Literature, Images, and Politics of Life
In recent years, the encounters and exchanges between scientific research on the “animal question” and artistic thought—both creative and critical—have increased, giving rise to a new approach: biopoetics. Transdisciplinary yet specific approaches in literature and the arts are recentering the notion of life and language’s capacity to produce singular forms of thinking, of the animal, and of the human animal. In addition, this perspective necessitates the creation of a new critical dictionary that can revise the definitions of such fundamental categories for the humanities as subject, subjectivity, life, living, animality, knowledge, and creation. This transformation of the field and its critical tools also implies, naturally, a reevaluation of the links between life and art. While anthropocentric epistemology understands culture as a reality distanced from animal life—that is, as a project of human self-generation and self-interpretation—, the biocentric perspective, with solid roots in Nietzschean thought, conceives culture as a phenomenon of life. Rather than an autonomous area that acts upon and is affected by life, art is now life's own mode of existence. The relationship between life and creation—as the one between life and power for biopolitics—feeds on and leads biopoetical thinking.
This monographic issue aims to approach this new field by gathering a series of critical interventions that reflect on the philosophical, political, and imaginative displacements in the so-called “post-humanities”, created by the emergence of a biocentric perspective. The articles address varied aspects and adopt differing tones: some reflect theoretically while others try to trace a series of conceptual transformations within literature and visual arts in order to build a corpus by detecting its descent or by noting common approaches about similar topics in different disciplines. However, as is easily discernible, each article takes into consideration the multiple and mobile boundaries that separate human from animal life. We might say that the articles essay a limitrophy in which artistic practices have an epistemological role: they are not merely considered as forms of representation, but rather as bodies of knowledge about these thresholds, about those areas of the living where we find, next to forms of life, a reflection on the other and on human alterity.
In this vein, we can understand the desire of some of the authors to appeal to conceptual imagination. In “Literature and Self-Biopolitics: Michel Foucault's Contributions to the Theory of Autobiography,” Álvaro Luque Amo proposes the notion of 'autobiopolitics' to articulate Foucault's interest in the relation between power and body—which constitutes biopolitics—in his final reflections around subjectivity as a practice of self-constitution. The article contributes to the study of autobiographical writing with a reflection on the “technologies of the self”—practices of self-care and self-knowledge through which subjects constitute themselves—while offering a transversal reading of some problems that are often considered separately. Categories such as body, life, norm, writing, power or knowledge are thus brought together, revealing an understanding of the literary phenomenon as linked with politics, but which does not function as example, cause or representation. For her part, in “The Biographical Animal,” Julieta Yelin essays a conceptual game by establishing a relationship that meddles between animal and biography, notions inscribed in the different, even opposing spheres, of the thinking about life. Animal life does not have history, writing, or narrative; it is, by definition, a lacking life, in so much as it is born from the contraposition with human life, furnished with, and an effect of, articulate language. However, what happens when such a distinction is challenged by a new approach, or rather, by the seepage of animal life into the heart of human life? The article establishes a dialogue between posthumanist thinking on the “animal question” and research on the biographical genre that has lately reconsidered and problematized the concept of life by incorporating biopolitical theory.
These theoretical-critical revisions also take place in the wider field of comparative literature, as revealed by Irina Garbatzky's article, “The Survival of Roaches. Kafka in Cuba in the Late 20th Century,” which brings together the Kafkian tradition of animal stories with a corpus of contemporary Cuban narrative. Her reading includes the recreation of imaginaries that disturb the metaphorical relationship between humans and animals, but also, and very productively, the emergence of the figure of the writer-bug: a desiring body, resisting and elusive, which invents for itself an anomalous, unclassifiable form, a detour with respect to the norms that delineate the human-form in the Cuban context—the article reclaims the revolutionary New Man—and, with it, an alternative position of enunciation. Kafka's oeuvre thus becomes a key that can open new lines of inquiry into literary technique as well as in the auto-representations of the author in Central America literature. Miguel Ángel Martínez García also takes a comparative perspective in “Disease, Language, and Animal Life” to address a rich corpus of Hispanic-American literary texts in which he traces and analyzes two key aspects of the link between animality and illness. On the one hand, Martínez García identifies short stories that reveal the animalization of the sick person, either by means of a violent medical discourse, the institutions and therapeutic technologies, or by means of the representations that the context projects onto these subjects who have lost or will lose sovereignty of their own bodies. He also focuses on situations in which the sick person experiences an animal fate, in which they are de-individualized, depersonalized, witnessing the emergence of an animal language that refutes the medical norm while affirming a resistant and erratic dimension of life. The issue of control over the living and social immunization is addressed by Igor Furão’s “To Control and to Immunize: Politic(s) of the Body in Ken MacLeod's Intrusion.” The author examines the consequences and convergences of technocratic control, genetic manipulation, and assisted reproduction in Scottish writer Ken MacLeon's novel Intrusion. How does fiction reveal the effects of biopower? What does this fiction reveal about the issues of eugenics, terrorism, and security devices? The article considers the contributions that literature, as a specific form of thought, can make to critical theory and philosophy, by offering suggestive interpretative keys of the contemporary world.
The biopoetical perspective allows for a reconsideration of life-art through a different lens to the vanguard's modern tradition, in so much as it questions the limits of the category of 'work.' The issue of autonomy does not only refer to an institutional perspective. To think of the work's extensions and limits delineates a common zone for processes of life and artistic production, an undetermined zone that also challenges conventions, not so much to establish new a priori postulates and manifestos, but rather to inquire about the possibility of creating communities based on difference. In the monograph, such construction zones within artistic genres, between life and work, and between institution and the margins, are put to the fore in three instances, which reflect on the leftovers and inorganicity that blur the human shape. With the growing representation of the un-figuration of the human in visual and performative arts as her starting point, Betina Keizman asks herself in “Dynamics of the Living: Repetition, Survival, and Potential Life Forms” how art loses the human form, with which attributes and in which materialities are the human form and the collective dispositions connected. For the author, Lina Meruane's Fruta podrida and Roque Larraquy's La comemadre, body installations by Juan Pablo Langlois and Sebastián Gordin's marquetry—two novels and two installations embody the duplicity, noted by Michel Foucault, of the two instances of biopower: processes of control and repression of individual bodies, and the new forms of politics and technologies of commonality opened up by the creative potential of the living. The article proposes the term “potential lives” to insist on “an order of imaginative speculation intrinsic to artistic forms, especially once we admit the idea that art 'essays' subjectivities by extending the limits of the human, in many cases establishing new dynamics with the living, with the environment, and with what is held in common.” In this new zone, opened up by the blurring of forms and by emphasizing inorganic materialities, the author focuses on the elements that divide and exceed figuration. How to account for vestiges, leftovers, fossils, with these materialities that are surplus to life?
In “Plots of Life: Art and its Residues,” Isabel Alicia Quintana returns to the issue art-life from the perspective of Georges Didi-Huberman's “plots of humanities,” linked to a series of theoretical interests with common origins: scarcity, the non-person, the supplement and the residue. The author analyzes two examples—Lina Meruane's novel Fruta podrida and the film La mujer de los perros, by Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás—which question the readability of a human wholeness with plots of life, like the sick person and the homeless, which are not considered as such: “two ways to expose humanity: as a residue bound to disappear but also as a resisting body with a vital project”. The political accent of art thus lies in the moment in which it suspends those consensual and stable certainties about what constitutes a life, in the capacity to show precarious lives as resistant lives, protected by a residue that relocates them, constantly in opposition to the modes of production of capital. Thus, Quintana concludes with the necessity to observe carefully interstitial spaces in the workplace and society, as “art and our own critical practice demand that we confront the figment of a world without residues”.
Finally, in “(Political) Images of Life: Animal? Fossil? Posthuman Prisms in the Work of Nuno Ramos,” Victoria Cóccaro delves into the ways in which the modern Form Man has been deconstructed, by analyzing Brasilian artist Nuno Ramos’ use of fossils and the sense of touch, and by making reference to Florencia Garramuño's text Mundos en común. Again, the potentiality of life is analyzed from residues, as matter that distills sin itself a kind of life that disarms and decomposes human limits; or rather, along the lines of Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, by invoking forces that always exceed their form, placing them in the openness or outside of their conventions. The fossil, a matter radically different from bios, defuses the biologicist temporality and proposes an anachronistic historical time.
The miscellaneous section of the journal includes four articles. “The Essay according to Joan Fuster: the Literary Article as a Modality of the Genre” by J. Ángel Cano Mateu, analyzes the genre of “literary article” (between journalism and literature) and defends a close connection with the essay starting from an analysis of Joan Fuster's reflections on the matter. These are connected with a series of theoretical formulations about the essay genre, noting that both essays and literary articles share “a tentative condition, provisionality, and, consequently, a scarcely thorough and fragmentary character, and dialogism.” In “Celluloid Writing: a Reading of 5 metros de poemas, by Carlos Oquendo de Amat,” Agustina Ibañez connects poems by Oquendo de Amat with technical innovations in late 20th and early 21st century film. This encounter produces, for the author, a hybrid text in which filmic procedures actively participate in the process of writing and composition. Ibañez characterizes the result of the poetic-filmic experiment as a “text-fold”, “a text in transit between and towards the textual, the visual, the poetic.” For her part, in “Teresa Wilms Montt: Viscerality as Activism” Cecilia Macón analyzes the production of the Chilean writer, particularly her early work Inquietudes sentimentales (1917), to locate the emergence of a category of “intimacy” and the relationship with feminist anarchist activism. Thus she draws a cartography of affects with political implications and vital dimensions. To close the section, in “Diderot's Vitalist Materialism and the Development of the Modern Novel” Nicolás Martín Olszevicki examines the distance between Denis Diderot's novelistic project, as found in “Éloge de Richardson” (1762), and his concrete novelistic works. Responding to the question of the place of the novel in Diderot's philosophic system, the author identifies Diderot's ground-breaking narrative strategy as an unaware forerunner of modern novel writing.
Last but not least, the Nota Crítica included in this issue, “A quattro anni dall’Apocalisse. La strage di Orlando, Trump, 'il gender' e le unioni civili in Italia,” by Lorenzo Bernini, offers a particularly interesting dialogue with our monograph. It discusses the author's book Queer Apocalypses (first published in Italy in 2013), in which the author critically reflects on the hegemonic politics in civil unions and the homogenization affecting human rights. Four years later, Bernini returns to these issues in the context of an international resurgence of the right, and in relation to relevant historical-political events in the LGTBI field, among them, Donald Trump's presidency in the USA, the 2016 massacre in Orlando's gay bar Pulse, the 2015 passing of the same-sex civil union law in Italy, and the 2013 end to the Vatican campaign against gender theory. Bernini suggests that there is an unending necessity to think about the different modes in which the life forms, corporalities, and sexualities defended by LGTBI movements question the processes of the modern State, and demand philosophical-political reformulations and activism to detect, and defend the LGTBI communities from, the increasingly numerous and global demonstrations of hate, homophobia, and intolerance.
Julieta Yelin (IECH, CONICET-UNR)
Irina Garbatzky (IECH, CONICET-UNR)
NOTE FROM 452ºF ADVISORY BOARD
With the aim of enhancing the quality and excellence of 452ºF. Revista de Teoría de la Literatura y Literatura Comparada, from this current issue 17, the journal will not continue to publish simultaneous translations of its articles. Our commitment to multilingualism will still be present by means of the publications of articles in the journal official languages —Spanish, Catalan and English—, which are also our languages for the settings, abstracts and communications, as well as in the reception and publication of articles in the other romance languages.
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