Stillness, Aesthesis, Resistance
Emphasizing the embodied, physical aspect of María Lugones's decolonial feminism, this article elucidates ways in which the oppressed appears to colonizing gazes and beyond them in order to explore possibilities of resistance. It proposes "stillness" as a sentient physicality that can transgress the hold of racist/colonizing gazes and sense a multiplicity of worlds from a limen. In order to do this, it focuses on the temporality of "stillness" and on modes of appearing of resistant praxis.
María Lugones, decolonial feminism, Latin American philosophy
María Lugones re-aligns liberatory theorizing by making explicit liminal physicalities of multiplicitous selves embodying heterogeneous logics of oppression and resistance.1 These physicalities include bodily posture and movement, emotion, perception, and memory. In dialogue with this aspect of her work, I unravel "stillness" as a sentient/physical enactment that, due to its temporality, can transgress the hold of colonizing gazes and reach [End Page 84] borders between worlds of sense as sources of resistant praxis.2 I situate my discussion in relation to an Andean aesthetic lineage, leading toward Lugones's and Joshua Price's interpretation of Rodolfo Kusch's rendition of Andean indigenous thought.
The Phenomenality of Oppression
César Vallejo's poetry can expose the range and mutations of the suffering of the oppressed, and the different affective and emotional registers it becomes entwined with.3 The poem "The Black Heralds" captures a moment in which this suffering comes to view and evokes a gaze that inspects it. In this moment, the attentiveness to the dynamism of the pain and experience of oppression that characterizes Vallejo's poetry is suspended, and the oppressed appears still, laid bare. He writes:
And man … Poor … poor! He turns his eyes, asWhen a slap on the shoulder summons us;Turns his crazed eyes and everything livedWells up, like a pool of guilt in his look.4
As if under a gaze, suffering is manifest as a watery coating of the eyes of the oppressed (restrained tears perhaps?) that settles in a puddle. The liquid stillness conveys suffering in the form of an aporetic guilt, an affective petrifying entrapment in an exhaustive, negating world. The poem allows for connecting suffering to stillness, to guilt, and to a view of oppression as "inescapable."5 At the same time, the poem suggests that the pool in the eyes of the oppressed can have a destabilizing effect: it may mirror the inspecting gaze, reflecting only what such a gaze is invested in seeing. This turn sets into play a dynamic of appearances, invisibilities and withdrawals within a field of phenomenality of the oppressed, one that even exceeds the purview of the inspecting gaze that emerges in Vallejo's poem.
The field in which the oppressed "appears" is one of the axes of María Lugones's work. In the essay "Boomerang Perception and the Colonizing Gaze: Ginger Reflections on Horizontal Hostility," this field's effect on the way oppressed identities are inspected, inhabited and embodied becomes discernible. For example, she relates a solid identity to being "barrio raised, core, easygoing in one's identity of color, the sense of faking it or of being perceived as a fake not in one's experience."6 Solidity depends, however, [End Page 85] on "eyes that allow one to position and identify oneself clearly in the world, comfortably taken for granted as they surround one in a trusting glance."7 It arises, then, under the sway of an inspecting gaze. This phenomenal process can allow the oppressed to fit neatly within a world (even if a subaltern one), facilitating cohesive processes of identity formation. These processes take place physically: "One's body, its color, features, its movement, and the culture expressed in its movements and clothes, all up for mistrust and inspection."8 That is, the field in which the oppressed appears, including the influence of inspecting gazes within it, is constituted by physical horizons from which configurations of identity are drawn out. Returning to the discussion of Vallejo, these physical horizons also include affects, emotions and sensibilities through which the oppressed come into view.
For Lugones, aspects of oppression and resistance are at issue in the physical inhabitations of this particular phenomenal field. There are oppressed physicalities, like "solidity," that are attuned to the demands of a gaze that seeks clear boundary lines between apparent identities, a gaze entranced by full exposure, by the availability of the one seen, so that a world can continue to be clearly and stably arranged. Yet this kind of gaze is also connected to "boomerang perception."9 She writes: "Racist/colonialist perception is narcissistic; it denies independence to the seen, it constructs its object imaginatively as a reflection of the seer. It robs the seen of a separate identity."10 In this respect, the expectation of clarity and exposure is a function of a gaze that projects its own reflection, enforcing dependent physicalities.11
This dependence is a facet of the embodied and affective experience of racism and colonialism. The narcissistic, totalizing gaze, internalized by the oppressed in various degrees, can yield forms of physicality that impact their senses of belonging. Lugones describes this:
Mixed, agringada, looking the wrong way for the culture, the values and beliefs mixed up in obvious and jarring ways. Or adopted by whites and reared as "their own" into white eyes looking at one's color as if it were not one's own, but fully conscious of one's self-alienation, a sense of lacking a soul.12
At the same time, dependent physicalities can appear marginal, contribute to configurations of self and communities that lack comprehensive sense, and delimit the colonizing gaze's expectation of full exposure and fit within a world. [End Page 86]
Lugones's analysis of the phenomenal field of the oppressed relates "solidity" to the possibility of resistance. It is a physicality that sustains strong senses of identity and self (with corresponding attachments to community and tradition), and counters the pressure of the projections of a racist gaze. However, "solidity" is made possible by a gaze structured in the same way as the racist/colonialist one, insofar as it demands exposure, transparency, coherence. This is why "solid" oppressed communities can exclude those who do not appear "solid." Lugones understands this phenomenon as an internalization of whiteness.13 In this sense, resistant "solidity" and oppression can be opposed yet articulated through related physical, affective, and phenomenal registers. The phenomenality of "solidity," then, conditions a form of resistance, yet it is coopted by oppression as well. It not only incorporates a racist/colonialist gaze that excludes oppressed others who do not fit, fracturing the possibility of community in resistance, but it is also ultimately undone. As Lugones states, "It is hard to imagine anyone subject to the hazards of perception in a racist society feeling that way, feeling impermeable to the multiplicity of mistrustful glances."14
Theories of resistance can assume "solidity" as necessary, thus falling short of being decolonial critiques since they leave unchallenged a colonizing/racist gaze in their explicit or implicit renditions of the phenomenality of the oppressed. Decolonial critiques require, then, an exploration of this phenomenal field beyond the purview of a gaze that demands physical clarity, boundaries, fixity, transparency, and coherence within a set world. They also call for a reconsideration of dependent physicalities, like the stillness of the oppressed. This point echoes Vallejo's poem at the beginning of this section in its watery reflection and signals the possibility of resistant physical modalities with leeway and given to invisibilities.
Aesthesis and Monstrosity
By "aesthesis" I mean the sensing and sense that accompany pre-reflective physicalities like corporeal postures and dispositions, affects, emotions, embodiments of identity, perceptions and memories.15 Aesthesis informs reasoning and practical deliberation as situated and interpretive, but it does not crystallize in comprehensive articulations of selves and intentionalities.16 It does not organize itself around a "subject." It enables processes of [End Page 87] identification, detachment, recognition and differentiation that form and destabilize senses of self and community. It also incorporates gazes and their projections, which determines self-awareness and allows for inhabiting social contexts with feelings of belonging or alienation. "Aesthesis," then, modulates the field of the phenomenality of the oppressed, and the colonizing gaze discussed above is an "aesthetic" fact.
In order to show the connection between "boomerang perception" and coloniality, Lugones refers to Said's notion of an "imaginative geography" that involves "… a mental operation … through which the mind domesticates the exotic, after having created it."17 It is a form of spatialization that draws clear, fixed boundaries between the West and the "barbarians," and resonates with Aníbal Quijano's account of coloniality as a spatial global arrangement of races.18 It also modulates the phenomenality of the oppressed in relation to a colonizing gaze. In "imaginative geography":
The Western/white seer is the original, the object of his gaze a mere but distorted image: image both in the sense of imagined and in the sense of reflection, an imitation. The imagination wavering between fear and delight construes us in its image, but as terrific, dangerous, monstrous distortions of its own familiar visage and as fulfilling its unspoken desires. In both cases it construes us as dependent on the seer for its existence, and lacking an independent history because lacking an independent subjectivity. The "same" and monstrously different.19
"Imaginative geography" is an "aesthetic" pattern that seeks to consolidate a colonizing gaze that "acquires a sense of its own value by constituting itself as the original"20 and anchors a phenomenality of the oppressed trapped in dependent physicalities by being restricted to appear as an "image" of the oppressor. In this way, the dichotomy original/image orders a phenomenality that sustains practices of oppression.
Yet, this phenomenality fails to fully jell and to exhaust the ways in which the oppressed appears. There are two reasons for this failure. First, the dominant projections upon the oppressed that elicit imitative, dependent physicalities from them is not exhaustive. There are always concomitant "aesthetic" occurrences that exceed their framings, supporting physicalities and senses of self that resist colonizing gazes and that engage their projections as merely "imagined." Second, phenomenalities of the oppressed [End Page 88] can subject colonizing gazes to an imaginal "wavering" between "fear and delight." The irreducible gap between original and image enthralls a dominant gaze within the difference that separates it from the oppressed as its projected object. This triggers in colonizing gazes a movement of return to themselves that doesn't quite circle back, an impotent, dangerous selffascination that can be violently expressed as an obsessive enforcement of dependency upon the oppressed in the futile search for dominant self-certainty. These two destabilizing "aesthetic" movements attest to the appearing of physicalities beyond those that conform to the colonizing gaze, physicalities in a phenomenal ambit that is not contained and articulated by dichotomies of oppression/oppressed, and that, for this reason, appear "monstrous."21 By "monstrous" I mean the phenomenalities of the oppressed that are not comprehended by dominant imaginative projections thrust upon them and that are tied to physicalities and processes of self-formation that elude logics of oppression and of constructions of socialities. In this sense, the "monstrous" is the oppressed appearing as not defined by oppression, as without social intelligibility (rather than as abnormal or perverted), and as disrupting the transparency of dominant egos and worlds.
"Monstrosity," in my view, invokes a resistive form of "aesthesis" and modulates the appearing of the oppressed, including their suffering, their poverty, their emotive responses, their bodily postures, their sexuality and gender, their race, their habits and cultural practices, their accents, their movement. In this way, their physicalities, in their phenomenal distinctness, can become vulnerable to narcissistic forms of violence issued from the standpoint of a colonizing gaze obsessed with sighting its own reflection. Yet monstrosity can also signal through phenomenal lapses physicalities that exceed the projections upon the oppressed, physicalities irreducible to dominant sense and that can draw forth "aesthetic" transgressions that destabilize and override the stances of colonizing gazes. Such an "aesthetic" turn is at stake in the "monstrosity" of Vallejo's poem. I say "at stake" because the ambivalence of the "aesthesis" of "monstrosity" cannot be fully resolved, and the draw to the monstrous appearing of the oppressed remains muddled.
I find Lugones's writing to be deeply "aesthetic." It physically situates me (inhabiting both oppressing and oppressed positionalities) in the ambivalent [End Page 89] "aesthesis" of the monstrosity of the oppressed. It makes me confront the complex nature of my investments in the oppressed appearing as victims, as agents of liberation, as embodying critical positionalities and as manifest in racial, gendered and ethnic registers. My experience of her writing can be a sudden, deep awareness of my white, male, criollo, Peruvian body binding me to a particular colonizing gaze that has not ceased to construct the identity "Indian" (or "indio") as a visible identity. This gaze was already operative in the early sixteenth century in the Americas, where early representations of indigeneity tied together visible features and ornaments to the past. The famous colonial paintings depicting linear sequences of both Inca and Spanish rulers are emblematic of this. They represent a progressive temporality in which Inka rulers are fixed in a past that antecedes the colonial reign of the Spanish Kings.22 This denial of the co-evalness of indigenous peoples is a way the distinction human/non-human emerges in a visual range.23
The projected pastness in the appearing of Andean indigenous identities arises in the colonial era and defines later phenomenal orders. For example, in some of Martín Chambi's photographs I sense interrelated racial and temporal valences.24 I am not only drawn to particular bodily features, but I also detect clothing and other cultural markers as an extension of racialized, temporally fixed bodies.25 Looking at these pictures, I don't sense the distinction between body and clothing as if one signified race and the other ethnicity. Ethnicity implies to me agency, a wanting to participate in cultural practices and assume cultural roles. "Indians" appear, instead, as deprived of that choice, as irremediably stuck in their exotic culture. In this stillness I perceive pastness, a lagging behind me in a temporal progression, that characterizes a racist "aesthesis." The affective dimension of this is expressed in what Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui calls "miserabilism," namely, the fabrication of visual cues through which indigenous suffering is yoked not only to poverty but to an attachment to a pre-modern state. Through it indigenous women in particular "are transformed into cultural ornaments within a discourse and a vision of the nation that postulated the absolute hegemony of a Western, patriarchal and Christian Culture."26
"Stillness" in this context is a physical and "aesthetic" modality that weaves together bodily posture and stasis, racialized bodies, cultural ornamentation, pastness, suffering, as they appear to a gaze that seeks the full exposure of the oppressed in a past accessible across an objectifying distance. In Peruvian "Indigenismo," "stillness" manifests nostalgia, an entrapment in the past that is seen as a pervasive characteristic [End Page 90] of indigenous suffering. In Vallejo's poem above, "The Black Heralds," a related entrapment is evoked through guilt, but it refers to the present. "Stillness" connects these two temporalizations: the "nostalgic Indian" belongs to the past, yet this belonging is an entrapment in the past due to the pull of the present. At the same time, the "guilty Indian," due to the pull of the past, is entrapped in an alienating present that dictates her existence. "Stillness" appears in this double temporal entrapment configured from the perspective of a colonizing gaze.27 However, it disrupts the linear, progressive, sequential time that determines this gaze because the pastness that frames the appearing of the oppressed is ultimately excessive and irrecuperable: she is in the past, but this past is "still," unable to be carried over into the present yet haunting it. That is, the "stillness" of the oppressed can be rendered aesthetically as the undoing of the linearity of time already operative in the racial constructions of the colonial era. "Stillness," then, sustains an ambivalent and "monstrous" phenomenality of the oppressed. It corresponds to a narcissistic gaze that enforces mirroring and dependent physicalities (such as paralysis, nostalgia and guilt). However, it also becomes entwined with temporalizations that can tap into physicalities that elude the progressive sequencing that sustains such a gaze. The "monstrosity" of "stillness" can stir a dynamic, decolonial form of "aesthesis."28
Praxical Aesthesis and Resistance
Aesthesis also senses the appearing of praxis. A "praxical aesthesis" is implicit in Lugones's work, in her notion of "worlds" in particular.29 This notion is conceptually elusive, but aesthetically sound. In my view, it refers to the hovering of physical configurations attuned to, situated within and bearing interpretive horizons (that include social and cultural forms) with dispositions of belonging or alienation. As such horizons, worlds also imply gazes that influence these physical configurations. Aesthesis can sense our physical alignments with and crossings through worlds. Praxis gathers meanings and intentions from such alignments and crossings. Praxical aesthesis senses this gathering, attending to the way praxis appears embedded in the sense of a world, or crossing the borders of worlds.
There are several of moments in Lugones's texts in which what I call praxical aesthesis comes to bear on the possibility of resistance. In "Structure/Anti-structure and Agency under Oppression," for example, [End Page 91] she writes about a practical difficulty that arises with crossing through worlds: "If one can remember the intentions of the person one is in another world and tries to enact them in the other, one can see that many times one cannot do so because the action does not have any meaning or has a different sort of meaning than the one it has in the other reality."30 However, later she states that "the liberatory experience lies in this memory on these many people one is who have intentions one understands because one is fluent in several 'cultures,' 'worlds,' 'realities.'"31 The memory operative here cannot be an abstract projection or airy reminiscence of what one used to be. It is a memory, rather, that takes over our bodies, affects, postures and dispositions evoking lived, concrete intentions from physicalities aligned with other worlds. It is an "aesthetic" memory that is possible because we are submitted to trans-physical processes across worlds in which mutating physicalities transform our embodiments and the senses of self that arise with them without leaving behind other physical imprints. In this way, our bodies are not only given to align with worlds, to develop an ethos, but also to crossings to other worlds. Memory is here a form of "aesthesis" that can sense these crossings so that our bodies remain triggered by constellations of physicalities that do not fit within one world. Fluency in several "cultures," "worlds," and "realities"32 is enabled by this kind of memory and is responsive to such unbridled, border physicalities.33
"Praxical aesthesis," especially under the sway of colonizing gazes that seek transparency and coherence, can sense the physical articulation of practical meaning and intentionality as delimited within a world, so that actions that are informed by trans-physical memory appear to lack ultimate sense. For Lugones, however, resistant praxis exemplifies this kind of phenomenal lapse. It is guided by the intentions of the oppressed who "know themselves in realities in which they are able to form intentions that are not among the alternatives that are possible in the world in which they are brutalized and oppressed."34 This lapse and fracture is the condition of the possibility of resistance.35 It prompts in the oppressed a kind of double seeing in order to "attempt to understand why the [practical] syllogisms cannot be completed and attempt to correct what blocks action."36 This "correction of what blocks action" is a transformative, praxical intervention in the sense of a dominant world so that the intentions of the oppressed are carried out in a world where they were not formed. However, resistant praxis is not simply the direct translation and enactment of the intentions articulated within a world of the oppressed, but a trans-worldly praxis that subliminally unsettles the oppressive and restricted sense of dominant worlds. [End Page 92]
Lugones suggests that, in terms of gazes that enforce the closure of the meaning of oppressive worlds, resistant actions that reflect the intentions of the oppressed in this way are "invisible" yet transformative of dominant worlds.37 In particular, resistant praxis is invisible because it emerges from borders, where the oppressed memorially holds the physicalities of multiple worlds at once. Lugones writes: "The critical understanding is made possible, in part, by the going to the limen when one 'travels' to other worlds. The limen is the place where one becomes most fully aware of one's multiplicity … it is also my sense that the limen is a place where one can form liberatory syllogisms."38 The limen is an invisible place from the sense of one dominant world, yet where actions are articulated through a multiple and monstrous "praxical aesthesis" that is not suppressed by the totalizing meanings of worlds and is not determined by their overriding gazes. These are resistant actions that in their monstrous, flush enactments effect the "corrections of what blocks action."39
Resistant praxis is invisible because it does not settle within dominant worlds.40 It is invisible to gazes, like colonizing ones, that enforce such worlds, ones attentive to the appearing of praxis from enclosed structures of meaning. "Responsibility" names the affective evaluative register of "praxical aesthesis" in which the intelligibility of praxis is detected from such gazes. Lugones writes: "Visibility, faithful intelligibility, are necessary conditions for responsibility."41 The demand for "responsibility" is an attempt to discipline and reign in physicalities that seeks the enactment of "visible" praxis. The result of this is a form of oppression: "In the reality in which the person is functioning, the person is not thought of, and it is hard for that person to animate herself as a person capable of practical syllogisms that are not subservient to the syllogisms of her dominator."42 It would not be a stretch to say that resistant praxis can be sensed from a dominant, colonizing gaze as irresponsible, that is, as failing to appear with pre-established overriding meaning. Or irresponsibility here could signal, rather, a "praxical monstrosity" that is neither responsible or irresponsible. As such, it could trigger a violent, disciplining, "boomerang" gesture of a narcissistic gaze. Yet it could also reveal monstrous detachment from that gaze, and the sway of a different modality of "praxical aesthesis" that senses resistant praxis without demanding transparency and responsibility. The possibility of resistance hinges on the support of this latter aesthesis of the limen that accompanies monstrous trans-physical memorial and practical enactments. [End Page 93]
The Colonizing Gaze and Resistance
When I attend to the colonizing male, lettered, criollo gaze that informs mine, the one enthralled with the stillness of the oppressed, I have a deeper understanding of my difficulty with theorizing about resistance. Since I perceive the oppressed and their racial and cultural traits as in the past, there is always going to be an irreducible lag of time between us. As I noted, "stillness" involves an aesthetic register that refers to an irrecuperable pastness. Through it, I can sense the resistant praxis of the oppressed as in a path that has a futural orientation within a linear temporality, yet it is behind me. That is, the future social form that would result from it has to be a stage in the same progression that I take myself to be in, a stage that antecedes, coincides with or follows mine. This means that the oppressed as resistant is in need of assistance to move forward from a lettered avant-garde that can redeem them from their temporal stillness. In a "boomerang" perception inspecting the resistant praxis of the oppressed, I return to myself with an assured sense of my own liberatory relevance. In this way, I understand their resistance to be transparent to me because it comes from a past that leads to my present, even if it ultimately overcomes it. I possess the future of the resistant praxis of the oppressed, since it should be a kind of agency that follows praxical logics that I can already clearly envision. I seek to see the oppressed as resistingly "responsible."
Part of my investment in the resistance of the oppressed is determined by a demand that they overcome their stillness through praxis, by a need to see them act but only in terms of a world that oppresses them, to have them appear as responsible. My gaze has gone from sensing them as still to becoming fascinated with them acting in a way that is transparent to me. Is this another layer of oppression? An aspect of my role as a lettered, male criollo that theorizes liberation seems to be the disciplining of the physicalities and intentions of the oppressed so that they conform to my world even if resisting it. The violence of "boomerang perception" is operative here. Theoretically this is manifest in my commitment to seeing oppressive worlds as systemic and totalized. From this perspective, there is no way out of capitalism, sexism, racism, and other systems (systems that I grasp with universal conceptual precision) through praxical options that do not belong to worlds of dominant sense articulated by them. Such is my responsible theorizing that never engages the possibility of invisible resistance from the limen. Lugones, on the other hand, evokes a different theorizing when in "Toward a Decolonial Feminism" she writes, [End Page 94]
… I want to think of the colonized neither as simply imagined and constructed by the colonizer and coloniality in accordance with the colonial imagination and the strictures of the capitalist colonial venture, but as a being who begins to inhabit a fractured locus constructed doubly, who perceives doubly, relates doubly, where the sides of the locus are in tension, and the conflict itself actively informs the subjectivity of the colonized self in multiple relation.43
Stillness as a Portal to Community
In the physical, phenomenal realm of the oppressed "stillness" can be contained by a colonizing gaze. This is, however, only one of its manifestations. There are others that are not tethered to such a gaze enforcing totalized worlds. As I noted earlier, the temporality of "stillness" disrupts the linear one that sustains colonizing gazes, engaging monstrous physicalities that may be under the sway of trans-physical processes, like resistant memory, and that traverse worlds of sense undermining temporal sequencing by being drawn to the limen. Here I want to underscore the relationship between "stillness" as a disruption of progressive temporality and the liminality of resistant memory where multiple worlds are sensed at once. In my view, Lugones's work on "germination," "stasis" and praxis makes explicit this relationship.
In this respect, "stillness" can constitute three physical and "aesthetic" constellations.44 It is the paralysis and fixity that characterize racist projections upon the oppressed and that can be internalized by them. In a praxical register, it includes passivity, inaction, the need to be led, saved, redeemed by avant-garde, lettered liberatory agencies. "Stillness" can also be the physicality and intentionality of "irresponsibility," transgressing the expectations of a "western conception of agency" that "presupposes ready-made hierarchical worlds of sense in which individuals form intentions, make choices, and carry out actions in the ready-made terms of those worlds."45 This implies countering the colonizing gaze in its oppressive demand that resistant actions be articulated within the sense of dominant worlds. Yet this marginal physicality can be petrified by the "terror" of "irresponsibility," of being at the limen while overwhelmed by not belonging in a world.46
Finally, "stillness" can be "active subjectivity," a physicality of resistance with "no ready-made sense within which our actions and intentions can be made congruent with our domination" (86). In this instance, there is sense [End Page 95] arising at the limen, through trans-physical memories of worlds in which the oppressed is not subjected to the worlds that oppress them. "Active subjectivity" is "monstrous." It is characterized by a double, border sensing, and a sensing of unbridled physical transformations, that are operative as the basis for the articulation of resistant praxis. This point leads to Lugones's decolonial determination of resistance: "Resistance is the tension between subjectification (the forming/informing of the subject) and active subjectivity, that minimal sense of agency required for the oppressing/resisting relation being an active one, without appeal to the maximal sense of agency of the modern subject."47 In Lugones terms, the resistant praxis that arises in this way emerges out of a "germinative stasis," or a "monstrous stillness," in my terms.
As threefold, "stillness" can be a monstrous "aesthetic" and physical portal, an enabler of corporeal and affective metamorphoses.48 It can elicit physical mutations that are not centered on attachments to self, identity and agency, and that spread across its three constellations causing contaminations, reciprocities, overlaps and permeabilities between them. It can be a "naguala" that, released from the hold of colonizing gazes, leads one to the limen, to the sway of trans-physical memory and the unbridled physicalities in which resistant practices germinate.49 "Stillness" can overcome the colonizing gaze in its demand for fixity in the embodiment of identities, in guilt and in responsibility, and draw from physical and "aesthetic" sources that are suppressed in the conditions of coloniality, including those found in non-Western lineages. I will end by starting to explore this path.
I find in the work of Rodolfo Kusch Andean accounts of embodiment that differentiate between two levels of "aesthesis." The perception of things and actions is anteceded by a dynamic, multifaceted affective sensing of the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness of their happenings. There is emphasis and priority given to the heterogeneous affective tonalities that modulate actions across a multiplicity of worlds of sense rather than to their instrumental efficacy and closure. Praxis acquires in this context a broader physical dimensionality than the one that appears with comprehensive intentions within pre-determined, fixed worlds. In this respect, the "modern Western conception of agency" and "responsibility" are suspended. This is key to understanding the meaning of "utcatha" or "being" (which Rodolfo Kusch translates as estar).50
In "estar," bodies are affectively attuned to the happening of things and actions, happenings that are sensed on the verge of profound instability, on the verge of a transitional turning of worlds or "Pachakuti."51 Beyond the hold [End Page 96] of the colonizing gaze, I find an "aesthesis of Pachakuti" that senses both the exposure of bodies to concrete worlds that align them and the physical metamorphosis of bodies as they travel across worlds. It re-claims bodies in transformation with the sense that the orders that configure them are always about to be overturned. In this passing of worlds, memorial transphysicalities arise that are not aligned with a specific world. This is a germinative process that sustains the possibility of resistant praxis. Lugones and Price write,
Estar … situates one within the world, where one senses its mutability, its instability, its bearing fruit. Thus, the logic of estar siendo is incompatible with essentializing things and relations. The logical movement of estar siendo is connected to seminal activity and to the logic of seminality, life sources, growth.52
The "aesthesis of Pachakuti" resides in "uk'u" (sometimes translated as "interiority"), a physicality of "stillness" that does not face the overturning of worlds primarily through instrumental praxis, but through seeking an affective balance with the así, the "this is how it is" of cataclysmic turns. Referring to the kind of knowledge that characterizes uk'u as "ritual knowledge," Lugones and Price state that "the subject enters within himself, inhabiting and contemplating the así of the world, with its possibility of a turn in time that may spring germinative possibilities."53
The "stillness" of uk'u cannot be ultimately located in a "self":
While the internal balance depends on each person, each person is in relation to a habitat, a center, a community, without which one is disoriented, sensing the así, but without the complex communal centering that gives the world its possibilities of flowering. This communal center is thus a seed, a seminal source.54
Such communities encountered through uk'u are "in the making," they are "a danger as well as a promise, not a fixed, univocal identity,"55 yet they pull one toward a center that opens one up to possibilities of resistance. Uk'u is this pull toward community that withdraws from the fixity of predetermined worlds. Lugones and Price write, for example: "The one that esta siendo Chicana does not develop a sense of community as external to herself. Estar siendo Chicana is political because it is life affirming in the face of destruction and oppression."56 This is, however, a community that I may not see. [End Page 97]
My writing about stillness, inspired by Lugones's texts on traveling and germination, attempts to evoke the corporeal metamorphosis that puts one in the limen. It seeks to approach the edge of embodied sense, and a border where dominant and non-dominant worlds mix, overlap, emerge and pass. In this process, the terror of loss of sense is an affective transition to the possibility of germinative resistance. This writing in the crossing leaves one in uncertainty, as if at the brink of a portal.
omar rivera, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Southwestern University.
The research for this article was supported by the ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship. I want to thank the anonymous reviewer for the extremely helpful suggestions on wording, comments and questions that strengthened the article considerably. The postscript in particular is a response to this feedback.
The research for this article was supported by the ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship. I want to thank the anonymous reviewer for the extremely helpful suggestions on wording, comments and questions that strengthened the article considerably. The postscript in particular is a response to this feedback.
1. See in particular María Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 55.
2. I began focusing on "stillness" reading about the "Coatlicue State" in Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (California: Aunt Lute Books, 2012), 68–69. In terms of an aesthetics related to "stillness," see Gloria Anzaldúa, "Bearing Witness: Their Eyes Anticipate the Healing," in Ofrenda: Liliana Wilson's Art of Dissidence and Dreams, ed. Norma Elia Cantú (Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2015); and Alicia Gaspar de Alba "Ella Tiene su Tono": Conocimiento and Mestiza Consciousness in Liliana Wilson's Art" in the same book. I am drawing a connection between what I call stillness and stasis in Lugones's work. See María Lugones, "From Within Germinative Stasis: Creating Active Subjectivity, Resistant Agency." In Entre Mundos/Among Worlds, edited by Keating A. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), and "Motion, Stasis, and Resistance to Interlocked Oppressions." In Making Worlds: Gender, Metaphor, Materiality, edited by Susan Hardy Aiken, Ann Brigham, Sallie A. Marston, and Penny Waterstone (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998), 49–52.
3. I read Vallejo as a poet of the "oppressed" following José Carlos Mariátegui in Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana (Lima: Orbis Ventures, 2005).
4. César Vallejo, César Vallejo: The Complete Poetry, ed. and trans. Clayton Eshleman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 25
5. Here I am echoing the language of Lugones. See Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 55.
6. Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 152.
8. Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 151.
9. A term she borrows from Elizabeth Spelman.
10. Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 156–57.
11. By "dependent physicalities" I mean those that are submitted to the projections of a racist/colonizing gaze, physicalities like double consciousness or those defined by a racial bodily schema as developed by Frantz Fanon.
12. Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 153.
13. Ibid., 161–62.
14. Ibid., 153.
15. In terms of "aesthesis" I draw from Alejandro Vallega's work. See "Exterioridad radical, estética y liberación decolonial." In Sujeto, decolonización, transmodernidad: Debates filosóficos latinoamericanos, ed. Mabel Moraña (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2018), 121-136. Also, this is related to the discussion of "aesthesis" in Walter Mignolo, "Aisthesis Decolonial: artículo de reflexión," Calle 14, no. 4 (2010): 13. See also Omar Rivera, "Reading Alejandro Vallega Toward a Decolonial Aesthetics," Comparative and Continental Philosophy 9, no. 2 (2017): 162–173.
16. I am indebted here to Linda Martín Alcoff's account of the body in hermeneutic reasoning in chapter 4 of Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
17. Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 157.
19. Ibid., 158.
21. I found helpful in this respect Mariana Ortega's lecture "Ghostly Subjectivities, Colonialist Perceptions" at the conference "Toward Decolonial Feminisms," May 11–13, 2018. In particular, listening to the lecture I learned much about the notion of "monstrosity."
22. I am drawing here on the discussion of coloniality, race and temporality in Aníbal Quijano, "Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America," in Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate, ed. Mabel Moraña, Enrique Dussel, and Carlos A. Jauregui (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 181–224.
23. For the relationship between race and temporality from a phenomenological perspective see chapter 5 of Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008); Alia Al-Saji, "Too Late: Racialized Time and the Closure of the Past," Insights 6, no. 5 (2003): 1–13; and Alia Al-Saji, "A Phenomenology of Hesitation: Interrupting Racializing Habits of Seeing," in Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment and Race, ed. Emily Lee (New York: SUNY Press, 2014). See also Helen Ngo, The Habits of Racism: A Phenomenology of Racism and Racialized Embodiment (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017).
24. My interpretation of Chambi draws from chapter 5 of Jorge Coronado, Andes Imagined (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 2009).
25. This discussion of clothing, race, and culture is in dialogue with Alia Al-Saji's phenomenological study of the veil, and her notion of "cultural racism," in "The Racialization of Muslim Veils: A Philosophical Analysis," Philosophy and Social Criticism 36, no. 8, (210): 875–902. Especially, 890-893. See also Linda Martín Alcoff's chapter "Latinos and the Categories of Race" in Visible Identities.
26. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Ch'ixinakax utxiwa: una reflexión sobre practicas y discursos descolonizadores (Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2010), 145. Translation mine.
27. This touches on the temporality of trauma in Pablo Oyarzún's "Memory, Moment and Tears: A Speculative Approach to the Problem of Latin American Singularities," in The New Centennial Review 7, no. 3 (2007): 1–20. I thank my colleague Phil Hopkins for pointing out the resonances between my discussion of the temporality of "stillness" and Al-Saji's analysis of "hesitation" in "A Phenomenology of Hesitation."
28. This discussion draws from Alejandro Vallega's notion of anachronic temporalities in Latin American Philosophy from Identity to Radical Exteriority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014).
29. See Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 77–103. There one finds not only an elucidation of "worlds," but also of "playfulness" and "world travelling," which I do not engage fully here but are related to my discussion.
30. Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 57.
31. Ibid., 58.
33. I borrow the term "unbridled" from Vallega's use of it in relation to Latin American anachronic sensibilities (see Latin American Philosophy from Identity to Radical Exteriority).
34. Lugones Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 59.
35. In my view, this is connected to Enrique Dussel's notion of "exteriority" as he develops it in Philosophy of Liberation, trans. Aquilina Martínez and Christine Morkokvsky (Eugene, OR: Orbis Books, 1985).
40. This discussion draws from chapter 4 of Mariana Ortega's In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity and the Self (New York: SUNY, 2016).
41. Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, 58.
43. María Lugones, "Toward a Decolonial Feminism," Hypatia 25, no. 4 (2010): 742–59.
44. My discussion of the three modalities of "stillness" is an interpretation of Lugones's "From Within Germinative Stasis," especially the section on the Coatlicue state.
45. Lugones, "From Within Germinative Stasis," 86.
46. For a more nuanced understanding of this "terror," see ibid., 88.
47. Lugones "Toward a Decolonial Feminism," 746.
48. For an analysis of the notion of "portal" in relation to Lugones's work see Omar Rivera, "Hermenéutica, representatividad y espacio en filosofías de la liberación social: una perspectiva latinoamericana," in Sujeto, decolonización, transmodernidad: Debates filosóficos latinoamericanos, ed. Mabel Moraña (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2018), 69–84.
49. I am using "naguala" in Anzaldúa's sense. See Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, ed. Analouise Keating (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 105.
50. See Kusch's discussion of the story of the indigenous grandfather in chapter 2 of Rodolfo Kusch, Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América, trans María Lugones and Joshua M. Price (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
51. In addition to Kusch, a fundamental philosopher of resistance that draws from the notion of "Pachakuti" is Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. See Ch'ixinakax utxiwa: Una reflexión sobre prácticas y discursos descolonizadores. I think her work needs to be put in explicit dialogue with Lugones's and Anzaldúa's.
52. Kusch, Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América, lvi.
53. Ibid., lix.
54. Ibid., lviii.
55. Ibid., lxiii.