Notes on Afropessimism (2020) by Frank B. Wilderson III

Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism offers a study of the meta-aporias that Black exposes to that thing we call Human. If an aporia is an impossibility, a meta-aporia is an impossibility about impossibility. For Wilderson, Black people “are both barred from the denouement of social and historical redemption and needed if redemption is to attain any form of coherence” (12). A wrench, a tool, that is also a sentient being, Black is that which presupposes and exceeds all claim to Humanity and social justice, all project of insurgence and revolution, and even all gender revindication. This precisely why “Black people embody (which is different from saying are always willing or allowed to express) a meta-aporia for political thought and action” (13). Hence, afropessimism “argues, Blacks are not Human subjects, but are instead structurally inert props, implements for the excecution of White and non-Black fantasies and sadomasochistic pleasures” (15). There is then, no possibility of understanding what Black is in terms of the Human. There is no analogy which can compare what the Black and the Human feel, want, do, or live. There is then, no other attitude than a radical pessimism when it comes to discussing race and by extension all that Human vainly proclaims as universal. 

Divided in 2 parts and an epilogue the book retells some passages that Wilderson himself lived. In between non-fiction but also theory, the book exposes to what extent every-day life of any Black person is positioned as the ultimate point of exhaustion but also redemption of all that is White and non-Black. That is, from daily habits as kids playing in an abandoned house, or university conferences, the Black sentient being is the one who both guarantees the ground zero of suffering and by the same token the possibility for reassembling all form of order and organization. Slavery, then, is not something dead and gone, but a paradigm impossible to split from Blackness. Black experience social death, “the knowledge and experience of day-to-day events in which the world tells you you are needed, needed as the destination for its aggressivity and renewal” (41). To put it in other words, the Latinx worker who suffers exploitation and discrimination in the United States, let’s say, comforts themselves at the end of a long day of work because after all, they are not Black. This comfort is precisely what allows the worker to return to work the day after and also what places Black as the infinite act played in a theatre of cruelty that uses and abuses of Black but does not include it as part of the characters of the play. 

The radical lesson of afropessimism is that “there was never a prior meta-moment of plenitude, never equilibrium: never a moment of social life” for Blackness, and by addition for the Human. To that extent, afropessimism shows that there is no hegemony nor civil society, or if they exist, they only do as sadomasochistic fictions rituals that guarantee White and non-Black existence as Humas. Since Blackness cannot be separated from Slavery, then, there is no possibility of understanding a Black time nor space. Even violence refuses to give explanations of what Blackness entails. Since the Black is the one that who embodies “a regime of violence that bore no resemblance to the regimes of violence that subjugated /subjugates the others [the Humans]” (216), violence is always connected to Slave violence, an open-ended relationship. Then, the Slave suffered, the Black suffers, the Black suffered, the Slave suffers. White violence can be causal, provoked, but the violence that the Black suffers is “gratuitous, without reason or constraint; triggered by prelogical catalysts that are unmoored from her transgressions and unaccountable to historical shifts” (216-217). There is, then, only the chance to refuse politics, to refuse to affirm the Human, and rather to embrace disorder and all the possibilities that civil war could open, as this precisely “becomes the unthought, but never forgotten, understudy of hegemony” (251). In the struggle of all against all Humanity crumbles, something else breaths and feels. 

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

Notebook 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002) by Brian Massumi

There is no way that the virtual will reveal itself to us. There is no property of the virtual, hence no “of” can come out of it. Our direction to the virtual, then, is only “for.” These statements could be a way of approaching to Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002) by Brian Massumi. The book has not a progression in its argument. It is a work of experience and about experience, a radical empiricism based on affect. The 9 chapters that integrate the book are parables. It is not that every chapter tells a story with an expected lesson to be learn, but rather every chapter depicts a narrative arc like a parabola. That is, every chapter is an open narrative curve, a depiction that wish to explore the conceptual displacement “body –(movement/sensation)- change” (1) without attempting any closure, without canceling the movement of the parabola. The objective of Massumi is not an easy task. If the concept of body is as open as the ones of movement, sensation, and change, then what is at stake in every parable is to accompany the movement of a body. Put it differently, if in “motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary” (4), what is at stake is to turn theory as “abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of the concrete” (5). Theory has to travel at the same phase as the “bodies” it attemps to describe. In a world where “the problem is no longer to explain how there can be change given positionings”, now “the problem is to explain the wonder that there can be stasis given the primary of process” (7-8). Our reality, as simple, or complex as one could put it, has to much potential, that is an immanence of things, the total “indeterminate variation” (9). 

A narration matters but also is not what really matters. This aporia could summarize what happens in the 9 parables of Massumi. There are stories about Reagan, the performance art of STELARC, football, the internet, color, and science. But these stories have no real characters. They all build a net where movement, affect and sensation are at the center of the stage. Evasive characters are these. If movement is part of the whole mechanism of self-regulation of a body (its habit), affect and sensation are the inner mechanisms of movement. As a body in movement only is capable of finding itself, sensation is also self-referential (13). Movement and rest are the two relations that tie what a body can do and affect is what hinges the displacement between rest and movement, “a bifurcation point, or singular point in chaos theory” (32), where “the multiple is dispersed, when only one is ‘selected’” (33). Affect is the two-open sidedness of the virtual and the actual, it is also the “virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them” (35). That two-open sidedness is a remainder, something that escapes emotions (captures of affects), but also that is only perceived as emotion when it becomes memory. At the same time, there is no clear point where affect emerges, it is a “sudden interruption of functioning of actual connection” (36). Once that sudden moment abates the body only perceives its own vitality, its own source of aliveness, of changeability (36). Here is the beginning of movement, the heart of sensation. 

Movement and sensation depend on affect. But at the same time seem to be everything but affect. A movement cannot be sensed if it does not starts and stops, or at least that is what sensation does, it breaks what seems immovable or what is always in movement. “Sensation is the registering of the multiplicity of potential connection in the singularity of a connection actually under way” (93) and this register is best exemplified with the analysis of the body suspension of STELARC that Massumi analyses. Here in this particular suspension, we also witness the “that inventive limit-state is a pre-past suspended present. The suspension of the present without a past fills each actual conjunction along the way with unpossibilized futurity: pure potential. Each present is along the way with sensation: felt tending, pending” (103). Hence “movement is in between the intensive vacuum activation and extended, object action perception” (129). A body waits, stands, move, feels, but only when sensation is triggered by affect. It all goes back to the parabola that the title of the book suggests. If affect is the limit point of movement and sensation, that is, what both exceeds and presupposes both, this limit point “does not-exist on the curve [of the parabola]. It is abstract. It exists not on the but rather for the curve. Or rather almost exists so that the curve may exist” (147). Massumi’s task then is turning empiricism into an infraempiricism, the study of what happens to bodies in a level where things are felt in a queer way. This radical empiricism sees only potentials, sees, cares, and keeps the remainder and excess of both movement and sensation: affect. 

Notas sobre Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo político (2021) de Alberto Moreiras

La reedición de Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo político (2021) de Alberto Moreiras comparte con Tercer espacio la importante tarea de revisar libros relevantes y que en su momento no fueron estudiados a detalle. Como en Tercer espacio, en Línea de sombra también se habla de cómo sistemáticamente la academia tradicional norteamericana ignoró los logros y análisis de este libro. En el prólogo de Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott se dice que Línea de sombra es uno de los primeros lugares desde donde se emprendió la ruta por la que ahora conceptos claves como infrapolítica y posthegenomía circulan. Estos conceptos son, ante todo, “un sostenido intento de pensamiento […] una práctica casi corporal de escritura y desacuerdo, que implica sostener el arrojo con una perseverancia orientada siempre hacia la liberad” (15). Aunque el prólogo no desarrolla esa idea sobre lo que implica sostener el arrojo, uno puede pensar que ya el título evoca sutilmente ese trabajo. Es decir, línea de sombra no es sólo una metáfora que evoca aquello que Moreiras ve como la línea que va figurando (y figura) nuestro horizonte de pensamiento, es decir, la línea de la dominación, cuya sombra somete a todo lo que caiga bajo ella, sino que también la línea de sombra vendría a ser eso que Villalobos sugiere, un intento de pensar que sostiene el arrojo pero no lo para. Es decir, si la sombra es la traza sin trazo de todo aquello que se expone a la luz, el pensar de la línea de sombra, en contra de la sombra de la dominación, es un pensar que no detiene el arrojo de lo que existe sino que guarda la sombra de su existencia, su residuo enigmático. 

En cierto sentido, el residuo enigmático es el tema principal del libro. Este término es otra forma de referir se al no sujeto de lo político. Si el sujeto es el que pide que su sombra sostenga y domine, el no sujeto de lo político eso que quiere exponer y exponerse eso que Moreiras dice que “hay en nosotros y más allá de nosotros”, una suerte de exceso y precedencia, “algo que excede abrumadoramente a la subjetividad, incluyendo la subjetividad del inconsciente” (21). Ahí, entonces, se ve que el no sujeto de lo político sería la sombra del inconsciente, algo ineludible y que a la vez elude sobre todas las cosas. Los siete capítulos del libro, y la coda, ofrecen a su manera aproximaciones a ese resto enigmático, a su lugar y a su existencia. A su vez, los primeros capítulos son, ante todo, una lectura de y con otros pensadores sobre el estado de la política a inicios de siglo XXI. Si luego del 9/11 las formas de la guerra, el estado y la política entraron en crisis, ¿cómo es que habría que leer un mundo que rehúsa toda idea de exterioridad y al mismo tiempo reclama la sistemática y comunitaria subjetivación de cualquier cosa que se mueva fuera de sus murallas? 

¿Cómo pensar política si la distinción de amigo y enemigo, donde según Carl Schmitt inicia la política, está completamente desbaratada en nuestro momento histórico? El punto clave de este “fin de la política” radica en la total crisis de la subjetividad. Por las formas de subjetivación es que amigos y enemigos dejan de importar, o más bien, por el sujeto es que se descubre que no hay amigos sino sólo enemigos. Si “el enemigo absoluto, no es el terrorista global, sino que es aquel de quien esperamos eventual sometimiento y colaboración, que en caso concreto significa colaboración con el régimen de acumulación global que mantiene a tantos habitantes de la tierra, en el nomos pero no del nomos, en miseria o precariedad profunda e injusta” (45), se debe a que vivimos en tiempos de política del partisano. Esto es que ahora (a inicios de siglo XXI) “la incorporación del enemigo absoluto dentro del orden moderno de lo político, por tanto ya [es] el síntoma de la descomposición de tal orden desde el siglo XIX” (60). No es gratuito, así, que, por ejemplo, los problemas del narcotráfico en México emulen, en buena medida, los problemas del terrorismo post 9/11. La guerra es indistinguible de su momento detonante, siempre se está en guerra, o en la amenaza, el espacio se hace cada vez el mismo. 

Al mismo tiempo que el nuevo nomos previene y destroza al enemigo, hay un registro salvaje, algo que queda en el doble registro que se queda en el umbral del nomos, fuera de lo que exterior mismo a este orden. Eso que queda es el no sujeto de lo político, “más allá de la sujeción, más allá de la conceptualización, más allá de la captura […] simplemente ahí” (80). Si la subjetividad de la modernidad es igual a la del sujeto del capital, “una totalidad vacía” (59), entonces el “no sujeto es lo que el sujeto debe constantemente abstraer, una especie de auto-fundación continuada en la virtud” (116). Hegemonía, subalternidad, decolonizalidad, multitud y demás avatares de la metafísica, diría Moreiras, se quedan siempre cortos y no son sino máquinas de restas, pues no sólo restan y abtraen al resto enigmático, sin que precisan falsamente restituir algo que de entrada está perdido e irrestituible, aquello que se le sustrae al no sujeto. Ahora bien, el problema del resto enigmático, del no sujeto, es que no se trata de pensar en la inclusión ni en la exclusión. Pensar el resto “no es pensar que traduce, sino cabalmente un pensar de exceso intraducible; no es un pensar ni hegemónico, ni contra-hegemónico, sino más bien parahegemónico o poshegemónico, en la medida en que apunta a las modadlidades de presencia/ausencia de todo aquello que la articulación hegemónica debe borrar para construirse en cuanto tal […] pensamiento de guerra neutra y oscura, capaz, quizá de resituir eventualmente lo político como nueva administración de soberanía” (134). Así, la aparente suma que pretende el capital, o cualquier forma subjetivizante, no es sino una resta, una resta que, parecería, captura la propia resta a la que el no sujeto tiende. Esto es, el no sujeto, para Moreiras, guarda necesariamente un carácter negativo, una forma de resta que abre en su doble escritura contra la suma camuflada de la subjetividad una posibilidad de extenuación de los mecanismos de resta forzada y controlada. 

El problema, por otra parte, es que si el no sujeto de lo político guarda una relación directa con la violencia divina, entonces, es probable que una de las operaciones fundamentales de no sujeto no sea la resta. Si la violencia divina es “la excepción, la substracción radical del regreso infinito, la afirmación de una suspensión no sangrienta pero de todas maneras letal de la cadena signifcante (218), entonces, la violencia divina es una suerte de cero exponencial. Como sólo el agotamiento de lo político puede ser liberado por la violencia, al liberar lo político de lo político mismo (subjetivación), de la misma forma, la totalidad vacía expuesta del sujeto, elevada por su exponente vacío (cero/ el no sujeto) regresa a un uno heterogéneo. Un uno de repetición divergente desde donde el conteo se abre siempre hacia otras partes, lejos tal vez del resto, incluso.

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? 

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

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

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

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

Notes about Accumulation(s)

More notes


Accumulations II [and literature]

Our times are times of the novella. Isn’t it that day by day we question how is it that things have come to this? At the same time reality is coming closer to the durée of “the novel”, since we lived fascinated by the aesthetic contradiction between past and future. If all of this is true, what place would “the novel” hold? For some, like Fredric Jameson, the postmodern is fading away and in its place is now occupied by writing of “itemisation”, the withdrawal (or renouncement) of the attempt to ‘estrange’ “our daily life and see it in new, poetic or nightmarish, ways” (“Itemised”). Karl Ove Knausgaard, Emmanuel Carrère and Valeria Luiselli would be just some items of this list. Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive (2019) captures in a nutshell what the current status of (Latin-American) fiction in early XXI century is. Yet, one should hesitate to simply take Jameson’s ‘itemisation’ of writing for granted. In a long passage in Luiselli, the main narrator of the novel states that “No one has quite been able to capture what is happening or say why. Perhaps it’s just that we sense an absence of future, because the present has become too overwhelming, so the future has become unimaginable. And without future, time feels like only an accumulation (Lost Children 103). The narration then enlists all of those things accumulated (months, days, natural disasters, television series, terrorist attacks, divorces, mass migrations, birthdays, photographs, sunrises). The digression happens after the main narrator is asked by one of her children about what, how and when to take a photograph. The fact that, to explain the kid when to photograph, the narrator has to enlist both the emptiness of life, and the failure, of photographing in general when capturing or depicting our experience of time and life, illustrates an impossibility that the narration is aware of. The latter would be that “our ways of documenting the world have fallen short” (103) and consequently as much as experiences and other things are accumulated, the future seems unimaginable, undecidable. 

This moment could à la lettre describe what Jameson’s sees in Knausgaard’s sixth book of My Struggle (if not in all the books of the series). Itemisation would be the shift from the aesthetic to the ethical, abandoning the first so that one can as Knausgaard or Luiselli contemplate a “solution to the problem of what to do with [oneself] and [oneself’s] life” (“Itemised”). Hence, for Jameson writing of itemisation is, somehow, the end of the duration of the novel. Since the contemporary novel, as a genre, has to renounce to conjugate the past (what has happened) and l’avenir (what is going to happen), the novel now can merely register a list of items that tentatively would become rereadings, returns to duration. Yet, the novel is hardly a renunciation. In Luiselli, the narration bets for an opening to the future, while hoarding the previous items, “You have to find your own way of understanding space, so that the rest of us can feel less lost in time” (103), tells the mother to the kid so that he would start shooting photographs. There is no duration, but a two folded direction that moves forward in the same direction.

It is not that things have not changed for the novel. Neither it is that the “postmodern” is slowly fading away (if it ever was fully holding sway all over the world). For once, it is true that the novel as “all life is a process of breaking down”, would say Fitzgerald. Something broke in the sphere of the novel, and in the one of the literary. The novel was the genre that better held the hybridity of the new subjects that emerged from the process of so-called primitive accumulation at the dawn of capitalism. While the vogelfrei were attached to their necessity to sell their work in the market, their will was always fugitive. In a same manner the novel was (is) a living contradiction, namely between the writer and their context, the original and the translation, the new and the new. Only the novel knew how to pile together a contradiction. If novellas are cartographies of lines of flight, novels are diagrams of spheres whose functioning lie in opposing semiospheres. To this extend, if the emergence and popularization of novellas (ending of XIX century- and early XX century) marked the shift from industrial accumulation in capitalism and its acceleration, switch and cohabitation to and with algorithm accumulation in the current state of capitalism that we live today, we are not only witnessing the novellation of history, but also the novellation of the novel. If this is true, the contradiction, the main mechanism of the novel, is blurring. The itemisation is not a renouncement, neither the re-disjunction or re-conjunction of duration, “but only a line of flight in the process of being drawn, toward a new acceptance, the opposite of renunciation or resignation —a new happiness?” (Deleuze and Guattari 207), and yet another process of hoarding, a new redirection of accumulation. And still, an opening for heaping history and the novel anew.

Notes about Accumulation(s) I

The following notes are merely a series of thoughts without any particular order but that later (hopefully) could be part of my dissertation project (a very [till today] basic and naive ideas about accumulation as a general movement of history and specially modernity)


Accumulation(s) I

In a way, our times could be described as a series of seriated and seriating accumulations. This, of course, not only testifies for capitalism’s endeavour but also for the way the climate catastrophe has heaped in the horizon of history as our further extinction. Yet, to accumulate does not necessarily means to horde valuable items neither to just let catastrophes pile in the horizon of the coming future. In fact, accumulations are closer to disorganized heaps, piles or bodies amassed (and therefore, somewhat to a weird idea of ecology, meaning that even the smallest tossed or dispensed body, would heap somewhere and eventually return to the place where it was thrown away). Etymologically (if this helps to clarify where I’m going), to accumulate is a verb whose first appearance was in the early XIV (1520) century and is composed by two particles, the preposition “ad” (to) and the substantive “cumulus” (a heap). Hence, in the early years of that period commonly called modernity, at the babbling of what centuries later would become a world ordered for capital through capitalism, a direction was forged, and bodies were constantly directed and redirected to it. 

The coincidence between the origins of the word accumulation and the early period (if not the dawn) of modernity signal that history, somehow, could be understood as a way of directing “cumulus” (heaps). It is not only after the works of Ricardo, Adam Smith and later Marx, that accumulation becomes a direction of wealth, for the first and second, and later, for the third, a production of that “ad” that directs the cumulus. When Marx famously described how the whole economic process worked, with the analysis of commodification, fetishization (another word —as accumulation— that was firstly coined in the context of slave trading in the XV-XVI century), capital circulation, value and surplus value, he still found necessary to unveil what started everything. For Marx, it is not that capital is merely understood as a machine, but as something that is triggered, something that needs to be started. Irremediably when understanding the process of accumulation(s) of capital, as Marx puts it, we “turn in a defective circle, out of which we only get by supposing an “original” [primitive]”, an “accumulation that is not the result of capitalistic mode of production, but its starting point”. That starting point, for Marx, “plays in Political Economy the same role that plays the “original sin in theology”. The result of this ironic comparison (and maybe not so ironic) is the famous formulation of the process of “so-called” primitive accumulation: that is the demystifying of an idyllic process of enrichment. From this perspective, the “so-called” primitive accumulation is the systematic repetition of violence, land dispossession, forced migration, law prosecution and bloody legislations necessary to produce an ambivalent subject that both surrenders to the “ad” of accumulation while also seeks for its “cumulation” in a line of flight: the vogelfrei. 

If the process of “so-called” primitive accumulation is needed at every stage of capitalism, where would the “ad” this time be produced when there won’t be no earth to live? Would it be that at best the feverish science fiction fantasies finally have been conquered (as depicted in movies like Ad Astra [after all, another movie about the possibility of starting a new process of accumulation in space)? As much as these questions are necessary, perhaps it should also be thought the possibility of an accumulation without “ad”, or an accumulation without “ad” or “cumulus” but another form of piling. Even more, perhaps that’s the only cynical comfort we have, that of which today accumulation is collapsing, and we are just hoarding history, as new vogelfrei we are tied to our impossibility towards the future and yet with the possibility of take off in a line of flight.

Notes on The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981) by Fredric Jameson

The influential The Political Unconscious. Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981) by Fredric Jameson in a way brings debates about Marxism during the second half of the 20th century to the North American Academy. It is not surprising to see how the book, as much as it is fighting to offer a post-goldmannian Marxist analysis of narrative (considering Le dieu cache as one of the most ambitious Marxist literary criticism enterprise at the very half of 20thcentury) it also offers a productive discussion with new-criticism ways of interpreting and commenting literature. For Jameson, as it is stated early in the “Preface”, the main duty of any Marxist approach is to “Always historicize!” (9). It is then the task of The Political Unconscious to historicize the ways literature depicts the sublimation of ideologemes, which are the raw material of history and ultimately of literature itself. 

While the book is distributed in six chapters there is not really, necessarily, a progression in this distribution. That is, as much as the book seeks to historicize its historicity is not teleological at all. From this perspective, the first chapter advances most of the topics that would be discussed in the following chapters. The first chapter, “On Interpretation”, while seeking to build the theorical Marxist foundation of the book, also advances the main preoccupation of it: that of pointing out how every attempt of narrativization, and ultimately of history itself, cannot be represented if not by the textuality of a certain structure. This means that while history remains, in Althuserian terms, “a process without telos or a subject”, what is at stake, according to Jameson, is to repudiate any master narrative “and their twin categories of narrative closure (telos) and of character (subject of history)” (29). Consequently, more than denying the Althuserian dictum, Jameson seeks to unveil all metaphorizations and fake problems that hide the political unconscious of social life in general. If Jameson is not interested in denying Althuser, it is because history, more than a process that needs a subject, it is precisely the process that makes the subject conscious of its own subjectivity, hence, history is “inaccessible to us except in textual form, and that our approach to it and to the Real itself necessarily passes through its prior textualization: its narrativization in the political unconscious” (35). While we won’t be able to know what happens to us, by reason and enlightment we can be able to retextualize history as it appears in the unconscious. As a symbolic act, fiction emerges as the field where the social speaks, and so do the ways into history has written its annals in letters of fire and blood. 

At times, the book comes and goes to its introduction. That is, it doesn’t matter (a lot) if we are dealing with Romanticism, the fictions of George Gissing, Honoré de Balzac or Joseph Conrad, what is at stake is to grab the raw materials of these works of fiction and propose a retextualization of them. That is, the tastk of any Marxist approach to literature would be to historicize the class fantasy of every work of art (87) as it is constantly emphasized throughout the book. While the analysis are relevant and in force until today —consider the fact that any literary form is likely just showing a struggle of diverse political unconscious while a leading fantasy attempts to capture and extenuate the potential of the other struggling fantasies—, it could be argued that the syntaxis of Jameson’s analysis (Romanticism, resentment in Gissing, subjecthood in Balzac and reification in Conrad) mystifies the way Romanic studies, or even, literary studies, has appropriated itself a political unconscious of domination over the rest of the world academia. In another front, the book also is more concerned in other challenges of contemporary (80’s) Marxist. For instance, Jameson mentions the problem of the “logic of collective dynamics, with categories that escape the taint of some mere application of terms drawn from individual experience” (294). Therefore, if everything must be rendered political, it is not only necessary to think history as an undecidable thing to be retextualized, but also to speculate the possibility of a politics without subject. This, of course, has been the task of many of the most relevant perspectives after Jameson’s Archimedean knowledge mover in The Political, and yet, these perspectives are more than an attempt to totalize the unconscious of the political, they are in fact the remainder of what Marxism is all about, as Jameson says when concluding his book.