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.”

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. 

Nostalgia del soberano. Notas a 499 (2020) de Rodrigo Reyes

Un conquistador sin nombre naufraga en las costas de Veracruz y repite los mismos actos que en 1519 llevaron a cabo Hernán Cortés y sus tropas. Este anacrónico conquistador se empeña en repetir las ya sabidas acciones que marcaron fuertemente a la conquista (la lectura del requerimiento, la escritura de crónicas, el viaje de Veracruz a “Tenochtitlan,” la alianza con “ciertos pueblos adversarios” al dominio de Moctezuma). Sin embargo, esta vez no hay Cortés ni Moctezuma, no hay soberano ni lucha por la soberanía, sólo una violencia que resulta familiar para el conquistador anónimo y que, sorpresivamente, termina por superarlo, literalmente, quitarle su voz —nunca oímos que el conquistador hable con ningún personaje luego de que pierda la voz al leer por primera vez el requerimiento. El conquistador anónimo se encuentra con víctimas de la violencia en México: hijos que llevan el duelo de la muerte de sus padres, madres que buscan a sus desaparecidos, comunidades de autodefensa en la sierra, migrantes tratando de montarse a la bestia, exmiembros del narco, una madre que se negó al linchamiento de los violadores y asesinos de su hija y que ahora vive presa de la indignación porque los malhechores están en libertad y un sinfín de personajes que miran entre burla y extrañeza al anacrónico conquistador. 

La película resuena, sin necesariamente proponérselo, con Er is wieder da [Él está de regreso] (2015) de David Wnendt. En la película alemana, Hitler regresa misteriosamente de la muerte y se da cuenta de que muchos de los sentimientos con los que simpatizó en el pasado siguen vigentes. Mientras que en Él está de regreso, gracias a la sátira, se consiguen momentos brillantes de crítica sobre la situación actual de muchos movimientos nacionalistas en Alemania, en 499 difícilmente se pudiera decir que hay una crítica. Las dos películas coinciden en que el elemento más perverso de la historia de ambas latitudes (Hitler para Alemania, un conquistador para México) regresa y encuentra demasiadas similitudes con “su versión de la historia.” Esto es, de la misma manera que Hitler vio en el nacionalsocialismo una manera para congregar los afectos de la posguerra, volverlos hábito y catalizar y mover multitudes desquiciadas, el conquistador anónimo de 499 se encuentra con un mundo incomprensible y violento que se entrega a los peores pecados imaginados por la cristiandad. Sin embargo, mientras Hitler, en Él está de regreso, se acopla bien a la sociedad que se encuentra, el conquistador anónimo no se acopla al mundo que lo recibe. De hecho, esto pudiera ser, sin quererlo, uno de los mejores atributos del filme. Esto es, dado que el conquistador anónimo está completamente desempoderado, su errancia en el “Nuevo Mundo” testifica la total incomprensión que las tierras de Mesoamerica presupusieron para Cortés y los otros conquistadores. Por otra parte, el filme parece no interesarse en esta repetición de las errancias. De hecho aquí subyacen los problemas más grandes del trabajo de Rodrigo Reyes. 

El hecho de que un conquistador anónimo recorra de forma anacrónica la misma ruta que los conquistadores del siglo XVI y que, además, recupere los horrores de una violencia incomprensible (los conquistadores de Cortés veían así los ritos prehispánicos), articula, necesariamente la pregunta por los grandes ausentes en la reelaboración histórica del filme. Esto es, si el filme contrapone la violencia “incomprensible” con la que se encontraron los conquistadores de Cortés con la violencia contemporánea con la que se encuentra el conquistador anónimo, no lo hace para criticar las formas en que la violencia se articula en el presente, sino para preguntar, ¿dónde están los soberanos? Desde esta perspectiva, 499 es más una apología de la necesidad de un soberano y menos un recuento nuevo sobre la violencia en México. De hecho, la película (o documental, como se le categoriza varias veces) parece muy fácilmente deducir que la gran tragedia de nuestros tiempos no es tanto la violencia, sino la ausencia de un Cortés y un Moctezuma. Sin soberanos, hasta un conquistador debe humillarse (el conquistador anónimo se convierte en peregrino de la virgen de Guadalupe y luego en empleado en un restaurante en Nueva York). Sin soberanos, toda la violencia en México, y en otras partes, no es sino la hermenéutica que pudiera salir de cualquier cacicazgo latinoamericano: hartazgo por la descontención del Katechon que busca y demanda lastimosamente la presencia de un soberano. 

Machine’s monotony. A note on Anthropocene: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky

The praised 2018 Canadian documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is without a doubt one of those films that both attracts via its mesmerizing images and scares by the horrific factual reality that it portrays. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Pencier, the documentary depicts the so-called epoch of Anthropocene, which is, among many, a name that our current geological epoch receives (cfr. Capitaloscene). The Anthropocene, then, gathers a series of images that illustrate the ways humanity has been directly modifying the Earth’s surface natural development. From animal extinction, floods, massive pollution of the glaciers, uncontrolled mining and deforestation, giant dumps to, also, successful projects of modern engineering —the Brenner Base tunnel in Austria—, the documentary attempts to critically call for an “awakening” as the voice of the narrator, Alicia Vikander, states at the end of the film: “We are all implicated, some more profoundly than others.” As much as this statement invites for positive social change, it also signals something that the documentary forgets to explicitly acknowledge: the role of the machines in the so-called Anthropocene. 

From the beginning until the end of the documentary machines occupy a key role. As much as the Anthropocene identifies humans as the “evil doers” in this geologic era, our means of changing the surface of the Earth have always relied on the assemblage human-machine or machine-human (the order is not very important), never on human agency alone. A machine is not necessarily an object that obeys human desires. As depicted many times in the documentary, it is quite the opposite. When asked about their jobs at an iron factory that massively pollutes the Siberian steppes, Russian workers happily admit that at the beginning they did not like the job, but by force of habit they ended up liking it, even finding beauty in it. A Chilean worker at a Lithium mine in the Atacama Desert feels happy “to help humanity.” There is no single human agent in the documentary that does not happily expresses their pleasure of doing something meaningful. Even the ecologist at the beginning of the film expresses enthusiasm when thousands of ivory pieces are returned to Nigeria so that these objects will never hit the market or become a trinket, a mantelpiece or any other “luxurious object.” The confiscated ivory might have not become another object but unsuspectedly another machine put these objects in the market. Cinema after all is, if not, 20th century dream factory. 

Anthropocene barely relies on human agency. That is, most of the takes, cameos and travellings of the most heartbreaking and amazing images of the film are drone taken. Even the narrator’s voice, in a monotonous Alexian, or Sirean, register displays facts about human history and its implications. This contributes to the “lack” of human agency all over the film. The movie only has two registers, enthusiasm, and monotony. Human agency, then, is everything but easy to recognize since enthusiasm comes directly from the monotony that machines express. There is, then, one tone for machines, that of increasing different but concomitant happiness. In other words, the monotony of the machines accelerates the process of habituation of humankind. Happiness happens when you get used to things, so would say any of the workers addressed by the documentary. From this perspective, someone who is inside a machine’s mechanism can hardly see another way of living but the one the machine itself has built. Some of the last words of the narrator recognize that “the tenacity and ingenuity that helped us thrive, can also help us to pull these systems back to a safe place for all life on earth,” it is then, on “us” to change our habits. However, that us is already including the machines and, perhaps, our problem as humanity is directly tied to the too easily trust that we have given to machines. We have never learned how to differentiate the way machines should be used. In the meantime, we are told at the end of the film that “The scientists of the Anthropocene Working Group will continue to build the evidence towards a formal proposal for inclusion of the Anthropocene epoch in the Geological Time Scale.” Building and reforming our time, but not actually destroying it, would bring new and amazing evidence to the screens, but hardly move the ground we inhabit, hardly change a thing.