CADA

There is nothing necessarily spontaneous or unconscious about the disruption of habit, and dehabituation can be taken on as a conscious strategy. Indeed, it is the avant garde gesture par excellence. During the Pinochet dictatorship, the Colectivo Acciones de Arte (Art Action Collective or CADA), comprising several prominent Chilean artists and writers such as novelist Diamela Eltit, poet Raúl Zurita, and visual artist Lotty Rosenfeld, staged a series of performances designed to intervene in and interrupt the establishment of everyday habits of neoliberal consumerism.

As Robert Neustadt’s CADA DÍA (literally, “Every Day”) documents, these actions included the October 1979 “Inversion of Scene” that aimed to “underline the transparency of everyday repression” by cloaking Santiago’s Museum of Fine Arts with a white sheet on the one hand and renting ten milk trucks on the other while taking out an advert in a daily newspaper that consisted in nothing more than a blank page (31). CADA’s purpose was literally to screen off the museum while touching upon familiar objects and practices (the newspaper, drinking milk) so as, in Nelly Richard’s words, “to modify both the customary perceptions of the city [. . .] and the social norms which regulate the behaviour of the citizen” (Margins and Institutions 55). Other CADA actions included showering the city with 400,000 fliers dropped from the air, in the name of “a fusion of ‘art’ with ‘life’” (Neustadt 35), and Lotty Rosenfeld’s conversion of the broken white line in the middle of streets and highways into a series of crosses. These are classic shock tactics of artistic defamiliarization, undertaken on a massive scale. Especially in their willful disarticulation of the signs of normality that the dictatorship wanted to convey for both national and external consumption they set out to force “the gaze to unlearn what the press habitually teaches it” (Margins and Institutions 56).

Lotty Rosenfeld
At the same time, and beyond the fact that the artistic avant-garde is all too easily recuperated into a familiar tradition of provocation that can never quite escape the aestheticizing gaze, surely any artistic shock tactic could be no more than pale reflection of the effects of the coup itself. If art is defamiliarization, then like it or not Pinochet was its greatest Chilean practitioner.

naked

PinochetThe turn to neoliberalism that Pinochet’s regime inaugurated has been termed a “silent revolution,” as in the book titles both of the apologia written by Joaquín Lavín and the leftist critique written by Duncan Green. But Luis Salinas’s The London Clinic shows the benefits of simply listening to the general speak: Salinas aims to explain Pinochet and the Pinochet effect primarily by collecting and presenting the general’s own words.

The over-riding impression provided by this collection mostly comprised of quotations (from Pinochet, but also from his collaborators and defenders, plus some press commentary) is of the general’s astonishing confidence, his refusal to apologize, but also a certain candor. The most famous example of this attitude is his remark that “burying two corpses in the same grave makes for great economies” (28). He later confirms the bon mot, declaring “That is what I meant. [. . .] I never regret what I say” (107). For Manuel Contreras, former chief of Pinochet’s secret service, the DINA, the only regret is “not having been harder on the Marxists” (104).

What becomes clear is that if Pinochet and co. have nothing to regret, they also have nothing to hide. This is why Pinochet’s words are so damning: he feels no need for justification and no compunction to persuade us of his methods or his goals. Everything is on the surface. Perhaps there are some details that are not worth exploring, some areas best left unexamined; but these are all rather inconsequential. Thus in a 1984 interview, when asked of the disappeared “Have you ever had any interest in finding out where all those people ended up?” Pinochet responds with condescension: “Señorita, no one knows. Look, if there are right now thirteen million Chileans, let’s say twelve million, out of twelve million, two thousand are nothing (he makes a hand gesture to indicate a very small number). [. . .] In this country, señorita, things need to be forgotten” (112-113).

Pinochet produces effects rather than arguments. His ideological deficit reveals itself continually through the quotations collected in The London Clinic. The general has no clothes, but he is happy to parade naked. There is no real pretence that he is anything but guilty. As the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia comments regarding the judicial process in the British courts, aimed at his extradition to Spain, “No-one speaks of Pinochet as if he were innocent” (95). His defense rested instead upon technicalities.

So a transparent neoliberalism employs technocrats rather than ideologues, concerning itself with the economics of burial and the management of populations rather than with the singular victims whom the families of the disappeared hope to uncover.

mall

The paradigmatic space of contemporary neoliberalism is the shopping mall. Malls constitute a space that is simultaneously local and universal, sited in a particular geographical location yet also hermetically sealed from local context, part of a world of commodities that knows no national borders. Moreover, as Beatriz Sarlo notes, the mall “creates new habits [. . .] familiarizing people with the ways in which they should function in the mall” (Scenes from Postmodern Life 13). In Chile during the dictatorship, a quite distinctive version of the mall flourished in Santiago’s upscale neighborhoods such as Providencia: the caracol or “shell,” so-called because they are shaped somewhat like seashells, with shops lining a spiral walkway surrounding a central atrium. First to be built was the “Caracol Los Leones,” in 1975; other examples include “Dos Caracoles” (1976), “La Rampa de las Flores” (1979), and “Caracol Vips” (1982). Though their popularity has since declined, Cecilia Gutiérrez Ronda recounts that the caracoles were all the rage in the late 1970s: “Everyday Saturday, as was the habit at the time, Providencia was the big draw for shopping” (“Caracoles”). Unlike the typical North American mall, which tends to be no more than two stories high, and to be built to an “L” or “T” plan with major department stores at each extremity, caracoles have no such “anchor” stores, but are rather occupied by up to 200 more or less equally small retail outlets strung out over the equivalent of five or six stories. Moreover, they also lack the meeting points characteristic of other mall architecture. These common areas, usually located at the intersection of the mall’s main thoroughfares, are a legacy of the philosophy of pioneering architect Victor Gruen, the so-called “inventor of the shopping mall” who designed Detroit’s Northland Mall (the United States’ first multifunctional regional shopping center) in 1954, and Minneapolis’s Southdale Center Mall (the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center) in 1956. Gruen, “a fervent socialist” as Jeffery Hardwick notes (Mall Maker 3), hoped that malls would counteract the increasing atomization of 1950s US suburbia, by uniting city center functions and services under a single roof and serving as the modern version of the ancient Greek agora or medieval city square.

But the Chilean malls, by contrast, accentuate atomizing tendencies. In the caracol, even the atrium floor is usually at a basement level, and so bypassed by shoppers. Thus there are no areas of special intensity and no points for downtime to break up the shopping experience; the caracoles construct a smooth space which is relatively undifferentiated along the whole length of its gently sloping gradient. These malls can only be successfully negotiated by very small groups or by individuals: any larger congregation of bodies would cause congestion on the narrow ramps. Shoppers are separated out by the gaping void of the atrium. Processes encouraged elsewhere by the dictatorship, such as the dissolution of group identities, are therefore facilitated in the course of reverent interaction with boutique-packaged commodification. No wonder that the North American building that the caracoles most resemble should be Frank Lloyd Wright’s New York Guggenheim museum: both are secular shrines whose centrifugal force draws people away from each other and towards a collection of riches to be venerated. In the malls, however, a state logic of disassociation combines immediately and immanently with the market presentation of seemingly limitless choice lining a prescribed but otherwise aimless path, to generate a cultural practice of anomic consumerism. The endless, spiralling drift up and down that they encourage is a post-ideological disaggregation of potentially subversive bodies; and there is neither outside nor inside, only a moebius strip of commerce winding round a central abyss.

disenchantment

An attempt to explicate some of my earlier thoughts on habitus and field

Authoritarian regimes ultimately rely neither on persuasion nor on censorship but on the silent harmonization that they establish in everyday routines. Such regimes are often described as “states of exception,” a term associated with Carl Schmitt, whose Political Theology defines the sovereign as “he who decides on the exception” (5). For an analysis of states of exception in Latin America, see Brian Loveman’s The Constitution of Tyranny. The Chilean constitutions of 1925, 1980, and 1985 (those in force during the Pinochet regime) codified the instances in which states of exception could be enforced, and Pinochet meticulously obeyed the letter of this constitutional authority in his promulgation of states of emergency and states of siege. His regime eventually promulgated its own Law of the States of Exception in 1985, further codifying and regularizing exceptionality. As Snyder observes, the government, using both old and new legislation, “created a complex hierarchy of states of exception, which could be declared by the government in cases of internal disturbance, subversion, or public calamity. These included the state of siege, the most repressive, the state of emergency, and in the wake of the 1980 Constitution, the State of Danger of Disturbance to Internal Peace” (“The Dirty Legal War” 264). But amid this increasingly complex typology and perhaps surprising adherence to the rule of law, what is important is how such exceptionality soon becomes normal: “The states of exception were renewed constantly, with the state of emergency in force from 1973 until 1988 when the plebiscite was held” (264). Exceptionality thus became the norm, as indeed it was throughout much of Latin America during this period: the state of emergency in Paraguay under Stroessner, for instance, was uninterrupted from 1954 to 1988. The exception became routine, while protest became exceptional.

Hence despite the understandable attention paid to the resistance against the Pinochet dictatorship, what should be noted, because it otherwise goes without saying, is how limited it was. Little has been written about “everyday” authoritarianism in Chile, the long periods of relative calm (however uneasy) that predominated in most of the country, most of the time. (Perhaps we could find such accounts in the novel or the chronicle rather than in social scientific studies.) For instance, Samuel Chavkin’s Storm over Chile takes its subtitle “The Junta Under Siege” from a chapter describing the protests of 1983-1984, but has nothing at all to say about either the period 1974-1983, from the coup’s consolidation to the outbreak of protest, or 1984-1988, from the height of the protests to the plebiscite that eventually brought down Pinochet. Or rather, the entirety of what Chavkin has to say about the period 1984-1988 is the following single sentence: “For yet another four years Pinochet continued to hang on to power by torture and murder of his opponents” (278). Hence Chavkin hardly explains either the quiescence that was the rule or indeed why that quiescence should be broken, however briefly, by the protests that he celebrates. By contrast, Cathy Schneider’s fuller account of the protests is more thoughtful about the reason for their abeyance in the mid-1980s. She quotes one activist, Leo, arguing that “people left their homes, were beaten, saw no clear purpose to endure the abuse, grew bored with the protests, and returned to their homes” (Shantytown Protest 187). Leo’s comment indicates not simply state-sponsored opposition, but also a fatigue and a boredom that took over even in the most radicalized of barrios, a tiredness echoed elsewhere in Schneider’s text: “activists grew weary,” she notes, commenting on a 1986 survey that showed the remarkable percentage of Chileans who felt tense, “resigned and disappointed,” or “sad” (187-8); she remarks on the “state of numbness” that psychologists diagnosed even among activists (202); and she endorses Aristide Zolberg’s argument that “movements of political enthusiasm are followed [. . .] always by the restoration of boredom” (qtd. 211). In this panorama of a movement that has worn itself out, a low-level anxiety comes to the fore as ideological concerns recede. Schneider quotes Duncan Green’s observation that the new generation of Chilean workers is “a collection of anxious individualists” who are no longer, now in Schneider’s words, “ideologically predisposed” (206). A general state of “physical and mental exhaustion” prevails (206). Tiredness and waiting. In body and mind, Chileans in Schneider’s description were, by the end of the dictatorship, afflicted by the affects that Spinoza categorizes as sad passions: the “sadness [that] diminishes or hinders a man’s powers of action” (Ethics 3P37 109). In Bourdieu’s terms, we see the “resignation to necessity” that, he argues, characterizes the habitus of the dominated classes (Distinction 380).

It is in this context of exhaustion, and against the celebration of popular resistance found for example in Kenneth Aman and Cristián Parker’s Popular Culture in Chile, that Ton Salman emphasizes that the explosion of energy and enthusiasm in the revolt of Chile’s new social movements was “an exceptional episode” (The Diffident Movement 4). Salman points to the “lengthy periods of ‘normalcy'” during which “what is involved are dispositions that do not solely play a role at the level of consciousness” (4). He employs Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to explain the delay in the emergence of poblador militancy in terms of a “class unconsciousness” (146) incarnating a “sensitivity to authority” and “a wider and deeper tendency to reject deviancy” (147). The pobladores‘ dispositions were “fragmentary and pragmatic and not politically articulated” (153). Protest only erupted once “the specific habitual and internalized ways of interpreting and perceiving Chilean reality and one’s own position and options within it became inadequate” (207). Even then, the ensuing mobilization was essentially conservative. For instance, women became active in the name of family and community survival, fostering “a practical, non-ideological politicization of the disrupted linkages in the traditional family, and in the traditional poblador strategies” (212). Salman emphasizes habitus as a source of inertia, as the embodied sedimentation of a collective history that structures the present and so “resists change and guarantees the continuity of subjects” (49). Politics, in its traditional conception as a spectacular and articulate attempt to set or change the public agenda through discourse, arises only when there is a breakdown between the expectations incarnated in habitus and the objective conditions of the moment, when traditional (unspoken, unconscious) strategies fail because the field that molded them has changed. Thus the protests’ emergence and their decline had the same cause: a radical disenchantment. In the first instance, and especially for women and the young, the call to mobilization in 1983 and 1984 catalyzed a “disillusioned optimism” (193) that arose from the failure of inherited strategies that had enabled survival and the prospect of social betterment for an earlier generation of male workers. But as the protests became routine, they became subject to the same disenchantment: disappointment itself became embodied within the pobladores‘ habitus. So it is less that the protests “set the stage,” as Schneider suggests, “for a negotiated transition to democracy” (Shantytown Protest 194) than that they were the visible symptom of a deeper transition in the regime of affect, from a sense of expectation nurtured by the state to the all-pervasive low-level anxiety that characterizes a postdictatorial order in which the market sets the tone for social interaction. The period of the new social movements, in other words, effected a step-change within the habitus of the majority of Chile’s population, habituating them to the order that would come fully into its own only after the end of the dictatorship, with the institutionalization of the state of exception under neoliberalism.

infarto

Paz ErrazurizThe Chilean Paz Errázuriz is one of my favourite photographers. She works in black and white, and in series, producing primarily portraits of figures who are in one way or another marginal: working class boxers; carnival artistes; street people; transvestites; the institutionalized; the indigenous.

I’ve just got hold of Paz Errázuriz: Photography / Fotografía 1983-2002, the catalogue from a major retrospective exhibition held in Santiago a couple of years ago. Looking back over twenty years of her work, what emerges is how much Errázuriz is a photographer of affect. She records bodies marked by their encounters with the world, with other bodies. And from these states of affection, she extracts also the abstract affects that surround such bodies, what Deleuze terms “veritable critical entities that hover over the body and judge it” (Essays Critical and Clinical 124).

It is by drawing on the power of affect that these subalternized non-subjects, excluded from conventional discourse, express and construct their individuality–an individuality that may, as in the series El infarto del alma, only be constituted through a couple, through a mutual becoming and doubling.

El infarto del alma (Heart Attack of the Soul) consists of photos of couples that have formed within the confines of the Putaendo psychiatric hospital, a state facility for the destitute deranged. What Errázuriz (and Diamela Eltit, the writer who worked with her on this project) found here was far from the “bare life” of psychotic degradation and institutional repression that one might expect. Rather, she uncovers affective intensities, and the powerful assertion of new individualities.

From El Infarto del Alma
Or in Nelly Richard‘s words, from the essay that is her contribution to the catalogue:

Identities disarmed by psychotic fragmentation or amorous revolt are restructured in the pose that enforces a synthesis of their disconnected corporealities. Despite the multiple deliria expressed in the intermittent and startled language of the nervous tick, these corporealities manage to regain agency, in a relative synchronicity of gestures and postures, by means of a pose that enunciates, also, the complex ritual of the human couple through the amatory figures of embrace and caress. (21; translation modified)

Fragmented non-organic bodies, composed of gestures and postures, states of bodily affection, come together to constitute new forms of subjectivity captured by, but also facing down, Errázuriz’s camera.

Back to Deleuze:

Affective critical entities do not cancel each other out, but can coexist and intermingle, composing the character of the mind, constituting not an ego but a center of gravity that is displaced from one entity to the next, following the secret threads of this marionette theater. Perhaps this is what glory is: a hidden will that makes entities communicate, and extracts them at the favorable moment. (124)

Errázuriz’s photography is, in this sense, glorious.

Bachelet

Michelle BacheletAnd now Chile.

Also here, from Las Últimas noticias, and here from La Tercera; El Mercurio has yet to register the news… update, that’s not quite fair as El Mercurio Online, a separate site, has, under the subhead “Histórico triunfo de la candidata de la Concertación”.

Only the second woman to be elected head of state in South America, a socialist and former detainee under Pinochet, a single mother in a country that only legalized divorce last year.

(Other elected women heads of state in the region: Violetta Chamorro, Nicaragua, in 1990; Janet Jagan, Guyana, in 1997; and Mireya Moscoso, Panama, in 1999. The first woman head of state in the Americas was Isabel Perón, from 1974 to 1976, who assumed power on the death of her husband. Indeed, all these four were widows of prominent public figures.)

Here’s Michelet’s campaign blog. Its post-victory entry stresses the affective, reading in part:

Still it’s not words that matter today, but the emotion, the embraces, the happiness of the friends with whom we have shared this long campaign, all those who put up posters, went door to door, convinced a friend to share a dream, the possible dream of a fairer country in which a woman who was once the victim of hate is today the President-elect of Chile . . . We have made history. But that history has only just begun.

And el teléfono rojo, a group blog dedicated to covering the election. Who note that one Chilean TV channel showed Bullworth immediately after concluding its election coverage.

See also Matthew Søberg Shugart, who at Fruits and Votes stresses the continuities rather than the changes registered by this election, in that “It has now been 48 years since Chileans elected a president who was neither a Socialist nor a Christian Democrat”. Which is true enough, but the move within the Concertación from Frei to Lagos to Bachelet is also definitely a leftward drift. (While the Concertación and the Unidad Popular are hardly cut from the same cloth.)

But for a well-merited word of caution, here’s Marc Cooper: “Her potential to enact more than symbolic change, however, is something that must be viewed with a certain dose of skepticism”. Echoed by Beautiful Horizons, who underlines particularly the issue of military finances.