No Apocalypse, No Integration: Modernism and Postmodernism in Latin America

No Apocalypse, No Integration: Modernism and Postmodernism in Latin America

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822380399
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 12/18/2001
Series: Latin America in Translation
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 463 KB

About the Author

Martín Hopenhayn is Social Development Researcher for the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile. While he is the author of numerous books in Spanish, this is the first English language collection of his writing. Cynthia Margarita Tompkins is Associate Professor of Spanish at Arizona State University. Elizabeth Rosa Horan is Associate Professor of English at Arizona State University.

Read an Excerpt


Modernism and Postmodernism in Latin America
By Martín Hopenhayn

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2001 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-2769-1

Chapter One

The Day after the Death of a Revolution

We are, without doubt, crossed by interwoven uncertainties. These uncertainties are reflected in expressions such as the crisis of the Welfare State (and its Latin American variant, the Planning State), and the loss of the centrality of class struggle to the historical imagination. In expressions such as the new dependency, in our experience of social and cultural fragmentation, in our disenchantment facing a humbled economy and a humble democracy, we awake as if from a pleasant dream-and why not, possibly from a nightmare too-called revolution. All of these expressions contribute to the moral atmosphere of doubt. Facing them, doubt nags away at us: are we still looking for some form of totalization, for a new comprehensive explanation, for another subject hearkening to the universal, for an unprecedented and inevitably energizing impulse toward utopia? There exists, of course, a strong reservation facing the prospect or hope that political renovation or sustained modernization would remotivate a fantasized historical synthesis. What the societies of Latin America most share today are social deterioration, formal democracy, privatizingeuphoria and shock politics. These terse coincidences can hardly be said to constitute the raw material for meaningful emancipation, for creating a future and for absorbing the dormant memory of the "people."

In view of the above, the following pages might seem skeptical. They don't indicate new avenues for change nor do they revitalize old impulses for radical transformation. Rather, they trace the crisis and the consequences following the shattered dream of integration. The shattering of that dream has profoundly affected culture, daily life, and the pursuit of happiness.

Culture Ablaze

If the revolution were imagined in social terms as a hot blaze in which the basic structures of dependency capitalism were to be consumed and regress to an earlier stage, we would now confront the congealed ashes of the very idea of revolution. It's more than just a question of political, strategic, or ideological turnarounds. To abandon the image of a possible revolution is a cultural mutation, a peculiar way to die.

To die for the lack of events. The revolution was conceived as moment and momentum, when history would fall apart through conscious and collective action, an inflection and change of course toward the foundational appropriation of the present. Without revolution, we're left without the emotion of the great event.

To die for the lack of redemption. The revolution, while made by a few, would redeem all of us from capitalist alienation, from the small and muffed dramas of bourgeois individualism, and from the viscous contamination of exploitation. Party or proletariat were seen as particular subjects, with the ability to act as pivots, to make universal emancipation turn around. Our doubts and shames would be left behind. Without a revolution, we've no choice but to put up with them.

To die for the lack of fusion. The image of a possible, meaningful revolution supposed the full integration of personal with communal life. The seamless communion of one's life projects with one's world project provided the rounded, succinct justification of one's own, personal existence. The image of oneself tossed out into the street, fused into a seething mass that lays waste to all vestiges of an order verging on decay, could prove almost ecstatic.

With no prospects of revolution, present life loses its epic potential. This would lead to a range of consequences, among which it would be useful to single out the ones that most contribute to a culture of disenchantment and chilliness of temperament.

In the first place, there's the necessity of remaking and resignifying personal existence. That existence was previously based on a sum of "minor reasons" that never constituted a "total reason." Even so, those "reasons" somehow managed to conjure, partially, temporarily, the loss of the earlier metahistorical referent. Almost without realizing it we substitute the single program for a collection of "software" that we select depending on the occasion: the software of personal growth, of political pragmatism, of career advancement, of social recognition, of moral transgressions. For lack of coherence, we replace the emphasis on the substantive with the satisfaction of style. Some of us adhere to some small scale, minor caliber collective projects. The word "individualist" no longer strikes us as sinful; it has become more musical than the word "collectivist."

In the second place, we pass from the utopian thinking to the ad hoc. The lack of a final condition of total reconciliation has led us to constant readjustment, using strategies not as the means to achieve a glorious end, but as the end in itself. Even in politics, form has become content. If the image of revolutionary action may be seen against a clear and distant horizon, in the absence of that image, vision tends to settle for minimal, short term change, regression into the interstices, the spaces in between. The lack of utopias is not only the dissolution of dreams, but also the perpetuation of a drowsy, pointillist insomnia.

In the third place, we've renounced the wish to break away. Previously, the categorical imperative could always be found in a necessary assassination, real or symbolic, of the bourgeois, capitalist, or imperialist. Today we toy with these figures, justifying ourselves through them, and, at most, joking around with them in nocturnal rituals or waking fantasies. The verb "to break" has lost its once irresistible charm, its once implicit violence as a verb that could be sheathed in beauty: Fanon, Guevara and Ho Chi Minh were the very examples of this aestheticization of violence. The mere inevitability of a radical break constituted a relief, in and of itself. Now it's all too clear that this is less inevitable than it once seemed.

In the fourth place, socialism no longer appears as the possibility of social synthesis or full integration between State and society. This means accepting two divergent perspectives: we're induced to recognize social fragmentation as an inexorable reality, or to accept a new kind of totalization, the result of the transnationalization of the economy and the re-articulative impact of new technologies and the flourishing cultural industry. We nonetheless know that both interpretations, both perspectives, can be one and the same: until now, the remapping, in global terms, of the international economic scenario has heightened the processes of social fragmentation already evidenced by the styles of development promoted in Latin America over the past three or four decades, consecrating a status quo where the (internationally) integrated are starkly juxtaposed with the (nationally) excluded. The alternative to these possibilities has so far been unspecified stammering about "endogenous development." The development alternatives are likely to be reduced to appeals to vague principle or molecular integration that turn the actors into great heroes to themselves and little monads to the rest.

Ultimately, the recomposition of the worldwide economic system and the globalization of communications provokes an accelerated deterritorialization, which makes it very difficult to maintain a stable identity associated with the territory in which one lives and the nation to which one belongs. It's not easy to evaluate the impact on collective projects of phenomena such as the relocation of productive activities beyond the countries' borders, planet-wide simultaneity in the interchange of information, and the displacement-at the speed of light and with uncontrollable destinations-of the symbolic products of local origin. On television screens, identities jumble together in a worldwide dance of mutant, rapidly obsolescent symbols. The globalization of markets and communications provokes a growing permeability and a porosity of imaginaries that nobody could rationalize. Expressed as a caricature, the currently reigning ideology can last as long as a commercial announcement or an ethnographic program on the television.

Following the revolution's diluted horizons and the broken promises of sustained modernization's integrative potential (for it failed to integrate as expected, even when it was effectively sustained), questions about the meaning and axis of the continent's present history become difficult even to formulate. Beyond political viability or will, it's a question of what is-or is not-culturally possible: the pulverization of large-scale projects, the loss of conviction in homogenous, universally beneficent progress, the turn towards seeking shelter in life's small business, exchanging the substantive for the procedural in our symbolic order, the inability to imagine radical change or large-scale initiatives, a certain complacency towards discontinuity and fragmentation in all walks of sociocultural life, and finally, the preeminence of a kind of exclusionary transnationalization that is neither national nor popular. Don't these circumstances make it difficult even to think of roads to development that might seduce and mobilize our old and new masses? From what utopia, or with what ends in mind, is the epic of history conceivable once the bonfire of revolutionary dreaming is quenched, along with the spectacle of mass liberation and the promise of sustained progress?

The Smouldering Ashes of the Everyday

Devoid of the Great Project, the everyday turns into what it is: the life of each and all days. Healthy minimalism? Maybe so. We all have our little projects, filling up and justifying the day, the week, the month, the year at most. Academics, with their research projects, organizers with their action projects, members of the informal sector with their community development projects, political activists with their realist projects, yuppies with their fortunate transactions. The old utopian Great Project turns into these smaller missions that are disseminated by way of programs, initiatives that are born and die: local proposals. None of them last very long, yet the multiple possibilities and effects of that underlying initiative are inscribed everywhere and in everything. Shall we sing an elegy or spell out an apology for the discontinuity that we all endure in the day-to-day? A bit of each, mixed up and turned around.

How is an everyday life constituted and made meaningful when it's characterized by the little project and discontinuity, in a sequence of juxtaposed routines that don't necessarily add up to a whole? How to think of a process of integration along the macro-scale, when even the micro-scale seems incapable of integration? Maybe it would be a kind of integration which replaces meaning with the administration of the diverse, merely a matter of control and of defining boundaries.

It's no coincidence that ever since the death of the image of the revolution (with its beatific mode of integration and universalist vocation), everyday life in Latin America has been increasingly studied. There's a growing attempt to find, in the porosity of that molecular life, the discreet charm of possible rites, latent magic, booming identities. It's quite clear that the everyday becomes the natural repository for expectations that have had to abandon the pasturelands of total liberation. It's in this private terrain that postmoderns, for example, want to find a field for ongoing experiment and a ludic passage between fashions, languages, and expressions throughout time. Does the play of forms substitute for modernizing or revolutionary integration?

Surely all of this suggests a vision of the everyday as permanently and doubly marked. On the one hand, the rich diversity of experience, but also the exasperating evidence of non-transcendence. On the other hand, ashes, nothing solid built on them, although they're soft and fresh to the end. Such is the dual face of the superficial creativity and underlying hybridity.

Doubtless, everyday life is not the same for everyone. Today more than ever, Latin America demonstrates a fundamental divide that cuts through even its tiniest routines. It is the divide of social contrasts. In absolute numbers there are more impoverished people today than there were a decade ago, and the distribution of income is less equitable than at the beginning of the 80s. Curiously, the end of the dream of revolution is produced in circumstances in which the contradictions that previously made the revolution (or structural change) a totalizing, inescapable event now appear more acute, while social injustice and dependency are greater and more dramatic than ever. In vast sectors of the population, the gap between expectations for consumption and the impossibility of filling them is an ever-widening one. It's not for nothing that violence has entered in, as an everyday reality, in many a Latin American metropolis. No longer can this violence be moralized as revolutionary violence or reduced to the counter-expression of an exclusionary model of development. It gains increasingly in public visibility.

For the sectors excluded from development, the insecurity of existence is an everyday occurrence: physical insecurity in the big cities, job insecurity, insecurity with respect to income and promised-but-frustrated social mobility. All these factors bring with them a sense of the everyday in which life turns into a fragile thing. Even the body itself can be experienced as an object of dubious strength. The uncertainty effect becomes a climate.

In contrast to the insecurity of the excluded, those who are integrated experience the everyday dimension of life through progressive diversification by way of consumerism and a swift incorporation of the latest technological advantages. In the social strata of the so-called fortunate, the everyday is populated by new services, the exotic stuff of science fiction, and a certain spirit of cool in using and acquiring new goods and services. The possibility of information technology and telecommunication facilitates permanent connection to the world, unlimited access to information, and diversified exchange with diverse peers. So is everyday life networked, and those who benefit from development increasingly reach a perfect mutual understanding. This leads to a ceaseless mobility of receivers and emissors, to a vertigo-inducing, ever-changing cross-talk among rotating subjects, and to an accelerated innovation in the manipulation of objects and communication between subjects. Here, the provisional effect becomes a climate.

What's precarious for some is temporary for others. The former, lived as a drama without any prospect of resolution. The latter, a slight commitment aired out and set afloat. In Brazil, for example, the world's fourth largest transnational television network coexists with 19 percent illiteracy and millions of children living in the streets. Of course, heterogeneity crosses the uncertain as much as the provisional. For the excluded, heterogeneity appears under the form of an astounding proliferation of roles for surviving and strategies for not succumbing, and of continual displacement from one strategy to another. For the integrated, heterogeneity appears in the diversified consumption of objects, in the use of services and of kinds of investments, and in the connection with a greater variety of peers. But everyday life recomposes itself, whether in terms of imposed uncertainty or as a chosen provisionality. This de-centering allows the inference, even if only by way of speculation, of the following effects:

1. It isn't all that easy, anymore, to associate the everyday with continuity. Uncertain or a provisional existence causes the everyday to lose some of its character of "progressive excavation." It loses depth and grows wider. The material of the everyday becomes more random, less predictable, less readily planned. The flexibility of images, codes, languages, and rules in the new industrial-cultural complex also permeates everyday life, giving rise to an ongoing metamorphosis of images, symbols, and traditions. This becomes more contingent than ever in a world eternally reinventing itself on a diskette or on a video-game tape.


Excerpted from NO APOCALYPSE, NO INTEGRATION by Martín Hopenhayn Copyright © 2001 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Spanish Edition

Preface to the English Edition

1. The Day after the Death of a Revolution

2. Disenchanted and Triumphant toward the 21st Century: A Prospect of Cultural Moods in South America

3. Neither Apocalyptic nor Integrated (Eight Debatable Paradoxes)

4. Realism and Revolt, Twenty Years Later (Paris 1968–Santiago de Chile 1988)

5. What is Left Positive from Negative Thought? A Latin American Perspective

6. Postmodernism and Neoliberalism in Latin America

7. The Crisis of Legitimacy of the Planning State

8. Is the Social Thinkable without Metanarratives?

9. Utopia against Crisis, or How to Awake from a Long Insomnia


What People are Saying About This

Alberto Moreiras

Alberto Moreiras, Duke University
This extremely thought-provoking book on the current crisis of Latin American social science and the ongoing changes in Latin American state formations is highly readable, well informed, and well argued.

John Beverley

John Beverley, University of Pittsburgh
No Apocalypse, No Integration is the most sustained examination to date of the consequences of postmodernity for Latin American social theory and public policy.

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