Notes on the Exordium and Introduction of Gareth Williams’ Infrapolitical Passages (Fordham UP, 2020)

One of the epigraphs in Gareth’s book comes from Reiner Schürmann, and it includes the lines “To think is to linger on the conditions in which one is living, to linger on the site where we live . . .  This assigns to philosophy, or to whatever takes its place, the task of showing the tragic condition beneath all principled constructions.”  But if principled constructions are or can be shown to be tragic, it is because they are fundamentally misleading, and dissembling: they hide the fact that the principle does not hold. 

The following notes are meant to help accomplish three things: 1) to provide an echo that might contribute to the dissemination of the ideas in this powerful book; 2) to prepare an upcoming working group meeting where what is to be discussed is the possible connection between infrapolitics and Afropessimism; 3) to help me think out what I want to say in a review of the book I have promised to a journal. 

Full disclosure: Gareth is not just my brother in law, but an old friend and comrade.  And his book—the first English-language book where the tendency of thought some of us have been calling infrapolitics since approximately 2006 is fully named, presented, and developed– seems to me to provide not just a certain public legitimation but also a great occasion to dwell on infrapolitics as a form of thought, and to attempt to show, or to continue to show, its promise.  Which is something in which we have not very successful so far.  But we persist—and even if at some point we give up on the name and attempt other paths we shall continue to persist, since, as the last lines of the Introduction say, “there might be absolutely everything at stake therein” (32). 

I think it is fair to say that infrapolitics is a tendency that has been so far exclusively developed in the context of Latin American Studies, although at the end of the day it does not come from Latin American Studies.  It was born out of the frustrations and the dissatisfaction that the available theoretical tendencies within the field of study provoked in us.  Rather than a form of militancy, it is therefore its opposite: an exodus and a line of flight from endemic pieties of academic thought, endlessly bent on consuming and reproducing itself, reproducing and consuming itself.   So it was a novelty and, insofar as it has not yet been taken up by others outside the core group, it is still a novelty.   But of course our main contention is that it should NOT be a novelty, it should never have been allowed to become a novelty, and it is only a novelty because of an abysmal default of thinking, a blindness, a willed and self-willed disavowal of what, once you see it, can only become increasingly obvious to everyone.  It is not for me to investigate and reveal the reasons for such blindness—I will leave it to others of a more historicist bent.  At this point I will limit myself to praising Gareth’s generous citational strategy in the middle pages of his Introduction.  He quotes me, and the chapter of my book Línea de sombra (2006) where I initiated a presentation of the idea, and immediately he quotes Jaime Rodríguez Matos’s Writing of the Formless, and then various essays by Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, Ronald Mendoza de Jesús, Angel Octavio Alvarez Solís, Jorge Alvarez Yágüez, and Maddalena Cerrato.  While this list of names does not exhaust the infrapolitical nomenklatura, as there are a few others whose ongoing contributions have been extremely welcome (they know who they are: I cannot name them here, as I would not want to offend anyone not named), they serve as an indication that there was indeed a core group of people whose collective will and commitment enabled some of these thoughts to come forward.  I do not think this is trivial—at the very least it takes care of the thought that infrapolitics is some sort of whimsical solipsism.  The group itself, if none of the individual participants, ought to command some respect in practical terms and force others to take stock of what is being said.  Which has not happened yet, not to my knowledge.  Ignoring things—an active ignoring: it is not that they did not know, they simply preferred to neglect it–has been the habitual modus operandi of our blessed field. 

And how could they?  It is not as if the claims made, even if they were to prove absolutely wrong and misguided, or evil, were trivial.  Gareth says, for instance:  “It is a proposal for the deconstruction of every illegitimate appropriation and expropriation that is presented as legitimate” (24);  “infrapolitics inaugurates a diagnosis of the epochal collapse of modern thought” (26); “It is the unconditional nonplace of politics in retreat, which is understood as the potential uncovering of what cannot be captured and remobilized from within the Hegelian metaphysics of absolute knowledge, political consciousness, subjective will, and the dialectic of experience” (26); [infrapolitics is] “the task of denarrativizing the contemporary inheritance of the political” (27-28).  Those do not seem minor claims.  They appear in fact as tremendous claims, and one, a relative fan of horror films, cannot obviate the certainty that a shudder ought to go down the spine every time a tremendous claim gets made.  But it seems that, in our day and age, horror claims are better left alone, unbothered.  It is of course another way of running away from them.  That may have the undesirable and counterproductive effect of making the claimers exaggerate, in the impossibility of generating proper attention otherwise.  And yet that is not the point.

Because infrapolitics actually makes no grandiose claims.  It is inconspicuous thought, of the kind named by Schürmann in Gareth’s epigraph: “linger where you are, open your eyes.”   If only we could know where we are.  At some point in the Introduction Gareth quotes Walter Benjamin’s short text on “the destructive character,” and compares it to infrapolitical work: “The destructive character sees nothing permanent.  But for this reason he sees ways everywhere.  Where others encounter walls or mountains, there, too, he sees a way.  But because he sees a way everywhere, he has to clear things from it everywhere.  Not always by brute force; sometimes by the most refined.  Because he sees ways everywhere, he always stands at a crossroads.  No moment can know what the next will bring.  What exists he reduces to rubble—not for the sake of rubble, but for that of the way leading through it” (Benjamin quoted by Gareth, 27).   And this is of course the site from which the word passage comes to the title of the book: Infrapolitical Passages.  There is a need to open a way through the rubble of the present, but to where? 

Gareth does not say.  “The story [the book] tells, from start to finish,” is only “the experience of a border, of a boundary, and therefore of a (non)crossing” (28).  It is a (non)crossing where principles collapse, and where it is only possible “to strive to clear a path” towards “the possibility of a decision of existence . . . from within the endemic violence of a world of war” (29).  Which does not mean that, thereby, existence needs to take shelter in some non-political exteriority, much less an interiority.  “Rather, it is a movement toward a quasi-conceptual attunement in thinking formulated in order to inquire into the determining power of our given conceptual systems and to propose the contours for an alternative (for example, nonsubjectivist, nontranscendental, nonutopian, postmessianic) relation to the political in the age of total (that is, of planetary) subsumption” (20).  It is a movement of raw politicity, opposed to any thought of an accomplished passage like the one the Introduction finds maximally represented in Alain Badiou’s notion of an “intervallic period” leading to true life through the enactment of the Idea.

Gareth’s reading of Badiou’s formulations of the Idea in The True Life (2017) and The Rebirth of History (2012) is magisterial, and so is his reading of Jacques Lacan’s 1972 Milan lecture on “capitalist discourse.”  But they are in fact opposed to one another, insofar as Badiou’s intervallic periods, which are the periods of the wait for true life and rebirth, “would stand as flawed monuments to a largely unexamined will to close over any potential abyss in thinking the political, via the language of a metaphysical doctrine of political subjectivism in an age in which the history of that metaphysics has already run its course” (17).  Lacan, instead, is the portentous announcer of a different message: “Lacan indicates that the question of Being precedes and is occluded in the Cartesian certainty of the ‘therefore’ that situates logos and the subject as coextensive and coterminous, together and complementary in the everyday (ontic) experience of subjectivity and its representations.  Lacan announced in these formulations that a fundamental historical limit—a limit inaugurating the full planetary accomplishment of the ontology of the commodity—had been crossed.  It is too late, he said in reference to the capitalist discourse, thereby implying that the history of the modern can no longer be salvaged” (15).   

What is to be done amidst the ruins of an unsalvageable political modernity?  The Exordium takes up some words of Greta Thunberg’s, pronounced during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, in April 2019.  In her words, Gareth says, “we merely encounter an a-principial, infrapolitical recollection of being and nothing else, little more than a call, by saying its matter, to let being be in a way that it is not being allowed to be” (3).  In that call, Gareth says, we are summoned to “two intertwined transmissions of the infrapolitical register,” namely, “the everyday ontic, or sociological, distance from the modern metaphysics of subjectivity and the technical calculations of sovereignty, in conjunction with that distance’s simultaneous touch upon a thinking of being uncaptured by the ontology of commodity fetishism” (7).

To finish this brief examination of the first pages of Gareth’s book—I will continue this with later chapters—I will reproduce the passage he quotes from one of Heidegger’s poietic writings of the early 1940s, namely, The History of Beying: “nothing remains any longer in which the hitherto accustomed world of humankind could be salvaged; nothing of what has gone before offers itself as something that could still be erected as a goal for the accustomed self-securing of human beings” (Heidegger quoted by Gareth, 8).   

Infrapolitics points to a passage in the nothing, but it is an enabling one.  And is this not also, mutatis mutandis, the radical core experience of Afropessimism, which is an experience, in its reverse side, of the accomplishment of subjective triumph at the cost of antiblackness?  Ontotheology is antiblackness, and infrapolitics is, wishes to be, a way out of ontotheology.  But more on this in the future.   

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