Wednesday, November 30, 2005


indigenous womanAlicia Velásquez Nimatuj offers a stirring defence of Guatemalan indigenous dress or traje. She opens with an anecdote of how she was refused admittance to a Guatemala City restaurant solely (she tells us) because she was wearing K'iche dress. She argues that wearing traje "is not just a matter of standing up for our cultural rights. Since 1997, in post-war Guatemala, it has become a political challenge: that of breaking the various ideological, legal, colonial, and contemporary racist structures that exist in all spheres of the Guatemalan State" ("Ways of Exclusion" 158).

But if the survival of traje is an instance of both "historical resistance" and "everyday resistance," indeed if in the history of Mayan resistance to colonialism "women's regional dress has played a leading role" (159), then what to say of the fact that increasingly, and especially in the cities, it is now replaced by "fashionable jeans and jacket" (161)? For Velásquez Nimatuj, the shift from regional to conventional Western dress shows "how racism is internalized for some Maya women [. . . they] have come to accept what the dominant ideology has repeated over and over again, that our regional dress stands for 'backwardness,' 'underdevelopment,' 'poor hygiene,' 'ignorance,' and 'living in the past'" (160).

On the other hand, the role of "Maya intermediaries" in "the folkloric exploitation and abuse of Maya women and their traditional dress" is equally "reprehensible" (162). Velásquez Nimatuj notes that "sadly" even "a few Maya" are involved in organizing Cobán's annual folk festival that features a beauty pageant for indigenous girls in ceremonial costume (162).

In short, both wearing traje and not wearing it properly, treating it as semi-archaic folklore rather than as living resistance, are equally damned as something very close to ethnic betrayal.

Indigenous dress threatens both betrayal and counter-betrayal: in so far as it constitutes the performance of ethnic authenticity and resistance, it "betrays" the fact that its wearer will never be fully ladinized, that she is always treated as stubbornly subaltern to be banished to the margins of Guatemalan society; but by contrast, when the dress is put centre-state as the fetishized image of national identity, for instance in airport shops or tourist brochures and boutiques, another betrayal is afoot in this improper performance of authenticity.

In other words, though Velásquez Nimatuj wants to tell us that dress somehow expresses the intimate essence of ethnic identity, "the visible proof and cultural marker that locates us in the category of 'Indians'" (160-161), not only does she therefore collude with the restaurant doorman who likewise interprets clothing as ethnicity, but she is also forced rather futilely to police the evident fissures between the two. She insists that studies focussing only on the material aspects of indigenous weaving are insufficient, but this is surely because now traje has become for her a political style on which she, like any other self-appointed arbiter of fashion, has set herself up to judge.

By contrast, then, I find Carol Hendrickson's more nuanced analysis to be also more persuasive. For Hendrickson, wearing regional dress is best understood as strategy rather than essence, allowing "Guatemalans acting within a given social moment [to] contemplate and adjust their own appearance (if only momentarily and on an extremely small scale) and hence the social role assigned to them" ("Images of the Indian in Guatemala" 303). As a strategy, then, the consequences of traje are never fully predictable. It is an always uncertain risk, which may bring rewards as well as stigma, benefits as well as losses. "This is particularly true when the situation is anything more than routine and when it is not obvious which image of the Indian will come into play for any particular circumstance" (304).

Velásquez Nimatuj prescribes pre-destined resistance, whose limits she claims to legislate as native anthropologist/informant. But Hendrickson presents dress as a terrain of corporeal experimentation and investment, which may or may not lead to politically significant incorporeal transformations, in a contested field in which identity traits are at least partially dislocated and so still up for grabs.

Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Pena
Guillermo Gómez Peña and Coco Fusco

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

technorati redux

[Apologies for another bout of meta-blogging...]

Technorati have again, it seems, given up a) on indexing this blog and b) on responding to customer support queries.

(See here for previous travails. I'm also still not the only one with this problem. Someone's even written a poem on the topic.)

Regarding the lack of customer support response, I'm prepared to give them a bit of slack given that it's been Thanksgiving weekend in the US.

But the erratic indexing itself remains something of a pain. One would like to have a little more faith in the reliability of tagging.

(Meanwhile over on Latin America on Screen, in the last week some posts have been indexed, but others not.)

The fact that the problem should reoccur just now is rather timely. It so happens that later today I'll be meeting up with Brian Lamb of Abject Learning to discuss the ways in which tags might be used as part of an experiment in blogging a class I'll be teaching next semester.

Even on a more limited scale, this semester I've been writing up some notes on readings connected to a class I've been teaching. I'd like to be able to point students to the appropriate Technorati tag so that they can access the relevant entries without having to wade through my disquisitions on Agamben or cultural studies or whatever. Their exam is coming up, so they might especially appreciate this in the next week or so.

But if we can't trust Technorati (or can't trust them to fix problems in good time), all this rather goes down the tubes. Brian himself notes the risks of relying on third-party applications. At the same time, I dislike more than almost anything else software made specifically for the educational market. (Exhibit A: the horror that is WebCT.)

Back to the issue at hand, it's not at all obvious why this happens (there's nothing on Technorati's help pages that deals with the issue), nor therefore what can be done to prevent it. And if customer response time remains so slow, then it's not as though it can be rectified unproblematically.

Though I can say that Ice Rocket is much, much worse.

Anyhow, I'll update this post as and when progress is made.

[Update: rather surprisingly quick progress... now this post and the previous one seem to have been indexed, at least partially; earlier posts such as this one remain unindexed. Even so, this is definitely a step forward.]

[Update: new posts are being indexed; other ones, still on this front page, are not.]

[Update: I've increased the number of posts on this front page, waiting until they are indexed. No sign yet...]

[Update, a week later: Though I have still not heard anything from them or their customer service via email, Technorati have now caught up on the backlog of posts to be indexed. Normal service to be resumed...]

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Both the title and the subtitle of Richard Day's Gramsci is Dead are misleading. The title because, though Day has much to say about hegemony, his version of the concept is sufficiently broad that he traces it back to (at least) Hegel, and he hardly discusses Gramsci's contribution. (I suppose, however, that Hegel is Dead would have been a marginally less alluring title.)

The subtitle, "Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements" is also something of a misnomer, mostly because Day is less concerned to establish influences than to point to resonances between social movements and the anarchist tradition. Even then, he is interested primarily in the ways in which recent theory as well as recent practice might help release anarchism (as well as Marxism) from what he terms "the hegemony of hegemony."

Day establishes an opposition between the "logic of hegemony" and the "logic of affinity." Hegemony, he tells us, is totalizing and state-centered. It operates, equally in either what he likes to term its "(neo)liberal" or its "(post)marxist" variants, by means of demand, representation, recognition, and integration. From the very moment that politics is predicated on the demand, it implies and invokes the existence of a state before which the individual or group constituted in the demand seeks to be represented, and by which it hopes to be first recognized and then integrated. Affinity, on the other hand, begins with Exodus and establishes self-generated (and self-valorizing) communities predicated on a "groundless solidarity" and "infinite responsibility" that are always open to the new and the other.

Though inspired by, and driven in part by an attempt to revindicate, the historical tradition of anarchist thought from William Godwin to Gustav Landauer, Day also stresses the contribution of poststructuralist and postmodern theorists such as Foucault and (above all) Deleuze and Guattari. He is particularly interested in the figure of the "smith" found in A Thousand Plateaus: the smith, located somewhere between nomad and citizen, opens up and inhabits the "holey space" that is neither fully smooth nor fully striated. The smith, Day argues, is "the autonomous subject of the coming communities" (128).

Day puts his case forcefully and in large part convincingly. There is no doubt that we should leave the dead carcass of hegemony and hegemonic thought well behind us. Yet the final few pages of Gramsci is Dead indicate some gnawing problems with his grand narrative pitting hegemony against affinity. Here he acknowledges that states are no longer sovereign as they once were, and that this is in part because "corporations [are] working to undermine" them (217). "Decentralization," Day admits, "just as easily, and much more likely under current conditions, means a shift from modern discipline to postmodern control" (216). Distinguishing between "radicle and radical forms of rhizomatic organization," he notes that "maintaining this differentiation will become an ever-more pressing task" (216).

For indeed, the notion of a grand struggle between hegemony and affinity no longer makes much sense (if it ever did). We live in posthegemonic times, in which control is exerted directly and immediately by affective and habitual means. And on the other hand, for all the fine examples of social movements that Day puts forward, from the Zapatistas to No One is Illegal, from Participatory Economics to People's Global Action, I am not sure that we can be quite so sanguine these days about Temporary Autonomous Zones, or that "clearly, an experiment carried out as part of a mass movement is much more dangerous than the same experiment undertaken by one or more packs" (176). What, after all, about the pack that carried out its experimentation on September 11th 2001, a day that cannot be so glibly despatched as "the Day of the Great Excuse for Oppression" (32).

In short, beyond attention-grabbing and unenlightening exclamations (Gramsci is Dead!), rather more work is required to construct a theory of posthegemony.

(Cross-posted to an ungrammatical multitude.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Three short articles--crónicas--on contemporary urban violence in Colombia and Venezuela.

BAE memberFor José Roberto Duque, it is still the state that's at issue. He describes a police murder: a raid on a house in a poor Caracas neighbourhood, the special forces storming up the stairs to their target, the body thrown out of the window, the witnesses coached to say the victim was a "bully, a delinquent," the falsified autopsy and death certificate. Everything conducted smoothly enough, an efficient exercise in limpieza, cleansing. People play along. "Nobody wants to get in trouble, right?" ("A Small Mistake" 123).

The problem, however, is the "small mistake" of the title: while the police are still conducting their operation their informed by panicked relatives that they have the wrong address. "No, sir. This is house number 20, but on Ricuarte Alley. La Vuelta del Mocho is about eight blocks up." The police response: "Ah, shit." But too late, because the bureaucratic machinery of law enforcement can't be halted so easily. After all, it operates according to its own logic, at some remove from reality. The drugs and weapons have already been planted. The original victim is infinitely replaceable; the objects of state repression are "whatever" victims, their individual names interchangeable and ultimately irrelevant. Due process and procedure can't be derailed by these small details of individual identification.

But this depersonalized, common object of state repression is also, in José Navia's piece from Bogotá's marginal urban slums, a common subject he terms the "multitude." And if for Duque the barrio is the site of random death, for Navia the multitude makes it also a place in which that institutionalized death drive faces the forces of life. The "rest of the city" slumbers while "a multitude begins to stir in the narrow, labyrinthine, unpaved alleys of Ciudad Bolívar" ("Ciudad Bolívar: Brush Strokes against Death" 125). Though "stigmatized by death" (125), the multitude are "youths on their feet, united, demanding a future, building a life [. . .] they invite life to be created in the place of death" (126).

Finally, however, Alberto Salcedo Ramos's vision is much darker. Here it's not so much the state versus the subaltern, margin lined up against the periphery, as an urban environment saturated by danger and violence. Mobility is no salvation, indeed it only invites further risk: "hailing a taxi on a Bogotá street at night--or even during the day--turns us into Russian roulette players." Salcedo Ramos goes on to suggest that "the only defensive manoeuver we have left is hoping, sometimes with ingeniousness, sometimes with arrogance, that the fatal shot doesn't hit us" ("The Drive-By Victim" 130). Of course, his perspective is partly that of the educated professional expressing the fear that his own city has become a no-go area in which any even semi-ostentatious display of privilege is pounced upon. He describes his experience being subject to a taxi-jacking, and describes himself as "a presumptuous animal that didn't know the laws of the jungle" (131).

Here again mistakes can be made, and here again those mistakes are somehow irrelevant: "If I wasn't rich but merely a poor copy, all the worse for me, not for them" (132). But the people who hold him up haven't quite made a mistake: he does after all have a savings account, he can after all procure money from a cash dispenser. And he has three cigarettes left, that the thieves can't pass up: "We smoke, too" (137).

But even Salcedo Ramos recognizes the sense of honour that runs through delinquency. It's a common trope, of course, of criminal society as equally, perhaps even more, rule-bound than the sovereign normality against which it rebels. "'We're thieves, man, not killers,' said the fat one, in a tone of offended dignity" (136). The middle classes have simply to learn this code of conduct, and abide by it. It's a world turned upside down, of course, but it has its logic. Salcedo Ramos ends up feeling grateful to his kidnappers, precisely because they maintained their calm and composure and stuck to their rulebook even as he himself tried to dodge and feint. When they release them he says "If I didn't shake their hands and invite them to breakfast the next day, it was because I wasn't brave enough. [. . .] And I thought that we are so screwed in this country that the only option left to us in the end is thanking the thieves" (137).

Isn't that because the country owes what little cohesion it has to the old-fashioned pragmatism of delinquency, so baldly opposed to the neoliberal state's mechanistic administration of bare life?

Ciudad Bolivar
See Philippe Revelli's excellent photo series on Bogotá youth

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


An ungrammatical multitude is a group blog that has been, well, dormant for some time. To be honest, it's had its problems even getting off the ground. But it's also the online presence of what is a real-life reading group, and a day or two ago we met up again (also after a hiatus) and decided to give the blog another go.

In this spirit, my friend Sebastián has posted a translation of some comments by Badiou on Deleuze and Negri. Go read 'em. And look for more renewed activity (and most likely a site redesign) from an ungrammatical multitude in the near future.

Meanwhile, if it's a grammatical multitude you want, theoria has what you need.

anti-politics II

My earlier excerpt on Cultural Studies as an anti-politics has attracted some attention. To balance things out, I should say that Cultural Studies hardly has a monopoly on anti-politics. Posthegemony's second chapter is a critique of the social scientific discourse of "civil society." If Cultural Studies is populist, I suggest, then civil society theory is fundamentally neoliberal...

What then is eliminated in civil society theory's, and neoliberalism's, exclusion of culture from the state? The excluded culture is above all the matter of affect, passion, and the body. This is replaced by a statistical articulation, a hyper-articulacy. Affects are replaced by reasons (by Reason) as answers are demanded to the questions of management and state direction. Opinions are solicited and constructed in society's constant self-interrogation, that contrasts so baldly with populism's construction of a barely articulable ontology of affect. If populism is apolitical, it is a very different form of anti-politics than that of neoliberalism. Populism is an under-articulate disposition of the body, an incorporated common sense or habit, as opposed to neoliberalism's over-articulate frame of mind, its ability to produce opinion. Neoliberalism excludes any affective sense of bodily location. It is not that populism, with its material, bodily grounding, is somehow more natural than neoliberalism. Neoliberalism enjoys a very similar aura of the natural, of transparency, as though it harnessed a spontaneous production of popular opinion, varnished with the sense of rightness that rationalization and reason bring. Moreover, as neoliberalism's method is so in harmony with a whole range of social scientific methods and ideologies, it gains additional purchase in as much as its constitutive distortions mirror those of its social scientific observers.

A range of experiences and affects are processed by the state and through its ancillary mechanisms, of which perhaps the most important is civil society, to construct the realm of managerial reason. Normally this process can pass more or less unnoticed, but where the state is challenged by a counter-state and thus its double appears, the constituent force of this excluded affect reappears.

[. . .]

Affect is visible with the crisis of the state. The extent to which social relations are structured in terms of affect rather than (or on another level from) discourse becomes clearer, and other logics of the social begin to emerge. But in the face of this disturbing fundamentalism, civil society theory aims to return a sense of rationality and agency to subaltern subjects: if traditional political models had assumed a vanguard role for intellectuals, who have then to bring the masses to conscientización, a focus on new social movements emphasizes rather the myriad negotiations and initiatives performed by subaltern subjects. No doubt this has been a progressive move, to counter the view that peasants (particularly) are formed by premodern communities bound by tradition and superstition, outside of history or politics. An emphasis on peasant agency and reason is a welcome corrective in this context. Yet at times it is almost as though subalterns were presented as perfect rational choice actors, conforming to the most ideal of Western liberal paradigms of reason. As Starn points out, presenting them as rational actors of this type deculturates and depoliticizes such agents by presenting them "as if they were outside culture and ideology" ("Maoism in the Andes" 405). The price subalterns pay is that their activities are recognized only so long as they accord to a notion of reason imposed upon them. (Can the subaltern act?) So long, that is, as efficiency and modernization continue to be the ground of civil society. Such actors then are to be ascribed agency, but only on the terms of the social theorist. Anything that cannot be interpreted within such a framework becomes invisible, the democratic task the substitution of a rational civil society for affective and cultural relations seen, from the perspective of the state, as distorting its managerial transparency. Most importantly, such a policy also necessarily involves a massive expansion of the sphere of the state, a wholesale elimination of culture and corruption as the sole politics.

It was perhaps for the sake of such an eliminatory program, such a single-minded prioritization of logical structure over affective relations, that Sendero Luminoso wreaked such havoc in Peru, its reason unleashing the fiercest of affects. We learn from Sendero the importance of affect in politics, as they bring us back to the relation between culture and the state, the impossibility of fixing a border between civil and political society. But surely the fundamentalism of a Sendero or an al-Qaida is not the only one imaginable. Could there be a fundamentalist program driven by vitality, affirmation, and life, rather than the death drive of mutual immolation? Another way of being multitude. Refusing the constrictions and anti-democratic democracy of civil society theory, it might be time to consider embracing the immediacy of social movements in their excessive and passionate demands. What would it mean to take on fanaticism (in a way that Sendero's cult of reason manifestly does not)? Encore un effort. García Canclini asks how to be radical, without being fundamentalist. We might better ask: how to be fundamentalist, without being Sendero?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Glen's comment on my last entry prompts me to dig up the following thoughts about interdisciplinary initiatives and the uses of culture...

Our aim should be to prevent any recourse to expediency, to the easy platitudes and naïve appropriations implicit in the notion of "making use of culture." But the challenge is to prevent such an aim from becoming itself a programme, and so to avoid descending into the cynical and self-serving expediency of the non-expedient, of the notorious "academic game" as analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu: a refusal to take up a position that is itself a position-taking, whose disinterest is only an all the more effective, if deferred, investment in future interest.

Alberto Moreiras has addressed precisely this issue. In our drive to innovation and interdisciplinarity, can we be sure we are not simply reinforcing the tendencies implicit in the new, corporate university, governed by the neoliberal logic of profit accumulated in exchange perpetuated and extended across now vanishing institutional borders? In Moreiras's words:
That question, how to evaluate the present, how to come to terms with the professional everyday and take a close look at the present and the future in order to determine the best directive, the best course of action, the best or most profitable way of administering our knowledge as well as our relationship with non-knowledge--when the question is asked we are already becoming subjects of calculation, and we are allowing our labor time, our laboring or professional identity or subjectivity, to be predominantly or tendentially defined by calculation, by calculative ratio. [. . .] We need to wonder then how far or how close that must be from neoliberal rational-choice economics, and thus how far or how close the very question about the critical effectivity of critique is from becoming a functional part of current constraints on immaterial labor, of the constraining ideology of immaterial labor at the time of globalization.
The question of "our laboring or professional identity or subjectivity" is more pressing than ever. Precariously weaving between contending impulses towards discipline or control, the most urgent problem for the academy, at least, concerns negotiating between the uselessness of use and the use of uselessness.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Over on home cooked theory, with an entry entitled "Post Solidarity (?)" Mel Gregg is, I feel, a mite defensive about Cultural Studies. Admittedly, judging by this news about state funding of research in Australia (and the ensuing discussion), academics there have some cause to be touchy these days. On the other hand, she links my recent post on anti-politics to this same encroachment of state regulation upon academic production. To which I take, well, mild umbrage.

It's true that, contra John McGowan, I would rather bury than celebrate Cultural Studies. But I see the main point of what I am trying to elaborate as "posthegemony theory" as the attempt to outline some kind of coherent alternative to the concept of hegemony that Cultural Studies wields so readily and so loosely.

The concept of hegemony serves as stand-in for political analysis, a deus ex machina that explains little and achieves even less. But it's up to those of us dissatisfied with this approach to come up with something better.

In so far as people like Mel (or John McGowan, or, say, Larry Grossberg, or whomever else) also see their work as an attempt to come up with "something better," then of course what I'm trying to do is in solidarity with their efforts.

The mistake is to assume that solidarity is premissed on agreement or consensus. But then that is a classic problem of hegemony theory itself...

Solidarity is a much more difficult and unrewarding relation than Cultural Studies typically imagines. As I've said before, "you cannot pick and choose: true solidarity has to contend with the physicality and materiality of the most unpleasant of affects and habits." Cultural Studies consistently sets itself up for a fall by imagining that the people that it invokes will somehow spontaneously agree with the analyses and directions that it puts forward.

But if we learn anything from Subaltern Studies, for instance, it is that the characteristic gesture of the multitude is treason, betrayal.

Cultural Studies should therefore prepare itself to be unpopular (in all senses of that word: unliked and unpopulist). What would an unpopular cultural studies look like? Here's how I've tried to answer that question in the past...

The first task of an unpopular cultural studies might be to return to those phenomena, such as testimonio, that (our current, populist) cultural studies has abandoned, to examine what flees or escapes from populism. We might understand the various failures of hegemonic movements less as, simply (and banally), failures always to be blamed upon some exterior force distorting the course of hegemonic politics, than as the sites of betrayals that may also be expressions of the multitude’s power. The second task of an unpopular cultural studies might be to return to examples of apparently successful hegemonic movements, such as Peronism, to examine the ways in which hegemony follows and overcodes the multitude’s inconstant and unpredictable movements. In either case, we may start with an investigation of "popular culture," but only with the aim of uncovering traces of multitudinous unpopularity. And if the raison d’être of cultural studies has been the claim that hegemony is always provisional and incomplete--and that there is therefore room for counter-hegemonic projects--the watchword for unpopular cultural studies might be a radicalisation of this claim: there is no hegemony and never has been.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Apparently unaware of Marx's maxim that history repeats only "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce" (The Eighteenth Brumaire 300), Latin American ex-presidents have a strange propensity to return and seek power again, long after their disgrace, and despite usually having accumulated plenty of money in the bank to see them through to a comfortable retirement.

Menem and wifeCarlos Menem in Argentina, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Alan García in Peru, Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada in Bolivia... These are just some of the political undead who have stalked the region's politics in the past few years, often somewhere in the penumbra living a colourful highlife of exile while charges or even convictions mount up in absentia. But as soon as there is word of an upcoming ballot, back they come sniffing around like dogs returning to their vomit, to make many a presidential poll a rerun of Night of the Living Dead.

(Javier Corrales points out that the only countervailing tendency is the election of complete newcomers to political power: he shows that of 29 presidential elections in 17 countries since 1996, "eleven featured former presidents who obtained a third place or higher" while twelve "featured complete newcomers" who likewise "obtained a third place or higher.")

Himself once one of the surprise neophyte winners, the latest of these former presidents who really should know better is Peru's Alberto Fujimori. President from 1990 until 2000 (a decent potted biography is available here), when he scarpered to Japan in November of that year, his regime in crisis with daily revelations of corruption and the lurid misadventures of his spy chief and advisor Vladimiro Montesinos. When, in rather undignified fashion, Fujimori attempted to submit his resignation from Japan by fax (rather like dumping someone by text message), the Peruvian Congress finally took sufficient umbrage instead to sack him themselves, for being "morally unfit" to govern.

girlfriend Satomi KataokaFor the past five years, Fujimori has been hanging out in Tokyo, most recently living in his new girlfriend's hotel, spending up to 12 hours a day on the internet and taking advantage of the fact that there is no extradition treaty between Peru and Japan.

But too much time online can warp the mind... He has been making noises suggesting he wanted to return to Peru. Not, needless to say, to face the various charges brought against him; rather, to contest the 2006 elections and (one presumes) resume power where he had so abruptly left off in 2000.

To this purpose, he has been broadcasting radio shows for diffusion within Peru, setting up some kind of transpacific political infrastructure, and maintaining a trilingual website from which he can rebut attacks and denounce his attackers. At the bottom of every page is a little Flash gizmo that first shows us former Sendero head Abimael Guzmán, crossed out in red ink, and the words "Defeat of Terrorism"; then the acronyms APEC, IFM (IMF), World Bank, and the message "Re-insertion into the International Financial Community." This is, one takes it, what he would like us to remember of his presidency. Not, for instance, the suspension of Congress and civil rights, the massacres, the personalist control through bribery...

Fujimori arrives in SantiagoAlong with two others, my friend and colleague Max Cameron has started up a blog on the 2006 Peruvian elections, a blog which of necessity, and especially given Fujimori's surprise arrival in Chile and subsequent arrest there, has become increasingly a blog about the former president, his ambitions, and the rumours and responses to his activities.

Though much of the blog is a clearing house of information culled from the Peruvian press and NGOs (usually, but not always, in Spanish), Max himself has contributed some analysis on "Return of Fujimori" and "The Trouble with Alberto". Go read it.

For what it's worth, Fujimori's own political project is a more or less standard neoliberalism, and his style is very much the neoliberal anti-politics of all things to all men (and women). He's a shapeshifter: arriving on the political scene in 1990 as an unknown agronomist facing off against the flamboyant novelist Mario Vargas Llosa he seemed to be an empty, characterless vessel into which the electorate could pour their own hopes and desires. Precisely because he can seem so unassuming, his Spanish relatively slow and apparently devoid of fluency or rhetoric, and also because of the stereotype that saw "el chino" as inscrutably and demurely Asiatic, for a long time what Max terms his "immoderate ambition" and "the depth of his indifference toward the rule of law" could be overlooked.

Even so, the return of this zombie even to the margins of political respectability rather boggles the mind. It's surely not that he seeks redemption--for which contrition would be a pre-requisite.

It is, however, another sign that despite the obvious (political, moral, and often enough also literally economic) bankruptcy of neoliberalism in Latin America, no real alternative has yet emerged to replace it. Individual countries and regimes have come up with more or less patchwork post-neoliberal orders, from Kirchner's social democracy in Argentina to Chávez's telepopulism in Venezuela (and Lula's rebranding of the same old policies with Workers Party tags in Brazil), but they each have a rather rickety and ramshackle air.

We're in the interregnum. And to steal a quotation from More Better Analysis:
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum, morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass.
So while the crisis persists, we'll continue to be haunted by these undead ghouls from the past. But there are also some specters of a possible future around, not least in Peru's neighbour, Bolivia. In the meantime, though, we might want to keep a sharp eye around us in the dark nights and grey days of Lima's coastal fog.

Night of the Living Dead

Thursday, November 17, 2005


There's a certain fascination with why and how people join armed movements. All the more so when what's at issue is apparently "assimilated" Western Moslems turning to terror. Obviously, this process engenders a great deal of anxiety, which is no doubt why it also has to be retraced and narrativized over and over.

This is one context for what I'm trying to understand in writing about the Salvadoran FMLN...

It soon became apparent that the Salvadoran revolution would prove a "long war" (to use Dunkerley's phrase) in more ways than one: not only could it trace its inspiration back to the 1932 Communist uprising, bloodily repressed by the oligarchic state; it would also become one of the most sustained guerrilla insurgencies ever seen in the Americas. And by the mid-1980s the unsuitability of the FMLN's strategy for such a long war had become apparent. Hugh Byrne records that by the end of 1983, "the guerrillas were winning the war. However, the FMLN had military weaknesses. Its concentration of forces made the insurgents vulnerable to the assets of the armed forces, particularly helicopters, aircraft, and artillery" (104). Byrne goes on to observe that "a quasi-regular war played to one of the strengths of the ESAF [El Salvadoran Armed Forces]: its access to sophisticated equipment and extensive funds to wage a high-technology war (104). The FMLN therefore had to resort to flexibility, mobility, and nomadism to maintain its challenge to the Salvadoran state, abandoning ideological as well as military rigidity, even to a large extent abandoning ideology tout court. For Bracamonte and Spencer, it was this "lack of ideological trappings [that] allowed the FMLN to continually develop successful tactics that worked to near perfection" (8).

In place of ideology, affect. Joining the FMLN involved not the adoption of any specific set of beliefs, but a change in affective state, indeed a shift from the individualized subjectivity associated with emotion to the depersonalized commonality characteristic of affect. Almost all guerrilla testimonios testify to the trauma and the intense affective charge of the transition to clandestinity. For instance, Ana María Castillo ("Comandante Eugenia") is quoted to explain how becoming guerrilla is a form of social death: "You [. . .] will leave your family and friends, people dear to you will die. Members of your family, perhaps, will be captured to see if they can give you up. You won't be able to do a thing about it" (Alegría and Flakoll, No me agarran viva 55). Dialogue and discourse with the rest of the world, or the world left behind, become impossible: "You will even see people in the street who know you and your whole heart will be turned inside out with desires to say 'hi' at least, but you won't be able to. You'll have to keep on past them [. . .] and it'll hurt" (55). Clandestinity produces a separation for which the guerrilla returns apparently as specter: she can see and (here, at least) be seen, but cannot look back and cannot speak. She is suffused with desire (as well as hurt), but also helpless, desubjectivized, strangely passive: "you won't be able to do a thing about it." Her motives will have to go unrecognized, taken to be snobbery ("perhaps they'll think 'How stuck up that Eugenia is'" [55]) or, Eugenia later suggests, treachery: "All the comrades among the workers may even believe that I've betrayed them. That I've gone who knows where" (55). She has gone, and if she is brought back, it will only be as a corpse: "no me agarran viva" ("they won't take me alive").

At the same time, if the transition to clandestinity is a scission, and a desubstantialization, a becoming spectral, for the guerrilla it is also a bodily passage to union. Going underground is an immersion in the material that desubjectifies the guerrilla as he or she becomes immanent to the struggle and to the revolutionary movement. Charles Clements, a pacifist US doctor who spent a year with the FMLN around the Guazapa volcano, notes this emphasis on the corporeal in a conversation with the guide leading him to the war zone. Faced with the question "¿Porqué un gringo se incorporó?" Clements notes "the question puzzled me. I didn't understand the verb. '¿Qué quieres decir por incorporarse?' (What do you mean by 'incorporate'?) I asked. He explained to me that when you join the struggle, you 'incorporate' with the guerrillas--literally, I suppose, to join their body" (Witness to War 30). When Clements later himself realizes that he, too, despite himself and his sense of difference as gringo, as doctor, and as pacifist, has incorporated, has joined the social body and lost his sense of individuality ("I had altogether ceased to be Charlie Clements" [221]), he feels this as a crisis. His aim had been to keep neutral, to keep his distance. But in the Front, the "Zone" that the FMLN traverses, desubjectification is inevitable. And for the fighters, incorporation is also the fulfillment of a desire to be subsumed in the collectivity: while there is hurt and perhaps terror in the inhabitation of spectral excess, in the end there is the joy of commitment, of being fully enfolded within the struggle.

smiling guerrilla
For incorporation is experienced less as excess than as plenitude. This is the source of guerrilla joy. In No me agarran viva, Eugenia's husband Javier, also a guerrilla, says of her death: "In my view Eugenia died complete. Completely happy. Her death simply crowned with heroism a life profoundly given over, without any remainder" (147; my emphasis). Becoming-guerrilla is social death, but asocial rebirth. According to Edwin Ayala, "Here in the Front you are born again, everything is new, you learn everything, you start on your first steps" (El tope y más allá 60). So returning to social order could be quite as traumatic as becoming clandestine. Concluding his testimonio with an account of his 1992 demobilization, Ayala lists everything he will miss about guerrilla life, from singing to making tea on an open fire or constructing air-raid shelters, and the collective affect of "feeling everyone's happiness at the moment of a victory." He contemplates a future of "boredom what with all the hassle and navigating the world of 'civilization' again" (277). At the threshold between what is implicitly "barbarism" and his reinsertion into "civilization," he meets the mother of a fallen comrade: "I left the multitude to go up to a person; at first I hesitated, but up I went, it was Leo's mother. Standing before her, I couldn't find anything to say. She was sitting down. So I crouched down and asked, 'Are you really Leo's mother?'" (276). For Ayala the shock of re-entering civilian life is a transition from the multitude back to the individual, from silence to a speech that names family ties and social position. From affect, to an affectless boredom and emptiness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Over on Michael Bérubé's blog, John McGowan offers yet another "potted" account of cultural studies and hegemony theory. What's striking is the way in which he unabashedly takes the populist logic of cultural studies and suggests applying it to what he terms "politics-on-the-ground" (as opposed to some politics-in-the-air, one presumes):
politics-on-the-ground in the United States tends to offer two possible avenues of action. Either individuals or a group or a coalition of groups can try to capture one of the major parties. (Of course, there is also the recurring fantasy of—sometimes linked to valiant efforts to—create a viable new party, a feat only pulled off once in American history.) Or individuals or a group or a coalition of groups can try to address the sitting government directly, bypassing the parties.
There's the populist fantasy in a nutshell.

So let me offer a snippet from the conclusion to Posthegemony's first chapter...

Populism structures both hegemony theory and cultural studies. Indeed, it gives cultural studies what little coherence and consistency the discipline has. The attractions and seductions of this populism are clear: it provides a broad terrain of activity and analysis, expanding the sphere of politics from the formal arena of debate and policy-making to the swathe of mostly everyday practices that constitute culture. Populism offers another front for a politicized undertaking that has lost its way with the decline of Marxism. It also rings true in a context in which the cultural economy is taken as seriously as any other sector of the economy, in which the "sound bite" dominates as traditional political allegiances wither, in which the media are more extensive and more significant than ever, in which our subjectivities are molded ever more by taste and consumption, in short in which, as Fredric Jameson puts it, "'culture' has become a veritable 'second nature'" (Postmodernism ix). At the same time, in this same context, populism is also a source of anxiety and uncertainty. Its uselessness as a political compass is clear as soon as one steps from the passion and fervor that the populist impulse itself inspires. After all, is not the anti-globalization critique of Americanism, à la Jose Bové's campaign again McDonalds, as populist as the celebration of US popular culture and taste upon which so much of McDonalds' own image and advertising depend?

One response might be to argue that populism is less compass than weathervane: simply a more or less neutral reflex, an inevitable accompaniment to political activity. In some ways this is Laclau's position: politics is inconceivable without populism, so although populism has no pre-determined political valence, it should be welcomed rather than denigrated. What would be important therefore would be differentiating between populisms, between populism as a progressive project and populism as the ground for conservative reaction. There are, however, two problems with this position: first, the difficulty of resolving to any satisfaction how to distinguish between left and right populism; and second, more importantly, that populism itself does political work. By presenting hegemony as the only conceivable form of politics, it helps conceal other modes of political command or struggle. Populism enables a series of substitutions that fetishize culture at the expense of the institutional, and establish transcendence and sovereignty in place of immanent processes or micropolitical struggles. Populism simplifies the double register through which the social coheres, obscuring the mechanisms by which transcendence is produced from immanence, subjective emotion from impersonal affect, signifying discourse from asignifying habit, people from multitude, and constituted from constituent power, precisely because it is one of those mechanisms. The task of posthegemony theory is first to uncover what has been obscured in these substitutions, and then to outline the means by which their suppression has been achieved, enforced, naturalized, and legitimated. In sum, social order has to be disarticulated, to reveal both its mute underside and the process by which it has been ventriloquized, made to speak but in another's voice.

Above all, hegemony theory's political work consists in presenting social order as the result of either coercion or consent. Dominance is achieved, it suggests, either by imposition from above or through agreement from below. People are either overpowered by a transcendent state, or they willingly subscribe to a dominant ideology. And in that a relation of pure coercion is unthinkable, hegemony theory posits that there is always at least a residue of willed acquiescence. People stick together, forming societies and submitting to their laws, because in one way or another they think the same things, in the same ways. Hence the culturalism of cultural studies: communities gain their consistency and coherence through a shared set of beliefs and ideologies. Hegemony theory is the last gasp of the contractualism that has justified the bounded forms of modern social formations at least since the sixteenth century. However modified, it is still a rationalism: people give up their consent because it seems reasonable to do so, given what they know and believe (even if those beliefs are themselves ideological or irrational). But this dichotomy between coercion and consent is a debilitating simplification.

[. . .]

In the end, populism, and so also cultural studies, is an anti-politics. No wonder cultural studies has been derided for its complicity with the status quo, however much it wields the rhetoric of radicalism. It is not so much that its practitioners are victims of bad faith. It is that cultural studies takes hegemony at its own word, and so misses the ways in which hegemonic processes stand in for other, more complex, means by which dominance is asserted and reproduced. Cultural studies thereby reinforces sovereignty, the notion that power comes from above, and that the only options for the dominated are negotiation or acquiescence. It is blind to the ways in which state institutions in fact emerge from immanent processes, and secure their legitimacy well below consciousness, with no need of words. So long as cultural studies continues to take these processes for granted, then all its articulate verbosity is no more than a form of complicitous silence.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Instead of transcendence, immanence; instead of determination by the economic base, the abstract machine; instead of hegemony, the diagram.

"The diagram," Deleuze argues in his book on Foucault, "acts as a non-unifying immanent cause that is coextensive with the whole social field: the abstract machine is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place 'not above' but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce" (Foucault 37).

"Of course," then, "this has nothing to do with a transcendent idea or with an ideological superstructure, or even with an economic infrastructure, which is already qualified by its substance and defined by its form and use" (36-37).

The diagram is abstract (an "abstract machine") because it precedes the distinction between form and substance, "between content and expression, between a discursive formation and a non-discursive formation" (34). Such distinctions are only a consequence of the abstract machine's realization (though surely what's meant is "actualization"?) in concrete social orders: "it is here that two forms of realization diverge or become differentiated: a form of expression and a form of content, a discursive and a non-discursive form, the form of the visible and the form of the articulable" (38; emphasis in original).

One cannot hope to explain one element of this bifurcation by the other--to explain discursive formations by resorting to some material ground, or to explain the material by reference to discursive strategies. It is the cause of the bifurcation itself, and its distinctive delineation in any given society, that has first to be explained.

For there is nothing ahistorical about the abstract machine. "The history of forms, the archive, is doubled by an evolution of forces, the diagram" (43). Hence Deleuze can argue that "there are as many diagrams as there are social fields in history" (34) and "every society has its diagram(s)" (35): the diagram of "modern disciplinarian societies" differs from that of "the ancient sovereign societies" (34); the society of control (not named as such here) corresponds to yet another diagram. From theatre to factory to...

Then there are also "intermediary diagrams, in which we shift from one society to another [. . .]. This is because the diagram is highly unstable or fluid, continually churning up matter and functions in a way likely to create change" (35).

It's not entirely clear here how Deleuze envisages the process of change. There's something rather functionalist about his account. Here, at least, there's no conception of agency or constituent power. But he does describe the notion of a gap within which change might be engineered.

For it's precisely because institutions do not determine statements (though "any institution implies the existence of statements" [9]) and statements do not determine institutions (though, reciprocally, "statements refer back to an institutional milieu" [9]), in other words it's precisely because we can throw out the concepts of either determination or even overdetermination, that we can attend to the non-coincidence between discourse and the non-discursive as a site of possibility or potential.

For every society will be defined by the "gap or disjunction" that opens up "between the visible and the articulable," the "'non-place' [. . .] where the informal diagram is swallowed up and becomes embodied instead in two different directions that are necessarily divergent and irreducible" (38). Every society, in short, is defined by the "crack" that traverses it and "that determines how the abstract machine performs" (38). And this crack enables us to see that "there is no diagram that does not also include, besides the points which it connects up, certain relatively free points, points of creativity, change and resistance" (44).

But again, a posthegemonic understanding of social order must first grapple with the "common, immanent cause which works informally" and analyze the ways in which "every mechanism is a mushy measure of the visible and the articulable" (38) before then explaining how the two come to appear so radically separated, one determining the other, to conjure up (inter alia) the deus ex machina of hegemony.

[Meanwhile, I wonder about the "Diagram Poems" of Douglas Oliver.]

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Spurred on by Le Colonel Chabert, here are some thoughts I wrote up a little while ago about Caroline Alexander's The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty...

At the end of it all, the most interesting thing that emerges is the extent to which the mutineers (but not just the mutineers) were affected by their five-month stay in Tahiti (Otaheite as they called it), picking Breadfruit prior to the voyage home. Allegedly (and on this, as on much else, there's much dispute) as they sailed off from Bligh and his loyalists after the mutiny, they called out "Huzza for Otaheite!" This has been disputed by those sympathetic to Fletcher Christian et. al., who wish to suggest that their motive was not to return to the easy life (and easy sex) of the South Pacific, but to rid themselves of Bligh's tyrannical authoritarianism. But why should the two be mutually exclusive?

Or even, why not revolt for something better, rather than merely against something worse?

Moreover, and pace Alexander's refrain as to how much the Europeans tainted and finally destroyed the Pacific paradise (introducing sexually transmitted diseases, but also the general strife and possessive individualism of Western ways), what's really remarkable is the extent to which the Europeans were themselves affected or even infected by Tahitian custom and culture.

It seems that the Bounty's crew would frequently converse in the Tahitian language, and indeed one of the (convicted, but pardoned) mutineers, Peter Heywood, spent most of his time awaiting what he thought would be execution writing up a dictionary of the language. Another mutineer, James Morrison, devoted "nearly half" of the 382-page book that was his account of the voyage and defence of his actions to "Tahitian culture and customs, geography and natural history. [. . .] The work is an extraordinary and valuable document of Tahitian life as it had been before the coming of the Europeans, and would never be again" (335).

Well, yes, Tahiti was irrevocably altered; but so were these Europeans, and perhaps also Europe as a whole. Alexander's main argument (in so far as she has one, in the morass of description) is that the Bounty story struck home so because it occurred at the cusp of Romanticism, and Christian stood as "the perfect Romantic hero" at "the dawn of this new era, which saw devotion to a code of duty and established authority as less honourable than the celebration of individual passions and liberty" (344, 345).

From this perspective, the Bounty story revolves less around the power relations between master and crew, though that is how it has been read, in terms of whether or not Bligh deserved to be overthrown; rather, it's more about the possibility of "going native," a possibility that carries with it the germ of what will become Romanticism.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Further as to whether boredom is affect or affectlessness: Giorgio Agamben's reading of Heidegger in The Open ascribes to boredom ("profound boredom") a privileged role in the anthropological machine producing humanity from animality.

Boredom is the site of "an operation enacted upon the not-open of the animal world" (62) by which (what will come to be) the human suspends its animal captivation with its habitual stimuli, the "carriers of significance which constitute its environment" (41). It is in that suspension that the living being "awaken[s] [. . .] to its own being-captivated" (70). And it is this awakening, this "anxious and resolute opening to the not-open, [that] is the human" (70). "Dasein," Agamben concludes, "is simply an animal that has learned to become bored" (70).

This is what separates us from the beasts: our sense of tedium, both the tedium of having nothing especially to occupy us, and the tediousness of what does occupy us, what enables us briefly to forget how much we are enclosed by our habits.

Boredom, in this sense, is a non-relation. Or rather, it is the estrangement of our relationship to our normal preoccupations, our captivated relations with our environment. As such, then, it is either pure affectlessness or, perhaps better, a kind of degree zero of affect: the affect proper to the Body without Organs?

But how to relate this boredom, as a functional part of the anthropological machine, with the post-anthropological figure of "otium" or "workless [. . .] inactivity" (87) that for Agamben defines our post-anthropological predicament or possibility? This "human nature rendered perfectly inoperative" (87) would also seem to be far distant either from captivation or from any determinate affect.

Agamben's figure for otium is a painting by Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, itself a reworking of an earlier Titian, The Three Ages of Man.

The Three Ages of Man
Drawing on the work of Judith Dundas, Agamben suggests that Nymph and Shepherd is "in a darker, more despairing key" than the earlier painting (86). He says that its atmosphere is simultaneously "both exhausted sensuality and subdued melancholy," and he quotes Erwin Panofksy to the effect that it is "fraught with emotion," too much so for any allegorical interpretation, but this is an emotion that is "restrained and somber" (85).

Nymph and Shephere
In this image of inactivity, then, rather than a degree zero of affect, we have something like its surplus, its excess beyond habit or function: an affect that manifests its resistance to narrative, to allegory.

Agamben argues that in their "mutual disenchantment," the figures in Titian's painting have entered "a new and more blessed life, one that is neither animal nor human. It is not nature that is reached in their fulfillment, but rather [. . .] a higher stage beyond both nature and knowledge, beyond concealment and disconcealment" (87). Theirs is a "zone of non-knowledge" (91) that is also a fundamental disarticulation of the machine that produces humanity from animality, and so also of the machine that lies at the heart of (bio)politics.

Against the articulations of hegemony, then, the disarticulation of some blessed post-humanity, marked by its otiose surplus of affectivity.

But again, this post-historical, post-human heaven, in which nothing ever happens: well, won't it be rather boring?

For more discussion of The Open, see The Weblog's reading group archive.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

piracy redux

It would be remiss of me not to point to the news that pirates have now started attacking Western cruise ships.

UPDATE: And now more, from The Observer.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Magali M. Carrera emphasizes the way in which the shift from a colonial regime of power in Latin America also implies the constitution of new "kinds of time" ("From Royal Subject to Citizen" 32). Late eighteenth-century writers "transfer the reader out of the fixed present of New Spain into alternative realms of time: the non-chronological, allegorical and futuristic time of utopia" on the one hand "and the legendary, idealised past" of foundational fictions on the other (32).

For a postcolonial society even to be envisaged, that society must be placed within historical time, and allocated both a destiny and an origin.

Benedict Anderson's point about the temporality of national consciousness is similar. Anderson writes that it is "the idea of a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous, empty time [that] is a precise analogue of the idea of the nation, which is also conceived as a solid community moving steadily down (or up) history" (Imagined Communities 26).

But where Anderson argues that this temporality is particular to the novel and the newspaper, and so to print capitalism, Carrera wants to show ways in which it was also visualized, depicted in the art as well as the literature of the nascent Spanish American republics.

So whereas Anderson traces a shift from a medieval culture in which "the figuring of imagined reality was overwhelmingly visual and aural" (23) to the novel and the newspaper as "forms [that] provided the technical means for 're-presenting' the kind of imagined community that is the nation" (25), Carrera shows how the iconography of Empire was replaced with an alternative visual imagination specific to national self-determination. From "casta paintings" that map social hierarchy indelibly onto biology, to historical narratives of social invention such as José Obregón's The Discovery of Pulque.

Casta painting
The Discovery of Pulque
Painters such as Obregón, then, contest the ways in which the art of Empire "laid out the static sociopolitical territory of the royal subject's body visually." They therefore "revise and transform the eighteenth-century political and social construction of the royal subject into that of the nationalist body" (19).

From a categorization of ideal types, as found in the casta paintings, in which each limb or organ of society should know its rightful place, to the historicization of identity as part of a dynamic social whole. Obregón takes the calcified representations of the indigenous, "remove[s] them from the present and place[s] them into an originating and allegorical time" (32).

Of course, the price that the indigenous pay is that, restored to history by the mestizo state, they are also marginalized and rendered invisible in the present.