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 (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 Crack Capitalism (2010) by John Holloway

Crack Capitalism (2010), in a way, completes most of the reflections John Holloway started in Change the World Without Taking Power. While the first volume worries the most about the description of doing, a constituent force captured by labour that generates our common sense and our normal way of being into the world of capitalism. The second volume offers 32 thesis about the ways we, ourselves, build but also crack the system that oppresses us, how we are screaming and creating cracks in the system, how doing cannot be fully appropriate by labour. In another, perhaps, less obvios reading, the 32 thesis are, somehow, 32 steps into sobriety, into a life free of capitalism, but, would that addiction be easy to resolve?

As much as Crack Capitalism offers an inspiring and optimistic way of understanding doing, as something inherent to the way human beings do things for the sake of doing them, because we like doing things, perhaps today one should hesitate to accept Holloway’s optimism. The hesitation is understandable, as Holloway hesitates himself, about considering that with our cracks we are but realigning our struggle back to the terms that provoke the struggle in the first place. That is, Holloway asks, “how do we avoid our cracks becoming simply a means for resolving the tensions or contradictions of capitalism, just an element of crisis resolution for the system?” (53). Today we probably saw the worst of this predicament. We have seen how contemporary struggles, contemporary cracks, have been turned into solutions for capitalism’s crisis. We have witnessed a pretended liberation of “labour” through a massification of part-time online platform jobs (I.e. uber, ubereats, etc); a liberation of sexuality and imagination through streaming services that reterritorialize sexual and imaginary expression, among many. If a crack is “the perfectly ordinary creation of a space or moment in which we assert a different type of doing” (21), why is it that most of these different types of doing are still feeding and serving the tyrant, why is it that we are still weaving our self-oppression and self-destruction? Why is it, that perhaps, more than ever, we are unable to resolve Etienne de la Boétie’s riddle, why are we fighting for our oppression and voluntary servitude? This is the starting point for Holloway, and, to a certain extent, the place where his argument finishes too. Why is it that we are running in circles when trying to solve La Boétie’s riddle? 

There might be hesitation when reading Holloway, but for sure, even in the worst scenario, one should acknowledge that more than resolving things a crack is the proposition of question. A crack asks. To that extend, the territorialization and domination of spare time by social media, for example, is a two-edged sword, a delicate terrain where an always unprepared “wake up to other possibilities” (32) haunt the way doing is constantly fighting against the domination, the abstraction of labour. Wasn’t this what happened with Donald Trump and the tiktokers? But also, wasn’t this what gave the place for the affect of the masses that entered the US Capitol early this year? A crack is an ambivalent movement, a touch yet not a touch. From cracks we just know that they break a surface and that they desperately seek for the lines of other cracks. In that sense, while the right seeks to cover the rifts of the struggle of doing, the left should should find where one crack begins and where another ends, where the “lines of continuity that are often so submerged” (35) that are about to touch themselves, but they don’t. To understand the crack is to understand that certain struggles need only to keep pushing until their cracks touch other’s crack’s rifts. To explain how these lines work, how the rifts and cracks communicate, Holloway elaborates a strict distinction between labour and doing, alienated labour and conscious life-activity, and abstract time and concrete time of life. 

All these dichotomies coincide in the understanding of the concrete doing as a “flow of life” (111). This flow is something that is always moving beyond and going through the rigid and oppressive shape of power, of labour. While capitalism wants labourers, “mutilated personification[s] of abstract labour” (122), the other world possible struggles for the dignity, the fragility and sacredness of everything that beats, of everything that lives. Doing, the flow of life, is the struggle of existence against its own conditions and possibilities of existence. That is, doing wants to desperately stop serving the tyrant, capitalism, without being able to completely abandon and refusing most of the tyrant’s structures, means, things. Doing is the praxis of knowing that we build our own tragedy, and our only way out is to “attack [and crack] time itself” (166). Only when time is broken, cracked, it will come to surface how the masks that capitalism via abstraction has given us, are but an empty container that oppresses the “shadowy figure (or figures) behind the character mask” (217). Once it all cracks there will not be, perhaps, distinctions, differences or the necessity to differentiate the multiplicity of ways of being that there is. Once it all cracks it will become obvious that radicalness starts by refusing, by a refusal of keep creating the weave that oppresses us and sustain us. Once it all cracks to what would we hang our anxiety to? How would we recover from that overdose of capitalism? 

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?

La fuerza de no hacer nada. Notas sobre La traición de Rita Hayworth (1987) Manuel Puig

Entre tantas cosas, La traición de Rita Hayworth (1987), de Manuel Puig, dibuja momentos claves en la transición de las formas en que la vida y el tiempo se (re)ordenaron en los cambios que trajo el siglo veinte a la Argentina. De “el punto de cruz hecho con hilo marrón sobre la tela de lino color crudo” (9), la gente pasa al cine, la radio. La novela es, en gran medida, no sólo la “radiografía” de las consecuencias de la masificación de medios en Argentina, sino también el análisis de cómo desde siempre el ocio es trabajo inmaterial, cómo sobre el ocio descansa el orden de la forma de vida capitalista. Así, como toda la novela es una labor de ocio, las mismas labores de la hermana de Mita al inicio de la novela, pues “parece que no cansaran pero después de unas horas se siente la espalda que está un poco dolorida” (9), son similares a las horas y horas que la familia de Mita, Toto y Berto pasan en el cine o escuchando la radio. De la administración del tiempo a partir de labores de bordado y la ganadería, La traición dibuja el sutil cambio de la rutina, trabajo y ocio. 

A la vez que hay un cambio entre pasar las tardes tejiendo y viendo películas, éste no es necesariamente una completa ruptura con el orden de vida rutinario. De hecho, al terminar con dos textos de la misma fecha (1933), la novela pareciera sugerir cierta circularidad en la forma en que el tiempo habitual no cambió. La fuerza con que los hábitos atan el cuerpo a su existencia, tal vez, lleve a uno a pensar como Herminia, que para tratar de refutar el nihilista razonamiento de Toto, al final de la novela, reflexiona sobre su vida. Vivir preso de nuestros hábitos es saber que se “morirá sin saber nada de la vida” (289). Ya sea el tiempo de ocio, el estudio, las estrepitosas búsquedas amorosas, la obsesión con el arte, la idea de aspirar a mucho o aspirar a poco, de llenarse de ambición o sucumbir ante la derrota de las expectativas, todo a su tiempo pasará y se acabará en las manos de un dios indiferente y tiránico o en el consuelo de pensar la muerte como “simplemente un descanso, como dormir” (291). Si de la vida no se puede saber nada, quizás esto se deba a que la vida siempre se escribe con trazos que el saber no conoce y el cuerpo apenas registra. 

Que la vida sea en realidad el sueño de la muerte, no es un tema nuevo. Y esto es a la vez lo que le permite a la vida siempre mostrarse como novedad. Ahora bien, La traición sugeriría que del dormir, o del ocio, de la razón no nacen monstruos, sino que como en Toto y Héctor, que terminan esparciendo rumores e involucrándose en violaciones, es el insomnio del ocio el que produce la monstruosidad. Esto queda claro cuando Herminia anota el último párrafo de su diario: “A veces en la oscuridad total es lindo abrir los ojos y descansar la vista, pero sólo por un rato, porque si no el descanso degenera en insomnio, que es la peor tortura” (291). La vida se trataría, así, de centrarse en saber qué hacer con los sueños (el ocio) y dejar de lado los planes y de cuidar la no degeneración del ocio. Sin embargo, si no se gastara ya nada de fuerza más que en el ocio, ¿cómo se pasaría el sueño a los que vienen luego de los que se mueren en la dulce tarea de resguardar su sueño del insomnio? 

Notes about Accumulation(s)

More (disorganized) notes (and some comments to the process of writing)

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Accumulation(s) IIII

These entries have been very messy. Yet, I do believe it is becoming clearer where I want to get with all this (or at least, I have that small certainty…)

1. With the first post I tried to open a possibility of rethinking the relationship between history, politics and literature in Latin America and its “integration” into capitalism as an economic system. This, of course, is nothing new, many have formulated this (I don’t know any names in particular. I can think about the “Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America” by Ernesto Laclau [an article in which Laclau discusses some ideas about Andrew Gunder Frank, who believed that Latin America triggered capitalist expansion and rule in the years to come. Consequently, L.A was/is a place where the passage from capitalism to socialism is possible without mediation. While Laclau criticizes Frank very wide idea of capitalism, he also recognizes that some of what Frank says is right. Here, perhaps, the departing point from where Laclau will later formulate his further thoughts about radical democracy]). My purpose with the first post was to show how similar (somehow) the idea of the literary “Boom”, from the mid 20th century, is to the Chronicles of Indies. I see the Chronicles of Indies as texts that mix testimony, fiction, non-fiction and also some figures that could be closer to “modern” ideas of the literary. In a way, many other “medieval” texts —as many medievalists would argue (specially texts about mystics)— have already mixed testimony with “fiction”, storytelling and “high arts” (namely poetry, and so on). However, the Chronicles of Indies were the first ones to spread efficiently, motivate other “writers” (explorers, lettered conquerors, or anyone that could go in a ship to the “new land”) and also open the possibility for the writing of “fantasy”. In a way, then, the further Boom and later the so-called post-boom is a repetition of that initial “literary movement”.  

With this first post, I also was trying to formulate a concept (not that I achieved it, far from it) —namely, accumulation— that could connect the literary, the historical, and (somehow) politics. Departing from Marx’s famous “so-called” primitive accumulation, I suggest that what is at stake in any process of accumulation is the (necessary) production of systematic violence that changes the pattern of “cumulation”. That is, that “accumulation” is a process of ordering, changing, transforming and creating second nature: only after terror can bodies be reordered via habits (this is, I believe, close to what Jon Beasley-Murray’s posthegemony theory argues). From this perspective, capitalism always requires, as John Kraniauskas suggests, a process of so-called primitive accumulation. The thing is that, or at least from our current situation, things have changed, not for much, but the small changes in the last 30-40 years have reached a point where what is (was) accumulated cannot be perpetuated in a single regime. There is, overall, uncertainty. Now we see that what was accumulated (pollution for instance) is in “una ofensiva de lo sensible” as Diego Stzulwark argues. 

The first post is very limited. But I think it opens some minimal possibilities. There is, I think, a connection with the third post: if stories have, in a way, displaced history, wouldn’t it be because our ways of historizing, and of writing stories have been “novellized”? 

2. The second post tries to connect some of the ideas of the first post with, more or less, a specific context. What can be said about the way fiction is currently being written? As I tried to show, while it might be said that fiction these days is merely “itemising” the aesthetic, the thing is that “itemising”, as a narrative process/figure, is showing something that comes “naturaly” when producing a work of “fiction”, or writing in general. It isn’t that works like Luiselli’s or Knausgard’s are merely exposing the “phantom threads” that support the whole process of writing (we could say that this is the purpose of Marx after he formulates the process of “so-called” primitive accumulation and then comments the bloody legislations and so on), but that their “itemisation” is an attempt to count (to tell) without accumulating, that is to prepare the terrain for a line of flight, or to simply trigger it. 

What interests me, then, are works of writing (fiction) that exhibit the process of writing as “accumulation” while also they attempt to suspend and/or trigger a line of flight. These works, as I later tried to suggest in the third post, would be connected to the way certain things “crack-up”. I aim to work with “authors” like Reinaldo Arenas, Burgos-Menchú and Moya (here it becomes very obvious that I have a problem with temporalization); Roberto Bolaño [not sure about this one] and Mario Levrero (the space trilogy and La novela luminosa); and César Aira and Valeria Luselli. My intention is to divide the thesis in three. The first part would be dedicated to Arenas and “testimonio” / Menchú-Moya; the second part would be an intermezzo with Bolaño and Levrero, and the third one would be dedicated to Aira and Luiselli. 

This division is motivated by my intention to “connect” works of fiction and “critique” to history and the political. The first part of the project would be guided by the Fitzgeraldian question, “how things came to be like this?”. The third part by the Leninist one, “what is to be done?”. What I pursue with these questions is not to propose a contradiction between them. My intention is neither to show how these two perspectives are to a certain extend closer to each other, as Erin Graff Zivin has pointed out about the “tragic” and “utopian” political left perspectives (Anarchaeologies 31-32), but to point out that these two questions (the Fitzgeraldian and the Leninist one) are part of an assemblage that opens and closes possibilities for the left. These two questions are part of an abstract machine. The intermezzo, in the other hand, seeks for both the suspension and the possibility of a line of flight. Bolaño and Levrero recount the possibility of the machine to move on. 

(This section —from this post— is very loose and not very specific)

3.  With the third post, I tried to connect the first and the second post’s ideas about history and the “literary”. At the same time, I tried to question what is really at stake with “stories”. That is, if the “novellation” of history and of the novel has somehow “mixed and confused” perceptions, what place do stories hold? The question (problem?) of stories is not about differentiating truth from lies. But it is true that fiction is close to lies and once we hear enough lies, we are closer of not recognizing truth at all but still able to enjoy fiction. At the same time if we cannot stop narrativization (fiction, good or bad) or lying in general, what can we do with lies, errors, mistakes, evil? What is to be done? How things have become to be like this without us knowing it? When did we crack-up? All this questions of course demand a political (Lenin) and a pre-political (Fitzgerald) stand. Clearly, stories share things with lies, (errors and so on). But there is also the chance that both stories (and lies too) could open and call for the exodus, to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories (?) —or better to escape while also adding. 

At the end of the third post, I suggested (poorly and confusing [but I think I want to save some of these ideas] that “stories” have a way of “adding”, counting (as EGZ recalls from Rancière). This process of “addition” is similar, or close, to what happens to an addict, a body that persists but is unstable and destabilizing but stable in his repetition of habits. Addiction is, then, a way of hanging to being, but also a path without clear ending, a brief line of flight. I would like to argue that there is a thread that connects Arenas and Luiselli (passing through testimonio [Menchú, Moya], Bolaño and Levrero and Aira). 

(This is too vague, I know)

Comments: 

-It is all too general, and I might be a little lost. At the same time, I think the idea of accumulation could be very productive. Specially if I start developing it more. I would like to work with 3 (ar least) different ways that accumulation happens: in capitalism (addition by subtraction [a.k.a accumulation by dispossession]); as addiction; and then as addition [a form of accelerationism (?).

-I have a (severe) problem with temporalization. Two posts dwell in “colonial” times. I need to work on this. 

-I need to connect the dots with the intended authors that I would like to work with. I also need to clarify the connection between history, literature and politics. 

-Something I’ve been thinking about and, so far, I merely named in the posts, is the idea of literature as a sphere a la Sloterdijk. I think this is an interesting idea, but I haven’t developed it more. 

Notes about Accumulation(s)

More (disorganized) notes

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Accumulation(s) III [the framing frame, why to relate narrative and accumulation]

How much is is enough? 

Is not a question of enough, pal. 

It’s a zero-sum game. Someday wins, someday loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply, uh, transferred from one perception to another, like magic 

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, 1987

How many stories are enough? Do we ever get tired of more and more narratives? A story and a narrative hardly are different. In a way, storytelling is our adhesion to the world, or addi(c)tion to each other. Stories add us to one another while accumulate in the individual feelings, emotions and, over all, affects. If stories have always been with us, the question about every narrative is not when did we start telling stories to ourselves, but when did stories started moving us to reach disperse, to expand our spheres, to see limits, to expand them, but also to realize that a limit is an affirmation of existence, in its life as immanence. Myth circulated around the Mediterranean, the Tarot did it as a language and as a storytelling-story. Before the Americas, stories circled, crossed mountains but hardly crossed the exodus of the seas. After the first sailors came back from that misnamed land, some came back sick, some rich, some crazy, some astonished, some just destroyed. They brough animals, gold, bodies of all types, but also, their mouths mumbled nonsense stories. One man (Cabeza de Vaca) even proved with his body that he lived among the others, that he met them, that his poverty was useful for the crown. Of course, he later changed his mind. Something broke when he shipwrecked, something grew afterwards and at the same time another thing became more profitable. Somebody had to lose, domination, unlike money, had to be transferred and made.

If there was a Latin American boom before the boom those were the chronicles from Indies. No other texts moved more people before (?). God without knowing it died slowly, because what crusaders did not cross, now sailors were willing to. And years and years passed, sailors and stories changed slowly, but they changed after all. They all cracked-up and became something else. Among the many things that the stories became, novels somehow captured better what those stories had to say. If the chronicles of Indies moved so many bodies in-between seas, the (new)boom moved affects overall. While bodies are things almost ready to be transferred, administered, accumulated more than cumulated, affects are meant to be created. An affect creates as it moves a body. An emotion (re)distributes the body’s affection. While the chronicles of Indies were an invitation to fly off fancy while trying to avoid the territorialization of extraction, of killing, administering and selling for others, the (new)boom was the intervention on the invitation. For the boom realized that once the world was seen as pure form, a body in all its nudity, all places were good burrows for lines of flight to take off. Yet, something cracked-up the boom. The explosion imploded and then again it exploded again. 

As the boom expanded. Somehow national literary spheres crystalized their own explosion. Literature became a machine, something to be exploited and that exploded. Not that this was completely new at all for literature. Literature has always been a sphere of contradiction since the term always has dealt with the hybrid and contradictory concept of representation. It is as Fredric Jameson puts it, “representation is both some vague bourgeois conception of reality and also a specific sign system” (Postmodernism 123). For once, in literature the lettered individuals had their chance to inaugurate their public sphere. But also, more than single individuals articulating freely their stories, a narrator, a writer, and later an author, became a new vessel where sometimes the murmurs of a multitude of stories would gather. For that thing we called literature, the authors, the champions of the lettered city, became addicts to the dictionary (as G. Steiner puts it) but also hoarders. The new authors of the boom accelerated this process but also something was captured, their work was accumulated. However, as their explosions inaugurated a time of change, acceleration and regression (namely postmodernism) they opened up a possibility for creation, for reposing the narrative problems of all times. A narrative is a way of solving narrative problems, but the narration always exceeds, it counts in other means and ends up affecting other fields. 

However, if stories are not a question of enough, would it be that today (and even before) they were about “a zero-sum game”, where “somebody wins, someday loses” (thus their necessity to always solve narrative problems)?  

Lujosa inutilidad. Notas sobre Baile con serpientes (1995) de Horacio Castellanos Moya

En dos días, un ocioso y desempleado egresado de sociología se convierte en el hombre más buscado de todo El Salvador. Contada en cuatro partes, Baile con serpientes (1995), de Horacio Castellanos Moya, cuenta la historia de Jacinto Bustillo desde la perspectiva de un sociólogo desempleado, un policía y una reportera. Luego de que un viejo y ruinoso Chevrolet amarillo se posicione frente a la tienda del barrio donde vive el narrador principal, el sociólogo, la vida de este personaje cambiará vertiginosamente. La llegada de la carcacha y su rotoso y taciturno conductor atraen la atención del desocupado narrador. Una vida “sin posibilidades reales de conseguir trabajo en estos nuevos tiempos” y el hecho de que, como afirma el narrador, la sociología no servía “para nada en lo relativo a la consecución de un empleo, pues había una sobreoferta de profesores, las empresas no necesitaban sociólogos y la política —último terreno en que hubiera podido aplicar mis conocimientos— era un oficio ajeno a mis virtudes” (pos. 15), se combinan como ingredientes para que el sociólogo desempleado comience su trabajo de campo con el “extraño visitante”. Por otra parte, salvo el narrador, nadie más parece tener especial simpatía por el rotoso viejo del Chevrolet amarillo. 

Luego de varios días de intentar entablar una conversación, el narrador finalmente triunfa en “su trabajo de campo”, y el extraño visitante revela su nombre, oficio, hábitos y vicios. Jacinto Bustillo, antes de ser un viejo sucio y errante, era contador. Ahora el excontador se dedica a recolectar objetos inútiles (pos. 60), revenderlos, comprar botellas de aguardiente y trasnochar en su destartalado automóvil. Después de que el narrador se gane la confianza de “su informante” y lo acompañe todo un día, un evento sórdido disloca la narración. Jacinto es mordido en su miembro por otro zarrapastroso llamado Coco. Jacinto apuñala a Coco con una botella rota y después, el narrador, que atestigua toda la escena, degüella a Jacinto. Con este evento el narrador deja de ser el desempleado sociólogo y se convierte en Jacinto. Se adueña así del Chevrolet amarillo, donde Jacinto guarda documentos sobre su pasado y además donde moran cuatro serpientes parlantes y lujuriosas.

La nueva vida del narrador consiste en vengarse de quienes arruinaron al excontador. Si la sociología no puede darle revancha a los desposeídos, un sociópata tal vez sí. De tal manera, el narrador y las serpientes emprenden una destructiva vida. Pronto, toda la ciudad se aterroriza. Así, la policía desde la perspectiva del subcomisionado Handal, que sólo quisiera terminar con esa historia sin entregarse a la paranoia, esquizofrenia y la histeria colectiva, intenta atrapar a un escurridizo sociópata a la vez de lidiar con las ansias de la prensa por la exclusividad de la incendiaria noticia. Conforme las serpientes y “el nuevo” Jacinto van esparciendo el pánico luego de sus atroces matanzas, Rita, la principal reportera del diario Ocho Columnas, se ve presa de un ataque colectivo de pánico. La reportera cree ver el automóvil de Jacinto afuera de la casa del presidente y las autoridades reaccionan de la peor manera: con un espectáculo de balas gastadas. Rita se ve en el ojo del huracán, pero es incapaz de escribir un artículo “en primera persona, confesar su terror ante el auto equivocado, relatar el desbarajuste que su confusión causó en la casona. Las dos cuartillas contienen apenas un recuento de los hechos relativos a la evacuación del presidente” (pos. 682). Como los objetos inútiles que recolectaba el Jacinto auténtico, la vida de todos los personajes es un despliegue lujoso de inutilidad: de hacer valiosa la sociología, de resolver un caso absurdo sin recurrir al espectacular ejercicio de la fuerza y de poder escribir un testimonio fidedigno que no exponga también las carencias y fallas de aquellas manos que teclean. 

El terror del nuevo Jacinto y sus serpientes asesinas no tiene explicación pero sí comparación. Toda la gente muy rápidamente comienza a recordar los pasados años de guerra y con ello las diversas formas en que la violencia era leída e interpretada. El despliegue de violencia excesiva del estado, como en otros tiempos, esquilma el terreno, pero también propulsa fugas. El narrador escapa con sus serpientes, pero al final éste se separa de ellas, “Caminaba tambaleándome, como si estuviera totalmente borracho, para despistar a los transeúntes que iban alarmados hacia sus casas, porque semejante estruendo recordaba los aciagos días de la guerra” (908). De regreso a su barrio, el narrador recuerda que como devino el viejo Jacinto en sólo unos días, también puede volver a ser aquel que él fue en unos instantes. Como si la violencia fuera el alcohol en una noche de farra, El Salvador de la posguerra en el modelo neoliberal habrá de acostumbrarse a la intoxicación y el exceso del orgiástico libre mercado, que inutiliza la fuerza laboral, intelectual, y se excita con los motores de los afectos, en los excesos orgiásticos del caos.