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  • Tonalities of Literature in Transition:The World of the End of the World, or Marcelo Cohen’s El oído absoluto
  • Patrick Dove (bio)

In a well-known formulation, Fredric Jameson characterizes postmodernity as an epochal shift coinciding with the tendential colonization of the planet by transnational capital. The postmodern is what ensues when even those territories previously considered to lie beyond the reach of market forces—that is, especially, nature and the unconscious—are found to have been assimilated into the calculating rationale of exchange and use. Such a world-historical transformation poses considerable difficulties for critical thinking in its endeavor to think the contingency of the present-day dominant regime of signification. One of the attendant effects of the hegemonic ascent of neoliberalism around the globe is that resistance to capital becomes difficult or impossible to define. In its relentless colonization of peripheral zones, capital appears to have succeeded in divesting itself of any identifiable—and hence finite—point of origin. Its agency is everywhere in general, and thus it emanates from nowhere in particular. Working in sync with the seeming defeat or exhaustion of all existing alternatives to free-market capitalism, the logic of the market also works to ensure that [End Page 239] any conceivable alternative to the market could only come into view at the expense of its own legibility.

The market today is a site of subreption in which a particular way of configuring meaning acts to conceal or efface the contingent nature of its own origin, dressing itself in the trappings of a natural, spontaneous order or an inevitable outcome. Perhaps the most obvious example is the teleological account of the free market put forth by thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama and Alejandro Foxley, in which the transition to free-market economies around the globe signals the evolutionary triumph of a "natural" order over other mediated (and hence unnatural or fallen) means of organizing socioeconomic relations. The nature of what I am terming "subreption" is to project the sense that "it just happens," and that "it" therefore cannot and ought not be contested. But, in this sense, how does the hegemonic emergence of the current global regime differ from those of other moments in the history of hegemonic articulations? Do not all hegemonic procedures come to pass when a certain particular manages more or less successfully to pass itself off as a universal? Perhaps the key difference between the dominant discourse of the present moment and those of other periods must be sought in the specificity of erasures being enacted today. The disappearance of ideological antagonism around the globe, together with the widely proclaimed "end" of a certain conception of history, coincides with the emergence of "consensus" as the new truth or telos of all politics. Whatever parallels it may evoke, "consensus" is not just another name for the universal status claimed by all hegemons. Under the rhetoric of consensus, the conception of politics as praxis, as an open-ended venture that transforms the agent together with its field, is supplanted by an administrative realm in which no signifier—or rather, no gap between signifiers—could conceivably emerge to challenge the universality of the dominant discourse. Consensus is the ideologeme of the end of ideology itself.

The implications of this tectonic shift are especially difficult to unravel in a region such as Latin America's Southern Cone, where the triumphant arrival of neoliberalism is not easy to separate—chronologically or ontologically—from recent histories of military dictatorship. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, the term "transition" in fact applies to two [End Page 240] historical events: the transition from dictatorship to democracy coincides with the substitution of state economy by market economy. The postulation of a necessary or unavoidable link between these two transformations —to the extent that "democracy" comes to be seen as essentially synonymous with its liberal and neoliberal articulations—would seem to represent the inauguration of a new epoch for politics and for thinking. Transition thus names a sweeping reorganization of economic and political society characterized by, among other things, the wholesale privatization of the state. Just as profoundly, however, transition names an ontological transformation that affects what is felt...


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pp. 239-267
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