- The Exhaustion of Difference. The Politics of Latin American Cultural Studies
Alberto Moreiras’ first book, Interpretación y Diferencia (1991), was a pioneering study of the raison d’etre of theoretical thinking, conceived as the border space between positive knowledge and poetry/art as a practice that both defies and marks the intelligibility limits of rational thought. Trained as a philosopher, Moreiras has carved himself a subfield within the efforts of theorists attempting to define the broader space of Latin American Cultural Studies. Moreiras’ work (which also includes Tercer Espacio: Literatura y Duelo en América Latina ) is marked by two defining traits: first, a methodological preference for an expository style that investigates the connections between broad philosophical questions such as difference/identity, singularity/totality and the specifics of the concrete Latin American texts or materials at hand. Secondly, Moreiras oeuvre has been characterized thus far by a strong metacritical component whereby theoretical texts are continuously de/constructed in an investigation of both their epistemological status and their general political potential as interventions in a concrete field of forces. The Exhaustion of Difference is a summa of sorts of his efforts along these lines, efforts which Moreiras himself [End Page 301] describes as “My proposals for modes of destructive critique variously identified as critical regionalism, second-order Latin Americanism, savage atopics, subaltern negation, restitutional excess, or the accomplishing of a reflective space that would open Latin Americanist thought to nonknowledge and that would transform it into a nonholder of the nontruth of the (Latin American) real . . .” (25).
In chapter 3 (which, along with the fourth, constitutes the theoretical core of a book self-defined as attempting to answer the question “Can Latin Americanist reflection in the present offer itself as effective critical productivity?” ) Moreiras explores his hypothesis that Latin Americanism, conceived here as the embodiment of the “neoliterary” (i.e. cultural studies), “neoregional” and “neo Latin Americanist” is in the midst of a medium duree transition brought about by the global expansion of financial capital. In this “interregnum” Latin American Cultural Studies has emerged as a new institutional version of the old connection between power and knowledge that used to be called “literary” when literature (as knowledge of literature) was still deemed capable of nation-building abilities. Unable to ground such an epistemology in a cultural/political space different from that of the nation-state or that of its dialectic with the global (which are both seen here as machines for the totalizing assimilation of cultural difference and singularity), this “neoliterary” and “neoregional” form of university knowledge has to be fully dismantled if anything truly new, i.e. not complicit with the reproduction of state and financial power, is to emerge. That is the (it would seem) permanent task of Moreiras’ effort. Perhaps reflecting the state of the field, and despite his efforts in the last chapter on hybridity and double consciousness, he is much less clear about what the new gnosis would look like, how it would avoid the fatality of institutionalization and who would benefit from its production.
In chapter 4, Moreiras contends that at the heart of Latin Americanism there is a dissymmetrical gaze caught between “restitution and appropriation.” This structural dissociation is not simply the orientalizing burden of the Western construction of the Other, since it extends to the Other’s construction of itself, i.e. to the Latin American construction of itself here in the US and in Latin America. Appropriation is the process through which alterity enters and feeds the legitimizing discursive economy of Latin Americanism as a machine for the representation of alterity. Restitution would be its logical counterpart: the process through which alterity manifests as an “irruption” or “an event” or “a radical opening” (139) within the representational thought which, unable to restitute alterity as direct presence, can at least point to the traces of its absence. Under this structural determination, the true progressive critical work Latin Americanism can perform, according to Moreiras, is (limited) to “step[ping] out of itself in order to arrest...