A couple of very well written articles have just appeared online this morning, each of which strives (consciously or not) to provide a snapshot of current thinking in Latin American cultural studies. Both of these articles – one by Jon Beasley-Murray and the other by Alberto Moreiras – deserve extensive attention, such that I will dedicated a separate blog-post to each one. (My post on Alberto’s article will be linked HERE when it’s up and ready.)
This first article that I will mention is a rather stunning review that appeared on Jon Beasley-Murray’s blog Posthegemony of John Beverley’s recent book, Latin Americanism after 9/11 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press). Beverley’s book, which (full disclosure) I profess not to have read yet, seems to desire a kind of Latin American subalternism enshrined in the nation-state, rather than a subalternism necessarily contrary to the hegemony of the nation state. Or as Jon writes, Beverley’s book:
…entails a reconsideration of the role of the state: if subalternism meant exploring the margins and the residues of official representation, to champion what did not or could not count in national-popular discourses, with the so-called “left turns” or marea rosada, Beverley is prepared to rethink his previous principled rejection of such hegemonic projects. If “in subaltern studies, the subaltern is conceptualized as that which is not only outside the state, but also constitutively opposed to the state in some sense or another” (111), he is ready to replace that opposition with something rather more like an embrace. Not without some anxiety and trepidation, he now throws his lot in with the governments of Chávez and Morales, Kirchner and Correa. (4)
Since I can’t comment on the quality of Beverley’s book, I won’t comment on the quality of Jon’s critique of it. But I can say that the political formation Beverley calls the “people-state” is in fact being created in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela (and maybe Argentina or maybe not)… and this is the problem. It is NOT a problem that previously oppressed and subaltern communities/cultures are now finding real representation in the state – something long hoped for (justifiably) by the likes of Beverley, Mignolo, et. al. The problem as I see it is that the representation of culture by the state may no longer be sufficient to ameliorate tyranny (let alone mollify it), once we begin to understand that tyranny is no longer strictly political, but predominantly economic in this day and age. More on this thought shortly.
Jon, for his part, resists the temptation to call Beverley’s work an out-and-out failure. Instead, he points out that Beverley’s book is built on the author’s own desire for real political engagement (rather than mere scholarly theorizing), and further on Beverley’s desire for the rest of us to fall in line with the marea rosada despite the obviously limitations of individual regimes. If Beverley accuses Jon’s formulation of post-hegemony precisely on the grounds of being overly theoretical and desengagé, Jon does not return the charge in kind, and instead closes with an elegant statement of political (and yes, political-theoretical) conviction:
I suggest a politics of experimentation rather than solidarity, a politics ever open to the possibility of betrayal, even self-betrayal. This requires living with uncertainty. There is no politics written into or predetermined by posthegemony. It is not a matter of simply picking a side, and then letting everything else follow along the grain. But that is what makes it all the more political. For surely politics is about indeterminacy, possibility, and potential. It is about what is not written in or predetermined. Politics is about strategy, surprise, critique, and a dissatisfaction with the present state of things. It is about the refusal to say that there is no “second stage,” a refusal to say that this is as good as it gets. (8)
Politics requires work! A constant drive to recognize (theorein) the world such as it is, to be dissatisfied with it, and refuse to accept that “perhaps” it cannot be better. A constant drive to organize socially, not because an ideology or ideologue tells us how to do so, but to argue our dissatisfaction forward, even if (or really, because) the future remains uncertain. And even if this uncertainty implies that we must organize ourselves differently as circumstance warrant… because ultimately there is no ultimate resolution, just more political dissent, organization, debate, more dissent, reorganization, more negotiation. Politically speaking “ultimate” is a bad word, a bad concept, and an even worse outcome.
That’s a lovely thought. But I worry that political reasoning may no longer be a sufficient hedge against tyranny in this day and age. And by political reasoning I include both “people-state” and “posthegemony,” “decolonialism” and “whatever the decolonialists call the other side.” I have no doubt that the Morales regime in Bolivia, Chávez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador (and maybe Kirchner in Argentina, or maybe not) have in fact succeeded in enshrining nothing less than the “subaltern state,” even if this comes in the form of a rather traditional Latin American caudillismo populista. Yet if this “subalternist dream” has come true (a big if), it would only be predicated on the global domination of finance capital – particularly in global commodities markets for oil, natural gas, narcotics (technically illegal but still global), and increasingly, water. That is, rather than installing favorable dictators/regimes in opposition to popular demands, global capitalism is now perfectly happy to allow cultural subjectivity into the political state; the high price of crude oil, in other words, felicitously pays for the Bolivarian Revolution!
But as soon as the political state begins to interfere in a serious way with the machinations of the economic globe, we can fully expect economic forces to produce a crushing desubjectivation (the production of the “no-subject”) that will debilitate the state and its people. We need only to look to Mexico once it formally became a “narco-state” under Calderón. By declaring war on the cartels, Calderón directly involved the political state in the economic globe of drug trafficking in a way that obtained a high level of interference in the market. One on hand this took the shape of military action against the cartels. But on the other hand, and much more powerfully, the “drug war” provided the opportunity for the Mexican military to constitute itself as yet another cartel, a market opportunity for state actors. The end result is not just multitudinous deaths, but also an increased tendency (in Mexico, just imagine!) to desubjectify the population as a real political force. The response has been to enforce the poverty of the no-subject, not just economic, but also political, poverty. Now, one response of the multitude has been large-scale demonstration in the Zócalo. But ultimately (there’s that awful word again), I suspect the Mexican election will empower PRI rather than the people (or even just Yo Soy 132, or even just AMLO), a sure sign of who really won. Because it is PRI that will restore a balance-of-payments “proper” to the narcotraficantes and narcopolíticos who run the show, a balance that Calderón and PAN rather foolishly (and greedily) threw out of whack. I could very well be wrong about Sunday’s election, and if I am I will happily eat crow on Monday.
The point here is that current Latin Americanist cultural studies still favors centers on the question of subject-formation, whether the field critiques hegemony, critiques hegemonically, or critiques posthegemonically. But the real forces at play now are economic and not political, and global economic forces strive to implode any form of subjectivity standing in their way. Global economic forces, moreover, move extremely rapidly. In fact, they move just as fast as microprocessors can process, in nanoseconds, 24/7. (How many nanoseconds are in a day? How many transactions can occur in a nanosecond? Teraflops!) And politics can only respond with… work! Because as I said, Politics requires work! And work takes time, more time, more time… and finance capital annihilates time by space.
Perhaps I have now entered into a screed, so I will continue thus: Current political theory in and of Latin America – especially as concerns cultural politics – remains lodged in politics. It resides unselfconsciously in the polis and its agora. But polis and oikos have become irrevocably fused, creating a wholly new space of power that is alternately public square and private home (oikos and agora conjoined and vaporized into a cloud), a singular space that is totally unbeholden to any conceptual split between nature and culture. The world as I see it (theorein) is an oiko-nomos in singularity, nowhere more evident than in Latin America. The response cannot be political-economic, much less cultural. Call me a dreamer or a cynic or a cynical dreamer, but we require nothing less than a real Ecopolitics. A dreamy cynic?