“Is he still not afraid? He has already been hunted down to be put to death for doing this, and he ran away; yet here he is again burying the dead!” (Tobit 7. 3-7)
So what is it? Are we proposing to engage in a revisitation of the experience of converso Jews from the 14th through the 18th century or so in Spain and its imperial possessions, and of some of its ramifications? What is the worth of the term today? What can it do?
I am not going to offer a full answer to those questions (I would not be able to do it), only a partial one, in an attempt to clarify, first of all to myself, my own interest. I am interested in marranismo for two main reasons, I suppose: one of them is biographical in an extended sense, the other one is speculative.
As to the biographical in an extended sense, I am referring of course to my situation as an expatriate (Galician) Spaniard. I do not think and have never thought of myself as an “exile” in any dramatic sense, I did not leave Spain for any kind of political reasons or in a forceful manner. I left because that seemed a good idea at the time. That happened in 1981. I have no complaints, but it has become quite obvious to me over the years that, for no doubt structural reasons, my life, such as it is, is to a certain intimate extent characterized by an experience of double exclusion that I assimilate to marrano history in a strong sense. It is therefore only natural, I think, that I would want to thematize the secular marrano experience—that particular kind of historical experience that turned an uncountable number of my compatriots into strangers in their own land or in any other land. So, this is what I would call a concrete universal for me—out of an experience of expatriation and structural double exclusion, which could be universalizable among all of those who share it, I make it concrete by assuming a certain legacy as my own, not in the name of identity, not in the name of community, but in the more (or perhaps less; yes, definitely less) spectral sense of claiming as my own the ghosts of those whose bodies are buried nowhere visible, in no grave of their own.
As to the speculative reason, I would like to think that the marrano register remits to a certain kind of intellectual experience of the world, or, what comes to the same, a certain kind of worldly experience of intellectuality that has more to do with survival (and sur-vival) than it has with being traditional or revolutionary, conservative or progressive, organic or inorganic, specific or general, engaged or uncommitted, and so forth. Take Gramsci’s distinction between traditional (say, priests, university professors) and organic intellectual. Where does a marrano stand without forcing his or her own hand? Marranismo preempts organicity or turns it into betrayal. (And what I recently read in a novel by Héctor Aguilar Camín may be true: all “real” problems end up being problems of loyalty and betrayal.) But marranismo equally preempts any kind of traditionality. It is barred from both. So I want to thematize, in my own life, and in my own work, a marrano existence, I want to reflect on marrano intellectuality, and I want to claim that it is irreducible to any kind of more conventional understanding of intellectuality as it may have been defined in the last couple of centuries. It is of course quite reluctant to think of itself as in any way biopolitical—biopolitics, as the administration of life, whether from above or from below, is the enemy of a marrano experience who only has for itself the possibility—only the possibility—of a non-administrative relationship to death. But it is also reluctant to think of itself as “political:” it has no choice, it is always already a political existence, like all existences are, but its focus is not on politics. It is on what is always already before, and therefore always already after, politics. It claims, therefore, an infrapolitical politization and only that.
The crossing between the biographical and the speculative—a marrano life—seems to me worth exploring, as there would be nothing better to do. For some of us.