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  • Try Anything
  • Todd Carmody and Heather K. Love
Conference Review “Anxiety, Urgency, Outrage, Hope... A Conference on Political Feeling.” Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago, October 19–20, 2007

A scene in Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s 2002 video, Fábrica Inútil (Useless Factory), stages what might be called a (p)reenactment. Workers in a Puerto Rican packaging plant are summoned to a meeting on the shop floor, where they fidget nervously as management issues pink slips and heartfelt regrets—“This is hard on everyone.” There is nothing left to do: orders are down, the other factory’s productivity is up, and the labor department has already scheduled a resumé workshop. Professional and concisely compassionate, the supervisors make the announcement as if reading from a teleprompter. The employees respond with appropriate questions (“Will we reopen in the spring?”) and appropriate sentiments (“And me? I’ve been with the company for eight years!”). Nothing in this emotional exchange seems to surprise the participants. But it is not real either—at least not yet. Fábrica Inútil is a faux documentary, with the actors employees of Flexible Packaging in Las Piedras who have agreed somewhat reluctantly to improvise this uncomfortable scene for Santiago Muñoz’s camera. This memorial to past layoffs is also a dress rehearsal for what may very well lie ahead, since job instability is par for the course. What is striking about the performance is how unimprovised it feels: everyone knows the script, as if this were a fire drill or a safety inspection. At the same time, this depressing outtake from the [End Page 133]


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Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, stills from Fábrica Inútil (Useless Factory) (2002). Used with permission.

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neoliberal workplace also hints at something bleaker. It suggests that in the face of global capital, traditional modes of left protest have become mere routine. Where past failures are destined to be endlessly (p)reenacted, the good fight can only be faked.

Other moments in Fábrica Inútil are more utopian: in addition to the fake firing, Santiago Muñoz orchestrates a series of scenes that depart from the script of life in the factory. In the opening sequence, for example, workers gather outside to watch the sunrise while the first two work bells ring; for a moment, at least, the factory is useless. In another scene, workers wrestle each other with cheerful WWF bravado, rolling around on the blue foam chips that the company produces. In these scenes, both dramatic and mundanely repetitive, Santiago Muñoz explores the affective conditions of life in the time of global capital. The video considers the political exhaustion of the contemporary moment—dead-end jobs, ineffectual protest—and gestures toward other ways of being. The fact that these alternatives can look merely silly indicates how far we are from collective social transformation, but it also suggests that we might be willing to try anything—however awkward—to make it happen.

Political despair, the detritus of the everyday, new forms of protest, and collective dreaming: such are the concerns of the Public Feelings project, which organized the conference“Anxiety,Urgency,Outrage, Hope . . . A Conference on Political Feeling” at the University of Chicago in October 2007, during which Fábrica Inútil was screened.1 The Public Feelings project is an ongoing collaboration between scholars, artists, and activists that can be understood as part of the recent “turn to affect” in the humanities and the social sciences.2 With roots in feminism, Marxist cultural theory, ethnic studies, and queer studies, Public Feelings begins with the assumption that paying attention to the tone and texture of social oppression as lived experience is as necessary as more systematic and systemic modes of critique. Although emotion can be understood as the least public or political dimension of human experience, critics such as Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, José Esteban Muñoz, Sara Ahmed, Kathleen Stewart, Fred Moten, David Eng, and Lisa Duggan have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0342
Print ISSN
0011-1589
Pages
pp. 133-146
Launched on MUSE
2008-12-13
Open Access
No
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