Friday, March 31, 2006


Images of Britney Spears all around. Different forms of kitsch, different juxtapositions of mass culture and politics, different layerings of irony...

From Tomas Van Houtryve, a t-shirt on a Nepalese Maoist:

via antipopper, who gave us this poster child for a Britneyist-Marxist International:

Meanwhile, compare this, a "pro-life" sculpture:

Britney sculpture
See also infinite th0ught's "modernism's spears of destiny" and Wrong Side of Capitalism's "The work of Britney in the age of mechanical reproduction".

And see further Jane Renaud's "Old Bev: POP! Culture" and Timothy Don's "Negotiations 7: Channeling Britney", both at 3QuarksDaily.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Gayatri SpivakHot on the heels of the rather successful Tronti symposium at Long Sunday, it has been suggested that we turn our collective attention and efforts to Gayatri Spivak.

It is possible that this might be an enterprise that would bring together the forces of Long Sunday, the Weblog, and the Valve.

Spivak is interesting for her attempts to combine Marxism and deconstruction in the name of postcolonial feminism, and at the crossroads of literary studies and philosophy. There are many constituencies she is out to reach--and many, perhaps as a consequence, who take exception to her work.

For a particularly snotty review of Critique of Postcolonial Reason--a work that the reviewer shows few obvious signs of having read--see Terry Eagleton's "In the Gaudy Supermarket". The subsequent brouhaha, including a contribution from one Judith Butler, was played out in the letters pages here and here.

Among other things, Eagleton accuses Spivak of "eclecticism," in the passage from which his review takes its title:
If an abrupt leaping from Jane Eyre to the Asiatic Mode of Production challenges the staider compositional notions of white male scholars, it also has more than a smack of good old American eclecticism about it. In this gaudy, all-licensed supermarket of the mind, any idea can apparently be permutated with any other.
Which, should its adherents wish to ally themselves with Eagleton, could prove grist to the mill of the so-called "higher eclecticism".

So who's up for such a reading?

Texts: let me propose "Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value", from In Other Worlds--an essay to which Negri responds in "Value and Affect". Or perhaps "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" (likewise found in In Other Worlds). Matt is keen on "Ghostwriting" (diacritics 25.2 [1995]: 65-84). And the updated "Can the Subaltern Speak?" has also been suggested.

(Supplementary: Keith points us to "The Trajectory of the Subaltern in My Work", a filmed lecture given at Santa Barbara and now available online. But make some time to watch it: it's an hour and a half long.)

Volunteers: So far, Amish, az, Craig, Dominic, Jodi, John, Keith, Matt, Nate, Scott, s0metim3s, Squibb. Plus myself.

Dates: either the week of April 17th or the week of the 24th.

Update: we now have a schedule.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Monday Arguediana

river in floodTodas las sangres ends with yet another image of the "yawar mayu", the "blood river," which Arguedas himself here glosses as a "desperate outpouring of tears, the first waters of the rivers in flood, the moment in the dance when the men start to fight" (410).

The yawar mayu is first associated with the "kurku" Getrudis, the dwarf maidservant to the drunken and bedridden Peralta mother. The kurku is also at the origin of Don Bruno Aragón de Peralta's downfall and curse: he had raped her, getting her pregnant with a child who turned out to be a monster, stillborn. It's suggested also that this traumatic act, preying on the most vulnerable, the most subaltern figure imaginable, was also the source of Bruno's mother's misery: "What happened to my mother when the kurku Getrudis gave birth to a condemned thing: a dead foetus covered in bristles?" (25). But by the end of the novel, and with her mistress dead, the kurku finds some kind of redemption for the purity of her voice and the hymns that she composes and sings.

The kurku "has been sanctified" (411) and is "chosen by the Lord" (410) thanks, it appears, to the depth of her suffering. For in Arguedas, suffering, purification, truth, and finally vengeance are always associated. Hence "the river of blood that breaks from her heart [. . .]. At some point, perhaps now, perhaps in a hundred years, her tears will drown the thieves who stole La Esmeralda, the men who had the great silversmith and man of purity, Bellido, killed" (410).

So the yawar mayu is an outpouring of passion long built up in suffering, finally flowing violently and uncontrollably, destroying all that lies in its path. In William Rowe's words, it is "a tidal wave of passion that breaks all boundaries" (Ensayos Arguedianos 92).

And ultimately it is Don Bruno, the kurku's aggressor, who acts out the yawar mayu's cleansing destruction. For following his initial violence as stain, as (self-)condemnation, in the interval Bruno too has learned to suffer. He too becomes, and learns to become, a victim: of his own sexual violence, of his father's curse, and ultimately of the modernizing tendencies introduced by multinational capital that is itself sweeping away all that lies before it.

At the culmination of Todas las sangres, then, two devastating flows meet, conjugate, and compete. The town of San Pedro has been destroyed, its church razed by the mestizos now sidelined from history. Their land has been forcibly appropriated by the Wisther-Bozart corporation, which has suborned the state for the purpose of mineral extraction and capital gain. And Don Bruno, like his mother and father before him increasingly identified with the indigenous multitude, is on the warpath, "a river of blood in [his] eyes; the yawar mayu of which the Indians spoke. The river was about to break its banks over him with more power than any sudden upsurge of the raging torrent that ran through a gorge, five hundred metres beyond his own hacienda's canefields" (437).

Bruno heads first for the neighbouring estate of Don Lucas, a landlord who mistreats and underpays his peons and farm manager alike. Declaring himself an agent of God's own justice, Bruno shoots Lucas dead and hands over his property to the Indians, declaring "I have killed him in order to redeem myself. [. . .] I have killed Don Lucas on orders from on high." "You have suffered more than God himself," he tells the Indians, "you are innocent..." (438). And Arguedas treats this murder and its consequences with remarkable equanimity, suggesting that nature itself covers over the stench almost immediately:
The colonos [indigenous peons] began meeting in council at Don Lucas's hacienda. The former lord's corpse, disfigured and bloody, was by now black with the flies that crawled over it. But the orange trees gave off a gentle light and a bit of freshness to the burning courtyard. (439)
Having downed this representative of feudal corruption, Bruno then makes for his brother, Don Fermín, the modernizer whose dream has been to convert the Indians into a wage labouring rural working class. "You sold out to the mining company," Bruno tells him. "You sold out your people; you sold out me" (440). And Bruno shoots, but this time only manages to wound, his brother, with the antique pistol that is his only inheritance from their father.

He then sits down and he "began to weep. His tears fell like a waterfall from his eyes, running over his throat, bathing his face, falling on the old brick floor. [. . .] The mestizo woman couldn't stop herself from crying out 'He's weeping for his child, for his whole life, for his whole life he is weeping!'" (441).

Bruno is stopped, arrested and jailed, and his right-hand man Demetrio Rendón Willka is shot by impromptu firing squad. But the messianism that imbues these final pages of Arguedas's masterpiece continues. Just before he is shot, Rendón Willka, who is by Arguedas's own admission the true if somewhat inscrutable hero of the piece, declares "Our heart is made of fire. Here, and everywhere! We've finally discovered the fatherland. And you, sir, are not going to kill the fatherland." After giving the order to shoot, the captain commanding the firing squad, "as well as the other guards, heard the sound of great torrents shaking the ground far beneath them, as if the mountains had begun to move" (455).

Meanwhile in Lima, the shadowy figure who controls all the strings, the Czar, is conferring with one of his henchmen, Palalo:
"What was that noise, my President?"
"What noise, Palalo?"
"Didn't you feel it? Listen. It's as though a subterranean river were beginning to rise up."
"It's a bad night, Palalo! You're getting feeble," the Czar replied. "I don't hear a thing. I'm full of health and I'm conscious only of what my will desires."
But the kurku also heard the noise; Don Bruno heard it; and Don Fermín and [his wife] Matilde listened to it with fearful enthusiasm. (456)
The question, however, remains as to whether this flooding river is really the cleansing flow of divine judgement, from and after which a new society can be built, a community governed by true solidarity (as William Rowe suggests).

Or is it closer to the self-destructive line of flight of an incipient fascism: either the "rivers of blood" shortly to be invoked in the UK by anti-immigration MP Enoch Powell; or perhaps an anticipation of the terror that would come to the Andes a couple of decades later, as Sendero Luminoso brought their own promises of a "river of blood, purifying blood"

Sendero Luminoso
"Los senderistas llegaron a Yerbabuena," by Edilberto Jiménez, via Rómpete el ojo

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Thanks to Isis who, in the comments to my last post, provided a link to the Argentine government's website 24 de Marzo 1976-2006, detailing the coup, the military regime, and the various post-dictatorial governments.

There's a lot of material there. But, following on from my discussion of communiqué 23, I was particularly interested to see the details of all the communiqués issued by the Junta. They detail, after all, the refoundation of the state as a state of exception. And interestingly, in fact they are not all prohibitions: they also outline a program, and attempt already to interpellate the citizen body.

Communiqué 1:
The population are informed that as of today the country is under the operational control of a Junta of the General Command of the Armed Forces. Everyone is recommended to defer strictly to the orders and directives put out by the military, security, or police authorities, and to exercise caution so that they avoid individual or group actions or attitudes that might provoke drastic intervention from operational personnel.
Communiqué 2:
To preserve order and tranquility, the population are reminded of the ongoing state of exception [estado de sitio]. Everyone is to refrain from organizing meetings in public and from passing on alarmist news. Those that do so will be detained by the military, security, or police authorities. Likewise you are warned that any demonstration in favour of the guerrilla will be severely repressed.

Communiqué 7:
The national government reminds you that the obligatory intervention of the Armed Forces has been effected so as to benefit the whole country, and is not directed against any particular social groups. The process of reorganization that is now underway, and which will bring about the rapid recovery of the country and the welfare of its inhabitants, requires the collaboration of everyone. So the population are called upon to reflect, and workers and bosses alike are urged to work together and ensure that labour relations remain governed by an atmosphere of liberty and mutual respect.

You are advised that as all labour regulations [for medidas de fuerza?] are suspended, as likewise are all those that could affect productivity, any differences should be resolved peacefully, by means of the intervention of the relevant authority.

Workers are recommended to ignore any incitation to either violence or the refusal to undertake their obligations, given that such an attitude definitely goes against their own interests.

And bosses are warned to refrain from inflicting arbitrary measures against their workforce, which the authorities have the obligation to curtail.

Communiqué 13:
In this momentous period that the Republic is going through, the Junta of the General Command of the Armed Forces turns to the young people of the fatherland, calling on them to participate, without grudge or preconception, in the process of reorganization now underway.

This is a process that has established as a preliminary step forward the full application of the ethical and moral values that are the guide and reason for the conduct of ever young Argentine deserving of that name.

This is a process marked by the authenticity of its principles and of the facts that give it reason and foundation, so satisfying the thirst for sincerity and frankness repeatedly brandished, as a basic demand, by all sectors representative of our young people.

This is a process in which each young person should have every possible pathway and goal open to him, without any other requirement than his capacity and his application to productive labour [contracción al trabajo fecundo].

The fruit of the task undertaken by the Armed Forces will be the materialization of a future that is more prosperous, more worthy, more noble, and more just. Our youth of today will be the recipients and beneficiaries of this brighter tomorrow that we will build in collaboration with all the Argentine people.

It is for the benefit of this future, and the arduous task that we have taken on, that the Armed Forces make this lively and unignorable appeal to the young people, that, as an integral part of the national community, they contribute their enthusiasm, idealism, and selflessness to the construction of a fatherland that could be the pride of all this land's sons and daughters.
And finally, yes, Communiqué 23:
We inform the public that an exception has been made to the rules governing national radio and television transmission, enabling the broadcast programmed for today of the football game to be played between the national teams of Argentina and Poland.
(NB, for some reason communiqués 24-26 aren't on this list.)

Friday, March 24, 2006


Below is the front page of Argentine daily newspaper Clarín, from March 25th 1976, thirty years ago, the day after the coup d'état that ushered in the so-called "Process of National Reconstruction." A "Process" in which some 30,000 would be killed.

Clarin 25th March 1976
At the bottom of the page, the news of Argentina beating Poland at football. (For fact fans, Ezequiel Fernández Moores tells us that the score was 2-1, with goals from Héctor Scotta and René Houseman.) Ariel Scher explains in "Fuera de juego":
The most brutal of Argentina's brutal dictatorships decided almost from the first minute of its reign that sport would play on its team. It tried to use sport and even mould it in its own manner. Just a few hours after the coup d'état of March 1976, at a time when Argentina could be summed up in terms of a collection of proclamations from the military junta all of which began with the words "It is prohibited," the authoritarian leadership released communiqué number 23, the only one designed to permit rather than prohibit something. And what was permitted was the broadcast of the football game due to take place in Poland between the Argentine and the Polish national teams. And so it was: in the middle of all the crimes against humanity, proscriptions, kidnappings, disappearances, incarcerations, and with television showing otherwise only the national coat of arms, immobile, for a while you could watch the football. And that this happened is not just another anecdote or the result of some whim. Sport was always squarely in the gaze of dictatorial power.
Meanwhile, the message at the top of the page: "Total Normality."

(For more, go here or, better, here [and thanks to Isis in the comments for the second link].)

Cross-posted to Long Sunday.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Re-reading "The Strategy of Refusal," the verve, confidence, and daring of Tronti's formulations are striking. What's established, then, in this and other early examples of Italian operaismo, is a style of intellectual engagement: brash, iconoclastic, sweeping, taking no prisoners.

This is a style of writing that aspires to separate itself radically from all intellectual production hitherto, indeed from intellectuality as it has been traditionally conceived tout court. No more "organic intellectuals" of the Gramscian inheritance; these are but parasites of the Communist party and the labour movement (16).

More at Long Sunday.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Caribe HiltonFrom an architecture designed to repel nomads, to one whose aim is to attract them...

I was staying last week in San Juan's Caribe Hilton. (I know, it's a tough job; but someone has to do it.) At first sight the Hilton is just another hotel like so many others. But in part precisely for that reason, it turns out that this is an important piece of Caribbean architecture, and of "tropical modernism."

According to Enrique Vivoni-Farage's "The Architecture of Power", the designs presented by US architects for this 1949 building were in Spanish Renaissance Revival style, in line with Conrad Hilton's own desires. But all three Puerto Rican submissions to the competition were in International Style, inspired rather by the Modern Movement.

As Periferia puts it, the values the winning design promoted were modernity and efficiency, over "the curious and the picturesque." This fit much better with the spirit of "Operation Bootstrap," the economic and political program by which Puerto Rico would be propelled into industrial modernity.

bar at Caribe Hilton
Apparently, the hotel's original bar was quite a striking example of postwar modernist styling. Now, after a recent extensive refit, its aesthetic is much blander, much less hard-edged. As James Russell observes, today the neighbouring Normandie, designed in 1939 Art Deco imitation of a cruise liner, has in fact the much more interesting interior.

Back at the Hilton, a touch of the exotic has been returned with the presence of two caged parrots in the lobby, opposite the check-in desk--though sometimes, it appears, these birds are allowed to sit on top of their cages, rather than simply within them.

Perhaps this is an emblem of the false freedom that Vivoni-Farage reads in the Hilton's modernism. He sees the choice of the International Style as an illusory decolonization, in which culture stands in for politics. The rejection of Spanish Renaissance style
gave the Puerto Ricans an illusion of "freedom" instead of truly liberating them from a colonial situation. Architecture served as a palliative, where the Modern was synonymous with freedom and the good life.
By contrast, it is the opposite that is usually said of the rest of Latin America: that formal political independence in the 1820s has never really been backed by true cultural autonomy.

Meanwhile, and via The Morning News (full article here), some suitably modern guests of the Caribe Hilton, from 1959:

Caribe Hilton Guests

Monday, March 20, 2006


Monday Arguediana

More ruins... But in Todas las sangres Arguedas is less interested in physical ruins than in the fragmentation and ruination of a social order, and particularly of the dying order's dominant class.

The story concerns the transition from a feudal economy based upon agriculture to a modern, capitalist economy of mineral extraction. Such a transition is not an instance of modernization in any simple sense: mineral extraction had always been at the heart of Spanish Imperial ambitions in Peru--above all, of course, Upper Peru, now Bolivia, which contained the "cerro rico" of Potosí. So mining might also be seen as a recolonization, and what's at issue here is the competition between national and international capital, between local landowner Fermín Aragón on the one hand and the foreign corporation Wisther-Bozart on the other.

Potosi mine
From Loïc Venance's photo series on Potosí

Among those caught up in the ensuing struggle are Fermín's brother, Bruno, who is the very model of an old-style landowner; Fermín's mining engineer, Cabrejos, a "faithful disciple of the North American school" (77) who is in fact in the pay of Wisther-Bozart; and Demetrio Rendón Willka, an "ex indian" whose task is to harness Don Bruno's indigenous peons in the name of the mining operation.

Cast aside, meanwhile, is the former governing class of this mining village, the "ruined notables" who have been gradually bought out by the Aragóns (81). Their houses have slowly decayed as though in sympathy with their fate:
the doors now losing their paint or varnish began to be covered in dust, and to take on the ruinousness of the walls, of the roofs, of the large courtyards and dirty arcades. The whole town started to take on an air of irredeemable age. The Aragón de Peraltas flourished by remaining on top of the desperate rival bands, untouchable. (69)
But Fermín still needs the last pieces of land to which this declining aristocracy maintains its title--and Cabrejos aims to ensure that these landowners don't sell up.

At stake is a conflict not only between old capital and new, national and international, but also between the ruination suffered by the old, and the corruption embraced by the ambitious. Fermín, we are told, can no longer hear the birds that belong to a nature he views only extractively: "he has lost the gift of hearing them thanks to corrupt capital"; his wife is asked to "ensure that ambition does not continue to corrupt him" (76).

But the whole town is soon swept into a web of deceit and corruption, in which old grudges or desires are rekindled and stoked by the various competing forces: Rendón Willka's traumatic bullying at the hands of his schoolmates, or the chauffeur Gregorio's fancy for shopkeeper Doña Asusta.

Moreover, the discourse of corruption is also retranslated into meditations on cleanliness and fanaticism, both of which have premonitory resonances for the subsequent history of Sendero Luminoso in highland Peru.

Back with the novel, we'll see what plays out: whether either Bruno or Fermín can overcome the taint of the curses their father throws down at them from the church tower in the powerful scene that opens the novel; whether Cabrejos has met his match in either Fermín or Willka; and whether Willka himself can maintain his mediating role, slipping in and out of indigeneity or mestizaje as circumstances change. (My guesses: no; yes; no.)

Update: In answer to my questions... arguably Bruno does redeem himself, and perhaps so does Fermín, too; then it turns out that Cabrejos meets his match in the woman whose suitor he killed, rather than in any of the men; and at the end, mediation of any kind proves impossible, I think.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


What would the architecture of the Caribbean be without the pirates from whom the Spanish Empire constantly sought defence and protection?

The Spaniards constructed an elaborate system of fortifications across the Caribbean basin: from Veracruz, from which the fleet carrying Mexican silver would sail; to Panama and Nombre de Dios, through which Peruvian and Philippine treasure was routed; on to Havana, where the fleets converged; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, which Philip II called "the key to the Indies."

map of Spanish Caribbean forts
The walled city of San Juan, and the El Morro fort that guards its harbour, are particularly impressive. The first defences were constructed in the sixteenth century, and helped repel Drake's 1595 attack. Three years later, another English privateer, the Earl of Cumberland, took the fort by attacking overland rather than from the sea, but this expedition was defeated eventually as his men succumbed to dysentery. The Spaniards then rebuilt El Morro stronger than ever, and saw off a Dutch attack in 1625. Further building continued for another 150 years, producing massive walls and further forts all around the island on which Old San Juan sits.

El Morro was subject to US bombardment during the war of 1898, but the Americans subsequently themselves rebuilt parts of the site in World War II pillbox fashion, turning it into a lookout now against the possibility of German U-Boats advancing across the Atlantic.

El Morro fort
But although the prodigious engineering that went into this edifice is ascribed to the Irish-born Colonel Thomas O'Daly, surely this architecture of counter-insurgency should also be credited at least in part to the nomadic pirates against whom it was arrayed?

Friday, March 17, 2006


One thing I liked about Pete de Bolla's book Art Matters is his comment on the way in which a work of art can strike the viewer or listener dumb. The aesthetic experience gives us pause, if only briefly. We catch our breath, uncertain as to how to continue.

Mark Quinn, SelfDe Bolla's example of art throwing a spanner in the works of discourse is his account of Marc Quinn's Self. This is a sculpture of the artist's head made with nine pints of his own frozen blood.

I was reminded of this listening the other day to an account of Teresa Margolles's Instalación con Vapor, in which spectators enter a misty cloud made up, they soon learn, of water used to wash the dead in Mexico City's morgue. (More on Margolles, perhaps, anon.)

But there's no need to look simply at experimental or high art. Think for instance of the point at which the credits start rolling in the cinema, and the silence as you walk out of the building, before the commentary begins. We've been affected by the experience, but have yet to convert that affect into critique or analysis.

In these pauses all sorts of reactions are still possible. They constitute a temporality full of intensity, of incompossible articulations that have yet to be actualized. This is a silence that's far from empty.

We are normally suspicious of silence. Silence=Death. Silence is cowardice. Silence is the result of power's silencing.

But especially in the face of the hyperarticulacy that circulates in and around politics, the media, and the academy, it might be worth revalidating those brief pauses in which everything is still to be said, in which positions are yet to be taken. In which judgement remains in abeyance.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Monday Arguediana

Peru Tourist Board imageDespite everything, readers still come to Arguedas looking for the voice of the subaltern. Arguedas is presented as a privileged translator between Quechua and Spanish, indigenous and Western, archaic and modern. "Speaking and writing from within," his is "an authentic, autonomous, testimonial, and metatestimonial voice" (Sandoval xxxvi).

Yes, critics are usually prepared to concede that nothing is ever quite so simple: the subaltern remains always somehow inaccessible; translation is acknowledged to be a risky, imperfect affair; and claims of authenticity and autonomy give way to the realities of transculturation, mestizaje, and the like.

But still, it is as though with Arguedas we can have our cake and eat it. Theory, precisely the theory that cautions us against such Romantic fantasies of authenticity, can be both affirmed and negated at the same time. We can deploy a theoretical discourse and yet bask in the aura of otherness.

Mignolo Local Histories coverThere's more than a hint of this attitude in Walter Mignolo's influential work. His writing is densely packed with theoretical references and convoluted phraseology, including relative neologisms such as "coloniality of power," "border gnosis," "loci of enunciation," and "pluritopic hermeneutics."

Yet, beneath it all, what's at issue is a remarkably untheoretical inversion: those previously silenced should now be permitted to speak. Take for instance the following complex paragraph that presents the core argument of his book Local Histories / Global Designs:
That colonial modernities, or "subaltern modernities" as Coronil (1997) prefers to label it, a period expending from the late fifteenth century to the current stage of globalization, has built a frame and a conception of knowledge based on the distinction between epistemology and hermeneutics and, by so doing, has subalternized other kinds of knowledge is the main thesis of this book. That long process of subalternization of knowledge is being radically transformed by new forms of knowledge in which what has been subalternized and considered interesting only as object of study becomes articulated as new loci of enunciation. This is the second thesis of this book. The first is explored through a cultural critique of historical configurations; the second, by looking at the emergence of new loci of enunciation, by describing them as "border gnosis" and by arguing that "border gnosis" is the subaltern reason striving to bring to the foreground the force and creativity of knowledges subalternized during a long process of colonization of the planet, which was at the same time the process in which modernity and the modern Reason were constructed. (13)
Put to one side, if you will, the infelicity and even ungrammaticality of expression here--the lack of agreement, for instance, between subject and main verb in the opening sentence. Ignore also the repetition, apparent contradiction, and unnecessary complication.

Mignolo's basic points are in fact straightforward: that modernity promoted one form of knowledge over other forms; and that those other forms of knowledge are now re-emerging from their former suppression.

And though the articulation of such subaltern knowledges is clearly part of a political struggle, for Mignolo there is apparently little reason in theory why we should not have access to the voice of the other, given the right conditions.

The theoretical work required, it seems, amounts merely to a set of successive redescriptions, by which subaltern knowledge is renamed as "new loci of enunciation," only to be renamed once again as "border gnosis" and yet again as "subaltern reason." The theorist, then, becomes a translator and phrasemaker who re-presents subalternity within a suitably rarified frame of reference, so that it comes to seem equivalent, and so implicitly acceptable, to the allegedly mystifying discourse against which it is said to be arrayed.

So however laudable this project of discursive salvage seems at first sight, it's soon clear that such an unproblematic conception of desublaternization does little to overturn the applecart of Western reason: it merely assimilates "subaltern knowledge" to "colonial knowledge" (hence, in the paragraph above, "colonial modernities" and "subaltern modernities" are quickly conflated) and any concept of subalternity, or indeed of coloniality, disappears.

Ultimately this is a consoling exorcism of colonial guilt, whereby an author such as Arguedas can be taken up and celebrated for providing little more than costumbrismo: local colour and the image of difference rather than difference itself. And surely in a story such as "The Agony of Rasu-Ñiti", the most indigenist of all his work, is that not what he provides? No wonder the story is so celebrated. Despite or perhaps because of its anomalousness, it offers a glimpse of what Arguedas's readers want all along: the ventriloquy of "an authentic, autonomous, testimonial, and metatestimonial voice."

The question then is how to read Arguedas otherwise. How perhaps to misread him, to stumble in our reading, to stutter as his awkward, barely literary prose often stutters and threatens to break down, so that subalternity is truly brought to light, or made present, without being wished away by our desires, precisely, for presence. How, in short, to ensure that it is difference that is presented, for the first time; rather than a fantasized sameness that is re-presented, familiarly meeting our expectations.

(And how to do this without being subject to the same critique: of deploying a theoretical discourse and yet basking in the aura of otherness?)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

diagrams II

More on Douglas Oliver's Diagram Poems. NB that, as in the previous post, you can click on the images for larger versions.

I'm interested in the heterogeneity of these drawings. The top tends to be closer to a "pure" diagram. Moving down the page, we find representational images. Often (and we've seen this clearly in the first two diagrams) the same elements are reworked in different forms: a seemingly abstract tracing of movements through space becomes first an airman, then a vaccinated dog; here, a bird's head as icon for a parrot is echoed below by fully-fledged line drawings of a stork, a goose.

Other elements hover between what Peirce would call the iconic and the symbolic. The line at the bottom right here, for instance, both continues the line of the diagrammed fire station wall above, and becomes part of a skeletal representation of a fire alarm, dotted lines symbolizing the klaxon's sounds blaring to both sides, picking up the arrow above that indicates news permeating outside and inside.

Diagram 3
The diagrams encompass both the known and the unknown, the definite and the probable--better, the virtual and the actual. Near a semicircle containing the denotation "P.C.s hide," presented as a record of the raid, is the word "wife" with a question mark hovering above. Is a wife located there, perhaps separated out from the crowd on the left-hand side? Is it a woman, who may or may not be somebody's wife? Or is there nobody at all? Or not yet, for the diagram notes future as well as past: just below the line that divides upper from lower, (floor) plan from artistic (execution), is the bird symbol and the observation "Old man + parrot (to come)." When are this pair to come? How will they enter into the action?

The diagram is the record of the plan, the virtual marshalling of guerilla forces, but also the record of its actualization, and the way in which actualization entails the elimination of incompossible worlds: the virtual is a garden of forking paths that can enfold divergent outcomes, in one of which, say, all adversaries are neutralized, in another of which mistakes occur and a back-up plan has to be sought; as the plan is actualized, at all these points of divergence only one outcome can ensue, either neutralization or back-up.

The next diagram in the series depicts (or draws from) a raid on a telephone exchange. Again, the visual plane is split between a more fully diagrammatic top third, and a more representational lower two thirds. Again, however, there are echoes and resonances between the two sections. A pregnant woman appears first as symbol, then as icon: first, that is, as a conventional sign, like the images representing gender on bathroom doors; second, as a sign that seems to garner its meaning more through resemblance, as though it indicated a specific woman, rather than woman in general.

Diagram 4
The cut cables are also duplicated at top and at bottom, but again with rather different connotations: first to locate the site of sabotage; second to indicate a more fundamental communicational impasse between the woman and the bearded man with a cane. But perhaps the image now also suggests a cut umbilical cord? It's a cut that's at the centre of the generalized flashpoint that envelops the larger part of the diagram, echoing the flash at the top at a street corner subject to a complex network of spectatorship and surveillance.

In the accompanying poem, "Central," Oliver entwines the story of the Tupamaro raid with a dialogue with his dead child, Tom: a strained, broken, and finally impossible communication.
[. . .] I saw the airman signal and I got it. I heard Tom's voice as from a distant receiver and I got it. Seven guerrillas tying up the telephone exchange expertly. then Tom's voice said, "Hallo Central,"
from the booth of death.

[. . .]

Tom, go ahead.
and I'd like to have friends on these streets, friends
who'd look for me in creations of total emergency
in or out of dreams . . . Cut . . . A guerrilla command tone:
"Place the pregnant
woman into the temporary prison with the 40
communication functionaries and consumers. Get on with this.
Cut other connections yourself but obey
the voices that come from long distance, obey sound and feeling."

Tom, go ahead.
But my Tom's in a frightener cell
of the night of youth
where old and young eyes shine and are grey
and the ears fold in
to the internal sounds.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Paz ErrazurizThe Chilean Paz Errázuriz is one of my favourite photographers. She works in black and white, and in series, producing primarily portraits of figures who are in one way or another marginal: working class boxers; carnival artistes; street people; transvestites; the institutionalized; the indigenous.

I've just got hold of Paz Errázuriz: Photography / Fotografía 1983-2002, the catalogue from a major retrospective exhibition held in Santiago a couple of years ago. Looking back over twenty years of her work, what emerges is how much Errázuriz is a photographer of affect. She records bodies marked by their encounters with the world, with other bodies. And from these states of affection, she extracts also the abstract affects that surround such bodies, what Deleuze terms "veritable critical entities that hover over the body and judge it" (Essays Critical and Clinical 124).

It is by drawing on the power of affect that these subalternized non-subjects, excluded from conventional discourse, express and construct their individuality--an individuality that may, as in the series El infarto del alma, only be constituted through a couple, through a mutual becoming and doubling.

El infarto del alma (Heart Attack of the Soul) consists of photos of couples that have formed within the confines of the Putaendo psychiatric hospital, a state facility for the destitute deranged. What Errázuriz (and Diamela Eltit, the writer who worked with her on this project) found here was far from the "bare life" of psychotic degradation and institutional repression that one might expect. Rather, she uncovers affective intensities, and the powerful assertion of new individualities.

From El Infarto del Alma
Or in Nelly Richard's words, from the essay that is her contribution to the catalogue:
Identities disarmed by psychotic fragmentation or amorous revolt are restructured in the pose that enforces a synthesis of their disconnected corporealities. Despite the multiple deliria expressed in the intermittent and startled language of the nervous tick, these corporealities manage to regain agency, in a relative synchronicity of gestures and postures, by means of a pose that enunciates, also, the complex ritual of the human couple through the amatory figures of embrace and caress. (21; translation modified)
Fragmented non-organic bodies, composed of gestures and postures, states of bodily affection, come together to constitute new forms of subjectivity captured by, but also facing down, Errázuriz's camera.

Back to Deleuze:
Affective critical entities do not cancel each other out, but can coexist and intermingle, composing the character of the mind, constituting not an ego but a center of gravity that is displaced from one entity to the next, following the secret threads of this marionette theater. Perhaps this is what glory is: a hidden will that makes entities communicate, and extracts them at the favorable moment. (124)
Errázuriz's photography is, in this sense, glorious.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

diagrams I

I've mentioned Douglas Oliver's Diagram Poems (1979) before, following a discussion of Deleuze's concept of the diagram. And I remember somewhere, sometime reading an essay about, or simply mentioning, these poems--I had thought that it was in Marshall Blonsky's On Signs, but no. Then Oliver came up again in a conversation last year with my friend Carol Watts. So I felt I should track this book down.

And behold, thanks to Abebooks, I now have a copy (autographed, no less) of the Diagram Poems. They really are extraordinary.

The poems were inspired by accounts of the Uruguayan Tupamaro guerrillas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Tupamaros were a pretty fun-loving, performative lot, at least at the outset. As Lawrence Weschler notes, they projected the image of a "marriage of Chaplin and Che. [. . .] Student radicals all over the world looked upon their Uruguayan counterparts with undisguised admiration. Nowhere else did young radicals seem to bring to their activism quite the brio, quite the panache, that the Tupamaros of Montevideo managed" (100-101). They engaged in a form of guerrilla theatre, showing a measure of humour and consideration for the inadvertent consequences of their action. For instance, as A J Lagguth records:
On one occasion, they burst into a gambling casino and scooped up the profits. The next day, when the croupiers complained that the haul had included their tips, the Tupamaros mailed back a percentage of the money. (qtd. 103)
They attacked symbolic targets. They performed a kind of armed situationism.
Once, in the wee hours of another morning, they ransacked an exclusive high-class nightclub, scrawling the walls with perhaps their most memorable slogan: O Bailan Todos o No Bailan Nadie--Either everybody dances or nobody dances. (104)
Gradually, however, the game became bloodier and more deadly serious, on both sides. And June 1973 saw what Weschler calls "the final culmination of a five-year-long slow-motion coup" (110) with the installation of full-blown military authoritarianism.

Oliver's poems--and the all-important diagrams--are neither celebration nor condemnation of the Tupamaros. They are, perhaps, an attempt precisely to diagram the forcefields within which they operated, and into which they intervened. Oliver doesn't shy away from comedy, especially in the opening sequences: note the cartoon-like qualities of the early diagrams. Nor from tragedy: the final annotation on the final diagram refers simply to the "Festival of the wild beasts" while the accompanying poem includes the lines
it all turns so really funereal for us
as brave as that and as flawed
just a final diagram almost straight
and a heart on which the diagram is scored
beside the deaths of innocences we have known
and even caused a little in the scarface heart.
Here, meanwhile, are the opening couple of diagrams in the book. The first, Oliver describes as "of a general co-ordinator's movements as he visits the various operations by car."

Diagram 1
The second outlines a more complex scenario, in which
one group of raiders, some disguised as airmen, arrives in three separate parties to take over a police station. (Beforehand, they have reconnoitred the station during several visits, posing as members of the public. They brought the same dog, twice, for vaccination formalities.) They begin the seizure by rounding up policemen and placing them, eventually, in cells. A police sergeant, overlooked, appears from a dormitory, fires warning shots to the outside streets, darts through corridors, and aims at the invaders from a central patio. He takes refuge, wounded, in the dormitory and finally gives himself up. Two other police officers walk into the building and are overpowered but a third escapes. These prove crucial hitches in the overall plan.

Diagram 2
And here's a snippet of the accompanying poem, "P. C.":
Like an adder, the sergeant
swerves to cold. From a doorsill he snakes
into the internal.
The hope of speed is stung in a home of pyjamas
or a bullet to the fancy for a long, long time.
At last, in a dreamy sweat, movement
goes peaceably to the sagpit, safety.
More on this anon. In the meantime, if anyone has any idea of the essay I half-remember reading on these poems, from at least fifteen years ago, I'd be most grateful for a reference.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Monday Arguediana

I'm now less convinced than I was before of Antonio Melis's argument that "the writings of Arguedas should be considered as an integrated totality (i.e. without the constraint of barriers such as genre)" (xi). Or rather, what's striking when comparing Arguedas's work across different genres is the way in which he adopts such very different voices depending on whether he is writing a novel, anthropology, or poetry. Perhaps they are different strategies. But some are surely more successful than others.

Arguedas poetryIf Arguedas's anthropological writing repeats the Western ethnographic gaze, by contrast his poetry constitutes a full-blown performance of indigeneity.

Written in Quechua, then translated usually by Arguedas himself into Spanish, his poetic output is distinguished by its passion and commitment. And this is true even when the theme is far from Arguedas's customary Peruvian concerns, as in his brief declarations of solidarity with Cuba and with the North Vietnamese.

At the same time, it is rather formulaic, especially in these latter two poems. It's as though they were Arguedas's minimal gesture to the international issues preoccupying intellectuals in the late 1960s. The poem to the Vietnamese is entitled "Qollana Vietnam Llaqtaman," translated as "Ofrenda al pueblo de Vietnam," "Offering to the People of Vietnam": this is an offering of due devotion paid to a cause that is not Arguedas's own.

Arguedas is also perhaps paying the price of admission to a community of intellectuals with pretensions to universality. In which case it is worth noting that it is as a Quechua speaker that Arguedas is seeking entry to this exclusive club. Arguedas wants to ensure Quechua is recognized as a language of artistic and intellectual creation.

Another of these poems also turns to the intellectuals. Here, directly so: "Huk Doctorkunaman Qayay" or "Appeal to some Doctors" is addressed to Carlos Cueto Fernandini and John V. Murra; Cueto Fernandini occupied a series of prestigious posts, including the directorship of the National Library, while John Murra was a Cornell-based anthropologist, and close friend of Arguedas's.

"Appeal to some Doctors" begins by acknowledging the way in which indigenous knowledge is ignored: "They say that we no longer know anything, that we are backwardness, that they have to change our heads for other, better ones" (253). It continues by negating such assertions, arguing for indigenous knowledge of nature, plants, and suffering.

But it ends by returning to the theme of ignorance, to an unforeseeable future in the fact of modernization:
We do not know exactly what will happen. Let death makes its way towards us; let these strangers come. We will be on our guard waiting for them; we are the children of the father of all the rivers, of the father of all the mountains. Is it that the world is now worthless, my little brother the doctor? (257)
So Arguedas here fully assumes a subjectivity defined by ethnicity and language: "we are the children." And he shares in their anxious, guarded wait for what the future brings.

This declaration of identity, taking on an indigenous "nosotros" is even more marked in "Tupac Amaru kamac taytanchisman (Haylli-taki)," "To our Creator Father Túpac Amaru (Hymn-Song)," in which Arguedas declares "We are alive, we still are!" as a kind of phatic expression to link a grammatical subject ("we") to ontology and also to history (467). "We still are!" "¡Somos todavía!" "¡Kachkaniraqkun!" (467). The Peruvian congress took up this declaration as the title for its recent edition of Arguedas's "essential works": ¡Kachkaniraqmi! ¡Sigo siendo!.

Pan Am to PeruFinally, though, in "Jetman, Haylli," "Ode to the Jet," Arguedas envisages a modernity in which Quechua, and an indigenous cosmovision, have fully appropriated the fruit of Western technology:
Here I am in this world, sitting most comfortably, on a fiery steed,
Iron alight, whiter than white, made by man's hand, swimming in the wind.
Yes. "Jet" is its name. (75)
The price, or perhaps the advantage, of this techno-indigenism is a blasphemous denial of gods both native and Christian, and an affirmation of the divinity of mankind: "God is man, man is God" (75).

But is there not a still more serious disadvantage in making of Quechua a majoritarian language, albeit in a written form that can have only the smallest of audiences, and so giving up on the project to inflict a minoritarian insurrection on the colonizers' Spanish?

Thursday, March 02, 2006


The Oil Wars blog reminds us of the seventeenth anniversary of the Caracazo.

The Caracazo is the name of a massacre, carried out on the orders of then President of Venezuela Carlos Andrés Pérez, in which hundreds most likely thousands died. As "Oil Wars" comments, "This vicious massacre forever changed politics and in many ways can be said to have paved the way for Chavez's rise to the presidency."

We shouldn't forget, however, that it is also the name of an insurgency, a near-spontaneous protest against neoliberal "reform," a series of riots against the IMF. A multitudinous insurrection.

Here's a question: has Chávez's Bolivarianism more in common with the insurgency or the counter-insurgency? Is chavismo a continuation and expansion of that multitudinous energy? Or does Chávez rather re-establish a social contract otherwise broken in the Caracazo, thereby re-legitimating state power? Or both, of course.

For more on this, see also my friend Juan Antonio Hernández's article, "Against the Comedy of Civil Society: Posthegemony, Media and the 2002 Coup d'Etat in Venezuela." Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13.1 (March 2004): 137-145.

(Further links: various articles from Bitbiblioteca; "El Sacudón" by Rafael Rivas-Vasquez; "27 de febrero de 1989" from the Círculo Bolivariano 17 de marzo; "Venezuela después del Caracazo" (.pdf) by Margarita López-Maya; a personal account from priest Charles Hardy; and photos from the Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


multitudeOne, two, many multitudes?

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri emphasize the singularity of the multitude. To speak of many multitudes would be no more than a concession or a gesture towards liberal humanism: you have your multitude, we have ours, let a thousand multitudes bloom.

No, they insist, there is but one multitude, though that multitude is composed of multiplicities. For if the multitude is already multiple, then it is at best a tautology, at worst a distortion, to pluralize it, to speak of many multitudes.

But how many multitudes are there in Hardt and Negri's own work? And are they compatible? An enumeration is in order.

First, there is the multitude still to appear. It's this multitude that's the focus of the book Multitude. The multitude that is, now, perhaps emergent with the rise of affective labour, with Empire and the exhaustion of concepts such as the popular or class. This multitude is a "coming community" (as Agamben might put it). Its arrival is the horizon or history. Better, its arrival would mean the end of history, the inauguration of Communism.

Second, however, there is the multitude that made its first appearance at the birth of modernity. This is Spinoza's multitude, the multitude associated with the rise of capitalism and the disputes that fractured early modern political philosophy. This is a multitude whose intemperate appearance was soon overcoded by the contrasting notion of the popular. It's in this sense that Paolo Virno can tell us that we are now in a new sixteenth century, replaying the struggle between multitude and people, Spinoza and Hobbes, that had earlier been resolved, albeit temporarily, in favour of the people.

Third, then, there is the multitude as remnant and subterranean presence throughout modernity. For the historical multitude could not be so easily dispatched, and it reappeared at every time of crisis and rebellion. This is the multitude of Negri's Insurgencies, that rises anew with the English, French, American, and Russian Revolutions, only each time to be (ever more precariously) repressed by the new Thermidors that win out.

Fourth, as a consequence, Negri can suggest an ontological multitude. Beyond these occasional appearances, the multitude is the ground of modernity and social cohesion tout court. This is the multitude that we can identify fully with constituent power. It's a multitude always at work, but actualized in other, distorted, forms according to the regime of constituted power of the moment.

But in the slippage between constituted and constituent power, is there not a fifth multitude? A multitude that forms and coalesces along the lines of flight within each and every social formation? A multitude then that is sociological, incarnated in piracy, in everyday life, in Temporary Autonomous Zones, in the quotidian refusals and resistances by which we make our lives bearable. This multitude is actual, rather than simply virtual. We already share in and participate its activity.

So, a multitude to come. A historical origin. A periodic irruption into history. An absolute ground. The very fabric of the everyday.

Again, are these all one and the same multitude?

[Update: Now go read Nate's thought-provoking response to this post.]