Helio Oiticica’s career tells the story of the democratic leap of art off the wall and into life, out of contemplation and into action and experience, from autonomy to involvement, from elite contemplation to democratic participation, from aesthetics to politics. This narrative, which carries the authority of being the story Oiticica himself wanted to tell at one point in his life, is not false. And yet the truth lies elsewhere: closer to the works themselves and, only apparently paradoxically, in the great political crosscurrents that tore through the Brazilian 1960s.
In Brazil, the first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by a successful but moderate reformist program spearheaded by its president from 2003-2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, universally known as Lula. His successor hoped to accelerate the project on the wings of a Rooseveltian dream: to create “in just the space of a few years” a country in which the majority could lead “recognizably similar and remarkably decent material lives.” What happened?
The neoliberal program includes: a) the drastic reduction of the federal budget, with a direct impact on social welfare, education, public health, and research spending, a.k.a. “the death budget”; b) labor legislation reform, removing or weakening many of the longstanding protections enjoyed by Brazilian workers and, under the guise of creating “flexible” labor relations, undermining the country’s trade-union movement; and c) social security reform, imposing stricter and longer work requirements, which, given the current and past employment structure would make full retirement unattainable for large sectors of Brazil’s working class.
That individual experience is what is at stake in an analysis like Lee’s and in projects like the Multinode Metagame and the Opsroom installation means that they are always different, always changing, always occasioning new “meanings.” This is the polysemic, and the polysemic is not the opposition, but the alibi of neoliberalism. It provides cover for exploitation, the glitter of a thousand stars to transfix the thousands of victims while their pockets are being picked.
The political farce perpetrated against the Brazilian people on Sunday, April 17, when the country’s national congress approved the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff is a critical moment in an ongoing class war against the left, labor and the poor. Instead of an exercise in democratic political sovereignty, as the center-right coalition would prefer the rest of the world believe, the congressional vote is a de-facto political coup.
This conception of art, however, is not just limited to fiction; and indeed, it also underlies a dominant strain of Latin Americanist thought that comprises the focus of this essay, and for which this unframing has been conceived as a point of departure for a host of theoretical positions not just on art, nor on literature alone, but on politics as well. These positions includethe testimonio criticism, affect theory, postautonomy, and posthegemony. Despite apparent differences between these, we argue that what has unified Latin Americanist criticism and theory at least since the 1980s, is this question of the frame, or more precisely, the effort to imagine how the text dissolves it.
My claim is not only that La diáspora has nothing to do with failed cynicism or even with cynicism as such but that it gives us, even if in an imperfect, inconclusive way, as it happens frequently with first novels, the beginnings of a literary endeavor that I would consider the very opposite of a cynical enterprise for contemporary times. And, beyond that, it also gives us a new figure of the Central American writer—one that, by running frontally against all kinds of prejudices held by so-called first-world intellectuals and their clients, may have something important to teach us regarding the function of literary narrative today. Or at least the function of Castellanos Moya´s literary narrative.
It is perhaps in the link between the open structure of a fictional institution and a potential democracy that literature connects to a form of promise—in other words, to the fact of being able to create a space in what is instituted as a given (as “non-fiction”) so as to translate it into other modes of being.
Likewise, if meaning is made by the reader, then the difference between the two texts could never be the kind that Borges’s narrator identifies which essentially derive from the difference between two authors and their intentions and not the difference between two contexts of reading, or two experiences of reading. Specifically, like in Cortázar text above, the differences would have to include everything that is part of the reader’s experience of them, including, for example, the typographical differences between Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Menard’s.
Without a representation of the operation of the credit system and the knowledge that comes from it, we are limited to sensing debt as simply part of our own experiences, as something natural and determined. In a period in which credit is absorbed into the flow of everyday life, where debt is both everywhere invisible and indeterminate, how can we see capital and map our relation to it?