Tuesday, July 18, 2006


birthday cakeToday this blog is a year old.

Over the past twelve months, there have been 217 posts, including two fine guest posts, courtesy of Jeremy Lane.

Posthegemony has received more than 25,000 visits, which over the past few months has meant around 100 a day, with visitors from Argentina to Zambia, and many places in between.

(And I know there are plenty of more frequented blogs around; but surprisingly Technorati suggests that not only should this be your first port of call for all things Deleuze, Bourdieu, and Negri, as well as affect, habit, and multitude, plus of course both hegemony and posthegemony; it's also the number one place for cultural theory and social theory and a remarkably good resource for cultural studies and Latin America. For what that's worth.)

Many thanks to everyone who has stopped by, and especially to those who have commented, offered encouragement, and generated a series of interesting and productive conversations.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I've been reading a couple of things sent me by my friend Susana Draper. They're mostly about the Punta Carretas mall in Montevideo.

Punta Carretas mallPunta Carretas is interesting not least because what is now a mall was once a prison, notorious for the incarceration and torture of political prisoners during the 1970s and 1980s. One could hardly wish for a better image of neoliberal transition: a marketplace founded on the site (and in the very building) of what was once an institution of state discipline.

Recycled in this way, the building is a place both of (perhaps unwelcome) memory, especially for its former prisoners, and also of collective amnesia, for the busy shopper. It presents a somewhat uneasy combination of these two temporalities--neoliberal present and dictatorial past--which are also two ways of thinking temporality, the scars of political memory or the eternal "now" of the commodity.

Susana is particularly interested in a famous escape from Punta Carretas prison when, in September 1971, over a hundred imprisoned Tupamaro guerrillas tunneled their way to freedom. Moreover, the escape unfolded another temporal doubling, as those burrowing their way out suddenly came across the tunnel that had been dug in the 1930s by anarchist prisoners, also seeking escape. Here, however, this resonance (or "dejà vu" as Susana observes, following Paolo Virno) between two different historical moments is felt as an empowerment, a potentialization, rather than a cancelling out.

There is much more than can be said here about lines of flight, immanence, exodus, creativity, the search for freedom, and so on--and Susana says much of it.

The fact, however, that much of her account is based on a reading of Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro's book La fuga de Punta Carretas made me realize that the prison escape memoir constitutes an entire sub-genre of Latin American testimonial literature.

For instance, there is also Claribel Alegría and DJ Flakoll's Tunnel to Canto Grande, about an MRTA escape from a Peruvian prison, and Ricardo Palma Salamanca's El gran rescate, about a helicopter rescue undertaken by Chile's FPMR.

(Meanwhile, the 1997 "Chavín de Huantar" operation, in which Peruvian special forces tunnelled in to the MRTA-held Japanese ambassador's residence, offers a kind of inverse movement.)

The only English-language comparison that immediately comes to mind would be the wealth of narratives about WWII escapes from German prisoner-of-war camps--such as Eric Williams's The Wooden Horse or the Steve McQueen vehicle The Great Escape. These stories are very different: they are mostly about stiff-upper-lip Englishness and fair play, though of course the "Great Escape" has now been adopted by England football fans.

But it might be worth doing a fuller survey of such escape literature to think further through the theme and the different possible modalities of flight, tunnelling, going underground. Or even jumping fences...

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

Sunday, July 16, 2006


The question regarding democracy is whether or not we can imagine an anti-democratic, or better non-democratic, politics. In other words, is politics tied to democracy, or can it be imagined beyond democracy?

(A supplmentary question might then be whether or not we can and should imagine a beyond to politics itself: a post-politics.)

The prevailing consensus would seem to be that politics is unimaginable without democracy, that it is only democracy that opens up the possibility for politics. Without democracy, all we are left with is (variously, or perhaps in combination) power, administration, fanaticism, hatred.

Jacques RanciereSuch is the view of Ernesto Laclau, but also, for instance, Jacques Rancière, who writes:
There is politics, the art and science of politics, because there is democracy. Politics is encountered as already present in the factuality of democracy, in the very strangeness of the combination of words which joins the unassignable quantity of the demos to the indefinable action of kratein. (On the Shores of Politics 94)
Rancière traces the mixed fortunes of both politics and democracy from its invention in Athens to the current "end of politics."

For Rancière, democracy (and so politics) is characterized by three conditions, which together constitute a split and antagonistic subject:
Politics is a function of the fact of democracy, of the way in which democracy's factuality presents itself in three forms: the appearance deployed by the name of the people, the imparity of the people when counted and the grievance connected with the antagonism between rich and poor. (96)
In our post-political, post-democratic age, all three of these conditions are now undermined, ironically for the sake of democracy's correction or perfection, in other words to erase the split that (for Rancière) characterizes the democratic subject:
Exhibition in place of appearance, exhaustive counting in place of imparity, consensus in place of grievance--such are the commanding features of the current correction of democracy, a correction which thinks of itself as the end of politics but which might better be called post-democracy. (98)
There is, however, a tension in this formulation: first, the declaration that this correction only "thinks of itself as the end of politics" implies that in fact politics continues; and second, the admission that this correction of democracy is itself in the name of democracy implies that it is less post-democratic than, in fact, a limit internal to democracy.

Meanwhile, the threat of post-democracy, as Rancière sees it, is that it summons up "the spectre of the great all-devouring Whole" (65), "the rule of the principle of unification of the multitude under the common law of the One" (88), an "ochlocracy" (33), that is, the "turbulent unification of individual turbulences" (31). And what is most monstrous about this threat, we are told, is that its unity is impossible, fantasmatic, and depends only on the violent, passionate exclusion of the racialized other; it conjures up therefore a world of "fear and hate" (36), "the return of the animalistic aspect of politics" rather than "the democratic virtue of trust" that inheres in democracy's "polemical space of shared meaning" (60).

So democracy has to be split, has to depend on inequality and grievance, so as to ward off the threat of radical difference incarnated in the multitude and its purported others.

We have here, therefore, something like a mirror image of Negri's conception of the multitude--with, of course, the difference that for Negri the multitude's passion is not hatred but love.

Moreover, Hardt and Negri's wager is that the (self-)rule of the multitude might still be termed democracy; indeed, that in that it escapes the entire problematic of (in)equality and identity that (as Rancière points out) bedevils democratic theory and practice, replacing it with the combination of commonality and singularity, multitudinous immanence is now a better bearer of the name democracy than are actually existing political regimes. "Post-democracy" therefore invokes this new, more democratic, democracy of pure immanence.

Angela Mitropoulos and Brett Neilson condemn this move as at best a form of "diplomacy" (and "diplomacy is already a technique of statecraft"), but more importantly because it thereby "fails to confront the politics of the demos and the kratos that invocations of democracy set to work" ("Cutting Democracy's Knot"). I'm not so sure; refusing to confront democracy's entanglements might also be seen as a strategic evasion, another mode of cutting the knot.

More importantly, however, it would be worth taking seriously the notion that the multitude might equally be characterized by hatred as by love; I see no obvious reason for simply assuming that the multitude's passion is the latter rather than the former. Certainly not if we look at groups that are otherwise organized very much along the lines that Negri argues are characteristic of the multitude: Sendero Luminoso or al Qaida, for instance. We need, at the least, to distinguish between multitudes good and bad--though that distinction may turn on ethics, rather than on politics.

Or take the image that provides Rancière with his book's title, of maritime flows and desires that have to be domesticated by shepherds on shore. Rancière writes that
The great beast of the populace, the democratic assembly of the imperialist city, can be represented as a trireme of drunken sailors. In order to save politics it must be pulled aground among the shepherds. (1)
But without romanticizing shipboard life and lusts, and while recognizing that it was maritime power that built terrestial empires, can we not rescue a politics of perhaps something like democracy from the interstitial, unbounded spaces of the high seas?

Crossposted to Long Sunday.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Emperor's New Groove posterThe Emperor's New Groove is not the first Disney film to feature animated llamas: in an extended sequence in Saludos Amigos Donald Duck attempts to ride a llama, with predictably chaotic results. But the differences between the two llamas, and the two films, are salutory, and demonstrate perhaps the changing nature of Disney's relationship with its audience in recent years.


The Emperor's New Groove works to express, as only cartoons can, the purity of given characters' grooves, and to chart the inertia that prevents any easy deviations. (This is a constant theme in cartoons, where a change of state is always somehow delayed, always lags behind, archetypically when a character runs off a cliff and then hangs in mid-air before gravity suddenly, and belatedly, takes hold.) And it's in this displaced, cartoon version of pre-Columbian Latin America, with its vibrant colours and exaggerated imagery (green palm fronds, parrots, endless staircases, complex architectural patterns) that it can both express a groove and also imagine ways in which a groove can be changed.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Following on from my recent posts "tautology" and "radical", here is my draft review of Radical Democracy and Beyond Hegemony: "Radical Philosophy?". As it is a draft, please do not cite without permission.

As a taster, the conclusion:

Schecter's critique of purported post-liberalism, as simply a warmed-over liberalism that conserves the worst rather than the best of what it claims to supercede, is a useful antidote to theories of radical democracy. His analysis of liberalism's paradoxes, while not always novel, is also sharp and to the point. However, he might have considered more the possibility that we are already living in a posthegemonic age. Bush, Blair, and Co. hardly stir themselves much to fabricate consensus these days--indeed, Blair's main argument for the war in Iraq is now that precisely the unpopularity of his policies is a guarantee that he is not merely bowing to the court of legitimate public opinion. Moreover, is not Schecter's dream of a "constant exchange of information between producers [. . .] and consumers" (138) not already with us albeit in the form of questionnaires, focus groups, and the information derived from loyalty cards on the one hand, and advertising and the ideologies of business transparency on the other? We are already beyond hegemony, and whatever else radicalism might be, surely it does not involve rescuing liberalism, whether in its purer, idealist, form or in its corrupt, democratizing, incarnations.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Born in East LA posterCheech Marin's Born in East L. A. is a Chicano take on "Latin America on Screen." Marin takes the questions of border permeability, national security, and identity's performativity, ironizes them, and attempts to milk what comedy results.

Marin plays Rudy, a fairly thoroughly deracinated Los Angelino (who speaks no Spanish and is completely ignorant of Latino music, for instance), who by one of those strange mix-ups finds himself taken to be an illegal and deported to Mexico. He then spends most of the film attempting to cross back over the border, hustling for money with which to pay a coyote, and falling in love with a beautiful young Salvadoran woman, Dolores.


And just as Rudy plays a German folk song (picked up as a GI in Europe) to seduce appreciative European tourists to part with their money, so he teaches a band of Mexican buskers to play rock and roll. Though Mexico may still (just) be a cradle of authenticity, it can also be a site for the experimentation in multiple identities and identifications, preparing the intrepid for the risky step of crossing the border and claiming all the same rights and benefits as those actually "born in East LA."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


More thoughts towards a review of Tønder and Thomassen's Radical Democracy...

In a quirk of sloppy copy-editing, one of the contributions to Lars Tønder and Lasse Thomassen's collection, Radical Democracy, bears the running header "For an Agnostic Public Sphere" instead of the essay's actual title, which is "For an Agonistic Public Sphere."

But this confusion between agnosticism and agonism is perhaps symptomatic of the problems afflicting the very concept of radical democracy. For though its proponents repeatedly invoke notions of political combat and engagement, they all too easily slip into quiescent indecision.

Put it this way: it is far from clear what is "radical" about radical democracy behind the rhetorical display of terms such as agonism, antagonism, pluralism, and the like.

ballot boxIs radical democracy a specific form of democracy, comparable to but different from (say) the Athenian, liberal, or neoliberal variants of democratic practice? And if so, is it a democracy still to come, to be fought for as a perhaps utopian horizon of democratic thought and struggle?

Or is it, by contrast, a form of democracy in which some groups (new social movements, say) currently engage, in other words a counter-democratic actuality that has emerged since the end of the Cold War and the bad old days of class politics?

On the other hand, could radical democracy be found less either in the future or the present, but in a return to the founding moment of the so-called "democratic revolutions"? Is radical democracy then a rediscovery of an inherent radicality democracy once provided but has now lost? In slightly different words, is radical democracy simply another name for what Simon Critchley here terms "true" democracy?

Or finally, is democracy always radical? Is radical democracy really a tautology, in that democracy properly understood and described, even as it is played out currently in the real world, is necessarily in some way radical?

Friday, July 07, 2006


I'm reading a couple of books for a review essay: Darrow Schecter's Beyond Hegemony and Lars Tønder and Lasse Thomassen's Radical Democracy.

Schecter's book is smart but misguided, and essentially involves an attempt to rescue liberalism from itself--or what he sometimes terms "early liberalism" from its historical vicissitudes. He likes, in short, the ways in which Kantianism sets up formal legality over legitimacy, as legitimacy (he argues) always involves a compromise in which particular interests take precedence over the universal, and a forced reconciliation or fabricated consensus (hegemony) results. The problem, Schecter recognizes, is that Kant secured such a distance of legality from interest or need only by assuming a limited suffrage and so by excluding women, wage-earners, etc. from the sphere of politics. Moreover, even within such an attenuated public sphere, actually existing liberal democracy depended upon a covert subject, the white male property-owner, and his particular interests. Still, Schecter wants to maintain the notion that a disinterested (and so legitimate) legality is attainable. For this he turns (rather unconvincingly) to the libertarian or "guild" socialism of G D H Cole.

Still, however wrong, Schecter's book is at least provocative and intelligent.

The same can hardly be said for Tønder and Thomassen's collection. Its premise is to set up a distinction "between abundance and lack," which essentially means playing off Lacanianism and Deleuzianism, all under the sign of radical democracy. The so-called Lacanians (because in fact they are Laclauians through and through) run through the same old moves about hegemony, constitutive outsides, tendentially empty signifiers, non-coincidence of desire, and the like. The so-called Deleuzians are, however, on the whole even worse, as they attempt to shoe-horn Deleuze within the framework of "radical democracy," as bidden by the collection's editors. Paul Patton's piece, for instance, rather bizarrely tries to claim that Deleuze was a paid-up liberal democrat mainly based on the fact that he so seldom discusses liberal democracy. His argument is generally along the lines of admitting "there is no doubt that Deleuze is not a theorist of democracy in the narrow sense of the term," but only to follow up with the thought that "it does not follow from this that Deleuze is hostile to democratic government" (54). Well, but you can't make of a non sequitur a democratic theorist.

Meanwhile, the whole concept of "radical democracy" is a con. The tag "radical" is basically meaningless. And there is much confusion as to what purpose the adjective serves: is the notion that radical democracy is some new kind of democracy, exciting, different, and better than (say) liberal or neoliberal democracy? Or is it that democracy is itself radical, and what's involved is merely a redescription to make democracy seem more exciting, different, and better than it currently appears? This ambivalence, which is never directly confronted, undermines the book's very premises.

Monday, July 03, 2006


FogwillThe Argentine author Fogwill's Los pichiciegos is an astonishing tale derived from the Falklands/Malvinas conflict. The book is all the more remarkable as it was written between June 11-17, 1982, i.e. as the war itself was ending and so while the war of words still followed a rigid ideological dichotomy, and before the combatants themselves had had a chance to tell of their experiences.

Yet the novel is rooted in a sense of the physical experience of the Falklands war, in all its brute materiality. And it refuses not only the rhetorical dichotomization that assigns legitimacy to one side or another, but also the very notion of sides.

The "pichiciegos" of the title are a group of Argentine deserters who have established a subterranean settlement (a bunker, a series of passages and chimneys) somewhere in no man's land. They are, effectively, maroons who commerce with both sides (British and Argentine) as they seek the kerosene, sugar, cigarettes, and so on that they need to survive. Yet they also maintain their distance, digging firmly into the slush and mud of the islands' desolate landscape. Theirs is a wary Exodus from the claims and counter-claims that they hear on the radio, and a becoming-immanent to the rough terrain amid the minefields and bomb craters.

pichiciegosPichiciegos are also a species of Argentine armadillo, armour-coated, blind burrowing creatures active only at night. One of the group tells the others about this animal, how they live and how they are hunted. What most takes their fancy is the way in which, to dislodge them from their burrows, a hunter is forced sometimes to grab them by the tail and stick a finger up their arse. At the shock (or perhaps the pleasure) of the penetration, the pichiciegos lose all resistance and can easily be extracted. Likewise, the deserters are aware that at any moment they may be fucked in the arse by either the Argentines or the Brits.

Still, they stockpile supplies and are prepared to wait the war out. They have yerba mate, cigarettes, liquor, food... everything except chemical toilets, which means they either have to brave the subzero elements to shit outside, or plug up their systems with anti-diahrreal drugs. Yet in their nervous limbo between the two opposing camps, in the fear that is both omnipresent backdrop and specific response to the Harriers, the helicopters, and the other machinery of war, even or perhaps especially here they become themselves as never before.

It's as though it were only in this fearful Exodus that the virtual qualities constituting both individuals and group could be actualized: "It's that fear releases the instinct that everyone carries within him" (103).

In the end, however, this rebel colony--neither one thing nor the other, surplus and so almost invisible to the friend/enemy distinction of war and politics--is almost inevitably extinguished. Poisoned by the carbon monoxide emitted by their own stove once the snow silently blocks the chimney, the pichiciegos are entombed, to become literally part of the landscape, a buried relic of other ways of living the war.

But the maroon experience is also buried by less natural forces: by the Argentine generals' declaration that the war continues, if by other means; and even by the politicians' promises of elections and choice, as though there were anything to choose. Fogwill already anticipates the slogan of Argentina's 2001 uprising: "No... I wouldn't vote for any of them. Let them all go off [¡que se vayan todos!] back to the whore of a mother who bore them!" (55).

One survivor alone remains, an un-named pichiciego who is gradually revealed to be recounting his story to a shadowy narrator who seems to be half-author, half-psychologist. A narrator who may or may not believe the strange tales that he is told (of a hovering Harrier with its engines off, of nuns in the snow, of the "Great Attraction" as a fleet of warplanes disappears into the ether), and who certainly, his informant insists, doesn't understand, cannot understand.

But at least he records, he records the pichiciego's words so that they are not entirely lost to a future whose first glimmering possibilities they may perhaps predict.

Links: Beatriz Sarlo on Los pichiciegos; Julio Schvartzman, "Un lugar bajo el mundo"; and "Fogwill, en pose de combate", a recent interview by Alan Pauls for Clarín.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Snuff poster1971 saw the release of Slaughter, a low-budget exploitation flick, filmed in Argentina and set in Argentina and Uruguay.

The film told the story of a cult led by a Mansonesque figure rejoicing in the name of Satán or Satahn. The young women who follow Satán, all hippie types with flowing hair and a predeliction for removing their blouses, are kept in servitude by a sort of sadomasochistic desire: transgressions are punished by ritual torture that is experienced as erotic pleasure and observed with voyeuristic glee.


Snuff, in short, becomes a film about the dictatorships, and an allegory of a violence that is in plain sight, paraded before voyeuristic eyes, a violence that is real but pretends to be theatrical, mirroring the film's own violence that is so theatrical as it pretends to be real.