Event and retreat: on the autonomy of the Cuban contemporary art scene. by Gerardo Muñoz

Event and the problem of sequence. According to Carlo Diano some historical epochs are prone to being inclined towards events rather than forms; that is, they allow the proliferation of states in the world rather than allocating forms to make sense of what has taken place [1]. Since 1959 – but also before this historical demarcation if one considers the failure of the bourgeois Republic and the apparatus of transculturation – the Cuban Revolution was poor in both form and events. Indeed, the institutionalization of the revolution has attempted at all costs to police the excess of both of these poles of world-making. On the one hand, the historical development of 59 secured an event that translated itself as historical and national necessity to legitimatize the production of a new “revolutionary subject” (el Hombre Nuevo); and, on the other, it assigned the supreme form of political unity in the charismatic authority of the Fidel Castro as the principle of a new political legitimacy [2]. It is against this historical frame that the event of 27N that gathered young artists, intellectuals, and writers at the doors of the Ministry of Culture should be measured up: the November gathering was an exodus from the total narrative of the revolution by insisting on the contingency of an event that affirmed a relative autonomy from the state as well as a separation between state and civil society. More than a set of clear demands at the level of objectives, political calculation, and cultural reabsorption to the logistics of the state; the 27N event in its outermost radiant potentiality was a breakthrough as a vital discontent of the youth that attuned itself to an experiential politics that have characterized the cycle of recent revolts of the past five years or so from Paris to Santiago de Chile and Quito, to the hinterlands of United States that no longer seek a modification of the social, but more fundamentally a thorough exodus from it.

I am not saying that they all recent revolts are homologous processes (or events of the same intensity or destructive vocation), but they do share the ecstatic vitality that posits experience over the technified and well-organized planning proper to the vanguard artist invested in mass conduction. Of course, giving primacy to the force of the event raises the question about both temporal and spatial sequence: in what way could those fragments, affects, and gestures transformed by the event mitigate their swerve without succumbing to the re-totalization of political recognition? There is no doubt that this has happened to the 27 Movement by virtue of the actualization of the phantasy of a movement. But a movement is the force that unifies political will, concentrates degrees of intentionality, and crafts a specific subjective discipline against any deviation from its rectilinear force [2]. We can call the phase of the “movement” a mediatized sequence that limits the possibilities of autonomous forms to effectively renounce the limits of totalization. Rather, given the experiential dimension of the contemporary events, it seems to me that the emphasis today should be placed at the level of genesis of forms, which implies connecting rhythmically the fragments within a sequence as a response to the metaphorical articulation of parts into a ‘movement’. In this sense, the sequence in the aftermath of an event must rethought against the grain of the category of ‘movement’, which in political modernity dialeticized the parts into in a temporal suspension unto the homogenous field of historical reabsorption. The force of the event, on the contrary, is what can render destitute the seduction of historical narrativization; or, for that matter, the assumption that political action still has transformative capacities within the set of developmental strategies of subjection, sacrifice, and voluntarism, all elements at the service of the metaphysical grid that constitutes the infrastructure of the philosophy of History. 

The hypothesis of the artistic legal turn. It should not come as a surprise that the limits of the movement demands that we raise questions about the functionalization of the militant in contemporary artistic practice. We should be willing and able to abandon the figure of the militant as always already positioned as a reactionary subject, which transfers military force to unified energies of the cause established by the movement [3]. It should be remembered here that the theoretical grounds of “activist” relational aesthetic was rooted in the transposition of the post-foundational theory of hegemony in Laclau & Mouffe’s theorization as a regulatory principle in the field of artistic practices [4]. But the price to be paid here is enormous, given that the artistic gesture and the possibilities of imagination are now folded unto the ground of “political action” recasting the old semblance of vanguard to achieve cultural domination. But since no cultural hegemony is ever fulfilled, it follows that political hegemony becomes a vector for the valorization of available strategies. It is no surprise, then, that artistic practice, once it turns to activism, becomes a pedagogical tool for and by militant subjects to stabilize the ascesis of self-consciousness. In sacrificing the autonomy of forms, militant subjectivity mirrors an intra-communitarian domination premised on policy and calculation to the idea. In other words, situating the set of strategies at the level of hegemony means necessarily that we have to accept the conditions already in place. What really changes is merely the site of subjection. It seems to me that this same issue is behind a nascent “legal turn” by which the artistic practice centers around drafting, contesting, and exercising pressure against the state by means of its own legal pathways. The problem with this strategy is that, as any jurist knows well, law is constituted of the pole of legality the pole of legitimacy. The turn towards legality becomes accepts the pragmatic conditions of norms and rules but leaves untouched the crisis of legitimacy that it seeks to transform.

In other words, whereas artistic imagination should be able to destitute the objective conditions of any given reality to new set of operations of transformation; the strife over legality ends up, at times counter-intentionally (and in a preserve way, generating unintended consequences), those very goals that it wants to endorse. In the Cuban case this is even more so, given that “fidelismo” far from being a set of original ideological principles or an unambiguous political philosophy guided by principles, has morphed into an all-encompassing institutional fabric that sustains the total state vis-à-vis a juristocratic operation of the legal order. Borrowing the terms from the discussions about the limits of constitutional transformation in Chile in the wake of the post-dictatorship transition to democracy, one could argue that the performance of the legal operation becomes the juristocratic tool to transform the relations between political life and imagination within the framework of given social relations [5]. Hence, if the artist pretends to incarnate a new version of the old paradigm of the “artist as jurist” soliciting the sovereignty of the creator over the vocation of the politician, one should expect the boundaries of the legal dominium of the state to expand, as it has happened with the reiterated executive administrative decrees deployed to normalize the rule of the state of exception. To break this cycle of legal administration, the artistic practice must affirm a disjointed zone between life and artistic autonomy over the excessive boundaries of the law. In fact, legality and policing should be understood as the two poles of the optimization of control once legitimacy no longer works to bind a political community. 

Retreat and obstruction. The minimal condition of any sequence in the aftermath of the event resides in how we protect the surround against the logistics of state policy, cultural administration, and political militancy [6]. These three vectors are the agents of hegemonic intervention against the unregulated proliferation of forms in the wake of the event. Recently, I have called this autonomous self-defense of forms a diagonal that moves against and outside the political demand [7]. The failure of not retreating from the foreclosure of subjective politics (of reducing a form of life to a subject of the political) entails that action will always be on the side of reaction. As Elena V. Molina has brought to attention on several occasions, the reactive action is so not because of ideological color or political affinity, but rather because it remains inscribed within the coordinates that the state has assigned it in order to generate responsive relays or bring to exhaustion the emergence of a new sequence. Rather, in the gesture of retreat (which can be read in the works of Camila Lobón’s infantile books, the opaque graphism of Esequiel Suarez, the sensible violence of Raychel Carrión’s drawings, or the youthful vitalism of the Mujercitos Collective), the possibilities lay on the side de-subjection against both the movement and the state in favor of an infinite practice of autonomy driven by the turbulence of the imagination. What is at stake is a radical abandonment of the historiographical machine that delimits and polices the mediations between culture and state in order to open up a new reservoir of existential gestures in order to break from the previous historical epoch.

The growing autonomy of the contemporary visual arts scene announces this oblique passage from willful political dissent across ideological lines proper of the Cold War to a play of gestures that unleash a new vitality capable of defictionalizing the historical process of the state and its moral demands. Contrary to the notion of action, the gesture does not seek mimetic repetition and reproduction, but rather the preparation of an experience here and now. In a society that is subsidiary on moral conducts and expectations; the gesture, in the words of contemporary Cuban artist Claudia Patricia Pérez, becomes a way to obstruct the efficacy of power relations [8]. There is no doubt that the force of the gesture is a nascent strategy for transforming contemporary Cuba, but the scene of the visual arts is the vital field where the storming of the imagination can unclutter a hastened path outside the ruins of the civilization of the state and the stagnant epochality of the revolutionary process.  

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Notes

1. Carlo Diano. Form and Event: Principles for an Interpretation of the Greek World (Fordham University Press, 2020).

2. Nelson Valdés. “El contenido revolucionario y político de la autoridad carismática de Fidel Castro”, Revista Temas, N.55, 4-17, septiembre de 2008.

3. Giorgio Cesarano wrote in Chronicle of a masked ball (1975): “Neo-Leninists perceive the disintegration of the capitalist system as if they could anticipate, in their methods, their role as true inheritors of power…the distance between militants and militarists is only expressed as a transfer of force.”

4. This was Claire Bishop’s argument in her essay “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”, October, 110, Fall 2004, 51-79.

5. On the notion on the “crítica de la operación efectiva del derecho”, see my conversation with Chilean philosopher Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, “Soberanía, acumulación, infrapolítica”, Lobo Suelto, 2015: http://anarquiacoronada.blogspot.com/2015/04/soberania-acumulacion-infrapolitica.html  

6. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Autonomedia, 2013).

7. Gerardo Muñoz. “La diagonal que nos separa de la política”, Columna Cultural, mayo de 2021: https://in-cubadora.org/2021/06/02/gerardo-munoz-·la-diagonal-que-nos-separa-de-la-politica-un-comentario-a-la-conversacion-con-leandro-feal

8. Personal communication with the artist, June 2021.

  • This text was written as an intervention in the panel “The Art of Protest” organized by the Biennial of the Americas, Denver, June 24, 2021. Image: Collage by Claudia Patrica Pérez.

Revolutionary becoming and infrapolitical distance: on Marcello Tarì’s There is no unhappy revolution: the communism of destitution (2021) by Gerardo Muñoz

Marcello Tarì’s book There is no unhappy revolution: the communism of destitution (Common Notions, 2021), finally translated into English, is an important contribution in the ongoing discussions about politics and existence. It is also an exercise that pushes against the limits of contemporary political thought in the wake of the ruin of the grammars and vocabularies of the modern politics and the rise of the techno-biopolitics of governmentality. More importantly, the operation of Tarì’s book escapes the frame of “critique”, abandoning any false exits to regain the legacy of the Enlightenment and of “judgement” in hopes to reinstate the principles of thought and action in the genesis of the legitimation of the modern social contract. But the radicality of the horizon of destitution – which we have come to understand vis-à-vis the work of Giorgio Agamben, and the Invisible Committee – is first and foremost a thematization of the proximity between thinking and politics against the historical stagnation of a historical subsumed by the total technification of value (the principle of general equivalence). Since Tarì’s book is composed of a series of very heterogenous folds and intersections (literally a toolbox in the best sense of the term), in what follows I would like to sketch out a minor cartography to push the conditions forward that the book so elegantly proposes in three registers: the question of “revolutionary becoming” (the kernel of Tarì’s destituent gesture), the hermeneutics of contemporary domination, and the limits of political militancy.

Revolutionary becoming. Marcello Tarì correctly identifies the problem the epoch as fundamentally being about the problem of revolution. However, the notion of revolution must be understood outside the continuation of the modern horizon of the Leninist technique of the revolutionary vanguard nor party, the “revolution within the revolution”, and any appropriation of the “General Intellectual”. At the end of the day, these were all forms of scaling the desire as cathexis for the matrix of production. On the contrary, the problem of revolution is now understood in the true Copernican sense; mainly, how to inscribe an excentric apositionality within any field of totalization. When this is done, we no longer participate in History, but rather we are “freeing a line that will ultimately go down in History, but never coming from it”. Tarì argues that the field of confrontation today is no longer between different principles of organizing revolutionary strategies and even less about ideological critique; nor is communism an “Idea” (as it was thought just a decade ago in discussion that were philological rather than about thinking communism and life); the new epochal exigency is how to put “an end to the poverty of existence” (3). The potentiality of this transformation at the level of factical life, is what Tarì situates under the invariant of “communism”: “…not as an idea of the world, but the unraveling of a praxis within the world” (35). This communism requires a breakthrough in both temporal and spatial determinations, which prepares a dwelling in absolute relation with the outside (49). This revolutionary tonality is one closer to messianic interruption of historical time capable of destituting “actual state of things” governed the metaphysical apparatus of production and objetivation of the world, which depends on the production of the political subject. In an important moment of the book, Tarì writes: “…. only the revolutionary proletarian dimension can grasp the political as such, the true break from the current state of things. The real alternative to modern politics is thus not to be ground in what we usual can an “anti-politics”, which is merely a variation of the same there, but instead in a revolutionary becoming” (50).

The revolutionary becoming is a transformative intensity of singularization, which ceases to become a subject in virtue of becoming a “non-subject” of the political (67), which about a decade ago Alberto Moreiras announced to escape the dead end of the hegemony-subalternity controversy (one should note here that the fact that the Left today has fully subscribed the horizon of hegemony is something that I think it explains many of the deficits of the different experiments in a realization of a progressive political strategy). And this becoming revolutionary, in virtue of ceasing to be a subject (person, vanguard, multitude, worker) entails a new shift from action to use, and from technico-rationality to an opening of the sensible and singular means (metaxy). Again, Tarì’s continues as follows: “Becoming revolutionary…. means utilizing fantasy, freeing the imagination, and living all of this with the enthusiasm of a child” (75). The notion of “happiness” at stake in the book it is played out against the determination of the subject and the processes of incarnations (Karmy) that have haunted the modern revolutionary paradigm as always-already integrated into the metaphysics of the philosophy of history. 

 Metropolitan domination. Secondly, Tarì’s book locates the metastasis of domination at the level of a new spatial organization of the world in the apparatus of the metropolis. As we know the metropolis is not just an urban transformation of the Western form of the urbs and the polis, but rather the force of appropriation of the world into interconnectivity and surface in order to optimize, administer, and reproduce flows of the total fictionalization of life. The gesture towards the outside that crosses over Tarì’s book entails an exodus from the metropolitan structure that makes uninhabitable experience. This takes place by a process of domesticating its possibilities into the order of sameness (crisis of appearance) and translating our proximity with things into the regime of objects. What is stake in the metropolis – if we think of the most recent revolts in Santiago de Chile, Paris with the to the hinterlands of United States and Italy – if not precisely a response against the metropolitan machination “aiming at the destruction of every possibility of having any experience of the world and existence itself” (84). This why the intensity of any contemporary revolt today is proportional to the experiential texture of its composition and modes of evasion. Of course, Tarì correctly identifies the metropolis as an expanded field of cybernetic inter-connectivity, which, as I would argue is not merely the production of “bad substance” (to use Tiqqun’s Bloomian lexicon), but also a recursive dominion over the medium (metaxy) in which experience and the singular autopoiesis labors for the optimization and hylomorphic regimes that administer civil war. In this sense, destitution names an exodus from the metropolitan technical order and the sensible reproduction of the medium. It is in the outside the metropolis that the ongoing process of communization can free an infinite process of communization and forms of life.

Residual militancy and infrapolitics. But does not the exodus or the destitution of the metropolis – opening to singular experience, love, friendship, and the use of one’s disposable means and inclination – presuppose also a step back from a political determination, in other words, a fundamental separation from coterminous between existence and politics? At the end of the book, Tarì claims that “whenever anything reaches a certain level of intensity it becomes political” (117). But is the intensification of thinking or love or friendship always necessarily political? Tarì writes a few pages later that: “love is continually traversed by a line of extreme intensify, which makes it an exquisitely political affect” (126). But does not the politization of love depends on a certain commitment (a “faith”) to a residual militancy, even if it is a militancy posited as the principle of anarchy? But perhaps this is the difficulty at stake: since anarchy is only entails the “anarchy of phenomena” in reality, postulating a political principle as counter-exposition, however tenuous, might not be enough. For this reason, the crisis of appearance today needs a step back from the heliopoliticity of exposition. In an essay written a couple of years ago, Alberto Moreiras thematized this difficulty vis-à-vis Scürmann’s principle of anarchy, which I think is worth quoting: “The Schürmannian principle of anarchy could then be thought to be still the subjective reaction to the epochal dismantling of ontology (as metaphysics). But, if so, the principle of anarchy emerges, plainly, as principle, and principle of consciousness. Anarchy runs the risk of becoming yet another form of mastery, or rather: anarchy, as principle, is the last form of mastery.  At the transitional time, posited as such by the hypothesis of metaphysical closure, metaphysics still runs the show as consolation and consolidation” [1]. 

If politics remains the central condition of existence, then it follows that it depends on a second-degree militancy that can govern over the dispersion of the events and this ultimately transfers the force of steering (kubernates) to mitigate the crisis of thought and action in the sea of “absolute immanence”. But immense is also a contemporary fundamental fantasy [2]. Against all “faith” in absolute immanence we need to cut through in its letting be (poein kata phusin) of the abyssal relation between existence and politics. This originary separation is an infrapolitical step back that solicits a distance an irreducible distance between life, events, and community form. The commune would be a secondary condition of political organization, but the existential breakthrough never coincides with community, except as a “common solitude”. Secondly, the infrapolitical irreducibility between politics and existence wants to reject any compensatory temporal politico-theological substitution, which also includes the messianic as a paradigm still constitutive of the age of Christian community of salvation and the efficacy of deificatio. The existential time of attunement of appropriation with the improper escapes the doble-pole paradigm of political theology, which has been at the arcana of both philosophy of history as well as the messianic inversion. A communism of thought needs to produce a leap outside the politico-theological machine which has fueled History as narrativization and waged against happiness [3]. Attuning oneself to the encounter or the event against the closure of the principle of reality might be a way out from the “hegemonic phantasm” of the political, which sacrifices our infinite possibilities to the logistics of a central conflict. If civil war is the side of the repressed in Western politics, then in the epoch of the ruin of authority it opens an opportunity to undue the measurement (meson) proper to the “Social”, which is now broken at the fault lines as Idris Robinson has put it [4]. It is only in this way that we can move outside and beyond the originary positionality of the polis whose “essence never coincides with politics” [5]. The saving of this irreducible and invisible distance prepares a new absolute proximity between use and the world. 

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Notes 

1. Alberto Moreiras. “A Negation of the Anarchy Principle, Política Comun, Vol. 2017: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/pc/12322227.0011.003?view=text;rgn=main

2. Lundi Matin. “Éléments de decivilisation” (3): “It is also about the creed of the dominant religion: absolute immanence. Doing itself, designed to obey the modes of proceeding from production, is in advance conforming and consecrated. On this sense, no matter what you do, you bend the spine in front of the cult dominant. If all things count, none has a price, and everything is sacrificeable.”. https://lundi.am/Elements-de-decivilisation-Partie-3

3. This is why Hegel claims in his lectures on the Philosophy of History that: “History is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history”. The revolutionary overflow of happiness is only possible as an exodus from the theological political structure of historical production. Here the question of style is emerges as our defining element. 

4. Gerardo Muñoz. “The revolt eclipses whatever the world has to offer”: a conversation with Idris Robinson”, Tillfällighetsskrivande, May 2021: https://www.tillfallighet.org/tillfallighetsskrivande/the-revolt-eclipses-whatever-the-world-has-to-offernbsp-idris-robinson

5. Gerardo Muñoz. “Some Notes Regarding Hölderlin’s “Search for the Free Use of One’s Own”, January 2019: https://infrapoliticalreflections.org/2019/01/14/some-notes-regarding-holderlins-search-for-the-free-use-of-ones-own-by-gerardo-munoz/

On Jesuit militancy: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (IV). by Gerardo Muñoz

As I continue the systematic reading of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, one can finally provide substance to the thesis that gramscianism amounts to a sort of new priesthood of the political. The question here is about the specific substance and form of the theological. Most definitely, Gramsci is pursuing a strong theological position that is not reducible to monasticism, nor his he interested in subscribing a counter-modern Christian ethos against the modern “gentleman”. In this sense, Gramsci is a modernist tout court. Now, it seems to me that underneath the secularization of his political subjectivation is Jesuitism. This makes sense for at least two reasons. First, Jesuitism is a modern attempt of deification in this world through discipline. But, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Jesuitism is a practice that serves to expand the energy of political militancy. As Alberto Moreiras suggested a while ago in an essay on the onto-theology of militancy, the reduction of the subjection into action has an important point of inflection in the Jesuitical practice. 

So, what would happen if we read Gramsci when he claims that he prefers a politician that “knows everything” and that is the most “knowledgeable” not as a Machiavellian strategy, but rather as a Jesuitical exercise? Leaving aside the paradoxical instrumentalization of Machiavelli’s political lesson (paradoxical because if political virtue is about keeping the arcana of power at a distance, then why reveal it?), one could very well say that Jesuitism is not just about the management of contingent events, but rather about the administration of habits and practices of the subject in order to reduce any interference of the event. Jesuitism, then, is an instrument to block and reduce all exterior turbulence vis-à-vis the very capture of the heteronomic intrusion. This capture accomplishes two things at once: from the outside it initiates a process of controlling the irruption of heterogeneity; from the inside, it is a technique of subjective militant discipline. It seems to me that Gramsci was not unaware of this theological apparatus when, in the third notebook, he writes the following: 

“New orders which have grown up since then have very little religious significance but a great “disciplinary” significance for the mass of the faithful. They are, or have become, ramifications and tentacles of the Society of Jesus, instruments of “resistance” to preserve political positions that have been gained, not forces of renovation and development. Catholicism has become “Jesuitism”. Modernism has not created “religious orders”, but a political party – Christian Democracy”.  (332)

Now we are in a better position to state that Gramsci’s political theology is compartmentalized in the specificity of Jesuitism. Indeed, he himself reads the transformation of the Church into Jesuitical practice of resistance as parallel to the bourgeois Christian democratic party formation. Does not Gramscianism amount to the same, that is, a combination of party formation and disciplinary militant form? Indeed, Jesuitical practice contains the production of form. Here we see the dimension of Gramsci’s anti-populism, since the main strategy is not to “construct a people”, but rather to build an army of militant community of believers. Any study of Gramscian political theology has to begin by displacing the veneer of political Machiavellism to the concrete practices propelled by theological Jesuitism.

Thus, the gestalt of the “new priest” is profoundly Jesuitical. As Walter Benjamin noted in the fragment “Zu Ignatius von Loyola” (1920), the practice of “consciousness transformation” becomes the way to submit to the spiritual authority. This mechanic domestication of habits becomes the sacrament that regulates the interior life of the militant. A question emerges from all of this: is there a counter-figure to sacramental militancy?