Editorial Remarks: Passions, Performance, Public Affect

Mirta Antonelli and Gabriel Giorgi

The struggles and debates over the public, the common sphere, and communal space that have taken place in the face of the expanding privatization of neoliberal societies are not restricted to questions of natural resources, social wealth, or access to services that assure a minimum dignity of life; in decisive ways, they also involve the realm of affect, the bonds that forge community, and modes of social life. If the discourses of privatization legitimate the violence that their practices enact with images of a universe "clean" of undesirables, a "cleanliness" that makes community possible (as in the advertisements for gated communities in Argentina) certain alternative performances experiment with other ways of making affect a public fact, other ways of exploring what we have in common at the threshold of affect and desire. The essays compiled in this issue present a diverse array of materials that attest to such explorations of public affect.

The realm of affect (desires, emotions, feelings) has long been and continues to be constitutive of the relationship between politics and the body: of forms of government and modalities of the social bond as well as the socio-historical forms of subjectivity; of their possibility as well as their impossibility; their calculation and their incalculability. For this reason, the history of this relationship has been one of the nodes of reflection in political philosophy:

"Spinoza asks us to conceive of political philosophy as a reflection on the common life of men, taking affect into consideration as elemental units of its constitution. Therefore, any given form of government can be decoded according to the affects that animate it, that give it substance" (Tatián 2001: 161).

The central question is whether there are possibilities of thinking about political relationships and life with others using a matrix that is not man's domination of man. And, assuming the answer is positive - given that in Spinoza we could speak of an anthropology of desire - what sort of affects would restrain domination.

In order to theorize, analyze, and enact (through political and aesthetic practices) the relations between affect and politics, we must also interrogate the relationship between bodies and signification; that is, we must link the anthropology of affect to semiotic processes - the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary. In that sense, affects - cultural constellations that are historically configured-"(...) prepare, preserve, remember, re-elaborate and present the 'reactive meanings' most directly attributed to people, things, and events by subjects who experience them within particular contexts, the forms and metamorphoses of which the affects bear witness to" (Bodei, 1995: 10). Thus, the affective realm and its components may be thought of as vectors in, and of, a form of communication that is tonally marked.

From the standpoint of this anthropology of desire, one important route leads from everyday, or "common" life," to "life in common." This issue of e-misférica proposes to investigate an alternative topography of the social-because rather than accommodating itself to the disciplinary spaces of the "private" and the "public," self and other, subjective and collective, affect emerges at the very point where lo común (the common sphere, as well as the everyday) becomes visible; where we begin to see that which cannot be reduced to disciplines, economic and political calculations, or social normalization. Public affect is not so much about a pacified "encounter" with others as it is the irruption of a common power; it is the dimension in which social singularities (forms of life in their specificity, in their experience, and in their experimentation) are inscribed in the space of traffic, in the exchanges, mixtures, and frictions. Seen in this light, the social appears as an arena in which "life in common" is a zone of redefinitions, of struggles around new rules and new possibilities. Ultimately, such public feelings signal the moment when democracy is not a mechanism of representation but rather an exercise in singularization, of work and experimentation among subjects, bodies, groups, and territories.

Clearly, the relationship among bodies, politics, narratives, and affect is at the heart of the "state of exception" paradigm-both in terms of the geopolitics of (in)security and the diverse modalities of precarious life, its imaginaries of neglect and the effect of precariousness that these feed back into. One set of contributions to this issue takes this paradigm as its context of inscription: the essay by Rossana Reguillo, the aesthetic-political and affective experience of RECOLECTIVO, the critical analysis of the bodies of hunger in Argentina, and Miguel Mato's documentary Una modesta proposición (A Modest Proposal). This context/paradigm also serves as the site of emergence for the "transformances" that Diego Zenobi analyzes in his article on the stagings of Argentinean bank customers, where he offers a new approach to the relationship between performance and economics.

These critical and artistic interrogations, like insistent, persistent questions, offer interpretive keys toward a critical analysis of the ways in which the meanings of affect are administered in the emerging scenes of "civil society:" the practices of "citizen participation" and the tense (and provisional) dividing lines between legality and legitimation, which have to do with the dislocation of the State and the mediatized condition of culture and which cut across the State, the social body, and politics. These interventions aim to make visible the societies of emotion and the citizenship of passions that govern our contemporary videosphere. Miguel Mato's documentary preserves scenes in which the bodies of Argentine children, far from assuming the fixed objectivity of the iconography of hunger and the silence of the somber, voiceless beings seen in the national press, acquire political, public dignity as an affective and ludic subjectivity, and as the subject of rights. As we can observe in the essay by Donadi et al. that appears in the section "Images that Stare Back," it is precisely these dignifying images that the State of exception would like to nullify. In place of political rights, it would substitute the donation of foodstuff as a "benefit," using the pious rhetoric of the good Samaritan and love for one's neighbor.

The "event," catastrophe, and trauma are all categories that allow us to interpret the irruptions that - like the attack on the Twin Towers - inaugurate the explosion and collapse of cultural narratives, juridical systems, referential frameworks, and the social rules of inter-subjective relations. It is a question of temporalities unleashed by an event that disrupts the symbolic chains-emergency, urgency, imminence-and then give way to processes of normalization. All of these categories, whose temporality is over-determined by affect, are, at the same time, part of a politics of naming and a politics of the gaze: who names/who looks. Perhaps for that reason, the media, with their particular forms of logic, are most susceptible to producing the simulacrum of the times of exception and the trans-subjective emotion that hegemonic discourses crystallize in today's democracies, in which the State has become "rito sin mito" (ritual without myth). Sundered by the devastating power of the market, the social bond can no longer be thought of as tied to the political bond of modernity, because the juridical norm is no longer tied to symbolic law and social rules. Without myth there is no ritual; there are rules of operation, but no Law (Lewkowicz: 2004).

In her essay, Reguillo uses the metaphor of the "fresco" to designate the mutual implication of who names and who sees the event. Reguillo explores the exception experienced by social actors and illuminates not only intersubjectivities but also, and above all, the very dividing line between exception and normality. Ana Longoni's commentary on "No estábamos hechos para los mismos caminos," ("We Weren't Made for the Same Road"), an intervention and series of performances by the group of artists known as RECOLECTIVO, indicates-much like a code of urban signposting-which gazes can cross paths in a city whose syntax has been disrupted, at a time when the city has drawn new exclusions or modified old ones and when the centers and the peripheries of fragmented societies are multiplying. As Debord has said, what changes our way of perceiving the city is more important than what changes our way of looking at painting. Longoni undertakes the lucid exercise of perceiving the bond among artists, perceiving the bond that links artists to "common" people, in the most common (habitual) of trips or in the movement of the most common (normal) mode of transportation in Córdoba, Argentina. Along the way, she stops to ponder the force of the artist's body, its capacity to intrude upon the anaestheticization and somnolence of the habitual, and to open up the politics of the encounter by means of an intervention that reaches out into the neighborhoods of those who are excluded from the center, excluded from the spaces of exchange and deprived of the formal bonds of the work world, the economy, and school-everything that, for those who are included, is most common. Absurd, humorous, a shake-up of the public/private/intimate, and a sabotage of the exhausted words of political and media rhetoric, the kind of affect toward which they work tries to forge moments of contact that, though ephemeral, are collectively shared.

Along these same lines, Carlos Monsiváis's urban "performances" extract a collective threshold of bodies and language from the microscopy of the street: from failed suicides, the "bio-political" imagination of a taxi driver who wants to make bodily organs a bartering chip in criminal justice, the "infinite chain of being" that is a subway car in Mexico City... it is about encountering a gaze that is at once anonymous and singular which, in the ephemeral details of city life, refracts and reinvents the universe of the everyday and the shared. That everyday universe appears as the "ground" of Andréa Maciel García's performances. Maciel García occupies urban space with a body that opens itself up to risk as a condition of contemporary life: fragility, exposition, and intimacy are the axes of its performative intervention. And it is precisely the exposure of the homeless in the city that motivates Fabiane Borges's exploration and perceptive journey, which is at once aesthetic, literary, mythic, and political. Borges joins experiences with texts and other diverse materials in order to foreground the threshold that, in bodies and their inscription in the city, exceeds the claims of identities and their economies of belonging, pointing toward a logic of what is at the same time singular and shared.

Gustavo Blázquez's article, in discussing the universe of the cuarteto and its rigid dances, traces grammars of gender that reproduce mechanisms of masculine domination. The liberatory potential of popular cultures-la joda, or partying-confronts a very strong normalization on the level of gender and emerges as a threshold of possible politicization. Going in the opposite direction, Julie Tolentino's performances of "hospitality" deal with the possibility of the encounter-random, unforeseeable, indeterminate-with other bodies in a space and for a duration that is constantly altered, exploring the modes of commonality in a dance that is different every time.

Paloma Vidal's essay reads the new political visibility of communality, its literary, corporeal, and cultural inscription, in the texts of João Gilberto Noll-texts in which both the characters and the narrative voice are transformed through their reduction to a "minimum," to the remnants or rejects of a global citizenship in which, nevertheless, writing articulates a new threshold of affectivity and community. Debra Levine's essay uses radically heterogeneous materials and practices to articulate a politics of communality and the public, this time with regard to space and circulation in the city of New York and in the actions of Critical Mass, a group of cyclists who occupy the street with a flux of bicycles in order to reclaim public space as a non-normative, communitarian, and communicational space-and even as a space that generates collective memories. Finally, in the section that brings together "Reports from the Field," the politics and cultures surrounding shared affects are linked to such heterogeneous dimensions as dance (Durkee), 'trans' activism and the biopolitical character of resistance to generic normativity (Steinmetz), and debates over genetic manipulation (Weisman).

"Wanting to be and do with others - in the quantitative and qualitative sense- this is the active desire of a population that, if it exists, so too does the incalculable exist with it. Which means: we don't know what a social body can do," writes Diego Tatián. "To the extent that shared life perseveres in its indeterminacy and resists being completely subjected to calculation (the efficacy of which depends on the manipulation of hope, fear, security) and to the extent that it is capable of putting other forms of affect into circulation, the word "democracy" has meaning as a collective power capable of sustaining a procedure and a form. The state of solitude-not only the solitude of the castaway, but also of the crowd-makes people prone to fear when faced with the trace of the other and leads quickly from mockery to condemnation, from contempt to hate. The state of solitude, intrinsic to the empire of pure procedure, does not last long; soon it becomes the passionate desire to serve, in order to find satisfaction only in the miserable joys of hatred" (Tatián 2007). The interventions compiled in this issue explore that "collective power" in the folds, in the details-at times minimal-and the scenes, in the violence of "life in common," in its emotions and affect.


Works Cited:

Bodei, Remo. 1995. Geometría de las pasiones. Miedo, esperanza, felicidad: filosofía y usos políticos. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Lewkowicz, Ignacio. 2004. Pensar sin Estado. La subjetividad en la era de la fluidez, Buenos Aires: Paidós.

Tatián, Diego. 2001. La cautela del salvaje. Pasiones y política en Spinoza. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo Editora.

-----------------  2007. "Lo incalculable." Unpublished.