I thank Ana Baginski for her invitation to be the discussant for this session, and to Willie Chase of course for his paper. It is a pleasure to have Ana with us here as a Glasscock Fellow and it is a pleasure to have Willie here as her guest. I will try to honor Willie’s presentation in what follows.
How do you go from empire to republic? And, once you do it, how do you stay there, how can you restrain yourself from reverting to empire? I will not provide you with an answer to the question. I will limit myself to stating what is probably already obvious to most of you: historical attempts to do so have failed in absolute terms, and we can only congratulate humans for partial and often deficient successes. Let us take the various Latin American cases as an example. Or even better: let us take Spanish America as a whole as an example. After Independence, roughly between 1810 and 1825, with some exceptions, the Latin American criollo class, which means, not just the so-called whites, as in many countries many criollos were the offspring of mixed races and were themselves mestizos or mulattoes or any of the other many hierarchical racial divisions invented by the colonial casta system, the criollo class, I was saying, as the dominant class, a class directly produced by the imperial system, took over and engaged in a process of so-called nation-building that produced a neo-colonial state form: things had indeed changed, Indians were declared citizens in many countries, slavery was by and large abolished within ten or twenty years of Independence, but the dominant class, now split between conservatives and liberals, sought not equality but domination. We may call it hegemony, since that is indeed what it was. Which should warn us about making hegemony a key term for leftist practices today. Republican hegemony in most Latin American countries–I actually cannot think of any exception, except of course for Cuba and Puerto Rico–was the new regime of domination, and it was brutal enough. For the subaltern population, Republican hegemony, even when it did not degenerate into civil wars and commisarial dictatorships, as often happened, was pretty much still an imperial regime, albeit different from the Spanish imperial one, and, from the perspective of the subaltern, not necessarily much better (for instance, many liberal and conservative republican governments engaged in a policy of land and capital accumulation that reenslaved in everything but name large segments of the Indigenous and Black population).
So we have republican hegemony, and it is the hegemony of the criollo class. Such hegemony needed to be conceptualized, articulated, indeed named through the 19th century. What old Angel Rama called the “lettered city” came to fulfill that function: there was a big momentum for the articulation of a nation-building ideology, which had specific local differences (different in Argentina and Uruguay and Mexico or Bolivia or Venezuela or Nicaragua). Intellectuals were servants of their criollo masters, their organic ideologues. And this happened at a very massive level, to the extent that exceptions were hardly ever tolerated–we know of few of them. We must assume that indigenous life was still resistant, we must assume that disenfranchised segments of the population, such as former slaves, were resistant, we must assume, perhaps, that women were resistant, but we have inherited few and far-between articulations of that resistance, or of those resistances: they emerge in counterinsurgency prose and literature, for instance in gaucho literature, or in crime ballads. Certainly in juridical archives. But they never coalesce into any sort of counterhegemonic bloc. Not even at the time of, say, the Mexican revolution. And they have not come easily to us through the historical archive.
I would claim this forms the background of the extraordinarily difficult problem Willie brings up in his paper. Let me propose two theses for its interpretation: the first thesis is, Willie is trying to uncover the possibility of a non-hegemonic articulation of republican politics in the Latin American 19th century, and he must do so by working spectrally, with ghosts, through ghosts, since that is all the archives can offer him. And my second thesis is: his motivation, at perhaps some deeper-than-consciousness level, is primarily not historical but rather motivated on the misery of university discourse in the present. I present these two theses not in order to establish them as true theses, of course, rather in order to give Willie a chance to respond to them. Since that is my function as discussant. So let me elaborate a bit, just to be fair, just to offer Willie some more solid grounds for his response. So that he does not have to guess at my intentions.
But let me frame that first. Willie’s paper is, for me, the first occasion when I encounter in the critical literature of Latin Americanism a serious engagement with the tradition of Black Study. This is monumental. Black Study is today one of the very few developments where something other than the misery of university discourse is pursued and attempted. We can leave aside for the moment the deep irony of the fact that Black Study is a form of university discourse that has no choice but to present itself as post-university, or ex-university. There are deep reasons for it. At some point in his paper Willie refers to the notion of fugitivity developed by Fred Moten, and then Moten and Stefano Harney. Black Study is fugitive discourse. I will say that Willie’s paper is a Latin Americanist instantiation of fugitivity. It is what we could call an exodic paper, a marrano paper, we could say, adapting to generally Hispanic conditions Afropessimist or Black-Ops postulates or conditions of enunciation. Which may explain, at least for Willie’s ears, why my second thesis proposes that his, that is, Willie’s, interest is primarily motivated on the misery of university discourse in the present. The misery prompts fugitivity. The misery prompts exodus when not abandonment. I welcome this. It is a necessary fugitivity.
Regarding my first thesis, namely, that Willie’s paper wants to uncover a spectral or ghostly non-hegemonic articulation of republican politics: what I mean by this is that he must proceed on the basis of a radical absence in the archives. Our common friend Nahum Chandler is among those who have established the deep and extraordinary pertinence of the work of W. E. B. Du Bois for Black Study, an indispensable reference. Latin American Study lacks such reference or anything remotely similar to it. Du Bois offers a path, or many paths, to what we might name, following Chandler, the question of exorbitance. It is through exorbitance, through its elaboration, historically and theoretically, and politically, that Black Study has managed to break away from hegemonic configurations of the political and from hegemony itself as the only available political configuration. We must also situate Willie’s fugitivity at the point of such a break. As I confess I have not read Lastarria myself, I will not question Willie’s reading. What is important in it is the interrogation he brings to bear, not his possible conclusions, which in fact only figure the very inconclusiveness of Lastarria’s take at the point of Willie’s interrogation. At the time of nation-building Lastarria was lucid enough to understand that a mere hegemonic incorporation, an incorporation into hegemony, of Indian heroes, of figures from the Indian past, would quickly break down. Which leaves Willie in the difficult predicament of having to follow his own path spectrally, precisely through the detection of discursive breakdowns, of absences and hesitations, through the tremor of the archives when they are finally seen as possessed by inarticulate ghosts.
This is extraordinary and path-breaking work, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of his dissertation, from which I understand this paper has derived. And I congratulate Willie for his courage and determination–but I must also warn him that they will not come without exacting a price. For which he must be ready, fugitively.
Before turning the word back to him, or to all of you, let me add something else that I believe is necessary. What I called earlier the Neocolonial State Form was historically followed by and large by what we could call the National Popular State Form. I think we need to understand the National Popular State Form as a continuation of the Neocolonial one–its discursive expression was still an articulation of hegemony, now through discourses of transculturation. Transculturation was the dominant discursive state form through most of the 20th century, until the gradual consolidation of the Neoliberal State Form, itself still to be understood, not as a break, but a continuation of the previous forms (hybridity discourse, identity politics proper, and decoloniality are its results). Thought–the production of the lettered cities–was organic to those state formations. In Latin America such thought manifested itself in the form of identity thinking. Identitarianism has been the single thought or the single umbrella for thought that has survived through the various metamorphoses of the state throughout Latin American history. The way I understand Willie’s position is that Willie is actually proposing a break away from all identitarianism–that is what a non-hegemonic republicanism might some day accomplish. Like in Black Study, Willie’s break from identitarianism is first of all a refusal for thought to be the servant of the current state formation in any of its guises and disguises. It announces stateless thinking, a thinking beyond the state.
It is difficult to imagine any properly post-identitarian configuration of Latin American thought. What we have available is not moving in that direction. I do not want to become too polemical so I will spare you my explanation for that sentence. And yet perhaps there is nothing more important. Willie’s focus on the absences and breakdowns of criollo discourse, on what he calls the vagary of its articulation,is subversive and dissident when it refers to the 19th century and to the cherished and normalized discourses for mainstream historical self-understanding. To the extent Willie’s discourse refers not just to history but primarily to our present, I find it equally subversive and dissident, or fugitive, regarding the current accommodations of identity thinking in Latin Americanist university work. And there is little else. And the problem is, there is precisely little else at a historical moment when the thorough collapse of hegemonic discourse makes it imperative that we develop new inventions of thought that might become commensurate to current challenges, such as climate breakdown.
A couple of days ago I finished reading Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s The Ends of the World. They make a fine point: they say that the end of the world has always already happened for Indigenous and Blacks in Latin America. And that perhaps only they may therefore teach the late criollos, which means all of us, or most of us, what it takes to survive it. It is a strange fugitivity that we have inherited, but it is a fugitivity we must take up.