Series, succession and flows. A note to Jesse Andrews’ Succession (2018-2023)

[Spoilers ahead]

In more than one way Jesse Andrews’ Succession (2018-2023) is a show all about the limits and possibilities of successions. That is, not only is the show worried about the way a series of similar events happen after each other, but also the show is worried on the contingency of this series. Precisely, the drama of the Roy family, a corporate juggernaut owner of a giant broadcast company (ATN), along with thematic amusement parks and cruise lines in the US, resembling closely America’s Murdoch conglomerate, is not only about the demise of the patriarch, Logan Roy, and the future successor, but about the idea of succession in a broader sense. What is beyond, or after, the riches, the power, the corporate and familial relations that a global enterprise, owner of all forms of entertainment, have proven to fall short in a world where friendship is impossible, and any relationship is murky and fragile? Or to put it differently, and, perhaps, clearer, what comes next after the normal way of capitalist accumulation of power, wealth, influence, and enjoyment has collapsed? For the crisis of the Logan family is not only theirs. Today power, wealth, influence, and enjoyment are no longer achieved by the bond of friendship, or other bonds proper to the development of bourgeois society (family values, codes of sociability, and so on). With Logan Roy’s foretold death, as early in the series is announced by the stroke, he suffers that only deteriorates his health throughout the show, Succession wonders what happens once the master of these bonds is gone. 

In chapter one of the first season, way before Logan Roy has his first stroke that sends him to a coma, there is a meaningful scene. This is the opening scene. With a camera angle that can hardly focus, a confused Logan Roy walks into a corner of a dark room. He then proceeds to pee on the carpet and the camera focuses on the stain the flow of pee makes onto the surface. Once he’s done, Logan regains awareness of what has happened. Then, a service woman assists him. Finally, Marcia, his by then wife, enters the room and comforts him. This scene is not only foretelling the fate of Logan, as his health deteriorates, but it is also participating of a particular visual tradition. It is, for instance, a very similar scene to the opening one of the first episode of the show Billions (2016-2023), created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andre Ross Sorkin). In Billions, a show about the dispute between billionaires and ruthless district attorney in New York, the opening scene is not about a foretold sickness, but about pure enjoyment: a man is golden showered by his mistress. 

Both opening scenes, from Succession and Billions, are revisiting the famous scene of Sergei Eisenstein Ivan the Terrible (1944), when the tsar is showered on coins at the moment of his coronation. That is, the flows of money that showered the figure of the sovereign, validated as well by the people and the orthodox church, in Eisenstein crudely manifested (revisited) in contemporary visual culture. From this perspective, both Succession and Billions are telling us about the place on which the flows money, and capital land. If for the modernity, from Eisenstein view, it is the sovereign who receives all flows, realizing money into capital and so on, in Billions, for instance, the golden shower Chuck Rhoades, the NY city attorney, receives is but a flow deterritorialized of capital. He is getting full jouissance, and, hence, invigorating his will against billionaires. The lesson from Billions is that the money of billionaires masochistically moves the libido of the police since it is Chuck Rhoades, the ruthless lawyer that “hunts” billionaires, who is receiving this flow. In Succession’s first scene the flow is coming from a billionaire (Logan Roy’s pee), and the place where it lands is but a corner of a room in his apartment. Here the tragedy becomes visible: from a world in which the figure of the sovereign (Ivan the Terrible) was the recipient of the flows, transforming them into capital, now we have a world in which the police perversion is moved by the flows they received (Billions), and more radically, where the ones expelling the flows don’t know where to throw them (Succession). Logan Roy’s confused peeing contrasts precisely with his well-intentioned “demarcation of territory” when peeing in the office of his son Kendall Roy, when the latter attempts to become the successor of his father’s firm in the first season. By peeing confusedly in a corner of his house, Logan Roy’s actions tell us of capitalism integral and general crisis: where to pee next? Where to mark new territory? Or even more, now capitalism does not know how to realize the flow into capital, now it is just pee into a corner, a sign of an acute sickness. 

Flows are everywhere in Succession. From Kendall Roy, Logan’s eldest son, a recovering addict, to the quantities of liquor all character’s drink, including a pregnant Siobhan Roy, the only daughter of the patriarch, in the fourth season, or the semen Roman Roy, the youngest son, ejaculates on the crystal window of his office in the first season, the show is constantly reiterating how flows failed to be transformed into capital, or even into something else rather than the crudest real they represent. In the case of Roman Roy, for instance, his ejaculation on his office’s window glass already manifests how he is unable to engage in any type of affection with women. He cannot have sex. By the fact that during this scene his semen is throwed into a clear surface that both suggests thrownness and narcissism, the show is addressing the incapability of capitalism to escape its own ego. Roman Roy’s semen won’t ever be part of the (re)production of life, it will just be a projectile crashing on a clear surface: an illusion of death trapped in narcissism. In contrasts with Logan Roy’s pee, Roman’s ejaculation does not worry about territorializing, and neither is the effect of a deterritorialization (he knows what he is doing, he covers the inside windows of his office before masturbating). Roman is rather affirming cynically his impossibility of being the successor, or of having any sort of succession from within the family. 

Even formally, at all times, we are reminded that flows are cut and that successions are very contingent, if not impossible, in the show. Characters like Craig, a distant cousin of the Roys, or Tom Wambsgans, Siobhan’s husband, constantly are interrupted when speaking. And all characters, in general, constantly stutter when approaching Logan Roy. When Kendal, for example, confronts his father in person, he is unable to utter a series of words without stuttering. Or to bring another example, when audited by the US Senate, Tom cannot respond to the questions and his speech and answers are but broken sentences and stutters. Even more, the opening theme of the entire show is built both visually and musically on works that play with the possibilities and impossibilities of succession. The music play that accompanies the opening images of the show mixes different genres, from a scale on piano to beats of hip hop with a syncopal rhythm. The images of the opening credits are a succession interrupted by images that overlap out of context. The main sequence, a family video tape of a family portrait of the Roys, is interrupted by images from the ATN TV network, and other familial moments. These series of interruptions, overlaps, and breaks that cut the flows, but do not entirely stop them, and that make contingent any series and succession, could be understood as a cumulation: an entropic pile up of things profusely affecting us. 

If normally, capitalism guarantees as process of series and succession based on the way flows are transformed into accumulations of use, labour, and value that is yet to be realized into capital, in Succession what gathers the flows by recovering their cuts, stops and overlaps is far from a traditional accumulation. Regular capitalist accumulation is based on the principle that a sovereign can arbitrate and transform an amassing of things into capital, but with the demise of Logan Roy the flows are deterritorialized, and by extension it all becomes alien to the power of the sovereign validation. What piles up in the show, money, lobby meetings, weddings, drugs, cars, or to sum up, excess and residue of all kinds is still gathered, as the flows are still continuing, but the succession, as a series, cannot be continued. Almost playing with numerology, the show stops on its fourth season. Four, for Tarot, is the number of dominance, or of the aporia of domination, thigs have accumulated and are perfectly stable, or precisely suggesting all the opposite a complete disarray that only tricks the lonely emperor who sits on top of a too small world (as the Camoin and Jodorowsky Tarot de Marseille illustrates the card). 

At the end of the show, when a succession has been achieved, not directly inside of the family, and the company has been sold to foreign investors, flows ratify their continuity, but this next succession is but transitional, a façade: the new investors, a Sweden billionaire (who also is obsessed with flows, he sent to his assistant bags of his blood as a romantic/ harassing gesture) is going to radically transform the company. From this, there no longer a possibility for transferring, succeeding, the regular order of things. 

El aplazamiento y el desplazamiento. Notas sobre La estrategia del caracol (1993) de Sergio Cabrera

La estrategia del caracol no es sólo una historia sobre el despojo. O más bien, es una historia sobre la intervención y la transformación del despojo en otra forma de desplazamiento o mudanza. La película comienza cuando un grupo de periodistas llegan a una calle atiborrada de cosas. El reportero del grupo pregunta a un hombre viejo qué es lo que pasa, y éste, a punto de responder de forma agresiva, es interrumpido por otro personaje. Éste se presenta como miembro de la ya desalojada casa de “la Pajarera.” Y en palabras de este nuevo personaje, “el paisa,” lo que el reportero está presenciando es la “injusticia de la justicia.” En este sentido, la historia que vemos ya iniciada es la ya sabida historia de la acumulación originaria, aquella del robo y el despojo, aquella escrita en letras de sangre en los anales de la historia. De ahí, el paisa comienza a narrar la historia de un despojo previo, de “la Pajarera” y de una casa vecina, al reportero y su equipo. Esta primera escena ya resume un mecanismo que se repite en la película. Este mecanismo consiste en un desplazamiento del afecto por una narración o creación artificial (la reacción del hombre viejo por la narración del paisa), y también la de la intervención de un tiempo diferido. Es decir, la historia nos enseña sobre el diferir de los afectos y su transformación en una narración, un plan o una estrategia. 

Precisamente, la película confronta dos tipos de procedimientos, al menos. Por una parte está la fe ciega que “el perro,” un leguleyo residente de una de las casas a ser desalojadas, tiene hacia la ley y sus mecanismos. Por otra parte está la estrategia que Jacinto inventa: la creación de un sistema de tramoyas y poleas para mover toda la casa en que viven él, el perro, y los demás inquilinos a ser desalojados. Esta estrategia busca sacar cada cosa de la casa y moverla hacia la “Pajarera,” una casa que se resiste al despojo por medio de la acción armada, para de ahí transportar todo a la cima de un cerro a las afueras de la ciudad. En este sentido, la trama de la película, que es también la historia que cuenta “el paisa,” depende de cómo estas dos estrategias trabajan para diferir el inevitable despojo. Si bien, estas son de las principales estrategias, o planes, que se presentan en la película, también están otras. Está, por ejemplo, la reacción armada y violenta, a la que recurren un grupo de inquilinos de la casa vecina a donde son transportadas las cosas y los muros de la casa de Jacinto y el perro. A su vez, todas estas estrategias trabajan en contra de los caprichos del acaudalado dueño legal de las fincas, un hombre fascinado por las máquinas y demás dispositivos asociados a la captura fílmica y acústica. Con este personaje se tiende un eje de oposición que ubica a los desposeídos, como aquellos que poseen una estrategia y además construyen sus propias máquinas, en contra del que desposee, que está meramente fascinado con las cámaras de video, las televisiones y las grabadoras. Los desposeídos son creativos, los que desposeen son reactivos, parece decirnos el filme de Cabrera.

Quizá las lecciones más radicales del filme son las siguientes. Primero, el filme, en una suerte de apotropaia conservadora, es decir, en el hecho de dar por sentado que el despojo algún día llegará y que nada se puede hacer para evitarlo, nos enseña que todos, algún día, habremos de mudarnos, o de morirnos. Lázaro, el inquilino más viejo de la vecindad, es asesinado por su esposa ante la inminente urgencia de acelerar el proceso de mudanza. Por el hecho de que Lázaro esté durante casi toda la película en estado moribundo, se puede decir que la estrategia de Jacinto, en combinación con la estrategia legal del perro, son como el aplazamiento del asesinato del Lázaro. Como la fachada de la casa es tronada con dinamita al final de la película, así también la esposa de Lázaro decide acabar con la pantalla de vida que tenía su esposo. La segunda lección radical es que en lo más real se esconde un simulacro, o un artificio. En la escena que representaría el estado máximo de violencia, la explosión de dinamita que derrumba la fachada de la casa, nadie muere ni resulta herido, sino que sólo la fachada de la casa de desmorona casi como escenografía de teatro. Al fondo del lote baldío donde estuviera el inquilinato se ve una casa pintada y en el centro del espacio arde la tramoya que transportara las cosas de los inquilinos. Como si el filme se suicidara, destruyendo el espacio más creativo de toda la película, se deja ver en las ruinas aquello que fascina al acaudalado dueño pero que no puede él mismo crear ni completamente poseer: un simulacro violento, un artificio agresivo, una imagen y su violenta emergencia en lo real. 

Notes on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at The New Frontier of Power (2019) Shoshana Zuboff (II)

The worst thing about Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at The New Frontier of Power (2019) is not its essentialism considering capitalism inherent relationship with democracy; neither its simplistic comparisons between the Caribbean dwellers that encountered the Spaniard adelantados (Zuboff’s word) in the XVI century; not even its repetitive prose. The worst is the concluding remarks. For more than 500 pages of repeating the same concerns about how surveillance capitalism dispossesses humanity from its most essential feature, its “will to will;” how companies like google transform our behaviour in data and then manipulate us; how day by day we are more controlled, living in a mix between Skiner’s Waldern and Orwell’s 1984, we arrive at the final remarks waiting for something that, of course, is not offered by the book. As mentioned in the previous post, the book is, at best, moved by a reactionary will to separate “good capitalism” (the one identified with General Motors, or Ford, or even the “Foundation” of America [according to Zuboff]) and a “bad capitalism,” the rogue capitalism exercised by companies like Facebook and Google (Zuboff’s favourite strawmen). Precisely this, is what makes the final remarks so dull. Zuboff forgets that the monster behind all this mess, is not the individual “genius” of Zuckerberg, but the disperse talent of the multitudes that day by day feed the machines. 

For Zuboff, libertarian values like freedom are at the chore of the debate of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Since today the aim of Google, let’s say, “is not to dominate nature but rather human nature” (515), freedom, as a vague signifier that separates nature and humanity, is the object in dispute. Without freedom, then, there is no democracy. Perhaps the book, in a way, secretly influenced the masses that assaulted the capitol early in 2021. The protesters, after all, were all demanding freedom. The “Fake News,” “bad online habits,” and its consequences, that aided these rioters, are poorly discussed in the book. For Zuboff what is at stake is how we are forced to give our behaviour as surplus and how that is transformed into a voluntary servitude. 

The biggest fear of The Age is that America becomes China. The Cold War tone this book carries are well justified for Zuboff. She argues, “the bare facts of surveillance capitalism necessarily arouse my indignation because they demean human dignity. The future of this narrative depends upon the indignant citizens” (522). Indignant citizens fighting for democracy, fighting for the American dream, marching for their freedom and liberty. In front of books like this, one wonders why read them. But also, one can but feel sad and sorry. If, once again, the elite of the North American University (Zuboff is Emerita professor at Harvard) is looking for the monster outside, we sadly should be reminded that monstrosity beats at the heart of America. 

Notes on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at The New Frontier of Power (2019) Shoshana Zuboff

(first 253 pages)

It would be hard to disagree with the diagnosis that Shoshana Zuboff does in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at The New Frontier of Power (2019) on the way the new technologies are extracting a “new surplus” from us. For Zuboff, what companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and to a larger extent, all companies who profit on the illegal use of data extracted without the consent of the users, are all part of what she calls “Surveillance Capitalism.” Early on in the book we are provided with a tentative definition for this “new” phenomenon. There are 8 entries in this definition. From being “a new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales” (v), or a “parasitic economic logic,” or even “A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty” (v), Surveillance Capitalism appears as the biggest threat to humanity. The book offers a history and analysis of this economic system. It also explains in detail how does most, if not all, of tech companies are currently making their profits.

The intentions of the book are, in a way, easy to understand. Something very odd is happening with the way we interact with our devices, and more importantly, something is happening to us as we are living in a fully integrated world to the “internet” (whatever vague idea one could have of this). Zuboff focuses on the way Surveillance Capitalism is extracting something from us, our experience, and then creating scenarios that manipulate us. It is that “search engines do not retain, but surveillance capitalism does” (15). These companies are using all that we feed them with. What happens then is that, since most of the things can be obtained remotely, online, Surveillance Capitalism is capturing “all aspects of human experience,” all online experiences “are claimed as raw-material supplies and targeted for rendering into behavioral data” (19). Eventually, this data is sold to third parties, and eventually this intervenes our experience, we are shaped based on what we have previously chosen or experienced, but this time Surveillance Capitalism has prefigured our choice. We are captured by their doing, as we think we are freeing ourselves by sailing in the web. 

With Surveillance Capitalism “Your body is reimagined as a behaving object to be tracked and calculated for indexing and search” (241). Truth, but also, why would this be so different from regular capitalism? In Zuboff’s account, what separates this “Third Modernity,” that of S.C, is that the second modernity, (Fordism and Postfordism), was good and bad, it created jobs and “progress,” whereas the Silicon Valley modernity is all wrong. From this perspective the whole argument of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism seems to be a reactionary take on the way the new bourgeoise is destroying what their predecessors “built.” What is concerning, then, is less the fact that we are being put into a voluntary servitude state, and more the fact that this state does not differentiate or discriminate: everyone is a voluntary serf these days. Zuboff’s argument, then, relies on the drama of being willing to suffer a pitiful existence, because Surveillance Capitalism controls “all our decisions.” As she puts it, in this parasitic capitalism companies the profit from our experience and data “they stress that customers can opt in to data sharing. On the other hand, customers who refuse to opt in face limited product functionality and data security. In these Requerimiento-style relationships, instead of the adelantados’ message, ‘Bend the knee or we destroy you,’ the message here is ‘Bend the knee or we degrade your purchase’” (235). Death is preferable, it seems, than a life where our purchases are degraded and yet we don’t choose death. 

Representation. A short comment on Multitude (2004), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Multitude. War and Democracy in The Age of Empire (2004) is the volume that follows Empire (2000). While the first volume offered a description of the reactive regime that followed the years after the end of the Cold War, that is, the formation of Empire, the second volume offers the project of the multitude, the active agent of change, that which precedes and presupposes Empire. If empire works by a flexible regime that expands like a network, but also that eludes easy clear-cut definitions, the multitude is the active collective subject that can dismantle Empire. The biggest challenge is, then, face “the global state of war” (xi) that beats at the heart of Empire. In a way, the book was thought to reflect on events that reply shook the world during the first years of the millennium. While, perhaps, somethings depicted by the book did not aged well —like the prediction that algorithm knowledge production would enable new forms of collective identities or freedoms— some of the main ideas of Multitude are still relevant and important. 

The book’s main project is to describe the “multitude.” This concept was, in a way described in the previous book. But what makes different Multitude from Empire is that the first will focus exclusively on the challenges that the concept of multitude faces today, from both right and left, from war and democracy. This collective subject, early in the book, is defined as an “open and expansive network in which all differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common” (xiv). What this concept offers, then, is openness and expansiveness as means to counter the closure and exclusion present in a world divided in an undividable war of all against all. That is, the multitude is the virtual promise for a world that is in stasis, in a civil war, in perpetual terror. It is not that difference is erased under the multitude, but what is at stake is the possibility of imagining a collectivity that does not serve identitarian means (like the political subject of the “people”) or like the unified collective subject of the “masses,” widely used and abused by work unions and so on. 

In a way, the book offers a radical way out from the politics of the twentieth century. The multitude truly is the way out of the politics of the party, of hegemony (even if the book does not mention this). But, at the same time the book does not go far enough. By focusing exclusively on democracy, as the only mean through which the multitude can expand its project, the book seems limit its own powerful concept. In fact, democracy is also tied to its own diseases, like representation. If as we are told, repeatedly, after the second half of the book, that representation is a mechanism that connects and separates (242-244), then, to what extent does the multitude needs representation? Or to put it differently, why does the politics of desire and positive affects of the multitude still needs a mechanism that, itself, is a trap? To a certain extent, this would imply that politics is unescapable from representation, but to another extent, the book could also suggest that the multitude errs. That is, since the multitude is “a diffuse set of singularities that produce a common life; it is a kind of social flesh that organizes itself into a new social body” (349), and consequently, representation is just one of the toys of the playful and creative forms of politics that the multitude is capable of creating. Then, as any other toy, representation will be no longer fun, but only time and the multitude would tell. 

Notes on Bullshit Jobs. A Theory (2018), David Graeber

When reading Bullshit Jobs. A Theory (2018), by David Graeber, one can but wonder if one has a bullshit job. One is constantly invited to question if our daily routine does not circle around a work whose main purpose is to demoralize us by imposing us endless tasks with unreasonable purposes. In fact, at least in my case, as I’m getting closer to finish a PhD program in Canada, the threat that my best, and more foreseeable, career choice will be to apply for a job that mixes managerialism and education is demoralizing. I hate managering, I love teaching. With this counter-position between love and hate one can understand what bullshit jobs are not. That is, a bullshit job is not a job you do even if you hate some parts of it because the main feature of the job you do actually like. A bullshit job is “one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince himself there’s a good reason for him to be doing it” (2-3). These are tasks that require us to secretly be aware that the task we are performing is “simply a waste of time or resources or that even made the world worse” (xv). Jobs in academia, to conclude with my example, are not bullshit jobs, but they are, as Greaber argues, being bullshitized. 

The phenomenon of bullshit jobs is related to the way we are facing a radical change in economics and politics. The recognizable image we once had of capitalism is slowly fading away. Since a bullshit job is a complete waste of time, money, resources, and all labor (all of the precious things that capitalism highly values), then, the spread of bullshit jobs goes completely against the logic of capitalism. With several testimonies, statistics, historical analysis, and discussion of labor theory, Bullshit jobs, explains what the consequences of these jobs are, why these jobs are spreading so fast, and, in a more reserved, but realistic way, proposes solutions to tame this problem. 

Work is the master word of our times. With fair reason, worker movements pushed in the past reforms and approaches to understand it. However, as Graeber argues, what was never fully tackled is if all work was really necessary. That is, work came to be, at least for today’s dominant understanding, a useful activity, when “saying that something is ‘useful’ is just saying it’s effective as a way of getting something else” (197). Work, or labor, both are categories normally only understood as means of achieving something out of them. We suffer with work, from a Christian perspective, because we were expelled from Eden. Work is the punishment, but also the medicine to aid or malaise, after hard work we will achieve a reward. Graeber argues that work is not presupposed by this wrenching duality between punishment and medicine, but that actually work is presupposed by play, and other forms of action. From this perspective doing things for the sake of doing them, for the sake of seeing how they are affected by us is a happiness closer to play than to work. Bullshit jobs, then, deprive us from the pleasure of seeing our actions affecting the world. We cannot enjoy what we do because we do not see where the affect transferred to the work we put on doing things go. True, some jobs, as my example with academia, have some bullshit aspects, but in most of these jobs everyone can create some sort of fiction to comfort the hours of disappear, or to convince themselves that what they do has some “utility” or purpose. What is so wrong about bullshit jobs is that “you’re not even living your own lie” (74). While in academia, or in other fields, we create our own make-believes that supplement our oppression, in a bullshit job situation we would not be able to create our own lie, we would be living completely on the lie and fantasy of someone else’s. 

There are many types of bullshit jobs, perhaps some escape the typology that Graeber crafts. Nonetheless the typology is important. From the “flunkies,” whose jobs consists of “to make someone else look or feel important” (28); the “goons,” that help increasing the putative domination that the employer portrays towards the world and its subordinates, via threats or violence of all kind (36); the “duck-tapers” that tirelessly solve problems that to begin with should not be problems and duck-tape everything as a palliative solution; the “boxticketers,” jobs “that allow an organization to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing” (45)”; and to the taskmasters, that could be either unnecessary superiors or superiors who do harm by creating “entirely new bullshit jobs” (51), a bullshit job is there to satisfy the need of a company to increase a form of putative “values.” That is, today’s current mode of exploitation and domination mixes archaic ways of configuring power with traditional capitalist means of domination. Today’s mode of domination “in many ways, it resembles classic medieval feudalism, displaying the same tendency to create endless hierarchies of lords, vassals, and retainers. In other ways—notably in its managerialist ethos—it is profoundly different” (191). We are in a managerial-capitalist mode of domination, and bullshit jobs are here to remind us that “values,” what presupposes any form of “value,” cannot be measured, nor produced, but only reproduced. The spread of bullshit jobs is the territorialization of reproductive and care labor. 

What a bullshit job does is decrease the connection between the way we do things for the sake of doing them, but also this type of jobs guarantees the reproduction of putative “values” for the employers. Being a “goon” is not only a job that forces the employee to become “the bad guy,” it is also a job that transform the image of the employer. From a boss it turns to a “feudal lord,” an authority difficult to reach, close to the almighty. By the fact that today’s world is full of reminiscences to the Middle Ages, or its shift towards modernity (there are “narco-lords,” “gated communities” like feuds; social media as a theatre of cruelty; and jobs that create endless bureaucracies, and so on and so forth) it becomes clearer that the way we have understood work, from its transition of serfhood and slavery, have been all wrong. What we got all wrong is the fact that work is considered to be only a way of production, when in fact it is primarily a way of reproduction. That is, that reproduction presupposes production. In fact, “most working-class labor, whether carried out by men or women, actually more resembles what we are archetypically think of as women’s work, looking after people, seeing to their wants and needs” (235). Production, then, is a patriarchal and misogynist way of understanding the “result” of work because, at least for some, it reminds of the Christian god creating the world as he pronounced the right words. He created the world, and then rested, he went away: as a “macho” would do.  Work is actually related to “other people, and it always involves a certain labor of interpretation, empathy, and understanding” (236). Work is caring. Or better, a work that can guarantee no spiritual violence, no dispossession of the way we affect the world, and actual “impact” for us and the rest, is a work that cares. To care is to realize that things require “long term” projections (239), means of preserving them, and that they cannot be based on the instant, and yet care is a work of successive instants. What makes care possible is its forgetfulness about the future in the present while making the future present in every action. Precisely, having a bullshit job is the cancellation of care, we no longer forget about the future in the present, because we make someone else’s fantasy (not even their future) in our own present. 

While the landscape portrayed by Graeber is worrying, there is no pessimism in Bullshit jobs. In fact, if things have arrived to be the way they are now, there is a chance they can be otherwise. This is too what a traditional labor theory would say about work (238). Our challenge is that “we have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—“a life,” and that, in turn, means that furtive consumer pleasures are the only ones we have time to afford” (246). We not only have bullshit jobs, but we have furtive consumer pleasures, almost bullshit pleasures (if that could be possible), since we enjoy so that we can suffer more. A way out of this, Graeber points out, lies in the possibility of establishing basic income and a “safe word” to stop our sadomasochistic relationship with work, as in real sadomasochistic relationships happens. These solutions are realistic, but perhaps, as Bullshit Jobs itself suggests when discussing science fiction and the failure of traditional labor theory, one needs more imagination. This is the open invitation of Bullshit Jobs. A Theory, an offering to rethink redo work. 

Notas sobre Capitalismo gore (2010) de Sayak Valencia

Capitalismo gore (2010) de Sayak Valencia presenta, quizá, una de las versiones más llamativas para leer el capitalismo contemporáneo. Recuperando una vasta serie de conceptos y propuestas teóricas de América Latina y otras latitudes, el libro propone “el término capitalismo gore, para hacer referencia a la reinterpretación dada a la economía hegemónica y global en los espacios (geográficamente fronterizos)” (15). Esto quiere decir, que las propuestas teóricas del “capitalismo gore” surgen a partir de un conocimiento situacional, pero no excluyente: las consecuencias y argumentos se piensan desde Tijuana, México, pero esto no quita que se puedan tender puentes con otras situaciones o lugares. Sujeto endriago, necroempoderamiento, capitalismo snuff, subjetividades queer, necromercado y varios conceptos más son presentados en el libro como herramientas para entender eso que Valencia llama capitalismo gore. 

Este concepto propone, entonces, leer el capitalismo como una serie de procesos con mutaciones. Por ejemplo, decir que conforme pasa el tiempo el capitalismo cambia y requiere ser reinterpretado y entendido para comprender precisamente los mecanismos de dominación y explotación mediante los cuales somete a las diferentes multitudes que fluyen en la historia. Si bien, salvo en notas al pie y unas secciones del libro, no se enfatiza en qué medida los grandes cambios de finales de siglo XX e inicios del XXI son también una regresión a las peores y más cruentas formas de acumulación capitalista tal como sucedió en los años del inicio de la modernidad (finales del siglo XIV). Es decir, Valencia, parece, propone que el capitalismo gore es una categoría novísima, nunca vista. El término se define como una exageración, por éste se entiende el “derramamiento de sangre explícito e injustificado (como precio a pagar por el tercer mundo que se aferra a seguir las lógicas del capitalismo cada vez más exigentes) … todo como herramienta de necroempoderamiento” (15). Capitalismo gore, entonces, es una suerte de alargada teoría de la dependencia. En otras palabras, si hay “un precio” que los países tercermundistas se aferran en pagar, entonces, hay una dependencia tal cual esto se entendía en los setenta y ochenta en Latinoamérica, así como en otras partes. El libro, igualmente, toca tangencialmente las razones por las cuales los países tercermundistas se aferran a ese excesivo pago. Sin embargo, nunca se formula el problema preciso que pudiera articular esa necesidad de aferrarse al pago capitalista. 

El binomio entre regresión y novedad, que se ilustran de forma muy adecuada entre el término que motiva el libro, capitalismo gore, y el de uno de los principales conceptos propuestos, sujeto endriago, proponen una manera interesante de leer el desastre causado por el narcotráfico, la violencia extrema y los malos gobiernos en México. Así, entre lo gore, (un término tomado del cine que designa un género en el que la violencia es regocijante y, sobre todo, se explicita excesivamente el derramamiento de sangre), y lo endriago (un monstruo, según la obra, original del Amadís de Gaula, en el que se mezcla la forma humana con la de diversas fieras) se describe un capitalismo hiperviolento, exagerado, arcaico y a la vez novedoso. El asunto es que esta forma de describir el capitalismo no es, en cierta medida, novedosa. Ya sea porque el modo de producción y acumulación capitalista siempre evoca previos modos de dominación y explotación a la vez ofrece nuevos, Capitalismo gore sugeriría que la fase más reciente del capitalismo no es sino un retruécano de sí mismo, “otra vez vivimos en un mundo de bandidos y piratas” (20), menciona el libro. Por otra parte, es bastante sugerente el uso que la palabra “gore” y “endriago” juegan en el libro. Si bien, estos dos sintagmas evocan el inacabable retruécano del capitalismo, también, como advierte Valencia, lo gore vuelve comodificable y espectacular la forma de acumulación y producción capitalista (16). Lo endriago, por su parte, conforma una subjetividad que “sigue a pie de juntillas los dictados más radicales del mercado” (80). Entre un espectáculo de afectos ambivalentes (gore), que, como en el cine está hecho para ser un mero entretenimiento que va de la repulsión a la risa (muchas películas del género gore son también consideradas parodias), y lo endriago, una monstruo cuya única función radica en probar la valía de un “héroe” (el estado), la forma de dominación capitalista que Valencia sugiere busca la anestesia al mismo tiempo que la reactivación explosiva de la violencia. Es decir, capitalismo gore sería una forma de producción que extrae valor y domina a partir de la rápida transformación de lo anestesiado (gore) en violentamente activo (endriago).

Para dejar atrás esto, Valencia propone una solución. Casi reelaborando la disputa entre multitud e imperio, elaborada por Michael Hardt y Toni Negri en Imperio, Valencia propone que para pensar algo que contrarreste lo gore y a los sujetos endriagos se debe pensar “una disidencia efectiva y no distópica y ésta debe estar emparentada con las cuestiones de desobediencias de género y con el transfeminismo; debe crear también alternativas comunes en las cuales pueda participar activamente la sociedad civil” (193). Esta solución es un “plano orientativo” (1994), que no busca ser prescriptivo, sino abierto. Si bien, no se explica a detalle cómo este remedio para contrarrestar los males del capitalismo gore deja de ser parte de las mismas opciones que el sistema da, es decir, que la diferencia entre endriago (como quimera) e identidades desobedientes emparentadas al transfeminismo no es clara. Más aún, si el capitalismo gore tiene un precio que se debe pagar para poder formar parte del modo de producción, ¿qué precio se deberá pagar para pensar esas disidencias que se sugieren al final de Capitalismo gore? ¿No será que se debería de pensar a contrapelo de una de las conclusiones y provocaciones más sugerentes del libro? Al finalizar el texto, a manera de testimonio y reflexión teórica, Valencia describe el momento en que un cadáver cayó frente a sus ojos mientras conducía por Tijuana. La terrible impresión se anuncia como lo peor del capitalismo gore, pues ésta no conmueve la sensibilidad de nadie, salvo la de la narradora. Hay que hacer algo al respecto de ese cadáver, dice Valencia. Y no es para menos, la desempeorada y anestesiada reacción de su acompañante es triste, grave y común. Todos nos hemos acostumbrado al espectáculo gore, descrito por Valencia. Sin embargo, mientras Capitalismo gore concluye que hay que hacer algo con esos muertos “porque si no eso hará algo [contigo]” (203), como si el cadáver se cobrara una revancha con los vivos, quizá habría que dejar hacer al cadáver y completamente dejarle que nos intervenga, que de nuevo nos afecte por sí, pues el cadáver no deja de ser cuerpo. 

Exceso. Notas sobre Balas de plata (2008) Elmer Mendoza

Entre el melodrama y la novela policial, Balas de plata (2008) de Elmer Mendoza cuenta la historia de unos “particulares” crímenes investigados por Edgar, el Zurdo, Mendieta en Culiacán, Sinaloa. El caso investigado por el Zurdo Mendieta es la muerte del hijo de un político con serias aspiraciones a la presidencia de la república. Bruno Cañizales, el hijo del político presidenciable, un joven miembro de diversos grupos de la sociedad civil, amante intenso, hombre de pasiones, bisexual, y además detestado por su padre, fue encontrado muerto por una de sus amantes, Paola Rodríguez, que se suicidó horas después del suceso. Si bien en Cañizales se acumulan y enredan una cantidad de sospechosos, tramas alternas, afectados y enigmas, lo más particular del asesinato, según las pesquisas de Mendieta, es la bala de plata que perforara sus sienes y el aroma penetrante en la habitación del muerto, un perfume afrodisiaco. 

“¿Quién puede matar a alguien que todos quieren?” (154), se pregunta Mendieta sobre la muerte de Cañizales. Bruno vivía en el paroxismo, “detestaba la vida ecuánime y prefería las emociones fuertes” (20). Como un junior, Bruno vivía en los excesos decadentes y lúcidos de las clases pudientes. De día era uno y de noche otro. Casi como un vampiro, Bruno por las noches se rodeaba de artistas y narcos, se encontraba con sus amantes y se vestía de mujer. “¿Qué estupidez es ésa de balas de plata? El muchacho era vampiro o qué” (33). Desde que Mendieta señala su extrañeza ante las exóticas balas, las interpretaciones no dejan de surgir al respecto de estos objetos. Ya sea que las balas podrían “ser un indicador del nivel social del asesino” (36), o podrían ser el objeto que permita achacar el crimen a los narcos asentados en Culiacán, y dominadores de todo el país, pues ellos “se ponen dientes de diamante y lucen esas joyas tan estrambóticas, ¿por qué no usarían balas de plata?” (44), las balas de plata van cargadas siempre de un exceso. 

Una de las maneras en que Karl Marx definió al capital, trabajo muerto, es como un vampiro que vive sólo de chupar trabajo vivo. Desde esta perspectiva, las clases acomodadas, la burguesía, son vampiros que succionan el trabajo vivo de quienes viven condenados a entregarles libremente sus horas y días. Bruno Cañizales sería, así, un vampiro que recibió su merecido. No obstante, Cañizales no es el único que muere por balas de plata. Desde un perro, hasta un chico de una bicicleta, las balas de plata y su lujosa y macabra muerte se distribuyen por toda la novela. Al final de la historia, cuando el asesinato de Cañizales se descubre como la perversión de un director de cine y su esposa, Goga Fox, también amante de Mendieta, las balas de plata carecen ya de su lujo.

El exceso y el lujo van de la mano en Balas de plata. De hecho, los tantos encobijados que aparecen a lo largo del relato son prueba, no de una manera lujosa de matar, pero sí de un exceso de muerte. Si las balas de plata sirven, en las historias de vampiros, para saber qué es aquello que se mata, la forma en que el narco produce muerte no tienen semiótica, no se puede reconstruir su significado. Sobre el primer muerto que encuentra Mendieta, antes de ser comisionado al caso de Cañizales, se dice que “No necesitamos su nombre para saber a qué se dedicaba. No sólo lo han castrado, también le cortaron la lengua, aclaró Gris, no hemos localizado casquillos. Es igual, cualquier asunto con narcos de por medio ya ha sido resuelto” (13). El narco es una hermenéutica absoluta, y como se ve al final de la novela, horizonte final de venganza. Cualquiera puede ser asesinado con balas de plata, de la misma manera que a cualquiera pueden tocarle los estragos del narco.  

Males que duran mil años: determinismo y acumulación originaria. Notas sobre Juan Justino Judicial (1996) de Gerardo Cornejo M

Como anuncia la portada y contraportada de Juan Justino Judicial (1996) el texto está escrito a manera de corrido y novela. A esto se suma, según dice la contraportada, que la historia de Juan Justino Altata Sagrario “está narrada por tres voces imbricadas que se alternan y complementan” (s/p). De ahí, pues, que la mayoría de los capítulos impares estén narrados en un tono “impersonal,” que la contraportada identifica como la voz colectiva, la voz del corrido; los capítulos pares sean, en su mayoría, narrados por Juan Justino; y una voz narrativa, a manera de un narrador en segunda persona, intervenga en varios capítulos del texto, como si esta voz fuera, según la contraportada, el primer muerto de Justino Altata, su conciencia. Juan Justino Judicial es una obra donde diversas voces confluyen, sin embargo esa confluencia no cambia el monótono determinismo del relato. En otras palabras, este es un texto en el que muchas voces narrativas convergen, pero los cambios radicales dentro del mismo relato son mínimos. Se cuenta de muchas formas un determinismo melodramático ya sabido de antemano. 

Juan Justino Altata fracasa en componer su vida, como también fracasa en recomponer su corrido. El relato, contado a manera de novela picaresca, narra la vida de Juan Justino Altata, un campesino de la sierra del noroeste de México. La vida de Altata está sujeta a una doble marginalidad, pues, además de pobre, todo el mundo, en especial otros hombres, se burla de él, ya que “le falta la mitad de la varonía” (8). Expuesto, pues, al acoso y a la miseria, Justino va guardando odio y rencor contra sus semejantes. Años después, luego de probar suerte por toda la costa del Pacífico norte en México y de intentar cruzar al otro lado, Justino y otros peones roban al ingeniero de la plantación donde trabajan, pues el robo era “su oportunidad para salir de una vida que él no había escogido” (76). El problema es que luego del efervescente éxito, Justino es capturado por la policía judicial y luego convertido en miembro de la “corpo,” como él mismo llama al grupo policial. De ahí, Justino Altata deja de ser quien era y se convierte en el teniente Rodrigo Rodarte. Si el robo al ingeniero se le presentó a Justino como la posibilidad de mejorar su vida, pero cayó preso, ahora su incorporación a las fuerzas policiales parece abrir la posibilidad de finalmente mejorar. El problema es que no lo logra. 

Ya sea que se le conozca por su nombre de pila, Justino, por su nombre de judicial, o por su apodo, teniente Castro, debido a un cruel método de tortura que practica a sus detenidos (castrar y colgar de los genitales a sus víctimas), Justino Altata se hace de renombre y fama. Esa urgencia que tenía de “ser alguien” (63), se trastorna cuando Justino se da cuenta de que su fama se la debe a un corrido y este va contando eventos que él quisiera cambiar. “Así lo que yo cuento, uste recompone, porque quiero que vaya poco a poco poniendo de moda el nuevo corrido hasta que borre de la memoria de toda esa zarandaja que se anda contando por ái” (23). Como cada cambio que Justino da para mejorar su vida, la corrección del corrido, que es también la narración del texto, pareciera ser la última capa de cambio, el punto de cúspide que pudiera asegurar un cambio radical en la vida de Justino Altata. Sin embargo, recomponer un corrido es como recomponer una vida, un acto casi imposible. Mientras que la autoría del corrido subyace en una masa que no necesariamente busca la cristalización de una sola versión de la canción, una vida no subyace en las condiciones que le son propias: la vida del individuo descansa en las condiciones que lo presuponen y también en la manera habitual en que reacciona ante las cosas. Como Justino no mejora su vida, tampoco el corrido recompuesto le hace justicia, antes bien, esta nueva canción reprende las decisiones de Altata: “si uno nace incompleto/ hay que darse por sevido” (150). 

El origen de la familia de Justino no aparece sino hasta muy tarde en el relato. Sólo entonces se descubre que su estirpe es la de los últimos “Altata de los alzados” (133), de los últimos grupos indígenas que se alzaron en tiempos coloniales en la región norte del país. Este grupo, que resistió hasta el final, fue maldecido por un sacerdote español, y así, por cinco generaciones los descendientes de los Altatas procrearían varones como Justino, incompletos de su varonía, pero también, tal vez, condenados a repetir un proceso de acumulación originaria, a vivir “con la pura mitad de las potencias” (9), como diría el padre de Justino. La acumulación originaria es el proceso descrito por Karl Marx como presuposición general a la acumulación capitalista. Los orígenes del capitalismo, Marx afirma, son todo menos idílicos, son momentos como los que vive la familia de Marcial Campero (41), el amigo jornalero de Justino, tiempos en que a base de desposesiones de tierra, asesinatos, robo y legislaciones sanguinarias, la burguesía nace y el estado refuerza su condición de “dominador,” tiempos en que “multitudes son de repente y a la fuerza separadas de sus medios de subsistencia, luego son forzadas a formar parte del mercado laboral como aves sin nido [vogelfrei en el original]” (Capital Vol I. 876). Con esto, Juan Justino Judicial sugeriría que la larga maldición que el proceso de acumulación originaria trajo a los Altata llegaría a su fin con Justino. Aquejado por un cáncer y de regreso a su pueblo natal, Justino muere en un delirio permanente, “sus arranques de palabras entrecortadas parecían confundirse ya con las otras que le venían de otra parte” (148). La voz narrativa enunciada en segunda persona se reúne por fin con Justino y le recuerda lo vano de su empresa, “tratando de componer un pasado que no podía modificarse un pasado que era tu vida misma porque desde entonces estabas condenado por tu primera muerte” (149). El problema es que esa primera muerte no era sólo de Justino, sino también la de todos sus antepasados. Para cuando Justino termina la maldición colonial, al ser parte de la quinta generación de Altatas, otra maldición comienza. Si a Justino Altata, como castigo, “Dios lo volvió judicial” (150), el nuevo castigo divino, como el que sufre Marcial Campero, parece una maldición inacabable, pues una vez vuelto narco ni él ni su familia se salvan. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (7)

Notebook 7 and endnotes

“Capital absorbs labour into itself as though its body were by love possessed” (704). So says Karl Marx as he continues his reflections on the way capitalism runs. The original phrase in German says that capitalism absorbs labour “als hätte es Lieb im Leibe,” which is a quotation from Goethe’s Faust. The translation modifies some nuances of the original. That is, als hätte es Lieb im Leibe suggests that capital has a body, or it behaves as a body. While the nuance between original and translation certainly deserves a closer look, both fragments stress the fact that something that both exceeds and presupposes capitalism is moving it. To explain this something that is always escaping, this scurrilous thing, Marx relies on the figure of contradiction. For him capitalism, and society, can only be explained by contradictions. The mechanism of this contradiction in capitalism consists on pressing “to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, and the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth” (706). That means that something rather unknown happens in the process of extracting wealth out of the exploitation and domination of workers.

Throughout the Grundrisse Marx works on different ways to explain how production becomes reproduction as, perhaps, one of the main mechanisms that capitalism has at its sway. The relationship between production and reproduction consists in presupposing that capitalism must always circle and repeat its processes. No wonder why most of the examples used by Marx are those of the agricultural industry. If a harvest can be manipulated and controlled via the domination of workers by forcing them to sell their labour force, then, agriculture shows itself to be the industry par excellence of capitalism. In contrast to agriculture, mining is conceived by Marx as an industry that lacks the possibility to be understood via the idea of reproduction. “Extractive industry (mining the most important) is likewise and industry sui generis, because no reproduction process whatever takes place in it, at least not one under our control or known to us” (726). Extraction is, then, a mechanism that is always precapitalist but also integral to it because it means of creating wealth do not lie on reproduction’s realm. The fact that we cannot fully known what happens with a mine, that the earth and its minerals cannot be fully controlled, resonates with the way capitalism absorbs labour, “as though its body were by love possessed” (704), as if an unknown force were igniting production. 

It seems, at least from the last Notebook and the end notes (“On Value” and “Bastiat and Carey”) that there is not really a true certainty on how capitalism works, or what really moves it. At best, as perhaps in other works of Marx, we can see the effects of capitalism, but never it “truly” origin, or motivation. Notebook 7 offers a particular image of capital, as a circle and “by describing its circle it expands itself as the subject of the circle and thus describes a self-expanding circle, a spiral” (746). This image carries a certain degree of determinism and also ties life to capital. If capitalism is directly tied to grow, or life, then, there is something faustic, (as the quote mentioned above from Goethe suggests), about this mode of production, since everything in life is but a process of grow and eventual vanishment, of crack-up. Capital promises a never-ending grow. The problem is that this promise is but a fiction. But why would we chose to believe it?