence; biopolitics might also be imagined to be the colonization of the political by the infrapolitical.
  10. None of these terms–politics, infrapolitics, biopolitics, posthegemony–can have any normative dimension.
  11. Hitherto, philosophers have only sought to change the world in various ways. The point, however, is to interpret it.

Interregnum and worldliness: on Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s Heterografías de la violencia. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Heterografias de la violencia 2016Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s Heterografías de la violencia: historia nihilismo destrucción (La Cebra, 2016) is, at first sight, an assorted compilation of fifteen programmatic essays. Mostly written during the last decade or so, these texts attend to a wide range of theoretical specificities, such as the baroque and performative violence, imperial reason and contemporary literature, sovereign-exception law and flexible capitalist accumulation. It is to Villalobos’ merit that none of these issues are restituted to academic knowledge production or leveled out as a selection of “hot topics” within the neoliberal marketplace. As in his prior Soberanías en suspenso: imaginación y violencia en América Latina (La Cebra, 2013), what is at stake, far from erecting the edifice of a ‘critical theory’ aspiring to fix the limits of reflection – as postulated in “sovereignty” “nihilism” or “destruction” – is the composition of a constellation that circumnavigates the vortex of the general horizon of the philosophy of history and the university machine.

In some way, Heterografías is auxiliary to Soberanías en suspenso, but not in the parasitical sense of amending or filling previous generalities. This new collection pushes thought beyond the specificity of the insular ‘Chilean scene’, providing for the indeterminacy of the logic of sovereignty as the arcanum of both interruption and continuity of the philosophy of the history of capital in Latin America. This is not to say that in Soberanías en suspenso the ‘local Chilean scene’ operated self-referentially as the archive for the reassertion of a cultural investigation. In the prior book, the Chilean scene is understood as a paradigm, in the sense of a singular relation to the singular, which Heterografías converts into a topical ensemble that interrogates the displacements, variations, and narratives of principial Latinamericanist reason from both nomic and anomic spatial formations.

Heterografías resists positing a new metaphorization of history, as well as yet another ‘political theory’ for what Latinamericanists identify as the object of “Latin America”. Although Villalobos does not thematize it as such, his book is full-fleshed post-Latinamericanist, and the reason is not just because it moves and weaves through the Schmitt-Kojeve debate on geopolitics and colonialism to the politics of the baroque and Catholic imperial katechon; from Latin American literature (Borges, Lamborghini, Perlongher) to debates on memory and indexing (Richard, Didi-Huberman, Segato). It is post-latinamericanist because it challenges the university praxis that administers, organizes, and provides for a linguistic transculturation to a post-katechontic ground that is today insufficient except as onto-theology and reproduction of cliché.

On the other hand, one also appreciates Villalobos’ minimal gesture of displacement of Latinamericanism not as a mere abandonment of the Latinamericanist object – which amounts to another exception, another distance with the object of desire, or its mere dis-placement – but as an otherwise relation that is not regulated by what Moreiras has called the ‘pleasure principle’ at the heart of hegemonic investment of the Latinamericanist intellectual [1]. A post-Latinamericanism, thus is necessarily posthegemonic to the extent that:

“…no se trata de elaborar una ‘mejor crítica’ de lo real ni de desenmascarar el carácter ideológico de un programa en competencia, sino de debilitar la misma lógica “fundamental” que estructura el discurso moderno universitario…. desistir del nihilismo en nombre de un pensamiento que no puede ser reducido a un principio hegemónico de producción de verdad y de saber. La post-hegemonía de la que estamos hablando, no es solo una teoría regional destinada a evidenciar los presupuestos de la teoría política contemporánea, sino también la posibilidad de establecer una relación no hegemónica entre pensamiento y realidad. Ubicarnos en esa posibilidad es abandonar el discurso de la crítica de la denuncia y particular de una práctica de pensamiento advertida de las fisuras y trizaduras que arruinan a la hegemonía como principio articulador del sentido y del mundo” (Villalobos 36).

What is offered to radical “destruction” is the principle of sovereignty that, as Villalobos painstakingly labors to display, is always already an-archic and indetermined. If according to Reiner Schürmann, the principle (archē) is what structures and accounts for the ground of presencing in any given epochality; Villalobos bears witness to the an-archic instance of every form of apparatus (literature, geopolitics, the national-popular, ethnicity, war, neoliberalism, etc.) that seeks to ground itself through principial formation, as both origin and commandment. In this way, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is not taken here as a teleo-phenomenological compression reducible to the very hyperbolic presencing of mere principles, but as a folding process that transforms the critique of metaphysics to that of its apparatuses. This has radically consequences, since it is no longer a debate about the university regime of knowledge production, or about the co-belonging between the destruction of metaphysics and the metaphysics of destruction, but rather: “…como concebir el carácter moderna y prosaico de las prácticas históricas, ya no investidas con un secreto transcendental, sino que constituidas como aperiódica radical de de-sujeción” (Villalobos 136).

The gesture does not wish to open a second order of exteriority to thought (whether geopolitically or subject-oriented), but a practice of the “non-subject” within the interregnum that lends itself to the radical historicity beyond the historicism of its apparatuses. The interregnum highlights the radical dislocation between philosophy and history, disinhibiting the categorial determinations that attest to its in-determinacy (Villalobos 145). By putting emphasis on the indeterminate character of violence, Villalobos is also indicating the flexibility and modality of effective law in every specific historical instance [2]. Thus, to amend the anomic status of the interregnum is always already to fall a step forward into nihilism and its epochal structuration of the given conditions. This is the instinct of all hegemonic principial incorporation as a pastoral or geopolitical formation. Heterografías consistently points to the folds that open to a potential constellation of singulars as an otherwise of experience de-contained from the duopoly philosophy-history and the cunning of capital (Kraniauskas).

As such, Heterografías advances the destruction of three transversal lines that feed the apparatuses of the philosophy of the history of capital in the interregnum: sovereignty, war, and accumulation. It is not the case that these lines have their own autonomy, historical foundation, or even ‘substance’. Rather, these folds that act as an assemble that partition and make up what I am willing to call the Latinamericanist exception in its metamorphosized transformations that aggregate knowledge, practices, and discourses. To dwell otherwise on the interregnum entails precisely to ‘free the lines’, as Deleuze & Guattari’s proposed in A Thousand Plateaus, crisscrossing the modalities of war (in times of peace or what Villalobos calls pax Americana); sovereignty (as still rendered in the katechontic determination of the State and fictive ethnicity); and accumulation (as an always ‘ongoing appropriation and expropriation’ from modernization processes to neoliberalist dispossession).

The scene of the interregnum as traversed by the flexible pattern of accumulation (Williams 2002) is a baroque scene. Not so much ‘baroque’ in the literary or even pragmatic sense that seeks to provide agency to subaltern informal workers in the Latin-American peripheries, but as a modal process that counteract the dynamic of sovereignty while re-inseminating a heterogeneous (heterographic) processes of violence at the heart of the common political experience [3]. The baroque also dramatizes the fissure of finitude that could put a halt to the sovereign exception. To this end, the critical gesture during times of interregnum is to abandon first principle of action, whether as purely conservationist katechon, or as immanentization of the eschatology. Villalobos calls for a third option, which is infrapolitical relation with the worldliness and the mundane freed from exclusion-inclusion logic. In an important moment in his essay on Kojeve and the geopolitical philosophy of history, Villalobos writes:

“Faltaría pensar la no-relación entre el ni-amigo-ni-enemigo, lo neutro blanchotiano, que se des-inscribe del horizonte sacrificial de la tradición política occidental, esto es, de una cierta tradición política asociada con el principio de razón, con la comunidad y la amistad, como decía Derrida, o del sujeto, como dice Alberto Moreiras, apuntando a una dimisión no afiliativa ni fraternal, no principial ni fundacional, sino infrapolítica” (Villalobos 92).

Infrapolitical relation is given as a promise that retains freedom of life during the time of the interregnum against all apparatuses of capture and conversion (it is no by accident that the marrano figure appears a few times through the book in decisive ways). How can one participate in conflict without necessarily open to war? How could one instantiate exchange without reproducing the principle of equivalence? How could there be a relation between literature and politics beyond representation and the productionist aesthetic institution and the literary canon? The potential to render thought otherwise, profanes every articulation of the apparatus allowing for a political exigency in the interregnum: an infra-political relation with the political, which brings back democracy to its post-hegemonic site. It is in this sense that Heterografías it is not a book disconnected from the “political practices” or what the althusserians call the material “conjuncture”. On the contrary, the task is achieved through a reflexive gesture that attends to every singular determination of the ‘ongoing accumulation’ that exceed the libidinal and memorialist investments in Marxian locational archives [4].

The purpose is to avoid a calculable relation with the conjuncture as always already shorthanded for hegemony, will to power, ‘movement of movements’, subjection, etc.; as to de-capture the radical historicity no longer ingrained in History’s metaphoricity. This is why Borges, the a-metaphorical thinker, disseminates Heterografías at various key moments juxtaposing politics and imagination and undoing the master-theory for political movements that always speak in the name of ’emancipation’. (The fall of Brodie in Borges’ short-story is the absolute comic negation of the Pauline’s militant conversion at Antioch).

As already specified in Soberanías, the threshold of imagination becomes the task for intra-epochal (interregnum) experience. Imagination, of course, does not point to an anthropological faculty of humanity, the prevalence of a sensible component over reason as in Kant, or a new intellect that as post-universitarian is able to secure a new site for prestige. Imagination is a preparatory relay for a turbulent de-formation of the apparatuses in to a common universality of singulars. Villalobos does not deliver a general theory of imagination, since imagination is already what we do as a form of dwelling, in the course of every form of life. I would like to un-translate Heterografías in these terms not because imagination remains the unsaid in every practice of destitution as what always escapes identity, equivalency, or the friend-enemy relation. But then, is imagination the outside of nihilism?

Imagination accounts for the heterographic processes that are flattened out by the master concepts that capture and dispense principial thought. In this sense, imagination is not reducible to the institution of literature or culture, but inscribes a singular relation with language; the possibility of speaking in the name of that which lacks its proper name [5]. The fact that today everyone speaks in the name of something it is the most visible asymptotic of the fall into technical nihilism. On the contrary, imagination is always the potentiality to speak for a minor people that interfere with the grammar of grand politics. In the last chapter “Crítica de la accumulation”, the site of imagination is the necessary metaxy for an otherwise politics of contemporary Latin America:

“En última instancia, se trata de pensar los límites históricos de la imaginación política latinoamericana, misma que necesita trascender la nostálgica identificación con una política reivindicativa y radicalizar su vocación popular en una suerte de populismo salvaje, que no se orienta heliotrópicamente a la conquista del poder del Estado, para una vez allí, disciplinar a las masas. Un populismo sin Pueblo, pero con muchos pueblos, heterogéneos y contradictorios, con una énfasis insobornable en los antagonismos y no en las alianzas, en las figuraciones catacréticas y disyuntivas…En suma, un populismo post-hegemonico…” (Villalobos 228).

The political mediation insofar as it is post-hegemonic ceases to dominate in the principial totality where life and the social, as based on fictive identity, coincide or collapse unto each other. This post-hegemonic populism cannot be said to be one at odds with institutions, or merely just cultural or charismatic supplement. Villalobos seems to be opening here the question of a distinctive form of law that would require imagination, not heterographic violence; attentiveness to singularity, and not another politics of the subject. How could one think a law that exceeds the citizen and the exception? Is it not isonomy – as the principle of the integral movement towards citizenship – what hinders and captures political life over its heterographic excess? Could one imagine a law that is consistent with democracy as the self-rule of a minor people, of a people without history, a savage people, inhabiting the true state of exception?

The answers to these questions are not to be found in Heterografías de la violencia. Villalobos-Ruminott has made a striking effort to sketch a set of common objectives, tasks, nuances, exigencies, and considerations for the possibility of critical thought (in the deleuzian sense) against the grain of interregnum’s anomie. The task is immense, even when its transparent language is deceiving: to open a fissure of worldliness (mundanidad) in preparation for a savage democracy to come; enabling the conditions for a way of thinking that is not oblivious to the production of violence within the ongoing accumulation that unfolds and whitewashes the present.





  1. Alberto Moreiras. “Poshegemonía, o más allá del principio del placer“. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.
  1. It is in the quasi-concept ‘effective operation of law’, where Villalobos comes nearest  to Yan Thomas’ studies on the juridical flexibility of law. See his Les opérations du droit (EHESS, 2011).
  1. I am thinking here of Veronica Gago’s recent book La razón neoliberal: economías barrocas y pragmatica popular (Tinta Limón, 2015) which seeks to render a micropolitical form of neoliberalism from below deploying the concept of ‘baroque’ to ‘express’ its emancipatory and empowering dynamic in the informal sector. For Villalobos, on the contrary, informal economy is not an exception to the visible form of accumulation, but its flexible difference in the age of an-archic capital. The baroque is not a given instance for “emancipation” or “subjective agency”, but where sovereignty becomes dramatized in its most extreme degree: “Es decir, necesitamos pensar el barroco como una problematización de la filosofia de la historia del capital, con una interrupción que trastoca la especialización del atemporalidad propia de la metafísica moderna y más específicamente, de su correlato, política, la versión liberal-contractualista del orden y del progreso social” (78).
  1. “Diría que hay, al menos, dos formas de confrontar este problema; por un lado, la posibilidad de repensar el marxismo, Marx y sus diversas apropiaciones, según su historia, sus filologías y tradiciones, para determinar la “verdadera” imagen de Marx, hacerle justicia a su corpus, exonerarlo de los excesos de la tradición y traerlo al presente según una nueva actualidad. Por otro lado, sin renunciar a un horizonte materialista y aleatorio, la posibilidad de elaborar una crítica de la acumulación….” (215).
  1. Giorgio Agamben. “In nome di che?” Il fuoco e il racconto. Rome: nottetempo, 2014.

Stasis: Civil War as Threshold Between Infrapolitics and Politics

Agamben, Stasis

Crossposted from Posthegemony.

Giorgio Agamben’s short book Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm comprises two brief essays, one on the Athenian concept of “stasis” or civil war, the other on the role of the multitude in Hobbes’s Leviathan. What links them, he tells us, is the notion that “the constitutive element of the modern State” is “ademia [. . .] that is, [. . .] the absence of a people” (vi). Obviously enough, this will come as something of a surprise to “the Western political tradition” for which, as Agamben notes, the “concept of people” is “arguably the fundamental concept” (39). Think after all of the opening of the United States constitution, for which “we the people” are presented as that country’s basic political bedrock.

Agamben proposes instead the multitude as the core concept of political theory. So far, so good, and no doubt also so Italian. But what Agamben adds to the work of (say) Toni Negri and Paolo Virno is the observation that “the multitude is the subject of civil war” (40) and, further, that it is thus through civil war that the political realm is established. Or, as he puts it in his discussion of the Greeks:

it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family [oikos] and the political space of the city [polis]. [. . .] In the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicization and depoliticization, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is depoliticized in the family. (12)

For, as Agamben points out, Solon’s law explicitly punishes those who do not take part in civil war: such people forfeit their rights to citizenship; “not taking part in the civil war amounts to being expelled from the polis and confined in the oikos” (13). Civil war is, therefore, not (as we tend to see it) simply the point at which the political dissolves, as the state fractures and society is reduced to warring factions. It is also constituent, “the unforgettable that must always remain possible in the city,” however much today, by contrast, we regard it as “something that one must seek to make impossible at every cost” (16).

To put this another way (in terms that Agamben himself does not use), it is civil war that is the threshold or hinge between infrapolitics and politics per se. He offers here a theory of the ways in which the political emerges and is dissolved. Moreover, in his study of Hobbes, Agamben further offers civil war as the process by which what he calls the “dissolved multitude” (the multitude subject to biopolitical power) is transformed into the “disunited multitude” that makes itself known by turning on the absent people (absorbed into the figure of sovereign power, the Leviathan). And though it is not entirely obvious how these two conceptions mesh with each other, in both cases civil war has to remain an intimate possibility in the heart of any and every political order. For sovereignty, at least until the coming of the end times, can only remain an (optical) illusion, a trick of representation. In the meantime, “no real unity, no political body is actually possible: the body political can only dissolve itself into a multitude” (49). Agamben thus reverses the eschatological tendencies inherent (as I have argued elsewhere) in Negri’s vision of the multitude: here it is only the state that dreams of a substantial presence and unity to come. The multitude, by contrast, is located on a perennial threshold, figured as civil war, between house and city, infrapolitics and the political.

The sting in the tail of Agamben’s analysis, however, is given only sotto voce, in a digression or coda to the first essay that’s presented in smaller font than the rest. This is the observation that “the form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. [. . .] Global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stake of politics” (18). This only goes to show once again that (whatever Negri thinks) nobody should look to the multitude for their salvation. But instead of denying the possibility of civil war, trying to exclude it from the political order, we need to recognize that order’s indebtedness to it, and pick one of the many sides (who says there should be just two?) that any such conflict opens up. For this is the very paradigm of the political, of the perpetual emergence and dissolution of political activity as such.

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.

“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.


  • 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.


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”).

More thoughts on infrapolitics. (Steve Buttes)


I want to respond and reframe some of my initial questions given the ways in which the dialogue has approached them thus far. Moreiras notes that “there is a differend between us at the level of presuppositions, and that it is very difficult to look both for agreements or disagreements if the differend is not recognized as such.” Using the metaphor of the “pine trees” we discussed earlier, he goes on to say that “this is not the same as saying that you, for instance, insist on focusing on the pine trees whereas infrapolitics looks for everything else as well.

Rather, the very perception of the “everything else” already goes through the recognition of the differend. At that level, I would say that “your” pine trees, from this side of the divide, are not the same as the pine trees we can see and deal with.” And then this is compared with “lust [which] has different connotations for different ethical positions: a puritan sees lust where a libertine sees only desire, etc.”

What I understand as at stake here is the difference between translation and belief. In the former, we might think of the possibility of translating libertinism into a puritan language, of acknowledging the presuppositions of puritanism but nevertheless finding room to see from within those terms desire rather than lust. Approaching puritanism and libertinism as different languages, we might find points of conversation. But, then, if you are a puritan and encounter the translation of desire into your language, what do you do with the earlier form of puritanism in which you understood desire as lust? If it’s a good translation, you’d stop using the earlier version, or maybe you’d strategically (or cynically) use one or the other in given circumstances.

If it’s a bad translation, you might say, “nice try, but it makes no sense: I’m not buying it” or “that’s blasphemous.” But what marks the difference between good and bad here is whether or not you find it convincing and adopt it as your own. In other words, it’s not really a translation at all but rather an argument, one that you either believe to be correct or incorrect. The same goes for the pine trees. If I believe every kind of tree is a type of pine tree and you believe that all trees are individual and beyond categorization, we disagree rather than just differ. This takes the argument onto the ground others have already argued: Di Stefano, Sauri, Hatfield, Michaels and others. Indeed, as Michaels notes in The Shape of the Signifier critiquing the conversing “moral vocabularies” that Richard Rorty advocates and explaining the strangeness of the translation model, “Hebrew and German do not contradict each other, and insofar as Saint Paul’s and Freud’s moral vocabularies are like Hebrew and German, they don’t contradict each other either . . . . if Paul says that Jesus is God and Freud says he isn’t, they aren’t disagreeing, they’re just speaking different languages” (46).

While I believe these issues are important to discuss, I believe the scholars I mention can speak to their own arguments if they wish. I don’t want to move in that direction in my own comments because it takes us away from the intention of my initial post, which was not to interrogate the totality of systems of thought (e.g. infrapolitics as a whole) or make claims about entire philosophical traditions that are at odds with each other. Rather, my intervention emerged from my own plodding, piecemeal way of working, which is to mark concrete points of contact between my thinking and interests and those I see in others—in my case the Neobaroque, trompe l’oeil and the punctum—and to ask questions from there.

In this vein, let me reframe the initial reflection above in which I attempted to address the metaphors Moreiras evokes in his previous post. Rather than puritanism and libertinism, I want to imagine the strangeness of this demand for translation over argument in a Latin American context. More specifically, I want to draw attention to an episode from the colonial period that appears in Mariano Picón-Salas’ work and which I encountered in Marco Dorfsman’s recent Heterogeneity of Being (2015). Here Dorfsman discusses the “very Baroque example” (72) of the transliteration of the Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer) into hieroglyphic Indian writing:

“The text begins with the word pantli (in Nahuatl a banner or flag of sorts) followed by the glyph for nochtli (in Nahuatl the cactus fruit or tuna) and so it continues on in this manner. The idea is that the Indian is supposed to read pantli nochtli phonetically, and not to see the images of the hieroglyph. A proper reading of the pictographic writing would, of course, produce pure gibberish, while the phonetic reading produces a distorted Latin. It is worth recalling that the majority of the Indians, even those who would have been able to ‘read’ and recite the Pantli Nochtli, would have not been able to understand Latin in any case. However, it is precisely the fact that this new hybrid is incomprehensible that gives it both its sacred and poetic power . . . . In the transliteration, Latin is being put to uses that are only ecclesiastical or scholastic on the surface. Within, ‘a beautiful harmony’ (or struggle) rages. What we have here is the true fusion of opposites [the coincidentia oppositorum of the Baroque]: the beginning of a literary production that leads, almost naturally, towards that other Latin American [Lautréamont] who in France joined together an umbrella and a sewing machine upon an operating table” (72-73).

Here, though I’m not certain that this is a main point of his argument, Dorfsman signals the strangeness of the translation model. As Dorfsman frames it, “Tuna Flag” either makes no sense at all (is “pure gibberish”) or is a way of joining the faith community in saying “Our Father” (in a “distorted Latin”). In the tension between these, Dorfsman sees a “poetic power,” but it is a power that emerges, of course, from a pedagogical power. The “Tuna Flag” scene is taken from the section of Picón-Salas’ book entitled “The Pedagogy of Proselyting:” “images and metaphors were sought in the circumscribed world of the native to bring religious ideas nearer to his mentality” (Picón Salas 56). While, as Dorfsman points out, this pedagogy is somewhat pointless in the sense that “a proper reading of the pictographic writing would, of course, produce pure gibberish,” rather than an understanding of the complexities of a belief system, it is possible to find in the gap between the saying (the distorted Pater Noster) and the said (the incomprehensible Pantli Nochtli)—in the failure to produce a successful translation—a proto-surrealist poetic form: the “true fusion of opposites” that is the “beginning of a [Neobaroque?] literary production” (73).

It is here that I see the task of the infrapolitical thinker manifesting itself as Moreiras describes: deciding what kind of object the failure that is the Pantli Nochtli is. Neither the Franciscans who instructed the indigenous artisans to create the images of the Pantli Nochtli nor the indigenous painters themselves would have recognized what Dorfsman does, which is to see what existing modes of calculation could not. In the gap between the utopian pedagogical practice of the Franciscans and the everyday intonation of gibberish in Nahuatl, the infrapolitical thinker sees the emergence of a nascent (Neobaroque?) literary form. But it is for this reason that I claim in my initial post that infrapolitics (in my partial, fragmented approach to it) “remain[s] squarely within Baroque modes of trompe l’oeil thought, requiring . . . unbelieving beholders.” Indeed, here we see a key example of trompe l’oeil literature: out of raw materials (“pure gibberish”) the appearance of the ecclesia emerges (“distorted Latin”).

But the infrapolitical thinker, as what I call a “miner of life’s raw material,” appeals to the potentiality of life itself by seeing the invisible qualities of that “gibberish.” That is, by seeing in the the incongruous encounter a potentiality that is not visible from the two poles mandated by the encounter, in demanding the failure of realizing the utopian promise (which is accompanied by the violent and creative modes Picón-Salas describes), we see the invisible emergence of the possibility of integrating the Pantli Nochtli into an absent whole by seeing it as the first in a series of variations that will produce an alternative tradition: a poetic form that begins with the Franciscans and develops into the incongruous images created by Lautréamont, the surrealists and Octavio Paz.

It matters little here that the Pantli Nochtli is meant as a mnemonic device to enter the ecclesia. What matters instead is the emergence in the everyday intonation of the Pantli Nochtli of the failure of utopia, which the infrapolitical thinker recognizes as poetic form, a form that is invisible to those who made the work. This infrapolitical account of poetic form escapes the belief systems of the colonial encounter, it does not escape a belief system outright but rather produces one of its own that displaces current understandings by integrating the Pantli Nochtli into the avant-garde tradition (if we agree with the reading) or doesn’t (if we disagree). Does the infrapolitical see a role for artistic visibilizations, or must these always be broken down for parts? Is the failed artwork central to infrapolitics? Are the terms “neobaroque” and “infrapolitical” synonyms for each other?

It is from here—in the infrapolitical approach’s ability to see what is not there when reading from existing modes of calculation—that I can return to the question of the punctum. In reading Moreiras’ work on poverty and infrapolitics in Línea de sombra, I saw parallels with his earlier work on Borges and Cortázar in Tercer espacio. I then heard the opening remarks made by Gerardo Muñoz and Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott at the ACLA seminar in which they marked a connection between Línea de sombra and Tercer espacio: “The drift to suspend the categorial structure of the Latinamericanist reflection was already underway in Tercer espacio and [The] Exhaustion [of Difference]” (“A Response”).

It is in this context that I felt justified in asking the question of whether there was continuity between the infrapolitical that motivates Moreiras’ work now (and underscores the work of the Collective) and his earlier claims about the punctum made in Tercer espacio. Moreiras hints at the possibility of this continuity: “The punctum is . . . a crucial concept for me, as precisely the site of desire, redefined by infrapolitics as the crossing of the ontological difference in every case. I should use this precise point in your paper to warn you that when I wrote Tercer espacio, or even Exhaustion of Difference, I was not yet thinking of infrapolitics. So for me the inferences are very interesting, but I am not ready to endorse them without going over them with a very fine comb” (“A Response”). But as he notes in the continuation of our discussion, where he explains that his account of infrapolitics as “always already a response to exploitation,” what is crucial is that the response occurs in “the gap between lives exploited and infrapolitical lives, the punctum in that gap–the site of Borges’ “ancient innocence”” (“More on responding”).

In this line from Borges’ poem “Alguien” [“Someone”], these confluences are clear: a sudden feeling of happiness that emerges not in hope for the future (an eschatology of change) or from the demands of daily life but rather from the pang of an “ancient innocence.” This “ancient innocence” enables one to see in the partial moments (“an unexpected etymology,” “the taste of water”) of a daily life controlled by structures that are not our own the forgotten joys of the past (which could presumably be the joys of the future). The “ancient innocence” that underscores the infrapolitical minor adjustment has a clear connection with the punctum: it cannot be planned but must rather occur “de pronto” [“all of a sudden”].

And this demand leads me to the follow up question of whether the infrapolitical account of the punctum—the hidden minor adjustment that could not come into being were it planned as part of an anti-exploitation or antipoverty project—has something to do with the antitheatrical reading of the punctum produced recently by Michael Fried. As Fried notes, Barthes demands that the punctum not be put there for us, not be part of the photograph’s studium (or mode of calculation), and it is this demand that marks the punctum as part of the antitheatrical tradition and secures for photography its aesthetic form.

If the punctum (what the photographer cannot put there for the viewer) is a radicalized form of absorption (the refusal to perform for the viewer), it is also what secures for Barthes a successful photograph, or at least one that he finds compelling. This creates a tension, then, between the failed translation above and the successful photo here. If every success is a potential failure (mode of exploitation) and every failure a potential success (mode of escape), these are often invisible to existing modes of calculation, that is, remain in the shadows until revealed by the minor adjustment that breaks down (deconstructs?) those modes.

Does the infrapolitical demand a failed (non-unified) work, or does the infrapolitical (with its emphasis on desires that remain in the shadows, on what is not there for us) dialogue with the antitheatrical reading of the punctum developed by Fried and Michaels? I will end for now but will continue to engage in the dialogue as it/if it continues to develop.




Works Cited
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Alguien.” El otro, el mismo. Obras completas. Emecé, 2007.

Di Stefano, Eugenio and Emilio Sauri. “Making it Visible: Latin Americanist Criticism, Literature, and the Question of Exploitation Today.” http://nonsite.org/article/making-it-visible

Dorfsman, Marco Luis. Heterogeneity of Being: On Octavio Paz’s Poetics of Similitude. Lanham, MD: UP America, 2015.

Fried, Michael. Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. Yale UP, 2008.
Hatfield, Charles. The Limits of Identity: Politics and Poetics in Latin America. U Texas P, 2015.

Michaels, Walter Benn. The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History. Princeton UP, 2004.

___. The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Form. U Chicago P, 2015.

Muñoz, Gerardo and Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott. “Línea de sombra Ten Years Later: Introductory Remarks”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/linea-de-sombra-ten-years-after-introductory-remarks-acla-2016-harvard-university-gerardo-munoz-sergio-villalobos-ruminott/

Picón-Salas, Mariano. A Cultural History of Spanish America, from Conquest to Independence. Trans. Irving A. Leonard. U California P, 1962.

*Image: Mira Schendel. Untitled. 1973.