“Then, it began” (100). This is the last line of Gabriel Saldías’s book Fricciones (Frictions) and it hardly sounds like the way to end a collection of short stories, until you realize that what is probably beginning here is, in fact, the end of the world. The story that concludes with this line is titled “Tomorrow We Talk” (“Mañana hablamos”). But it is likely there will be no tomorrow. For some reason, never fully made clear, a catastrophe is coming, some kind of sudden if predictable ecological collapse. Not that this leads to great public lamentation or panic. Sadness prevails, but all emotions have to be reined in. The story’s narrator is a young boy, and at dinner the evening before his father simply insists that he and his brother eat their dinner and be grateful for the life they have lived. “Yes, father,” the narrator replies. “I’m grateful.” Then “nobody said anything more” (97). His mother hands out sleeping pills. They head off to bed.

Such is the tenor of many of these stories. Repeatedly, the world is coming to an end, if not literally then figuratively. And those who do survive tend to regret it. In “Latin American Champion” (“Champion latinoamericano”), for instance, it seems that Russian Roulette has become a spectator sport, as people wager on what is effectively a shorter and more brutal version of the Hunger Games in some apocalyptic near future. But incredibly a champion emerges, an emotionless and otherwise nondescript ex-boxer who somehow manages time and time again to avoid oblivion while other competitors blow their brains out in front of him. He would appear to be the very figure of good fortune in the face of overwhelming risk and imminent danger, but his luck runs out not thanks to the game but when he is devoured by the incredulous crowd who leave him “as dead as it is possible for a human being to die” (19).

In interview, Saldías has said that he sees himself and his writing as “pessimistically hopeful.” To be honest, however, the glimpses of hope that his stories provide are marginal at best. In “Tomorrow We Talk,” for instance, it is true that the narrator opens up his heart on the eve of destruction, declaring his love for a classmate who goes by the name of Susie Q. Will she be his girlfriend? If not, “I think I will die.” Susie doesn’t respond to this anomalous display of emotion, though nor does she reject the boy’s entreaty outright: she agrees merely to get back to him the following day; hence the story’s title. And the last we hear is the phone ringing in the middle of the night, the narrator dashing to pick it up and shout down the line: “Hello? Hello? Susie Q?” At which point the story ends, maybe with the slight hope that the line “Then, it began” might refer then not to the end of the world but to the start of their relationship. But it somehow seems unlikely.

Likewise, another story, “Residence on Earth” (“Residencia en la tierra,” the title a nod to Pablo Neruda) is for the most part a litany of misery and dispossession. It details how the inhabitants of a nameless country, presumably Chile, have been displaced by the market, forced out of their houses by gringos backed up by state power, who destroy their homes so as to build malls, hotels, bars, cinemas, and son. Here, the protagonist’s mother writes a letter announcing that she is joining the resistance, if indeed such a thing exists, somewhere in the South. And the protagonist himself is set on enacting his own form of vengeance, as the story ends with him setting up a sniper’s rifle to assassinate one of the figureheads of the regime. But this is surely a futile act, we are left thinking, made possible only by the protagonist sacrificing his very humanity, to become the “Hard Man,” ruthless and efficient as any capitalist entrepreneur.

These are hard stories, too, in more than one sense. Often cryptic, brief and allusive, chiseled down to bare essentials, they offer little in the way of consolation for a vision that is relentlessly downbeat and dystopian. Even irony and humor, where they appear (as in “Pretty as a Sun” [“Lindo como un sol”], the tale of a Chilean returning to his country), are not enough to save us. Despair and quiet rage are the prevailing emotions. I am reminded of Franz Kafka’s famous line that “There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe… but not for us.” Except that here there is not much hope for others, either. Perhaps then we can take these stories as a series of cautionary tales, a warning of what life would look like if we abandoned hope entirely. But even that may be an overly optimistic reading of the dark but powerful imagination evidenced in this harrowing but enthralling collection.

La utopía en ruinas

Ahora será convertido

Presentado en el I Simposio de la Sección de Estudios del Cono Sur (LASA)
Santiago de Chile, agosto de 2015

“La utopía en ruinas: el hospital Ochagavía”

una ruina incompleta

Parece superfluo llamar a una ruina “incompleta”: ¿no es parte de la definición misma de ruina ser una estructura a la que le falta algo? Una ruina siempre debe perderse la plenitud: está descompuesta, desintegrada, deteriorada, destruida, imperfecta. De ahí el énfasis abrumador en la negatividad o negación (en todos los sentidos de la palabra) en la mayoría de las reflexiones sobre ruinas: se asocian con la pérdida, con la nostalgia, con la ausencia, con todas las formas en las cuales la ruina no llega a estar completa. Una y otra vez, el acento se pone en lo que no está, en lo que falta y solo puede evocarse con la imaginación o la memoria. En el mejor de los casos, la ruina evoca fantasmas, espectros, sueños o promesas: complementos insustanciales de su materialidad bruta e inútil. Una ruina es una estructura que tiene que completarse por otros medios: a través del discurso, de la narración, de los relatos. Parece pedir la intervención de la arqueología, la historia o la política para que nos cuenten lo que significan esos fragmentos, cuál es el todo al cual no pueden unirse por sí mismos. De hecho, una ruina solamente se convierte en ruina (en vez de una serie de partes desvinculadas) una vez ha sido asumida por esas formas discursivas. Al estar incompletas, las ruinas no pueden hablar por sí mismas y tienen que ser explicadas; requieren un suplemento que les asegure su representabilidad. Necesitan algo más. De este modo es cómo las ruinas vienen a ser la imagen misma de la dependencia de lo material en lo inmaterial, de la promesa narrativa de compensar la pérdida por otros medios, de la subordinación de lo real al mundo. Es la imagen misma de la hegemonía, del modo en que los fragmentos disociados se articulan en una cadena significante para dar la ilusión de totalidad.

Lee más… (documento pdf)

Utopia in Ruins

Ahora será convertido

Presented at the “I Simposio de la Sección de Estudios del Cono Sur (LASA)”
Santiago de Chile, August 2015

“Utopia in Ruins: The Ochagavía Hospital”

an incomplete ruin

It would seem superfluous to call a ruin “incomplete”: is it not part of the very definition of a ruin that it is a structure that somehow lacks something? A ruin must always miss out on plenitude: it is decayed, disintegrated, deteriorated, destroyed, imperfect. Hence the overwhelming stress on negativity or negation (in all senses of the term) in most reflections on ruination: ruins are associated with loss, with nostalgia, with absence, with all the ways in which the ruin falls short of completion. Over and over, the focus is on what is not there, what is missing and can only be conjured up through the imagination or memory. At best, the ruin conjures up ghosts, specters, dreams, or promises: insubstantial complements to its brute and senseless materiality. A ruin is a structure that has to be completed by other means: through discourse, narrative, story-telling. It seems to ask for the intervention of archaeology, history, or politics to tell us what these fragments mean, what is the whole to which on their own they do not quite add up. Indeed, a ruin only truly becomes a ruin (rather than a series of disaggregated parts) once it is taken up by such discursive formations. It is because they are incomplete that ruins cannot speak for themselves and have to be spoken for; they demand a supplement that will ensure their representability. They demand something else. This is how the ruin comes to appear the very figure of the dependency of the material on the immaterial, of narrative’s promise to make up for loss by some other means, of the subordination of the real to the word. It is the very figure of hegemony, of the way in which discrete fragments are taken up in larger signifying chains to give the illusion of wholeness.

Read more… (pdf file)

Modern Ruins, Malls, and Their Explorers

Hawthorne Plaza Mall

Some stories, sites, photographs, and articles on modern ruination:

  • Matt Stopera, “Completely Surreal Photos Of America’s Abandoned Malls”. Buzzfeed. April 2, 2014.
  • Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some, like Rolling Acres, have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%. Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish. (David Uberti, “The Death of the American Mall”. The Guardian. June 19, 2014.)
  • Jim Waterson, “19 Haunting Pictures Of The Abandoned 1984 Winter Olympics Venues”. BuzzFeed. February 19, 2014.
  • Vitaly Chevchenko, “The Urban Explorers of the Ex-USSR”. BBC News. February 11, 2014.
  • “Tall Storeys: Lucinda Grange’s Daredevil Photography”. The Guardian. February 18, 2014.
  • The truth is that we’ve probably got rather too many ruins in the world already, and certainly more than we can preserve as we would like to. Left exposed to the elements, ruins just get more and more ruined. That’s the iron law of ruins. And it takes superhuman effort (and vast resources) to halt that natural process. Why add to our problems by excavating more of them? (Mary Beard, “A Point of View: Is the Archaeological Dig a Thing of the Past?”. BBC News Magazine. May 2, 2014.)
  • The pleasure the human mind takes in ruins is not easy to explain. It has something to do with time. In JMW Turner’s sketches of decayed abbeys that come like Soane’s broodings from the Romantic age, the artist lingers over the details of each crumbly, broken stone. Looking at his studies you get a powerful sense of the time he spent on them and the escape from daily care this involved. A ruin, in other words, is a time machine that releases the mind to wander in nooks and crannies of lost ages – and ages to come. That is why John Constable finds the ruins of Hadleigh Castle so grimly consoling in his painting of this medieval heap quietly decaying, the wars and oppressions it once embodied long forgotten. (Jonathan Jones, “Ruin Lust at Tate Britain Review: ‘A Brilliant but Bonkers Exhibition'”. The Guardian March 3, 2014.)
  • Nikki Hatchett, “Ruin Lust: Our Obsession with Decay: In Pictures”. The Guardian. March 3, 2014.
  • The lure of ruins is complex. Ruins inspire the imagination, incite pleasantly melancholy thoughts, and humanise a landscape. Only in the wildest places can we walk without coming across some kind of ruin – some human trace of enigmatic predecessors on the remote pathways. Even in the highest mountains in Snowdonia, you constantly come across quarry workings, abandoned huts and tumbledown walls. The marks of human industry are everywhere. Modern ruins are the strangest of all. (Jonathan Jones, “The Ruin-Hunters who Drove a Car down Mexico’s Forgotten Railways”. The Guardian. June 11, 2014.)
  • La enorme ruina, a pesar de su abandono y antigüedad, resistió sin problemas el terremoto de 1985, pero aún con estas favorables referencias, no se hizo nada por retomar su construcción. Como suele suceder, motivos de índole político, de planificación social y las eternas mezquindades económicas en la precaria redistribución de los dineros fiscales complotaron en contra del proyecto. Al contrario, el lugar originalmente destinado para salvar y cuidar la vida, se transformó rápidamente en sinónimo de muerte, destrucción y abandono. Numerosos delitos, robos, violaciones y asesinatos, se arraigaron por muchos años tras sus muros derruidos, con lo que ya a fines de los años 80, el edificio era un vergonzoso foco de delincuencia e inseguridad; un “elefante blanco” que día y noche ensombrecía al vecindario y entristecía el paisaje. (Sebastián Aguilar O., “Reportaje: El olvido del Hospital Ochagavía, nuestro elefante blanco”. Neurona Musical. February 11, 2014. Publicado originalmente en Revista Evavisión Cultura 7, Septiembre 2013.)
  • Gastón Gordillo, “The Politics of Ruins: What’s Hidden Under Rubble?”. Conversation with Léopold Lambert. Archipelago. May 20, 2014.
  • Speculative Fictions

    Speculative Fictions coverIn an epoch of postmodern, neoliberal “dedifferentiation,” in which the distinctions between the once-separate spheres of politics, economics, and culture have been steadily erased, what are the possibilities of “making a difference” through writing, film, or art? This is the question that Alessandro Fornazzari’s Speculative Fictions sets out to answer, with a focus on the Chilean transition from Pinochet’s dictatorship to the revived party system of the past couple of decades.

    But looking merely at the political transition, Fornazzari suggests (in the steps of Willy Thayer, among others) would be misleading. For the shift from state violence to today’s liberal democracy conceals other continuities, and perhaps other, more significant changes that have taken place on a different timescale. Indeed, the book outlines three “different transitional forms: the economic (the neoliberal transition from the state to the market), the political (the transition from dictatorship to democracy), and the aesthetic” (115). And it is ultimately the relation between the economic and the aesthetic that is of most interest here.

    Latin American fiction has often been read in terms of “national allegory” (in Fredric Jameson’s famous phrase). So, for instance, when the “foundational fictions” of the nineteenth century charted (say) a love affair between creole boy and indigenous girl, something was being said about the racial politics of the nascent nation state. Or Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo was not simply a small town somewhere on the Colombian litoral: it was Colombia as a whole, in microcosm, and in reading its story we also learned something about broader issues of (under)development and (post)colonialism. Or to take the example that Fornazzari studies at some length, the Chilean novelist José Donoso could publish an oblique yet unmistakeable critique of the Pinochet coup in part by dressing it up as a tale of a house in the country taken over by its servants. But what happens to allegory–and so to an entire mode of cultural representation–now that “the commodity exceeds and surpasses it” (35)?

    I’m not sure I entirely buy this argument. The claim for an equivalence between literature and the commodity form is too quick and, well, too abstract. And after all, it is by means of an allegorical reading that Fornazzari can declare allegory’s contemporary exhaustion; so it still in fact has its uses. But this is not to say that we can’t contemplate other modes of aesthetic and/or political engagement; Jameson’s reduction of all “third-world fiction” to national allegory was limiting in any event. And as Fornazzari points out, reading only in such terms is impoverishing: once the appropriate key is found (Macondo = Colombia; the country house = Chile), then it’s as though “all hermeneutical work can be considered over and done” (33). But the correspondences are always inexact, there is always too much or too little in the literary text to map out a one-to-one series of equivalences. Hence this book is dedicated to exploring the (allegedly) new “speculative cultural forms” that Fornazzari categorizes in terms of “antiallegorical strategies, second-order forms of abstraction, the dissemination of a stock-market model of value, and avant-garde models of political economy” (116).

    Some of these cultural forms are, frankly, more interesting than others. In some cases they are little more than symptoms of transformations located elsewhere, and at times Fornazzari struggles to differentiate his analysis from a rather crude economic determinism: new models of labor or subjectivity emerge and are duly registered or reflected in a book such as Arturo Fontaine’s Oír su voz. Fornazzari claims that in this paean to finance capitalism, “the realist storyteller ultimately eludes the neoliberal ideologue” (47), but he doesn’t sound too convincing or even too convinced of this himself when he concludes that the book can be read as “a literary treatise on the concept of human capital” (51). A lot’s riding here on the adjective “literary,” which is rather undermined by the account of the “saturation of the novel with the discourse of political economics” (45). How different is it really from the text that Fornazzari immediately goes on to consider, El ladrillo: Bases de la política económica del Gobierno Militar Chileno, characterized here as “in an of itself, an unremarkable economic text” (52).

    Or is the point that, in an age in which the line between economics and culture is blurred, the economic text takes on something of the literary? If so, it’s not particularly shown for El ladrillo. Elsewhere in fact it’s suggested that neoliberalism ushers in “a brutally realist order of things” that has no time for “literary rhetoric” (32)–as though realism itself were not simply another rhetorical mode. I wonder, too, how this argument meshes with that of Erika Beckman, whose recent Capital Fictions demonstrates the complicity of literature and mercantile economics in the early part of the twentieth century. Indeed, the further one progresses with Speculative Fictions, the more dubious its central premise becomes, that (now, for the first time) “everything including commodity production has become cultural, and culture has become profoundly economic” (7). If anything it’s a testament to the rather more complex and detailed cultural readings that Fornazzari provides–of the novelist Diamela Eltit and, perhaps especially, the work of visual artist Catalina Parra–that we soon become dissatisfied with such sweeping generalizations.

    For in the end, though there have no doubt been profound changes in Chile (and elsewhere) in economics, politics, and culture, and their mutual relations, these developments have taken place on different timescales and in line with each domain’s own (never fully autonomous but never fully dependent) logics and rhythms. So, for instance, this book also shows that the ground for Pinochet and the Chicago Boys’ transformation of the country’s economy was already laid by the Christian Democratic government of Eduardo Frei in the 1960s. The political regime, by contrast, was repeatedly upended in a much swifter (and traumatically abrupt) series of ruptures and upheavals. And in cultural production we see plenty of residual elements as well as (what Fornazzari suggests may be) emergent forms that point beyond our contemporary condition.

    So the three spheres are not (yet) fully aligned, and each has its own history and its own trajectory. It’s perhaps this feature of what we could (however old-fashioned it sounds) call “combined and uneven development” that ensures that there is some space still for critique and contestation. The immense virtue of Fornazzari’s book is that it quickly points us away from its somewhat simplistic premises and towards the far more interesting task of exploring the real complexity, the paradoxes and ironies as well as the continuing cruelties, of a society that is in no way as dedifferentiated as its right-wing boosters (and many of its left-wing critics) would like to think.


    [From my prologue to Rodrigo Naranjo, Para desarmar la narrative maestra: Un ensayo sobre la Guerra del Pacífico.]

    “Creative Destruction: Ruins, Narrative, and Commonality”

    Marx and Engels long ago noted that capitalist productivity entails unceasing destruction and destitution. As they put it in the Communist Manifesto: “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones” (38). Destruction is not a mere by-product of capitalist development; it is its fundamental pre-requisite as the formal subsumption of labor, whereby older technologies are maintained even as they are assimilated into capitalist relations, is replaced by real subsumption, which demands the fundamental transformation of all aspects of the productive process. But as a result, capitalism is also truly revolutionary: it abruptly does away with the hierarchies and injustices of earlier social formations, if only to replace them with a regime that is even more insidiously unequal and unjust. Ruins of the past may persist: more or less mute reminders of what has gone before, but these too are often enough caught up in the revolutionary whirlwind. If capital can profit from the ruins it creates, it does so, turning them for instance into historical theme-parks, sites for leisure or aesthetic contemplation. Ruined places and peoples can be treated with a certain exoticizing sympathy, at the same time as they are held up as object (and objectified) lesson in what happens to those who do not adapt fast enough to changing times. In short, they can be resignified as part of a master narrative of progress. More often, however, capital moves swiftly on, brutally unsentimental about the devastation it leaves in its wake. Still, there is something strangely creative about the destruction wrought by capitalist modernity, a fact analyzed by theorists from Werner Sombart to Joseph Schumpeter.

    Some have celebrated capital’s tendency to build on ruins, seeing it in Darwinian terms as an instance of the survival of the fittest. As Schumpeter argues, “the essential point to grasp is that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary process” (Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy 82). Others have been more ambivalent or even downright critical. Recently, Naomi Klein has revived the notion of creative destruction with her observations in The Shock Doctrine, but with a twist. For Klein, catastrophe is not so much endemic to capitalism as a necessary supplement for the particular hyper-capitalist ethos that goes by the name of neoliberalism. What she terms “disaster capitalism” arises in the twentieth century with the Pinochet dictatorship, only then to spread around the world. Klein argues that the successful implementation of neoliberal “reforms” depends upon a catastrophic “shock,” whether that be imposed from above (as in Chile) or whether it be an apparent “Act of God” (such as Hurricane Katrina) from which capital can opportunistically profit. In this version, it is not capitalism on its own that engineers the destruction upon which its creativity depends: some external force or sovereign violence intervenes to pave the way for economic restructuring, which is in turn devastating in its own way. But the shock comes first: the political has priority, and contemporary capitalism is rather more Leninist that its proponents would like to believe.

    For Marx and Engels, the effects of capitalism’s creative destruction are epistemological as much as they are social, political, or economic. “All that is solid melts into air,” as they famously observe, “all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind” (38-39). Intrinsic or extrinsic to capitalist production, it is crisis that allows us to see the truth of bourgeois society–and perhaps the preconditions of any society–clearly for the first time. The continual catastrophes that mark modernity allow an opening to capital’s posthegemonic kernel: every trace of ideology is swept away. Indeed, all narratives are briefly disrupted and we are left with a glimpse of what Giorgio Agamben would call bare life. Not only therefore does creative destruction do away with the oppressive social structures of the past: for all the neoliberal dictum that in the face of disaster “there is no alternative” to free-market deregulation, it also suggests that capitalism may not be the only beneficiary of the very crises that it lives and breathes. Catastrophe offers a turning point. It provides space for the rearticulation of well-worn mantras, which may gain renewed purchase when our defenses have been downed. It may also subsequently provide a mythic origin for new narratives and new articulations, perhaps more sinister than hitherto. But further, crisis has the potential to allow something genuinely unheralded (if perhaps long felt) to emerge: in laying bare what Marx and Engels term man’s “relations with his kind,” it reveals what we have in common. However much it hits some more than others, the propensity to be touched by calamity is ultimately a condition that we have in common with others. Moreover, disaster tends to exert a brute levelling, to provoke shared affects and induce fellowship. So as Rebecca Solnit argues, “extraordinary communities” are built on the very ordinary experience of common practices and habits that emerge out of destruction.

    Read more… (.pdf file)

    Chile II

    My previous post on Chile was also propagated (as all this blog’s posts are) on Facebook, where my good friend Loreto Navarete commented at length. With her permission. I’m reproducing her comment here (it’s actually too long for the comment box on the post itself), and below I’ll include my reply. Note, however, that she commented on a previous version of the post, which I’ve since revised in the light of some of her comments (and since have revised to clarify still further after somewhat similar comment on the blog itself).

    Querido Jon, aunque en tu primer párrafo lanzas una clave de interpretaciñon plausible, el análisis sigue sobre la base de inexactitudes.

    Para quienes sí vivimos el terremoto (todos quienes vivimos desde la región de Coquimbo hasta la región de la Araucanía (más de 1200 kilómetros desde norte a sur, en donde se concentra el 80% de la población de Chile) estaba claro que estábamos ante una catástrofe de proporciones.

    A las 4.00 am aproximadamente ya se estaba evaluando la situación desde la oficina de emergencias, con la presidenta Bachelet a la cabeza. En efecto, ella jamás dijo que no se necesitaba ayuda internacional, lo que dijo es que había que dimensionar la situación para poder clarificar qué tipo de ayuda internacional se requería. A las horas se solicitó la ayuda internacional en hospitales de campaña, teléfonos satelitales, puentes mecano, equipos electrógenos, purificadores de agua y sistemas autónomos para diálisis, entre otras cosas. Ésa es una primera precisión.

    La segunda, éste es el terremoto más grande y devastador en 50 años. No sólo afectó Concepción, sino también Santiago, Valparaíso y Viña del Mar, Rancagua, San Fernando, Talca, Curicó, Constitución, Talcahuano, Santa Cruz, y decenas de poblados costeros en donde, posterior al sismo, el tsunami terminó de arrasarlo todo. Ésa es una segunda precisión. No es un terremoto acotado a un territorio, como fue el de 1985, el de 1939, el de 1906 o incluso el de 1960. Éste es un terremoto que ha afectado seis regiones del país, dejando hasta ahora 2 millones de damnificados. Sólo en Santiago los daños estructurales en los edificios tanto patrimoniales, como públicos y residenciales (antiguos y nuevos) tendrán un costo de miles de millones.

    En ese contexto, en menos de 2 minutos, el país vio como la única carretera que nos conecta con el sur quedó cortada impidiendo por horas, la llegada de ayuda; cómo el sistema de distribución de energía también colapsaba dejando sin electricidad, agua y comunicaciones a cientos de miles de personas. En ese contexto, y particularmente en la ciudad de Concepción, la posibilidad de saqueos era absolutamente real. Y no es primera vez que pasa en la historia de nuestros terremotos.

    El terremoto, estamos de acuerdo, nos permitió ver lo que había detrás del decorado (y que no había que ser experto para verlo): las profundas desigualdades que existen en Chile, el miedo -también profundo- al otro que ya había planteado Lechner hace más de una década, y la fragilidad institucional e ineficiencia en la gestión que plantea la centralización política y administrativa.

    En fin, da para largo, lo que quizás quiero decir con todo esto es que lo que ha ocurrido en Chile es un cataclismo -nada menos- y que aunque las imágenes de los saqueos y de los militares en las calles son seguramente muy provocadoras para analizarlas, no hay que olvidar que es cómo los medios han construido el relato de estos días, y esos medios -no podemos abstraernos de ello- están jugando un rol en un contexto político específico.

    Un abrazo, Lore

    In response, I wrote:

    Lore, gracias por este comentario. Creo que estamos de acuerdo en casi todo: claro que sí fue (y es) un catástrofe, con consecuencias graves.

    Mi única observación fue sobre la diferencia entre las expectactivas y representaciones de los desastres en Chile y Haiti, y así de las distintas imágenes sobre los dos países. Y claro que estoy hablando mayormente de los medios extranjeros. Pero en todos lados está la comparación. Aquí, por ejemplo:

    Bueno, sobre el papel de los medios en Chile mismo (y he estado leyendo también lo que dices en Twitter, sobre los rumores y el intento de fomentar pánico), bueno eso es otro asunto , aúnque quizás relacionado en tanto que esté reapareciendo una práctica de seguridad basada en un discurso de miedo hacia los pobres. Habrá en algún momento mucho para decir sobre eso, sin duda, pero claro que no fue mi intención en mi breve entrada.

    Mientras tanto, gracias por la precisión sobre la actitud de Bachelet sobre la ayuda internacional. Otra vez, quizá sea esto simplemente una instancia más de como se ha escrito sobre el desastre en los medios, y revisaré lo que he puesto en el blog al respecto. Pero sí hubo mucho reportaje sobre esto, también. Vease por ejemplo

    Mientras tanto, sobre todo me alegra oir de tí. Estoy pensando en tí y en mis otros amigos chilenos. Un fuerte abrazo.

    Let me just end by saying that my point is not to give credence to the way in which the disaster in Chile (or in Haiti) has been reported; rather, quite the opposite. And I am sure that there is much to be said about the ways in which it has been covered in Chile itself, but I have been reading the international rather than the national press, which is (again) precisely where such comparisons between Chile and Haiti have been most prevalent.


    I have nothing very much against looting, particularly in the aftermath of a natural disaster of the scale witnessed a day or so ago in Chile. At a basic level, one does what one can to survive. More interestingly, it could also be seen as the inversion of Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” thesis: taking advantage of a shock to the physical and material infrastructure in order to re-imagine social relations, now no longer in capital’s favor but in the multitude’s. As Rebecca Solnit argues:

    The aftermath of disaster is often peculiarly hopeful, and in the rupture of the ordinary, real change often emerges. But this means that disaster threatens not only bodies, buildings, and property but also the status quo.

    Part of this peculiar hopefulness arises, as Solnit also argues, from a realization of “the fragility of existing structures of authority.” If this recognition leads to looting (no doubt itself the wrong word), then so be it.

    And in some sense then it is no wonder that in the aftermath of disaster sovereign power is also so anxious to re-establish its authority, in large part for instance by stigmatizing the affected populations. And no doubt the more anxious that power is, the more it resorts to such tactics, even therefore at the cost of revealing the extent of its own fear and ineptitude.

    Some of that ineptitude, the way in which disasters wrong-foot constituted power, can be seen in an examination of how the disasters in Haiti and Chile reveal such different expectations and representations of the two countries and their populations.

    Note that I am here mostly talking about how the international media have covered these two tragedies, which appeared at first sight to offer an object lesson in the distinction between progress and poverty, civilization and barbarism. But in the end there is almost a certain wry amusement to be gained in seeing how wrong these representations have proved to be.

    Haiti was of course treated as first and foremost a security problem, for which a military response was in order: Port au Prince and its slums had to be stabilized and secured before aid could be distributed; no doubt hundreds more lives were lost in the delays caused what what was fundamentally a racist fear and stigmatization of the threat of black violence. (Again, Rebecca Solnit is excellent on this.)

    Chile, on the other hand, is one of the whitest of Latin American countries, and it regularly prides itself on being the most civilized and economically advanced; sometimes the Chileans think of themselves as the English of South America, and not just because they, too, don’t know how to dance. The “Chilean model” is touted far and wide as the height of democratic order, economic efficiency, political transparency, and so on.

    In line with the expectations that such images raise, initial reports on the earthquake that struck near Concepción emphasized how prepared the country was, how much better was its infrastructure and capacity to respond, how much more quickly it would bounce back. Its market-driven economic growth would barely wobble; after all the country is an “A plus student when it comes to economics”. President Bachelet was even said to have initially declared that they needed no foreign aid on the basis precisely, Chilean commentator Patrico Navia was reported as saying, “that Chile is not Haiti. It is like Japan, or the US.”

    Indeed, comparisons with Haiti were overt and ubiquitous. The New York Times actively encourages teachers to draw quite literal lessons from pairing the two together.

    The implication was clear: Chile, white and prosperous, could comfortably survive an earthquake that was many hundreds of times more powerful than the little tremor that touched that backward (and black) Caribbean island.

    Ah. But now it turns out that, when push comes to shove, those white people are just a rabble of thieving ne’er-do-wells. Time to send in the tanks.