Two Reasons for Marranismo. By Alberto Moreiras

“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.

6 thoughts on “Two Reasons for Marranismo. By Alberto Moreiras

  1. By the way, have you read this James Wood piece in the LRB from a year or so ago: “On Not Going Home”?

    “Recall Lukács’s phrase ‘transcendental homelessness’. What I have been describing, both in my own life and in the lives of others, is more like secular homelessness. It cannot claim the theological prestige of the transcendent. Perhaps it is not even homelessness; homelooseness (with an admixture of loss) might be the necessary (hideous) neologism: in which the ties that might bind one to Home have been loosened, perhaps happily, perhaps unhappily, perhaps permanently, perhaps only temporarily. Clearly, this secular homelessness overlaps, at times, with the more established categories of emigration, exile and postcolonial movement. Just as clearly, it diverges from them at times.”


  2. Thanks, Jon. I will look it up, although I have to say speaking for myself what I am after is neither transcendental homelessness nor secular homelessness but rather something in the order of a blue, holy night. In other words, it is what opens up rather than what is missing that interests me.


    1. Agreed, but I like Wood’s essay, not least his attempt (in sync with yours) to move beyond categories of exile and the like.


  3. Jon, I find it interesting that you connect my attempt to give one reason for marranismo to Wood’s essay. Perhaps “intriguing” is more the word, and not because you make the connection, rather because I felt no personal connection to Wood’s general register, really–I mean, I understand what he is talking about, but it is hardly what I am talking about (even if I talked poorly). The paragraph before the last, where he talks about Freud’s Nachtraglichkeit, is good, sensible, and I do relate to it. But it ain’t a marrano paragraph, could never be! Perhaps I was too soft above, allowing for too much of an understatement of what I mean by double exclusion, which it is probably fair to say Wood may have only felt poetically or sentimentally. Perhaps marranismo is in fact something more than biographical, a “plus de biographie,” a supplement to a life, a particular way of experiencing the displacement, which I think is absent from Wood’s account. Marranismo includes a strong dosage of betrayal and ruin, and it is a loss that cannot be softly processed, and it is not essentially of the order of sentimentality (more of the order of trauma, even it is a trauma subdued and experienced belatedly, through Nachtraglichkeit–not quite so civil as Wood’s mild liturgies). Also, marranismo, I think, is ultimately a form of home, a very fierce one, I would say. The marrano, at the end, is still a chosen one. And, more ominously, Jerusalem is somehow still a marrano city. This is all absent from Wood’s poetics. Of course that is my own bad in the text above, a marrano text also in that it does not say half of what it would have needed to say.


    1. No, Wood is certainly no marrano. I didn’t want to imply that.

      But now the real question becomes why you don’t have a subscription to the LRB!? I fill fix that forthwith. 🙂


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