An epoch unmoved (IV). by Gerardo Muñoz

When I cut through things it means that I encounter a relief in the world. Now, a relief is something that takes us by surprise, although it is not hidden, as it is always there in the open. It is pure exteriority. Picture the cross-bedding tabular-planar layers on a bedding plane of a mountain. Thus, a relief is not a void nor is something that one accomplishes. On the contrary, it appears, and it transforms the world into a fragmentation of things. I would not be able to visualize a relief without first having an encounter. Hence the relief is a world that is freed from cartography: in this sense, it is a sub-world or ultra-world in its appearance. The relief takes place at ground level, but it is not grounded; it an event of the surface, but its ultimate determination is the sky or the landscape. I think that here the maximum distance with the metropolis becomes clear.

What is a metropolis at the end of the day? A possible definition: it is a total surface without reliefs. The prohibition of reliefs (an old monothetic superstition) confirms the aura of the epoch without movement. When all we have are extended surfaces, then anyone could be at anyplace any given time. The encounter with an irreducible thing is fulfilled by the relation with any object. An object that is really not an object but an icon. The consequence of this transformation of experiencing the world is immense; it entails nothing more than the destruction of the time of life compensated with relations with the surface.

How does a relief come to being? How does it appear in the open? Thinking about this in the past couple of days, it occurred to me that a moment in Pindar’s “Isthmian 4” ode offered an image of relief; an imagen that I have not been able to escape from since I first read it a few years ago. Pindar says:

“during the struggle, but in cunning (mētis) he is a fox

whirling onto its back (anapitanmena) to check the eagle’s swoop.

One must do everything to weaken the enemy” (Nem. 4.45-48).

The fox becomes a relief on the surface, and in doing so, it produces an exit from enmity. Unlike the wolf, the fox does not run away from the territory; it finds the “escape route” within the apparent. The term anapitanmena means ‘stretching” across the surface. Its character as kerdō (“the wily one”) guarantees its cunning movement from within its body. Indeed, according to Detienne & Vernant in their Cunning intelligence in Greek Culture and Society (1978), the “escape” – which Pindar’s Greek used “olisthanein” – stages the image of the wrester’s oiled body coming unloose from the opponent’s grip. The fox’s “via du uscita” takes place as relief that unstraps the reduction of a surface. Similarly, in Oppian’s Treatise on hunting (211), the fox’s wily character (dōlos) dwells in the threshold between dead and alive, becoming even “more alive than the living” (Detienne & Vernant, 35). However, it is not just a wrestling metaphor of physical force, as Detienne and Vernant beautifully explain, the fox’s intelligence occurs thanks to the flexibility that dissolves the inside and the outside:

“Thanks to its energy and flexibility (hugrotēta) it is able to change its body (metaballein tò sōma) and turn it inside out (strephein) so that the interior becomes the exterior: the hook falls out. Aelian provides full confirmation on the subject of this maneuver: ‘it unfolds its internal organs and turns them inside out, divesting itself of its body as if it were a shirt…The fox, being the embodiment of cunning can only behave as befits the nature of an intelligence full of wiles. If it turns back on itself it is because it is, itself, as it were, mētis, the power of reversal” (Detienne & Vernant, 37).

Not in the body but in the shirt, that is, in the garment. The fox embodies the relief that externalizes the surface with the kinetic energy of the inappropriable. Whoever has encountered a fox knows this from experience. The fox blends with the landscape, but it does not become one with it. This minimal apparent distance is the creation of the relief. Only now, after some years in Pennsylvania, I am able to make sense of an encounter with a wild fox in the backyard. There was no confrontation or desperate seeking out, but a moment of detention that seemed to cut against everything else happening around it lending itself to the encounter. The fox always waits for you even before you are near the encounter. What is this lapsus-time within time? Here again, perhaps a poet can give us a hand. In a poem surprisingly called “Metropoli” (1958) by Vittorio Sereni, we encounter a modern fox, or rather a fox in a modern setting. It is a more familiar fox than Pindar’s wily creature, since we in no condition today to be able to understand the epic of Greek wrestling, or the practice of hunting, or the life of the polis. Sereni makes a more manageable sense of the figure possible. The important verses from the second stanza are:

« […] vecchia volpe

abbagliata di città, come muove al massacro:

la sua eleganza, qualità̀

prettamente animale tra le poche che l’uomo

può̀ prestare alle cose» (Sereni 2006, 190)

Like Pindar’s fox, this old fox is dazzled because it “moves” towards the apparent. This mode of violence – “a massacro”, for Sereni – is not necessarily depredatory. What follows is an explicit thematization of style: an elegance that has a quality that is scarce among humans. This elegance is not an abstract characterization of being a fox, but rather how the apparent, in the clothing, invests the animal in one life. But it seems to me that the enjambment for Sereni falls on the last verse: “può prestare alle cose”. “It lends to things” – in other words, it finds itself at home with the things he finds.

Again, like in Pindar, he becomes a relief among things, because now things are separated and not just “ordered”. The stylization of the fox in the modern voice of Sereni is the passage from the extreme physicality of the olisthanein to the “eleganza” granted by the dressing with the surface. There is no vanitas in this dressing-up; it is rather a contact of appearances that, in suspending the unlimited contours, it exposes the glitter of the relief. The relief turns out to be a garment.

 

 

*Imagen: The visit of a fox in the backyard, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2018. From my personal archive. 

An epoch unmoved (III). by Gerardo Muñoz

I find myself returning to Ramón Williams’ photograph “The Iceberg” (2013). It is a rather simple composition, but one that builds a strange and uncanny sense of place. It liberates a vista, but it cut through a solid structure that forecloses the horizon with a harsh juxtaposition. This rocky texture becomes one with the sea. Interior and exterior, forefront and background appear at a level of proximity that the movement of de-structuring assists in framing. Williams’ picture draws us towards a non-object: the very possibility of view. It is an experiment with a sense of surface that recalls another geological time; a sense that all too quickly recoils back to earth. It puts us near the matter of view. By liberating the eye, a clear sense of the world takes place.

Now, to be moved in an epoch of closure means that we narrow on the constraint. This is Williams’ challenge: the all too rocky surface bestows a sense of distance, and thus, an outside. This is no longer an abstraction of the medium or an effect of ‘theatricality’. Presumably, all of that is dissolved under the condition of the view. We are standing somewhere; not precisely in water, nor in the city. “The Iceberg” is a farewell to the metropolis at the moment in which desertion is no longer an aspiration but a taking place. There is no horizon and no time either leaving or coming. We are in a lapsus of inhabiting a fragment of the world. Here I experience the outside. Is not this what remains on the other side of the unmoved? I take this to be the question prompted by Williams’ picture.

I want this photograph to speak to me about desertion from the world unmoved. We can recall that Agamemnon uses a specific word to describe his conundrum: lipanous. Specifically, he asks: “How should I become a deserter (pōs liponaus genōmai)?” As it has been explained, the condition of lipanous is not just anyone, but a deserter from a ship. It is no longer how I can lead myself astray from the tasks of the heedless navigator, nor if I can pretend to be an ally in a ship possessed by a silent mutiny. The lipanous, on the contrary, moves beyond alliance and helpless dissensus towards a movement that experiences the clear. This means that the task of a deserter in thought is facilitated by the view. It is no longer language as an exteriority of things; it is how things become irreducible to the language in a decentered image without objects. Whereas in the city I can identify volumes; as a lipanous I am granted a new vision.

Here poetry assists us in a movement towards self-recension. Jana Prikyl writes in a wonderful verse: “Appian way, autobahn – those folks’ wildest dreams too were escape routes.” Obviously, these roads cannot longer prepare a flight. The Appian road and autobahn are civilizational tracks of a world now lost. This is at the heart of Williams’ craft: the course of de-civilization begins with lipanous at the level of the most apparent; not in the sea and most definitively not at ground level. Prikyl writes in the next verse: “with maybe a girl in evening dress waking onboard that takes vision.”

This little thought experiment doubles Williams’ phototactic concern by asking the following: how do we take a vision of a lighted world as a natural element for inclination? What ‘moves’ here is no longer the instantaneous stimulus of the waking to the vision. It is a via di uscita. But a vision of a particular kind, in which I am forced to be a deserter – chipped from the mast of the world into the melody with the true things (étuma).

 

 

 

*Image: Ramón Williams, “The Iceberg” (2013). 

A reply to Steve Buttes on infrapolitics. by Gerardo Muñoz

Chillida 1970

Steve Buttes’ “Some questions for infrapolitics” is an intelligent and generous effort that engages with several key problems at the heart of the ongoing collective project of ‘Infrapolitical Deconstruction’. Although, it begs to say that Moreiras’ works – from the early Interpretación y Diferencia (1991) to Línea de sombra (2006), have been central to thinking de-narrativization and the critique of metaphoricity, bringing these problems into new light from different registers (the literary, the cultural, and the political), I think it would be incorrect to frame the particular project of infrapolitics as a culmination of Moreiras’ own thought and itinerary. In this light, what I find of importance in Buttes’ intervention is the fact that he does not just hinge on a particular problem, but is able to juggle and render visible a series of common elements of the project that merge with his own research (1).

Indeed, it was unfortunate to have missed Prof. Buttes at the last formal meeting during the Harvard ACLA 2016 conference, but we could only hope that there will be another timely encounter for discussion. For what it is worth, I want to lay down a few commentaries on some issues raised by Buttes. My aim is not to correct or even less defend a programmatic way of infrapolitics, but perhaps to think about his recent inquiry as parallel with some of the problems that have been pertinent to my own intellectual reflection over the last two or so years. I hope this will serve as a reparatory outline for future discussions to come.

In a precise moment of his commentary, Buttes writes: “That which escapes regulation, visibilization through the metaphors chosen to organize the world—the unthought thought, that which “what was never [on the] radar” (“Some comments”), freedoms that remain beyond writing (Williams, The Mexican Exception), the unfinished manuscript (Cometa, “Non-finito”), averroist intellect (Muñoz “Esse extraneum”) and so on—always remains invisible, and as a consequence always emerges as something that looks like the thing it is: real life beyond calculation, beyond visibilization, beyond metaphoric capture. In other words, it is the image, as Dove has called it. This image, of course, is characterized by its invisibility, by its ability to be sensed but not seen, experienced but not known, used but not valued”.

I am entirely in disagreement that infrapolitics could be thought as invisibility in opposition to visibility, since that opposition itself remains caught in calculation that renders the operation of unconcealment and the existential analytic obsolete. The very idea of the averroist intellectual has nothing to do specifically with the image as such, but with metaxy (or metaxu as rendered by Weil’s anti-personalist Platonism). This is why life as pure means constitutes itself impersonally from the outside. Hence, to reduce the question of the image to a division of the senses (sight) or to the disciplinary arrangement made possible by modern art historical discourse (Fried et al) is interesting, but not relevant, at least not for averroism. It is true, however, that averroism is crucial for infrapolitics. To some extent averroism, like the existential analytic or marranismo, is an important referent for infrapolitical existence and posthegemonic democracy.

א In her important research on the saturated image, Camila Moreiras Vilaros has emphasized the transformative nature of images from a regime of the society of control to one of saturation and exposure. If the first still has a mode of coercion over bodies and subjects, the second one is hyperbolically without subject, substance, and extension. Exposure coincides fully with the image of the world in positionality. In this sense, infrapolitics fundamentally thinks not the invisible, but the invisible as already fully visible. To be marrano in the open means to dwell in the event of total exposure.

Weil, Esposito, Coccia, Agamben, or Moreiras are thinkers of this outside as metaxy, although do not particularly wish to install an “invisible iconology”, or “an icon of potentiality over actuality”. I am convinced that the question of iconology features centrally in Prof. Buttes’ research, but from my own understanding, infrapolitics cannot be separated from an actuality granted by a form of life or the second division of existence that renders inoperative the very distinction of actuality and potentiality. In fact, in recent months some of us have understood the importance of undertaking Heidegger’s influential seminar Aristotle Metaphysics 1-3: the actuality over force, as to cautiously rethink the difficulty of the Aristotelian category (actuality) that is at stake here. In terms of the icon, in my own research project I have thought of another relation with pictorial space that is not possessed by iconicity, which allows possible oikonomical arrangement and sacrament institution [2]. I would say that, indeed, landscape is important for infrapolitics, but far from rendering a dichotomy between the visible and the invisible, the expropriated and the appropriated, it seeks to think distance and dwelling.

א It was something like this that was at stake for Heidegger in one of his rare essays written as a general reflection on art, but specifically meant as a commentary on a Spanish sculptor that he very much admired: Eduardo Chillida. In Die Kunst und der Raum (1969), Heidegger writes: “Solange wir das Eigentümliche des Raumes nicht erfahren, bleibt auch die Rede von einem kunst-lyrischen raum dunkel. Die weise, wie der Raum das Kunstwerk durchwaltet, hangt vorerst im Un-bestimmten.” Before the pictorial space there is the question of space. How to account for the peculiarity of space? That was Heidegger’s question, since spacing meant to ‘erbringt’ (don) freedom and the life (wohnen) for da-sein.

The word “value” appears in different ways about seven or eight times in Buttes’ piece. I am not sure I can take up the different ways in which it appears, at times in opposition to use. However, it is clear that infrapolitics does not seek to value any ontic or ontological position, since it departs necessarily from a critique of the principle of general equivalence as the contemporary determination of nihilism (an argument made forcefully, I think, by Moreiras, Villalobos-Ruminott, & J. L. Nancy). Thus, it is inconsistent with infrapolitics to argue that “infrapolitics, creates […] a fetish—“a form of thinking the political that fetishizes the undoing of power as a value in itself”. Undoing power arrives at the non-subject or post-hegemony as democratic condition for social existence. But how is this “value” or instrumentalized for “value itself”? In some cases, Buttes seems to take value for ‘preference’. Infrapolitics does not make that decision for preference’s sake, but for understanding the non-correspondence between life and politics in thought.

א The question of value tied to the problem of ‘poverty’ and ‘exploitation’ is a register that infrapolitics does not take for granted. However, I am convinced that the pursuit of a new jargon of exploitation today is always in detriment of the possibility of understanding the existence of man otherwise. It is a very strange turn that some today on the Left– take Daniel Zamora, who fundamentally misinterprets Foucault’s work – keep insisting on the question about the necessity to reintroduce proletarian identity as determinate subject against diversity. It makes no sense to do this in a time like ours, where work and labor have completely disappeared. I prefer to discuss inclusive consumption (Valeriano) and uneven pattern of accumulation (Williams), not labor and exploitation.

In one of his footnotes, Buttes claims that “infrapolitics spans writers from Javier Marías, to Borges, to Lezama Lima to Cormac McCarthy to, as I note below, Ben Lener, and also, plausibly, Sergio Chejfec or Alberto Fuguet, then infrapolitics is the canon, it is the archive itself”. It is a surprising remark, but I understand that I might not fully understand its implications. Does it entail that infrapolitics is an archive of a particular style, or that it coincides merely with a work-for-the-archive? I agree with Moreiras that infrapolitics is a type of relation with the archive, and in fact, at the moment the collective is currently thinking through the archive in relation to the general historiography of the imperial Hispanist tradition [3]. Does this mean that infrapolitics is merely a relation with Hispanism and the Spanish letters? I am not convinced. I do think that there is intricate relation between writing and infrapolitics, but it could be extended and explored in other forms of art (painting, music, cinema, or even dance). Most of us work on writers such as Roa Bastos or Raul Ruiz, Lezama Lima or Oscar Martinez, Juan Rulfo or Roberto Bolaño; but these proper names are far from constituting an infrapolitical archive. There can never be an archival infrapolitics.

א In a recent intervention on the subject of infrapolitics, Michele Cometa suggested that infrapolitics was indeed the place to use literature as a thing for thought [4]. The modern invention of university disciplines and faculties, archives and practices such as “literary criticism” is a perversion of an an-archic space of unity where there is no differentiation between literature and thought, the image and life. One has to break away from the modernist fantasy that there is a ‘proper location’ for an object of studies. There are only relations of force constituted by tradition. This is why Dante at the dawn of Modernity, and later Leopardi during the bourgeoisie revolution, could see themselves as poets, thinkers, political theorists, and lovers. There was no separation.

Notes

*Image: Eduardo Chillida, drawing, 1970.

1. Buttes, Steve. “Some questions for infrapolitics”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/some-questions-for-infrapolitics-by-stephen-buttes/

2. Mondzain’s research is fundamental here, since her work on early Byzantine Church’s articulation of hegemony is intimately tied to the operation of iconology. See, Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary. Stanford University Press, 2004.

3. Alberto Moreiras. “A response to Steve Buttes”. https://infrapolitica.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/a-response-to-steve-buttes-by-alberto-moreiras/

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ddjE_sL5w