A reply to Steve Buttes on infrapolitics. (Gerardo Muñoz)

Chillida 1970

Steve Buttes’ “Some questions for infrapolitics” is an intelligent and generous effort that engages with several key problems at the heart of the ongoing collective project of ‘Infrapolitical Deconstruction’. Although, it begs to say that Moreiras’ works – from the early Interpretación y Diferencia (1991) to Línea de sombra (2006), have been central to thinking de-narrativization and the critique of metaphoricity, bringing these problems into new light from different registers (the literary, the cultural, and the political), I think it would be incorrect to frame the particular project of infrapolitics as a culmination of Moreiras’ own thought and itinerary. In this light, what I find of importance in Buttes’ intervention is the fact that he does not just hinge on a particular problem, but is able to juggle and render visible a series of common elements of the project that merge with his own research (1).

Indeed, it was unfortunate to have missed Prof. Buttes at the last formal meeting during the Harvard ACLA 2016 conference, but we could only hope that there will be another timely encounter for discussion. For what it is worth, I want to lay down a few commentaries on some issues raised by Buttes. My aim is not to correct or even less defend a programmatic way of infrapolitics, but perhaps to think about his recent inquiry as parallel with some of the problems that have been pertinent to my own intellectual reflection over the last two or so years. I hope this will serve as a reparatory outline for future discussions to come.

In a precise moment of his commentary, Buttes writes: “That which escapes regulation, visibilization through the metaphors chosen to organize the world—the unthought thought, that which “what was never [on the] radar” (“Some comments”), freedoms that remain beyond writing (Williams, The Mexican Exception), the unfinished manuscript (Cometa, “Non-finito”), averroist intellect (Muñoz “Esse extraneum”) and so on—always remains invisible, and as a consequence always emerges as something that looks like the thing it is: real life beyond calculation, beyond visibilization, beyond metaphoric capture. In other words, it is the image, as Dove has called it. This image, of course, is characterized by its invisibility, by its ability to be sensed but not seen, experienced but not known, used but not valued”.

I am entirely in disagreement that infrapolitics could be thought as invisibility in opposition to visibility, since that opposition itself remains caught in calculation that renders the operation of unconcealment and the existential analytic obsolete. The very idea of the averroist intellectual has nothing to do specifically with the image as such, but with metaxy (or metaxu as rendered by Weil’s anti-personalist Platonism). This is why life as pure means constitutes itself impersonally from the outside. Hence, to reduce the question of the image to a division of the senses (sight) or to the disciplinary arrangement made possible by modern art historical discourse (Fried et al) is interesting, but not relevant, at least not for averroism. It is true, however, that averroism is crucial for infrapolitics. To some extent averroism, like the existential analytic or marranismo, is an important referent for infrapolitical existence and posthegemonic democracy.

א In her important research on the saturated image, Camila Moreiras Vilaros has emphasized the transformative nature of images from a regime of the society of control to one of saturation and exposure. If the first still has a mode of coercion over bodies and subjects, the second one is hyperbolically without subject, substance, and extension. Exposure coincides fully with the image of the world in positionality. In this sense, infrapolitics fundamentally thinks not the invisible, but the invisible as already fully visible. To be marrano in the open means to dwell in the event of total exposure.

Weil, Esposito, Coccia, Agamben, or Moreiras are thinkers of this outside as metaxy, although do not particularly wish to install an “invisible iconology”, or “an icon of potentiality over actuality”. I am convinced that the question of iconology features centrally in Prof. Buttes’ research, but from my own understanding, infrapolitics cannot be separated from an actuality granted by a form of life or the second division of existence that renders inoperative the very distinction of actuality and potentiality. In fact, in recent months some of us have understood the importance of undertaking Heidegger’s influential seminar Aristotle Metaphysics 1-3: the actuality over force, as to cautiously rethink the difficulty of the Aristotelian category (actuality) that is at stake here. In terms of the icon, in my own research project I have thought of another relation with pictorial space that is not possessed by iconicity, which allows possible oikonomical arrangement and sacrament institution [2]. I would say that, indeed, landscape is important for infrapolitics, but far from rendering a dichotomy between the visible and the invisible, the expropriated and the appropriated, it seeks to think distance and dwelling.

א It was something like this that was at stake for Heidegger in one of his rare essays written as a general reflection on art, but specifically meant as a commentary on a Spanish sculptor that he very much admired: Eduardo Chillida. In Die Kunst und der Raum (1969), Heidegger writes: “Solange wir das Eigentümliche des Raumes nicht erfahren, bleibt auch die Rede von einem kunst-lyrischen raum dunkel. Die weise, wie der Raum das Kunstwerk durchwaltet, hangt vorerst im Un-bestimmten.” Before the pictorial space there is the question of space. How to account for the peculiarity of space? That was Heidegger’s question, since spacing meant to ‘erbringt’ (don) freedom and the life (wohnen) for da-sein.

The word “value” appears in different ways about seven or eight times in Buttes’ piece. I am not sure I can take up the different ways in which it appears, at times in opposition to use. However, it is clear that infrapolitics does not seek to value any ontic or ontological position, since it departs necessarily from a critique of the principle of general equivalence as the contemporary determination of nihilism (an argument made forcefully, I think, by Moreiras, Villalobos-Ruminott, & J. L. Nancy). Thus, it is inconsistent with infrapolitics to argue that “infrapolitics, creates […] a fetish—“a form of thinking the political that fetishizes the undoing of power as a value in itself”. Undoing power arrives at the non-subject or post-hegemony as democratic condition for social existence. But how is this “value” or instrumentalized for “value itself”? In some cases, Buttes seems to take value for ‘preference’. Infrapolitics does not make that decision for preference’s sake, but for understanding the non-correspondence between life and politics in thought.

א The question of value tied to the problem of ‘poverty’ and ‘exploitation’ is a register that infrapolitics does not take for granted. However, I am convinced that the pursuit of a new jargon of exploitation today is always in detriment of the possibility of understanding the existence of man otherwise. It is a very strange turn that some today on the Left– take Daniel Zamora, who fundamentally misinterprets Foucault’s work – keep insisting on the question about the necessity to reintroduce proletarian identity as determinate subject against diversity. It makes no sense to do this in a time like ours, where work and labor have completely disappeared. I prefer to discuss inclusive consumption (Valeriano) and uneven pattern of accumulation (Williams), not labor and exploitation.

In one of his footnotes, Buttes claims that “infrapolitics spans writers from Javier Marías, to Borges, to Lezama Lima to Cormac McCarthy to, as I note below, Ben Lener, and also, plausibly, Sergio Chejfec or Alberto Fuguet, then infrapolitics is the canon, it is the archive itself”. It is a surprising remark, but I understand that I might not fully understand its implications. Does it entail that infrapolitics is an archive of a particular style, or that it coincides merely with a work-for-the-archive? I agree with Moreiras that infrapolitics is a type of relation with the archive, and in fact, at the moment the collective is currently thinking through the archive in relation to the general historiography of the imperial Hispanist tradition [3]. Does this mean that infrapolitics is merely a relation with Hispanism and the Spanish letters? I am not convinced. I do think that there is intricate relation between writing and infrapolitics, but it could be extended and explored in other forms of art (painting, music, cinema, or even dance). Most of us work on writers such as Roa Bastos or Raul Ruiz, Lezama Lima or Oscar Martinez, Juan Rulfo or Roberto Bolaño; but these proper names are far from constituting an infrapolitical archive. There can never be an archival infrapolitics.

א In a recent intervention on the subject of infrapolitics, Michele Cometa suggested that infrapolitics was indeed the place to use literature as a thing for thought [4]. The modern invention of university disciplines and faculties, archives and practices such as “literary criticism” is a perversion of an an-archic space of unity where there is no differentiation between literature and thought, the image and life. One has to break away from the modernist fantasy that there is a ‘proper location’ for an object of studies. There are only relations of force constituted by tradition. This is why Dante at the dawn of Modernity, and later Leopardi during the bourgeoisie revolution, could see themselves as poets, thinkers, political theorists, and lovers. There was no separation.





*Image: Eduardo Chillida, drawing, 1970.

1. Buttes, Steve. “Some questions for infrapolitics”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/some-questions-for-infrapolitics-by-stephen-buttes/

2. Mondzain’s research is fundamental here, since her work on early Byzantine Church’s articulation of hegemony is intimately tied to the operation of iconology. See, Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary. Stanford University Press, 2004.

3. Alberto Moreiras. “A response to Steve Buttes”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/a-response-to-steve-buttes-by-alberto-moreiras/

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ddjE_sL5w