Skip to content

DISQUIET IN THE IMPASSE, by Colectivo Situaciones


‘Disquiet in the Impasse’ is the text that Colectivo Situaciones prepared for the book Conversaciones en el impasse Political dilemmas of the present (Tinta Limón, 2009). Its writing is part of a dialogue with different interlocutors, that interviewed in the book: Suely Rolnik, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, León Rozitchner, Sandro Mezzadra, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Toni Negri, Peter Pál Pelbart, Santiago López
Petit, Michael Hardt and Arturo Escobar.
If we decided to publish it simultaneously in two different formats (here we publish it without the other contributions), it is to give rise to several forms of circulation of the text. With this version we aspire to expose our voice – in this case: our disquiet – as material for debate and easy diffusion. We think that presented in this way it can stand by itself, while remaining intertwined with the more or less visible threads of the other conversations. This is not intended as the positioning or declaration of a group, but as a necessity to open spaces for collective elaboration over a present that seems depotentialised whenever it does not acknowledges the value of the struggles of the last decade and a half. What interests us is to recreate a perspective from which to read the forms through which neoliberalism was questioned, as well as the re-signification of certain forms of governance, in order to venture a politics that is missing and at the same time about to come.

September 2009

Impasse: a suspended time

We speak of impasse to characterise the contemporary political situation.
An image that is slippery and difficult to theorise, but very present in the diverse situations that we encounter. This concept that we are trying to construct requires a perceptive practice is able to take us beyond the representations used by the language of politics, essay writing, philosophy or social sciences. It also requires a sensitivity able to pull us towards that suspended time, in which each act vacillates, and where nevertheless everything that requires to be thought again is taking place.
The notion of impasse aspires to name a reality whose signs are not evident and it proposes itself as key of intelligibility of the atmosphere in which we are living. For this we turned to a set of conversations oriented to investigate those discursive and affective articulations that, together with articulations of political imagination, empower political activity in the present.
A present that, as we said, manifests itself like suspended time: between the irony of the eternal return of the same and the infinitesimal preparation of an historical variation.
Impasse is above all an ambiguous temporality, when apparently the dynamics of creation, which from beginnings of the Nineties animated a growing social antagonism, have been detained. The power of such dynamics of creation can be verified in their capacity to dismantle the main cogs of neoliberalism in the most part of the continent.
We say that the detention is only apparent because, as we will see further on, it is not certain that the antagonistic perspective has been dissolved in an absolute way, and even less that collective dynamism has been paralysed. On the contrary, in the impasse elements of counter-power and capitalist hegemony coexist, in promiscuous ways that are difficult to decipher.
The ambiguity is thus converted in the decisive characteristic of our time, and is manifested in a double dimension: as a time of crisis that does not have a solution in sight, and as a scenario where heterogeneous social logics are superimposed, without anyone being able to impose its domain in a definitive way.
Surely, the sensation that the political activity from below (as we know it) is stalled and, as if asleep, acquires countless shades when we think about the reality of Latin-America and the majority of the West. The complexity of the situations that mutate endlessly under the influence of the global crisis prompts us to consider this impasse as a concept –sometimes temporary, sometimes persistent – open to all possible tonalities and drifts.
Until recently, the idea of transition was invoked to characterize the periods when dissimilar or contradictory elements coexisted. According to this perspective, the co-existence always turns out to be temporary and the heterogeneity always tends to arrange itself according to an historical meaning that bestows upon it an orientation that distinguishes the characteristics “of the past” (that carries on dying) from those that pre-announce a future (that nevertheless carries on being born). This historical dialectic, which has a predictable resolution, allows at the most to identify movements of reflux or retreat that delay and influence the expected result. In this way it functioned both in the transition to socialism first, and then in the so-called “transition to the democracy.”
In the impasse, instead, time goes by without faith in progressivism and indifferent to any totalisation. The suspense corresponds to a sensation of detention of time, and of inability to grasp the possibilities of a time hounded by all types of questions. It is a time moved by a dialectic without purpose. However, while such dialectics is refusing the argument that we are witnessing a new end of history (as it was promoted over a decade ago), a mood is expanding, in which the exhaustion of historical meaning co-exists with the splendid rebirth of the already-lived.
In which respect do we speak of historical exhaustion? While possibilities seem to infinitely multiply, the meaning of action becomes unfathomable, is dissipated. The possibility of opening (the opening of possibility) that is presented “within hands reach,” or in other words the attempt to ask the absolute question (a sort of ‘and why not?’), in times of impasse turn itself into a dynamic of blockage.
Finally, what do we refer to when we speak of a return of the already-lived? To a phantasmic economy in which the present is draped in memory, in such a way that the past returns as pure remembrance, homage or commemoration. This return of the same as memory manifests itself as a closure in front of a question that opens a new time but that, however, ends up disfigured. Disfigured by the desire to imprison within the historical answers of the already thought, thus neutralising it as space of problematisation. Even so, that question persists latent or postponed as an unresolved tension. In the impasse is thus configured an incessant play of frustrations and expectations.

Sensitivity and situation

The impasse is also the impossibility (or the sterility) of any attempt to get a clear “picture of the situation,” conceived from a definite panoramic perspective. Far from rejecting the bibliography – however urgent and necessary– about the global economic crisis and the exhaustion of the power machine in the postmodern West, we feel the necessity to articulate these investigations with a mode of sensitivity able to develop concepts from the situations we face. Concepts that, otherwise, tend to break loose in the space of purely logical rationality where we polish our abstract representations.
More than ever, then, we need situations not only as the key concept of the articulation between thought and practice, but also as the concrete reality in which political power (potencia) is revealed, emerges and takes us further then knowledges. Furthermore, it is in situations that the daily battle unfolds against clichés promoted by the mediatic habitus and purely utilitarian calculations.
Stripped of the relief provided by those clichés, the possibility to find an incessant social mobility is opened, a mobility that intermittently pierces the attempts of normalization, feeding all levels of struggles and making tangible the figures that express the common.
The impasse that we face is then, above all, a challenge for the theoretical imagination and the sensitivity of our practices, and an invitation to recreate a new political grammar based upon them.
Following from these premises, we came across some intuitions that are halfway between philosophical concepts and dispersed impressions: exactly a type of emotional-conceptual hybridisation in state of alert that will function as our “situational guide” in what comes next.
One of those intuitions is about the existence of a world governed by powers able to introduce all their abstract poison in our thinking, perceptive and sensory tissues, duplicating reality as cliché or mediatic codification. Facing this new superstition, we do not call for trust in the supposedly demythologised powers of the subject: as a Descartes of postmodernism in crisis, we no longer believe “I think, therefore I am,” but we also distrust – we have to distrust – its other: “I feel, therefore I am.” We cannot rely neither upon the “I desire, therefore I am,” nor on that which says “the others are, therefore I am” of intersubjectivity.
These figures of critique seem equally devastated before the more universal “I mediatise myself, therefore I am.” It is from this, and from the individual and collective afflictions identifiable in each of us, that we can practice suspicion and disobedience in confronting the multiple treatments that the “therapeutic society” offers us to alleviate and manage our afflictions. The unease that succeeds in resisting this mediatic therapy, at the same time undermines the authority of one of the most imposing mechanisms of governance in the impasse.

Second intuition then: there is a potentiality to be developed in the very practice of problematising our afflictions from an autonomous and collective perspective, capable to develop concrete initiatives in response to them. Is the impasse normalisation? We are obliged to answer ourselves: yes and no; because the impasse is the suspended time in which the space of crisis and the exception are both treated from the perspective of a normalising ethos and knowledges, which are in themselves proves of the chaotic and dark undercurrent that threatens them permanently.
This idea of the crisis as the “mode of being of the multitude” and its public sentiments – referred to by Paolo Virno – makes the mechanisms of governance of these subjectivities insufficient. The materiality of the crisis resembles a rebellion that in itself does not know how become a revolution, but that at the same time continuously blocks the restoration of an order based on mere stability. This “double pincer” permits us to base the idea of an impasse not only in the so-called Argentinean exception (with its recurrent crisis), but also in a global condition that cannot be conceived without taking into account regional differences.


The performativity of capital

A soon as we begin to describe the impasse, we notice the ambiguity of the images that we count on. The difficulty that we experience in trying to maintain an autonomous practice of expression does not simply throw us into speechlessness and silence, neither it condemns us to a permanent chaotic noise, but it places us before a collective and fragmentary thinking that seeks its modalities of translation, compatibility and horizontal recognition.
The same thing happens with the sensation of a suspension of autonomous political activity: far from diagnosing a collective passivity of action –or a capture of its meaning–, we collide with a kind of existential and labour mobilisation that generates an effect of occupation of time based on the reinstatement of the language of economy (of consumption and of work). We know very well: working implies, increasingly so, a notable effort to access a permanent and standardized availability, given by a continuous process of self-training and by the understanding of hierarchising slogans that adapt bodies and minds according to the dominant code: the valorisation in the labour market, increasingly more precarious, which develops under the demand of producing partial results in a regulated time.
Such mobilisation intimately connects the search for a certain yearned normality with an amnesia of the political uses of time. However, the mobilisation has its correlated passivity. Not only generic social activities become work, consumption and obedience. There is also a more literal immobility, connected to the confinement in our own domestic lives and in the most immediate territory that becomes a ghetto; an adhesion to the fears that segments the city into zones, with their differential accesses, fast and less fast, safe and unsafe. Economy is thus constituted as a code that distributes and assigns places in the metropolis. It outlines the borders and establishes mechanisms of control, more or less explicit, for the life that unfolds at its borders.
The numerous and incessant cracks in this normalization (lives that do not fit in this project, but also the cracked moments that exist in all lives) are presented as spaces of temporary precariousness. It is this fragility that normalisation aspires to exorcise, in which the abyss of emptiness operate as the threat that calls for submissive adjustment.
Nevertheless, these inconsistencies put us to the edge of the radical absence of meaning, and they evoke the sharpest dilemmas of that which Santiago López Petit calls “querer vivir” (Note of Translators: ‘querer’ in Spanish has several meaning, among which ‘to want’ – as in ‘wanting to live’, ‘willing to live’ – but also ‘to love’, ‘to desire’ – as in ‘loving life’; ‘desiring to live’), placing us between death (extreme experiences of fear, anguish, etc.) and defiance of the forms of normalisation. The possibility of spending time in other ways constitutes the monstrous underside of the norm when it is exposes it in all its meaninglessness. This underlining uncertainty does not guarantee in and of itself a positive political horizon, but it exhibits the double face of the impasse.
Today we do not see a direct correspondence between social movements and political meaning in the same way it took place in the years when the struggles pushed the crisis of neoliberalism (even if this separation does not prevent developments that are still indiscernible). Our preoccupation in presenting the question of impasse is not reduced to a mere political nostalgia of those movements. On the contrary, we are interested in assessing the possibilities of the current situation, even when it does not conform to our previous notions.
In this sense, we are interested in the Latin-American moment (with its ambiguities, potentialities and unresolved issues), and we wonder about its possible reopenings. Our impulse is not about re-editing the immediate past of the movements, but about using them to achieve a sense of balance and a memory capable of opening new developments which could relaunch those radical political questions, today suspended, that are threatened by the possibility of closure. The impasse, to our surprise, is global. We had believed the perceptions that affect us to be formed almost at a local level.
However, it is evident that these perceptions are part of a much wider surface: its scale is given both by the extension of the spaces of social cooperation and by the machinery of control that formats it.
The fear and anguish that define the emotional tonality of cities are not a “natural” condition, but they can be conceived as a result of an assemblage of devices of daily control over life. They are organised in diverse and intertwined layers of governance of subjectivity through the management of currency, of information and of world of work, with extensions in therapeutic treatments and securitarian disposition, coordinating private feelings (phobias, panics, paranoias, etc.) that form the landscape of contemporary neocapitalism. The production of these effects of power over life is what Toni Negri calls the “performativity of capital.”
To take on politics at this level compels us to a perceptive materialism, capable of grasping the efficacy of capital’s performativity on the bodies and in the space of their interaction, in order to enact effective modifications from there. Against the belief that currency, aesthetics, information and consumption are “objective” variables to govern, these are increasingly revealed as dimensions of the governance of subjectivity. The impasse, as a point of departure, pushes us to resume political activity from below before such “naturalisation” of the governance of life. Politics requires, against all ingenuous versions of governance as a game of Chinese shadows, practices of counter-performativity capable of reverting the most subtle mechanisms of capitalist hegemony.


The arbitrariness of the disquiet

Let’s start from the impasse “among us.” To approach this, then, we propose a really homemade method: to depart from our disquiets and to give them free rein into what we are going to call our arbitrarinesses That is to say: the disquiet that does not adapt to the environment, indispensable condition to bring reality into the world, in order to collectively reconstruct those questions that make us listen, tell, see in another way, exploring the forms of perception that are excluded by the mediatisation machine.
What is really the temporality, the experience that marks the notion of impasse among us? It is one in which the relationship between possibility and action, and between the virtual and the actual remains unresolved. The impasse does not imply an absence of activity, but an activity that is situated in an “in between” where the constitution of sense – which does not pre-exists it– appears jammed. In the impasse the most radical opening co-exists with the most disappointing contents. The figure of the impasse describes an historical mood. And our way to situate ourselves in it is disquiet.
To conquer spontaneity, Nietzsche warned us, is to find the most difficult of things: disquiet, as a third term between a resigned passivity and a reactive activism, wants to expose the pacification to which we are invited by our time (with its ghostly economy) and to deactivate a pure mirroring reaction. Political disquiet, then, as the starting point for a counter-performativity and as the site of collective enunciation for raise concerns, again and again, about the way it presents us with a polarized, binary, and simplified reality.
A capricious method? The capricious is the political control over subjectivities. What we claim, however, is the ability to expand and multiply zones, regions and modalities of constructive-political thought departing from the apparently most plain everyday resistances. Our own trajectory brought us, in some periods, to call this type of activity “militant investigation”. It is not a matter of an unwanted conciliation, which could entail imposture, between academic investigation and political militancy, but of insisting to give the shape of a question to that excess of activity, affection, and imagination that is individual-collective life. It is a matter of giving a public form (in this sense we insist with the word “political”) to this ” anti-productivist productivity ” and of inventing, departing from the quotidian, forms of creative re-appropriation able, why not, to become a “communitarian moment.”
If we had to think what would militant investigation be in the impasse, we would say that it is the effort to get to the roots of that arbitrariness which requires us to think about what bothers us today: to decipher this mix of dis-ease and disquiet through which we live political passion today. Hence, it is a matter of taking responsibility for ourselves both as collective and singular beings, that is to say, as “nuclei of historical truth” (to say it with Leon Rozitchner): as sites of elaboration and verification of the socio-historical conditions and, therefore, as fields of dispute of power and politics.
In any case, it is a question of expanding the research those life experiences that, as we mentioned, confront the problems of our times and in that permanent confrontation, go fishing for signs as with a cane. Signs that live as much in the un-representability of the “external” situation as in the more disturbing side of our “internal” subjectivities, and from which we depart for understanding that which, in each situation, persists as a demand.

Governmentality and new governance

Since the dictatorship until the triumph of neoliberalism, in Argentina we have been witnessing–as part of a process common to all Latin America– the installation of a new type of government, whose functioning does no longer depend on the unique and pre-existent sovereignty of the state, but that is splitting in infinite instances of management, based on contingent junctures capable to intervene in any hypothesis of conflict. The novelty resides in the permanent invention of legal, political, economic, assistance and communication devices, which each time are articulated to handle specific situations.
Foucault called this form of permeation of government into society governmentality. It entails the incorporation of monetary devices, the management of public opinion, the influence of the media and the regulation of the urban life. All of these aspects make of neoliberalism a form of immanent control, calculation and commercial deployment of lives, while at the same time it considers the development of liberties and initiatives as its maximum value. In Latin America, however, this new regime of government presented a singularity: its triumph was crucially determined by the forms of counter-insurgent terror that took place between the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. From that moment, the state ceased to be the most consistent sovereign synthesis of society, but it dissolved, as an actor among others, inside the functioning of more complex governace devices (governmentalisation of the state).
We believe that the collective experiences developed around the social movements –from the beginning of the 90s until the first years of the new century– generated a point of rupture within the paradigm of neoliberal governmentality. The same social movements later caused a shift in the modes of government of many countries of the region, to the extent that they compelled them to interpret some of the critical cores exposed by these new insurgencies.
We will call this inflection new governance. It is constituted by the eruption of the social dynamics that questioned the legitimacy of hardcore neoliberalism and the subsequent rise to power of “progressive” governments in the Cono Sur . With different modalities and intensities, these governments were determined in their alteration of the purely neoliberal regime of government, by the repercussions of new social protagonism. It is important for us here to remark the sense of the sequence: it was the destituent power of these movements that challenged and put into crisis the financial devices, the devices of subordinate social assistance, unlimited expropriation of resources and consolidated racisms (of neoliberal governmentality), allowing in one way or another the coming to power of “progressive” governments. The new governance is due to such a conjunction of dynamics.
In the middle of the crisis, the movements and the experiences of a new radicality were also the ones that called into question the neoliberal management of work and of the common (resources, land, public goods, knowledge, etc.). Such dynamics gave rise to an attempt of social betrayal, even if only partial, of the state (as apparatus, but above all as relation); a state that is already a form-in-crisis. The innovations that were put into practice, far from representing new political models to copy, were exhibited –where they had the opportunity to develop– for what they are: tactical attempts in the dispute for redefining the relationship between power and movements.
Given that, among ourselves, “hardcore” neoliberalism can be defined as the effort to channel and reduce the social into the sphere of the market (privatization and general marketisation of existence, of nature, but also of the state and of institutions through outsourcing), the new social protagonism and its destituing vocation account for the violence of this synthesis, giving back to the public sphere the political density which the pure mercantile treatment had amputated, and determining the expansion of a true difference in the political scene. The new governance thus implies a complexification of the social management installed since the end of dictatorship. However its novelty finds its roots in the fact that social movements are resolute –with various degrees of success– in determining governmental rules, directions and dynamics (state and non state), in a space that is also permanently disputed. Such a new trait does not necessarily imply a definitive and irreversibly positive appraisal of its actions, but the realisation that the plasticity and ambiguity of these processes is enormous, because they are subject by their nature to the vicissitudes of political struggle. What happens around this new governance, the concrete processes that in every instance limit and/or expand its democratic dynamics, is what we are interested to analyse from now on. In order to do so, we should keep two aspects in mind. On the one hand, the “crisis of social movements,” that the collective Mujeres Creando raised ahead of time, was largely translated as a difficulty to encourage and develop innovative politics at institutional level and in the movement’s own dynamics.
On the other hand, there was the new governance ascribed in such an encounter of heterogeneous dynamics, which was based upon the paradoxical and partial recognition of the collective enunciations that emerged within the crisis. This was the reason why these expressions could be re-codified by institutions as mere requests, deactivating their disruptive and transformative aspect.
The excess produced by the most original social experiences of the last decade has not found a way to obtain a lasting autonomous public expression. Nevertheless, a modality of such surplus of invention perdures under the premises that could possibly be taken into account by various instances of government in the present. In this sense should be understood the postulate which inhibited political repression in various countries of the continent, and the hypothesis that it may no longer be effective to continue appealing to a discourse of readjustment and privatization. Although both of these can be considered as “negative statements,” since they translate as prohibition what had once emerged as social antagonism, at the same time they both show the lasting quality of their effects when they come to be perceived as inevitable axiomatic principles.
Thus, the marks that the crisis (with its protagonists) inscribed into the institutional fabric are still visible today, in the full process of normalisation and debilitation of the movements. This persistence is given like a game of partial admissions with variable effects (redress, confiscation, compensation) which, however, excludes that concrete perspective of the social reappropriation of the common which emerged from the agenda of the movements at a regional level (as Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar has argued).
Let’s say it once again: ambiguity characterises this moment. The democratic statements that survived their original circumstances are subjected to new interpretations of the forces in the dispute, to the point that their deployment is no longer dependent upon the subjects who conceived them, but upon those who presently acquire the capacity of reappropriating them for their own purposes. The scenario reminds us of a play of mirrors, in which we all wonder about the destiny of such premises, while positions are incessantly multiplying. It does not make sense to compare, for example, the attempt of the Partido Único de la Revolución Bolivariana of Venezuela with the dilemmas faced by Morales in the reactionary offensive of the Medialuna; in the same way a situations so fragile as the one of Paraguay does not resemble to that of those of countries which, in the style of Equator, have accomplished a constituent process.
Nor is it possible to simply equate the paramilitary and military advance in Chiapas, with the incapacity of the PT of creating a candidacy aside from Lula, or the shrinkage of interlocutors, both inside and outside of the government, that is hollowing out Argentinean political scene. The weakening of the most virtuous tendencies of the new governance determined the blockage of its innovative spirit, thus leading to the hesitant time in which we are immersed: the impasse.

New governance and good government

With the slogan of mandar obedeciendo , the Zapatistas tried to justly redefine, from below, power relations with governmental authorities, and thus disown a captured means of social change privileged by the state. Mandar obedeciendo thus became the synonym of another formula: that of the buen gobierno . They were also the first in their attempt to enter into a dialectical relation with local and national government through the Dialogues of San Andrés, after the armed uprising in Chiapas. With that failure on their backs, the Zapatistas made public their distrust for the most recent wave of so-called “progressive” or “leftist” governments in the region, relaunching, with La Otra Campaña their invitation to those from below and to the autonomous social left.
What did it mean that Evo Morales finished his inaugural speech on January 2005 by saying that he was preparing to lead by obeying? What did it mean to insert this political slogan into the so dissimilar Bolivian situation? In the first place, it indicated the weight of social movements that, in their mobilising and destabilising force, imposed a “beyond” of representative forms of government. Furthermore, it highlighted the paradox by which those same movements that had made disobedience into their platform of political action, had also been based on the development of new governance since their inception.
In Bolivia, the use of mandar obedeciendo was applied to the project of coexistence between, on the one hand, these powerful social movements that have been facing neoliberalism and racism for decades and, and on the other hand, a compound of transnational corporations and political actors that were prominent players in the battle over the exploitation of the key resources (natural, social) for the inclusion of Bolivia into the world economy. Thus, between “new governance” and the Zapatista idea of “good government” deployed in the Juntas de Buen Gobierno, the content of mandar obedeciendo is at stake. Rather than representing two conflicting hypothesis, both of them – when they do not crystallise as irreconcilable polarities – are attempts to think the question of governance in relation to constituent power from below.
Also, they have shown how a communitarian element, just as the mandar obedeciendo, can become a radically contemporary element in the moment of thinking a new political hypothesis. The Zapatistas, however, have showed that in Mexico that dialectic between governments and movements can also not function and that this failure obliges the movements to a new phase of silence and, at times, of substantial reorganization of their strategies. What happens when certain tendencies of mandar obedeciendo enable an attempt of state betrayal inaugurating a dynamic of new governance? We said that social movements (and now we refer more precisely to the concrete subjects, organized around embodied experimental struggles) were left without an “autonomous public expression.”
The transversal plan of political production and elaboration that emerged during the most street-level phase of the crisis no longer exists or can only happen in a fleeting way, which impedes the building of pragmatics that could make use of the conquered propositions in an emancipatory way. In the impasse we find, then, the exhaustion of certain modalities of antagonism, whether in its multitudinous and destituent version as in its ability to inspire new (post-state) institutions. The decline of antagonistic tension allowed the abandonment of a set of dilemmas raised by the struggles around paid work, self-organization, the recovery of factories and of natural resources, political representation, forms of deliberation and decision-making, modes of life in the city, communication, food sovereignty, and the struggle against impunity and repression.
This can be considered an indicator of the relative incapacity of the “movements” (that is to say, ours) to play a versatile role in the new situation. Versatility that does not only (nor fundamentally) refer to a possible participation in the “conjunctural political” game, neither to the insistence in a confrontation without end, but above all to the possibility of creating autonomous contexts from which autonomously read this process. For this purpose, only a political maturity of the movements can provide the tactical ability for maintaining autonomy as a lucid perspective in the moments of maximum ambivalence, and to put in action its multiple dimensions.
Nevertheless, the democratizing potential of social movements has remained suspended, prisoner of the canons of economism (which considered the increase in consumption its only content) , or confined to a strictly institutionalist dimension, with which the new governance has many times been identified. However, the impasse is also created by another kind of ambiguity, which arises from the exhaustion of inherited forms of dominance and the confirmation of certain invariables that boost domination as such, especially the reinstatement of neoliberal forms of labour management under a developmentalist narrative. This not only does not permit taking advantage of the results that the movements achieved on this matter, but it also renders unproblematic those narratives that are coexisting very well with new dynamics of accumulation that are destructive to the expansion of the democratic possibility of collective goods.

Latin America: a betrayal of the crisis

The situation of Latin America offers thus two contributions to critically reinterpret the crisis affecting the global scene: on the one hand, a wealth of images that anticipated the now-widespread disaster of neoliberalism (especially in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina); on the other hand, it shows how the constitution of a political subjectivity from below enables the possibility of a “democratic betrayal” of the crisis. However, many governments of the continent have translated this interestingly in a neo-developmentalist manner; even though they take on the crisis scenario, they extricate it from arguments that incite to the reinstatement of a national-state imaginary, weighed down by a insistence of the wage form. The lack of nuance in the discourses that shape the current Argentinean ruling party are due to its insistence in abstractly opposing sequences that really are not antagonistic: “Liberalism or national development,” “market or state,” “economy or politics.” This way of expressing conflicts, although it provides immediate legitimacy and distributes the roles in the scene, runs the risk of replenishing the force of “political” neoliberalism, because it avoids any critical reflection on the ways in which institutions and competition, private and public, democracy and consumption, are articulated.
The renunciation of constructing a specific diagnosis and the inability to generate original readings on the nature of contemporary crisis are matched by policies that are unable to face the current challenge.
The impasse thus overlaps with the world crisis of capitalism: while the capital tries to redefine new features for its reproduction, the global dimension of the debate seems concentrated on assessing the implications of a renewed policy of state intervention. The reissue of this old binary presupposes according to Michael Hardt, the absence of rationalities able to express the power arisen from successive and recent cycles of fight.


Work: dignified, genuine, decent ….and impossible

The crisis years questioned the relation between life and work. In Argentina this link was especially politicized around the movements of the unemployed. The uncoupling between existence and employment led to a process of redefinition of social reproduction and its figures: once the wage had been questioned, welfare experiments of resource allocation and various kinds of popular and self-organised companies could entered the scene.
The protagonism of the pickets generated the slogan trabajo digno (dignified work), expressing the resistance to the reducing life’s reproduction to servile gestures under the form of tradeoffs of social programs provided by different governmental bodies. This implied a radical questioning of neoliberal forms of management based on the clientelism of territorial authorities and of an entire style of administration of the social energy in the suburbs: from the intolerable reduction to domestic servitude of the “beneficiaries” (of the plans) by local political leaders (who used them as employees/housekeepers or construction workers for the functionaries of local authorities) to the use of time for jobs that sustained the basic functioning of the municipalities and consolidated subordination.
Dignified work (trabajo digno) was the expression of an autonomous will to make use of the activity of those movements that resisted, in their initiatives, to accept the equation “unemployed equals passive/dependent “. Therefore, various perspectives developed around dignified work, some linked to a reappropriation of the plants as the basis for self-managed companies, while others looked for those working class modes of entrepreneurship that rejected any relation with said social plans from the start.
Also as an alternative to the logic of compensation, some movements developed economic enterprises (cooperative, fairs, networks of commercialization, etc.) that they decided to name genuine work (trabajo genuino), alluding to the ability of such jobs to produce exchange value, and not merely a subsidized one. In turn, this slogan was used both by the most combative currents than demanded jobs from big businesses as effect of their struggles, and by those who believed in an effective restructuring of the workforce and who fostered in any way possible the generation of employment as part of a sustainable industrial development.
In the same vein the workers who occupied the bankrupt factories and put them back in operation, practiced cooperative management methods – with diverse degrees of rupture from previous method of labour organization. They used this methodology both in regard to the operational criteria (work rotation, parameters of productivity, improvements in sanitation, etc.) and in the constitution of the assembly as the privileged space for collective production and decision making.
All these initiatives had to face similar challenges: How to avoid collective work becoming trapped in a new form of (self-) exploitation resulting from market requirements, with its logic of valorisation and its patrons of productivity. From the point of view of the recomposition of labour market, triggered by the mega devaluation of 2002, these experiences were interpreted by the state as demands for re-proletarisation. The actual generation of a broader labour dynamics developed according to a fragmented picture in which labour force is segmented in employed and unemployed, formal and informal, and so on. The various working situations however, gave rise to a partial and differential increase of popular consumption, following the cycles of the market. In parallel, union and workers’ struggle resurfaced out of the formation of internal committees that questioned traditional leadership, generating, in some cases, new experiences of unionised action.
The reinstatement of the wage society imaginary, thanks to which today the official discourse is calling for dignified work, assumes the above-mentioned attempts to have a negative balance; it displaces the question they raised, and proposes “full employment” (a persistent horizon of meaning, in spite of its evident crisis) as a preferred mean of “redistribution of wealth.” At the same time, this imaginary recovers such initiatives as its social policy directives (in the form of the generation of cooperatives and of state financed and monitored enterprises).

On neo-developmentalism (neodesarrolismo)

In this light let’s try out a few definitions of neo-developmentalism.
A tentative one consists of an organic assemblage of State-waged political control, of a structure of subsidies for services and employment, and of the power to tax activities of extraction and export.
In turn, this is inseparable from a predatory attitude towards natural resources, common genetic heritage of species and the production of common goods. By actualising the most modern techniques of an archaic type of exploitation, [neo-developmentalism] actualises too, against its own premises, a memory of resistance (as explained by Arturo Escobar).
Its limitations are: a systematic underestimation of the ecology and possibilities of urban life (marked by a perspective of consumption and security); an absolute dependency upon the complex process of management of the following crises of the world market; and a de facto subordination to the vicissitudes of the financial economies, of which it claims to be an alternative.
Neo-developmentalism (a global version of developmentalism) implies a series of continuities and ruptures with the pure neoliberal model, from whose crisis of legitimacy it originated. If, on one hand, it proposes a return to work and production as the axis of social recomposition (consumption, the family, etc) after decades of erosion of the workers’ and collective rights, on the other it coexists with certain conditions (financial mediations, precarisation of work) that question the effectiveness of its imaginary and determine the limits of its execution.
As such, it inherits and functionalises a neo-colonial management of the workforce: the fixation of population to the territory in a moment of maximum mobilisation of goods is complemented by the administrated (legal-illegal) transfer of contingent and racialised – that is to say, marked ethnically and nationally- migrants. Their destined urban and work location are, respectively, ghettoisation and ultraprecarisation (neo-slavery).
These important devices of racialisation and ghettoisation, however, transcend all ethno-national specificity and extend to a continuity of wider contingencies of populations at the service of the production of servile workforce.
As argued by Sandro Mezzadra, these devices are part of a more extended mechanism of government of work, that operates through its fragmentation, but also through its segmentation. This is the function of the intertwining of stigmatising discourses that treat the existence of categories within its own labour force – precisely those different segments – as a problem of security, turning against each other “employed” and “unemployed”; “Argentines” and “non-Argentines”; “whites” and “blacks”; “stable workers” and “changarines” ; “neighbours” and “villeros” .
At the same time, the so-called “productive” economy depends upon and reproduces as a condition of profitability, a territorial differentiation of profit by country or regions, giving impulse to (while administering) processes of territorial displacement.
For this reason, in social conflict there is a confusion between the demands of trade unions and those of ethnic-national groups, placing at the centre of the (micro)political dynamics the question of the common, with its fundamental ambivalences.
As such, neo-developmentalism entails under-the-table work, informal businesses and low salaries to pressure formal jobs. It implies, therefore, new necessities at the time of imagining forms of collective organisation of the workforce. As we know: [it’s the] biopolitical organisation (since the salary is articulated in an insurmountable way together with the urban living standards, health, education, etc.).
During the virtuous phase of the increases in employment, salary and consumption, expectations and experiences of militant radicalisation were activated, and, in tune with the regional context, they contributed to make use (open up?) a political rhetoric in terms of conquests and gains to be defended during the decreasing phase and of confrontation with the still existing neoliberal premises.
A paradoxical characteristic of neo-developmentalism is that if on one hand it proposes an increase of mass consumption, on the other it limits this potentially democratising force by reducing the very idea of wealth to standardised paradigms, whose definitions are already given to us, in the pursuit of reactivating the cycle of accumulation-income-salary. While the generation of employment presupposes more participation of those exploited in the consumption of goods, the paradigm of such consumption is uncritically assumed as the norm for the participation of all in the global wealth. Through this mechanism social and political relations become once again hierarchical around an ideal model that is, in the contemporary ecological, energetic and environmental conditions, structurally inaccessible to most.


Mytho-logics

The struggles against neo-liberalism in Latin America during the last long decade and a half are inconceivable without the development of the movements that have recovered or reinterpreted the world of the indigenous people, native cultures and a myriad of mythological elements that, subordinated for centuries to the colonial West, form part of a wider potential to narrate the fable of the present.
The ambivalent existence of these mythological elements is produced by the simultaneous gesture of alimenting the imagination with new forms of management of the common and of social autonomy, on one hand; and, on the other, by the functioning – in its reversal – as a way to subordinate populations to the paradigm of national developmentalism.
As we have shown, neo-developmentalism stimulates an imaginary of reconstruction of the social ties around full employment, while at the same sustaining precarious work: numerous mythological elements partake today of these complex hybridisations, that make them functional to these dynamics.
What does it say to us that the recomposition between criteria of capitalist valorisation and forms of employment around economies such as textile production, that are supported by the so-called “slave labour” of clandestine laboratories and that mix cooperative relationships and methods originary from the native cultures of the Bolivian Plateau? Or what does it mean that the exploitation of the skills and costumes of the quinteras and quinteros, migrants themselves, who today produce most of the fruit and vegetables that are consumed in Buenos Aires?
Are these communitarian elements (linguistic-affective), in a postmodern assemblage (post-communitarian?) exploited by their reversal as a source of new hierarchies and forms of exploitation? What happens when these mythical-cultural elements become part of the dynamic of creation of stereotypes and stigmas that justify a politics of social division of the city in new ghettoes and zones of hyper-exploitation? Or is it directly included in the calculation of the price reduction of the workforce? How can these communitarian traditions coexist with the modern myth, still strong –and nowadays omnipresent – in Argentina, which refers to the “glorious years” of the import substitution, in the same moment that the work market is being recomposed starting precisely from those non modern elements (hierarchies by race and colour of the skin, etc.) and postmodern ones (as the mobile workers of the vast majority of the service economy)?
To the multiplicity of attempts opened by the social experimentation before the crisis, the glorification of employment, post-devaluation, opposes the interpretation of the shattering of 2001 and the open conjuncture of 2002-2003 as a catastrophe to be exorcised and again uses unemployment as a threat and a legitimising argument in front of the possibility of a new devaluation.
We were saying that the refusal to work and the recuperation of mythological elements constitute, among others, the components of a political and practical capacity to construct a story. Included as tension displaced in the ambiguities of the present, they form part of the processes of constitution of subjectivity in the impasse. Today, that refusal of work (its politicisation, its rupturing materiality, its other image of happiness) is a diffused texture in the peripheries (as much in those in the centre of the city as in the old “industrial areas”): it’s part of the urban calculations of the many who prefer to take part in more or less illegal and/or informal networks rather than gaining a stable job; it’s visible in many strategies of the younger pachucos who don’t have the possibility of employment in their horizon, but who have many other forms of earning a living and risking their lives; and also in other people it still exists as search for self-organised or cooperative solutions to their everyday existence.
Similarly, tendencies of de-ghettoisation and de-racialisation form part of the most animated and countercultural communitarian developments in the city. They are minoritarian components with an extended diffusion (in this sense that Suely Rolnik characterised the current moment), an active compound that demands maximum attention.


Urban Cartography

A good part of current conjunctures revolve around the hegemonic contents that constitute governance in the impasse. It’s the case, for instance, of the fight engaged by the right-wing entrepreneurial class, who identify the “new politics” with management, understood from a managerial standpoint as techniques to “resolve the problems of the people”. In this way, the possibility of a new neoliberal inflection, this time from inside the impasse, can be read as a new attempt of capitalist metabolisation of ever larger aspects of life… precisely those that the recent struggles had dignified and politicised.

The government of the city of Buenos Aires “calls for prostitutes to help in the fight against child prostitution”. This is the title of an article in an online newspaper from Buenos Aires, May 2009. The article talks of “the pro prosti-spies” [PRO: reference to the acronym of the party that governs the city]. And it carries on: “They are ten, but the project aims to recruit more staff. They work and travel in incognito to all the “hottest” spots of the city, and inform the government of Buenos Aires about the methodology of the pimps. They earn a salary of 1.800 Argentinean pesos per month, legally. The idea is that they will become the nexus between what happens in the streets, the prostitutes and the State. In the next months they will recruit more and they are thinking of adding transvestites-consultants as well. NGOs and even the opposition parties are supporting the programme”. A civil servant explains the initiative in plain words: “We recruit them because they go in areas and at times that we couldn’t cover, and so we have access to more places and to more victims of sexual exploitation.”

Some of these comrades were the protagonists of the protests against the fines of the Código de Convivencia Urbano in 2004. Other women, with a common past of organisation, a few years later launched the slogan “No woman is born a whore”, which included a book and a touring exhibition.
How to understand that the city’s “right wing” government is turning to the very women involved in sex work, specifically to those who have experience of organisation and struggle, to carry out its politics of urban “sanitation”? Surely, they had already participated in different programs of social work, some of which they even resisted and denounced. But this policy presupposes something more: women in situations of prostitution are now called upon to directly realise the governmental task of mapping the “red light areas” and produce information on how to intervene in these places where the civil servant cannot go, nor they would know how, confirming that to govern one has to know the codes and to be able to produce interpretations on the spot.

Crisis of the spoken word

In the impasse, political speech is in crisis in a precise way: the “factory of meaning” is displaced towards the mediatic-managerial sphere, to the detriment of collective thinking. Socially constructed questions are now represented as “themes” before which we have to position ourselves or as demands to govern. Any question or discomfort can be identified and diagnosed thanks to images-clichés that become effective and flexible signifiers for anything. This gives rise to a certain “easiness of speech” and its enunciations circulate weightlessly.
We are thus faced with a paradox, according to which in the very moment in which political discourses proliferate, we assist a progressive de-politicisation of the social sphere and of language. It’s not a question of lamenting the loss of a supposed “authenticity” of the spoken word, but of becoming aware of the fact that the expression has ceased to imply an opening of collective imagination, seeking shelter under the strictly justificatory articulations of the current hierarchies. This then proceeds through the sophisticated lingo of academia and the assemblage of rhetoric that tries to reinstate, as the ultimate horizon of thought, the re-establishment of the State and authority.
In order for these kinds of operations to take place “materially”, it is necessary that speech renounce the production of embodied meaning, linking its fate to that of the general monetary equivalent: the flux of enunciations thus anticipates the monetary flux and is realised in it, while the latter is set up as the effective backing of the discourse.
A new order is structured by the adhesion to discursive strategies and conditions that we may regard sceptically but that provide the possibility of positioning ourselves in predictable terms of security and consumption. In this context, a certain cynicism becomes the fundamental resource of our epoch, as it accepts the uncertainty of contemporary existence, while at the same trying to exorcise its inherent precarity. In the same sense we can interpret the incessant repositioning of old significations that still possess legitimacy, as they provide orientation in a changing world, at the expenses of reducing its complexity.
In this sense the repositioning of the functioning of the State has to be understood in terms of a production of images that provide references to avoid complexity and elude its questions, rather than as a return to the old national sovereignty. This is the mediatic condition that today allows the production of institutions through enunciates.
For this reason the cynicism we were referring to functions by postulating the existence of what would not need its postulation if it existed, and that if it didn’t exist couldn’t be created through its mere appellation. It functions by mobilising affectivities, starting from old imaginary segments of politics that block, instead of re-enlacing, in a dynamics of problematisation.
This kind of process is matched by a subtle performative efficacy, capable of supporting authority and producing cohesion in a social context determined by the crisis (in a clear restorative aspiration). It is about the way in which monetary fluxes, legitimacy and public action are articulated.
Sacrificing complexity means vacating an important democratic potential. Any appeal to the collective intelligence is suppressed. In some institutional instances there is not even an awareness of the abyss over which is hanging common existence. Cynicism consists therefore in opposing a new and intricate problem to a ready-made image.
The critique that limits itself to denouncing the mass-mediatised and managerial subjectivity as a fallacy, its manipulative spirit or its paradoxical and alienating structure, still believes in foundations and unidirectional coherence. On the contrary, critique becomes politicised when it participates in the processes of creation of collective significations, as fragile and fleeting as they might be, in concrete situations.

The messages came and went around an “issue” that we thought was central to the debate: the difficulties that we experience in the creation of an autonomous tone in the current context are directly related to the preponderance reached by stereotypes. Perhaps we should even accept that there are no areas of thought that have not been mediatised by these clichés, which pretend to provide answers to radically unexpected problems.
This exchange has involved even Amador Savater, who at the time was enthusiastically working on the publication of Crisis de palabras (Crisis of words). This image seemed very interesting and allowed us to formulate a series of questions: could the detachment between language and experience be the element that remains unthought in the contemporary conflict? Are we running the risk of insisting on anachronistic or nostalgic interventions, if we are unable to account for the way in which meaning is currently established?
It was a great surprised when we received a message from an unknown sender called CRISIS DE LA PALABRA. The text said: “Crisis de la palabra recommends an article published on Clarín.com”. It was an article where “the great Argentine newspaper” announced the closure of the review Punto de Vista, after thirty years of existence. According to the news, the editor of the publication explained in the last editorial that the closure did not depend upon a financial issue but on the end of a phase. It would have been difficult to find a better example for our argument to show in what sense there is a crisis of language.

The impasse presupposes as well the neutralisation of the event. Any social novelty that announces itself as possibility and is formulated as a question is dissipated when it is subjected to “clonation”: as soon as there is a duplication of the invading forces and they give rise to a separate image, the sign of these forces is changed.
Now they circulate sterile and encapsulated, as spectres sustained by shortened and purely specular premises.
Obviously we cannot attribute this extreme malice and mystifying power to mere political shrewdness. It is necessary to understand this process as part of an intense anthropological mutation (as in the words of Franco Berardi), linked to the functioning of the internet and of digital technologies, a mutation that would be equally unreasonable to oppose with any a priori resistance and to celebrate with naive opportunism. The establishment of a new linguistic regime has complicated the relations between social change, crisis and the power of grassroots communication, forcing us to develop different modes of articulation towards the propositions of the old structural interlacing of meaning. For some time now we have been moving between two dimensions of analysis, both insufficient per se. On the one hand, we swim in the incessant current of opinions and news, operations and conflicts that are resolved in reduced scenarios that are disabled from opening up of the beginnings of autonomous interpretation. On the other hand, we try to subtract ourselves from the predictable universe of mass media and management, to navigate in deeper waters where it’s possible to get in touch with other times and develop other sensibilities. This alternative, however, contains its own paradox as it ends in a fight against “reality” in the name of possibilities that remain in a virtual state and don’t manage to manifest themselves in everyday life (the possibilities that torture the visionary, according to Peter Pál Pelbart).
In a present that cannot be lived neither as an epilogue nor as a preface, it’s crucial to resist the banalisation of existence. Humour is the principal weapon for those who accept to become, without complaints, orphans of a future that we want as infallible.
Not a derogatory and cynical laughter, that allows the drowning of pain and is condescending towards collective decadence. But on the contrary, yes to the irony that, by debunking idols, empowers our capacity to distinguish the material of the worlds to come.

Promiscuity

The impasse has its own consistency: that of a swampy terrain, of a bog. On that formless ground all those movements that try to be straight, progressive and planned crash. The intentional action remains subjected to all sorts of detours and diversions.
If this materiality of the impasse becomes our premise, we must rethink within it the very political activity that seems to turn into a slow and delicate interweaving in which each knot of the weft is realised as an experience of intimate proximity. The practice of current collective construction, in the image of a fabric, demands us to acknowledge that it is this warp and woof that makes possible the assembling of territories in the bog, to build immediate practical directions and to plot against – however momentarily – the invasive exteriority of mediatised existence. Only this way, through proximity, does it seem possible to conquer an immanence.
We call promiscuity this multicoloured environment constituted by the combinations that are engendered in muddy terrain and in which the political fabrics capable of constituting a force in a concrete space, at least during a brief lapse of time, are always provisory. Here the notion of promiscuity has no moral connotation, instead it tries to express a hybridisation of dynamics that coexist without a priori meaning that could order the exchanges and fluxes, or providing coherence and stability to collective practices.
In the impasse, the political categories become slippery, they don’t say much. The appeals to order, nostalgia or cynicism are not constructive forms of taking promiscuity into account.
The promiscuous is the terrain of the “and”: everything fits, everything is superposed, nothing seems to exclude one thing or another. No general criteria achieve to organise a clear comprehension of the world. In promiscuity a high degree of disorientation is required: opportunistic tactics accelerate, being calculative in order to survive is the rule, and fear organises the everyday. These are the current conditions in which life simultaneously withdraws and explores new possibilities.

Since a few years ago, on the fringes of Buenos Aires a fair has been growing that has been catalogued by some international organizations such as “the largest Latin-American illegal fair”: La Salada. There all sorts of logics are threaded and a complex series of actors and negotiations co-exist. The articulation is permanent, both in its creative and destructive sides. It is mainly run by Bolivian migrants and in the fair you can find anything: from clothes and shoes to food from every region of Bolivia, music and films, household appliances, etc. Groups come from nearby towns and from the interior of the country to buy in this gigantic market that functions only twice a week during the whole night. Recently Alfonso Prat Gay – smart legislator and former employee of the bank JP Morgan during the 2001 crisis – defended La Salada with his language of well-spoken young neo-liberalism, saying that those who work in the fair should be considered “entrepreneurs” and that if they weren’t there they would be potential criminals. For their part, different groups of “national” shopkeepers showed their annoyance: arguing that it’s impossible to compete with the circuits of production and commercialisation of La Salada and that the government should protect them as they are the representatives of the national industry. The inherent racism of both positions is obvious. However, we ought to highlight the way in which neoliberal economists valorise the mobilisation of resources that the fair entails, and, in a certain sense, recognise the reality of this productive dynamic that has become transnational.

Back to the consistency of the impasse: promiscuity does not let itself be confused with a chaos “to be ordered.” Maybe, it would be more appropriate to talk of heterogeneousness and the proliferation of assemblages in which meaning is never safe from partial reversions. An incessant production of mediatised codes and stereotypes acts upon this very promiscuity, and these codes and stereotypes give back, in real time and as if separate, the signs that are produced in the heterogeneous magma, rooted in collective dynamics. Under such mediatic effect, socials signs are undergoing all sorts of mutations.
As we were saying, promiscuity can be understood as the grammatical figure of the “and”. For this reason the art of political interweaving requires a very delicate job. To the point that it tends to fold upon itself as soon as it is confronted with too high-sounding, wishful expectations and, on the contrary, it regains effectiveness when it establishes itself in the reading of the incessant micromutations of social relations; these variations can be perceived and interpreted only through the experience of proximity.
The stereotype is, precisely, the mediatic conjugation of the proximity that we consider necessary for the political fabric. When reality functions according to connecting operators that simulate or clonate this proximity, the ambivalence that sustains the promiscuous is immediately translated as a new code, kidnapping its innovative potentiality, governing its becoming. The “ands” that communicated heterogeneity leave the place to other “ands” that serialise, over the same mediatic code, differences that are trimmed and recombined in the field of prefabricated images and language.


Profanations

There is an attempt to govern the permanent production of differences in the social terrain.
Hence, it can be surprising to note, each time, the strategic line of appropriation of organisational and discursive elements coming from radical practices.
These same inventions, once re-codified, come to function as procedures of order, pacification and construction of “civil society”, even when they are dramatised as conflict.
Nonetheless, it is always possible to find a gap, no matter how narrow, where the production of alternatives could breathe. From there, initiatives and dynamics of differentiation arise incessantly, initiatives and dynamics that are never safe from the risk of being reabsorbed, of remaining imprisoned in capsules of obviousness.
We call this velocity and density of capture the becoming-immanent of power, which seems to result in an isomorphism of the forms of domination in relation to counter-power, hindering the tracing of clear limits. If the hegemonic codification doesn’t manage to cover and control the whole plan of insubordinate production (immanence), it’s because there is always a surplus that remains in the unstoppable mixing of bodies, in the encounter of signs and their fragments.
This incessant process requires a patient and almost artisanal work to make it once again perceptible as difference.

Capusotto is not only a television comic character. He moves in a dimension that comes before television, where the work is carried out with images that organise an enormous wealth of existence.
In this sense he’s an authentic humorist that revives with laughter what was left frozen in the body and at the level of signification.
His character Bombita Rodríguez accomplishes to capture and disarm the stereotype of the 1970s militant, insofar as he exhibits a way of dancing, dressing and even of talking in which the old revolutionary firmness appears today as clumsy rigidity, in turn repudiated for the contemporary ideal of flexibility and fluidity.
A similar irony is conveyed by Pomelo, the new rock idol, specially conceived for adolescents “who want rebellion”, pure transgressive ego, egoistic hyperbole of the star, summarised in the way he drags the words and breaks flower vases, while he is incapable of a single musical inspiration. And then there is Luis Almirante Brown, the poet who attains the miracle of writing like Artaud and yet being understood by millions, as he glides with an extreme ease between the style “a lo Spinetta” (a symbol of cult rock) and the chan chan chabacano , later to “explain” the prodigy with the rhetoric of a university intellectual, or of a bohemian artist. Micky Vainilla (pop star with Hitler-style moustache and macrista style) synthesises the characteristics of that light racism, located beyond moral and collective consciousness, to which those who take on the hierarchical valorisation affirmed by stereotypes habitually surrender.
In his recent radio program, Capusotto was able to show the extent to which the smallest inflection of the voice, when captured by the media, seems to have been scripted in advance and is subjected to standardisation. In this way, all that is broadcasted through airwaves is truly plagued by the habits that govern expression and that manifest themselves when members of the audience call in to assert again that “we should kill them all” or that “they are all montoneros” and who invariably end their call with “very good program, Arnaldo.”

It would be sterile and simplistic to negate the power of the image simply because there is nothing in it that spares it from becoming a cliché. On the contrary, it is indispensable to pay attention to the way in which these images are intertwined and produced, arranging themselves in sequences with very distinct meanings. When the image circulates amputated from its context, as a way of life offered for consumption, what is produced is a stereotype. This very same image can be extracted from the univocal series of codification and be available for different uses, not necessarily anticipated: therefore we say that the stereotype has been profaned.
Finally, there are occasions sometimes when images are re-appropriated from the perspective of a singular instant, as part of a living and open process that provokes the disintegration of the very logic of stereotypes.
The image goes from one sequence to the other (from the cliché to its profanation,via its disintegration, although always facing the threat of a new stereotype), in a game of re-appropriations and re-interpretations by the ever-conflicting forces which confer meaning upon them.
An international brand is copied, altered and converted into the symbol of urban distinction for those who move within a market that operates on the frontiers of legality. The ways of talking on television are imitated, deformed and recombines as street codes by “usurpers” of mediatic languages that become the new evaluators of the uses of communication. The lyrics of commercial cumbia , filtered through the youth culture of the villas , have been invented as an anti-submission style and have been transformed into slogans that are a challenge to the power that discriminates and marginalises. Young clerks in supermarkets come to suspect their own prejudices when they realise the absurdity of fearing the “cara de chorro” of some kids approaching the check out.

The fight of the imaginary can go far because of (and not despite of) the mediatised conditions of the present. The disjunctions that profanates and ruin the stereotype direct us to immanence as a surface capable of asymmetries. In the case of profanation, the opening is relative because even if the meaning of these stereotypes is altered, the clichés continue to operate. The catastrophe of stereotypes goes a bit further: it supposes the absolute crisis (at least as a tendency) of its signifying capacity. Without any hope to exit the condition of promiscuity, we can plot new possibilities of political imagination.


The craftsmanship of politics

In this consistence of promiscuity, what happens to radical politics?
Although the most explicit merit of the practices and enunciations which were diffused at the beginning of this century in our country (autonomy, horizontality, street fight, insurrection) was to reveal the inconsistency of the previous political institution, there is another side of that new social protagonism that was equally decisive: for it opened up a wide experimental field transversed by all sorts of questions and statements. It is for this reason that, when today we question the actuality of politics, it is essential to take into account the extended process of social re-codification that motivated the relative closure of such experimental space.
One of the layers that shape the impasse, perhaps one of the most difficult to analyse, involves the existence of discursive and identitarian fragments that belong to the memory of the struggles through which we learnt to conjugate, precisely, to do politics.

This appeal to certain expressions and symbologies from traditions of struggle (including the most recent ones) has contributed to re-orient processes of acute conflictuality (openly indomitable), according to polarising dynamics that undervalue this great wealth of antagonism and reduce the horizon of collective invention. When political differences are reconstituted in terms of binary oppositions, the constituent experience ends up being replaced by its codified representation.
Yet, we can still distinguish moments of de-codification and attempts to autonomous interpretation, departing from the efforts of relative subtraction that perforate this polarizing call.
This is not about experiences that can be idealised, but about active situations that by producing their own languages lead to lateral drifts that try to evade the dominant code, the one that is articulated by the paradigm of government and that establishes the monolingualism of capital.
We are referring here to processes in which the coexistence of a plurality of elaborations of meaning, of living territories and of significant ties originate singular and irreducible compositions. Hence, the production of intelligibility goes beyond the discursive scope and opens up to a much wider (affective, imaginary, corporal) diagram, which can be noted at the level of great public and mediatic visibility as well as at the level of street spaces, informal and domestic economies and even of our own physiologic organs (eyes, brains, kidneys).
The antagonism hasn’t disappeared. It has been driven into polarisation, but at the same time it has been disseminated in the mud and in the promiscuity, to the point of becoming a possibility in every situation.
Hence, we can insist with the properly political value (greater when more inadequate to the discursive environment) of the collectives that refuse to dissolve in the common sense articulated in the process of polarisation.
If we struggle so hard to distinguish what political intervention consists today, this is because of the ambiguity and the vertigo that makes categorical statements impossible and that complicate the exercise of valorisation. It is not a question of reacting in a conservative way, reinstating the certainties that have remained standing. We have to immerse ourselves in this ambivalent medium, full of extremely real potentialities that haven’t yet manifested themselves but that prevent the definitive closure of “reality.” Perhaps, politics could be, more and more so, this inflection through which we give consistence to the situations in which we are involved, discovering the capacity to tell our own story. This labour requires a delicate craftsmanship.

[translation by Mara Ferreri and Valeria Graziano]

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: