britney

Images of Britney Spears all around. Different forms of kitsch, different juxtapositions of mass culture and politics, different layerings of irony…

From Tomas Van Houtryve, a t-shirt on a Nepalese Maoist:


via antipopper, who gave us this poster child for a Britneyist-Marxist International:


Meanwhile, compare this, a “pro-life” sculpture:

Britney sculpture
See also infinite th0ught’s “modernism’s spears of destiny” and Wrong Side of Capitalism’s “The work of Britney in the age of mechanical reproduction”.

And see further Jane Renaud’s “Old Bev: POP! Culture” and Timothy Don’s “Negotiations 7: Channeling Britney”, both at 3QuarksDaily.

Spivak

Gayatri SpivakHot on the heels of the rather successful Tronti symposium at Long Sunday, it has been suggested that we turn our collective attention and efforts to Gayatri Spivak.

It is possible that this might be an enterprise that would bring together the forces of Long Sunday, the Weblog, and the Valve.

Spivak is interesting for her attempts to combine Marxism and deconstruction in the name of postcolonial feminism, and at the crossroads of literary studies and philosophy. There are many constituencies she is out to reach–and many, perhaps as a consequence, who take exception to her work.

For a particularly snotty review of Critique of Postcolonial Reason–a work that the reviewer shows few obvious signs of having read–see Terry Eagleton’s “In the Gaudy Supermarket”. The subsequent brouhaha, including a contribution from one Judith Butler, was played out in the letters pages here and here.

Among other things, Eagleton accuses Spivak of “eclecticism,” in the passage from which his review takes its title:

If an abrupt leaping from Jane Eyre to the Asiatic Mode of Production challenges the staider compositional notions of white male scholars, it also has more than a smack of good old American eclecticism about it. In this gaudy, all-licensed supermarket of the mind, any idea can apparently be permutated with any other.

Which, should its adherents wish to ally themselves with Eagleton, could prove grist to the mill of the so-called “higher eclecticism”.

So who’s up for such a reading?

Texts: let me propose “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value”, from In Other Worlds–an essay to which Negri responds in “Value and Affect”. Or perhaps “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography” (likewise found in In Other Worlds). Matt is keen on “Ghostwriting” (diacritics 25.2 [1995]: 65-84). And the updated “Can the Subaltern Speak?” has also been suggested.

(Supplementary: Keith points us to “The Trajectory of the Subaltern in My Work”, a filmed lecture given at Santa Barbara and now available online. But make some time to watch it: it’s an hour and a half long.)

Volunteers: So far, Amish, az, Craig, Dominic, Jodi, John, Keith, Matt, Nate, Scott, s0metim3s, Squibb. Plus myself.

Dates: either the week of April 17th or the week of the 24th.

Update: we now have a schedule.

flow

Monday Arguediana

river in floodTodas las sangres ends with yet another image of the “yawar mayu”, the “blood river,” which Arguedas himself here glosses as a “desperate outpouring of tears, the first waters of the rivers in flood, the moment in the dance when the men start to fight” (410).

The yawar mayu is first associated with the “kurku” Getrudis, the dwarf maidservant to the drunken and bedridden Peralta mother. The kurku is also at the origin of Don Bruno Aragón de Peralta’s downfall and curse: he had raped her, getting her pregnant with a child who turned out to be a monster, stillborn. It’s suggested also that this traumatic act, preying on the most vulnerable, the most subaltern figure imaginable, was also the source of Bruno’s mother’s misery: “What happened to my mother when the kurku Getrudis gave birth to a condemned thing: a dead foetus covered in bristles?” (25). But by the end of the novel, and with her mistress dead, the kurku finds some kind of redemption for the purity of her voice and the hymns that she composes and sings.

The kurku “has been sanctified” (411) and is “chosen by the Lord” (410) thanks, it appears, to the depth of her suffering. For in Arguedas, suffering, purification, truth, and finally vengeance are always associated. Hence “the river of blood that breaks from her heart [. . .]. At some point, perhaps now, perhaps in a hundred years, her tears will drown the thieves who stole La Esmeralda, the men who had the great silversmith and man of purity, Bellido, killed” (410).

So the yawar mayu is an outpouring of passion long built up in suffering, finally flowing violently and uncontrollably, destroying all that lies in its path. In William Rowe’s words, it is “a tidal wave of passion that breaks all boundaries” (Ensayos Arguedianos 92).

And ultimately it is Don Bruno, the kurku’s aggressor, who acts out the yawar mayu’s cleansing destruction. For following his initial violence as stain, as (self-)condemnation, in the interval Bruno too has learned to suffer. He too becomes, and learns to become, a victim: of his own sexual violence, of his father’s curse, and ultimately of the modernizing tendencies introduced by multinational capital that is itself sweeping away all that lies before it.

At the culmination of Todas las sangres, then, two devastating flows meet, conjugate, and compete. The town of San Pedro has been destroyed, its church razed by the mestizos now sidelined from history. Their land has been forcibly appropriated by the Wisther-Bozart corporation, which has suborned the state for the purpose of mineral extraction and capital gain. And Don Bruno, like his mother and father before him increasingly identified with the indigenous multitude, is on the warpath, “a river of blood in [his] eyes; the yawar mayu of which the Indians spoke. The river was about to break its banks over him with more power than any sudden upsurge of the raging torrent that ran through a gorge, five hundred metres beyond his own hacienda’s canefields” (437).

Bruno heads first for the neighbouring estate of Don Lucas, a landlord who mistreats and underpays his peons and farm manager alike. Declaring himself an agent of God’s own justice, Bruno shoots Lucas dead and hands over his property to the Indians, declaring “I have killed him in order to redeem myself. [. . .] I have killed Don Lucas on orders from on high.” “You have suffered more than God himself,” he tells the Indians, “you are innocent…” (438). And Arguedas treats this murder and its consequences with remarkable equanimity, suggesting that nature itself covers over the stench almost immediately:

The colonos [indigenous peons] began meeting in council at Don Lucas’s hacienda. The former lord’s corpse, disfigured and bloody, was by now black with the flies that crawled over it. But the orange trees gave off a gentle light and a bit of freshness to the burning courtyard. (439)

Having downed this representative of feudal corruption, Bruno then makes for his brother, Don Fermín, the modernizer whose dream has been to convert the Indians into a wage labouring rural working class. “You sold out to the mining company,” Bruno tells him. “You sold out your people; you sold out me” (440). And Bruno shoots, but this time only manages to wound, his brother, with the antique pistol that is his only inheritance from their father.

He then sits down and he “began to weep. His tears fell like a waterfall from his eyes, running over his throat, bathing his face, falling on the old brick floor. [. . .] The mestizo woman couldn’t stop herself from crying out ‘He’s weeping for his child, for his whole life, for his whole life he is weeping!'” (441).

Bruno is stopped, arrested and jailed, and his right-hand man Demetrio Rendón Willka is shot by impromptu firing squad. But the messianism that imbues these final pages of Arguedas’s masterpiece continues. Just before he is shot, Rendón Willka, who is by Arguedas’s own admission the true if somewhat inscrutable hero of the piece, declares “Our heart is made of fire. Here, and everywhere! We’ve finally discovered the fatherland. And you, sir, are not going to kill the fatherland.” After giving the order to shoot, the captain commanding the firing squad, “as well as the other guards, heard the sound of great torrents shaking the ground far beneath them, as if the mountains had begun to move” (455).

Meanwhile in Lima, the shadowy figure who controls all the strings, the Czar, is conferring with one of his henchmen, Palalo:

“What was that noise, my President?”
“What noise, Palalo?”
“Didn’t you feel it? Listen. It’s as though a subterranean river were beginning to rise up.”
“It’s a bad night, Palalo! You’re getting feeble,” the Czar replied. “I don’t hear a thing. I’m full of health and I’m conscious only of what my will desires.”
But the kurku also heard the noise; Don Bruno heard it; and Don Fermín and [his wife] Matilde listened to it with fearful enthusiasm. (456)

The question, however, remains as to whether this flooding river is really the cleansing flow of divine judgement, from and after which a new society can be built, a community governed by true solidarity (as William Rowe suggests).

Or is it closer to the self-destructive line of flight of an incipient fascism: either the “rivers of blood” shortly to be invoked in the UK by anti-immigration MP Enoch Powell; or perhaps an anticipation of the terror that would come to the Andes a couple of decades later, as Sendero Luminoso brought their own promises of a “river of blood, purifying blood”

Sendero Luminoso“Los senderistas llegaron a Yerbabuena,” by Edilberto Jiménez, via Rómpete el ojo

communiqués

Thanks to Isis who, in the comments to my last post, provided a link to the Argentine government’s website 24 de Marzo 1976-2006, detailing the coup, the military regime, and the various post-dictatorial governments.

There’s a lot of material there. But, following on from my discussion of communiqué 23, I was particularly interested to see the details of all the communiqués issued by the Junta. They detail, after all, the refoundation of the state as a state of exception. And interestingly, in fact they are not all prohibitions: they also outline a program, and attempt already to interpellate the citizen body.

Communiqué 1:

The population are informed that as of today the country is under the operational control of a Junta of the General Command of the Armed Forces. Everyone is recommended to defer strictly to the orders and directives put out by the military, security, or police authorities, and to exercise caution so that they avoid individual or group actions or attitudes that might provoke drastic intervention from operational personnel.

Communiqué 2:

To preserve order and tranquility, the population are reminded of the ongoing state of exception [estado de sitio]. Everyone is to refrain from organizing meetings in public and from passing on alarmist news. Those that do so will be detained by the military, security, or police authorities. Likewise you are warned that any demonstration in favour of the guerrilla will be severely repressed.

Communiqués
Communiqué 7:

The national government reminds you that the obligatory intervention of the Armed Forces has been effected so as to benefit the whole country, and is not directed against any particular social groups. The process of reorganization that is now underway, and which will bring about the rapid recovery of the country and the welfare of its inhabitants, requires the collaboration of everyone. So the population are called upon to reflect, and workers and bosses alike are urged to work together and ensure that labour relations remain governed by an atmosphere of liberty and mutual respect.

You are advised that as all labour regulations [for medidas de fuerza?] are suspended, as likewise are all those that could affect productivity, any differences should be resolved peacefully, by means of the intervention of the relevant authority.

Workers are recommended to ignore any incitation to either violence or the refusal to undertake their obligations, given that such an attitude definitely goes against their own interests.

And bosses are warned to refrain from inflicting arbitrary measures against their workforce, which the authorities have the obligation to curtail.

Communiqués
Communiqué 13:

In this momentous period that the Republic is going through, the Junta of the General Command of the Armed Forces turns to the young people of the fatherland, calling on them to participate, without grudge or preconception, in the process of reorganization now underway.

This is a process that has established as a preliminary step forward the full application of the ethical and moral values that are the guide and reason for the conduct of ever young Argentine deserving of that name.

This is a process marked by the authenticity of its principles and of the facts that give it reason and foundation, so satisfying the thirst for sincerity and frankness repeatedly brandished, as a basic demand, by all sectors representative of our young people.

This is a process in which each young person should have every possible pathway and goal open to him, without any other requirement than his capacity and his application to productive labour [contracción al trabajo fecundo].

The fruit of the task undertaken by the Armed Forces will be the materialization of a future that is more prosperous, more worthy, more noble, and more just. Our youth of today will be the recipients and beneficiaries of this brighter tomorrow that we will build in collaboration with all the Argentine people.

It is for the benefit of this future, and the arduous task that we have taken on, that the Armed Forces make this lively and unignorable appeal to the young people, that, as an integral part of the national community, they contribute their enthusiasm, idealism, and selflessness to the construction of a fatherland that could be the pride of all this land’s sons and daughters.

And finally, yes, Communiqué 23:

We inform the public that an exception has been made to the rules governing national radio and television transmission, enabling the broadcast programmed for today of the football game to be played between the national teams of Argentina and Poland.

(NB, for some reason communiqués 24-26 aren’t on this list.)

normality

Below is the front page of Argentine daily newspaper Clarín, from March 25th 1976, thirty years ago, the day after the coup d’état that ushered in the so-called “Process of National Reconstruction.” A “Process” in which some 30,000 would be killed.

Clarin 25th March 1976
At the bottom of the page, the news of Argentina beating Poland at football. (For fact fans, Ezequiel Fernández Moores tells us that the score was 2-1, with goals from Héctor Scotta and René Houseman.) Ariel Scher explains in “Fuera de juego”:

The most brutal of Argentina’s brutal dictatorships decided almost from the first minute of its reign that sport would play on its team. It tried to use sport and even mould it in its own manner. Just a few hours after the coup d’état of March 1976, at a time when Argentina could be summed up in terms of a collection of proclamations from the military junta all of which began with the words “It is prohibited,” the authoritarian leadership released communiqué number 23, the only one designed to permit rather than prohibit something. And what was permitted was the broadcast of the football game due to take place in Poland between the Argentine and the Polish national teams. And so it was: in the middle of all the crimes against humanity, proscriptions, kidnappings, disappearances, incarcerations, and with television showing otherwise only the national coat of arms, immobile, for a while you could watch the football. And that this happened is not just another anecdote or the result of some whim. Sport was always squarely in the gaze of dictatorial power.

Meanwhile, the message at the top of the page: “Total Normality.”

(For more, go here or, better, here [and thanks to Isis in the comments for the second link].)

Cross-posted to Long Sunday.

style

Re-reading “The Strategy of Refusal,” the verve, confidence, and daring of Tronti’s formulations are striking. What’s established, then, in this and other early examples of Italian operaismo, is a style of intellectual engagement: brash, iconoclastic, sweeping, taking no prisoners.

This is a style of writing that aspires to separate itself radically from all intellectual production hitherto, indeed from intellectuality as it has been traditionally conceived tout court. No more “organic intellectuals” of the Gramscian inheritance; these are but parasites of the Communist party and the labour movement (16).

More at Long Sunday.

international

Caribe HiltonFrom an architecture designed to repel nomads, to one whose aim is to attract them…

I was staying last week in San Juan’s Caribe Hilton. (I know, it’s a tough job; but someone has to do it.) At first sight the Hilton is just another hotel like so many others. But in part precisely for that reason, it turns out that this is an important piece of Caribbean architecture, and of “tropical modernism.”

According to Enrique Vivoni-Farage’s “The Architecture of Power”, the designs presented by US architects for this 1949 building were in Spanish Renaissance Revival style, in line with Conrad Hilton’s own desires. But all three Puerto Rican submissions to the competition were in International Style, inspired rather by the Modern Movement.

As Periferia puts it, the values the winning design promoted were modernity and efficiency, over “the curious and the picturesque.” This fit much better with the spirit of “Operation Bootstrap,” the economic and political program by which Puerto Rico would be propelled into industrial modernity.

bar at Caribe Hilton
Apparently, the hotel’s original bar was quite a striking example of postwar modernist styling. Now, after a recent extensive refit, its aesthetic is much blander, much less hard-edged. As James Russell observes, today the neighbouring Normandie, designed in 1939 Art Deco imitation of a cruise liner, has in fact the much more interesting interior.

Back at the Hilton, a touch of the exotic has been returned with the presence of two caged parrots in the lobby, opposite the check-in desk–though sometimes, it appears, these birds are allowed to sit on top of their cages, rather than simply within them.

Perhaps this is an emblem of the false freedom that Vivoni-Farage reads in the Hilton’s modernism. He sees the choice of the International Style as an illusory decolonization, in which culture stands in for politics. The rejection of Spanish Renaissance style

gave the Puerto Ricans an illusion of “freedom” instead of truly liberating them from a colonial situation. Architecture served as a palliative, where the Modern was synonymous with freedom and the good life.

By contrast, it is the opposite that is usually said of the rest of Latin America: that formal political independence in the 1820s has never really been backed by true cultural autonomy.

Meanwhile, and via The Morning News (full article here), some suitably modern guests of the Caribe Hilton, from 1959:

Caribe Hilton Guests

recolonization

Monday Arguediana

More ruins… But in Todas las sangres Arguedas is less interested in physical ruins than in the fragmentation and ruination of a social order, and particularly of the dying order’s dominant class.

The story concerns the transition from a feudal economy based upon agriculture to a modern, capitalist economy of mineral extraction. Such a transition is not an instance of modernization in any simple sense: mineral extraction had always been at the heart of Spanish Imperial ambitions in Peru–above all, of course, Upper Peru, now Bolivia, which contained the “cerro rico” of Potosí. So mining might also be seen as a recolonization, and what’s at issue here is the competition between national and international capital, between local landowner Fermín Aragón on the one hand and the foreign corporation Wisther-Bozart on the other.

Potosi mineFrom Loïc Venance’s photo series on Potosí
Among those caught up in the ensuing struggle are Fermín’s brother, Bruno, who is the very model of an old-style landowner; Fermín’s mining engineer, Cabrejos, a “faithful disciple of the North American school” (77) who is in fact in the pay of Wisther-Bozart; and Demetrio Rendón Willka, an “ex indian” whose task is to harness Don Bruno’s indigenous peons in the name of the mining operation.

Cast aside, meanwhile, is the former governing class of this mining village, the “ruined notables” who have been gradually bought out by the Aragóns (81). Their houses have slowly decayed as though in sympathy with their fate:

the doors now losing their paint or varnish began to be covered in dust, and to take on the ruinousness of the walls, of the roofs, of the large courtyards and dirty arcades. The whole town started to take on an air of irredeemable age. The Aragón de Peraltas flourished by remaining on top of the desperate rival bands, untouchable. (69)

But Fermín still needs the last pieces of land to which this declining aristocracy maintains its title–and Cabrejos aims to ensure that these landowners don’t sell up.

At stake is a conflict not only between old capital and new, national and international, but also between the ruination suffered by the old, and the corruption embraced by the ambitious. Fermín, we are told, can no longer hear the birds that belong to a nature he views only extractively: “he has lost the gift of hearing them thanks to corrupt capital”; his wife is asked to “ensure that ambition does not continue to corrupt him” (76).

But the whole town is soon swept into a web of deceit and corruption, in which old grudges or desires are rekindled and stoked by the various competing forces: Rendón Willka’s traumatic bullying at the hands of his schoolmates, or the chauffeur Gregorio’s fancy for shopkeeper Doña Asusta.

Moreover, the discourse of corruption is also retranslated into meditations on cleanliness and fanaticism, both of which have premonitory resonances for the subsequent history of Sendero Luminoso in highland Peru.

Back with the novel, we’ll see what plays out: whether either Bruno or Fermín can overcome the taint of the curses their father throws down at them from the church tower in the powerful scene that opens the novel; whether Cabrejos has met his match in either Fermín or Willka; and whether Willka himself can maintain his mediating role, slipping in and out of indigeneity or mestizaje as circumstances change. (My guesses: no; yes; no.)

Update: In answer to my questions… arguably Bruno does redeem himself, and perhaps so does Fermín, too; then it turns out that Cabrejos meets his match in the woman whose suitor he killed, rather than in any of the men; and at the end, mediation of any kind proves impossible, I think.

fortification

What would the architecture of the Caribbean be without the pirates from whom the Spanish Empire constantly sought defence and protection?

The Spaniards constructed an elaborate system of fortifications across the Caribbean basin: from Veracruz, from which the fleet carrying Mexican silver would sail; to Panama and Nombre de Dios, through which Peruvian and Philippine treasure was routed; on to Havana, where the fleets converged; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, which Philip II called “the key to the Indies.”

map of Spanish Caribbean forts
The walled city of San Juan, and the El Morro fort that guards its harbour, are particularly impressive. The first defences were constructed in the sixteenth century, and helped repel Drake’s 1595 attack. Three years later, another English privateer, the Earl of Cumberland, took the fort by attacking overland rather than from the sea, but this expedition was defeated eventually as his men succumbed to dysentery. The Spaniards then rebuilt El Morro stronger than ever, and saw off a Dutch attack in 1625. Further building continued for another 150 years, producing massive walls and further forts all around the island on which Old San Juan sits.

El Morro was subject to US bombardment during the war of 1898, but the Americans subsequently themselves rebuilt parts of the site in World War II pillbox fashion, turning it into a lookout now against the possibility of German U-Boats advancing across the Atlantic.

El Morro fort
But although the prodigious engineering that went into this edifice is ascribed to the Irish-born Colonel Thomas O’Daly, surely this architecture of counter-insurgency should also be credited at least in part to the nomadic pirates against whom it was arrayed?

silence

One thing I liked about Pete de Bolla’s book Art Matters is his comment on the way in which a work of art can strike the viewer or listener dumb. The aesthetic experience gives us pause, if only briefly. We catch our breath, uncertain as to how to continue.

Mark Quinn, SelfDe Bolla’s example of art throwing a spanner in the works of discourse is his account of Marc Quinn’s Self. This is a sculpture of the artist’s head made with nine pints of his own frozen blood.

I was reminded of this listening the other day to an account of Teresa Margolles‘s Instalación con Vapor, in which spectators enter a misty cloud made up, they soon learn, of water used to wash the dead in Mexico City’s morgue. (More on Margolles, perhaps, anon.)

But there’s no need to look simply at experimental or high art. Think for instance of the point at which the credits start rolling in the cinema, and the silence as you walk out of the building, before the commentary begins. We’ve been affected by the experience, but have yet to convert that affect into critique or analysis.

In these pauses all sorts of reactions are still possible. They constitute a temporality full of intensity, of incompossible articulations that have yet to be actualized. This is a silence that’s far from empty.

We are normally suspicious of silence. Silence=Death. Silence is cowardice. Silence is the result of power’s silencing.

But especially in the face of the hyperarticulacy that circulates in and around politics, the media, and the academy, it might be worth revalidating those brief pauses in which everything is still to be said, in which positions are yet to be taken. In which judgement remains in abeyance.