Bare Life and Proyecto Diaspora(s): The Erasure of the Baroque Body
Bare Life or the Schizo
Members of Diaspora(s) turned away from allegorical language in the following decade, becoming increasingly critical of their old baroque-influenced poetics and cultivating what I call barren poetics. Although never metaphorically present, the New Man haunted their work throughout these two decades. The ideological and affective process to debunk biopolitical state power is best understood through the physical and political articulation of subjectivity. If the rhetoric of the eighties was articulated by bodily pleasure, the nineties poetics was devoid of physicality and subjectivity. During the eighties, both official critics and the young poets focused on the role of sexual pleasure in Lezama’s work, which had been overlooked during the seventies. But a decade later, these representations of Lezama’s baroque bodies disappeared from Diaspora(s)’s criticism, poetry, and fiction.
The project of Diaspora(s) testifies to the deformation and defamation of the same bodies that the state seeks to revive. These are bodies that have been divested of subjectivity and that are represented in Diaspora(s) by the literary apparition of Agamben’s homo sacer. What is so interesting about Diaspora(s) is that it shows how biopolitics is a politics that both protects life and at the same time creates a space where men can be killed with impunity. In other words, it reveals how biopolitical and sovereign power coexist in the Cuban regime, and how the latter is a consequence of the former. That is, a state that first controls and administers power over citizens’ lives, and then over their death (Agamben 1998, 4). This leaves the subject standing always in a liminal space between death and life.
The erasure of the baroque body is a crucial component of the Diaspora(s)’s poetics. This effort consists in the destruction of the materiality of the body and its transformation into its other. As the official revival of Lezama was part of the biopolitical strategy to foster a nationalist and revolutionary reading of the canon, Diaspora(s) read baroque poetics of the eighties as another sign of that politics. As a consequence, Diaspora(s)’s members who had written baroque works at the beginning of their careers now rejected them. The works of Diaspora(s) show how subjectivity, and the body as a corollary, is caught in Cuba’s new biopolitical sovereignty. This subjectivity or lack thereof is represented by a figure that Giorgio Agamben calls homo sacer or bare life. Homo sacer is a paradoxical figure from Roman law designating a convict who cannot be legally persecuted for his crime but who can be killed with impunity. This legal figure is based on one additional premise: homo sacer can be killed, but he cannot be sacrificed. Homo sacer is thus a figure whose status is neither under legal control nor under divine law. Therefore, homo sacer finds himself exposed to violence and to exclusion from both the religious realm and the legal space (Agamben 1998, 82). This means that he is deprived of subjectivity or identity. As a human, he only has one inherent condition, which is “the capacity to be killed” (ibid., 114). The figure of homo sacer populates the poems of Pedro Marques de Armas, Rolando Sanchez Mejias, and Carlos A. Aguilera. For example, “Mandragora” (“Mandrake”), Marques de Armas’s poem reprinted in Diaspora(s) 2, depicts a Kafkaesque and dehumanized being divested of thought or affect.
En el borde interior de la frontera, que otros prefieren llamar
callejon sin salida,—B. se mato.
Claro que todas las fronteras son mentales, y en el caso de B., mejor seria hablar de dos.
De modo que B. se mato entre el borde interior y la cresta de un pensamiento que ya no se le desviaba.
Para catapultarse, tomo aquellas raicillas de un alcaloide que habia
clasificado, y, echandose sobre el camastro de trozos fusiformes, al fin
encontro lo que buscaba: calle de una sola direccion en la que todos los
numeros estan borrados, y los blancos pedunculos mentales se
desvanecen en una materia de sueno.15
The space represented by the poem, which is simultaneously mental and material, is dominated by dehumanization, madness, death, and its corollaries. There are two barriers, or one that is physical and has become mental, and B. commits suicide when these two spaces become saturated. There is no physical escape, and as a consequence or as a cause (the physical and mental frontiers are logically intertwined) thought is anchored: “De modo que B. se mato entre el borde interior y la cresta de un pensamiento que ya no se le desviaba.” B. is dead before he kills himself. Exposed to the violence of the biopolitical regime, and to the double exclusion of the mental and the physical space, B. takes the root of a mandrake plant, best known for its narcotic characteristics. The roots take B. on a one-way trip to an indeterminate zone: a “calle de una sola direction en la que todos los numeros estan borrados.” Again, this trip does not produce in him a different mental state. It just takes him deeper into a state of drowsiness: “y los blancos pedunculos mentales se desvanecen en una materia de sueno.” The effects of the drug take him to a limbo between sleep and waking, death and life. This is the space of exclusion and bare life; a space that founds the sovereignty of the biopolitical regime.
The second issue of Diaspora(s) features “La nueva estirpe” (“The New Lineage”), another poem by Marques de Armas. The poem describes a mental state graphically represented through a dream of sorts. The poem represents a state of mind, but its oniric form resists interpretation:
Ya viste los monos en la barcaza asi el delirium de la perception animales brotan de las celdillas del cerebro, en ininterrumpida poblacion y viste alguna roca peduncular con la vara de cedro ruso que golpea la puerta: mono, rata, lo mismo hombre oscuros tejemanejes del anti-Dios16
Animals are escaping from the prison of the mind, in an ordered flight, their numbers controlled. Their actions are the work of the anti-Christ, whose acts are ambiguous: Is he liberating them or merely releasing them without saving them?
“Fabula” (“Fable”), a poem by Sanchez Mejias, coincidentally and uncannily represents “the funeral by image” that Agamben discusses in relation to homo sacer. When an emperor died in Rome during Antoninus Pius’s rule, a wax effigy of him, which was burned on his funeral pyre after the corpse, replaced the dead emperor in his bed during a mourning ritual that lasted several days. Agamben compares the function of the wax effigy and that of homo sacer, as both are consecrated to death. In Sanchez Mejias’s fable, the conflation of empirical facts and fiction parallels the blurring of the distinction between death and life.
El muerto es falso, es de carton. Si el zorro lo voltea (aquel zorro que dio con la mascara tragica en el bosque y se dijo al voltearla: “Que rostro tan grande para no tener cerebro”), ah, si el zorro lo voltea, dos, tres veces, asegurandose de la sustancia de teatro, diria: “Que muerto tan grande para no tener vida.” (Sanchez Mejias 1994, 25)17
The fox thinks that the theater mask lacks a brain because he assumes it is “alive.” Similarly, the fox thinks the cardboard corpse is a real body because he makes the analogy with the mask. Ultimately, this means that if one takes fiction as a reality, one equates death with life. This confusion actually clarifies the paradoxical nature of the figure of homo sacer. Once we have barred homo sacer from being a religious figure by not allowing him to be sacrificed, we can no longer exclude him from the legal world, because by doing that we conflate the spiritual and the legal. And here is where we begin to see that the law is actually empty. This law represents state ideology, and as such it is absent.
Also in Derivas, Sanchez Mejias’s “Pabellones (II)” (“Pavilions (II)”), takes us to the regimented space of the mental institution, where space is seen as a symbol of dehumanization.
El hijo suele visitar a su madre y a su hermana. De manera progresiva, ellas se fueron aventurando en la locura y ahora pertenecen a los pabellones. El no. Es decir: todavia no. De ahi que no use esas ropas blancas que lo formalizarian instantanea- mente en el Manicomio. Pero esta tan enfermo como ellas. O tal vez mas, mucho mas. Parece un ajedrecista trunco en plena adolescencia, como si hubiera enloquecido de repente en una situacion con demasiadas variantes inesperadas o ante una ficha mal puesta. Usa espejuelos enormes de-fondo-de-botella, tiene el pelo muy corto (a lo militar) y la voz tenaz, inhumana. En ciertos segundos de lucidez, al pasarle una mano por el pelo, la madre levanta entre ellas y su hijo una especie de salvacion.
Pero enseguida se anula la distancia entre los tres, anudandose en una salvaje santidad. (Sanchez Mejias 1994, 58)18
The Weltanschauung represented in the poem is circumscribed to the Manicomio (psychiatric hospital). The hospital is the regimented biopolitical space par excellence. Psychiatry is represented as the set of discourses and medical procedures whose functions are always regulative. These regulations create a normalizing society as an effect of a technology of power centered on life (Foucault 1990, 144). Insanity is a product of these normative effects, and psychiatric hospitals are the places that produce them. It is precisely because society is regimented by medical discourses that the son is not immune to its effects, either. Hence, the poem asks if there is any difference between sanity and madness, a question it answers by positing them as a continuous flow of power that territorializes and deterritorializes discourse. Conceived this way, madness is no longer a pathology that needs to be cured. It is, rather, the medical discourse that needs to be transformed. As a corollary of clinical psychology’s general critique, and clearly influenced by Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, the poem proposes a more specific critique of psychoanalysis. This explains why the poem negates the existence of an Oedipal relationship between mother and son, as well as the ideology of salvation that this relationship articulates. That is, for example, the type of cathexis between mother and child produced by the fear of castration. Thinking that the mother has been castrated by the father, the child sees the father as an enemy and seeks his mother for protection against the danger of castration.
Instead there appears a third force between them: a “salvaje santidad,” which poses an ironic contrast with the religious space of salvation. This “salvaje santidad” results from the blending of their two bodies, and a sudden departure from subjectivity. It could represent bare life, but it could also be a Deleuzian and Guattarian schizo. This hermeneutic difference is essential because it creates two opposite conceptions of the political. On the one hand, the figure could represent the bare life resulting from biopolitical normativity. Like home sacer, both the son and the mother are exposed to the violence of a double exclusion: the regulative system of mental institutions and the lack of a spiritual space outside of this ideology. As bare life, they are invisible to society. This figure is expandable because it is no longer socially productive. The psychiatric and religious notions of salvation that regulate the institution and the social are part of a normalizing biopolitical ideology. Hence, there is no space outside of a normative ideology where a new subjectivity could emerge. Bare life is also in stark opposition with Paradiso’s representation of being. In Lezama’s novel, the body exudes a soul-searching jouissance, and there is also a constant interplay between the body’s presence and absence. Instead, in this poem the lack of affect erases the body by negating its Aristotelian existence and its Lacanian representation.
The schizo, on the other hand, represents a process of liberation from the normative regime established by biopolitics. Deleuze and Guattari’s political ontology has done away with the notion of human subjectivity altogether; theirs is a politics of abstract flows of energy that implement and undo relations of power. The process of liberation is defined as a deter- ritorialization, and the liberating force is a line of flight or breakthrough. The paradoxical nature of those processes, however, is that the same line of flight can both “deterritorialize” and become a force of “reterritorialization” (repression). Deleuze and Guattari’s theory is a critique of Freudian universal categories of analysis, because they create patterns that essentialize behavior by way of mythical figures. Deleuze and Guattari argue that at its core, the Freudian analytical system is based on an essentialist paradigm of family ties that are imposed on the analysand. The schizo is a breakthrough of a repressive method based on the categorization of pathologies as conditions that need to be cured: “Destroy, destroy. The task of schizoanalysis goes by way of destruction—a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage. Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, law, castration” (Deleuze and Guattari 1998, 311). But at the same time that the schizo breaks through the perverse machines, it also produces an opposite movement of reterritorialization, because one cannot exist without the other. The schizo is not only a machine with lines of flight, it also represents and reterritorializes with perversion: “Psychoanalysis settles on the imaginary and structural representatives of reterritorialization, while schizoanalysis follows the machinic indices of deterritorialization. The opposition still holds between the neurotic on the couch—as an ultimate and sterile land, the last exhausted colony—and the schizo out for a walk in a deterritorialized circuit” (ibid., 316).
The “salvaje santidad” could represent bare life, but it could also be a schizo, because the mother’s stroking of the son’s hair provokes a flow of energy that deterritorializes and reterritorializes simultaneously. Identities and subjectivities have dissolved into a flow of energy whose ambiguous condition is rendered through the notion of “savagery.” The concept of wildness also points back to “madness,” which is—according to Marques de Armas—an idea that did not exist in nineties Lezamian poetry. Madness as a savage force could thus be a paradoxical form of alienation and liberation. For homo sacer, however, madness points to an inescapable space on which the process of sovereignty is founded. That is, the space where the “monarch” or “state” arbitrarily decides who can be killed or treated with impunity. Is this savage force a schizo or bare life? In the case of this poem, the quasi oxymoronic combination of an uncontrollable and nonregimented force, which inhabits at the same time a sacred space seems to point to the figure of the schizo, but as we will see in further examples, that’s not always the case in Diaspora(s)’s production.