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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ethics and Alterity

The excess of subjectivity that exceeds representation reminded me of our class discussion on 68’ a couple of weeks ago, and the way in which the excess of political and student movements were delineated in France, regulated and diminished through representation (which I think is related to Basterra’s idea of differential representation), or the way 68 in Mexico is posteriorly reduced to the single image of the massacre at Tlatelolco.

Along the same lines, I am interested in the idea that an ethical event cannot be represented but its impact on the world can be signified rhetorically.

The demand comes from the other-that which resists representation.  It is also the other in the same- within the subject. You only know the demand through the disturbance it creates- (which makes me think of our discussion of the subaltern-the position of the subaltern in history as the ‘winds of change’ etc.)

I am a little confused by the discussion of the alterity of the event being outside and inside the subject (“The alterity of this event is, however, an alterity within the self: the command is “exerted by the other in me over me”. Existing in the subject but in excess of it this other alters the subject as an Other-within-the same…” This thing that exists within the subject and in excess of it seemed like Derrida’s idea of the supplement- the unnatural outside addition that both corrects a lack or absence, and is in excess.  Later, Basterra states that Derrida’s critique of Levinas was that by saying the other is always at a distance and not within the ego, and if it is untouchable and not within the ego, how can we know it exists?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Other Within as a Parasite

          In Gabriela Basterra’s discussion of Levinas’ rhetoric employed in Otherwise than Being, she analyses the metaphors used by Levinas to describe the ethical event as an act of Auto-Heteronomy. The external “face” in Totality and Infinity becomes an elusive “trace” in Otherwise than Being that now highlights the impact of the ethical event on the subject, what is left behind but it is still absent, catachresis. We see a movement from an other that is exterior to an other that resides within the subject, embedded beneath the “skin.” In attempting to myself visualize what Basterra is describing, I see the ethical event operating auto-heteronomically as a parasitical other that has incepted itself within the subject commanding it from within it’s own voice. 
           I was most intrigued by where she goes in page 123 when redefining Kant’s idea of autonomy in the presence of an ethical act as a reaction to a command that comes from an other that lies within hence allowing the self to not only be conscious of itself as the subject receiving the command but act as its author simultaneously. I was primarily interested in how the conscious inaccessibility of that which generates the ethical obligation gets distorted as a cruel other inflicting guilt. If guilt is a result of catachresis, an absence of representation of that other from which the ethical event generates, then the subcutaneous alterity that makes possible this hetero-autonomous event can be viewed as a parasite, an alien corrupting its host, an other of unknown origin.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dirty War Fragments

The multiplicity of layers in Respiración artificial and the intertwining of basically a novel within a novel—historias intertwined with historias—really lends Piglia’s text to an interesting critique of a socio-political event, but also what I would consider to be a critical literary engagement with the cultural phenomenon of hybridity. Piglia writes his novel at an important moment in Latin American history: the Dirty Wars in Argentina.

While Piglia does not mention the Dirty Wars at all in the text, I believe it is an important context that I informs the form and plot of his novel. During this period in Argentina, the country was ruled by a ring-wing military junta that contributed to the disappearance of tens of thousands of Argentine left-wing activists, unionists, students, Marxists, homosexuals, and everyone else caught in the crossfire. It was a time when Argentina endured government-sanctioned physical and sexual violence amidst these systematic violent disappearances. The Argentine subject is caught in these unnamed, in-between places that no one can identify or locate.

We are presented with a story about a man named Renzi who leaves Buenos Aires to search for his long lost uncle, Maggi, in a rural village called Entre Ríos. Even the name of the village suggests a site that is betwixt and between, not really named, but located in some third space. Hoping to uncover the truth about his uncle, who is rumored to be a traitor, Renzi embarks on this journey that really has no real direction. Even with just this very summarized description of the novel, we locate Piglia’s text within the larger context of what is going on in Argentina with the Dirty Wars. Renzi never locates Maggi, so has Maggi become one of the disappeared subjects?

There is so much going with the text and it is almost difficult to follow at times, but I feel like that uncertainty, these spaces of intertwined stories within stories produce a space of where the disappeared reside. Thinking back to Richard’s fragmentation, I read Piglia through the same lens of piecing together what is known and what is told in order to find something between the lines, between the plots, etc. Cultural hybridity emphasizes this piecing together of fragments. The cover image of the book is brilliant with this motif of the fragments. Thus where do we locate the disappeared subjects then? Can they ever be spoken for? I am reminded of the Latin American tradition of ¡Presente!, a litany that has special resonance for the human rights struggle that calls the disappeared to forefront. I wonder if Piglia’s text is one loud cry of, “¡Presente!”

Renzi & Tardewski Discuss Kafka & Hitler

From Harley Gaber's 1993 Collage Series Entitled "Kafka and Hitler"

In the second half of Ricardo Piglia’s book, Respiración artificial, the protagonist, Renzi, travels to a border town to meet his uncle, Maggi.  It becomes clear that Maggi is nowhere to be found, hinting at the likely reality that Maggi is actually one of the disappeared enemies of the Argentine state.  It is possible that Maggi was forced to flee Argentina or that some other, more violent, outcome has befallen him.  In the absence of his uncle, Renzi begins a conversation with Maggi’s friend Tardewski, a Polish exile.  Their dialogue is extensive and rich with subversive theorizing and storytelling, which essentially displaces actual conversation as to the possible whereabouts and political injustices that have likely silenced Maggi.  This dynamic between Renzi and Tardewski is filled with words, while simultaneously being silent.  Piglia successfully re-creates a space between these characters that is filled with a passionate mixing of emotion and discourse—while at the same time conjuring the gaping elephant in the room—the violent absence of Maggi.
In particular, the pages in which Tardewski describes the encounter between Hitler and Kafka can possibly be read as a call to action for Renzi—and perhaps even the larger intellectual community.  Tardewski seems to be making the case that Kafka, because of his literary intuition, possesses a special inkling into the destructive and evil potential of Hitler as a young man: “Kafka... era capaz de oír durante horas… El hombre que sabe oír, por debajo del murmullo incesante de las víctimas, las palabras que anuncian otro tipo de verdad” (263).  For this reason, after his encounter with Hitler, Kafka raises a subtle alarm that “El [Hitler] había dicho ciertas cosas y yo pensaba en ellas y es muy posible que debido al recuerdo de esas palabras se haya deslizado alguna torpeza, alguna sucesión que sólo en secreto sea extraña” (260).  This fictional representation of Kafka is able to theoretically pick up on the subtext and danger of Hitler’s words, he has the power of hearing that Tardewski describes.  Renzi also acknowledges the power of words in this section of the text, saying “esto es precisamente lo peligroso. Las palabras preparan el camino, son precursoras de los actos venideros, las chispas de los incendios futuros” (260-261).  Here, Renzi is problematizing the materiality of words and their capacity to violently change the world.  Words are the chispas or sparks, which will ignite the future.  For this reason, the literary thinkers, here represented by Kafka, have a special gift to see the possible dangers that seductive words can pose when placed in the wrong hands.

Seguimos respirando…

            La novela Respiración Artificial de Ricardo Piglia empieza con la publicación de otra novela, la del personaje Emilio Renzi. Esta novela dentro de la novela, titulada La prolijidad de lo real, es la historia de un misterio familiar, la desaparición de Marcelo Maggi, tío del autor, que aparentemente defalco a su mujer Esperancita y se fugó con una amante conocida como la Coca, una bailarina de cabaret. La publicación de este historial ficticio, que trata de acercarse a “lo real,” propicia la resurgencia del anonimato del tío desaparecido con la llegada de una carta. Y así comienza la investigación de los detalles detrás de la novela equívoca. Lo que lleva de cartas a conversaciones, a más relatos y más historias, cada una más interesante que la anterior, a respiraciones de artificio, de literatura, de filosofía. La “realidad” en la que la primera novela fracasa no es de importancia. Lo que importa es “la prolijidad” que genera al iniciar la correspondencia con Maggi que en torno lleva al monólogo vertiginoso del senador que intenta vaciar su memoria con la repetición hablada de su historia (subconscientemente tratando de sanar su melancolía paralítica) y a la conversación en el bar con los inmigrantes rusos y con el filósofo fracasado Tardewski. Todo culminando con los documentos de Ossorio finalmente pasados al escritor fracasado Renzi. 
          Quiero prestar atención a una cosa: el hecho de que la novela es una transacción de relatos entre intelectuales fracasados, con historias sin terminar, con descubrimientos datados en una publicación efímera con la intención de proteger la idea que nunca es llevada a fruición (como es el hallazgo de Tardewski sobre el encuentro entre Kafka y Hitler que nunca es publicado en su totalidad sino relatado oralmente a Renzi, quien en torno lo narra en citas). Esta proliferación de citas, de relatos contados, de documentos pasados crea un flujo histórico en la novela que es como una investigación policiaca sin fin. Será Renzi el autor que finalmente triunfará en publicar la historia de la Argentina de inmigrantes y exiliados que se resisten a la dictadura censurante? Aparentemente no. Renzi también desaparece (o muere). Ya que es Piglia quien pasa los relatos para adelante, a nosotros, el lector en el futuro deseablemente utópico (yo en el 2012) que recibe una carta de adentro de la dictadura Argentina en 1980. Piglia es nuestro Maggi. Renzi es el Ossorio de Piglia. Y así seguimos pasando a través de cartas artificiales, de literatura, citas de un pasado escrito en prisión dictatorial marcando en el calendario la fecha de un futuro libre que intentamos aniquilar con nuestra voz de crítica literaria.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

the avanzada

Nelly Richard's book was an interesting read. Her definition of avant garde versus neo avant garde art, and the way she positioned the opposition as parallel to the traditional left versus the new left in dictatorship/post dictatorship Chile helpted me think through issues of memory and documentary. Although the book is about Chilean art, I immediately throught of Los Rubios, and the way in which Alberti refusses to take on the melancholic mantel of the left, opting instead for a heterogeneous inheritance.

At the same time, I wonder what gets lost by these categorizations- the strict binary between neo avant garde and avant garde, left and new left? Can a work be both theoretical and practical, deconstructing authoritarian language and totalizing concepts of history while at the same time addressing issues of class inequality?

Richard's use of Benjamin was useful for thinking through what gets left out of totalizing histories, histories that present the dictatorship as a single event, a scar on Chile's history, but her use of the word "redemptive" confused me. I thought that in Benjamin's Thesis on the Philosophy of History, a redemptive history is one which cites it in all its manifestations.  

The move towards the fragmented subject versus the collective "victim" of the dictatorship brought back last week's lecture (and the week before that) about the way the political function and problem of the collective "we". Richard's explication of the neo avant garde and the new left seems like a valuable solution to the question of alternative models of "resisistance" although the new left does not follow a resistance model but a deconstructive one.

Richards and Testimonio

               In the first chapter of La insubordinación de los signos : cambio político, transformaciones culturales y poéticas de la crisis, Nelly Richards includes a short discussion on the genre of testimonio in the context of Latin American culture and politics.  She describes testimonio as “un formato privilegiado” that serves to textualize the life stories and biographical information of the marginalized through the institutionalization and subjectivization of their narratives (27).  She goes on to describe in what ways this “formato privilegiado” functions within the Chilean period of memory and identity reconstruction after dictatorship, and mentions how the “exponentes” of testimoio “acapararon la atencion de la sociología chilena” (28).  Richards questions the privileged space in which testimonio is situated.  Any textual position of privilege, especially in such a transitory environment, is ripe for suspicion, and it seems that Richards is skeptical as to the function that these testimonios serve within the reconstruction period.  It is clear that they monopolize intellectual conversation, but in what ways are these testimonios shaping memory and identity?  What is being lost or pushed aside during this period of testimonio fascination?  Why is this compulsion towards testimonio so forceful?  Richards describes how testimonio factors into the “paradigma comunitario de la denuncia” during this period, but at the same time emphasizes the fact that this communal viewpoint is “resquebrajado” or cracked / split / fractured (28).  Overall, the larger genre of testimonio that she describes becomes a polemical machinery within Chilean culture, manipulated for political and nationalistic purposes, while simultaneously interjecting national consciousness with a chorus of new voices.  Richards goes on to position other texts, which are at the fringes of testimonio, in opposition to this “paradigma comunitario de la denuncia” and describes Diamela Eltit’s El padre mío and Claudia Donoso and Paz Errázuriz’s La manzana de Adán as subversive to political and nationalistic purposes (28).  According to Richards, the lack of property and identity of the subjects of these texts—who are “extremadamente variables y móviles” with their constantly changing names, clothing and sex—destabilize identity and the function of testimonio. 

Fragmented Voices and Bodies of Recovery

The Insubordination of Signs, really gave me a lot to think about, most of which I am still trying to process my way through. I am drawn to the fact that the memory lost as a result of the military regime in Chile remains suppressed, if only because it would threaten the very fabric of political reconciliation whose entire premise was to put the past in the past. For Richard, all that remains are residues, “fragments of experience…no longer speakable in the language that survived the catastrophe of meaning” (5). I am interested in this idea of fragmentation as the after effects of erasure and trauma. Richard describes how the military regime banished dissident voices and identities and prevented their representation, leaving them nameless and inexpressible. Those banished identities and narratives remain excluded in the postdictatorship.

I am really interested in locating this within queer studies, where conversations about erasure and recovery of fragments of experience are key to many queer narratives and theory. I’m thinking of An Archive of Feelings by Ann Cvetokovich in particular, where she discusses a queer approach to trauma that examines the recovery of those experiences already embedded in an archive—an “archive of feelings” that she defines as “an exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions, which are encoded not only in the content of the texts themselves but in the practices that surround their production and reception” (7). Needless to say, in Latin America during many of these moments of dictatorship and military regimes, queer bodies were equally erased and became part of an invisible institution of other dissident bodies and voices. I am thus interested in the process of recovery and how that relates to the body: does the body remember?

Richard writes,
Memories associated with the subaltern registers of the domestic and the popular, the urban, the feminine, and the biographical-erotic, entered as contraband into the upper regions of cultural representation, to contest the hierarchies of race, class, and gender fixing the scale of distinctions and privileges consecrated by traditional art (13).
Recovery is a form of disruption then, which is queer in nature. But how is fragmentation made whole again? Is the subaltern experience always a fragmented one? Richard is obviously not talking about queer discourses, but I think her work informs my own in terms of me thinking about how I locate the queer subject in Latin America. In a context where homosexuality is an invisible institution and only based on sexual positionality, where then do we locate same-sex desire in the postcolony? I wonder if Richard provides me with a historical context in which recovery of the fragments is happening. I just wonder if this recovery and remembrance reproduces violence in the body. And even then, who gets to recover? Which dissident voices get to rearticulate their voices? Do we get to speak to those who are permanently disappeared?

Fracciones que se rehúsan a una Totalidad

En su libro La Insubordinación de los Signos, Nelly Richard busca citar las voces olvidadas de la “nueva escena” para recalcar como en la transición de la represión cultural existente bajo la dictadura Chilena a la democracia actual hay un riesgo de “homogeneizar” la cultura a través de un “pluralismo oficial” (Richard 94). Richard buscar darle valor a lo deconstructivo, lo antilineal, lo antihistórico como signos fragmentarios que se revelan en contra de una “historia oficial” que buscar sintetizarse con el pasado, una oposición al “sentido” que sub-ordena y reprime fragmentos disidentes, modos de arte rupturizantes, que re-edita la memoria. Lo más interesante surge cuando tanto Hopehayn como Valdés describen el texto como una “tribu” que forma “un tejido con un colectivo de personas.” (Richard 100). Richard busca darle unificación de voz a una “escena” compuesta de fragmentos, rupturas y marginalidades, pero a la misma vez advierte contra el “régimen neutral” que tolera “la máxima diversidad de opiniones” porque en tal inclusión híbrida se ahogan los fragmentos y pierden su visibilidad entre tanta luz. Pero no es su libro una visibilidad de los fragmentos a través de su unificación en un sentido completo o, como ella misma defiende, una manera de subrayar “zonas menos claras” y “más esquivas”? Quisiera plantear la pregunta, quizás una “pregunta impertinente,” de si la retórica empleada por Richard funciona como hilo o como tijera. Si el texto da sentido a lo fragmentario al unificarlo en una sola voz o recorta el periódico cultural para evitar su subordinación ante el “vale todo” de la cultura postdictatorial y democratizante. Me parece interesante (y postmodernista) la inclusión de la conversación sobre el texto mismo como conclusión a él.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Subaltern and Commodity

In the second chapter of his book, “The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America,” Gareth Williams evaluates the emergence of the topic of subalternity in the United States as a topic of Latin American literary and cultural studies.  He explores this topic exhaustively throughout the text, from almost every angle.  In this chapter in particular, he begins to touch on the topic of knowledge and discourse as commodities.  For example, Williams describes how “we act as if Latin American subalternity were not, in the very practice of cultural exchange, inevitably subsumed by discursive commodification; as if the object actually realized itself as something other than a redemptive exchange-value within northern critical practices” (Loc 1174).  This link between knowledge and commodity is radical in many ways, implying that “northern” practices have some kind of calculable value to be gained by surmising information from the other.  For this exchange to take place, it is necessary that the knowledge commodity have value—which is where the topic of subalternity comes into a muddy interplay.  

The important question here is: what direct value does the study of the subaltern have on the “North”? If there is a commodity being accumulated and consumed here, how does that commodity function inside and outside the academic system?  Is there a world economy of knowledge? Williams describes the “subaltern’s increasing presence in the United States as a cultural studies growth industry, in which money and institutional resources are thrown at academic research and in which Latin American subaltern cultural production becomes increasingly intertwined in the North’s drive for information retrieval and knowledge dissemination on a global scale” (Loc 1136).  So if we are to view the “money and institutional resources” being pumped into the study of the subaltern as a kind of business investment, then what is the product that is being manufactured? What would be the pitch that the academy would use to attract investors, or customers for that matter?