by Mary Louise Pratt
A lecture read at the Third Encounter of Performance and Politics,
Universidad Catolica, Lima, Peru, July 2002
Translated from Spanish by QMS, Fall 2007
This reflection starts from a certain skepticism with regard to the term globalization. I suspect that, on many occasions, this term functions as a label which lacks that which the theorists call explanatory power. Far from an explanation, it is word that, rather, substitutes for the explanation -- one sees a McDonalds and Lima and says, “Ah, this is globalization”. One meets a Zapotec woman in Manhattan or one buys a bag made in Macau or Madagascar, and one says the same. The term globalization eliminates understanding, even the desire for understanding. In this sense, globalization functions at times as a kind of false protagonist which impedes a sharper interrogation of the processes that have been reorganizing practices and meanings during the last 25 years. More precise and explanatory words are lacking.
Undoubtedly such words will include the term neoliberalism. This one seems to be a less false protagonist, to the extent that it refers directly to the new era we live in, of predatory capitalism. At the same time neoliberalism doesn’t explain everything either, or rather, it is important not to permit it to explain everything. To cede it this power would mean to reduce everything to one single thing -- a gesture always possible insofar as one is disposed to discard, depreciate, or simply not see the contradictions. A gesture also attractive, which permits one to see the world in a coherent and comprehensible manner -- but at the cost of accepting despair as the only reasonable answer. To give capital an interpretive monopoly only serves to reproduce the capitalist monopolism, to cede it the totalizing power that it seeks. Still in the very hearts of our capitalist and consumerist societies there exist many practices, relations, institutions and forms of subjectivity that aren’t ruled by the laws of capital and consumption. We learn to not appreciate, even to not see these , precisely because they don’t fit inside the grand theoretical paradigms that facilitate our understanding of the world. Given the lack of principles and methods to understand the non capitalist dimensions in capitalist societies, these manifestations are not made visible, or they appear trivial. These are lessons, however, that can be unlearned.
I would also like to reflect on a systemically uncontrolled and contradictory dimension of the neoliberal project, which is the following: As we become economically polarized, concentrating the power of consumption in a number of hands ever more reduced, neoliberalism creates immense zones of exclusion where people are, and know that they are, completely superfluous to the historic global order. Across the planet enormous sectors of organized humanity live with a conscience of being redundant and unnecessary to the economic order, of having been expelled from all the narratives of a collective or individual future that neoliberalism offers, and without hopes of entering (or returning to enter) the order of production and consumption. Not only progress but also the idea of progress has stopped functioning as a collective and global myth (and with such speed!). In this sense, globalization has been accompanied by a deglobalization, by processes of isolation. Markets open and grow, but they also close and concentrate themselves.
In these zones of exclusion that extend over large parts of our hemisphere, life has to be borne, and it is being borne in other ways. Vital practices distinct from those offered by modernity and consumption are generated, other modes of social integration and subject formation, other values, knowledges, pleasures, meanings, hopes and forms of transcendence. That is to say, neoliberalism creates vast human dramas that it doesn’t have the least capacity to understand. This seems to me a very interesting situation, unpredictable and full of possibilities. In the pages that follow, I propose to reflect a bit about the forms in which the processes subsumed by the term globalization are represented and interpreted by different imaginaries -- public, official and vernacular. At last, I retake the theme of the zones of exclusions and processes that I propose to call demodernization.
A Recycled Archive
Everything approaching our historical moment recognizes the importance of the profound alterations and accelerations of the patterns of human mobility, the most evident players being migration and mass tourism. Tourism now constitutes the the largest industry in the world after narcotrafficking. For its part, migration has produced, among other things, an inversion in the expansionist outward momentum of a European and North American center. In the last 40 years, the trajectory has been reversed: the ex-colonial subjects are displaced, with a frequency ever greater, towards the metropolis. We read that fifteen percent of the population of Guyana lives in New York and that half of the population of Surinam resides in Holland. According to the census of the year 2000, in the United States one of ten inhabitants was born in another country and one in ten is the child of someone born in another country. (We don’t know how many of the 9 to 15 million undocumented immigrants are included in these statistics.) In California, the mother language of more than half of the children who are in school is different than English. In almost all the cities in Europe and the United States, and in Asian cities as well, there are diasporic communities from many parts of the globe, frequently from old colonies of the very same countries, and they have had an impact on all the aspects of institutional and daily life.
The metropolis, even though necessitated by this reverted diaspora, isn’t always welcoming. In my position as an analyst of travel literature, I have found it fascinating to recognize in the decade of the 1990s a very particular recycling of the archives of travel from the 17th and 18th centuries. I refer to the dramatic stories of suffering and survival, of monsters and of marvels that, 300 years later, arrived to Europe from the far coasts of Africa, from the seas of the South, from the Americas. In the last decade of the 20th century the same type of narrative began to reappear daily, this time on the same coasts of the metropolis. The narratives of shipwrecks, for example, reappear in our newspapers, arriving not from Tierra del Fuego, as before, but from the South coast of France, where 900 Kurds ran aground two years ago, or from Italy, destination of boats full of Albanians and Sudanese. Before, the narratives of stowaways told us of European boys who hid in ships destined towards the Southern oceans. Today, they tell of African children who are found frozen to death under the hatch of airplanes that land in European airports (see Ferguson 2001), or of Bulgarian families hidden under the trains that cross the tunnel of the Mancha. The narrative of the shipwreck was notably revived a few years ago on the beaches of Florida, with the story of the Cuban child Elian Gonzalez, only survivor of a precarious expedition that set off from the island. They were not the Polynesians, but the Floridians (the electors of Bush!) who decided that he was a reincarnation of the baby Jesus who had been saved by the help of dolphins.
Once again we live in a world of bandits and pirates, now in the form of coyotes and polleros who work on the borders of the whole planet. The stories of survival arrive to us not from the Sahara but from the desert of Arizona, as was the case in the summer of 2000, when a baby was miraculously rescued from the arms of her dead mother, a Salvadorian girl who tried to cross the border to enter the United States. They weren’t Bedouin nomads who saved the child, but the infamous Border Patrol, whose function is to chase undocumented immigrants. The narratives of captivity, such a celebrated genre from the 16th to the 19th century, resurge today, protagonized by workers exploited in luxury houses of Beverly Hills or in factories and the bordellos of San Francisco, Milan and Mexico. The asphyxiating nightmare of slave ships, a burning theme in the abolitionist movement in the 18th century, returned to present itself in 1999 in the port of San Francisco, when 18 Chinese workers, driven insane by terror and suffering, came out of a carrier container in the bottom of a cargo ship in which seven of their companions died. The next spring, England was shaken by the story of another 43 Chinese who perished -- poisoned by carbon monoxide in the back part of a truck that tried to cross the border from Holland. As this text is being written, the newspaper informs us of a truck that arrives in Texas with the corpses of two Mexicans suffocated by heat, and twenty survivors, barely alive.
In April of 2001, histories of the lynching of blacks budded anew, no longer in the old South of the United States, but in ultra modern Spain. The same slavery came out of its tomb. In Sudan hundreds of enslaved Dinka orphans were rescued from agricultural work in corporations that faced dramatic reductions in the international prices for their products. In Adibjan, according to the London Daily Telegraph in 2000, girls are sold for five pounds. “I felt as if I was witnessing a spectacle from the 19th century”, affirmed the reporter. In the face of this return to the past, abolitionism has shaken off its dust, headed, as it was 150 years ago, by the Anti Slavery Society in London. Surely, this is not a scenario that we imagined at the start of new millennium.
In the 1990s the borders of the metropolis were converted into theaters of adventurism and suffering, of deaths and survivals. As happened with the travel literature from the 17th and 18th centuries, the public narratives that circulate today impose a scene of a new planetary order, a new imperial order. The function of these narratives is to create the subjects of this new order, that is to say, to recreate ourselves as its subjects, to teach every one their place. The contemporary recycling of the archives of travel of the 17th and 18th century make old themes resurface, but with an important inversion in ends. The earlier genres --the stories of captivity, of shipwrecks, of stowaways, of pirates -- were narrated by the survivors, those who, providentially (a key term in the 18th century vocabulary) were able to live to tell the tale. By definition, there was always a happy outcome that affirmed the viability of an emerging global metropolitan subject, often imperial. The protagonist of the current versions, in the majority of cases, is a dead person, who couldn’t survive, who didn’t arrive, who never returned. Motivated by another kind of desire the narratives of today show dramas not of departure and return, but of negation, exclusion and disaster.
From the narrative point of view, I suspect that among other things this litany of cadavers has been an answer to the clearly utopian character of the official discourses about globalization. At the beginning of the decade of the 90s, the academic discourse, across the ideological spectrum, clearly demonstrated this utopian character. In one of the first metropolitan anthologies (Featherstone 1990), the authors talked for example of a new “cosmopolitan ideal”, of a “dream of secular universalism”, of “the crystallization of the world in one single space”, and of “the emergence of a global human condition” (Robertson), a “global culture” that is an “organization of diversity” (Hannerz). “Humanity”, affirmed Ulf Hannerz in this passionate moment, “has departed for the end of a world that, with some credibility, could see itself as a cultural mosaic”. Today it is difficult not to perceive in these passionate affirmations a revised imperial narrative, newly innocent. The economist John Kenneth Galbraith, a scathing critic, was more clear in affirming: “Globalization is not a serious concept. We North Americans invent it to disguise our program of economic intervention in other countries.”
The Fantasy of Flow
In its beginnings, the official discourse about globalization established its preferred metaphor, a metaphor of mobility and innocence which still impregnates many dialogues. The metaphor is flow: one imagines a planet traversed by multidirectional and continuous flows, of persons, objects, money, information, languages, ideas and images. From the “local” the idea is to intercept the flow, through an assembly plant, a tourist attraction, workers sent abroad, a parabolic antenna, a sound box, a CD downloaded from the internet. But the Chinese workers who asphyxiated weren’t flowing, they were trapped. As the Brazilian sociologist Teresa Caldeira (2001) reminds us, the rich don’t flow either. They close themselves in walled and guarded condominiums; and when they travel they seek refuge in tourist enclaves designed to give the illusion of the place. (Even the Pope, in a discourse on the day of international tourism in 2001, condemned the proliferation of luxury resorts that are totally alienated from the societies that surround them.) It’s worth it for us to linger for a moment in this metaphor of flow, this key common sense of globalization, in order to determine the confusions and evasions that it contains.
1. The metaphor of flow doesn’t distinguish between one type of movement and another -- no difference, for example, between the displacement of domestic employees from the Philippines to the Middle East and the movement of sex tourists from Europe or Japan to Thailand or Cuba. But in spite of using the same aerial apparatus, they are very different movements. The tourists go back to their countries of origin, but the employees, frequently, cannot return because their homes of origin depend on their incomes. The money flows because they don’t.
2. The metaphor of flow neutralizes the question of directionality. The television series “Dallas” is seen in South Africa, but the new multiracial and multilingual programs of South Africa don’t make it to the Americas. Half of the hydroelectric energy of Mexico flows from Chiapas, where a high percentage of the homes lack electricity. Money, according to what they’ve told me, changes hands 100 times more frequently than commodities, but this flow, at the end of the story, has a direction: At the beginning of 2001 Kofi Anan announced that, after considering all the diverse forms of international global trade, it had been determined that there was a flow of $450 billion from poor countries to the rich countries, a quarter of this sum to the United States. To put this in perspective: this same year, the the total budget for foreign aid in the United States was only $22 billion dollars, a sum absurdly miserly, equivalent to a fraction of the interest that Argentina paid on its debt to the US. Debt payments to rich countries now consume half of the national budget of Ecuador, which explains the “flow” to the exterior of 14 percent of the population of this country in the last four years.
3. Like all ideological construction, “flow” naturalizes. The principle consequences are three:
A. State policies, transnational agreements, institutions and collaborations which create possibilities and impossibilities of movement, are made invisible. The diffusions of Hollywood movies all over the planet for example is not a natural flow of culture. It is a business whose object is, as a commercial matter, to do away with the production of cinema in other countries by means of arranged taxes in poor countries for rich countries. This is the new acumen?
B. The concept of flow annuls human intervention and intentionality -- “agency”. Flow is an intransitive verb -- things flow because they do. To describe money as something that flows hides the fact that it is sent and received in an intentional manner from one person to another. The people who "flow” are those who have made decisions to go or to return, to risk themselves, free themselves, or who have been sent or reclaimed by others as part of contemplated but at times desperate strategies. Making human intervention invisible, flow removes from the game the existential dimension of mobilities, the question of how globalization is being lived.
C. Flow suggests, in a wicked manner, a process that responds to the natural laws of gravity. Flows automatically attain a tranquil horizontal equilibrium -- thus the market is contemplated as naturally leveling, as something inherently democratizing. But, as the critique of recent years has put in evidence, neoliberalism is verticalizing, and its verticality doesn’t have limits of gravity. Wealth has concentrated while poverty proliferates, and the top and the bottom seem to disappear before our eyes. What level of personal wealth can a single individual attain? To what depths can massive poverty sink? The statisticians say that the acquisitive power of the working class in Mexico is today a seventh of what it was in 1970, and salaries are half of what they were in 1980. At least a third of the population barely has anything at all; physically, human bodies in Mexico are smaller on average than they were 30 years ago. And Mexico is a rich poor country. The rich-rich countries haven’t been immune to verticalization. We hear it again and again: in the United States, the poorest 40 percent of the population controls 0.2 percent of the national wealth, while the richest 10 percent controls 71 percent. It’s difficult not to see the attack on the twin towers as an assault on this verticalization.
“Flow” exemplifies the legitimizing official language of globalization. It is a word with a positive connotation that operates disconnected from any ethical dimension. The result is a language without top or bottom. A language that permits, for example, that the doubling of work hours, the exploitation of children, such that the reduction of food and infanticide are qualified as “coping strategies” (see Gonzalez de la Roncha, 2000), or that whatever form or grade of poverty is denominated “informal economy”; or that whatever interaction, however unequal it might be, can be described as a “trade”.
The Return of the Monsters
In literature, at least in the works of Latin American fiction of the last decade, this predatory world is made present exactly by the opposite of flow. Narratives of isolated survivors proliferate, trying to create spheres of meaningful action in claustrophobic interior spaces. Narratives of those who have given up trying to escape a social world that has converted into a holocaust. Accounts of violent delinquency in which the absence of a future signify that no one has anything to lose. In the vernacular culture this fact is registered in the same way as in the old empires: by the appearance of the monstrous.
In the middle of the 90s, following the route of NAFTA3 , Mexico and the Caribbean were witnesses to the appearance of chupacabras, winged creatures of more or less a meter in height, similar to a bat, that went out at night and attacked the corrals of goats in the rural regions of Mexico. Photos are published in newspapers of corrals strewn with dead goats and of women with bruises on their necks; pictures of the monster appeared first in newspapers and later on T-shirts; the inevitable rush also made its appearance and the chupacabras showed up on the fiction TV series “The X Files”. The details in these narratives are in the habit of being significant. The origin of the chupacabras, we’re told, was in a failed experiment of genetic engineering in a secret laboratory of a US military base in Puerto Rico. The history of the chupacabras synthesizes the assault on rural life and agriculture, sponsored by NAFTA in 1994. The ejidos4 were privatized. Subsistence agriculture was declared en route to disappearance; the goats and the corn were to be replaced by kiwi and broccoli. The campesinos found themselves subject to enormous pressures to use genetically engineered varieties to be able to compete. It was evident that the business of agriculture in the US was going to suck the blood of the small Mexican farmer. Why goats? The monster has as its objective of attack the intense relations between people and animals, relations that are the very heart of rural life. In rural Mexico, the ‘birria’, a special preparation of a baby goat, is the ritual food of weddings, a locus of social reproduction.
In the Andean zone of Peru and Bolivia the neoliberal era was marked by new appearances of the pishtako, a monster whose legend originated in the Andes in the 16th century in the context of the Spanish invasion. The pishtako used magic dust to put people to sleep and sucked the fat from their bodies. It shouldn’t surprise us that the pishtako would manifest itself at times wearing a tunic similar to the Spanish monks. At the end of the 80s, according to Nathan Wachtel, the pishtako made a series of apparitions in the Andes in answer to the plundering action of neoliberalism (Wachtel 1994). On that occasion, it sucked human fat to export it to the United States where, it was said, it was sold for the lubrication of factories -- cars, airplanes and computers. The anthropologists reported a wave of panic in 1987 when the news spread that a team of 5000 pishtakos arrived to Ayacucho, dressed in laboratory gowns, with the goal of gathering human fat to sell it and pay the national debt of Peru. In spite of their economic and political exclusion, the Andeans weren’t out of the loop. The image represented with an impressive exactitude the nature of the forces that were pressuring them.
To avoid an excessively mythical reading of the phenomenon of the pishtako, it is only necessary to think of its relation with the metropolitan practice of liposuction. Why not exploit the notorious North American obesity to pay the national debt of Peru? Really, thinking clearly, North American fat is the debt of Peru; cheap exports converted into hyperconsumption in the North.
Another appearance of the monstrous in the vernacular imaginary in the neoliberal epoch are the thousands of stories related to the stealing of human organs. Since the decade of 1980 these stories have become powerfully significant in the places where the integrity and survival of communities has been threatened. In the middle of the 90s these narratives have been propagating on such a scale that the United States Agency of Information (USIA) put up a web page to refute them. A very common version is the stealing of a kidney. Its most popular variation tells us of a man who is seduced in a bar by a very attractive woman and stays the night in a hotel. Waking up the next day he finds himself alone, full of pain and with an incision in his abdomen. He realizes he has been drugged, and his kidney has been removed to sell outside. The story has many variations, but they are surprising in frequency and consistency, from India to Guatemala. Again, from a cosmovision soaked in fear and vulnerability, the stories of stolen organs register the transformations of the global order quite precisely, particularly in that they refer to the new means of industrial production which for assemblage of a final product use parts which come from every corner of the world. The bodies of the poor are turned into producers of pieces to be exported and inserted into sick bodies, rich bodies, in other countries. The communities are fragmented, parts of them have had to be sold to the exterior and installed in the belly of the beast. Is it in these realities that the recent term “post-human” originated?
In the United States cinema and television are places for reemergence of the monstrous. The startling example is the fiction series “X files”, which recently completed its ninth (and final) TV season and where all of the horrors mentioned above have made their appearance.5
“Getting it Together”
These appearances of the monstrous express the attack on bodies, and on individual and communal integrity, which characterize the present moment. Individual and collective integrity are not functional for the current capitalism, which, as the economists assure us, works with an unruly flexibility: a factory operating a year ago in El Salvador moves to Indonesia in two months. The stories of the monstrous are a very exact allegory of the disorganizing forces of a voracious and predatory neoliberalism. However, as I suggested at the beginning, it is important not to give an interpretive monopoly to these forces. We are also surrounded by narratives and processes of reassemblage, of integration, recuperation, affirmations of belongings rooted in places and in cosmos. They are processes that our hegemonic imaginaries easily discard. I offer some examples, among many that one could cite.
In gestures simultaneously material and symbolic, the indigenous peoples of the world are leading processes of recuperation -- of organs, bones, remains and sacred robbed artifacts. The cases are very numerous. In 1998 these demands for recuperation had become so common that in the United States a Law of Repatriation was approved. In the US a highlighted case has been the recuperation in 2000 of the brain of Ishii, last survivor of a Californian tribe. The search initiated by a neighboring tribe ended with the brain conserved in storage in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. The finders of Ishii followed clues opened in 1993 by the descendants of a group of natives from Greenland taken to New York a century ago by the anthropologist Franz Boas. The descendants reclaimed the bones of their ancestors, including a representative who traveled by foot to New York to retrieve them. The same year the community of Coruma in Bolivia recovered its sacred textiles from a gallery in California. Weeks ago, the remains of a cacique tugboat, Vanaica Peru, were returned to Uruguay from France, and from England, artifacts from a famous representation of the Bushmen were returned to Botswana.
The migrants of the world are also leading processes of integration and reassemblage by means of intense and continuous processes of improvisation. As we know, all over the planet new forms of identity are developing, of belonging and citizenship capable of responding to the disaggregating momentum of migration. The towns of Mexico and Central America duplicate, establishing satellite communities in the United States, from which people, goods, money and cultural practices come and go continuously. As the pioneering study of Roger Rouse showed, part of Redwood City, California (Rouse 1991), is a suburb of Apatzingan, Michoacan; the Guatemalan anthropologist Victor Montejo affirmed that in Florida there are Tztotzuhil speaking communities that occupy buildings and apartments that have been reorganized according to Mesoamerican living space relations. The Mixtecs of Oaxaca now have a transnational network that goes from Puerto Escondido to Anchorage and from Fresno to New Jersey. To adjust themselves to the necessities of migrant populations, the towns reprogram and redesign local parties (a pattern that again privileges religious calendars before national festivals). The same migrants negotiate new forms of participation, within their status as migrants. Every year in the months of June and July, the flights of Mexicana de Aviacion that leave from the airport of San Jose, California each take a dozen children, sent to spend the summer with their grandparents in the ranches and the towns of Jalisco and Michoacan. Examples abound of improvisation and adjustment destined to maintain integration and continuity across the distances imposed by migration.
The virgins and saints are not left out of the new processes, adopting new mobile and integrating functions. In Mexico, the Mexican anthropologist Renee de la Torre shows that the Virgin of Guadalupe has begun to appear in places of transit like airports or on the bridges of highways. The Mexican church recently gave official recognition of its appearance on the wall of a subway station in Mexico city. The Virgin of Zapopan, a mobile figure that normally circulates between the parishioners of the city of Guadalajara to protect against floods, five years ago started traveling to California, summoned by the faithful of Los Angeles. Just like the communities, the Virgin autoduplicates, creating a new version of itself to enter the transnational circuit.
These innovative processes of reassemblage, integration and continuity can appear insignificant in the context of the great restructurings imposed by the IMF. But, as J.K. Gibson-Graham (1991) says, we must ask ourselves if they appear insignificant because they are, or because we are predisposed to see them like that. Accustomed to give an interpretive monopoly to capitalism, to view from a position of hegemony, could it be that we have learned to see other elements and historical dynamics as insignificant? Gibson-Graham argues that this tendency to reduce everything to the same, accepting the paralysis of despair, is a lesson that must be unlearned. Working sometimes against their own institutions, analysts should try to tell history in another way, to question the obvious order of the significant and insignificant. As analysts describe the world, Gibson-Graham emphasizes, they also produce it, making certain factors stand out and making others invisible. Our acts of representation are exercises of liberty, and they carry responsibilities and consequences.
The new practices of integration and reassemblage reflect commitments, forces and enormous creativity in both the individual and collective. The American myth of the immigrant who seeks a new life forgetting their origins still exists, but now it coexists with the new migrant narrative whose project is to sustain the place of origin, often through processes of autoduplication, like that of the Virgin of Zapopan. Working in the exterior to maintain one’s place of birth frequently implies a double nationality as much in the literal sense (more and more countries recognize it) as in the existential sense, of a kind of unfolding of the I in parallel identities in one place and another. This experience can be at the same time fragmenting and emancipating.
It seems important to me to underline again the way in which, in spite of the economic imperatives that motivate migration, these integrating practices, well subsumed by the expression in English “getting it together”, are not useful for capitalism. They can’t even be explained by it. The mobilization of the “here” to maintain the “there” doesn’t obey, for example, the dictates of consumerism or individualism or the consumer values of self realization. Our fears of nostalgia, or of that which has recently been condemned as “romanticism,” shouldn’t hide from us the fact that across the planet practices and modes of life are being elaborated that reject the intense disintegrations that are useful for capitalism. Together with the wandering virgins, one of the current heroes of this story is the cell phone, as much in the twin towers of New York as in the mountain ranges of Guatemala.
To conclude, we return to the theme of the zones of exclusion. In the first years of this new millennium, we are witnessing changes that appear as processes of demodernization. The grand narrative of progress marches backward. We witness, for example, the “Dickensian” revival of child labor, the recurrence of slavery and the return of the colonial ex-rulers as owners of corporations in ex-colonies. In Peru the government proposes to undo the agrarian reform, returning the ranches to their old owners. In Argentina, the collapse of the country that was considered the most modern and the most modernizing of all Latin America, is registered in a series of returns: the economy of trade, the multiplication of currencies, the selling of children and subsistence agriculture, even in urban contexts. In the middle of the enormous crisis, Argentina, a newspaper tells us with a photograph of an Argentinean in a poncho that is starting a trip around the world on a horse, that even the national symbols demodernize, as if one were reading the book of Melquiades backwards.
A particularly significant dimension of this demodernization has been the erosion of the totalizing and inclusive networks that realized the democratizing project of modernity. I refer to the national networks of education, of transportation (roads and railroad networks, national airlines), of communication (telegraph, telephone, radio), and the judicial and electoral networks. Under neoliberal pressures, states revise their functions, abandoning the redistributive and custodial roles that maintained their democratic character. With relation to the networks, they cease to maintain local branches. The networks wither and, ceasing to be totalizing, become discontinuous and nodal. The territories between the nodes are converted into zones of exclusion, that is to say, they pass from being inclusive to being non-inclusive. In Lima it can be easier to import potatoes from Kansas City than from Sicuani; easier to talk on a cell phone with the cousin in Bangkok than to talk on a public phone with the cousin in San Juan de Lurigancho; easier to order a book from Miami than from Chiclayo or Quito.
The result of these processes of demodernization, and the transformation of the inclusive networks into exclusive nodes, are vast zones of exclusion and marginalization where life has to be lived in other ways, where profit and consumption are not what gives meaning to life. In these zones sadness, suffering and despair proliferate, but other knowledges, values and pleasures -- other narratives, other forms of living life are created; of enjoying it, of giving it meaning. Two brief cases in Peru can serve as examples. The first is the vision of Lima captured by an extraordinary video made by the Dutch-Peruvian Heddy Honigmann in 1993 during the sharpening of the economic crisis of Peru. Titled “Metal and Melancholy,” the subject is the taxi drivers of Lima, a term which in 1993 referred to almost every person in Lima who had access to a car. The video captures, better than any other work that I know, the answer of people to their expulsion and the narrative of development that they were living before, documenting as much the suffering and despair as the creativity and bravery with which they confronted the necessity of living another way and giving meaning to a life in new and painful circumstances. Scene after scene, the video exhibits the creative development of new material practices, of new processes of unmaking and remaking in the midst of extreme scarcity, the incessant labor of untying and retying cables (literally), and the semantic, existential practices that gave meaning to the scarcity and the loss of hope.
The second example is a new cosmology that I came to know after entering a small vegetarian restaurant in Cuzco in July of 2002. It is about the religious sect called Alpha and Omega whose symbols originate from telepathic messages communicated from the eternal father to his terrestrial representatives. These “doctrines for the third millennium” are conserved in four thousand celestial scrolls that explain “the origin, cause and destiny of all things known and unknown,” according to the printed pamphlet that they distribute. Strongly anti-materialist, this sect characterizes capitalism as “the strange law of gold” and announces the new “reign of truth, justice and equality with a new heaven, new Earth and new understanding”. It is just one of dozens of new philisophical-cosmological-religious formations that surge in the zones of exclusion offering paradigms of meaning independent of materialism and the failed narrative of development.
The incapacity of neoliberalism to generate belonging, collectivity and a believable sense of the future produces, among other things, enormous crises of existence and of meanings that are being lived by the non consumerists and consumerists of the world in forms that the neoliberal ideology can neither predict or control. The sucking monsters, the robbed kidneys and the recuperated brains, the mobile virgins, the telepathic scrolls and the pirated discs are symptoms of these crises, and also the inscrutable agents of a future whose contours we don’t know.
1. The present text was made a reality thanks to the auspices of a loan from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from Stanford University 2000-2001, and owes much to stimulating conversations with James Ferguson, Lisa Malkki and Jean Lave. I also thank the colleagues from the Center of Higher Investigations and Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS-Occidente) in Guadalajara, Mexico, for many suggestions that enriched this work, and for the privilege of passing a year on sabbatical with them. The contributions of Gabriel Torres, Maria de la O Castellanos, Reneé de la Torre, Mercedes Gonzalez de la Rocha and Rossana Reguillo were of particular importance in the reflections related to globalization, poverty and their existential dimensions.
2. Translator’s Note: Special thanks to esteemed comrades Jen P., Natalie M. and Margaret C.
for help with revisions and translation.
3. Translator’s note: The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico on January 1, 1994
4.Translator’s Note: Ejidos are individual plots of land that are passed down through families and cannot be put on the common market. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which protected the ejido system, was revoked with the passage of NAFTA in 1994.
5. For a domestication of the theme, see also the most recent film of Clint Eastwood, ‘Blood Work’.
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