Flor de Retama posterIt’s striking how many differences there are within the current upsurge of Peruvian regional cinema. Indeed, in may ways you’d be hard-pressed to find a more disparate group of films in terms of their genre, subject matter, and style. Sangre y tradición, for instance, is a monster movie that plays on and supports regional mythology, and it has the air of a home movie made by a student drama group on their weekends off, albeit with considerable technical accomplishment. El huerfanito is both grittier and grainier, a study of child poverty with strong social realist overtones. While Flor de Retama (2004), by contrast, employs a number of professional actors and a style strongly reminiscent of telenovelas to portray a love story in the midst of the war on terror.

Flor de Retama‘s production company call the film a “historical drama,” and it indeed very much has the feel of a period piece. Its plot could almost be lifted out of a nineteenth-century English novel. It features an absentee landlord, a widower with a young daughter who is just emerging into sexual maturity and whose mother died in childbirth. He returns to his estate after an extended period of absence to discover that it has slowly gone to seed, but that the old faithful retainers have been long awaiting his return. One of the young yeomen takes a shine to the daughter, and she likewise to him, despite the disapproval on both sides of this cross-class liaison. The entire populace gets to work on restoring the lands to their former glory, but disaster threatens, in the course of which the long-suffering servants have to prove their true loyalty to the landowner, the daughter and the beau demonstrate their fitness for each other, and the lord of the manor decisively rejects his temptation to sell up and abandon the ancestral pile at the first sign of trouble. Finally, the daughter completes a task first initiated by her long-dead mother, whom her father can only now truly grieve, and the inheritance seems ensured for the foreseeable future. The aristocracy are once again wedded to the land. The peasants and tenant farmer have recommitted to the old order. And tradition is reinforced.

All that is lacking indeed, is a false suitor (flash and seductive but ultimately detrimental to the furtherance of landed authority) against whom the worthy suitor (plain and undemonstrative at first sight, but loyal to the bone) can eventually win out, obviously after a number of tragicomic mis-steps on the part of our heroine.

The big thing separating Flor de Retama from Austen or Hardy then is that the disaster affecting the hacienda is caused by rifle-toting Maoists. For the landowner’s return coincides with a Sendero revival. But this is where the film’s temporality is peculiar. For despite the production company’s label, in fact the bulk of the action has to be set in the present: if the flashbacks to the point at which the mother dies and the father leaves (by helicopter) to retreat to the city with his newborn child are all set in 1985, then the return to the Andes must take place around 2000. Or even, if Nova Imágenes Producciones are to be trusted, in 2005 if twenty years have passed.

So this is both a curiously displaced Sendero drama, in which the terrorist threat is presented as being as real in 2005 as it had been twenty years later. And yet it’s also a fake historical drama, in that it presents action that must be taking place in the present as though it were part of some semi-mythic feudal order. There’s a double sleight of hand here: Sendero has to be reactivated in order to set the present back into the past, relegitimating willing campesino subservience to the landowner returning to their property abandoned during the war. The insurgent provide the excuse for a test of loyalty and love: will the landowner’s work supervisor, a gun thrust in his hand by the embittered Senderista, go through with the assassination of his boss or (as in fact happens) turn the weapon on the guerrilla. A blood pact is forged in which all concerned can return to the pre-war status quo… as if nothing had really happened. Hence the daughter completes the painting her mother had begun two decades earlier. A hunky local has been brought into the family, but the girl has shown that she’s the one with the balls, as she has rescued him from under the noses of the rebels, hitting one of them over the head with a block of wood for good measure.

So finally here’s the point of contact between the three regional films: each is incredibly conservative, no matter the genre they choose to convey their remarkably unsubtle messages. Sangre y tradición is a plea to maintain rural traditions and customs. El huerfanito proposes to reinstate the patriarchal family. And Flor de Retama justifies the return of the seigneur to his rightful place in the Andean hierarchy.

Honestly. And people had problems with Madeinusa‘s politics?!

YouTube Link: the movie’s trailer.


The Oil Wars blog reminds us of the seventeenth anniversary of the Caracazo.

The Caracazo is the name of a massacre, carried out on the orders of then President of Venezuela Carlos Andrés Pérez, in which hundreds most likely thousands died. As “Oil Wars” comments, “This vicious massacre forever changed politics and in many ways can be said to have paved the way for Chavez’s rise to the presidency.”

We shouldn’t forget, however, that it is also the name of an insurgency, a near-spontaneous protest against neoliberal “reform,” a series of riots against the IMF. A multitudinous insurrection.

Here’s a question: has Chávez’s Bolivarianism more in common with the insurgency or the counter-insurgency? Is chavismo a continuation and expansion of that multitudinous energy? Or does Chávez rather re-establish a social contract otherwise broken in the Caracazo, thereby re-legitimating state power? Or both, of course.

For more on this, see also my friend Juan Antonio Hernández’s article, “Against the Comedy of Civil Society: Posthegemony, Media and the 2002 Coup d’Etat in Venezuela.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13.1 (March 2004): 137-145.

(Further links: various articles from Bitbiblioteca; “El Sacudón” by Rafael Rivas-Vasquez; “27 de febrero de 1989” from the Círculo Bolivariano 17 de marzo; “Venezuela después del Caracazo” (.pdf) by Margarita López-Maya; a personal account from priest Charles Hardy; and photos from the Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa.)


Le Colonel Chabert offers a fervent defence of populism–or rather, a fervent critique of anti-populism, which the colonel links to the anti-fanaticism of the war against terror. But it’s an error to conflate populism and fanaticism, or to think that all enemies of one’s enemies are alike. Populism is itself very clearly anti-fanatical. Yes, it mobilizes passions, but only then to demobilize and contain them. Whereas fanaticism seeks immanence, populism re-establishes transcendence.

Populism, especially indeed the neo-populism of someone like Chávez, is the last gasp of the social contract. (What the escuálidos don’t realize is that Chávez is the great saviour of puntofijismo, not its downfall.) As such, it’s a pre-eminent mode of counter-insurgency.

(Update: and now over on Lenin’s tomb we read that “we have to side unflinchingly with populist movements”.)

Here, more from Posthegemony, whose first chapter is devoted to populism (and whose second chapter deals with fanaticism)…

The dream of abstracting some radical impulse from populism’s anti-authoritarian and rebellious sentiments is shipwrecked on the fact that, under the guise of subversion, populist movements only ever construct and consolidate sovereignty, authorizing a people whose rebelliousness never rises above sentimentality.

Populism, as exemplified by classical political movements such as Peronism and contemporary intellectual tendencies such as cultural studies, and as theorized by Laclau, entails a systematic set of substitutions. It presents us with people instead of classes (or multitude), rhetorical gestures instead of analysis (or struggle), morality instead of politics (or ethics), sentiment instead of affect (or habit) socialized identities instead of social forces (or preindividual singularities), transcendence instead of immanence (or quasi-causes), unity instead of multiplicity (or contingency), the body of the sovereign instead of the power of the state (or constituent force). As Kraniauskas observes, quoting Freud on fetishism, in each case “something else has taken its place, has been appointed its substitute, as it were, and now inherits the interest which was formerly directed to its predecessor” (“Rodolfo Walsh y Eva Perón” 113; emphasis in original). Through these serried substitutions, populism constructs a drastically simplified image of social space. What has been substituted is quickly forgotten, erasing also the process that has constructed this falsely simplified scenario of easy dichotomies, crystal clear antagonisms, and well-worn assumptions. It is true that these disavowals conserve some remainder of what has gone, but analysis must move beyond the mere examination of such symptoms.

Above all, populism presents us with hegemony instead of any other conception of politics, and the state’s expansiveness as though it were cultural subversion or a flourishing civility. In the name of a purported counter-hegemony of anti-authoritarian sentiment, populism’s self-erasing state logic permeates and coordinates everyday life. In an article tracing Marxist theories of the state, Laclau himself equivocates on this precise point. He notes that state logic has come to organize society as a whole: “the form of the state defines the basic articulations of a society and not solely the limited field of a political superstructure” (“Teorías marxistas del estado” 54); but he immediately disavows this insight by claiming that “political struggle has passed now to extend to the totality of civil society” (54). This only repeats the populist substitution: the state is conflated with civil society, political struggle with sovereign command. So long, therefore, as political analysis remains confined to the theory of hegemony, as is contemporary cultural studies, it will remain confined to a logic of populism unable either to differentiate itself from the populism of the right or even to recognize and so criticize the transformations and substitutions that populism demands and entails. Moreover, it will be anxiously haunted by the remainder that hegemony contains of what has been lost. Rather, then, than fixating on discursive articulations within civil society, we might do better to re-examine the differential inter-imbrication of culture and state. Or rather, we might again see the state as what has to be explained, in its dependence on but distinction from the affective performativity and cultural habit that sustains it.


Can we then talk of insurgency?

Lenin (of the Tomb), in his post “Why was New Orleans turned into a war zone?”, asks “what the fuck is all this ‘insurgency’ gibberish?” A spirited debate has ensued in the comments, about the nature of the contemporary state and its relation to violence. “I repeat and underscore ‘there was no insurgency'”, repeats and underscores lenin.

Elsewhere on the Tomb, in another post that caused a flurry of disagreement in the comments, BionOc’s “Recipe for Lawlessness, Cajun-Style” gives us, not a denial of violence, but its rationalization: “Now, I’m not for a minute going to excuse those crimes. They are inexcusable. But I’m damned if I’m going to shy away from trying to understand them.”

Within his tomb, Lenin must be slowly rotating.

It’s the classical liberal response either to deny subaltern violence or to rationalize it away through “understanding.” Indeed, BionOc pithily gives us the liberal view on criminality in nugatory form. Hate the sin, love the sinner.

It’s also true, however, that all talk of violence is its rationalization, to some extent or another. All discourse defers the materiality of blood, sweat, and affect. It is all, in this sense, what Ranajit Guha terms “prose of counter-insurgency.”

So can we talk of insurgency? No. But perhaps we can show how insurgency distorts and mangles language, surprises it and forces it into increasingly desperate (“I repeat and underscore”) rearguard actions of denial, deferral, or denunciation. All insurgency talk is reduced to “gibberish.”

On the one hand, everything is out in the open in these posthegemonic times. Little if anything is hidden. But that’s not to say that language serves no function. Rather, on the other hand, it is that it is discourse’s most basic function that is now evident: to mobilize affect, but also to damn it up, territorialize it in the classic double articulation familiar from all populisms. The point isn’t the sense it does or doesn’t make: of course it’s “gibberish.” Discourse now works directly with and on the body, deferring violence in the case of what once passed for socialism, or inciting it in the case of an increasingly naked neo-conservativism.

Simply two modes of counter-insurgency, prosaic mirrors of each other.