In the Introduction to Thresholds of Illiteracy Bram Acosta sets his own book against the two books published in 2010, John Beverley’s Latinamericanism After 9/11, and Jon Beasley-Murray’s Posthegemony, that, he affirms, will “establish the terms and grounds of cultural debate in Latin America for the next several years.” I have already written on Beverley’s book, and in favor of the notion of posthegemony, albeit not in a sense that fully endorses Beasley-Murray’s theoretical positions, so I won’t repeat myself. What I find interesting and useful in Bram’s view is that he reminds us that both master concepts advanced by those two books, namely, posthegemony and postsubalternism, have two apparent intellectual enemies, namely, deconstruction and subalternism, or perhaps it is just really one enemy, deconstructive subalternism or subalternist deconstruction. Or perhaps the latter is not really the enemy, only the specter they must fight in order to establish their own legitimacy. “Both Beverley and Beasley-Murray explicitly name deconstruction and subaltern studies as modes of analysis that are no longer adequate for contemporary reflection and from which one must now move away. While both name deconstruction as the larger underlying problem for political reflection today, neither, it could safely be said, offers any serious critical engagement with it at all; in each case, they appear as offhand, casual dismissals” (Thresholds 21). Beasley-Murray would say that deconstruction is too negative, and Beverley would say that deconstruction yields “diminishing and politically ambiguous results.”
It occurs to me that it is this couple of unwarranted attacks on deconstruction that has actually fueled our project through some mediations that it would be easy to reconstruct. So they need to be welcomed. And we need to reflect a bit on their substance: merely negative? politically ambiguous results? What is being demanded, or rather, offered, as a result of the combined critiques (but Acosta makes it very clear those critiques are dramatically at odds with each other as well) is therefore some positive presentation of the state of affairs through politically unambiguous and suitably powerful means.
Beasley-Murray and Beverley of course play to a choir of bedmates, if I may mix metaphors for a moment, that they may actually not want in their beds, but so is life, and they will have to keep them at arm’s length themselves. Yes, there is little short of a universal uproar about the pathetically negative ambiguity of deconstruction from people who apparently enjoy calling a spade a spade and seeing a spade as a spade. But the uproar is misguided and it originates in a misdiagnosis–it ain’t deconstruction that is ambiguous, but the political process, and it ain’t deconstruction that is negative, rather the way it irrupts into hostile consciousness.
In any case, I think we should make it clear that whatever infrapolitical deconstruction means, it does not mean at all to establish the terms and grounds for cultural debate in Latin America or anywhere else. I think it has already abandoned any intentions, or pretensions, to speak in Latinamericanist terms about Latin American culture. So they can have that ground to themselves, and go on calling a spade a spade in fully positive terms, don’t you think? We need to make exodus from a field of engagement whose presuppositions are vaguely lethal for us, just about at every level.
That, regardless of the fact that we may very well want to endorse posthegemony, and manifest our political sympathies on the general side of the Latin Americanist left. And also regardless of the fact that people change their positions, and Beasley-Murray and Beverley may not be now quite where they were a few years ago. As to the bedmates, well, that is a different issue!
11 thoughts on “A Note on Bram Acosta’s take on posthegemony/postsubalternism. By Alberto Moreiras.”
Thank you, Alberto, for taking up this moment in the book. Indeed, my discussion of Latinamericanism After 9/11 and Posthegemony was sparked by what I saw to be two widely divergent critical projects (if not mutually exclusive) which were at the same time ultimately relying on identical theoretical premises (rejection of deconstruction and subalternity). That moment in the book attempts to draw attention to what I think is a particularly remarkable instance of two concurrently published books that are diametrically oppositional in so many ways that it actually generates a seemingly foundational congruence between the two. These texts couldn’t have been more divergent from each other, and yet, they each name the same theoretical model as that against which their studies are defined. I chose “primary antagonism,” Alberto uses “specter” as the name for that relation. Alberto’s choice of term is, I think, ultimately more appropriate and productive because even as I argue, “deconstruction does not inhabit any discursive sphere of its own; it refers to a condition (and process) of meaning always already at work within discursivity itself, one that makes visible the contradictions of signification and referentiality inscribed at the core of any pronouncement of knowledge or authority. Which is why, therefore, one cannot avoid the pitfalls of logocentrism when attempting to position oneself against deconstruction, because, and despite one’s dissatisfaction with the latter’s results, the source of antagonism is never with deconstruction as such but with discourse itself” (please forgive the dickish self-citation but it’s a delicate point not to have to rephrase). In either case, I would argue that the truly critical stakes of this predicament over deconstruction could only have emerged through a simultaneous, juxtapositioned reading of these two texts.
Alberto suggests that both Beasley-Murray and Beverley “play to a choir of bedmates,” that is, both must negotiate some kind of relationship with these bedmates, welcome or not. Some of the bedmates, Alberto goes on to argue, should be kept at arms length. The question I was most interesting in pursuing, however, torques this discussion inward. That is, what if by virtue of this congruency between these two texts (“misguided uproar” for Alberto), Beverley and Beasley-Murray each obtain unwittingly as the other’s bedmate? In other words, how might we critically reevaluate the contemporary trajectory and horizon of thought in Latin American studies if, if, posthegemony and postsubalternity were instead deeply and inextricably aligned? Is it possible that in the next few years posthegemony and postsubalternity obtain as the new master dichotomy with which the field must then engage (which is what I mean by “terms and grounds of cultural debate in Latin America”)? And if so, does that then mean that the critique of logocentrism no longer has a place in it?
While I admit that I am not immersed in the deep grammar of the infrapolitical as it is conceived in CyT and the blog, I must admit I am wary of statements that indicate semiological containment of an idea, such as Alberto’s when he says, “In any case, I think we should make it clear that whatever infrapolitical deconstruction means…it has already abandoned any intentions, or pretensions, to speak in Latinamericanist terms about Latin American culture.” While it is one thing to hope that one’s idea sticks to the script, it is quite another to expect or assume it. That too is logocentric thinking. I don’t think Beasley-Murray or Beverley ever saw each other coming, nor do I think they expected to have their work inextricably linked and redefined by each other in this way. I imagine the same vulnerability applies to all of our ideas, doesn’t it?
Lastly, I’d like to throw out one more appeal to Jon’s book, which I think is revealing itself more and more over time. If, that is if Jon’s turn away from deconstruction is accounted for in his turn toward affect, we may still have much more to talk about. That is, if deconstruction, even the way I talked about it––“a condition (and process) of meaning always already at work within discursivity itself”––is limited precisely to the discursive, to signification, to knowledge, etc, consideration of affect accounts for none of these. To my knowledge, attention to affect relates to questions that theorize spheres of interaction that exists outside conventional understandings of discourse and ideology; not necessarily before it, nor necessarily of it. Seen in this way, I would agree with Jon that an emphasis on affect thus necessarily de-emphasizes something like deconstruction. The question left to be taken up is if indeed affect and deconstruction constitute mutually exclusive theoretical propositions. This discussion promises to be something really really productive.
I´ll get things going by suggesting that there is no particular logocentrism in my claim that infrapolitical deconstruction, whatever it may mean to do, does not mean to establish any grounds in Latinamericanist terms on Latin American culture. My claim is at the level of intentions or pretensions, and of course it does not refer to whatever may happen to discourse out there, in the hands of others. Let´s say, Bram, that I am claiming a certain new-found illiteracy on the Latinamericanist cultural terrain. I have not finished your book yet, although I will within this week, but I would not be surprised if my use of your term ends up being consistent with some of your claims on it, perhaps even against your intentions, which is what I’d like to discuss. I think your book may be more radical than you yourself meant it to be. I am not sure yet, which is the reason why I want to discuss it with you as I read you! A privilege.
So, not wanting to risk statements about your entire book yet, although I will, as you know, but rather remaining for the moment within the parameters of the above discussion, what if we were to say that yes, perhaps a certain deconstructionism in the field of Latin American Studies is in fact sick, if not dead, failing, a bit obsolete? Of course not as much as they claim, particularly not compared to other things. But a bit. Say, Beverley and Beasley-Murray could be a bit right, after all, even if for the wrong reasons. You refer to the “deep grammar” of the infrapolitical, not to the “deep grammar” of deconstruction. Of course I would claim that infrapolitics is the deep grammar of deconstruction and deconstruction the deep grammar of infrapolitics. This chiasmus is not a facile joke: it is precisely the point that enables this project, in my opinion, speaking for myself, to think of itself, from the beginning, as impregnable to accusations of negativity or political non-effectivity. In other words, it claims a rather different register, because it doesn´t move in the register of the positive or lack thereof (it ain’t optimist or pessimist), and it doesn’t seek the fatuous position of the political hero. In fact, it abhors political heroism. Look where that leads, in every case, at any rate.
But the question I would like to open up is what if we were to say that the problem with the previous Latinamericanist deconstructionism had been its naive engagement with cultural politics? Or even more, if we were to say that all theoretical engagement with cultural politics is necessarily naive? Or perhaps naive is not the right word. Aporetic? Catastrophic? Not contingently so, but necessarily so. Perhaps that is the origin of the “dissatisfaction” you mention in your quote from your book above. One can do cultural politics, in the political terrain. One can be a culture-worker, as they say. But I am not sure theorizing culture is still gainful employment. You defend postcolonial studies, for good reasons, and also deconstruction. And your horizon is very much the horizon circumscribed by the cultural archive of modernity. But at times your arguments seem to me to move in that radical direction I am only intuiting here, without myself daring to push it too far, but in your case clearly towards establishing the aporetics of cultural studies, their impossibility, their impasse. But then perhaps you hold back, you recoil, naturally enough, as the horizon of your work is still cultural, in the sense of cultural studies. Intentionally so, right? It is a political choice. In any case, that, for discussion.
I am just not sure that whatever goes under the name of infrapolitical deconstruction has a cultural horizon of any kind, certainly not a cultural studies horizon. But let’s say: not a cultural horizon. Is that such a blasphemy? Is it unsayable, because, as they claim, everybody has a culture, and so forth? I may be going out on a limb, and it will be good to have your reactions and those of others. This is just an intuition that would have to be developed, I know, to stand a chance of being persuasive. And, again, I am speaking in my own name, not in the name of any group or collective.
Thanks to Bram and Alberto for opening up this discussion. Suitably interpellated, I’ve responded here: http://posthegemony.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/posthegemony-deconstruction-infrapolitics/.
We need to develop what follows. I am putting it here as a place-marker: (from Facebook) “Gerardo Munoz Infrapolitics as a possible transversal: “Presumably infrapolitics is not solely the domain of deconstruction (or at least non-rogue deconstruction, if there is such a thing). What arrangement of beds or bedmates, choirs or singers, does infrapolitics then suggest or allow?”
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Alberto Moreiras Well, as far as the “presumably” goes, it depends. I once made a distinction between factical transculturation, and transculturation theory, transculturation ideology, transculturation as state discourse. A similar distinction could be made here. If so, then in the first case, as thrown into facticity, infrapolitics is the domain of deconstruction and deconstruction is the domain of infrapolitics. At the other level, of course not.”
Thank you Alberto for your generous (if preliminary) take on the book. In the words of Nick Cage, “That’s high praise!!” I am however nervous that any supplementary comments I offer may disappoint or frustrate what would have otherwise been a very productive reading of my book. Sometimes you simply don’t want to ask the author or the film director a question, they’ll ruin it. Look at George Lucas!! And this is the point I was trying to make regarding any appeals which attempt to preemptively stave off (mis)readings that may unexpectedly go against the grain of the project. I am not insisting on the point. But I am merely pointing out that this unpredictability is fully inscribed and already at work in each of the very notions we are talking about here: infrapolitics, posthegemony, and/or illiteracy. One simply cannot guard against (mis)readings; I’ll be the first to admit that my work may generate readings I may or may not endorse, and it is unproductive to insist against semiological excess. So in whatever way Alberto wishes to take the up the notion of illiteracy, I’m game to persuade.
I am more than pleased to hear Alberto suggest “I think your book may be more radical than you yourself meant it to be.” That’s the highest praise. A little later in the comment, however, Alberto indicates that I “hold back, recoil” from making that next logical leap, and that I do so perhaps because the “horizon of [my] work is still cultural, in the sense of cultural studies.” I can’t dispute this, in my mind, I took the argument as far as my archive would allow and was not aware I was shying away from taking the next step. But I would say that my horizon, while yes indeed cultural, is also historical. Most if not all the debates I take up in my book, including my notion of illiteracy, which because it derives from the contradictions emerging from the orality/literacy relation in Latin America, are historically grounded. I see these debates (postcolonial studies in Latin America; Cornejo Polar/Vargas Llosa on Arguedas; Barnet/Beverley on Testimonio; Zapatismo, immigration at the US/Mexico border) more as historical/textual sites of engagement for an idea of reading that may find fertile ground elsewhere. But in a certain sense, so too is infrapolitics.
I recall a very important passage from Línea de Sombra: “If the cultural mediates the political, then…the political is not the ultimate instance of constitution of sovereignty: the political is not the field of decision if the decision must appeal, in every case, and in order to produce itself as decision, to the transpolitical dimension of the cultural” (2005, 13). In other words, even infrapolitics cannot at the start foreclose an ability to speak in culturalist terms without also betraying its inherent unwieldyness. So there is nothing to prevent infrapolitics from, through sheer contingency of its own, coming to “speak in Latinamericanist terms about Latin American culture” or any other. It is not a question of being a blasphemous position to hold, but whether doing without culture is even tenable.
Jon insists I didn’t adequately account for his book. He is right, and perhaps the occasion to do devote more careful attention to it may be in order in the near future, perhaps within something that arises from the present dialogue. In his defense of my positioning of his book, Jon makes several compelling statements which I need to touch upon. The first of which is his claim that I failed to account for many of the differences that indeed obtain between his book and Beverley’s. I admit that I while I do draw attention to several of the formal features differentiating these texts, I did not take the opportunity to flesh out their substantive ones. I was indeed more interested in tracing what I saw as a larger methodological concern both underpinning and consequently remapping these projects. Throughout I have insisted that these two books, but for the congruence of their founding gestures against deconstruction, are widely divergent. And yet, that moment of congruence that I read in both their work still impinges critically as a moment of illiteracy that sheds light on broader concerns over the discipline and the practice of reading. Jon also points out that his primary engagement is not with deconstruction but with hegemony theory and civil society. He is right and I do indeed discuss his contributions to hegemony theory in the book (4).
But further Jon’s comments allow for different angle from which to further the discussion: i.e., “not so much that of the relationships between posthegemony, illiteracy, and deconstruction, than that of their mutual (possible) contributions to the notion of infrapolitics.” That is, the “the extent to which posthegemony [and illiteracy] can inform (as well as be informed by) our notion of the infrapolitical.” But to go back to my last point in the previous comment, where I think Jon’s book has the potential to really open up this dialogue is in emphasizing posthegemony’s grounding not in the multitude, nor habit, but in affect. As I mentioned previously, I think Jon’s book obtains as a key foothold in thinking about affect here, the significance of which I admit I glossed over the first time I read it. Why not mount a dialogue on infrapolitics, posthegemony as affect, and illiteracy?
What is the relationship between affect and mood? Let´s say, joy and fear are affects, but they are also moods, are they not? We could say that the first theory of mood in the West was provided by Aristotle in his Rhetoric, when he talks about modalities of rhetoric, and he says, well, some orators speak like young men, some orators speak like grown men, some orators speak like old men. Aristotle was speaking about pathei, moods, since there is also a mood, or a constellation of moods, that we may associate with youth, old age, etc. But is there a difference with affect? Or let’s say boredom: mood or affect, or both indifferently? In any case, I think this is important, to the extent that we never think without a mood, and our mood therefore orients our thought. There is no moodless thought. Your notion of illiteracy, Bram, is a bit hard to grasp in some contexts. How would you relate illiteracy to mood, or affect?
That is a good question. I’m beginning to ask this question myself and I think it will require some time and further reading. But as I understand it now, attention to affect favors a different set of criteria than it does for questions of discourse, hegemony, ideology, etc. Representation, language, semiosis, these simply do not pertain. I’m currently reading Massumi “Autonomy of Affect”, and Jon’s chapter on habitus discusses this very nicely as well. According to Seigworth and Gregg (2010), affect is the name for “visceral forces beneath, alongside, or generally other than conscious knowing, vital forces insisting beyond emotion” (10). The gist I’m getting is that affect resides within spheres beyond discourse and ideology, inhabiting some other register of interaction that is “not accessible to experience…and it is not exactly outside experience either” (Massumi 94). Illiteracy for its part names specific scenes of breakdown within prevailing knowledge formations or breaches between competing discourses. Illiteracy assumes and aims to reveal nothing other than the vacuous core that inhabits and constitutes all discursive regimes. Is this vacuous core another name for affect? I don’t know. Is it another name for infrapolitics? I don’t know. But if the promise of affect theory is to advance that at bottom, all ideology is merely a series of affective relations (Jon would call it habit), and if illiteracy is the name for the mode of reading in which competing discursive formations are rendered indistinct, then at the very least affect and illiteracy can be said to share in the same analytic goal even while getting at it from opposite ends. This is very nuts and bolts, but programmatically this is how I see the relation. A distinction I am still very curious about, and I’m sure work has already been done on this, is the one between affect and the unconscious.
I’ll let Jon or others respond to this, about which I know nothing. I am interested in mood, but not particularly in affect in the sense described, I am afraid.