Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (5)

Notebook 5

One of the main topics discussed in the Notebook 5 of the Grundrisse is the passage of transformation from the commune to the city. While the commune is, in a too simplified sense, a free gathering together, the city is a mandated and ruled gathering. While the commune “appears as a coming together, not as a being together, as a unification made up of independent subjects, landed proprietors, and not as a unity” (483), the city is the place of the sovereign, the walled community that hosts at its center the one who rules. While the distinction between state and stateless societies is important, Marx does not develop this in depth. For Marx land independence, or land appropriation and its usage, presupposes sovereignty and the figure of the sovereign. Something presupposes the nomos of the earth, so to speak. The commune escapes division, since “the land which cannot be divided if it is to serve as means of production in this specific form” (483).

To relate to the land without the necessity of a nomos, or a sovereign, Marx proposes that the individual proprietors refuse union. The fact that since the appropriation of the earth means the appropriation of the “natural conditions of labour […] as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials” (485), signals that the way we immediately relate to the earth presupposes a “relation of the earth […] always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form” (485). This means that the first struggle of humankind is the strive for affirming live with and within a territory, a form of living that does not consider private property or private forms of working, but positive and affirmative gestures of existence and coexistence. While all this picture is idyllic, or utopian, the form of relationship that Marx is proposing to understand the organization of the commune signals a threshold where utopianism reaches its limit. Since no individual has any existence or life outside of the commune, because those who live in commune do not exist “for [themselves] except in the assembly of the commune members, their coming-together for common purposes” (486), then, the commune eludes the nomos, the state and its oppression, but it erases, in a way, individuality, difference. At the same time, the assembly of the commons, their coming-together, or movement towards each-other, announces the possibility of a commonality, of a commune, with individuals and groups, a pack a formation like the one of the nomads, for whom “what is in fact-appropriated and reproduced here is not the earth but the herd; but the earth is always used communally at each halting place” (491). The commune, then, is the project without plan that seeks social reproduction in an apotropaic way: eating what kills and haunts, while persisting and affirming existence. 

The task in the times of Marx and today is to work and create the commons. The commons are the necessary presupposition of labour, of the land, for humankind to exist. At the same time, the commons are what humankind is yet to become, a plastic moment that is habitual. There is something magical about “appropriation,” of encountering oneself with an instrument, a tool, a body, something, that is so different and yet so keen with one strives for affirming oneself. While in the bourgeois world the worker sees the realization of their social existence by the way their skill is expressed by the production line, in the commune, skill has no name, but has still a presence. The skill is “what posits [the worker] as the owner of the instrument” (499), if we are all posited in front of our “instruments” as owners, then, “appropriation” has found a way to let something from its magic to flee capitalist territorialization. To be in front of big projects in a capitalist society reaffirms our oppression but also our chance for building the commons. Marx mentions that, when dealing with the construction of highways, for instance, capitalism faces a point of exhaustion, because building a highway escape what capitalism can do, it even exceeds what the state is able to do. Building for the multitude is always “a necessary use value for the commune, because the commune requires it at any price” (526). In a capitalist society surplus time and value to build a road exist, there are the materials, and costs, but without the “concentration” of the masses, the project dies. Concentration is defined by Marx as “always the addition of the part of labour capacity which each individual can employ on road building, apart from his particular work; but it is not only addition” (528 emphasis added). Concentration is an addition that is not only addition of labour. This addition is something that is heaping up in the way the workers present themselves in front of the project. Addition is a concentration of bodies, an assemblage, the surplus of the commons. While, of course, a road, or perhaps any project that requires the presence of the masses, is always what capitalism demands, and not what the commons need, the desire of the masses stays still always subaltern to whatever domination expects from them. Capitalism will always speculate with its constructions as a way of realizing value, while “living labour creates value” (543) in unexpected ways.

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (4)

Notebook 4

“Notebook 4” of the Grundrisse is, perhaps, the one that focus the most on the way capitalist production relies in “transforming labour,” or the ways into which labour is transformed. At the same time, this notebook is also about what some critics have identified as the backbone of capitalism, the general equivalent. Continuing with the way surplus value is produced, Marx states that one of the main ways to approach this is via “developing the nature of surplus value as the equivalent of the absolute or relative labour time mobilized by capital above and beyond necessary labour time” (385). With this, then, surplus value must always be placed in one side of an axis of equivalence. The other side of this axis is meant to be occupied by absolute or relative labour time. With this, then, surplus value appears to be as a mere addition of labour (absolute or relative). The problem with this, is that by force of equivalence, surplus value can only be equal to surplus labour. Since capitalist production presupposes a specific use of machinery by the bourgeoisie, and this use implies “the saving of necessary labour and the creating of surplus labour” (389), then, new capital will always be equal to the old capital plus a fraction of it [the old capital]. Capitalism only works when surplus meets surplus, and consequently, the division of labour is never a necessary attribute that labour comes naturally with: labour suffers an imposition for its division and its eventual conversion into surplus labour. 

With not much surprise, as in the same Grundrisse it is already mentioned, wealth “is disposable time and nothing more” (397), since the time that can be completely thrown away is already producing surplus in all its forms, value, capital, and labour. At times, it seems that all the exercise and display of mathematical formulas is but trying to depict several forms of disguises, or mystifications, that capitalism requires. We see then that when it is written that “capital, as the positing surplus labour, is equally and in the same moment the positing and the not-positing of necessary labour; it exists only in so far as necessary labour both exists and does not exist” (401), this ambivalent existence of capital, that of being positing and not-positing, or existent and non-existent, is precisely what could be called a disguise, or a mystification. The very fact that capital exists only in the act of being placed in a position of ambivalence tells more about the fact that capital is always acting, performing a role in disguise as it is in the process of becoming something else. Capitalism, then, is a territorialization of becoming.

In “Notebook 4” there is also a topic later developed by Rosa Luxemburg, that of the limits of capitalism. Marx notes that there is a point after the different processes of circulation, production, and consumption have held sway in which capitalism becomes a barrier for itself, and “hence will drive towards its own suspension” (410). This suspension means that capitalism takes a step back only to eventually push forward its drive, to go “beyond [habitual] production” (413). The logic for Marx, then, is not that capital will wait for processes of crisis to expand, as Luxemburg will expand, but that capital in its highest points of development is when it “more appears as barrier to [its own] production —hence also to consumption— besides the other contradictions which make it appear as border some barrier to production and intercourse” (416). The logic is that capitalism, as with its axis of equivalences that only accepts in both sides different, but equalized, forms of surpluses, follows a drive for self-realization that demands “excess [that] it posits surplus labour, then, as the condition of the necessary, and surplus value as the limit of objectified labour, of value as such” (421). The only rule in town is to always demand an equivalence of excess. While it is emphatically mentioned that surplus value presupposes surplus labour, it happens otherwise when Marx explores the notion of “living labour.”

The realization of living labour is stated to be a process that “at the same time [realizes and then adds] the de-realization process of labour. It posits itself objectively, but it posits this, its objectivity, as its own not-being or as the being, of its not-being-of capital” (454). Consequently, it is not surplus value what presupposes surplus labour, and neither the other way around. What presupposes the exchanges and equivalences, the disguises, is living labour. When placed in front of capitalist production, living labour is territorialized (realized) and at the same time deterritorialized (de-realized). The process of deterritorialization of living labour is, by the same token, the process of becoming and of flight off capitalist production. Capitalism relies in something that is alien to it, something that is outside of it, something that carries the possibility of ending the never-ending spiral of accumulation or of repeating it. Living labour is a force of repetition, what haunts the production of surplus value, “the condition and presupposition of the becoming, of the arising, of capital presupposes precisely that it is not yet in being but merely in becoming” (459). Once capitalism has territorialized that becoming then the worker is negated from its products. But perhaps before it was different. 

As “Notebook 4” closes, Marx elaborates on different modes of production that did not require the disposition of the worker’s labour and its product to guarantee social existence. Perhaps this part is the one that most strongly influenced further explorations on what communism could be. At the same time, one might wonder if the exploration of these past commons (common land, labour, time, etc.) should not necessarily be the core of the search for the commons. That is, perhaps, the commons are already outside of the past, outside of history, repeating in many different ways, all the time always becoming. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (3)

Notebook 3

There is something in capitalism that not only relies on the way it affects and habituates the masses. While Marx famously stated that religion was the opium of the masses, capitalism, could also be said, relies on a psychotropic force. When describing how capitalists are directly affected by the time a worker consecrates to production, Marx notices that “the struggle for the ten hours bill […] proves that the capitalist likes nothing better than for him to squander his dosages of vital force as much as possible, without interruption” (294). The squander of dosages speaks volumes of the addictive relationship that capitalists have with the labour of workers. With not a lot of imagination one can picture capitalists as characters from The Wolf of Wall Street: bodies addicted to everything that excites them. In the Notebook 3, It is not the only time that Marx uses images that allude to addiction, or sickness. Marx compares labour “as the living source of virus” (296). Dosages and viruses are not necessarily contradictory in themselves. They are, in fact, tied by the idea of toxicity and addiction that both terms evoke. 

The body of the addict lives and breathes that which addiction dictates it. If the capitalists are like addicts and “labour is the yeast thrown into it, which starts fermenting” (298), the capitalists need the liveliness in order to satisfy their thirst, their craves. With this, then, the whole process of production is a process that relies on live above all. What does, then, capital do? That is, if normally we associate capitalism with death, dispossession and destruction, why is it that the mogul addicts that feed the machine need so much of live? And more importantly, how is it that even consumption “which terminates neither in a void, nor in the mere subjectification of the objective, but which is, rather, again posited as an object” (300-301) still has some of the live that capitalism transformed? Perhaps a point of departure for understanding this is the fact that “production for unproductive consumption is quite as productive as that for productive consumption; always assuming that it produces or reproduces capital” (306). If capital, as in Notebook 2, is considered as something intrinsic to the way the body extends its power and its plan on something, then, capital is something unavoidable, something that is produced and reproduced at any times. The question, not new at all, is why does capital imply capitalism as a system to be easier to observe? 

For capitalism, capital is something that must be preserved. Outside capitalism, if today we can possibly picture that, capital is something that sooner or later will stop working. That is, if capitalism acts as an addiction, capital is always a reactivation of withdrawal symptoms. As “the value of capital has preserved itself in the act of production, and [after it] now appears as a sum” (315), the addict too, after withdrawal sees the sum of further doses as the only target. Preservation at all costs is the slogan of capital in capitalism, like euphoria or dysphoria for the addict. Form this it is visible that for the sake of preserving oneself, the worker gives life to a system that extracts affect from it. Labour is moved, then, by a process of addition, while capitalism is moved by a process of addiction. Addition is that which labour do as living labour, as something that “adds a new amount of labour; however, it is not this quantitative addition which preserves the amount of already objectified labour, but rather its quality as living labour, the fact that it relates as labour to the use values in which the previous labour exists” (363). While labour adds, capitalism dosages that addition turning it into addiction. The distinction between these two, addition and addiction, is blurry, and perhaps today impossible to tell. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (2)

“Notebook 2”

There is something special about money. The problem of money is that in itself it is something very abstract but also an object whose activity happens almost everywhere and in many different forms. Money is another commodity, but it is for certain that it is “the god among commodities” (221). The “Notebook 2” of the Grundrisse tries to explain money in capitalists societies. This explanation not only focuses in the many different ways that money is used, but also in the “particular” and specific way that makes money so special for capitalism. If money, as we read in the first pages of the notebook is so special, it is firstly because its possession “places [us] in exactly the same relationship towards wealth as the philosopher’s stone would towards science” (222). That is, money is responsible for placing the subject in the direction of what the subject thinks they want. Without surprise, then, money triggers greed “a particular form of drive” (222), that accelerates the speed travelled by the subject who approaches the object of their desires. To be against money, in capitalism, is to be against oneself, because only money can approach what we want and desire to us. 

At the same time that money is the oil that secures the function of the capitalist machine of exchanges and exploitation, money is also a scurrilous thing. While money is key to the production and accumulation of wealth, money cannot fulfill these duties on its own. “One is the richer the more of it [money] one possesses, and the only important process, for the individual as well as the nation is, to pile it up” (230). Money could easily be accumulated, because to accumulate is to “step back or outside of circulation” (230). But this has its risks. To display abundance and extraordinary wealth hoarding, or expense, reduces the way money circulates, and therefore, it reduces the way money is valued. To accumulate money is not based on a random greed-guided increase, but in a regulated competition because accumulation is completely dependent on circulation. If money has a close relationship to capital, then, as capital itself, money must be in constant movement, the moments it is accumulated it happens as a “wholly secret relation with the individual” (230). Of course, only sanctioned by society is the wealth (secret or not) of the individual valorized. 

Money is strictly tied to capital production because money, as a system, is the one that guarantees equality and freedom at the moment of exchange. The problem of the ideas of freedom and equality, that money promises, is that these two features soon turn out to be “inequality and unfreedom” (249). In other words, to be part of the system of capitalist exchange one must always be aware that as simple as an exchange might be, that simplicity is not a simplified relationship. In an exchange relationship an individual is not merely exchanging with another, but their exchange actually “expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” (265). This is why the money inside of ones pocket is never the same money as the one that is in the banks, or speculated in the stock market. What the relationship of money and capital problematizes is the fact that certain activities are the same and exchangeable at the same time that they are different and alien to each-other. In this landscape, the world market appears as an always under construction edifice of an inside that faces its own reflection repetitively. The world market is “not only the internal market [of a country] in relation to all foreign markets existing outside it, but at the same time the internal market of all foreign markets as, in turn, components of the home market” (280). As it is difficult to determine the difference between money and capital in capitalism, so it is to determine the inside-outside relationship that the idea of world market suggests. 

As monstruous as this could look, the shaping and reshaping of capitalist society requires not only money and commodities in exchange between free individuals. What is missing the picture depicted so far by Marx is the presence of those who produce, the workers, bodies without value but with an almost infinite capacity to dispose their own labour: free as birds subjects. 

Notes on The Power at the End of the Economy (2015) Brian Massumi

Freedom of choice is not new for neoliberalism but, as Brian Massumi argues in The Power at the End of the Economy (2015), it is its main feature. It is its “magic touch guided by the principle of competition” (1). The idea of the Market, at least for modernity, is tied to the way freedom of choice has been developed as a mechanism connected to the way we rationalize our everyday lives. We choose our future, as much as we choose our present and past. What matters is that our decision stands as a solid bridge that brings together what we desire and what we want. The problem with all this, as Massumi argues, is that every rationalized decision is haunted by affect. The market, or markets, these days is (are) rational only in appearance. Today, markets “react more like mood rings than self-steering wheels, the affective factor becomes increasingly impossible to factor out” (2). This means that as late Michel Foucault argued the invisible hand of the market seems to be connecting the world in a “spontaneous synthesis,” therefore “the positive synthesis of market conditions occurs immanently to the economic field” (3). The end of the Economy, for Massumi, is when “what is most intensely individual is at the same time most wide-rangingly social” (4) and at the same time, when the invisible hand seems to be suffering from a “degenerative motor disease” (5). Power, at least in its state form, is less than a invisible hand these days, but also more than a phantasmatic prothesis. Power is working in the “infra-individual” and every infra-level of action strikes strongly at a macro level. 

The panorama that Massumi describes for power after the end of economy, that is, once there is not outside of capitalism, is closer to the way the weather behaves. The individual, then, as part of the landscape is like a mountain, or any other geographical accident that both increases or reduces the strength of the weather. The power of the individual, however, is not dictated by its rational ability of choosing, it is determined by its “nonconsciousness” since this “becomes the key economic actor” (17). From that we have not only a disempowered individual but a radical change in the individual. Autonomy stops being a feature of the individual and “what is now autonomous is its decision” (19). We like doing things that are done by something through and with us. The personal vanishes and we are in an infra-desert of experience. This brave new world focus on “self-interest” which consist in making and keeping tight a “strict equation between life satisfaction and rational calculus of choice” (23). By no means this should comfort us. Our current state is merely a state that persist in self-satisfaction or its extended deferral at all levels: pleasure, pain, gain, success, sadness, depression, death, rush and so on. We have, as neoliberalist homo oeconomicus “a system in which [we] owe the positive nature of [our] calculation precisely to what eludes [our] calculation” (36). We can calculate all that par excellence eludes calculus; we can measure all that is unmeasurable. And, of course, the problem is that these operations would never end well. 

Rationality created its traps and captured affect. One is free to choose its deferral of death. While all of this seems extremely pessimistic, for Massumi, it also means that different ways of struggle are liberated. Perhaps, in a same formula as the one evoked by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), The Power at the End of the Economy suggests that what is at stake is abandon decision and supplant its rational features by an affective sympathy. That is, before placing reason at the top of our priorities, affect should dismantle hierarchies and recreating old paradigms. If capitalism has persisted for so long it is, for Massumi, because it has focused, wrongly, the importance of things in their quantity and quantification and not in its qualities and its qualifications. Life always will create, via events, a surplus. “Capitalism is the process of converting qualitative surplus value of life into quantifiable surplus value” (77), what is at stake with this is that there must be a way to stop converting the surplus value of life, manifested in experience, into quantifiable things, into a calculus that blindly gives answers. While Massumi offers a possible solution in a tone closer to Empire (as mentioned before), it is not clear enough how affect, or ontopower, would simply infect all common heroes —the anonymous masses that for Massumi have all the potential and imagination to make a change in the world— it is for sure important keep in mind that there is a difference between the qualitative surplus value of life and the quantitative capitalist surplus value. The first one is always a remainder, an excess, an uncountable, the second one is merely a false calculation, a persuasive trap. At the same time, if there is no economy, once affect became immanent, how would we learn of to differentiate again between surplus values without choosing? 

Escritura y vida: el punto impreciso entre la memoria y la experiencia. Notas sobre El entenado (1982) de Juan José Saer

“De esas costas vacías me quedó sobre todo la abundancia de cielo” (13). Con esta aparente contradicción inicia El entenado (1982) de Juan José Saer. La novela contada en primera persona recupera los recuerdos de un huérfano español que en su juventud vivió por 10 años con un pueblo indígena antropófago en la recién “descubierta” América de inicios de siglo XVI. A su retorno a España, el anónimo narrador, que ahora escribe desde la senectud, recuenta cómo del miedo y la incomprensión a los indígenas ahora su memoria se los presenta con cariño, pues frente a los excesos, corruptelas, libertinaje y desasosiego de la vida en España, la vida en aquellas costas vacías no era mejor, pero sí más cercana al sosiego. Si bien, buena parte del relato se ocupa de la relación sobre la vida diaria con los antropófagos, la novela es menos una exaltación de una pretendida y “pura”otredad de los indígenas y más un ejercicio de memoria. Más bien, El entenado es, en gran medida, una exploración sobre el movimiento y la sensación del recuerdo de la existencia propia y del entorno: una novela sobre escritura y vida. Si entenado es el hijo que se aporta al nuevo matrimonio, el narrador no es sólo el hijo que llega a esa unión forzada y accidentada entre el nuevo y el viejo continente, sino también alguien cuya vida llega en doblez a sí mismo, alguien que llega por deseo propio o por azar al puerto de sí mismo. 

El narrador va de una costa a otra, de un extremo a otro. Criado entre prostitutas y marineros, cuando el puerto ya no le era suficiente, el narrador decide embarcarse hacia el lugar del que todos hablan en los puertos. “Lo importante era alejarme del lugar en donde estaba, hacia un punto cualquiera, hecho de intensidad y delicia, del horizonte circular” (14), dice el narrador. Si su origen es intrazable, por su orfandad, el destino del narrador también se presenta así. El punto cualquiera, hecho de intensidad y delicia, del horizonte circular es uno y cualquier punto. En ese siglo, desde las costas españolas cualquier línea hacia el nuevo mundo es de fuga. Si la tierra de origen es terrible, cualquier punto que se aleje de ahí, por su intensidad y su delicia, debería ser mejor. El mismo punto que el narrador busca fuera de las costas españolas parece ser el mismo que el capitán, una vez emprendido el viaje, observa obsesivamente, “miraba fijamente un punto invisible entre el mar y el cielo, sin parpadear, petrificado sobre el puente” (16). La petrificación del capitán seguirá así incluso al llegar a tierra. Mientras los demás miembros de la tripulación se convierten líneas erráticas que se desplazan “como animales en estampida” (19) al llegar a tierra firme, el capitán se abstiene de todo movimiento. No es sino hasta que al hacer el reconocimiento de tierra, el capitán abandona un poco su inmovilidad. Sin embargo, el poco movimiento del capitán disminuirá aún más. En tierra, sus ojos se quedaron “mirando sin duda sin pestañear, el mismo punto impreciso entre los árboles que se elevaba en el borde de la selva” (22). Ese punto impreciso eventualmente provoca “una estupefacción solidaria” (23) entre los marinos, hasta que el capitán “emitió un suspiro ruidoso, profundo y prolongado” (23). Luego del suspiro los marineros pasaron a un “principio de pánico” (23). 

El punto impreciso detona la estupefacción solidaria, el suspiro ruidoso y el principio de pánico. Este punto es mediación entre la memoria, o la imaginación, y la experiencia y a su vez el lugar ilocalizable entre escritura y vida. Algo hay de aterrador en el momento detonado por ese punto impreciso. Más allá del miedo y la diferencia que puedan generar luego los sucesos venideros en la narración, la muerte de todos los marineros excepto del narrador, la orgía y antropofagia de los indígenas, el regreso a España, la falsedad de la vida monacal y artística y el placer humilde de vivir en familia y escribir, algo hay que afecta en desmesura en las primeras páginas de El entenado. El terror, el miedo, o el afecto, está siempre en los huecos, en los agujeros, los puntos imprecisos que parecen alejar al que observa de sí mismo y al mismo tiempo acercarlo a otra cosa diferente de sí mismo. Estos puntos están por toda la narración. El capitán incluso luego de su resoplido continúa obsesionado, atosigado, casi, por estos puntos. Un día mientras cenaban, su mirada “permanecía fija en el pescado y, sobre todo, en el ojo único y redondo que la cocción había dejado intacto y que parecía atraerlo, como una espiral rojiza y giratoria capaz de ejercer sobre él, a pesar de la ausencia de vida, una fascinación desmesurada” (25). 

El punto impreciso tantas veces mencionado en la novela no es un vacío. Al menos no un vacío en el sentido en que aquello que es abismal es habitado por la nada. Este punto es precisamente el que regula el arco narrativo, es el lugar sin el que la escritura perdería su trazo y la vida su fuerza, su curva y progresión, un límite que garantiza el movimiento de las cosas. El narrador comenta luego de describir con nitidez los vaivenes de la orgía y la embriaguez de los indígenas “ahora, sesenta años después, en que la mano frágil de un viejo, a la luz de una vela, se empeña en materializar, con la punta de la pluma, las imágenes que le manda, no se sabe cómo, ni de dónde, ni por qué, autónoma, la memoria” (61). El punto impreciso es, entonces, el límite de la memoria frente a una experiencia desbordada que exige su materialización. Aquellos años que excedieron toda experiencia forzaron el nacimiento del narrador en el nuevo mundo (41). En esos años su memoria sobre el viejo mundo se borró, bastaba una acumulación de vida que desplazó la memoria para que el cuerpo se acostumbre a otras cosas. De regreso al viejo mundo el proceso se repite, pero ahora, la acumulación de memoria desplaza la experiencia. Las tardes que consagra el viejo narrador a su escritura son ahora un punto impreciso desde donde memoria y experiencia se desbordan mutuamente dejando trazos en las páginas que leemos. 

Si entre los indígenas, como pasa también, tal vez, en las costas de su tierra de origen del narrador, dominan los roles y los hábitos, el único hábito que le falta al narrador es alguno que le permita poner aquello que se escapa a la experiencia y también elude, de cierta forma, a la memoria. Es decir, la escritura y los libros, según dice el narrador, son un “un oficio que […] permitiera manipular algo más real que poses o que simulacros” (117) y sobre todo son un hábito que le permiten al narrador rodear el punto impreciso, que ahora es atiborrado por una acumulación de palabras, de los vacíos de la vida van quedando abundancia de intensidades y sensaciones. Si la experiencia alguna vez venció a la memoria y a la inversa, en la escritura el vaivén entre memoria y experiencia se intensifica y se acelera. El texto se vuelve repetición y religación. Las constantes repeticiones de la narración ejemplifican algo más que un inacabable ir y venir entre la memoria y la experiencia. La repetición no es su condena, sino una oportunidad precisa de cambio, o como el narrador dice sobre el mismo sabor del vino que ahora por las noches prueba y comprueba repetidamente, este era “el indicio de algo imposible pero verdadero, un orden interno propio del mundo y muy cercano a nuestra experiencia […] un momento luminoso que pasa, rápido, cada noche, a la hora de la cena y que después, durante unos momentos, me deja como adormecido” (118). El punto impreciso se vuelve momento luminoso. Si la vida es eso que le pasa de lado a cualquier cuerpo, la vida no es más que algo aterrador pero neutro, un lugar raro donde se cumplen. El narrador dice, así, que “nuestras vidas se cumplen en un lugar terrible y neutro que desconoce la virtud o el crimen y que, sin dispersarnos ni el bien ni el mal, nos aniquila, indiferente” (152). Como el pasmo del capitán de la expedición, que dejó entenado al narrador en aquellas costas del nuevo mundo, o como el canibalismo de los indígenas, o la vida monacal y la errante vida de cómico, toda vida pasa, casi siempre, fuera de nosotros, desde o hacia un punto impreciso, sólo cuando el punto impreciso nos toca, entonces es que algo se ilumina, entonces es que la intensidad en nosotros brilla. Todo lo tocado y todo lo sentido, lo recordado, olvidado y experimentado, lo que se escapa y lo que se queda, va a encontrarse en el balbuceo del final de la novela, el “encuentro casual entre, y con, también, a ciencia cierta, las estrellas” (161): el encuentro de la abundancia del cielo y el desierto de la vida grabado en letras.

Una nota a Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso (2020) de Alberto Moreiras

Las instrucciones de uso son, casi por antonomasia, el texto que siempre se difiere para luego deferirse. Es decir, uno revisa las instrucciones de uso de la máquina que siempre ha funcionado bien cuando ésta misteriosamente deja de hacerlo. Como último recurso, se espera a que alguien mejor capacitado repase las instrucciones y componga el desarreglo de la máquina. Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso (2020) de Alberto Moreiras está, de alguna manera, en el mismo espacio que ocupa cualquier manual de usuario, siempre como texto de uso último. Sin embargo, por su cercanía con la noción de escritura, según Jacques Derrida, uno puede decir que la máquina que “arregla” la infrapolítica es siempre una que desplaza lo significante y en su movimiento abre la posibilidad a un retorno sin retorno. Las instrucciones de uso de la infrapolítica no son maneras de reparar a la diezmada política convencional, sino la posibilidad de abrir un retorno sin retorno a la política. Esto es, proseguir la búsqueda derrideana de “un extraño deseo sin sentido, un deseo y un goce al margen de cualquier posible captura ontológica” (Derrida en Moreiras 17). ¿Por dónde habría que empezar? 

Vida sin textura, aporía de lo político, distancia de la distancia, segunda militancia, des-narrativización, comparecencia en substracción, pensamiento reaccionario, apotropeia, poshegemonía, y otros conceptos más sacuden las páginas del instructivo que deja pasmado al lector común que poca o muy contadas veces decide reparar la máquina descompuesta en vez de comprar otra. Y es que, en cierto sentido, la infrapolítica, como se dice varias veces, no espera ser un avatar más en el mercado académico. La infrapolítica abandona toda idea de salvación, pues “si llega a haber salvación es porque habrá más desastre” (27). Tampoco por eso habría que deshacerse de la máquina del pensar, sino comenzar por uno de los mecanismos base de la infrapolítica: separar y diferenciar el ser de el pensar. Una vez que estos dos se separan los demás conceptos poco a poco dan a ver que la infrapolítica no es un concepto “sino un proyecto de un pensar sobre  un cierto afuera de la política” (80). Como el famoso ça se déconstruit de Derrida, la infrapolítica guarda ese “se” como residuo único de una fuerza de algo afuera que ejerce en el adentro de la frase su reflexión, reflexividad, énfasis, impersonalidad y su pasividad. Sólo en el se es que la infrapolítica reúne a todas esas cosas de no agotamiento, todo eso que la política no agota de la existencia, todo lo que la hegemonía no agota de la política (87). Todo eso que la infrapolítica deja resonar en montones es un rechazo radical al uno. 

Una de las definiciones posibles que se da a infrapolítica es la “diferencia absoluta entre vida y política, también por lo tanto, entre ser y pensar. De la que ningún experto puede hablar. De la que sólo se puede hablar sin hablar” (105). Con esto, queda claro que la tarea de toda labor de pensamiento está en pensar fuera del equivalente general del capitalismo. Así, para desmantelar el equivalente general habría que buscar “siempre en cada caso pensar qué es excepciona al equivalente general” (107), pues no hay totalidad que aguante montones de excepciones. De cierto modo, si la máquina se ha descompuesto es por la fuerza del equivalente general que no admite la diferencia. La infrapolítica, entonces, apostaría por un amontonamiento de “singularidades radicales”, singularidades inconmensurables, en las que “nadie es más que nadie” y también “nada es más que nada” (111). La instrucción general del manual sería la práctica de un cierto modo de ejercicio existencial, pues la existencia es el referente absoluto de la infrapolítica. Al final, de cierto modo, el manual sugiere un completo arrojamiento del ser, un dejar de ser, un dejamiento existencial “en favor de un prendimiento radical a la singularidad libre de la existencia, que es por lo tanto también no-prendimiento o desprendimiento con respecto a todo lo demás” (205). La infrapolítica restituye lo insistente de la existencia y la existencia insistente. Sólo así, tal vez, pueda ser posible una nueva apotropaia (“tomar un mal, una pieza de mal para protegerse del mal y transformarlo en acción fecunda” [236]), que permita suspender la extracción y la producción de informantes del mundo contemporáneo. Llegados a las últimas páginas del manual, uno llega a un comienzo “para otros comienzos” (226) para pensar, tal vez, fuera de la máquina que se pretendía reparar en un inicio, o hacer máquinas sin mecanismos y hacer mecanismos sin máquina desde donde late la incospicua y honrada infrapolítica. 

The Voluntary (Happy) Submission of Collecting. Notes on The Collector [Koleksiyoncu] (2002) by Pelin Esmer

Pelin Esmer’s documentary The Collector [Koleksiyoncu] (2002) follows an individual with a very particular pastime through the busy streets of Istanbul. The main character and narrator, an old man whose name is never revealed, is a collector of all kinds of objects. Shake powered flashlights, newspapers, rosaries, stickers from fruits, lists of the names of dead friends, glasses, fish bones, magazines, books, miniature kitchen utensils, among many, are some of the objects that the collector hosts in his apartment. While the house of the Collector could be easily associated with a hoarding disorder, the documentary does not focus entirely in the malaise of collecting objects, but rather in the unexpected happiness of gathering and piling objects.

“My interest in the collectable objects goes back to my childhood. Whenever I saw something small or interesting, I would keep it. For example, when my father bought lots of tomatoes for my mom to make tomato paste, I would choose the nice and small ones and hide them in a drawer. Soon they would rot and my mom would get very angry at me. As I grew older, this interest got wider and wider…” says the main character and narrator of the documentary, and so does the poster that promotions the documentary. While tomatoes go bad after being kept, the objects that the mature collector keeps in his apartment are all things whose damage, or malaise, comes from the space they use. As the Collector acknowledges, he only keeps things that won’t damage other things. The piling of objects day by day grows and it is harder to live or move in the apartment. With the hope of finding a place for all his precious newspapers, the main character finds a university who might receive them all without having to recycle them or dispose them. The Collector does not recycle, does not throw away, does not forget any object, does not lend any piece, he sometimes gives away what he has, but besides he keeps his collection as if he were nurturing a son, so says the Collector himself. 

The noise and vividness of the streets of Istanbul don’t stop. As the Collector wanders the camera follows him to all kind of markets, bazars, corner stores, restaurants, coffeehouses. Everyone buys, everyone consumes. In a way, the Collector is like any other consumer, he buys what he thinks he wants and tries to outsmart the market by buying always in pairs: one for the collection and one to use. Collecting becomes more than piling objects but less than archiving. “To be honest, I cannot claim that this is the aim behind my collections, being a bridge between yesterday and tomorrow is not the overriding idea for me. I see collections as a hobby not as a mission” (41:30). It is not a work, and yet occupies the Collector’s day completely. It is a hobby that looks like a job. 

Collecting, in a way, is an addiction, as put it by the old man himself, “Making collection is a sickness without a cure.” Like an addict, the one who collects is also like a slave. “We can call this a ‘voluntary submission’, or even a ‘mandatory submission’” says again the old man. His duty consists in keeping things in a safe place, things that, like the newspapers, will paradoxically sabotage the very basis of his daily life in his apartment. At the same time, says the old man “the worst thing is, I don’t really feel like fighting against it. I know it is necessary, I need to find a solution but, I just let it take its course” (42:35). 

What would happen with the collections after the Collector’s death? If the objects kept would find a way, ideally, they’ll be the trace of a particular existence. However, it seems the opposite. All that could happen to the collections after their keeper’s death is beyond the keeper’s power. “Collections are a way of clinging to life” says the old man in the final sequence of the documentary. If collecting was the mean that allowed existence to cling itself to life, then without collections life would be like the empty house of the Collector, as he imagines it, “a very dull place.” Without objects, life loses its liveliness. Without collections, where would liveliness find its colours? Without addiction how would existence cling to life and the other way around?

Notes on Infrapolitical Passages. Global Turmoil, Narco-Accumulation, and the Post-Sovereign State (2021) by Gareth Williams

In spite of one of the comments at the back of Gareth Williams’ Infrapolitical Passages. Global Turmoil, Narco-Accumulation, and the Post-Sovereign State (2021) that praises William’s ability for “announcing problems”, after reading the book one sees that Infrapolitical Passages doesn’t really announce anything. That is, the problems that the book “announces” are already lost causes. And more than an announcing, at the end of the book, after we’ve witnessed one of the most accurate, pessimistic and well explained analysis of our current times of crisis, we read about the “advent of the infrapolitical decision of existence” (190). 

Divided in two parts, the book’s main task is to clear the surface of knowledge so that an infrapolitical register may resound. How is it that things ended up like this? Whatever could have happened? These are some of the questions that the book suggests. The thing is that the book is not very interested in knowing why things are how they are, but rather to know how one should confront the uncanniness of our times. This logic is then, as Williams writes following Alberto Moreiras, that the infrapolitical seeks not to “fantazise about the possibility of freeing oneself from nihilism but to confront the consequences of actively skimming over nihilism in the name of a transcendent, messianic counterpolitics” (22). As a result, the first part of the book is the deep analysis on why most (if not all) of contemporary thought self congratulates in the search for palliative solutions while embracing an unfavorable messianic counterpolitics. In response to all the failures of both the right and the left, Williams bets on “what remains unaccounted for, and what the tradition has concealed”, this is the register of infrapolitics, the writing, or trace, that “regulatory representation cannot capture or domesticate” (95). If all politics have attempted to surrender existence, the truth is that existence always presupposes and exceeds politics. At the same time, the problems yet to analyze are not only those of the world of techne but of the uncanny register of everyday existence in times of post- katechon, decontainment and narco-accumulation. 

These three terms are fully engaged in the second part of the book. If the katechon was (is) the figure that decides, the sovereign, today we have already past the “heyday” of politics of decision (if there ever were). Today we have a general state of decointanment, which is not the contraposition between polemos and stasis but the “becoming other” of stasis, the bipartition of a process of “glocal” civil war. Finally narco-accumulation would be the process that instals commodification in anything at a nihilo level. That is, death becomes a business as much as it is drug smuggling, money laundry, corporate capital and so on. Narco-accumulation is what goes hand in hand with the exhaustion of monetary capital (currency) that switches to crypto-currency capital, wealth that extracts the immediate plus-value of existence. No art, no culture, no theory, in brief no subjectivity can save us, “for in the face of death it is always too late for more subjectivity” (162). Or another way to put it, there is no time anymore to look for one’s face at the void of the abyss. 

The pessimistic reality that Williams depicts should be taken as it is. It is now the time where the void resonates, and “this nihil cannot be grasped, restrained, and administered into inexistence by a modern sovereign state form or by the contemporary market-state duopoly that displaces it, since the latter is no longer interested in the fabrication of functional sutures between state and population but in their perennial splitting, differentiation, and positing as subjects and objects” (166). In decointainment there is no “restrainer” and therefore there is no place for mourning, nor for existence, just a flux of infrapower. In the face of all this there is no other option, Williams suggests, but a radical difference, a step back. What is needed, then, are steps back out of diegesis, like the ones Williams analyzes à propos the film La jaula de oro (2013). Away from metaphysics, infrapolitics seeks care, facticity and world (the way we encounter the world everyday [172]). Away from narco-accumulation it becomes evident that “the infrapolitical turn to existence is the a-principal care for the freedom and worldhood whose wherefrom, out of which, and on the basis of which is the ownlessness that underlines being-with itself” (188). That is, infrapolitics would be the common ground of a fugitive thought that shelters existence when all other spheres are desperately hunting it. Being with is the mode of infrapolitics. After this, “perhaps […] it is still not too late for the advent of the infrapolitical decision of existence” (190), but as in The Other Side of Popular (2002)all of this is only a possibility, a perhaps. 

Desfacedor de entuertos y malas cuentas. Notas a Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional católico (2019) de José Luis Villacañas

Si José Luis Villacañas hubiera sabido que todo lo que trataba de prevenir y denunciar en Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional católico (2019) iba a reactualizarse, reforzarse y volverse el pan de todos los días en estos días de pandemia en España, quizás Villacañas hubiera escrito otro libro, o tal vez no. La importante tarea que motiva a Imperiofilia no es sólo la de responder a Imperiofobia y leyebda negra. Roma, Rusia, Estados Unidos y el Imperio español de María Elvira Roca Barea, sino también reformar cierto “amor” por España. Esto es, si Roca Barea denuncia el miedo a “la grandeza española” por parte de otras naciones europeas, Villacañas denuncia el desmedido amor a España. Desde esta perspectiva, Imperiofilia es menos un libro de amor loco por la patria y más uno que procura modular y sopesar el amor nacional. Entre Imperliofilia Imperiofobia hay, entonces, dos polos afectivos, uno movido por el amor loco, otro por el miedo y la victimización. Roca Barea representa populismo “intelectual reaccionario” que actúa bajo criterios que clásicos del populismo (un necesario otro exterior constituyente, un enemigo para atacar y unir al grupo para marcar un nosotros y un ellos) pero también lleva al extremo la necesidad de destruir al enemigo, de demonizarlo y acabarlo (14). Las lecciones de Imperiofilia, entonces serían “desfacer” los entuertos de Imperiofobia, pues “su esencia reside en mezclarlo todo, confundirlo todo, y en ese maremágnum no ofrecer razón atendible, sino solo un tu quoque infinito” (14). Villacañas, entonces, apuesta por un populsimo intelectual mesurado y comprensivo, que no mezcla y no confunde, que da buenas razones y sobre todo trata de evitar el “fácil” tu quoque. El problema, por otra parte, radica en que dentro de la hegemonía todo a la larga es un tu quoque. 

Todo el libro de Imperiofilia es una corrección a Imperiofobia. Lejos de escribir como Roca Barea, que se excita con todo. Recorre los siglos, acumula noticias que le afectan y como el penitenciario en Semana Santa le duelen los latigazos sobre la espalda desnuda” (109-110), Villacañas escribe desde “la distancia adecuada” (como se repite varias veces en el libro). Así, saber bien de política, de historia y de cualquier cosa en general es saberse medir, saber calcular. Sin arriesgarse mucho, la lección de libro sería saber medir el miedo y el amor. Pues amobs no están mal, pero hay que tener dosis adecuadas de éstos. El asunto es que la medida de los afectos y su posterior cristalización en emociones o su devenir máquina en pasiones, no responden nunca a una fórmula adecuada. De hecho, el mismo Villacañas parece sugerir que no es tarea fácil determinar cómo es que ciertas cosas nos han afectado y luego éstas se cristalizan en la vida cotidiana. Cuando se escribe sobre la inquisición, se dice que lo necesario sobre esta institución: 

 “es que los españoles logremos un relato de la manera en que nos afectó esta institución y apreciemos lo específico de la misma, no que nos enrolemos en una guerra de cifras y de muertes, de pequeños detalles sin densidad significativa. Lo relevante es lo que significó para nosotros como pueblo y la manera en que afectó a la constitución de nuestra inteligencia y a la formación de elites; a la manera de ejercer la dirección y de lograr obediencia y confianza” (143) 

Si es tan difícil saber eso que la inquisición significó y cómo afectó a “la inteligencia y a la formación de élites”, ¿cómo presuponer que “el pueblo” (o un pueblo) estuvo ahí para recibir esos afectos?, ¿no es más bien, como se sugiere en otras secciones del libro, que en “los gloriosos años del imperio” la formación social de la península ibérica era múltiple y por tanto carente de una idea de pueblo?, ¿no es más bien que precisamente la inquisición afecto a “España y las colonias” al grado de convertirlas en pueblo? Consecuentemente, esos “detalles sin densidad significativa” se convertirían en los resabios de aquello que procuró la formación de pueblo. 

De hecho, las diferencias entre los enfoques de Villacañas y Roca Barea están en las formas de contar, ya sea la historia y/o los “detalles sin densidad significativa” que forman la historia. Para Villacañas, Roca Barea se la pasa contando, acumulando, para ella “todo reside en saber quién mató más” (111) entre la Inquisición y el Calvinismo. Al mismo tiempo, cuando se llega a discutir la lista de libros prohibidos por la inquisición, Villacañas comienza su conteo de detalles nimios. “No hace falta recorrer todo el índice del 1922 para darnos cuenta de que para la casta sacerdotal que guiaba con paso firme a la humanidad católica hacia la ciencia y el progreso, no se podía leer nada de la historia del pensamiento humano” (205). Desde esta perspectiva, se puede decir que la fobia y la filia del Imperio invitan a que a las masas, y a las élites conservadoras, los conmueven los muertos y a la “valiente” sociedad civil, la prohibición de libros. Si dentro de los “juegos” populistas todo es conteo y suma, espejo y reflexión para proyectar a y en un “otro” aquello que “uno” no quiere ser, ¿de qué le sirve a la política contar(se)? A su vez, sin la cuenta, ¿cómo saber que el “eterno retorno” y la línea progresiva de la historia han cambiado? Tal vez valga menos “desfacer” enredos y proyectar otros afectos, incluso, tal vez, desde la risa, como el cómico Ignatius Farray ya lo ha sugerido: más valdría jugar a una verdad y un conteo afectivo, que a una reparación emotiva, didáctica y empalagosa.