Foucault was highly attracted to economic liberalism: he saw in it the possibility of a form of governmentality that was much less normative and authoritarian than the socialist and communist left, which he saw as totally obsolete. He especially saw in neoliberalism a “much less bureaucratic” and “much less disciplinarian” form of politics than that offered by the postwar welfare state. He seemed to imagine a neoliberalism that wouldn’t project its anthropological models on the individual, that would offer individuals greater autonomy vis-à-vis the state.
Both these pieces betray a really naïve or underdeveloped understanding of electoral action, its costs and benefits, the unavoidable messiness of engaging in it. And, by the way, the same messiness applies to all efforts to build and maintain broad alliances, all of which require finding ways to navigate locating points of agreement and looking the other way at least temporarily at potentially serious differences and contradictions.
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.
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?
The central problem with which we are confronted today, in other words, may be less the conflict between labor and capital, and more, as Margaret Thatcher put it, the antagonism between a privileged “underclass” with its “dependency culture” and an “active” proletariat whose taxes pay for a system of “entitlements” and “handouts.”
Putting aside the one-dimensional account of artworks as “reifications”—“mediums lead to objects, and thus reification”—it would take only a moment’s reflection to see that the distribution of wealth in the “era of art,” at precisely the moment Joselit’s “reframing, capturing, reiterating, and documenting” paradigm first emerged (a set of procedures exemplified for him by the work of Sherrie Levine) was also the moment at which the US economy began its most aggressive turn away from equality.
Far from spelling the end of neoliberalism, the economic crisis now marching into its fifth year has intensified it, proof that this increasingly dystopian order will not collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Its fate depends, above all, on the balance of class forces in this country, and tilting that in our favor requires diligent organization and capacity building.
An insistence on autonomy, here, is not about continuing to valorize the self as a site of all meaning and value. The opposite is true. Autonomization is a fundamentally social process. It is a matter of vigorously and loudly arguing for the necessary existence of modes of inquiry, styles of life, and ways of organizing creative and scholarly activity that reveal the limitations of the neoliberal market as an arbiter of what is valuable to know and do.
For, when the neoliberal state has been absorbed by the market, how is it possible to resist it? Or, to put the question in a simpler form, how does one “resist” the market (essentially, the question posed by “Bartleby”)? Neoliberalism, of course, has no interest in answering this question; its account of political resistance is not resistance to the market, but resistance in the market. In other words, resistance itself essentially becomes privatized, as political principles find their primary expression in market preferences.