The End

The first third (several hundred pages) of the final installment of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s monumental My Struggle is more or less what we have come to expect by this point: an account of a couple of days in the narrator’s life. Specifically, we are more or less in the “present”: Karl Ove is installed in Malmö, Sweden, with his (second) wife and their three young children, though for much of the short period described, the wife is away and his friend and confidant, Geir, comes to visit. Nothing very dramatic happens, and in lieu of any grand events the minutiae of daily routines are recounted in intense detail. A representative sample: “I filled a bowl with cornflakes and put it in front of Heidi along with a carton of milk, went out onto the balcony to get the vacuum jug, filled it with coffee, took a cup from the cupboard, poured myself the few mouthfuls that wouldn’t fit into the jug and went out onto the balcony again” (126). And so on, almost ad infinitum.

At one point the narrative, such as it is, truly devolves into a list, as Knausgaard describes Malmö’s urban environment: “Hotels with flags flapping at their entrances, sports shops, clothes shops, shoe shops, electrical dealers, furniture shops, lamp shops, carpet shops, eyewear shops, bookshops, computer shops, auction houses, kitchenwear dealers” (306) and on and on and on. All this is what Fredric Jameson, in his review of the book, calls “itemisation”: “we have abandoned the quest for new languages to describe the stream of the self-same or new psychologies to diagnose its distressingly unoriginal reactions and psychic events. All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by.” Jameson is rather scornful of this style, if style is what it is: “these pages do not quite enliven the palate.” But he makes a mistake, I think, in suggesting that what happens next, from around page 400, is merely a further instance of such itemisation.

What “happens” is still not exactly an event, but instead a long digression into literary and cultural theory and history, specifically a rambling reading of a poem by Paul Celan followed by a discussion of Nazism with a focus (if focus is the right word) on the book from which Knausgaard’s own series derives its title: Mein Kampf. Previous volumes have also included such digressions into what Jameson (still scornful) calls “a kind of banal philosophical psychologising,” but never at such length. And the key point here is less what Knausgaard says about either Celan or Hitler (some parts of which are interesting, other parts undoubtedly less so), or the other authors that he touches on along the way–Kafka, Joyce, Klemperer, Levinas–than what such reflections say about the former or genre of the book, and implicitly the series as a whole.

For during much of the first part of the book, while Karl Ove is making breakfast for his kids or shopping for dinner or chatting to his friend, everything is overlaid with an anxiety about the response provoked by the first volume of My Struggle, and implicitly also about the reception of this final volume, too. Book One dealt largely with the aftermath of the death of the narrator’s father, who is portrayed as having sunk into a squalid alcoholism in his final days; what is itemised there, among other things, are the immense quantities of cleaning products required to sanitize the house in which he died, shared with his aged mother (Karl Ove’s grandmother), who likewise is presented as someone who has lost all shame about the state of her immediate surroundings. It’s a harrowing depiction of downfall and demise, as the narrator struggles to come to terms with his father’s impact on him (one of the series’s central preoccupations) as well as his own ambivalence towards drinking (for he, too, is often at least a borderline alcoholic). But as this first installment is about to be published, his uncle–that is, his father’s brother–protests that this account is essentially libel: in effect, that Knausgaard is making things up, in order to tarnish his father’s good name. The uncle writes to the book’s publishers, threatening to sue if Karl Ove persists in this malicious denigration of his own family. So in the midst of the regular routines that comprises the bulk of the first few hundred pages of this final installment of the saga, the narrator is continually checking his email, dreading that his uncle may have written him yet another poison pen letter, and fearing for the consequences if this scandal becomes public.

In the meantime, both to himself and to his friend, Knausgaard seeks to justify what he has done–and, again implicitly, what he is still doing as he writes this last volume of the series. In the first instance, he worries that his memory is indeed faulty. This too is a constant theme throughout My Struggle: perhaps improbably, this author of 3,600 pages of excruciatingly detailed memoir repeatedly tells us that he has a problem remembering. From Book One (A Death in the Family): “I remembered hardly anything from my childhood” (171); “My memory was nothing to brag about” (304); “I usually forgot almost everything people, however close they were, said to me” (387). And later books tell us that, once he starts drinking, at least in his youth, Knausgaard would habitually get so drunk that he would black out and wake up in the morning with no recollection of what he had done the previous night. Indeed, if anything structures the entire grandiose project (and this is further proof in favor of Jameson’s argument that Knausgaard’s enterprise is nothing like Proust’s) it is not so much memory as amnesia. Karl Ove is consistently asking himself “What did I do?” and if anything the overly detailed itemization is like the painstaking attempt to reconstruct a past that he can at best only fitfully recall. Now, however, his uncle’s angry rebuttals challenge the validity of all that careful work. Perhaps, after all, he had got it all wrong? “Had I really been unreliable in everything I had written” (The End 163).

(It is perhaps the fact that the books’ anxiety always revolves around what its narrator has done that also makes them so oddly generic: Knausgaard is never too concerned about identity, about who he is; in fact, he is always ready to erase himself, as with the two occasions in which he slashes his face, literally defaces himself. As such, readers do not have to identify with Knausgaard, merely with his predicament of asking “How did I get here?” “What did I do?”)

At this point, then, while insisting on the fundamental truth of his account, Knausgaard falls back on the notion that what he has been writing is less memoir than novel, even if “the whole point is it’s meant to be true” (257).

Hence the strangeness of the long digression that soon takes over much of the book. For though in large part Knausgaard’s reading of Celan, for instance, is concerned with issues of truth and language, this excursus can hardly claim to be “true” in any conventional sense, even as it certainly also seems to break any novelistic form. If anything, this is the point at which My Struggle most obviously escapes the orbit of literature entirely, to become instead perhaps an anti-novel. It is as though the uncle’s objections had derailed the narrative entirely, shaky and tenuous as it was at best in that lists and the accumulation of detail substituted for plot, digression and association for any sense of causality or consequence. Here Knausgaard gives in to digression as the only possible organizing structure for what has now become an endless stream of words tied only tenuously to memory, place, or incident. Though there are still hundreds of pages to go before the volume concludes (with a famous final paragraph that locates itself fully and immanently in the present of the writing process: “Now it is 07.07 and the novel is finally finished” [1153]), midway it appears that the book is already flirting with what its title announces as “the end.”

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? 

La oquedad del trazo. Notassobre El discurso vacío (1996) Mario Levrero

Si no fuera por la sección llamada “El texto”, que antecede al Discurso vacío (1996) de Mario Levrero, uno podría decir que el Discurso no es una novela. En dicha sección, se dice cómo están armadas las páginas que prosiguen. Dos tipos de escritura las entrecruzan, los “Ejercicios”, que son “un conjunto de ejercicios caligráficos breves, escritos sin otro propósito” (6) y “El discurso”, que es “un texto unitario de intención más literaria” (6). Sólo entre estas dos formas se lee que la novela fue hecha a manera de un diario íntimo ordenado cronológicamente. Además de eso, la novela tiene un prólogo, que anuncia la primera entrada del diario (22 de diciembre de 1989), y está dividida en tres partes y un epílogo. En casi dos años —la última entrada del diario está fechada el 22 de septiembre de 1993— Levrero, narrador, presenta sus luchas constantes por apegarse al plan de escritura explicado en “El Texto”. Esto es, El discurso vacío es una novela sobre la lucha de la escritura por mantenerse firme ante un propósito. En el caso de Levrero, como se dice en “El Texto”, la idea de toda la novela es presentar un diario íntimo en el que los ejercicios grafológicos no se mezclen con la búsqueda literaria. El plan y el proyecto motivan por vías separadas a la escritura y a la literatura, el problema es que El disurso vacío no necesariamente se apega al plan. 

Los problemas de la literatura son necesariamente problemas de escritura. Por otra parte, los problemas de la escritura no son todos problemas literarios. Y aún así, es muy difícil demarcar una línea divisoria entre ambos. Desde las primeras entradas del diario íntimo, se especifica un motivo más ambicioso de los ejercicios: “unificar el tipo de letra, ya que he desarrollado un estilo que combina arbitrariamente la letra manuscrita con la de imprenta” (13) y a su vez, los ejercicios buscan dibujar letras grandes, amplias, como “si cada letra hubiera recuperado su individualidad” (14). Entonces, los proyectos de la escritura en El discurso buscan tanto la unificación como la individualización del trazo grafológico. Si el trazo es la línea de fuga que el cuerpo dispara, el trazo (o la marca) es, necesariamente, el fatuo camino de series de desterritorializaciones que todo cuerpo se empeña en mantener mientras existe. Con todo esto, los ejercicios de escritura parecen acercarse a la literatura. Así, aunque se diga que de lo que se trata es de “dibujar letra por letra, desentendiéndose de las significaciones de las palabras que se van formando —lo cual es una operación casi opuesta a la de la literatura (especialmente porque se debe frenar el pensamiento que siempre —acostumbrado a la máquina de escribir— busca adelantarse, proporcionar nuevas imágenes, preocupado —tal vez, deformación personal— por la continuidad y coherencia del discurso)” (17), la desmetaforización de la escritura como mero ejercicio de su trazo fracasa, pues el trazo está siempre acostumbrado a una máquina para dejar su marca. Escribir, en general, es avanzar lentamente, o como Levrero dice en sus ejercicios, un “avanzando y retrocediendo” (18). Con los “Ejercicios” se tienen una serie de fracasos, pues eso, como sugiere Levrero, es un rasgo existencial, de vida (21). 

La novela posterga la aparición de la primera entrada de los textos que forman parte de “El discurso”. De hecho, los ejercicios dejan de ser “consciencia” del dibujo de las letras y se vuelven consciencia del dibujo que escribe. Así, los ejercicios se convierten en ejercicios de voluntad de escritura y, en cierta manera, reflexión sobre lo que las entradas del diario van acumulando sin querer: la necesidad de proyectar un “acto narrativo libre”. La primera entrada del discurso se lanza por aquello que se busca y que nos rehúye, que vibra y late en lo literario: “Hay un fluir, un ritmo, una forma aparentemente vacía; el discurso podría tratar cualquier tema, cualquier imagen, cualquier pensamiento” (37). El vacío como flujo, esa fuerza que vibra en la literatura es lo que le preocupa al discurso. Si lo vacuo es lo que mueve y activa toda vida y también su fin, el problema del vacío no es su carácter informe. Más bien, otros son los miedos que despierta el vacío existencial. Levrero dice que “lo que me asusta es no poder huir de ese ritmo, de esa forma que fluye sin develar sus contenidos. Por eso me pongo a escribir, desde la forma, desde el propio fluir, introduciendo el problema del vacío como asutno de esa forma, con la esperanza de ir descubriendo el asunto real, enmascarado de vacío” (37). No es que el vacío esté ahí sin nosotros, más bien nosotros ya somos parte del vacío. Y si ya todo es, en realidad, el terreno de lo informe, no hay otra tarea literaria, ni existencial, ni de escritura, sino registrar los cambios de cada trazo en la existencia y la experiencia. 

Entre los ejercicios y el discurso se daría testimonio de lo más inmediato a la escritura y a la literatura: la marca y el vacío. Sin embargo, ¿cómo escribir cuando uno mismo se encuentra suspendido? Levrero se define a sí mismo como si estuviera en “una especie de suspenso, no colgando sin que mis pies toquen el piso, sino más bien en el sentido de ‘puntos suspensivos’” (67). En esa suspensión, que es siempre una “etapa provisioria, de emergencia, y que sin embargo se prolonga y se prolonga en el tiempo, no termina nunca de definirse” (67), Levrero deja claro, con sus ejercicios, que su vida es siempre la postergación de su existencia, o más bien, que existir es siempre algo que se satura de excusas: la pereza, la estupidez, la negligencia (67). La negligencia es, tal vez, la excusa que guarda una relación más fuerte con el hecho de escribir. Así, si la negligencia es “mirar con indiferencia, y esto a su vez es “la incapacidad de diferenciar” (67), la escritura de los ejercicios es siempre una indiferenciación, de la vida, de la existencia, de la parte del discurso y de la literatura. Entonces, es complicado diferenciar si la escritura (el trazo) es aquello que está vacío, o es el discurso mismo el que lo está. La escritura, a la Derrida, no puede guardar celosamente la pizarra de todos los trazos que ésta recibe. Escribir es fracasar. El fracaso de los ejercicios de Levrero frustra también a la búsqueda literaria de la parte del discurso. En esa suspensión, Levrero reconoce que “cuando se llega a cierta edad, uno deja de ser el protagonista de sus acciones” (131). Todo eso que ha diferido nuestra muerte se ha convertido en una jungla de la que no podemos salir “porque la idea misma de ‘salida’ es incorrecta: no podemos salir porque al mismo tiempo no queremos salir, y no queremos salir porque sabemos que no hay hacia dónde salir, porque la selva es uno mismo, y una salida implicaría alguna clase de muerte o simplemente la muerte” (131). Sin embargo, al final de El discurso vacío, la imposibilidad de tener protagonismo y salida, la imposibilidad de que lo vacío esté vacío, de que los ejercicios no se consagren a la forma “pura” de la letra, dejan abierta una oquedad, un lugar desde el que es posible aprender a vivir “de otra manera”. Levrero concluye con la invitación para ver en el límite de la vida y de la suspensión y “dejarse llevar para encontrarse en el momento justo en el lugar justo” (132). Aunque claro, este secreto alquímico para saber encontrarse en el lugar y momento justo es sólo material de sueños, y los sueños no tienen ejercicios para ser escribibles, ni vacío.

Las cosas que revientan. Notas sobre La diáspora (1989/2018) de Horacio Castellanos Moya

De cierta manera, La diáspora (1989/2018), de Horacio Castellanos Moya, es una novela fragmentada, o mejor que elude cierta forma. Esto, tal vez, venga ya sugerido por la idea que “la diáspora” evoca. Con esto, claro, no sólo se evoca a los grupos desplazados y hechos emigrar a la fuerza, sino también a las esporas: cuerpos que eluden la forma que se dispersan para adquirir por sí mismos novedad y permanencia. La diáspora no es sólo, entonces, la fuga de los expulsados, sino también la línea de fuga de aquello que permanece informe. Las cuatro partes que forman la novela se centran en formas específicas de narrar y también en perspectivas diferentes sobre el conflicto armado en Centroamérica, en especial en El Salvador. En cierto sentido, las historias de Juan Carlos, Quique, los periodistas de la tercera parte y el Turco son todas narraciones que intentarían responder a la pregunta que le hace Rita en las oficinas de la ACNUR (la agencia de solidaridad internacional que gestiona la migración de refugiados políticos) a Juan Carlos: “¿Y por qué tronaste?” (28). Así, cada personaje tronó, como tronó la guerrilla en el Salvador, como tronaron las crisis económicas en los ochenta en todo el mundo. 

Después de tronar, reventar cada parte del relato es, así, una “novella”: textos que se preguntan ¿cómo es que las cosas llegaron a ser lo que son?, ¿cómo llegamos aquí? Para Juan Carlos, por ejemplo, luego de la muerte de los líderes del partido en el Salvador, “algo se había roto dentro de [él]. Ya no se trataba únicamente —como él sostendría más tarde— de que en el Partido se había generado una situación de desconfianza intolerable” (108). El hecho es que por más que cada parte de La diáspora ofrezca posibles respuestas para señalar qué sucede luego de que las cosas “truenan”, no hay una única narrativa para describir las líneas de fuga que sigue cada fragmento luego del “truene”. Para Juan Carlos la vida estaba por convertirse en la búsqueda de seguridad, “una manera de pasar vegetando” (36), una manera de diferir su muerte. Por su parte, para Quique luego de que reviente la guerrilla para él, todo lo que vendría después sería “un nuevo aprendizaje, de interiorizar las mañas de la ciudad” (81) y también del trabajo. Para los periodistas, el reventar de las cosas es la oportunidad de dar una nueva verdad y contar el “Crimen y suicidio en El Salvador. Intimidades de una pugna revolucionaria” (119) a cambio de fama. Finalmente, para el Turco, todo revienta, una vez más, luego de que en su trabajo ya no le fíen bebida. El Turco experimenta el terror de “las escalofriantes consecuencias de que los contadores se estén apoderando del mundo” (131). Precisamente, este terror de contar, en sus dos acepciones, es de lo que rehuiría La diáspora. En otras palabras, Castellanos Moya pone en juego la imposibilidad de poder contarlo todo.

A su vez, la novela también sugiere que las partes que la forman, excepto la de Quique, son una lucha contra o por la sobriedad. Juan Carlos, temeroso de perder su oportunidad de fugarse, rehúye las drogas y los excesos; los periodistas administran una sobriedad economizada, beben cuando están de vacaciones para no dejarse intoxicar por el clamor de las luchas que “reportan”; y el Turco bebe como desesperado, siempre aplazando las cuentas que se le puedan hacer, siempre aplazando la sobriedad. La sobriedad y la ebriedad van de la mano del cinismo. Es decir, el texto “dosifica” el cinismo que cada línea de segmentarización (las historias de Juan Carlos, los periodistas y la de Turco) puede soportar. Por otra parte, hay algo que persiste en la juventud, o en la militancia de Quique, o el hermano del Turco y el Bebo: algo se le escapa al cinismo. En estos personajes “parecía como si la crisis hubiera pasado a su lado, sin tocarlo[s], como algo que nada tenía que ver con [ellos]” (93). En Quique y el Bebo persiste un impulso de vida, o de existencia. O más bien, en ellos persiste tiempo amorfo, que no ha llegado aún. Ese tiempo, por supuesto, significa que también Quique y el Bebo reventarán, pero que eso no le tocará a la diáspora decirlo, ni saberlo, sino, tal vez, a la diáspora sólo le toque mantener la contrariedad de tener en mente que todo saldrá mal y aún así apostar por lo opuesto. 

Notes on Writing of the Formless. José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (2017) by Jaime Rodríguez Matos

If one were to take the risk to tackle the main purpose of Writing of the Formless. José Lezama Lima and the End of Time (2017) by Jaime Rodríguez Matos, one would say that the book opens the space for the possibility of a time that both precedes and exceeds teleology and the time of the eternal return. This time is, precisely, the time of the formless. The book is, somehow, an “anomaly” in the Latin American Studies field. As Rodríguez Matos acknowledges in the introduction. That is if “subalternism, along with other forms of Latinamericanism of the same historical moment, can manage to avoid the task of producing a political subject […] it nevertheless becomes entangled in the wider problem of how to represent such a heterogeneity: this is a problem that, paradoxically, is not endemic to its “field” of study.” (3). Writing of Formless is radical and effective attempt to think that “heterogeneity” mentioned above. The book touches the interrelations of arts, politics, theology and philosophy, while also offering an against the grain reading of José Lezama Lima and the context of the Cuban Revolution. For Rodríguez Matos this discussion is crucial today as it becomes clearer that there is no option outside of capital, and that both left and right tirelessly repeat their uncreative ways of time appropriation. In other words, Lezama Lima and Cuba are relevant today because in them we can clear the air for a thinking of a time to come, a time that does not cover the void of existence, a time where the non-subject of the political may roam. 

Divided in two parts, Writing of the Formless serves less as a manual and more as a fragmentary and illuminating constellation of reflections. The first part challenges canonical approaches to temporality and time. All the chapters of part one are, in a way, the deconstruction of teleology and alienation of time and also of eternity and the eternal return. For every chapter, Rodríguez Matos evaluates in detail how Lezama, Cuba and the Cuban Revolution, poetry and theory are intermingled in complex ways. For every chapter, the task, too, is to show how “a deconstruction of time does not entail only a reconfiguration of philosophical categories but also a retreat from the grand politics of liberation (which is always the politics of submission, of forced labor, of the mandate to care for the always already too decrepit foundations) and the attempt to think through a different politicity beyond the reversibility of the sovereignty of the master” (16). Through this lenses, for instance, it becomes visible that the diverse and vast appropriation that the poetry of Lezama has suffered by the left and the right clearly missed the point of what Lezama was all about: the writing of formless, the end of time. The second part of the book centers on this writing. 

Writing of the formless is writing “of” the void. This should be understood “not an aesthetic or imagined supplement; it is the first evidence of the modern political experience, particularly after the great political revolutions of the era.” (110). To this extend in the second part we witness via a series of passages how Lezama struggles with the romantic “spirit”, the aposiopesis as a mean of rendering silence a constituted part in the alienation of time, with the scribble as the embodiment and representation of the metaphorical subject. If the first part tested the limits of times, the second part testimonies of the way Lezama knew how to avoid every possibility of capture. Lezama is, then, not only a writer of the void, but on top of that, Rodríguez Matos invites us to see an infrapolitical Lezama. This infrapolitical Lezama is that one who knows that “There is no fall because of the very intensity of the fall (Lezama in Rodríguez Matos)” (134) and consequently this is a writing which “emerges by assuming that the void exists: absolute stasis and infinite speed together in one point” (134). Lezama is not part of “a collection of examples of how to do things and be in the world” (155). As an infrapolitical writing, the writing of formless is a writing of a time — “of” the void— that does not erase “the singularity that Lezama’s text brings to bear on our understanding of the history of politics: which is to say, not forgetting about those instances where politics is directly confronted with its shadow” (155). Lezama looked into the abyss “without covering it over and even giving symbolic frame” (172). This is how a writing of formless invites for “the aperture toward a time of life that is not directed toward caring for the enforcement of temporal organization in any way” (172). Maybe, as many times Rodríguez Matos suggest, it would be possible after Lezama to let the void resonate in all its force, to let the formless write the end of time for an infrapolitical passage to come. Or maybe, the void already has resonated enough and we are far beyond the possibility of imagining the end of time, but only maybe.

Notes on From Lack to Excess. “Minor” Readings of Latin American Colonial Discourse (2008) by Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel

Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel’s From Lack to Excess. “Minor” Readings of Latin American Colonial Discourse (2008) departs from the understanding that writing in times of the Spanish Crown expansion in America in XVI is, in more than a way, a minor discourse. It is not that the Spanish “Empire” completely captured and controlled the ways writing was produced. This means that beyond any possibility of turning the Chronicles of indies a simple mirror that reflects the agendas of homogeneus/unitary nationalist ideas, understanding the writing of the Chronicles as a minor discourse “allows us to make the transition from the ambivalence of the colonial subject to the rhetorical ambiguity of a colonial discourse” (36). After this, it becomes visible that the Chronicles are “sites of intervention within the hegemonic discursive matrix that can still be effectively elucidated by the particular exercise of reading” (38) in a minor key. What the texts analyzed by Martínez-San Miguel offer is the description, or depiction, of a radical change between orality and writing, between “verbal” lack and “linguistic excess”. The Chronicles, as texts that mix both colonial discourses (“those textual moments in which the project of colonization and conquest is depicted from an Americanist perspective” [39]) and imperial discourses (“conceived from within a metropolitan perspective, and they endorse a European colonizing project” [39]) are knotted by the transition from lack to excess. The awe that emptied the conquistadors and colonizers soon was supplanted by a dominant control. 

Martínez-San Miguel revisits a vast collection of canonical texts. Her insights on Colón, Cortés, Las Casas, Cabeza de Vaca, el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Sigüenza y Góngora and Sorjuana Inés de la Cruz illustrate the stated progression from lack to excess. In other words, the depiction of an empty discourse in the chronicles is filled with a baroque overwhelming presence as a general teleology. At the same time, it seems that Martínez-San Miguel, suggests that the complete domination of the “imperial interpretative matrix/paradigm” of the Spanish Crown was never fully achieved. For instance, when closing her argument about Sor Juana’s silence, as something that brakes and “produce[s] an eccentric intellectual, a colonial and feminine subjectivity that attempts to correct, complete, and reconfigure interpretation of herself and her works produced in the metropolitan centers” (182), Martínez-San Miguel suggests that as much as writing was still “a response to a required dialogue to achieve a reinscription as a colonial subjectivity” (183) the imposed logic of the “empire” was incompetent. After all, as all minor writings, this serve, or have “an unsurmountable hermeneutic limit” (183) where the domination of the empire sees their deformed and fake idea of hegemony. It is, then, that minor discourses in colonial times sometimes were able to depict a voice “that incorporate itself but also ‘corrects’ its official representation within an hegemonic discursivity” (184). Martínez-San Miguel sees this as something that is “beginning to exhaust its capacity of capture [of the imperial hermeneutic matrix]” (184). With this, From Lack to Excess finishes its argument and its meaningful insights. Yet, the pretended progression insisted in the book, might suggest to reflection on some arguments of the beginning of the book.

If aphasia serves as the foundational moment where lack emerges as the necessary “void” of the expression of the conquistadors, excess would be a sort of “plug” that in an ominous way cancels the depth of the void. The thing is that as much as “aphasia signals the failure of language to apprehend or grasp the complexity of the American reality as a discursive strategy parallel to the lack of epistemic and material control over the newly discovery lands and subjects” (45), as it happens eminently to Colón, aphasia is already, and always in the Chronicles, a catachresis because the lack of epistemic-voice is already deposited writing. That is lack is always a conglomerate of writing, and this writing as the one of Sor Juana is already showing how “fast” the limit of the imperial hermeneutic is reached. If “the admiral” cannot fully capture all the marvelous things he sees, his aphasia is a stasis that turns to be active, an active passivity. The limit was not only reached by the imperial logic, but also by writing itself. After this, then, it might be possible to rethink how the transition from lack to excess is not a process that started and finished, but a constant strategy in Latin American temporality in general (and perhaps elsewhere). Lack is always a void but never a place that misses something. Lack does more than a silenced and fascinated face, lack writes. From this perspective, the lack in Cortés, or any other colonial writer, is a result of something that exceeds it, something that forces writing as emphasis, as repetition, as enumeration, as a list. If “what is visible cannot be contained by language” let the writing turned it form and content so that the yes might see it, so that at least the illusion of readability be achieved.

Notes on The Theory of the Novel. A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Form of Great Epic Literature (1971) by György Lukács, trans. Anna Bostock

In the 1962 preface to his The Theory of the Novel (1971) György Lukács states his reasons and means of analyzing “the novel”. If “art becomes problematic precisely because reality has become non-problematic” (17) as Hegel suggested it, for Lukács, it happens the other way around. That is, the aesthetic form cannot fully be complex because reality has forsaken it. That is why the problems of the novel, as form, “are here the mirror-image of a world gone out of joint” (17). The novel is, then, something that reflects a deterritorialization, but also an abandonment. It is then, that as another part of the social tissue, the novel always is a symptom of something that changes in the material conditions that allow sociality to be. At the same time, the novel is a form that comes from another. There is an evolution, or better, a history and a philosophy that explains the unfolding change and persistence of a form whose ancestor is the Greek epic. 

The Greek world as depicted by the epic was a round and total world. This world where error “can only be a matter of too much or too little”, knowledge “the raising of a veil”, creation “the copying of visible and eternal essences”, virtue “a perfect knowledge of the paths” (32) is completely homogeneous. There is in the epic a certainty that things have their right place. The Greek epic is the grammar of totality, that is “the formative prime reality of every individual phenomenon” that “implies that something closed within itself can be completed” (34). There are no false ends, no wrong meanings in the epic, there is only a form whose main task is to question “how can life become essential?” (35). To answer this, the epic requires a question from the tragedy, “how can essence come alive?” (35). The epic’s bubble, its totality, is crashed when the tragedy’s globe rises. In other words, art is a sphere that holds and supplants the “natural unity of the metaphysical spheres [when these] have been destroyed forever” (37). While only the epic was able to completely carry the metaphysical homogeneous unity, “the totality of life”, drama (tragedy) testifies for the “intensive totality of essence” (46). That essence persisted because drama makes intelligible the “I of man”, but the totality of life of the epic vanished, the empirical “I” cannot find its correspondence in form. 

While it is easier to see the progression from tragedy to drama, it is harder to see the thread that connects the epic to the novel. At the same time, in the novel it persists the necessity to tie the empirical with the metaphysical, yet the novel cannot cover a totality it “succeeds only in mirroring a segment of the world” (53). The novel still thinks only about life as totality, but it fails and it succeeds at the same time: the novel is a contradiction that tries resolve the riddle of life. If the problem of life is “an abstraction”, in the novel tries to solve it by introducing and relating characters. At the same time “the relationship of a character to a problem can never absorb the whole fullness of that character’s life and every event in the sphere of life can relate only allegorically to the problem” (53-54). The novel is always fragmented, partial and incomplete, it shows a hole but not a lack. That is why “the epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within; the novel seeks, by giving form, to uncover and construct the concealed totality of life” (60). The novel is always defined as something that it “cannot” something that differs in relation to the epic. At best, the novel appears as always that is “in the process of becoming” (73). 

With all these imperfections, the novel could be described as the summatory of the objective failure of maturity in comparison to childhood. The novel is an erasure and a (re)writing “the paradoxical fusion of heterogeneous and discrete components into an organic whole which is then abolished over and over again” (84). The task for the novelist is to master form so that failure after failure the novel finds a way to reaffirm its presence, its (lost) connection with the epic. In modernity a writer is someone in society that is “adopting and accustoming themselves to one another” finds a way to write as “a rich and enriching resignation, the crowning of a process of education, a maturity attained by struggle and effort” (133). All this, however, faints. At the same time the novel found a way to bloom and flourish in its imperfect form, at least for Lúkacs, in the twentieth century the novel is cracking up, it is losing its successful ability to fail. At the same time, perhaps, what Lúkacs witnessed was another beginning. 

Acumulaciones en la playa: efervescencia y memoria. Notas sobre Otra vez el mar (1982) de Reinaldo Arenas II

El narrador de la segunda parte de Otra vez el mar (1982) de Reinaldo Arenas poco, parece, tiene que ver con la narradora de la primera parte. Hay, en la novela, dos formas de escribir, pero también dos formas de leer. En la primera parte, cuando los esposos desempacan, ante los libros de su esposa, Héctor comenta que “esos libros no solamente son falsos, sino ridículos […] yo te conseguiré otras novelas que te entretengan sin que pierdas el tiempo” (22). Mientras que la narradora busca encontrar un tiempo fuera de la rutina en toda la primera parte, en la segunda parte, Héctor sucumbe ante la inutilidad de su vida y asume un tono nihilista. Si la vida no puede encontrar nada que la sostenga, y si su voluntad de poder carece de propósito, todos los afectos del cuerpo se decantan hacia la muerte. 

Los seis cantos que componen la segunda parte son, desde cierta perspectiva, los textos que Héctor no le muestra a su esposa, eso que finge leer en la primera parte como excusa para escaparse de su vida. En un mundo donde todo está censurado, donde cada rebeldía es capturada, incluso las llamadas empresas nobles, como las artes o la literatura, son actos de cobardía. Escribir es carecer del valor para expresar lo que se siente. Desde esta perspectiva el ser humano, “si tuviese la valentía de expresar sus desgracias como expresa la necesidad de tomarse un refresco, no hubiese tenido que refugiarse, ampararse, justificarse, tras la confesión secreta, desgarradora y falsa que es siempre un libro” (231). La literatura, así, es una empresa que fetichiza la expresión de las necesidades y de los deseos. Escribir es saber que el texto debe circunscribirse a ciertas relaciones, sólo así, el circuito del libro (y de la empresa literaria) estará completo, sólo así el libro, “puede publicarse o censurarse, que puede quemarse o venderse, catalogarse, clasificarse o postergarse” (231). De ahí, entonces, que si hay una necesidad y un(os) deseo(s) de escritura estos tengan que ver con la fuerza de quien escribe de “dejar testimonio de que no fuera una sombra más que asfixió con sus suspiros, parloteos o sensaciones elementales su antigua inquietud y su sensibilidad” (231). El arte es una estafa, sí, pero es donde los “desconsolados de siempre/ intentaron justificar su desconcierto”, o en otras palabras, “el acogedor, inexistente sitio inventado siempre por los que aborrecen el sitio existente” (232). 

Aunque son claras las diferencias entre la primera y segunda parte (la primera escrita completamente en prosa y la segunda mezclando formas de verso libre y metro), ambas partes se preocupan por la insospechada pero persistente labor del tiempo. Ahí mismo es donde, también, las dos partes se diferencian: la primera parte en la búsqueda de un tiempo que suspenda el conteo incesante de la vida que se acumula, la segunda parte en la construcción de una válvula de escape. 

Para Héctor las salidas se van reduciendo, no van quedando muchas opciones. No obstante, al final del sexto canto ya no es la historia la que irremediablemente se acumula y ominosamente oprime a la desempoderada voz narrativa que la registra. En un momento, los personajes del sexto canto “salen del papel” y se le revela al narrador el “secreto” de su figura. Los personajes le dicen, “Pobre diablo. Él perecerá y nosotros permaneceremos. Enloquecerá y nosotros continuaremos. Dentro de muy poco habrá desaparecido y nosotros seguiremos. Con el tiempo ni siquiera se sabrá qué tuvo que ver con nosotros” (397). Como la vida que pasa y las palabras también se le pasan al narrador. A Héctor se le escapa aquello que ordenaba y acumulaba su relato, su poema y sus cantos. Si el escritor piensa que los signos lo obedecen, esto no es más que un truco, pues son los múltiples fragmentos los que le dan ritmo a la prosa y, en cierto sentido, a la vida. La vida puede ser una broma, “una inmensa cantidad de palabras palabreadas” (248), cúmulos dispersos, que se agregan a eso que somos, “un terror pasajero, una importancia airada/ una llama insaciable y efímera” (259). Sin embargo, como los personajes salidos del papel, y como el mismo Héctor, devorado por su propio texto, si una “descomunal impotencia amordaza tu vital rebeldía” (417), en la sumatoria de los signos, cada pasiva línea remecanografiada resquebraja la mordaza para dejarnos como Héctor frente al mar, “desatado, furioso y estallado” (418). 

Notes about Accumulation(s)

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


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)


-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


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)?