Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Haunting and Hospitality

In Infrapolitical Literature: Hispanism and the Border Alberto Moreiras touches upon the concept of haunting many times, especially in relation to thought, literature, and otherness.  Early in his discussion, haunting is briefly connected with hospitality: “Whatever arises is new, yet thought must welcome it.  Haunting is the condition of all hospitality, or hospitality is the condition of haunting” (185).  In this way, the otherness of the world is what visits, or perhaps intrudes upon, thought or consciousness.  Haunting shares a relationship with hospitality in that it is always both within and outside its host.  What haunts is always incorporated and yet othered, set apart.  Perhaps there is a fruitful connection to both Derek Attridge and Jacques Derrida in this discussion of hospitality.  In The Singularity of Literature, Attridge describes how the “dominant mode of mechanical reading can be modified or interrupted by a somewhat different relation to the work.  Not all works will have something to offer to a reader’s openness to alterity, of course, but when one does, mechanical and instrumental interpretation is complicated by what we may term readerly hospitality, a readiness to have one’s purposes reshaped by the work to which one is responding” (80).  Attridge’s conception of “readerly hospitality” is more specific than Moreiras in that it describes the hospitality of the reader, the host, to the otherness of fiction.  Moreiras seems to be applying this hospitality to encounters with otherness that exceed the literary and extend to the political, historical, infrapolitical, etc..  In Of Hospitality, Derrida writes that “absolute hospitality” is something that is “graciously offered beyond debt and economy, offered to the other, a hospitality invented for the singularity of the new arrival, of the unexpected visitor” (83).  This “absolute hospitality” that Derrida describes as being “invented” is also an important element of this puzzle—which not only informs Attridge’s notion of singularity in literature, but also speaks to Moreiras’s concept of hospitality and haunting.  If we are to believe that haunting is the condition of all hospitality and that hospitality is the condition of haunting, which Moreiras posits, then there must be some kind of inherent singularity, inventiveness, that is born of this relationship.  There also must exist a kind of graciousness or offering, which when applied to more political contexts may become increasingly problematic.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ethics and the Political

This week’s readings were as interesting as they were challenging. I really enjoyed Moreiras on the thriller genre as ethical. The idea that a crime against another person is a suspension of ethics and that the thriller is an ethical response is interesting. Today at lunch Moreiras spoke a bit about the difference between radical evil and diabolical evil, in which radical evil is self interested, and diabolical evil is to hurt another person- which plays out in his discussion of the thriller as an ethical reaction, and his idea that moralism protects autonomy and not heteronomy. I’m not positive what he meant by every perspective through structural articulation is already an ethical perspective- I think this relates to the extraliterary within the literary? I was also interested in the way Moreiras writes about the ethical and the political. In his articles, the ethical undoes or deconstructs? the political and vice versa- the political undoes the ethical.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crime in Fiction and the Secret of the World

Several themes struck me as I read this weeks essays on infrapolitics (or “lo impolítico” for Espósito), such as the idea of literature being anti-moral as it to disavow itself from any opportunism - a narrative that self-exposes without an ulterior motive – explored in what Moreiras calls “a non-moralist betrayal of war” contained within Comrac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. But perhaps most enlightening was this idea that within the genre of crime fiction in Mexico lies not only the unveiling of the secret behind a murder but a secret within that secret: “the secret of the world,” an unfathomable secret that surpasses national boundaries. Moreiras’ exploration of the murders in Ciudad Juárez both as novelized by Roberto Bolaños and in reality expresses the paradoxical interaction between the necessity for a political reaction to the suspension of the ethical and the “ethical need to interrupt the suspension of the political” (173) – the infrapolitical quality of Mexican thrillers. I was also intrigued by the connection Moreiras makes between literary nationalism and subalternity and sacrifice and how this particular genre abandons that idea and steps out of the national and into the secret of the world concealed within narratives of murder. That this universal extrapolation contained within the genre of investigation literature, of that anti-moralist complex interplay of ethics and politics, might also hold the key to literature’s not-quite-ethical inpolitical role, a “need for antimoralist revelation,” points to an indefinable but essential function of fiction not only in Latin America but beyond.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Posthegemony: Class Themes

I had not encountered theories of posthegemony, and was enthusiastic (delighted?) to read other (contemporary) articulations of the political and of the way power functions. It was also interesting to continue the theme of difference and sameness which came up in Los Planetas, but from an entirely different theoretical framework. The readings this week actually spoke to a number of themes which have run through the class this semester: the limits of social intelligibility and the disruption to the social order (hegemony) that these representable forces create (even if hegemony excludes them- through the act of excluding that which does not fit is reaffirmed; also Williams on the unifying image today being the exhaustion of unifying images; as well as the idea of inheritance which we have circled around in class (as he states- our inheritance is the exhaustion of modernity it is also what creates subjectivity if I am reading him correctly), as well as memory. According to Williams, hegemony is active forgetting it is the repression and exclusion  of heterogeneity. He uses the language of the specter and haunting to address that which does not fit the hegemonic model. He also spoke to Gabrielle Basterra’s lecture on the ethics of the radical other, addressing the exposure of hegemonic to radical alterity- an outside which signals a different way to think, and the other thought within thought- the heterogeneous, disruptive, interruptive remainder to and within hegemonic reflection (149).

Exposed Failure

Posthegemony endeavors to "redescribe and reconstruct an image of society that no longer depends on society's own self portrayal" in order to recognize cultural struggles that offer the best likelihood of changing the current exclusionary and unjust structure and order of society (p. xv). Beasley-Murray posits that within the academy we must replace and rethink concepts like consent, ideology, and identity, along the lines of concepts like affect, habit, and multitude.

I am intrigued by the move of this book is making to critique cultural studies and to problematize the false dichotomy between consent and coercion in politics. I find it interesting the role censorship also plays in these processes and Beasley-Murray is interested in exposing the failure of hegemony and why hegemony can't work. Accordingly, posthegemony works "to uncover what has been obscured in these substitutions and to outline the means by which its suppression has been achieved, enforced, naturalized, and legitimated" (p. 63).

In this works that we've read thus far there seems to be a trend in exposing the failure of systems of power and political theories in place. I'm wondering if that's what Latin American theory is defined by; that is; a process of uncovering what is hidden by signs and codes that obscure cultures and societies.

By the way, Jon Beasley-Murray has an entire blog dedicated to posthegemony:, just in case anyone wanted to check it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Construct of Hegemony: Productive or Not?

      After reading both Gareth Williams’s The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America and excerpts from Jon Beasley-Murray’s Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America, I have noticed important differences in the ways that both writers discuss the concept of hegemony.  While Williams questions and deconstructs the use of the term hegemony and any kind of hegemonic binary, Beasley-Murray seems to take Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony and run with it.  In the Introduction of his book, Beasley-Murray defines his use of the words hegemony and posthegemony as follows:

“By ‘hegemony,’ I do not mean mere domination.  To say ‘posthegemony’ is not to say that domination is at an end.  Command and control, exploitation and oppression, still manifestly continue… Nor by hegemony do I mean the concept in International Relations of a single dominant world power.  It may be that such a power no longer exists, but this is more a symptom of posthegemony than the main issue.  By hegemony I mean the notion, derived from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, that the state maintains its dominance (and that of social and economic elites) thanks to the consent of those it dominates.  Where it does not win consent, this theory suggests, the state resorts to coercion.  By contrast, in stressing the role of habit (rather than opinion) I point to processes that involve neither consent nor coercion” (x)

      Here, Beasley-Murray is defining his use of these words and fleshing out his perspective on hegemony and posthegemony within the context of Antonio Gramsci’s model.  Clearly, these terms prove to be productive and useful in Beasley-Murray’s discussion—they form the foundation for his theory in regards to what he terms as “habit” but also to his opinions on the larger subjects of power, politics, order, society, etc… In fact Beasley-Murray goes so far as to admit to advancing the concept and term posthegemony on the next page: “I am not the only person to have advanced a concept of posthegemony, though this book is the first to define it at such length and in these terms” (xi).  This open agenda runs in sharp contrast to that of Williams, who problematizes the use of the terms and concepts of hegemony and posthegemony.  Over and over again Williams shows the instances in which political moments in Latin America cannot be confined to such terms and binary lines of thinking.  Williams problematizes not only the use of these terms, but the entire approach that such analysis would tend to advance.  Especially in the first section of his book, “Closure,” Williams provides a long catalogue of failed analyses of Latin American socio-political life in his quest for a viable discourse and approach to this subject.  The question that I would posit is this: to what extent are these terms helpful and to what extent are they stifling?  Is there a possible alternative paradigm that is missing from the equation?  What would the alternative look like?

Zombieland: Dos Caracoles, the Caracazo and Split Screens

George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978)

            What struck me in Jon Beasly-Murray’s Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America was a juxtaposition I made between the discussion on habit and how its both complacent and an instrument of hegemony under Pinochet’s dictatorship yet unpredictably reactionary after Venezuela’s thirty years of democracy. While the zombiesque shoppers traverse the neoliberal mall of Dos Caracoles in Santiago, Chile, unable to congregate in one space and going about their architecturally channeled routine of window shopping comodification, the multitude rises against higher prices in public transportation in the Caracazo uprising in 1989 while Hugo Chávez was sleeping. The effect of posthegemony is almost like an unforeseen metaphorical zombie apocalypse. Out of the numbing effects of capitalist hegemony rises a post-ideological subversiveness unaware of its power. Perhaps Venezuela’s shattered split-screen televisual coup/countercoup 2002 confusion is an augur of what’s to come in Chile as it distances itself from the Pinochet dictatorship – one screen, one perspective, is no longer capable of capturing the complete narrative. Some screens switch to the telenovela in an attempt to censor, others with the protests thinking they are on the right side of history, then within 48 hours it all turns around on itself to the point that the media’s camera does not know where it should be pointing because it is unclear who is actually in control. Hegemony is no longer possible.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Productive Void

Like Los rubios, the “disappearance” of the narrator’s friend is the the void around which the book is constructed. “M”, the friend of the narrator is the present absence at the center of the narration.

In both Los rubios and Los plantetas, the inability to conjure the person via memory is not only about absence but about the excess of memory. In the same way Carri’s search failed, becoming an assortment of loose ends, fragments which did not add up to a whole but overlapped and fell apart, the narrator of Los planetas  gets lost in the unlimited possibilities of the past. What Nouzeilles writes about Los rubios could also be applied to Los planetas:

Excess does not mean fullness. When meaning explodes, it always leaves, scattered all of the surface of our recollections, the gaps of the failure to remember or the baffling certainties of remembering otherwise. 266

Los planetas is fiction and its narrator relies on literary language to represent the unrepresentable which, as Erin points out in her essay, is intimately connected with issues of identity and difference.  Just as Carri signals the limits of documentary working with issues of identity and memory, Cheijfec  utilized, then points to the limits of literary discourse. I also found thinking of the void in terms of unrepresentability (per Badiou), or as the Real useful, as it positions the void as productive. The void which “cannot be approached” but which “can be signaled again and again and again” (Graff Zivin 81).

Topografía y escritura: Llenando el vacío con un mapa de memorias

           La novela topográfica de Sergio Chefjec Los Planetas funciona como una búsqueda bizantina a través de las calles de Buenos Aires, donde el lector entra y sale por callejones con la intención no de llegar a un límite o un lugar fijo sino de recolectar memorias de dichos callejones que desaparecen a medida que viremos en la próxima esquina. Es un ejercicio en la futilidad del pasado pero también una afirmación de su resurrección a través de las palabras escritas. El narrador escribe: “nadie imaginaba que al cabo de los años estas caminatas terminarían así, adoptando la forma de palabras puestas sobre papel” (Chefjec 149). Es una búsqueda tan inútil como la del padre de M tratando de hallar su auto robado pero igualmente exhaustiva y sin fin, como el laberinto del mundo literario.  El seguir recordando y relatando la presencia de M no lo va a materializar ni tampoco le va a traer justicia. Simplemente sirve para mantenerlo presente, para llenar ese vacío que su desaparición ha creado. Chefjec no tiene más opción sino que llenar ese espacio de ausencia con sus palabras, un frenesí de historias fascinantes hiladas por su amistad con M, por su intercambiabilidad con M. El desparecido pudo haber sido él. La novela tiene un carácter aleatorio que no sólo refleja la topografía escurridiza de la ciudad sino la fugacidad de las memorias. Lo escrito reemplaza la historia, lo desaparecido, lo olvidado. Con palabras le damos inmortalidad a lo perdido. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

HIJOS & "Escraches"

To see a video of this escrache taking place on May 21, 2008, click here.  

In her article “Postmemory Cinema and the Future of the Past in Albertina Carri’s Los Rubios” Gabriela Nouzeilles explores the film “Los Rubios” in relation to postmemory and the problem of discourse in postdictatorship Latin America.  Also, in order to frame her reading, Nouzeilles brings up the topic of “the disappeared” and describes how “the widespread acceptance the term ‘disappeared’, coined by the military juntas, represents a second form of death, a symbolic one, for the victims of the dictatorship’s mass killings” (264).  Perhaps it is necessary to linger for a moment on what Nouzeilles is implying here.  For “the disappeared” to take on a second, symbolic death is radical in many ways—the first of which having to do with the concept of death as a term and within the human condition.  Death is the most finite of human states, an end to all possibility.  For the term “disappeared” to come about, a plurality must have come into being—a questioning of the state of being dead, which also must apply in parallel to the state of being alive.  The existential unhinging of both these concepts is brought about by resistance in the face of dictatorship and also the uncertain question of what it is to be alive or to be dead under dictatorship.  Is living under dictatorship truly living?  In that case, what does it mean to be dead under the same conditions—conditions in which you were never free to live your life in the first place?

Nouzeilles describes how the formation of the activist group HIJOS, an acronym for “Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence)” became one result and point of resistance in the wake of the disappearances (265).  This group was “formed by sons and daughters of the disappeared” and “has defined itself through the realization of estraches, performative street events whose goal is to reveal the scandal of yet another public secret, by denouncing the criminal behavior of those who collaborated with the military regime (physicians, torturers, military officers, etc.) and who continue to live among regular citizens unaffected by the consequences of their criminal actions” (265).  In this way, there is a provocative turning on the term and concept of “the disappeared.”  Through the estraches, these sons and daughters are forcing the opposite of a disappearance; they are imposing a reappearance, a revealing, a spotlighting of the perpetrators who erased their lost family members from their lives.  This spotlighting has necessitated itself because after the dictatorship, the military regime also attempted to disappear its entire tainted population—the “physicians, torturers, military officers” that Nouzeilles describes—back into society.  For the regime to erase its corrupted past and have a chance at rebirth, for their mistakes to simply disappear, but their lives to go on, is at the core of the injustice that HIJOS is pushing back against.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In anticipation of Los Rubios and ‘los rubios’

(*I have never seen Los Rubios so my comments will only reflect a reaction to the essay)

            In her essay Postmemory Cinema and the Future of the Past, Gabriela Nouzeilles points out the metafictional (actually, this term is incorrect, cause the film is neither a written text nor a fiction so to speak, so perhaps we should call it metafilmic or metanonfiction… an interesting notion as well) aspects of Los rubios by focusing on “the mirror effect created by the arrangement of the movie within the movie, looking for ‘Los rubios’, the equivocal parents,” that turns out to be “indistinguishable from looking for ‘Los rubios’, the elusive movie” (p. 269). She also pinpoints three versions of Albertina Carri: author (the filmmaker outside the documentary), auteur (her presence as a documentary subject within the documentary when it depicts the documentary making itself) and character (played by an actress in “reenactments” it seems). These “selves” that reflect upon each other seem to be approximations toward a reconstruction of the past via the generation left behind by ‘the disappeared,” the offspring of the victims of the horrors of the Argentinean dictatorship that escape representation. This insistence on keeping the term ‘los desaparecidos’ as opposed to victims or the dead (given the impossibility of an unveiling of cadavers, the end product, so the viewer - and the children of the disappeared - can hold witness and in a way have peace) reflects the absurdity of this process that Nouzelles calls postmemory. How can Albertina remember her parents, their cause, and their demise when she was not a direct witness to any of it? I’m very intrigued by how the film starts as a search for the past and becomes “performative” and humorous as a way to repair the mourning that was lost (the loss of the loss in a way, another reflection of a reflection like the 3 Albertinas). The self-reflexivity employed by the documentary seems to reflect on the very nature of memory, its reproduction on camera, testimony and truth. Given that none of these are possible in the case of ‘los desaparecidos’ (the documentary can’t even pin down the true color of the parents’ hair), these representations of “the unrepresented” by Carri are “the result of creative memory” which makes them, Nouzelles argues, “ ‘true’ to the past” (p. 270). Truth therefore is arrived through these mirror reflections established by the documentary-within-the-documentary (much like Hamlet’s play-within-the-play is used to get ‘proof’ that Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father). Truth (or, more accurately, some semblance of it) is arrived by pointing the camera back unto itself. We know how this works on fiction (as we saw last week with Gabriela Basterra’s lecture on Las meninas), but what happens here when it is applied to non-fiction and film. I cannot wait to see it on friday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trauma and the Process of Becoming a Sign

In the article “Auto-Heteronomy, or Levinas’ Philosphy of the Same” Gabriela Basterra writes that the role of trauma in the signification process is “central” because “the signifying and affective dimensions are inextricably linked: paradigmatic substitutions depend on affect because they are ruled by the unconscious” (121).  If the role that trauma plays in this signification transformation works at a level that is unconscious and affective, what does that mean in regards to the autonomy of the signifier? Is the process of “becoming a sign” as the result of trauma a kind of Rube Goldberg Machine that once initiated is impossible to escape?

According to Basterra, the subject speaks to its trauma, or as Levinas describes, the subject must make “signs of signification itself… to the point of becoming a sign” (121).  This raises the question as to what constitutes a sign of signification.  Must the subject speak to their trauma or is it something that can be totally unavoidable, like a physical lesion across the body?  The word trauma itself comes from the Greek word titrōskein meaning “wound.”  Although in the modern use of the word trauma is considered something which can be hidden—which can maintain a secret, signified interior—the Greek root of “wound” is more physically present and more difficult to conceal.  Perhaps the inevitability of becoming the sign through trauma can be explained by this concept of being wounded and thus being changed, acknowledgement of such change is not necessary in the paradigm and not reversible or capable of healing.