Saturday, January 31, 2009


I wonder if this will prove to be the neoliberal counterpart of Santiago's Ochagavía hospital: enduring testimony to a failed spatio-political project?

Friday, January 30, 2009


In class yesterday, Salvador and Sophie came up with a couple of very good points in our discussion of William Rowe and Vivian Schelling's Memory and Modernity. Indeed, their criticisms apply to a greater or lesser extent to much discussion of Latin American popular culture, or even popular culture in general.

Salvador's argument, if I have understood it right (and you both should feel free to correct me) was that Rowe and Schelling downplay the effect of sheer domination. The indigenous peoples of the Americas didn't just one day decide that they would take on certain elements of Catholicism, for instance: they were forced to do so. If they didn't then they would (in Salvador's words) get "their asses kicked."

Meanwhile Sophie's point was that in stressing the positive, creative, and resistant characteristics of popular culture, Rowe and Schelling downplay the continued injustices and inequalities that still plague so much of Latin America. Moreover, the implication is that there is little or nothing that can or should be done about the situation of the poor or downtrodden; there is no reason for anyone else to bother about it, let alone intervene in some way.

Again, I think that these are important arguments. But let me argue Rowe and Schelling's case for a moment...

First, I suggested that they were saying something like "Yes, but..." Yes, the indigenous peoples of Latin America (and by extension all other subaltern and subordinated groups) have historically been the victims of great violence and exploitation, but even so they have managed, against the odds, to continue to resist in often surprising and unexpected ways.

Rowe and Schelling do, after all, acknowledge from the start that "The Conquest had catastrophic consequences for the Andean and Mesoamerican civilizations." And yet, they continue, "despite this, neither the colonial nor the republican regime has been able to expunge the memory of an Andean, Aztec and Mayan civilization" (49). Indeed, the very notion of resistance implies that there is something to resist. If we see the indigenous (again, or other subalterns) as simply victims, then in some ways we also are ignoring their agency, we also are downplaying their inventive and creative capacities. Precisely the interest of popular culture, for Rowe and Schelling, is that it is here that we can see the evidence of this resistance and creativity; here we can appreciate what those in power have always either ignored or feared, which is that despite it all the subaltern continues to make its presence felt.

Second, I think that Rowe and Schelling would respond in similar ways to Sophie's argument. If we are only ever thinking about what "we" in the privileged and powerful First World should or can be doing for those in the Third World, then we too are denying those people's agency. This is not an argument that nothing can or should be done. But in order best to understand the situation, and so the pitfalls as well as the virtues of any action, we also need to be aware of the kinds of struggles that such people are already engaging in, without or without "us." I think that's part of what Rowe and Schelling term "subaltern classes ma[king] themselves visible, demanding social recognition" (132). That's not to say that everything's AOK, not by a long shot, but to take account of existing expressions of agency and subjectivity. Again, the argument is that such expressions are perhaps best seen in popular culture, which is why Rowe and Schelling want to distinguish popular culture from what they call the "culture industry" or from official, state-sanctioned instances of culture.

Finally, I think that these issues are also relevant to discussion of this letter written by a UBC student on the university's Terry blog. The letter writer clearly has her heart in the right place. (And incidentally, I don't agree with the tone of the disparaging comments that she's received.) But she, too, is worried that she is being self-indulgent. I would go further: we learn from an investigation of Latin American popular culture that the relationship between First World and Third World, or between North and South, is more complicated than a simple dichotomy of victimizer (however unthinking) and victim. There are more complex negotiations and exchanges at work. If we don't recognize this, then we inevitably end up being patronizing.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


William Rowe and Vivian Schelling's Memory and Modernity is a hugely ambitious undertaking. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone else who has tried to replicate it: they aim to provide a guide to Latin American popular culture that covers both the gamut of theoretical positions (from within Latin American Studies and outside) as well as detailing, often in quite some detail and historical or sociological depth, an extraordinary range of popular cultural practices. Just in chapter two, "The Faces of Popular Culture," they move almost seamlessly from Peru to Mexico to Brazil to Argentina, and from Andean oral narratives of Inkarrí to Mexican artesanía to Candomblé to telenovelas to football. It's astonishingly erudite and impressive, while also remarkably readable; their accounts of critics from Adorno to Taussig to Martín Barbero to Arguedas are deft and decisive. They give a real sense of the texture and complexity both of Latin American popular culture and of the debates that it has provoked.

This book should have the status of a classic of Latin American cultural studies, and it's a crying shame that Verso seem to have allowed it, along with the other surveys in its Latin American series such as Gerry Martin's Journeys through the Labyrinth, to go out of print.

Of course, Rowe and Schelling's approach also has its pitfalls. Especially when it comes to their accounts of critics and theorists, there can be no space for detailed textual analysis, and so their brief judgments are also potential hostages to fortune. Is it really true, for instance, that Michael Taussig's project can be reduced to "finding in pre-capitalist cultures a source of resistance to capitalism" (73)? Likewise, their analyses of specific cultural histories, though they often extend over several pages, are also dependent on ex cathedra pronouncements rather than sustained argumentation. Their tone tends towards encyclopedic synthesis that threatens to overwhelm their own critical and conceptual narrative.

This narrative is driven by a conception of the popular as counter-culture: "The term popular culture, according to common usage in Latin America, evokes the possibilities of alternaties to currently dominant cultural practices. [. . .] To be of use, the term 'popular' must be distinguished from the products of the culture industry and the mass media" (97). And yet in practice they are forced to recognize that difficulties of trying to cordon of the popular as a space for political resistance and creativity. At the same time as they argue for a definition of the popular "in terms of the possibility of a counter-hegemony," they also have to recognize the intimate coexistence of popular practices with the mass media: "popular cannot mean purity nor the culture industry its loss" (113). Yet it seems to be precisely in the name of at least a vestigial version of such purity that at times they put the popular in scare quotes, so as to indicate practices that are popular but not really they way they would have them be so. For instance, in their discussion of the samba, which "becomes a 'popular' and profitable form of entertainment transmitted together with commercial advertisements by radio" and which "was transformed into a 'popular' massified genre and an exportable symbol of national identity" (135).

So Rowe and Schelling want both to champion and to distance themselves from the popular, to separate out their own neo-populism from historical and state-supported populisms of Vargas, Perón, or the PRI. In short, they want to differentiate their counter-hegemony from hegemony per se. But it is precisely this gesture that they share with historical populism, which always wants to portray itself as embattled and oppositional, even from a position of state power.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I have been accused of having a taste for "novelty" books, and perhaps this is simply another instance of the same poor taste, in another sphere... but a large part of the reason why I like the Scottish band ballboy is because they consistently have the best song titles in pop.

I don't think I've ever met anyone else who has even heard of ballboy, yet alone a fellow fan. Their albums are hard to obtain, and don't seem to circulate in North America. I ran into them first when I came across their single, "All the Records on the Radio are Shite." How could I resist?

I later picked up Club Anthems (sample song titles: "Essential Wear for Future Trips to Space, "I Hate Scotland", and "I've Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear") and A Guide for the Daylight Hours (featuring "Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me," "You Can't Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes," "I Wonder If You're Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight," and "I Lost You, But I Found Country Music"). And I've just belatedly received The Royal Theatre ("I Don't Have Time To Stand Here With You Fighting About The Size Of My Dick" and "There Are Only Inches Between Us, But There Might As Well Be Mountains And Trees").

Here they are live, with "You Can't Spend Your Whole Life Hanging Around With Arseholes." Though as they sagely observe, in fact you can spend your whole life hanging around with arseholes; but you shouldn't.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This was the building where I work as it was this past weekend:

A shanty-town, a fence, checkpoints, razor wire, guard towers, signs warning that interlopers could be shot on sight, even a couple of tanks...

Yes, once again the campus had been turned into a movie set. (Rumor has it they were filming Wolverine.) Still, I thought that there was perhaps some poetic truth here about the contemporary university.

(Thanks to Rafa and Tal for the photos.)

Monday, January 26, 2009


Further to discussions about the field of Latin American literary and cultural studies, Gareth Williams has kindly made available his essay "Deconstruction and Subaltern Studies, or, a Wrench in the Latin Americanist Assembly Line" (.pdf file). This is the English version of his contribution to Hernán Vidal's Treinta años de estudios literarios/culturales latinoamericanistas en los Estados Unidos, a book which, as I have noted, is not easy to obtain.

Williams's essay does many things: it provides a counter-history of the Latin American studies group, its demise, and the subsequent "end of the alliances"; it is an argument for the role of deconstruction and against the ideological misreadings of deconstruction within Latin Americanism; and it is an empassioned plea for a new relation to the field.

Three brief quotations, then. First, a salutary caution about any declaration of manifestos:
The last twenty years have coincided with the full-blown consolidation of the neoliberal corporate university in the United States and beyond. In this time I have been struck by the way U.S.-based Latin Americanism has succumbed increasingly to the false authority of phrases such as “what we need to do . . . ” or “what should be done is . . .” which are repeated with disconcerting ease in both writings and professional meetings alike. Of course, what these sentences generally do is function as stand-ins for actual conceptual labor, and it is perfectly understandable that Latin Americanists based in Latin America, for example, should take umbrage at such phrases since they are by no means completely disconnected from the far reaching babble of contemporary corporate arrogance. (2-3)
Second, another account of the "end of the alliances":
At the Latin American Studies Association International Conference that took place in Washington D.C. in early September 2001, Néstor García Canclini announced the “end of the alliance” between the varying strands contained within the Latin American cultural studies paradigm. I do not mean he inaugurated the end of that alliance. I think he was merely responding to the fact that university discourse on Latin America, in all its distinct registers and loci of enunciation, had definitively succumbed to the corporate logics of market forces; that is, that Latin Americanism had embraced the commodity fetishism of its own thought and language, without further ado, and had become nothing more than market force and competition in action. Needless to say, without a commitment to collective theoretical reflection this situation will not improve, because the alternative is that prospective students to Ph.D. programs who ask questions such as “Does your department do postcolonial theory?” will be perfectly justified in reproducing the banal competition of the Latin Americanist assembly line. (20)
And third, a discussion of the "decision for vitality" that faces us:
It is up to all of us to assume responsibility for, or to turn our backs on, the practical and theoretical decision for the struggle of the part of those who have no part (and, therefore, for philosophy as class struggle at the theoretical level). We can decide for the positivity of the police or decide for affirmative political subjectification. Make no mistake, it is a vital decision, a decision for vitality, or not, in which the future lasts forever with or without us. The decision for the future, indeed, the decision that there be a future for the democratic practice of a theoretical politics of culture in Latin Americanism, is, in this regard, yours, ours, for the taking. That decision for the future, within the context of the corporate police university, is a decision for real philosophical and political responsibility toward Latin America and its truth, in theory and in practice. It is a decision for something other than the reduction of thought to the technical reproduction of our corporate police order and its ideas. (54-55)
Beyond this, I won't summarize the entire essay; I urge you to read it.

Moreover, in the particular context of this blog, the essay is also important in that it offers a strong defence of at least one version of "posthegemony," drawing on Alberto Moreiras's The Exhaustion of Difference. I have outlined my own differences with Gareth and Alberto's versions of posthegemony elsewhere (.pdf file), so I won't do so again at length now. I'll merely note that here, Gareth also takes up Rancière's distinction between police and politics, rightly (I think) arguing that projects for hegemony are always in the end police actions, rather than politics strictu sensu. But his suggestion seems to be that politics in this sense is always democratic; i.e. that the state always and only works through "police thought’s calculated management and distribution of places, powers, functions, locations and loci of enunciation" (52).

I beg to differ, and indeed would point to Gareth's own marvelous analysis of the "Atlacatl affect" in The Other Side of the Popular as evidence to the contrary. In this analysis, Gareth shows how the elite Atlacatl battalion of the Salvadoran army, responsible for the El Mozote massacre among other grievous war crimes, equally incarnated an excess that went beyond any logic of distribution or calculation. And of course, we see precisely such excess in, say, Guantánamo, or indeed anywhere and everywhere else the state imprints itself on our bodies. To put this another way, the state, too, is posthegemonic; it is not a question of positing a putatively liberating posthegemony against a stultifying hegemony. Of course, we need to be done with the concept of hegemony, but that in itself is not enough. Posthegemony opens up the terrain on which the grounds of politics and policing alike are disputed by multiple actors. A politics of affirmation is not exhausted by deconstruction and its "the negative work it carries out against hegemony" (46).

Or to put things in still other terms, the more local ones of the discussion of the field of Latin Americanism: it is surely not enough simply to put a "wrench in the Latin Americanist assembly line." That assembly line also works by breaking down, by breaking up alliances and cutting the wind from our sails. Heck, sometimes we must surely all want the university to be a place of rational calculation. But each and every day we can come up with evidence that it is anything but. Hence a politics of knowledge must also go beyond critique, even beyond the most rigorous and unflinching critique provided by deconstruction.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Some of the following has been lightly edited as I have been, quite rightly, reproached by Idelber Avelar in the comments. I haven't completely revised this post, however, in part because I think that my basic point stands: for those interested in rethinking the field of Latin American studies, and encouraging new forms of communication, blogs are an obvious resource. And in part I don't want to rewrite history to pretend that I didn't indeed let a number of important blogs slip my mind when originally writing it, or that there are certainly others of which I have been ignorant. Perhaps my error, as Idelber implies, was indeed that I was thinking about the field in overly conventional ways.

One thing that occurs to me as I read some of Alberto Moreiras’s lengthy and thought-provoking comments to recent posts here is that he should start up his own blog!

I'm serious. Yes, Aberdeen's Centre for Modern Thought does run a blog, and Alberto has used it on occasion, particularly in relation to specific events. See this comment on Esposito, for instance. But mainly the Centre uses its blog for administrative purposes, highlighting upcoming events, and comments such as Alberto's soon get lost.

But on his own blog, Alberto could develop some of these thoughts informally. Others could respond. And there would be the opportunity for new connections. For instance, take Alberto's important question: "What if biopolitical democracy is a contradiction in terms. What if there can and will be no biopolitical democracy? Where does that leave us?" This immediately links up with Jodi Dean's current project of working through the classic texts on biopolitics, or some of Steven Shaviro or Nate Holdren's recent ruminations on the topic.

Of course, there are many reasons not to start a blog: lack of interest, lack of time (but for those evenings when there is no film worth watching at the video store...), and so on, and I've often enough been ambivalent about the process myself. Alberto should feel no compunction to take my advice!

I'm also struck by the fact that in the field of (broadly) Latin American literary and cultural studies, this here blog, Posthegemony, is one of relatively few out there. (But see update and correction below...) One example that immediately comes to mind is Idelber Avelar's O Biscoito Fino e a massa. Horacio Legras briefly blogged at 13AVentana=13AWindow, but just at the moment his exuberance for Obama seems to have left him speechless. There are a number of Latin American Political Science blogs such as Greg Weeks's Two Weeks Notice. Plus, more broadly in Hispanic Studies, I would be remiss if I did not mention Jorge Ledo's elegant ficta eloquentia.

Yet, in the context of a discussion of the state of the field and how one might reinvent intellectual freedom within it, or despite it, one might think of taking a leaf out of the book of the many blogging denizens of Philosophy (surely, a far more hostile and fractured field). They consistently show, as in the current buzz around speculative realism, that this informal sphere of discussion and collaboration can, at least at times, prove very rewarding and productive.

Update: In comments, Idelber upbraids me for missing many Argentine and Brazilian blogs. Specifically, he mentions the following: Nación Apache, La lectora provisoria, Wimbledon, Contemporânea, and Odisséia Literária. He later also gives us: Pensar enlouquece, Tiago Dória (on culture and technology), Liberal Libertário Libertino (especially the posts on race) and Consenso, só no paredão (by Alexandre Nodari, a friend and student of Raúl Antelo's).

It's true that I was implicitly thinking of North American-based blogs of a certain type. And I thank Idelber to introducing me to blogs previously unknown to me. I welcome more suggestions.

So let me add the following, which I do follow, a couple of which are indeed based in the US, and which collectively show something of a Peruvianist bias on my part: alma matinal, Kolumna Okupa, Puente Aéreo, Río Fugitivo, Professor Zero, and the Página de Gonzalo Portocarrero.

Oh, and this reminds me that I should update my blogroll sooner rather than later. (Though I understand that they are rather passé these days.)

Further update: Rather than overburden this post with too much retrospective elaboration, here's a link to a talk by Idelber himself on blogging and academia: "Cultural Studies in the Blogosphere: Academics meet new Technologies of Online Publication". A longer version of this paper is to be found in Erin Graff Zinn's The Ethics of Latin American Literary Criticism: Reading Otherwise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


In a recent post, I suggested that "it feels as though the field of Latin American cultural and literary studies has been in the doldrums for, what, perhaps a decade or more?"

Alberto Moreiras responds vigorously:
I don’t agree with you about the doldrums years. I think in fact they were the years where the seeds of a genuinely non-identitarian reflection on Latin American culture and history were planted. They were the best years our professional field has had in the last two hundred or so, because they remain as the only years that indicate the promise of a future for thought in our field. They were also the years where a certain intense clarity finally made itself present. There is now a space for a theoretically informed non-identitarian, republican Latin Americanism, free from the bourgeois consciousness that has long plagued it.
I'd almost like to leave it at that, and say: discuss.

But to move discussion on, let me say that I think that what's at issue here is the nature of the field, perhaps the nature of any intellectual or disciplinary field, and what's expected from it. Or as Alberto goes on to say: "The real issue runs a lot deeper than that. [. . .] What kind of a 'field' do you want to have? And what is keeping you from it?"

In my previous post, I coupled my characterization of the field's "doldrums" with a brief mention of Néstor García Canclini's now (in)famous declaration in 2001 that we'd reached the "end of the alliances" that had hitherto structured the field. I even gave a reference for this allusion: Abril Trigo's account of Latin American Cultural Studies. This was because I still had the book to hand, having earlier written a critique of some of Trigo's positions.

It's clear that we are still working through different narratives and explanations of what happened in 2001, and what has happened since. Here, then, is Trigo's account:
The meetings at LASA 2001 in Washington made official the breakup of fragile alliances as well as the exhaustion of some theoretical positions; its dramatic climax was the announcement of the disbanding of the Latin American Studies Group. The exhaustion of those particular theoretical positions was posited by some, like Beverley and Moreiras, as the exhaustion of Latin American cultural studies tout court, whose final demise was triumphantly declared. This is particularly so in Moreiras's verdict of the 'exhaustion of difference,' which makes of Latin American cultural studies a radical practice, suggesting that the only remaining option of any real resistance to globalization would be the critical mourning of the ruins (2001). Latin American cultural studies and any other form of political resistance are disposed of in a single blow. In our view, exactly the opposite is true. These events culminated a gradual process of readjustment of the different positions and a steady return to the vilified classics of Latin American critical thought, particularly the fecund production of the 1960s and 1970s, including dependency theory, liberation theology and philosophy of liberation, the pedagogy of the oppressed, the theories of internal colonialism, third cinema, collective theater, and transculturation. The cycle, which started with the optimistic drive of the forerunners in the 1970s, has closed upon itself. (367-68)
I'll note just a couple of things about this account. First of all, Trigo clearly does not think that the field has been in the doldrums over the past ten years. For him, the "end of the alliances" enabled the rediscovery of "the fecund production of the 1960s and 1970s." In going back twenty years, the field could discover its true sense of purpose. And yet, second, there is a sense of closure, a "cycle" that has "closed upon itself." Moreover, one might ask, what does it mean to return in this way to dependency theory et. al.? You can never go home again, after all.

Now an earlier version of Moreiras's account of the same dispersal of the late 1990s, early 2000s:
Perhaps the labour of our cultural studies is also and must be essentially shot through with its own ruin: it may be that it is only in the experience of the ruin of thinking that any thinking project can sustain itself as such; without it, thought is doomed to be nothing but programmatic calculation and progressive 'explicitation' of an ideological order. That would be a sort of success for Latin American cultural studies: to have established itself as a programme, to have accomplished a becoming into the new disciplinary order of the time of post-Area Studies, the time of globalization. But that success, as such, could be nothing but a failure. If so, then the failure, a certain failure, could also be (why not?) a certain form of success.

Two days after the LASA meeting, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. It is difficult not to note now that this event contaminated the experience of the academic meeting that had just ended only a few miles away from the site of the Pentagon explosion. In the third panel of the series on cultural studies (and on the basis of previous comments from John Beverley, Nelly Richard and others), Néstor García Canclini had declared the 'end of the alliance' that had kept open at least the possibility of pretending that our field of reflection was structured by common political lines and intellectual presuppositions. Perhaps September 11, then, radicalized the end of that alliance. The New York explosion changed our world and will provoke such adjustments in the North/South relation that it is perhaps absolutely urgent to let thought drift into its own uncompromising radicality. Under the guise of the alliance, under the guise of the conceit that made us work towards the consolidation of a disciplinary convergence in Latin American cultural studies, we were perhaps only rehearsing the emotional residue of the emerging moment of the new paradigm, somewhere in the very early 1990s. Liberation from that conceit might now make it possible for the different tendencies to stop containing their own energy, to stop handcuffing their own internal logics. No more excuses from now on, which is of course a threatening situation to the professional stability of perhaps the bravest thinkers, the youngest among them at least, given the sorry state of affairs in the American university today, which is experiencing one of its worst corporate moments since the 1930s. ("Regional Intellectuals: The Stain in their Eye", Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 11.3 [December 2002], p. 311f.)
Well, here we are, and the situation of the university has hardly improved. Indeed, the job market this last year was, the MLA tells us, the worst since it started keeping records. In that context, what kind of field is possible or desirable? And how can it build on its own history, without enclosing itself in nostalgia?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Following my recent post on Ryan Long's Fictions of Totality... I suggested to a few friends that we could perhaps make this something of a "book event" or online seminar. Others are welcome to join in, of course. So people are getting hold of the book, and there should be some more posts and comments to amplify and develop the discussion.

I hope that at some later point we can organize similar online book events or mini-seminars on some of the other books I mentioned, such as Legras's and Schiwy's, and perhaps also, for instance, Erin Graff Zinn's Wandering Signifier or Kate Jenckes's Reading Borges after Benjamin.

In the meantime, however, it's Ryan who's the focus of our attention. I therefore asked him if he could write a short introduction to the book to help orient us. Here it is...

This is a guest post by Ryan Long, author of Fictions of Totality: The Mexican Novel, 1968, and the National-Popular State.

"Fictions of Totality"

First, thanks to Jon for taking a look at my book and for starting this discussion! Thanks in advance also to anyone else who's interested in reading and discussing it. Now, a brief synopsis...

My book began as an effort to ask a very specific question: how did the Massacre of Tlatelolco affect the Mexican novel? I still feel that this is the question my book best answers, and thus its major contribution will probably be, if to anything, to Mexicanist literary studies. Of course it is also my hope that it addresses concerns that go beyond the historical context that limited, and thus defined, my analysis. A sub-purpose of the book is to provide analyses of well-known and lesser-known novels that merit further discussion. The former include La región más transparente, the only canonical novel in the book and the only to be translated into English, José Trigo, and Morir en el golfo. Con Él, conmigo, con nosotros tres has practically vanished from literary histories and criticism, which may have more to do with its author's militancy in the PRI than with the book itself. Si muero lejos de ti, though fascinating and incredibly ambitious, is long, unwieldy, strange, and a little tiresome at times, so it has also flown under the radar, so to speak, more than it should have. (Though Rebecca Biron has done great work on it). In short, then, I think one of my book's strengths is its literary analysis, organized in chapters that could stand alone to a degree.

But, there is an arc, which is the relationship between totalizing representation and the national-popular state, and this arc is what expands the scope of the book beyond the Mexican context and the novels in question. My argument is that the national-popular state provided a fertile context for a certain degree of optimism regarding the novel's ability to render the social totality, and that this state form's decline is registered in novels that begin to question totalizing representation more and more intensely. So, I posit a teleology both in terms of state form and novelistic structure, ambition, and desire (i.e., respectively, perspectivism, totality, and optimism). What I posit in order to avoid adopting an entirely teleological position is that the novel is always already undermining its own totalizing ambitions and desires. Teleology returns in my argument that the violent foundations of totalizing representation that, I argue, necessarily underpin any totalizing effort become more and move visible over time, as, in the Mexican example, state violence permeates the middle- and intellectual-classes in a way that it did not before 1968.

Accomplishments of recent authors, like Juan Villoro, and the recent fame of authors no longer writing, like Roberto Bolaño, raise interesting questions about the viability of my argument regarding the novel's decline. Jon has raised these questions in his response to my first comment on his blog. I have to admit to not having read Bolaño yet, but it is my understanding that 2666, for example, goes far beyond the Mexican context in terms of its thematics. Juan Villoro's El testigo does as well, though I am sure not to the same degree as 2666. Another recent totalizing novel, Porque parece mentira la verdad nunca se sabe, by Sada, focuses to a great deal on the US-Mexican border, a theme almost invisible in previous totalizing novels. The novels I analyze in my book are almost exclusively focused on Mexico, events that take place in Mexico and discussions of Mexican identity that still aim to define Mexico primarily on its own terms, as Ramos and Paz did so famously in their mid-century essays on Mexican identity.

Does my book fit into Jon's arguments about posthegemony? Perhaps not that easily: I contend that the debt crisis of the early 80s and 1968 indeed mark key critical moments in a progressive decline in the national-popular state's hegemony, if not necessarily the PRI's. De la Madrid's and Salinas's fiscal and monetary reforms dismantled social programs and political structures that had long been the pillars of the national-popular state. Thus, the PRI's tenacity can be separated from the national-popular state ideology that once defined it. Regarding the decline of the novel, I contend that the totalizing novel with an almost exclusive, if not obsessive, national focus, is a thing of the past. So, there is a post- to a hegemony that once existed.

Let the discussion begin!

This has been a guest post from Ryan Long.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


InaugurationToday, in what is apparently an unprecedented move, a state of emergency has been declared for Washington, DC. (Via Subtopia, and go read the whole post.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

fmln '09

Click here for all your Salvadoran election news. In short, the FMLN have won a plurality in the Legislative Assembly, but not an absolute majority, and indeed have not done as well as predicted. They also lost the mayoralty of San Salvador.

And see here for a helpful analysis of why the Salvadorans will be going to the polls again in a few weeks' time. (Via.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009


It's exciting to see books published by old friends and classmates. A whole number have just come out or will appear in the next few months: Horacio Legras's Literature and Subjection or Freya Schiwy's Indianizing Film, for instance. It feels as though the field of Latin American cultural and literary studies has been in the doldrums for, what, perhaps a decade or more?

At the last LASA Congress, in Montreal, it felt as though the theme was generational: a changing of the guard. John Beverley was offering himself up as now no longer critic but subject of testimonio (we who have seen so much...). Alberto Moreiras had moved increasingly outside US Latin Americanism (to Aberdeen's Centre for Modern Thought). Bruno Bosteels was playing a complicated game of self-positioning (beware the old masters...). And the rest of us were feeling just that little bit older.

The hope, then, might be that among these new publications are some indications of new paradigms or common projects. Or perhaps, for better or worse, we've moved beyond such things; perhaps 2001 really was the end of alliances (see Trigo, "The 1990s," 367).

Fictions of Totality coverThe latest book to arrive in the mail is my old friend Ryan Long's Fictions of Totality: The Mexican Novel, 1968, and the National-Popular State.

There's no doubt that Fictions of Totality is a landmark in the study of the twentieth-century Mexican novel. Long offers close readings of a series of important texts from Carlos Fuentes's La región más transparente (1958) to Héctor Aguilar Camín's Morir en el golfo (1986), tracing their relation with the concurrent gradual political transition from the national-popular state to neoliberalism. In each case, Long argues that the novels he analyzes are total novels--or, rather, totalizing novels--that both claim to represent the social and at the same time expose, wittingly or unwittingly, the necessary limits to such a totalizing project.

This same story has, of course, been told purely within literary history: in terms of the transition from modernism to postmodernism, grand narratives to skepticism, (say) Ulysses to Finnegan's Wake. Long's innovation is to map this postmodernization (delayed, in Mexico's case; for which see Gerry Martin's Journeys Through the Labyrinth) to an account of what he terms "the gradual decline of the national-popular state's hegemony" (47). He recontextualizes (and seeks to explain) literary history in terms of its posthegemonic determinants.

Now, in the spirit of kick-starting some kind of discussion, for a couple of quick questions.

The first is obvious, but none the less pressing: what precisely is the relationship posited here between novel and state? At times, Long suggests that novels reflect upon and even expose the state in so far as they "respond to their historical context" (9). At other times, the sense seems to be that novel and state share a parallel trajectory, each mirroring the other as they share "common ground" in that "exclusivity is at the same time foundation and limit of their privileged positions" (5). At still other times, presumably the novel is part of the putative hegemony of the national-popular state, one of the mechanisms that help to produce the state as, Long claims, "in large part, an ideological construct" (8).

Second, it should be no surprise that I think that Long could push the posthegemonic aspect of his narrative further. There are many indications that the notion of a fall from hegemonic grace is ultimately unconvincing. For instance, there's a problem of periodization: Long tells us that 1968 and the massacre at Tlatelolco were the crux in that "the traumatic events of 1968 were [. . .] the source of an ideological crisis" (120) revealing the violence that ultimately anchored claims to hegemony. Yet this crisis comes to seem more a prolonged and unremitting agony than the response to a punctual event. For Long also shows that Tlatelolco was simply one more of the many episodes of violent repression that punctuated the PRI's long regime, from the Cristero war of the 1920s and early 1930s to the counter-insurgency campaigns of the 1970s and on (we might add) to the repression of the Zapatistas in the 1990s (6). And equally, even at the end of the period that Long surveys, i.e. by the 1980s and a new set of (primarily economic) crises, the totalizing narrative continues, albeit as parody. After all, it was not until 2000 that the PRI finally gave up power, some thirty years after Tlatelolco.

In other words, it's not clear that the PRI's regime was ever, in any meaningful sense of the term, hegemonic. Long claims that 1958 marked "the height of the national-popular state" (9). But he also shows that Fuentes's La región más transparente, published that same year, both exposes the limits of the state's hegemonic project and, precisely for this reason, attempts to construct a "compensatory totality" (41) to make up for that political failure. Moreover, even when he describes the PRI's presumed pre-1960s hegemony, it is in terms of its "aspirations" or its "promise" (8).

Long shows not so much the decline of national-popular hegemony, as the disappearance of any promise to achieve hegemony. It is not hegemony that fades (for there is no hegemony and never has been), but the hegemony of hegemony that comes to an end: the project to build a future hegemony is abandoned, as everyone comes to recognize that it would be both impossible and ineffective. Moreover, this second-order hegemony can come into crisis in 1968, and yet everything carries on much the same. Almost fully half of the PRI's regime is still to come. 1968 marks the death of the national-popular state only in the sense that he not busy being born is busy dying. It was always in its death throes.

Read in terms of the decline not of hegemony but of its promise, Fictions of Totality becomes fully posthegemonic. And maybe then we might be able to rethink the problematic of the novel, no longer in terms of its relation to the state as such, but rather in terms of its relation to constituent power. In other words, not so much as a vehicle for representation, but as a (perhaps rather less totalizing) project to mould affect and habit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Cartas mapuche coverA brief note. In Chile in December, thanks to Rodrigo Naranjo, I came across the work of the Laboratory of Declassification. Rodrigo also introduced me to Jorge Pávez, who kindly gave me a copy of his book, Cartas mapuche: Siglo XIX, which is in large part an outgrowth of this declassification project. The book is to be formally launched on Thursday; on the off-chance I have any readers in Chile, I urge you to attend.

Jorge has written a very interesting introduction to the volume, which I hope to comment upon at some point. And Rodrigo was quite insistent that Posthegemony was merely a new Latin American cartography (to return to such topological metaphors) or, I suppose, a restratification. I'm not convinced about that, or that in fact declassification doesn't inadvertently fall into a similar trap: isn't every declassification also necessarily a reclassification, too?

However, and again in light of the fact that subaltern studies qua subaltern studies never in the end produced very much in the way of redescriptions, let alone historical redescriptions, of Latin America, perhaps declassification is the true inheritor of the subalternist project?

Link: The Laboratory also has a blog which, although it has not been updated for some time, has some interesting texts, including by people such as Federico Galende.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I've been spending rather too much time recently trying to get at least a preliminary grip of so-called speculative realism. Apparently all the cool kids are into it these days.

However, a recent post by Nick at the accursed share points towards what troubles me about this movement.

As Nick puts it, "The turn towards objects, towards the absolute, and towards the real as indifferent, all imply that ontology must be independent of politics." Indeed (as I say in a comment there), is not speculative realism part of a fairly thorough-going depoliticization... and perhaps not simply a depoliticization of ontology.

Nick continues: "The relative absence of politics in [Brassier's] Nihil Unbound stems partly from the belief that we can study ontology without having to be concerned about its political effects. The results of such a study, as in Brassier’s work, can be rather disconcerting for politics – what if there is no such thing as agency?"

But doesn't this miss the point about the politics of ontology à la Deleuze et. al.: that it doesn't rely on a conception of agency? Indeed, throughout the rest of this post, Nick consistently talks about politics in terms of political projects. This would seem to be a rather drastic reduction of the political.

Indeed, surely Deleuze, Bourdieu, Negri, subalternism, and so on have very little time for political projects of any stripe whatsoever. And my point in Posthegemony is in fact that such projects, at least in the guise of hegemony, are if anything a distraction from the political.

Now, this may be a digression from a real interrogation of speculative realism and its implications for political theory, and I surely have plenty of reading still to do, but the reduction of politics to projects is perhaps symptomatic.

Meanwhile, Alex at Splintering Bone Ashes offers a rather different take, and one with which I have rather more sympathy:
In Speculative Realist terms, what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human. Ray Brassier has already hinted at this in his original “Nihil Unbound” article on Badiou, Deleuze & Guattari and Capitalism. For surely what all analyses of capitalism have presumed to date is the capitalist ‘for-us’ (construed in positive or negative terms), whereas capital is ultimately a machine which has almost no relation to humanity whatsoever, it intersects with us, it has us as moving parts, but it ultimately is not of or for-us. Capital properly thought is a vast inhuman form, a genuinely alien life form (in that it is entirely non-organic) of which we know all-too-little. A new investigation of this form must proceed precisely as an anti-anthropomorphic cartography, a study in alien finance, a Xenoeconomics. Brassier himself has shied away in the last few years from a detailed discussion of capitalism, but I believe that the most interesting applications of speculative realist philosophy may well arrive with precisely a re-reading of both Marx’s and Deleuze & Guattari’s models of capitalism.
I need to look for the Brassier article mentioned here. (Presumably it's "Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital," from Peter Hallward's Think Again.) And Alex opens up the can of worms that is accelerationism. See also schoolboy errors here and here, as well as k-punk arguing inter alia that "Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist" and (back to speculative realism again) Speculative Heresy's Call for Debate on Speculative Realist Politics and Xenoeconomics.

Yet I'm still not convinced that "it is very much the issue of agency which is most crucial" or that "the pending question is the re-conceptualisation of agency that would destroy this Subject", by which Benjamin at No Useless Leniency means capital.

Hmm. At the same time, I'm happy enough for the theory of the multitude to redeem subjectivity from its own disrepute. But I don't see anything particularly humanist about that; quite the opposite.

More on this anon, I'm sure.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Encouraged by a quite marvellous response to my brief discussion of pre-emptive criticisms of posthegemony (and many thanks to "a latinamericanist"), here's another of those shallow swipes, from one of Abril Trigo's introductory overviews in The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader:
Deconstructionists stretched subaltern studies' central concept of subalternity, based upon the irrepresentability of the subaltern, inasmuch as she or he is always exterior to any hegemonic formation, to its very limits, and rejected any form of strategic suture as a mere disabling of the subaltern absolute epistemological negativity. In this manner, deconstructionists took the subalternist project to its logical consequences: the blind alley of post-hegemony and postpolitics as the ultimate radicalization (Moreiras 1996a). Cornered by its own aporias, subalternism reacted with a radical return to the very positions against which it had built its identity. This internal polemic [between deconstruction and an affirmation of the nation-state]--personal differences aside--led to the dissolution of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group. (369)
Now, there has been an enormous amount of ink spilled on the question of why the Latin American subaltern studies group split up--no doubt more ink thank the group itself spilled while it existed. The latest arena for the strangely persistent return to this traumatic demise is Hernán Vidal's Treinta años de estudios literarios/culturales latinoamericanistas en los Estados Unidos (which would seem strangely difficult to get hold of; it doesn't help that the webpage of the Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana is so out of date it still lists Mabel Moraña as its director of publications; well, there's a whole 'nother history of institutional struggles there...). I don't propose to add to the discussion of the split, or at least not now.

But Trigo's passing reference to the "blind alley of post-hegemony" has always struck me as odd, and for some time I really did think of referring to it in the introduction to my book.

It's odd not least because Trigo is undercutting the authors, and indeed even the specific essays, that he is supposed here to be introducing: he specifically name-checks Alberto Moreiras (the reference is to "Elementos de la articulación teórica para el subalternismo latinoamericano: Candido y Borges"), whose essay "Irruption and Conservation: Some Conditions of Latin Americanist Critique" is included in the reader's final section; and that section also includes George Yúdice's "Latin American Intellectuals in a Post-Hegemonic Era."

But it's odd also because in fact Alberto's essay in this volume doesn't even mention posthegemony, while Yúdice (whose essay does) is no deconstructionist, was never a member of the subaltern studies group, and is surely not the target of Trigo's critique.

So the sideswipe is doubly misplaced: it shouldn't (one would have thought) be here at all, as a matter of professional responsibility if not courtesy; and it appears rather to miss, or to mistake, its mark.

Not to mention that the whole point of the deconstructionist version of subaltern studies is precisely to avoid closure, to hold off the kinds of political and theoretical suturing that could fit the metaphor of a "blind alley." Or even the fact that, as I hope to show, there is plenty more down this alley than Trigo lets on.

Indeed, if we are to talk of metaphors drawn from roads and alleys, it is as through Trigo wants to place a "no through road" sign squarely in front of a wide-open vista whose existence he has to acknowledge, however awkwardly, but which he would rather nobody bothered to explore. "Stick to the highway," he's telling us.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


a Western BuddhistThe Wednesday quotation, part XI: Slavoj Zizek on the fetishistic mode of ideology.

"Western Buddhism" [. . .] perfectly fits the fetishist mode of ideology in our allegedly "post-ideological" era, as opposed to its traditional symptomal mode, in which the ideological lie that structures our perception of reality is threatened by symptoms qua "returns of the repressed," cracks in the fabric of the ideological lie. Fetish is effectively a kind of envers of the symptom. That is to say, symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed truth erupts, while fetish is the embodiment of the Lie which enables us to sustain the unbearable truth. [. . .] In this sense, a fetish can play a very constructive role of allowing us to cope with the harsh reality: fetishists are not dreamers lost in their private worlds, they are thorough "realists," able to accept the way things are – since they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to defuse the full impact of reality. (Slavoj Zizek, "The Prospects of Radical Politics Today". International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 5.1 [January, 2008])

Monday, January 05, 2009


How is it that the campus swimming pool is open longer hours than the library?

On Saturday, one library shut up shop at 4pm; the other main library (sorry, actually it's now a "Rich person's name 'learning center'") hadn't even bothered to open its doors. And yet the swimming pool was still open when I was going home at around 8pm; indeed, to add insulting extravagance to injury, they had the outdoor pool heated and uncovered despite the snow around and about.

Can't the university at least pretend it's an institution of higher learning, rather than a place to babysit 18 to 22-year-olds?

Image courtesy of freedyk on flickr.

While we're at it, can't the university shovel its walks? Isn't there some kind of law about this? Oh yes, there is...

76. The Owner or occupier of any parcel of real property shall, not later than 10:00
a.m. of any day except Sunday, remove snow and ice from any sidewalk adjacent
to such parcel for a distance that coincides with the parcel's property line, except
that this provision shall not apply to real property occupied only by a one or two-
family dwelling.

76B. If an owner or occupier of any parcel of real property fails to remove snow and
ice, as required by either section 76 or 76A, the City Engineer may authorize the
removal by another person and the costs of such removal shall be at the expense
of the owner or occupier as the case may be.
Heck, they could even hire people to do it for them.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Posthegemony has been an instance of slow blogging for some time now.

But in the silence, I forgot to mention... that the manuscript of Posthegemony, the book was finally sent off to Minnesota shortly in mid-December. It should be out at some point late this year.

Meanwhile, the latest shallow swipe at posthegemony appears in Mabel Moraña et. al.'s Coloniality at Large:
[Latin America] as a whole can and should be seen as a much more complex scenario than the one usually approached through concepts such as postnational, posthistoric, posthegemonic, post-ideological, and the like. These fashionable notions, which in certain contexts could mobilize theoretical reflections, capture very specific aspects of a much broader political, cultural, and epistemological reality, and when taken as totalizing critical paradigms, provide limited and limiting knowledge of Latin America's cultural and political problems. (16)
At some point I should probably respond to such pre-emptive criticisms. Not right now, however.