Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Ya BastaA plan is afoot at archive : s0metim3s for a discussion of Mario Tronti's "The Strategy of Refusal". This comes on the heels of Jodi's Long Sunday post on "Bartleby in Power" and coincides with Nate's encouragement: Leggiamo Tronti.

We all want to say "We prefer not to." The brilliance of the "strategy of refusal" is its immediate appeal. Against the moralism that so often characterizes the Left. Against notions of sacrifice, struggle, or self-improvement. A valorization of what starts as an exasperated sigh: "Enough already!"

And a realization that the real moralism lies elsewhere.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Monday Arguediana

Angel RamaAngel Rama's introduction to Arguedas's Señores e indios is perceptive about the challenge Arguedas faced in adapting an essentially social realist novelistic form to his own purposes.

Rama suggests that Arguedas resorted to "a type of return to the accumulative system corresponding to earlier stages in the development of the genre" (35). Instead of the "organic unity" of the nineteenth-century novel, in which plot and character develop mutually and linearly, Arguedas's novels turn around "the accumulation of intense and sudden 'illuminations,' structured and synchronic visions of an apprehension of the real that retains all its possible manifestations" (36).

In other words, Western narrative proceeds by the elimination of possibilities, as the plot puts options to characters who are unable to move on without making a decision between them. By contrast, Arguedas maintains a sense of the possible--perhaps better, the always present virtual--implicit in a landscape, human and natural, that always goes beyond the individual and his or her decisions. Or rather, bringing together the two forms, one Western the other closer to an indigenous worldview, Arguedas presents:
a double operation: on the one hand, a causal chain of actions and characters comes together in line with the traditional requirements of realist narrative; on the other, unexpected 'illuminations' arise, that may or may not be connected to the sphere of the action, but which enable another development and another interpretation that the author sees as more profound, and more effective as literature. (37)
Hence, for Rama, Arguedas offers a model of literary transculturation. More precisely, he offers his literature as a model of an ideal transculturation that might be an object lesson for Peruvian culture as a whole. Because "if it were possible in literature, then it might also be possible in the rest of the culture" (15).

So Arguedas's is a transculturation in reverse: it is not that his novels are the products of transculturating forces; it is that they themselves aim to force the production of transculturation elsewhere.

It's a little strange, however, that Rama should make this eloquent case for the importance of Arguedas's literary project in the introduction to what is a collection of anthropological essays. Indeed, Rama says little to illuminate the thirty eight short pieces that his own essay supposedly introduces.

Perhaps Rama's silence owes something to the fact that however much Arguedas may have struggled with literary form, however much his novels were a series of more or less inconclusive, even unsatisfactory, experiments, he seems not to have struggled in the same way with the conventions of anthropological writing.

There is very little sign in Señores e indios of the tensions that would later in the twentieth century lead to the myriad critiques and auto-critiques that have both plagued and invigorated the discipline of Anthropology. For all the autobiographical elements in Arguedas's writing (for instance in "Canciones quechuas") or the more journalistic accounts in which he writes of his own observations (such as "Andahuaylinos, alemanes y amueshas"), there is no point at which he produces anything like a self-conscious or self-reflexive approach to the business of studying Peruvian customs and culture.

There is in fact hardly anything like an explicitly theoretical approach. And though he declares that he is avoiding theory in what are mainly semi-popular essays (destined for newspapers rather than specialized journals), Arguedas is happy enough to endorse a straightforwardly positivist and empiricist, even scientistic, attitude to his object of study. In a discussion of Andean music, for instance, he deplores those who are ignorant of even "the rudiments of the science devoted to the study of this aspect of the culture" (210). Such ignorance leads, he tells us, to the adoption of "bluntening and deforming measures" (210) that increase the likelihood of "what we can perfectly properly call falsifications" (209).

And in what does such falsification consist? In an inability to tell the original from a copy. This is what anthropological science can provide: a distinction between the true and the false; between model and imitation. Here, however, a whole can of worms opens up. For it turns out that the "copy" that Arguedas is denouncing involves a return to what one might otherwise suggest would be an "original" pre-Hispanic, "Incaist" cultural identity.

Arguedas insists that this Incaist return to some pre-Hispanic form not only denies the continuity between Inca civilization and contemporary indigenous culture, but also thereby loses sight of the "authenticity" of that culture, much of which is in fact "richer and more extensive than the ancient, because it has assimilated and transformed excellent instruments of expression that come from Europe, and that are more perfect than the ancient" (216). This leads him to the counter-intuitive stance of defending transculturation on account of its authenticity and originality, and denouncing nativism for its artificiality and secondariness.

But above all: why and on what grounds denounce this transculturation, the product of the current vogue for indigeneity among an intellectual elite in Lima, but not the former transculturation, that has already taken place in the Andes?

John Galliano for DiorWhy denounce the "abyss between the original and the imitation" when it comes to the coastal appropriation of highland folk dances and music (219), but not when it comes to the centuries of very similar appropriations that, Arguedas emphasizes, have given rise to this very culture in the "first" place?

And what of John Galliano's collection for Dior last year, inspired by Andean traje? Would this not confirm Arguedas's intuition that were indigenous cultures presented properly abroad, "we would conquer the world for Peru" (232)?

In short: what are transculturation's limits? And who can legislate as to those limits? The anthropologist as scientist?

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Last night we were discussing the differences between "presentist" and "historicist" approaches to literature, especially in the classroom. I'm not entirely sure that this distinction is well put, though it echoes the recent discussion over at Long Sunday about "interpretation".

A presentist approach to a text would treat it as though it spoke directly to our present circumstances. So we read Virgil on Empire, Chaucer on popular culture, Sarmiento on barbarism, because they like us are concerned with these issues. Shakespeare is our contemporary. And if Dylan is the new Keats, that's because Keats was the old Dylan. Whether because of transcendent values (great works speak across the ages), transhistorical problems (the poor you always have with you), or tactical considerations (selling the classics to the kids), the point is to emphasize how familiar these texts are.

A historicist approach would say: no, we are not yet equipped to read the text. When we fancy we see our own concerns addressed in Chaucer or Keats, in fact we are imposing those concerns upon these authors. We need, rather, to read these texts as they were read in their time: and Empire meant something rather different to Virgil than it does to us; and Shakespeare's plays only fully give up their sense once we see them as embedded in a whole series of cultural and political discourses very much of their own time (and place). So the point is to show the strangeness of these texts.

But this dichotomy is itself strange. On the one hand, the present is elusive: which present? Whose present? On the other hand, so is the past: and when precisely does a work become historical?

And a text in a class is unavoidably contemporary: we are all Pierre Menards; we cannot unlearn what we know and Cervantes did not. But it is also unavoidably strange: it comes from elsewhere, bearing the mark of the other. And so in reading we always run the risk of being moved or disturbed, or losing ourselves to some small extent. But isn't that the attraction of literature, or indeed art in general? That it offers an unlearning: we are no longer quite so sure of who we are.

Or so, at least, one might hope...

Bush reading

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


As I seem to have a sideline on Latin American elections (Bachelet, Morales), and with all the talk of Latin America's "leftward drift"...

Salvador flagIt's worth noting then that according to Tim's El Salvador Blog the FMLN are leading the polls in advance of Salvador's upcoming National Assembly and mayoral elections.

The country's Presidential election took place two years ago, and was won by Tony Saca of ARENA, the party that was, notoriously, the party of the death squads during the 1980s civil war.

The FMLN's candidate in 2004 was their veteran leader, Schafik Handal, who died in January at the airport, returning from Evo Morales's inauguration. It seems likely that the party's current standing in the polls owes not a little to the sentimental affection expressed for Handal after his death, whereas in life the Communist leader was much vilified.

(For another example of a Communist leader whose recent death has done much to boost her public acceptability, see Chile's Gladys Marín.)

At the same time, Schafik's departure may enable some renovation within the FMLN. See again Tim's discussion of the party's internal debates. Splits within the FMLN--always at best a loose coalition, but united in the 1980s in line with the necessities of insurgency--have long meant that the left have failed to capitalize in peacetime on their strength and definite popularity as a rebel force. The party has never really recovered from the defection of Joaquín Villalobos, wartime strategist, who decided to ally with ARENA in 1994. Michael Zielinski summarizes the situation in the mid-1990s here. And Margaret Swedish comments on further divisions here.

Still, the former guerrillas have more recently performed well in Assembly elections and in local politics alike. In 2003, with 34% of the vote, they won a qualified majority in the Assembly. But they remained the opposition, facing a right of centre coalition dominated by ARENA. And the current mayor of San Salvador was elected as a member of the FMLN, even though he quit the party last year. Perhaps this year will see an electoral breakthrough. Which will irritate the US, if nothing else. But let us hope it achieves more than that.

For more news on Salvador, in addition to Tim's fine blog, see the UCA's Proceso, extracts of which are available in both English and Spanish.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Monday Arguediana

El sexto is no doubt the least read and least appreciated of Arguedas's novels. Mario Vargas Llosa states that it is, with El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, "the most imperfect one that he wrote" (20). But Los zorros has received a fair amount of critical attention. Precisely its imperfection, and the fact that it was left unfinished at the author's suicide, are seen as symptomatic of the fate of the Peruvian's literary project as a whole. El sexto's imperfections, on the other hand, are seen as altogether less interesting.

Moreover, this semi-autobiographical account of life in a Lima prison doesn't fit well within the thematic continuities of the rest of Arguedas's work. Though some of its characters are from the Andes, not least the protagonist, Gabriel, and his cellmate, Cámac, the prison walls limit the narrative. Any indigenism is thoroughly attenuated, glimpsed only in some of Gabriel's more fleeting reminiscences. We are, instead, endlessly drawn back to the brute realities of the jail's physical environment.

And that environment is brute and brutish with a vengeance. Arguedas provides us with a picture of utter filth and degradation, both literal and figurative. The jail's bathrooms have been destroyed, so prisoners shit and piss in full view of each other. Except that is for the stronger, more vicious among them, who have made their way up the prisoners' brutal hierarchy: they shit on pieces of paper in their cells, and get their lackeys to carry their excrement off to the holes in the ground that pass for latrines. Mealtime is survival of the fittest: those too weak to push their way to the front of the crowd, to have their gruel served directly into their cupped hands, soon further weaken and starve. The most desperate are prepared to lick up fellow inmates' blood from where it falls on the stone floors. Half the common prisoners are crazy already or are driven mad by their surroundings. A cruel traffic in sexual favours predominates. The whole place gives off a stench of dirt, degeneracy, and decay: "The Sexto stinks as though all those locked up in there were rotting away" (221).

Sendero prisoners at Canto GrandeYet there is also music in the air. The novel opens and closes with a hymn. And throughout, an array of songs punctuate the story's violence, death, destruction, and horror.

This music is diverse. It includes the Quechua huayno familiar from Los ríos profundos; but here the indigenous have no monopoly on song. These hymns are also rousing chants of war, political propaganda given some melody, however rough.

For the political prisoners who inhabit the prison's upper levels are bitterly divided between apristas (followers of the populist APRA party) and Communists. Though they are equally persecuted by the military dictatorship that has shut both sets of activists away, their mutual enmity almost overwhelms their shared hostility to the state. And they express their rivalry, as well as maintaining internal discipline, in part through their party hymns: the "aprista Marsellaise" on the one hand; the "Internationale" on the other. These are the songs that greet Gabriel as he arrives at the novel's opening, and with which the book also ends.

And in the interval we hear not only Gabriel's attempts to recall the highland music appropriate to the occasions he's living through--"as a good highlander I would repeat a huayno under my breath [. . .]. Its sadness consoled me, grabbed hold of my feelings" (178, 179). Also, for instance, the one flagrant, and so perhaps liberated, homosexual, Rositas, is often to be found humming or whistling a tune. Plus one of the Afro-Peruvian prisoners, a group whom Arguedas generally tends to portray as the lowest of the low, dances a dance "with an incredible energy" that marks out "a joyful rhythm" moving even the prison's "rigid walls" and resonating through "the prisoners' souls like a message from the coast's broad valleys" (201). And the cellmate Cámac embarks on a project to construct a guitar, though this enterprise is cut short by his own death, a demise that his Communist comrades pin in part on this very deviation from orthodoxy.

So whether it stirs up and condenses hatred or pride, rivalry or brotherhood, joy or sadness, music is a privileged conduit of affect for lowlander and highlander alike.

It's a matter of life and death: the dead are saluted with song, and at one point Gabriel and the cellmate who replaces Cámac make a rather macabre pledge to each other, to sing "the saddest melody, the saddest in the world" should the other die first (190). For what's really heartbreaking is to have nobody to sing for you. "So sing something" pleads one prisoner as he's led away to the hospital. "Sing some little thing for me!" (166). But no one sings, so he has to make do himself, "in a rasping voice, as though it came not from a human throat but from some ungainly, impotent bird" (167).

So, no, it's not as though song will bring rivals together or transcend physical misery. This music is inflected by the physicality, whether decrepit or resistant, of those singing. But it is one of the few markers that forestalls utter abjection. For even the most abject of them all, a prisoner who has thoroughly lost his senses, who cannot live outside the jail and dies within it, and who is described as "the most lowly victim of capitalist society" (92), is a man who goes by the name of "the pianist" because while prostrate on the floor he acts as though playing a keyboard. The pianist, we are told, "had something of the sanctity of the heavens and mother earth. [. . .] He heard the music that comes from outside, invented by mankind, torn from space and the surface of the earth" (127).

This inaudible music promises perhaps to transfigure, if not redeem, a putrid materiality.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Highsmith book coverTom Ripley suggests that identity is as much a matter of habit and performance as of inheritance or the law.

The eponymous protagonist of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley is sent by a wealthy American businessman, Herbert Greenleaf, to persuade his son to return to the States from an overlong sojourn in Italy. But young Dickie Greenleaf has pretensions as a painter, a life of much ease and little responsibility, and scant incentive to "come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to-five job" (52). Seeing Greenleaf's fortune, Ripley "envied him with a heartbreaking surge of envy and of self-pity" (52).

So Tom abandons his mission, and seeks rather to become a part of Dickie's life, a fixture in the rounds of excursions to beach and café in the village of Mongibello, or further afield to Capri or the Alps, perhaps even to Paris. Tom wants to see the sights, to educate himself by means of a European Grand Tour in the company of his new friend. But bonding with Greenleaf means prising him away from the only other American in the village: Marge Sherwood, with whom Dickie has an on-again off-again romantic engagement, more strongly pursued by Marge than by Dickie. Ripley's goal, then, is to prevent Greenleaf from falling into Marge's heterosexual trap.

But Dickie is hardly any keener to reciprocate Tom's advances than Marge's. Not that Tom's desires are straightforwardly homosexual: Slavoj Zizek calls him a "male lesbian" rather than a "closet gay" ("When Straight Means Weird"). I'm not so sure about that, but it's noticeable that in this novel permeated by accusations and counter-accusations of "sexual deviation," nobody actually gets to have sex. "Tom laughed at that phrase 'sexual deviation.' Where was the sex? Where was the deviation?" (147).

Indeed, what leads Ripley eventually to murder is a desire to go straight, or rather, not to accept deviation, not to give up on desires that have more to do with class than with sexuality. And a more direct route to Dickie's lifestyle means doing away with the need for reciprocity, and simply taking on the other's identity: "He could--he had just thought of something brilliant: he could become Dickie Greenleaf himself. He could do everything that Dickie did. [. . .] He could step right into Dickie's shoes" (100-101).

Alain Delon in Plein Soleil
So Tom clubs Dickie to death on a boat trip off San Remo and soon finds himself "happy, content, and utterly, utterly confident, as he had never been before in his life" (112). "It was impossible to be lonely or bored, he thought, so long as he was Dickie Greenleaf" (122). And as far as Tom is concerned, he is Dickie Greenleaf. It is not that he is playing at being Dickie, it is that he has subsumed his identity. "This was," Tom reflects, "the real annihilation of his past and of himself, Tom Ripley, who was made up of that past" (127).

So when, after a series of scrapes and near-misses both with the law and with Dickie's friends--one of whom has also to be put away--Tom returns, somewhat reluctantly, to being Tom Ripley, this too becomes a performance: "He began to feel happy even in his dreary role as Thomas Ripley. He took a pleasure in it, overdoing almost the old Tom Ripley reticence with strangers, the inferiority in every duck of his head and wistful, sidelong glance" (194). And being Tom as much as (perhaps more than) being Dickie requires that he tell a series of tall tales to head off the suspicions of the police, Mr Greenleaf Sr, and Marge. But he carries them off: "his stories were good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them" (256).

Which is why I'm not sure either of Zizek's characterization of Ripley in terms of "disengaged coldness." It's true that Tom's attachments disrupt conventional notions of propriety and trust, constancy and reliability. But isn't that precisely because of their intensity, an intensity in the contraction of habits and susceptibility to affect that is positively inhuman? Tom endlessly changes shape and shifts identity not so much to negate his old habits but to experience new sensations. If he is repulsed by so many of the characters he meets along the way, is it not because they accept their own limitations? Tom always wants more, which means also feeling more.

And surely the book's final lines express enthusiasm more than they evince snobbery: "'To a hotel, please,' Tom said. 'Il meglio albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!'" (295).

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Deleuze articulates the core of Difference and Repetition, and perhaps of his work as a whole, with the following declaration:
In short, the negative is always derived and represented, never original or present: the process of difference and differenciation is primary in relation to that of the negative and opposition. (207)
Here, succinctly, is both Platonism overturned and Hegelianism rejected.

Immediately thereafter, Deleuze forestalls those who suggest that dispensing with negation would also mean doing away with critique, those who worry that giving up on the dialectic implies an acceptance, say, of the end of history. No, Deleuze states, the negative was never intrinsic to Marxism. Deleuze stands by an anti-dialectical Marxism, in tune with Althusserianism:
Those commentators on Marx who insist upon the fundamental difference between Marx and Hegel rightly point out that in Capital the category of differenciation (the differenciation at the heart of a social multiplicity: the division of labour) is substituted for the Hegelian concepts of opposition, contradiction, and alienation. (207)
A footnote to Reading Capital follows.

It's worth noting en passant that Deleuze's Marxism in Difference and Repetition is surprisingly orthodox, at least in so far as he holds to the base/superstructure model:
In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political, or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability. (186)
But in what is almost an aside, Deleuze then notes:
Clearly, at this point the philosophy of difference must be wary of turning into the discourse of beautiful souls: differences, nothing but differences, in a peaceful coexistence in the Idea of social places and functions . . . but the name of Marx is sufficient to save it from this danger. (207)
This is an odd but crucial clarification. It also contains a significant ellipsis. Not the only one in the book, but no doubt the most symptomatic. (Compare xx, 26, 63, 72, 75, 85, 117, 155, 163, 187, 188, 191, 223, 228, 246, where in most cases the ellipsis is fairly trivially associated with a list.)

For the point is that overturning Platonism and rejecting Hegelianism are insufficient. Representation, the One, negation, etc. are false problems. Once their insubstantiality is shown, the real problems persist. And is "the name of Marx" really enough to save us from a functionalist celebration of the immanent? It certainly hasn't stopped Manual de Landa, for instance, from employing Deleuzianism for an apologia for the market.

To put this another way, the end of hegemony is scarcely a liberation. It is only the beginning of the task facing posthegemony.

Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History
"Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History," by Michael Laster

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Kate MossJust as Latin America has long supplied raw material to feed the global economy, so the region has also been exploited for its affective potential. Gold, silver, copper, guano, rubber, chocolate, sugar, tobacco, coffee, coca: these have all sustained peripheral monocultures whose product has been refined and consumed in the metropolis.

And parallel to and intertwined with this consumer goods economy is a no less material affective economy, also often structured by a distinction between the raw and the refined. After all, several of these commodities are mood enhancers, and are confected into forms (rum, cigarettes, cocaine) that further distill their mood-enhancing potential. Others have inspired their own deliria: gold fever, rubber booms.

But there has always been a more direct appropriation and accumulation of affective energy, from the circulation of fearful travelers' tales of cannibals and savages, to the dissemination of "magic realism" or salsa, or the packaging of sexuality for Hollywood or package tourism. Latin America marks the Western imagination with a particular intensity.

And the figures who come to stand in for the region are therefore distinguished by their affective intensity.

Carmen MirandaCarmen Miranda, for instance, who not only bore the signs of economic exchange (her headdresses loaded with bananas and other fruit provided by tropical bounty), but also served as a fetishized conduit for the exuberance and sexiness that Hollywood captured and distilled as "Latin spirit."

At the same time, and despite the elaborate orchestration that typified a Carmen Miranda number, some disturbing excess remained, not least in the ways in which Miranda's patter upset linguistic convention.

She blurred English and Portuguese and dissolved both, (re)converting language into sounds that were no longer meaningful, only affectively resonant. In Ana López's words, "Miranda's excessive manipulation of accents [. . .] inflates the fetish, cracking its surface while simultaneously aggrandizing it" ("Are All Latins from Manhattan?" 77).

So there has long been a complex relation between Latin affect and Western reason: both reinforcement and subversion. Fernando Ortiz suggests that at stake is a colonial pact with the devil. Of the appearance of tobacco and chocolate from the Americas, as well as Arabian coffee and tea from the Far East, "these four exotic products [. . .] all of them stimulants of the senses as well as of the spirit," he writes that "it is as though they had been sent to Europe from the four corners of the earth by the devil to revive Europe 'when the time came,' when that continent was ready to save the spirituality of reason from burning itself out and give the senses their due once more" (Cuban Counterpoint 206).

An economy of the senses saves reason, gives it a shot in the arm, but also demonstrates reason's addicted dependence upon sensual as well as spiritual stimulation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I suspect that most people who read Deleuze's Difference and Repetition--and there can't be many of them--are reading the book through the lens provided by his and Guattari's later Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And indeed, many of the elements of the later work are already in place here, not least the affirmation of difference and multiplicity, and the refusal of negation and representation.

The productivist ethos of Anti-Oedipus is on display: "In every respect," Deleuze tells us, "truth is a matter of production, not of adequation" (154). As is the refusal of lack, and so implicitly an incipient anti-Lacanianism: "The unconscious is neither an unconscious of degradation nor an unconscious of contradiction; it involves neither limitation nor opposition [. . .]. The celebrated phrase 'the unconscious knows no negative' must be taken literally" (108).

Moreover, surely the syntheses of the later work (connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive) are anticipated in the discussion of Habitus, Eros, and Thanatos, the "three syntheses which must be understood as constitutive of the unconscious" (114). This triad reoccurs in a number of variations in the first half of the book: as present, past, and future (but also as different modalities of the past, and of time itself); and as "coupling," "resonance," and "forced movement" (117).

And although Deleuze's concerns are not (yet) fully social, fully political, there are indications of both possible and actual connections with social critique. For example:
What is a thought which harms no one, neither thinkers nor anyone else? Recognition is a sign of the celebration of monstrous nuptials, in which thought "rediscovers" the State, rediscovers "the Church," and rediscovers the current values that it subtly presented in the pure form of an eternally blessed unspecified eternal object. (135-136)
Indeed, and this is another of those subterranean connections to Bourdieu that interest me, the struggle against Philosophy's "image of thought" is also a struggle against doxa, a posthegemonic analysis of a common sense that lies beneath or beyond ideology: "The image of thought is only the figure in which doxa is universalised by being elevated to the rational level" (134).

And I had forgotten that Deleuze attends so much to "the mystery of habit" (73), which he even discusses under the rubric of Habitus. There is something primary about habit in Deleuze: it constitutes the first synthesis, of connection or "contraction" (73). (Could one imagine a counter-contractarian tradition, then?)

larvaeHabit establishes the "larval self," or the larval selves that inhabit us, "the primary habits that we are; the thousands of passive syntheses of which we are organically composed. [. . .] We speak of our 'self' only in virtue of these thousands of little witnesses which contemplate within us" (74). Habit is always already multitudinous. Or, again:
This living present, and with it the whole of organic and psychic life, rests upon habit. [. . .] We must regard habit as the foundation from which all other psychic phenomena derive. [. . .] These thousands of habits of which we are composed--these contractions, contemplations, pretensions, presumptions, satisfactions, fatigues; these variable presents--thus form the basic domain of passive syntheses. [. . .] Selves are larval subjects; the world of passive syntheses constitutes the system of the self, under conditions yet to be determined, but it is the system of a dissolved self. (78)
The issue, then, is how the Self, the Subject, is composed as an abstraction from and imposition on this teeming world. Whence the One, now all too recognizable, that stands in for this multiplicity? Deleuze here asks this question of Philosophy. And it is Plato who is the villain of the piece, though this is complicated by the fact both that Platonism has subsequently been compounded by (particularly) Descartes, Kant, and Hegel, and also that Plato at least is ascribed the virtue of having in some way failed to secure the victory of the Idea over the copy: "Was it not inevitable that Plato should be the first to overturn Platonism, or at least to show the direction such an overturning should take?" (68).

As such, an alternative tradition opens up, a fissure that runs through even the most canonical of philosophers. And it is tracing that fissure, and the larvae that spill from it, that is the object of so much of Deleuze's other philosophical work.

Monday, February 13, 2006


There is much overlap between Deleuze's Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation and de Bolla's Art Matters. What unites them is their interest in the affective. Deleuze argues that "there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects: that is, 'sensations' and 'instincts'" (39). And so "sensation" is an entry into the material, the immediately corporeal, against narrative: "sensation is that which is transmitted directly, and avoids the detour and boredom of conveying a story" (36).

Thus Deleuze, like de Bolla, stresses the physicality not only of the painting itself, which still retains the traces of the hand, but also in our viewing of paintings. Compare de Bolla's observation "that closing one's eyes the better to see is no bad thing" with Deleuze's statement that "painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, in the stomach, in the lungs" (52).

No wonder the LRB asked de Bolla to review Deleuze's book [subscription required]. Here, de Bolla picks up particularly on Deleuze's chapter "Body, Meat and Spirit" and his suggestion that the painter "goes to the butcher's shop as if it were a church, with the meat as the crucified victim [. . .] Bacon is a religious painter only in butchers' shops" (qtd. 20).

In some ways, this is only obvious. See the third of Bacon's Three Studies for a Crucifixion...

The theme is also discussed by Wieland Schmeid, quoted here. (And Schmeid notes this a crucifixion without transcendence: "there are no redeemers or saviours to be found.")

But where de Bolla takes this expanded affectivity as also an expanded terrain of representation ("now I think I can see how Bacon's paintings also smell of different things [. . .]. Perhaps this is on account of a deeply rooted mimetic affect" [20]), Deleuze insists on contrasting mimesis and affect. In his painting of sensation Bacon is waging a near-heroic war against the representational. The point is always to ensure that the Figure does not become mere figuration, and so inevitably cliché; that sensation does not become the sensational; that the visual field is not reduced to spectacle.

Resemblance is painting's great temptation. Indeed, the clichéd image is in a sense originary. At least, we find ourselves now more than ever among such images. Clichés are already there, "on the canvas, they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter's work begins" (96). Painting is not a question of application, of adding an image to a blank canvas. The canvas is teeming from the start; the painter is part of it, immanent with it. The problem is "how to get out of it, thereby getting out of cliché" (96). And yet without reconstructing a new transcendence, a new distanciation between masterful gaze and inert object.

This is a matter of establishing rhythms and resonances rather than likenesses. Relations of affect rather than identity. It's a question of drawing a diagram, which is "the operative set of traits and color patches, of lines and zones" (102). For it's only through the diagram that a "haptic" space, of contact rather than contract, convivial rapport, can be affirmed.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


rebel dignityParallel to the struggle between PRI, PAN, and PRD for votes in the upcoming (July) Mexican presidential elections, the Zapatistas are conducting what they term an "Other Campaign". They launched this campaign last year with their "Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona" (Spanish text here).

In the midst of all the regional excitement about the Left's victories in successive elections--Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile--here, then, is one group that is continuing, and indeed stepping up, its extra-parliamentary activism.

Not that this is any coincidence. The Colectivo Situaciones hit the nail on the head when they write:
In effect, the Sixth Declaration is a much-needed text that aims to interrupt a definite tendency [deriva]: a tendency that orients the energies and victories of the past few years' struggles towards a revitalization of forms of sovereignty that are still trapped within traditional modes of representation, and that has succeeded, in line with the movement of the times, to construct a hypothesis appropriating the potential of the present situation by means of an affirmation of and from insurgent movements. (Bienvenidos a la selva 22-23)
In other words, if Chávez, Lula, Morales, and Bachelet are, in their different ways, instances of the conversion of constituent into constituted power, a constituted power that by definition blocks an analysis and critique of the form of power itself, the Zapatistas' Sixth Declaration is intended to derail that mechanism, and to rethink a politics that would extend rather than halt the process of constitution.

Hence the Zapatistas' stress on autonomy, self-government, and even their self-critique, suggesting that they themselves had subordinated grassroots empowerment to the politico-military structure of the EZLN.

Rather than vertical consolidation, the Sixth Declaration insists on the importance of undoing all residual or incipient transcendence. It envisages, indeed, the dissolution of the EZLN itself, its subsumption into a plane of immanence: "perhaps it would be better with nothing below, just completely level [puro planito todo], without any military, and that is why the zapatistas are soldiers so that there will not be any soldiers" (332). Instead of building up, the Zapatistas are expanding outwards.

And John Holloway is right to note that this expansion is not envisaged in terms of solidarity, though "this has always been an element of the response to the Zapatistas: admiration for them, solidarity with them" (317; emphasis in original). Holloway continues:
The pro-Zapatista movement has always included two elements: the element of solidarity with an indigenous struggle, on the one hand, and taking on the struggle for humanity and dignity as our own struggle, on the other. My feeling is that with the Sixth Declaration and the abandonment of indigenous rights as principal focus of the EZLN's struggle, they are telling us "We've always said that behind the ski-masks we are in fact you, but perhaps you didn't understand this so well, so we'll say it to you more directly and in another way." (317)
The Zapatistas make this point playfully, joking with the conventions of solidarity. They promise to send a lorryload of maize to Cuba, in a lorry called "Chompiras," so long as a convenient place can be found for the transaction, and so long as the Cubans can wait until harvest. They suggest sending crafts and coffee to Europe. They debate doing more:
And perhaps we might also send you some pozol, which gives much strength in the resistance, but who knows if we will send it to you, because pozol is more our way, and what if it were to hurt your bellies and weaken your struggles and the neoliberals defeat you. (345)
The Zapatistas seek to expand and intensify their network, playfully, creatively, and performatively. And despite certain populist resonances in their vocabulary, it's this deterritorializing and excessive (because symbolic?) tendency that marks their break from such state fetishism.

Zapatista sign
(Crossposted to an ungrammatical multitude.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Art Matters cover"It occurs to me," Peter de Bolla writes in Art Matters, "that closing one's eyes the better to see is no bad thing" (52). Later, de Bolla will suggest we "close our ears" the better to hear (81). Aesthetic appreciation cannot be reduced to a single sense: it must be affective; it must be tactile. Indeed, the aesthetic is here defined precisely as an affective response to a work of art. And art? Art is any object that provokes such affect, since "the quality of being 'art' lies not, in any sense susceptible of description or analysis, in the object but in the response it elicits" (18).

Yet de Bolla's book concentrates, too predictably, on "high" art and, what is more, on "difficult" art: Marc Quinn's Self; Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis; a Glenn Gould performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations; and William Wordsworth's "We Are Seven." De Bolla states that to have chosen otherwise would have been to pander to the "politically correct" or to fashionability (132). And these difficult works have been stepping stones in his "own ongoing aesthetic education" (21). Might it not, however, have been illuminating--not simply tokenism--to have asked what one learns, about "high" art as much as about "low," from a rock concert or a sports game?

De Bolla makes the democratic gesture of admitting that the "simple, trivial, or roughly worked up" can provoke a "strong" or "deep" affective, and so aesthetic, response. But, as his chapter titles indicate, there are certain forms of strength, certain modes of depth, that de Bolla favours over others: "Serenity"; "Clarity"; "Equanimity"; and "Fragility." A limited palette, no? He has, in short, other criteria for aesthetic evaluation that he is less keen to articulate. And though he avoids using the term, surely these criteria come under the rubric of "Refinement."

For despite its absence from these pages, the concept of refinement is suggested immediately that the "simple" or "trivial" are equated with the "roughly worked up." It is also present in the book's emphasis on preparation: "How can one prepare for art?" (24). And it is, further, insistently indicated in the stress de Bolla puts on aesthetic appreciation as hard work, "hard won" (130). For is not refinement the work of preparation that transforms the rough hewn into a commodity fit for "civilized" use, be that commodity oil or sugar, art or aesthete.

And I wouldn't be the first to observe that Sir Henry Tate's transfer of capital from the sugar business to the art business was merely another refining process, another purification, a laundering of money still reeking of blood and slave labour in Caribbean plantations.

De Bolla, however, wants to excise all traces of the social from his account of aesthetics: it is not that history, ideology, and so on do not matter, he tells us; it is that they are not properly aesthetic aspects of the artwork. But such an excision is more easily said than done. And rather than continue to berate the book for its attempts to repress the social and historical, it is more worthwhile to focus on the points at which they return.

For though the book's grand narrative ends up being "the slow but finally telling realization of the acceptance of solitude" (145), its most interesting and persuasive chapter tells a rather different story. This is de Bolla's account of Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis, a work that is (as de Bolla himself notes) inescapably public.

Vir Heroicus Sublimis
De Bolla argues that the size and scale of Newman's painting, the fact that there can never be any one good position from which it can be viewed,
demands that the viewer resist a particular form of looking, traverse the reflective stare of looking at oneself looking in order to enter a shared space in which the nakedness of presentation asks one to face up to being here, in the visibility of a communally constructed presence. (40)
De Bolla goes on to term this "the hushed sublimity of a shared world" (40), but I'm at a loss to see why it should be hushed, and also believe that we can resist this "vir heroicus"'s construction of sublimity.

Why not the noisy immanence of a shared world?

It's true that New York's Museum of Modern Art, in which this canvas is hung (and in which it has to be hung, in that it's clearly unsuitable for private possession), is a secular temple to the aesthetic. But it's also one of the most-visited museums in the world, a bustling frenzy of school parties, tourists, and day trippers. If this painting incites "the presentation of the body to vision--and not just my body, but the somatic in general, the social body constructed in the practice of viewing in public" (41), why should we accede to what de Bolla himself terms the "virtual effect of transcendence" (28)?

To put this another way: the affective (for de Bolla, therefore, aesthetic) experience that this painting evokes is necessarily social. It is, in this sense, indeed dehumanizing, both in that it undoes the subjective mastery of the humanist individual, and in that what de Bolla rightly notes as its timeliness, its sense "of being in the moment, of being now" (45), makes a mockery of those overdetermined narratives invoking some Western "shared culture [. . .] shared humanity" (28). Before this painting, in this museum, we are bodies in motion: our relation to each other is affective rather than simply cognitive; in fact, our sense of our distinctiveness is dissolved, if only slightly, in the wonderment and distraction, attentive inattention, that de Bolla (again, convincingly) argues is the domain of the aesthetic.

Here art is a catalyst for unrefinement: mixing up what had previously been separated out; accepting, indeed welcoming, impurity.

Cannot the aesthetic then be considered, not merely as a mode of bondage in the machine age, but also as an experience of rapport suitable for an age still to come? This is where a trip to a concert or the football might have been instructive.

In the meantime, we should note that sublimity and sovereignty are not merely virtual effects. They're secured by the guard lurking around the corner...

Friday, February 10, 2006


Despite, or perhaps because of, my aversion to meta-blogging...

I am due this weekend to contribute to a conference on blogging, as part of a panel on "Blogging in Education". I think my role will involve some devil's advocacy, especially in the context of self-selected blog enthusiasts.

Here is the abstract I submitted:
"Blogs and Research: Synergy or Distraction? Diffusion or Challenge?"

Can blogs be a place of intellectual and academic production, or do they provide no more than the quick fix of evanescent publicity, a grandiose mode of procrastination? Alternatively, can they be a means by which intellectuals connect with a broader public, diffusing academic work more widely than is usual? Or, conversely, does the blog form, and the consequent interaction with a new audience, perhaps challenge the ways in which we have been thinking and doing research?

I am not sure of the answers to these questions, but in my presentation I will explore them, drawing on my experience both writing and reading (and commenting on) blogs.
And frankly, as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out regarding the role of blogs in either research or indeed teaching.

On the former, for instance, I note that my friend Idelber, whose interests are very close to mine (combining Area Studies and Critical Theory), and who has presented a conference paper describing blogging as an "amazingly innovative experience" in something like public intellectuality, has now stopped blogging, most likely permanently.

On the latter, my former Milwaukee colleague Donna is teaching a course on "Blogging in Theory and Practice", which naturally enough has its own blog, but I can't say that my own attempts to integrate blogs into courses (see these links, for instance, or these) have yet quite got off the ground. (Though I did see a rush of hits from local domains in the week leading up to the exam for a class I taught last semester. The last of these visits was at gone 3am the morning of the [8:30am] exam itself.)

And in any case, oh look: as I write, Technorati, on which my pedagogic blogging relies, is once more down.

A blog does, after all, take a fair amount of time, especially if you want to have any readers--and if not, then though there is still some point to the exercise, there is rather less than there could be. Moreover, the worry is that the few readers you do attract will be unsympathetic. Anonymous blogging is also fairly hard work, as far as I can see.

Blogs do, however, provide a space to try out some ideas in a semi-public, semi-permanent forum. Last week, for instance, I gave a talk on ruins, some small parts of which were first tried out here and here. And I've given two papers in which I've drawn on the notes written up at my other blog, Latin America on Screen. Plus, of course, this very post now brings together preliminary thoughts towards what I might say on Saturday.

But if blog entries in a research context are in effect very early first drafts towards what will only later become more polished pieces, well... first drafts are usually soon erased, and for good reason.

Comments welcomed.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

factory revisited

Another guest post from my friend Jeremy, in response to a previous post here, on Simone Weil...

I was a bit perplexed by the original post in that you argued, understandably, that Weil was attempting to hegemonize the power relations within the factory, by making the workers give their reasoned consent to the production process, through greater knowledge of its overall purpose and greater involvement in decision-making as a result. At the same time, however, you see in Weil a precursor of today's "take your kid to work" day, complete subsumption, affective labour etc., which, if I've understood you, you take to be characteristic of posthegemony, of the end of any hegemonic relation. So by instituting hegemonic relations Weil brings them to an end and heralds posthegemony. . . I don't quite get this.

For me, a possible answer to this apparent contradiction lies in the detail of what Weil is actually proposing, since I read this slightly differently from you, as follows:

Yes, it's certainly true that Weil bemoans the brutalising and debasing nature of factory work, arguing for the need for workers to have a rational grasp of what they're doing by being made aware of the purpose (the use value) of the components they produce. However, this is only one part of the story.

For all her criticisms of the dehumanising realities of factory labour, Weil is not entirely insensitive to the "moments d'euphorie [moments of euphoria]" that factory work affords her (Weil 1951, 52), to what she terms "une certaine joie de l'effort musculaire [a certain joy in physical effort]" (76). In a kind of dialectic of euphoria and debasement, the joy Weil derives from her labours relates directly to way in which the repetitive rhythms of factory work "brutalise" workers by reducing them to a more primitive, animalistic state, to the state of unthinking beasts of burden. As she puts it in one of her diary entries: "7h-10h40: continué * rythme rapide, malgré malaise. Effort, mais aussi après quelque temps sorte de bonheur machinal, plutôt avilissant [7am-10.40am: continued * rapid rate, despite unease. Effort, but also after a while a sort of machine-like happiness, more or less debasing]" (61).

Model T assembly lineThus, even in Weil's account of the working conditions in a Fordist factory, the apparently unnatural rhythms of modern factory labour are taken to reduce or return the worker to a more primitive state that, although debasing or "avilissant"--or rather, precisely because it is "avilissant"--elicits a strange "bonheur machinal."

In her suggestions for the reform of working conditions in French factories, Weil proposes to mitigate the brutalising, debasing effects of routinised factory labour by increasing the extent to which workers are made aware of the purpose of their efforts, reconnected with the products of their labours, at least intellectually, and hence included in the decision-making process.

However, this strengthening of reason and intellect in the face of the debasement of purely physical labour does not imply rejecting outright the "joy", "euphoria", or "happiness" Weil experienced through submitting herself to Fordism's repetitive rhythms. Rather, as she puts it, "la condition d'un bonheur plein [the precondition for complete happiness]" in the factory is the achievement of a harmonious "union entre un ouvrier et sa machine [union between a worker and her machine]," since it this union alone that "fait du travail un équivalent de l'art [makes of work an equivalent of art]" (168).

Weil's suggestion reflects what appears to be an adherence to a Kantian conception of art and the aesthetic. As Terry Eagleton has explained, for Kant the aesthetic offers a way of mediating between the realms of pure sensuality and disembodied intellect, representing "an elusive third way between the vagaries of subjective feeling and the bloodless rigour of the understanding" (The Ideology of the Aesthetic 17). As such, the aesthetic holds out the promise of healing "the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination" (20).

In Weil's proposed reforms of working conditions, then, the initially disruptive, debasing rhythms of factory labour will, when leavened with an increased emphasis on the intellectual component of labour, ultimately prove essential to a harmonious working experience, in which abstract duty, in the form of the orders of the time and motion man, and pleasurable inclination, the "bonheur machinal", will be reconciled.

It is because of its ability to heal the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination that Eagleton attributes a particular role to the aesthetic in bourgeois ideology:
The ultimate binding force of the bourgeois social order, in contrast to the coercive apparatus of absolutism, will be habits, pieties, sentiments, and affections. And this is equivalent to saying that power in such an order has become aestheticized. It is at one with the body's spontaneous impulses, entwined with sensibility and the affections, lived out in unreflective custom. Power is now inscribed in the minutiae of subjective experience, and the fissure between abstract duty and pleasurable inclination is accordingly healed. To dissolve the law to custom, to sheer unthinking habit, is to identify it with the human subject's own pleasurable well-being, so that to transgress the law would signify a deep self-violation. The new subject, which bestows on itself self-referentially a law at one with its immediate experience, finding its freedom in its necessity, is modelled on the aesthetic artefact. (20)
Now, isn't this precisely a definition of the functioning of habitus in Bourdieu, of the "amor fati", of the way objective necessity (working class kids don't go to university) becomes internalised, allied with subjective inclination, so that to even imagine going to university becomes "a deep self-violation" of the collective ethos ("who do you think you are?").

The habitus, after all, generates "actions which are reasonable without being the product of reasoned design [. . .] informed by a kind of objective finality without being consciously organized in relation to an explicitly constituted end" (Logic of Practice 50-51). In other words, practice is endowed with the very "purposefulness without purpose" that defines the Kantian aesthetic object. Hence Bourdieu can describe practice in unmistakably aesthetic terms as containing "something ineffable, something [. . .] which pleases (or displeases) without concepts" (Outline 1-2). Hence also Bourdieu's constant recourse to poetic and musical motifs to communicate how practice and habitus function: Bachelard's Poetics of Space, Mallarme's poem "Le Demon de l'analogie" as title of the final chapter of The Logic of Practice, allusions to musical improvisation, Kabyle habitus endowed with "the eternal charm of Greek art, of which Marx spoke," and so on.

cubiclesTo return to Weil, then, and to shifting relations of power and forms of sovereignty. . . Consider Bourdieu's narrative of a shift from the "gentle" forms of domination under pre-capitalism ("disinterested" gift exchange, relations of fealty and honour) to outright coercion (the brutal conditions Weil experiences in the factory) followed by a "return" to a modernised version of those earlier "gentle" forms of domination. Wouldn't this be useful here?

(Bourdieu's is, of course, an inflection and extension of Marx's description of the shift from feudalism, with its relations of fealty, loyalty, and personal honour between lord and serf, to the "naked exploitation" of capitalist relations: viz. both The Communist Manifesto and the 1844 Manuscripts.)

If we apply Bourdieu's narrative to this case, then we get not the institution of hegemony which, paradoxically, leads to posthegemony. Rather we get the institution of an aestheticized relation of power, which mediates between reasoned consent and let's call it affect or sensibility, yes by involving a greater dose of intellect or reason, but not by that alone and hence anticipating our current world of affective labour, "take your kid to work," and so on. This seems to me to get you out of the problem I identified at the beginning, of seeing posthegemony as being created by hegemony.

This has been a guest post from Jeremy.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Juan Goytisolo"I went [to Sarajevo] with many ideas," Juan Goytisolo is quoted as saying in Ben Ehrenreich's "Me and the Major". "I came out only with doubts, no certainties at all." It's not clear, however, whether he is talking of his first visit to the city, in 1993, or his subsequent, 1994, trip.

In 1993, if his "Sarajevo Notebook" is any guide, Goytisolo finds that his experience of the city under siege leaves him little time for such doubts:
Life there acquires a vertiginous rhythm and intensity. [. . .] New friendships become deep and long-lived. Sincerity and a longing for truth take hold. One's sense of morality is refined and improved. Discarded concepts hurriedly cast on the dungheap of history are reborn with a new richness and strength: the need for commitment, the urgency of solidarity. Things that previously seemed important wane and lose substances; others slight in appearance suddenly acquire greatness and stand out as self-evident truths. (51)
Even so, and despite this insistence on "experiences and images that don't fade from the mind" (51), in practice what emerges from Goytisolo's account of his trip is how heavily mediated he found his encounter with war.

His first dispatch for El País, for instance, opens with a mediation on an advert glanced in Paris as he is en route to the airport. These feature "the blackened manly face of an actor (Tom Berenger?) beneath capital letters of a film title: SNIPER, CRACK MARKSMAN" (3). This "true grit face of the Crack Marksman" is, Goytisolo suggests, "the sublimated ideal and ineffable model of those shooting for real in Sarajevo" (3). But how to distinguish the ideal from the real?

For, however much he lambastes the indifference of the European public, and particularly the reticence of other intellectuals to visit the city ("Attempts by Susan Sontag and myself to bring writers of renown to Sarajevo have ended in fiasco" [47]), the Spanish novelist is continually aware that he himself also remains at one remove from what's going on. His bullet-proof vest, for instance, "compulsory to board UN planes [. . .] privileges me and separates me out from the rest of the besieged" (50).

And at the airport in Rome, headed to Split, though Goytisolo casts an eye askance at his fellow travellers who are, he imagines, on some kind of war tourism thrill, "on their way to the land of Bosnia in their search for a succulent repast, a huge repertoire of genuine horror scenes" (4), is he not reflecting on his own motivations? For is he not, too, but another of these "seekers after such singular encounters" (4)?

Madrid posterMoreover, this account of violence in the Balkans, and international indifference, is continually framed in terms of Goytisolo's own obsessions with the prelude to fascism in the 1930s, and above all the fate of the Spanish Republic. He has prepared for his experience of Sarajevo by re-reading Antonio Machado's account of Madrid under siege: "Whoever heard the first shells fired over Madrid by the rebel batteries, set up in the Casa de Campo, will always remember one of the most distasteful, distressing emotions . . . that can ever be experienced in life" (49).

Goytisolo (born, Barcelona, 1931) surely never heard those shells over Madrid. Is he now, "profoundly reliving the feelings of the poet canonized by our socialist politicians" (49), finding in Sarajevo an aide mémoire to reconstruct an intangible scene of Spanish trauma?

But is this not too easy a critique? Despite his claims to experience and the authenticity of his encounter with the Balkan conflict, Goytisolo hardly hides or shies away from the multiple mediations that frame his account. His point, indeed, is not that there has been silence about the fate of Sarajevo, or even that much obfuscation: he asks rhetorically whether the tourists, who he has later decided are in fact off to a beach holiday on the Dalmatian coast, can "be unaware of what is happening only a hundred kilometers away?" (6). Of course not. "We cannot plead ignorance: the journalists and photographers dispatched to Sarajevo and the war fronts have generally 'covered' the news with exemplary honesty and courage" (47). It is not that we do not know. It is that we do not do anything about our knowledge.

The difference between Sarajevo in the 1990s and Madrid in the 1930s, then, is properly posthegemonic. The issue is not ideology or truth, but affect and habit. For some reason, Europe in the 1990s is no longer affected by what happens at or within its borders. The problem is not doubt--if only it were--or the unreliability of the media. It is a question of habituation.

Finally, then, if we lack solidarity, it is not because we lack imagination. What's required, rather, is an affective rapport, a resonance that is felt physically. We need to be moved, immediately if without resort to ideologies of authenticity.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Los rios profundosArguedas's Los ríos profundos often repeats many of its central concerns, producing a series of doubled or multiple figures that show different sides to or perspectives on very similar issues.

For instance, there is a complex relation between the novel's various paternal figures: el viejo; the narrator's father; and Father Linares. El viejo demonstrates authority without tenderness; Ernesto's father, tenderness without authority; and Linares, the director of the boarding school in which much of the book is set, combines authoritarianism with, at times, genuine care for his charges.

In the end, as part of his progress into adulthood, Ernesto will reject all three, at the point at which they coincide in insisting that he stay at the Abancay school. He therefore rejects all paternalism, though not without having seen its benefits and seductions.

In this regard, I now think I was wrong in my last entry to identify so quickly the son's attitude to Cuzco's ruins with that of his father. Whereas the father expects a transcendent judgement at the end of time, and is prepared to wait for messianic justice when the archangel finally blows his trumpet, Ernesto perceives an immanent disturbance already alive in the Inca stones. Moreover, this difference also defines the ways in which the two move through social space: the father is solitary and nomadic, refusing commitment; the son wants always to participate, to submerge himself in the activity all around him.

And it is paternalism that's at stake in perhaps the most important of the novel's doublings: the two insurrections, first on the part of the mestizas, the chicheras who raid the store of salt hoarded by the landlords; the second by the colonos, the indigenous peasants who enter the town at the novel's climax.

Both insurrections are ultimately failures, but in rather different ways. The first fails because of the inadequacy of a model of political action premised on solidarity. The failure of the second (if it is indeed a failure) is much harder to explain, but precisely its inexplicability also indicates the limits of solidarity.

The chicheras' rebellion founders because it becomes a paternalistic exercise in solidarity with a social subject that remains stubbornly subaltern. The women march down to Patibamba with the intention of distributing salt among its indigenous inhabitants. In the process, they also constitute themselves as a people. What was once the "movement of the multitude, like a swelling river [oleaje]" (272) is regularized, regimented: "It was now a people that was following behind the mules, advancing at the pace of a dance [a paso de danza]" (280). And on reaching the colonos' residences, they attempt to integrate these people, the most oppressed of the oppressed, into what is now a popular uprising.

But the subalterns to whom this call to solidarity is addressed stubbornly refuse any such articulation. Just as Ernesto, in semi-anthropological guise, was greeted with little more than silence when he first explored the area, so likewise the hitherto triumphant chicheras here reach the limit of their hegemonic project:
"Come on out, mothers! We've brought you salt!" shouted one of the chicheras in Quechua.

"Mamakachuna! Mamakachuna!" called another.

The silence continued. [. . .]

"This is the people's salt, for you, mother!" exclaimed the chichera, gesturing to the bags of salt. Her voice turned tender and sweet. (281, 282)
Eventually the indigenous women are prised out of their houses to receive the salt in their skirts, but no sooner has it been given out than they scurry back inside and shut themselves in. And it's not long after the townsfolk have departed from whence they came that the landlord orders his men to raid the colonos' houses and ensures that the salt is returned to the store.

The popular uprising turns out to be the most temporary of affairs, whose chief result is that in response the army are sent to Abancay, to bring order and root out the ringleaders. All the good intentions of solidarity leave but a fleeting sense of satisfaction and a more sustained resumption of repression.

No wonder that when the colonos themselves take matters into their own hands, in response to the threat of plague, it causes such astonishment: "It's a lie! They can't! They can't!" (450). The puzzle remains, therefore, as to what kind of rapport can be established in the absence of meaningful communication.

Los rios profundos

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

yawar mayu

Church of Santo Domingo, CuzcoTo return to ruins... In the Americas, the Spaniards habitually built on ruins. Recoding or overcoding indigenous space, and with it also the geography of power, they would build churches on the sites of temples that they had (only partially) destroyed, or on top of pyramids, using the existing stones in their construction, the indigenous ruin as foundation. The colonial church lording it over the remains of the native temple served as a history lesson, a constant reminder of indigenous defeat and Spanish dominance.

But in this appropriation the invaders also thereby fixed those ruins: keeping them in place, confirming not only the fact of colonization, but the durability and strength of what had it purported to displace. So the church perched on indigenous ruins enabled a counter-history that could appeal to the ongoing presence of those pre-colonial foundations beneath the precarious veneer of Spanish cultural imposition. This would be a reading emphasizing transculturation and hybridity, and the subterranean persistence of alternative traditions (alternative modernities?) within and beneath imposed cultural forms.

A classic statement of (in this case) the Inca walls' continued vivacity and power is found in José María Arguedas's novel Deep Rivers (Los ríos profundos), which opens with its child narrator's arrival in Cuzco, where he is entranced by the indigenous stonework on which the town's Spanish churches and mansions are built: "The lines of the wall frolicked in the sun; the stones had neither angles nor straight lines; each one was like a beast that moved in the sunlight, making me want to rejoice, to run shouting with joy" (18-19 / 164). The stonework is explicitly compared to a river, "undulating and unpredictable [. . .]. The wall was stationary but all its lines were seething and its surface was as changeable as that of the flooding summer rivers" (6, 7 / 143, 144). Implicitly, the contrast between the vibrant indigenous foundations and the sterile colonial structures (whitewashed and windowless, silent and regimented) built over them, is also compared to the colonial and neocolonial elite's dependency on indigenous labor power.

Even the cathedral, towering incarnation of Spanish force and inculcator of European custom, is built "with the Inca stones and the hands of the Indians" (10 / 149), for as the father observes "what other stones would the Spaniards have used in Cuzco, son?" (11 / 152). The Spaniards imposed form upon these indigenous raw materials, chiseling them to remove their "enchantment." But that neutralization could never be fully successful. The power contained in these remnants of Inca civilization might still one day threaten those who appropriate its strength: the image of the ruins as "flooding summer rivers," as "yawar mayu" or "bloody river" (7 / 144), anticipates the social uprising described at the novel's conclusion, which is described in a chapter entitled, precisely, "Yawar Mayu." No wonder the narrator asks of these structures' inhabitants: "Aren't the people who live in there afraid?" (9 / 147).

For in Arguedas's vision, far from indicating a judgment already pronounced, these vibrant residues of an inextinguishable cultural power foretell a reckoning still to come. As the narrator and his father leave Cuzco, fleeing their humiliation at the hands of a heartless, landowning uncle, they contemplate the remains of Sascayhuamán, the ancient fortress overlooking the town. At first sight these walls seem to blend into their natural surroundings:
In broken ranks the walls settled into the gray, grassy slope. [. . .] My father saw me contemplating the ruins and did not speak to me. Farther up, when Sacsayhuaman appeared, encircling the mountains, and I could distinguish the rounded, blunt profile of the angles of the walls, he said to me, "They are like the Inca Roca's stones. They say they will last until Judgment Day, and that the archangel will blow his trumpet here." (21 / 169)
In this reading, what we might term a postmodern celebration of hybridity is conjoined with what we might more tentatively describe as a premodern Andean messianism. Modernity is an interruption, but only temporarily so; the persistence of the Inca ruins, the fact that they are never fully obliterated, indicates the possibility of their future fulfilment, and so (re-)completion.