The Passage of Savage Capitalism:

Time, Non-place and Subjectivity in Fogwill’s Narration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zac Zimmer

April 1, 2003


Table of Contents

 

 

Fogwill: An Introduction                                                                    7

Underground: the War and the Economy                                                      8

Traveling Towards Prophecy: Porteños Abroad                              14

A Crisis of Nationality                                                                       16

Desire, Consumption and the Space-Chance Continuum                          20

An Approximation of the World of Savage Capitalism                           28

From Place to Non-Place                                                                      32

Representing Non-Place: Another Perspective                                      37

From Time to a Perpetual (Chance-Driven) Present                                40

From Subjects to Controlled Consumers                                                  43


Figures

Cover Image        Guillermo Kuitca. Untitled (Card Tables & Slot Machines) 2000.

Figure 1               Guillermo Kuitca. Belt Conveyors with Unclaimed Luggage, 2000.

Figure 2               Guillermo Kuitca. Trauerspiel, 2001.

Figure 3               Guillermo Kuitca. Terminal, 2000.

 

 


Fogwill: An Introduction

 

This paper is a study of two novels and one short story by the Argentine author Fogwill. To call him simply an author does not convey his varied and impressive background, a background that is directly relevant to his writing. The most obvious link between his fiction and his various other jobs in more corporate sectors is his sensitivity to marketing. Rodolfo Enrique, before he became just “Fogwill” (“Yo quería ocupar un lugar tipo Sócrates o Hegel. ¿Quién dice Guillermo Federico Hegel?”[1]), spent a good portion of his life doing publicity and advertisements for corporations; traces of this past come through in much of his work. In the author’s own words:

Estudié medicina, letras, filosofía, matemáticas, canto, música, francés, inglés, alemán, rudimentos de griego y latín, y olvidé casi todo. Enseñé metodología, estadística, teorías de la comunicación, teorías de la ideología y sociología: no aprendí casi nada. Fui publicitario, investigador de mercados, redactor, empresario, especulador de bolsa, terrorista y estafador—según advierte en mi prontuario la Policía Federal--, columnista especializado en muchísimos medios, profesor universitario y consultor de empresas. Con frecuencia imagino que soy una mujer, pero estas fantasías pronto se diluyen o desembocan en una vulgar escena de lesbianismo sádico y desazón.[2]

He has had quite a career, to say the least. This passage also highlights his abrupt, macho style and his tendency always to choose the more vulgar path. His intimate knowledge of the economic sides of both the military dictatorship and the post-dictatorial, neo-liberal functioning of Argentine society puts him in the unique position of being able to truly represent globalization.

     The sum of Fogwill’s many influences yields a new twist on realism. His novels and stories, especially the three I will study in depth, distance themselves from any notion of the fantastic. In turn, they concentrate on contemporary events in Argentina, and the gigantic shadow cast by the military dictatorship over all aspects of life. His links to the present lead him to attach importance to the dates and timing of his publications. He wrote Los Pichiciegos, for instance, in seven days during the war of the Malvinas. Of his own style, he says: “¿Por qué mentir? Escribo mal—lo he reconocido—pero rápido.”[3] While the latter might be true, the first is not the case, although ever since Roberto Arlt, “escribir mal” has not necessarily been an attack on an Argentine writer.

     The first text I will study is the novel Los pichiciegos. The events in the novel take place during the war in the Malvinas [Falkland Islands]. Then I will look at two other texts that deal with Argentines abroad during the years of the dictatorship. Fogwill wrote the short story “Muchacha Punk” under the military regime, while the novel La experiencia sensible was published in 2000. Together, these three texts will give us a vision of Argentina during the dictatorship and an approximation of what was to follow.

 

Underground: the War and the Economy

 

     The plot of Los pichiciegos is simple and straightforward: a group of Argentinean deserters in the Malvinas War form an underground trading colony. Survival is the one and only value, which leads them to trade with the British, to spy against Argentina and generally to create an ideal free-market underground (literally) economy. The value of the text comes with Fogwill’s near prophetic visions of the truth about the war and post-dictatorial Argentina. Fogwill wrote the story between the eleventh and the seventeenth of June 1982, in the middle of the war and before any news of the wounded Argentine soldiers had reached the mainland. Obviously the text could not be published during the dictatorship, but the manuscript did circulate in Brazil soon after its completion. It was only in May of 1994 that Editorial Sudamericana officially published the text.

     The war was a momentous event in Argentina. Originally conceived as a way for the military to divert attention from the 30,000 desaparecidos and give the population a nationalist rallying point, the War turned out to be a gigantic fiasco that began the eventual fall of military rule and the transition to democracy. The military-controlled press published falsified reports of Argentina’s success against the British, but when the wounded soldiers began to return, the population awoke to the fact that not only had they been lied to about the War, but they had been living in a web of lies since 1976. Fogwill, like many others, saw through the institutional lie; his text is an approximation of what was really happening in the Islas Malvinas. Beyond creating a realistic picture of the present, the text anticipates post-dictatorial Argentina. The underground economy of the pichis (the word comes from a regional Argentine slang word for ‘mole,’ as discussed in the text; ciego means ‘blind’) approximates the capitalist free-for-all that would follow the Latin American dictatorships, while the form of the story looks forward to the testimonios that were so important in the reclaiming of collective memory.

The text is not just an allegory. Fogwill concentrates on a hyper-realistic portrayal of this particular war, and the economics of the pichis do not simply stand for what was happening on the mainland. That is not to say a purely allegorical reading would be inappropriate. The geographic location of the Pichería, the pichis’ underground lair, and its spatial relationship to the actual fighting are of primary importance to the text, and any such allegorical reading runs the risk of losing these important details. As long as the reader keeps the immediate and allegorical levels in mind, none of the subtleties of the text will be lost. The values of the Pichería must be understood as the values that were emerging at the tail end of the military’s opening up of Argentina to foreign investment. The governing principle of the Pichería is survival. Upon arriving, each new pichi goes through an initiation where this principle is stressed:

--¿Ustedes son boludos?

--¡Sí señor!

--¡No! Ustedes no son boludos, ustedes son vivos.[4]

In place of the traditional drill sergeant ‘you are scum’ reception, the leaders scream at the new pichis that they are alive. This is all that matters. To stay alive, the pichis must get food, water, fuel, clothes and other provision. This leads to a purely economic conception of the surrounding war. A dead body or a shipwreck represents material goods for the lair. The savage capitalism which the pichis practice leads them to value those things that will aid their survival above all else. Money has no value, food and fuel are of primary importance.[5] The goal is to live. Death is a given circumstance; the absurdity of war arises from the illogical systems it creates. A pichi reflects: “Un cohete explotó a un jeep: cuentan que cada uno de esos cohetes británicos les cuesta a ellos treinta veces más caro que los mejores jeeps británicos.”[6] For the pichis, sides are immaterial and nationalism is just a shadow of a memory. The war to them is “la idea de que en algún lugar muy lejos algunos estarían bombardeando mucho a otros.”[7] They do not take sides. The pichis know that they will be shot by their countrymen as deserters and that the British with whom they trade could turn them in at any moment.

     This is how Fogwill presents the war during its height. The British are powerful, the Argentines are surrendering. The soldiers speculate about what is occurring around them, but they also receive conflicting reports on the radio. The stations from Argentina tell them that they are winning while the pichis watch the British test new weapons for future wars on unknowing groups of the surrendered. The misinformation is a realistic portrayal of the war, as well as a representation of what was happening on the mainland. That is to say, although the military launched a similar public relations campaign on the civilians, the fact that the soldiers are lied to does not function only as an allegorical representation of the propaganda back on the mainland.  The economic calculations that the soldiers make do not stand allegorically for the growing neo-liberal, value-the-market-above-all-else sentiment that was growing in Argentina. They stand for the actual reality of the Pichería. In both the civilian and the military realms, the thinking was analogous. When the pichis doubt the logistics of the flights of death, it is an economical and logistical critique that they make:

--Yo sentí que los tiraban al río desde aviones...

--Yo también había oído decir que los largaban al río desde los aviones, desde doce mil metros, pegás el agua y te convertís en un juguito espeso que no flota y se va con la corriente del fondo—indicó el Ingeniero.

--Pero de aviones no puede ser: por más locos que sean, ¿cómo van a remontar un avión, tomarse ese trabajo?—dijo Rubione--. Calculá: cien tipos por avión podrás tirar: son cien viajes. ¡Un cagadero de guita![8]

The same applies for the general population: the dictators preached a free-market logic that would make the ‘flights of death’ unthinkable, but they enacted and enforced that logic upon the nation doing the very things that would have seemed unfeasible in a modern, free-market society. The free market is good for all, they are told, so the moral issue does not even enter the calculation. The benevolent forces of the market simply could not permit such a blatant misdirection of life and resources. It could not have happened because it is not economically feasible, and economic feasibility rules.

The form of Los pichiciegos is a bit more elusive than the story line. The text rarely, if ever, strays from its war-based realism. As Beatriz Sarlo states, “cuando las cosas dicen su verdad, materializan el recuerdo...Para hablar de la guerra no hay términos generales: o se sabe o no se sabe lo que hace la guerra con los cuerpos.”[9] The origin of this realism is the true question. The text begins as a third-person narrative in the past; the narrator is omniscient and the dialogue reproduced faithfully. After the first few chapters, an ‘I’ pops up, and there are mentions of note-taking and recording. The second to last chapter of the first part ends with this quotation: “—Vos anotalo que para eso servís. Anotá, pensá bien, después sacá tus conclusiones—me dijo. Y yo seguí anotando.”[10] The ‘I’ exists without referent. The reader cannot place the subject nor the time of this utterance. Could somebody in the pichis’ lair be taking notes? Later it becomes clear that someone is interviewing either one or all of the pichis to assemble the tale. These moments of first-person intervention, or later in the text, when it is admitted that we are hearing a replayed tape, exist in the text as slippages. As the story develops, these interventions become more and more frequent, until it becomes clear that the story has been put together from confessions, and that Fogwill himself has been transcribing the interviews into the third person narration. Fogwill appears not by name, but one of the interviewees comments upon an earlier collection of Fogwill’s stories, Música japonesa.[11] When the reader finishes the story, he or she realizes that only one pichi has survived, and therefore that he must be the one telling the story to Fogwill. Thus the entire text has been a confession or testimonio that the character/author Fogwill has transcribed into a story. The confession does not begin with the usual “I am so-and-so, this is my story;” it is, in fact, masked. Here again is another astounding example of Fogwill’s foresight. The testimonio is the genre that flourishes in Latin America after the era of the dictatorships. The most well know of these texts is I, Rigoberta Menchú, and the most significant to Argentina are Rodolfo Walsh’s Operación masacre and Verbitsky’s El vuelo. Testimonio has been widely debated, and it is not my current interest to enter that debate.[12] Los pichiciegos is not a testimonial in any rigid sense, but it is significant that Fogwill used an approximation of that form in the earliest Argentinean attempt to treat the War and the dictatorship.

One may attribute the hidden ‘I’ in the text to a more Borges-inspired meta-textual playfulness, but that does not detract from the amazing depth of anticipatory vision that Los pichiciegos presents. Fogwill estimated the truth of the War and of the dictatorship. While governmental control of information was at its height, he wrote a vision of Argentina after the dictatorship that turned out more or less valid, and he did all of this in a disguised form of what was to be the style of choice for the ‘recuperation of memory’ that so many American writers faced.

 

Traveling Towards Prophecy: Porteños Abroad

 

     The Malvinas War and, in a broader sense, the dictatorship in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s, is the thread that runs across a large part of Fogwill’s work. And, taking into account that he wrote Los pichiciegos during the war and before any of the wounded had begun to return, we can safely say that prophecy lies close to his project. As Martín Kohan says in his article “La experiencia sensible de Fogwill: el futuro de los años setenta,”[13] Fogwill revisits the seventies, in the case of La experiencia sensible in 2001, to see a prefiguration of tomorrow in yesterday. Los pichiciegos, beyond its masked prediction of defeat, the “flights of death” and systematic cover-ups,[14] can be read as a portent of the neo-liberal capitalist ‘new order’ of the world. Fogwill sees the truth behind of El Proceso (a euphemism for the dictatorship from 1976 to 1984): the opening up of the Argentine national economy to European and North American countries, the use of commerce and exchange as the dominant tropes of all social interaction and the importance of institutional control over all aspects of life.

     We can see another prophetic connection in Fogwill’s work: the use of Argentine nationals traveling abroad to show his idea of space in the present time. His short story “Muchacha Punk” presents a traveler in London who is engulfed by a crisis of identity. Fogwill wrote the story in 1979; the references to the dictatorship are subtle and even in code, but the fact of a porteño traveling and spending his “sweet dollars”[15] situates the protagonist as an immediate beneficiary of the Process (and specifically not as an exile). The foreign space, then, is presented as the location of identity confusion as much for the narrator as for his “muchacha punk.” In La experiencia sensible, Fogwill returns to the theme of a porteño abroad during the dictatorship, but this time it is a family who travels, and they go to Las Vegas. In this story, Fogwill uses chance as the definitive trope to create the space. Together, both texts form a vision of the present. We will first examine the crisis of identity and nationality in “Muchacha Punk,” and then the relationship between consumption and desire in La experiencia sensible. To close this section, we will see how La experiencia sensible functions at once as a confirmation and a corrective revision of the prophecy that Fogwill proposes in “Muchacha Punk.”

 

A Crisis of Nationality

 

     In “Muchacha Punk” all identity finds itself in crisis. The state of the narrator as the narrator of his travels, his situation as a porteño abroad...nothing escapes the author’s questioning. Travel literature occupies a singular space within literature: by definition it breaks the pact of fiction that a non-identity be established between the author and the narrator. It is subjectivity that is central in travel literature: there is an identity precisely between the one who sees and the one who narrates. Fogwill’s story is clearly the story of a traveler—the narrator finds himself abroad, he interacts with the ‘natives’—but the author puts these very rules of the genre into doubt. The reader cannot situate the short story in the realm of the chronicle, nor in that of ethnography; it has marks of both. What begins as a chronicle converts itself into an ethnography of Punks, but below all of this lies something else. The narrator uses his supposed ethnography of the Punk to develop an auto-ethnography. This action conflicts with his status as a travel narrator, and the subject in crisis attempts to de-stabilize his role as the traveling narrator. He punctuates his story with revelations of the deceptions of both the reader and the narrator: “Primera decepción del lector: en este relato yo soy yo”;[16] “Tercera decepción del narrador: mi Muchacha Punk era tan limpia como cualquier chitrula de Flores o de Belgrano”[17]; “Tercera decepción del lector: Yo jamás me acosté con una muchacha punk.”[18] The narrator has a heightened consciousness of his narrative operation; he continuously calls attention to himself as narrator (and not as character), puts in doubt all that he says and in general establishes a relationship with the reader that pertains more to the world of fiction than to travel literature. His self-questioning expands itself to reach, beyond his narratorial status, his Argentiness. But before we arrive to that line of questioning, or on the way there, we must pass the theme of an Argentine (third-world) poet in the home of the Renaissance.

     The poet (the narrator-author) finds in London a poetic symbol par excellence, one that also symbolizes the poor South American poetic inheritance: the nightingale. This is the grand opportunity for an author from the Global South to see, to understand the nightingale...Coleridge, Keats, tradition, the encounter of a marginal with the great bird. But what is the narrator’s response? He puns on Borges’s “El ruiseñor de Keats”: “Jamás vi un ruiseñor.”[19] His first encounter is with a dead bird, and the nightingale’s song, so famous throughout literature yet heard so few times by porteños, is sung by her, the Muchacha Punk. Her voice is the “verbal melody,” “la voz deliciosa y tímbrica.”[20] The ‘grand tour’ of the narrator does not reunite him with that poetic symbol, but rather with another, European and postmodern: the Punk.

     When faced with these punks, the narrator’s Argentineness converts itself into an aversion. In fact, his Argentineness is an aversion throughout the story, which forms a contradiction with the space that he creates. In a cafe that could not be more inter/trans/post-national (an idea that we will develop soon), he tries to hide his roots. The cafe is of Spanish ownership in a building that used to house a Romanian tourist office where our very narrator had faxed some documents to Italian clients. There he orders Chianti (possibly in honor of his clients) and attempts to pass as a traveler from the Commonwealth, “tal vez un malvinero.”[21] Any nationality besides Argentine, he thinks as he studies the cafe and considers the possibilities of global conformity. Conformity with the exclusion of Buenos Aires:

El mozo me había mirado mal, tal vez porque me descubrió estudiando sus movimientos, perplejo a causa de la semejanza que puede postularse en un relato entre un mozo español de pizzería inglesa, y cualquier otro mozo español de pizzería de París, o de Rosario. He elegido Rosario para no citar tanto a Buenos Aires. Querido.[22]

Obviously, upon mentioning Buenos Aires, he fails in his goal not to cite it. But why does this tension even exist? Why exclude the porteño from all things globalized? And if the aversion is so great that he must deny his citizenship and country, why does he insist on telling the story in Spanish? He concerns himself with language and translation; the first paragraph serves, apart from the immediate unveiling of any possibility of “deception,” to translate the Britannic terms ‘make love’ (hacer el amor) and ‘sleep together’ (acostarse juntos). The narrator informs the reader that he will retell in Spanish a conversation that he had in English. The reader must ask himself why the narrator chooses Spanish, and furthermore, what is, apart from a Julio Cortázar book on the bedside table (translated into English) of the punk’s sister, particularly Argentine about this story. The answer is precisely the identity crisis. The confusion in the translation of British slang, the narrator’s supposed pan-South American origin (“Brasil y Argentina –dije, para ahorrarles una agobiante explicación que llenaría el relato de lugares comunes”[23]), it all serves to augment the crisis. Another interesting point: the non-places, which will play an important role in La experiencia sensible, appear here, but it is an interesting and uncommon thread that binds them together: the “piojosos malolientes sucios hijos de perra”[24] that occupy those non-places. The narrator’s rant against the employs of these non-places could be a precursor to the anti-globalization rants of the present.

     The punks, with their mix of total ignorance and cursory knowledge of the Latin American dictatorships, reflect the international imaginary of Argentina. They ask the narrator if he is English immediately after he told them of his South American origin, while at the same time they know something of the Process that motivates the narrator to act against “la horrible imagen de mi patria que desde hace un tiempo inculcan a los jóvenes europeos.”[25] There exists a link between the aristocratic Muchacha Punk and the Argentine traveler during the 1970s. The crash between the “Imperial zone” and the Punk zone at the Muchacha’s house complements the narrator who travels with the pound Sterling he “había comprado tan barato en Buenos Aires.”[26] Both are displaced upon first glance. The Muchacha Punk’s family is, without a doubt, a family of the Empire: spies, linked with oil, India, Africa...they could be the very vanguard of the fight against the Sex Pistols. And he cannot deny that the dictatorship is what has permitted him to travel. Thus, so as to evade an uncomfortable political conversation that would showcase the ambiguous and contradictory state of both parties, the narrator kisses the girl. But his sexuality is still hopelessly connected to the dictatorship. He says: “desde marzo de 1976 no he vuelto a hacer el amor con otras personas.”[27]

     Finally, in the London of so much diversity and immigration, the narrator realizes the impossibility of the continued negation of his origin. When he tells the Muchacha Punk that he is indeed from Argentina, it earns him a veiled censure and a song and dance number from Evita. The narrator’s inability to comfortably install himself in the Muchacha Punk’s living room, surrounded by half a dozen stinky, drugged, international punks, can be read as another one of Fogwill’s prophecies. This one speaks to the tension between the national self-conception (lo argentino) and the new order of late capitalism developing in Argentina during the dictatorship that will create an ambiguous space between the post-national, the trans-national, the international and the national. Where does one locate subjectivity in this new space? The answer is not the cosmopolitanism of the traveler, even less a porteño traveling during the dictatorship. How will this space be? We look to La experiencia sensible for possible answers.

 

Desire, Consumption and the Space-Chance Continuum

 

Figure 1: Guillermo Kuitca, Belt Conveyors with Unclaimed Luggage, 2000.

In La experiencia sensible, Fogwill is interested in the construction of an urban space. The space that he constructs is very particular. In the hotel-casinos of Las Vegas, the public space of social interaction is converted into the space where desire and consumption meet. In this location the traditional space-time continuum of a meeting place is transformed into a space-chance continuum. In other words, chance takes the role of time in this world. Because of this change, the role of the citizen transforms as well, and those who before were subjects now find themselves as objects of desire or witnesses to consumption.

Fogwill presents this new urban space to the reader with a movement through three different places. The story begins in the Miami airport, where Fogwill presents the exemplary non-place of post-modernity. From Miami, the Romano family moves to the Las Vegas airport. This space functions as a transition between the familiar non-place of an airport and the world of the casino-hotel Paradise, where the Romano family will stay. The airport itself has the slot machines that are the trope of the city converted into game, and the reader notices a marked change in the Romano family from the second they step off the plane. Mrs. Romano enters a “trance hipnótico que le empujaba al shopping”[28] and Mr. Romano goes directly to the minicasino in the central hall. The wife stands fascinated before all of the clothes, pronouncing the brand names, as the husband “se dispuso a perder”[29] in the casino. He doesn’t understand the rules of the slot machines, but he wins anyway, only to try to loose all his winnings in the next instant, as if he wanted to “librarse de las monedas.”[30] His desire to loose, or to be seen spending, creates a scene in the airport. He is not content to play on just one machine, so, to reduce the time between his desire to play and the results of the gamble, he begins to play on every available machine. A small crowd gathers to watch the spectacle of a crazy man running to and from machines to loose his winnings in the quickest possible fashion; they function as witnesses to his expenditures, and that is the extent of their social interactions. But the airport still maintains traces of a traditional non-place. The family says that it “parecía no terminar nunca”[31] and they perceived “la atmósfera argentina de ese local.”[32] This is the phenomenon of the non-place: a place that appears at once every place and an endless, anonymous place. The Argentinean atmosphere is not in reality that, but rather a sense of familiarity and defamiliarization shared by all travelers in the location of a non-place.

From the airport, the family goes to the Paradise, the hotel-casino in the city of Las Vegas. From this point on, all action occurs in the space-chance continuum. In order to understand this continuum, we must look at how desire and consumption converge in the Paradise. To begin, in Las Vegas, one fulfills one’s desire by consuming the desired object, for all desire is comodified. In the space of the hotel-casino, the time that separates the initial desire and the consumption of that desired object tends towards zero; chance replaces time in the equation. A coin enters the slot machine and the gambler already knows the result. This creates a physics of consumption whose fundamental particle is chance. The logic of the space-chance continuum is a circular logic that incorporates its foundation. Chance enters the desire-consumption relationship as a desired object: the need for chance mixes with the desire for the object, and the gambler consumes the chance itself. Chance has the same meaning as the vulgar desire of Verónica, the Romero family babysitter, to “suck off” the black hotel-casino employee. Fogwill establishes a linkage between “algo misterioso en el ámbito de los juegos de azar”[33] and “la excitante sensación de ser puta”[34] that Mrs. Romano feels. This linkage functions as an introduction to the fax machine in the story. In the fax, the reader finds a traditional object of desire (in the technology-communications-business sense) that has been sexualized. Mr. Romano passes his days thinking of the fax, until even his most erotic moments are spent dreaming of it. To get the fax, he doesn’t even need to leave the space-chance continuum. He says that there are better prices in the city, but “no valía la pena alejarse del hotel.”[35] The hotel-casino is the space, it is almost as if the city didn’t even exist. The Paradise has perfected the system of social interaction to create ‘peace.’ It has constructed a universe of chance separated from the outside world, to the point that Mr. Romano denies his will to look for the better offer outside, even though it was his search for a better deal that brought him to Las Vegas in the first place. Fogwill says: “Es la ciudad la que presta su nombre—la ilusión de estar en un espacio geográfico—a los que decidieron estar de paso por sus hotels.”[36] The illusion of Las Vegas also brings the myth of a city founded by mafiosos, a myth that the hotel-casinos perpetuate (in its “savagely thematic”[37] way, in a vacant sense, the mafia without risk or death) with the “apellidos polacos, italianos, colombianos y mejicanos”[38] of the employees.

Mr. Romano tells us that the coins are the “las claves que necesitarían dominar pronto, para no cometer errores en el juego y las propinas.”[39] In the continuum, the material of social interaction is the coin. As Beatriz Sarlo says in her article “Fogwill, la experiencia sensible,” “la moneda es sólo un medio para cuantificar el lucro, no para medir el gasto.”[40] The Romanos always compare their expenses in Las Vegas with what they would have been spending if they had gone on vacation, as they normally do, in Punta del Este. But the quantity of money the family saves serves as motivation to spend more, to take greater monetary risks, to play until nothing remains. Money is nothing and everything at once. The important thing is to spend as if the price didn’t matter, to show the spending. One thousand two hundred a week is five cents, the price of a bottle of Pommery (which he found out only after signing the receipt) is half of the price in Argentina, fifty dollars for a tarot card reading is nothing... But let’s stop to ponder the tarot card reader. This is an example of an empty act in the land of the casino-hotel: an employee of the Paradise will read the future of a gambler. To give any validity to the ‘chance’ (or prophecy) of the tarot cards is a mistake. The fortuneteller creates false hope so that the gamblers continue playing, nothing more. This empty act has much in common with the slot machines. As they say, the most generous slot machines (the ‘loose’ machines) have a payback percentage of 98%. In other words, for every dollar that enters the machine, the house guarantees the return of 98 cents.

In the space-chance continuum, the substitution of chance for time does not allow for a strong connection with the past. The city concentrates itself in the now of the games of chance, and because of this the ‘flow of stories’ so crucial to the seedy Las Vegas of old has stopped. Notwithstanding, a security guard who meets the babysitter tells her two stories, but it surprises him that she even wants to hear them. His stories deal with the exit, or rather the possibilities of exiting the continuum. He describes the tonomoshi as a prohibited act in the Paradise that has its antecedents in the 14th century. Its manifestation in the second half of the twentieth century depends upon the fact that Las Vegas “se ha convertido en el punto de encuentro entre ciudadanos japoneses...que se diseminaron por el mundo con las grandes oleadas migratorias de la primera mitad del siglo XX.”[41] The ethnography he tells is interesting, but of greater significance is the suicide of the Japanese men who don’t ‘win’ in the sense of the practice. Those who bet it all, including their lives, are a threat to the community because the Japanese cadavers, a “subproducto de la industria hotelera”[42] become a bother that costs the city money. The case of the “Grandes Terminados” works in a different way: they do not voluntarily enter the ‘game’ when they receive an offer of salvation. They are those who have fallen into bad favor with the world of organized crime. During their wait for a mission that will win them back their lives, they live as VIP guests in the hotels without any contact to the outside world. In a round of cards, the Grandes Terminados choose cards by chance that will assign them their missions. They may spend months in the hotel awaiting orders, but only the successful fulfillment of the given mission will save them. Upon first glance, the prohibition of these acts appears an act of self-defense by the hotel-casinos against the practice of strange and dangerous rituals on one hand, and a defense against the exit of the betting system on a more symbolic level, on the other. But the two practices, although prohibited in the hotel-casinos, are not exits from the realm of chance, but rather the culmination of this order of life, even more so in the case of the Grandes Terminados, who serve as an elaborate pun on Borges’s “The Lottery of Babylon.” The image of one of these gentlemen waiting in a hotel-casino is the highest realization of the space-chance continuum. Time does not exist for him, he remains in limbo, a coin perpetually about to enter the slot machine, his ‘numbered days’ converted into the chance of a game of cards.

For the Romano family, the space of the Paradise brings a peace to family life never before experienced. Mr. Romano says: “Esa ciudad le brindaba la oportunidad de habitar un mismo espacio y un mismo tiempo con toda su comitiva.”[43] The unity of family space and time comes from gaming and consumption:

Allí, los mismos dispositivos que el hotel destina a concentrar la atención en el juego y el consumo confluían en mantener a los Romano y su comitiva en una misma cápsula espacio-temporal: la realización del sueño de la mítica unidad familiar perdida para siempre.[44]

Mr. Romano says that in other vacations, the family has shared space, but it has never shared time. But when time disappears and chance replaces it, when the space joins desire with consumption without a temporal intermediary, the family exists in peace. His wife describes the peace as such: “a nadie le importa nada de vos... Entonces, claro... ¡Aquí vivís en paz!”[45] This peace is not that of a well-functioning cooperative society, but rather a permanent state of ‘leave me in peace’ with the least number of human interventions possible in the relationship between the individual and chance. What happens, then, to the other subjects in the continuum? They exist either as objects of desire to be consumed or as witnesses of the bet. The theme of subjects as objects of desire does not need further development; the behavior of all of the characters, especially the vulgar women, shows it clearly. Mr. Romano explains how the witnesses work in the roulette wheel: “se gana cuando la voz del que administra el juego anuncia el resultado y todos los participantes corroboran la legitimidad de su diagnóstico.”[46] The subject needs the other people, but the others also carry the risky possibility of breaking the peace. It is because of this risk that the continuum has such a strong security force and such strict categories that maintain the distinction between those who bet and those who watch. When Mr. Romano is playing the roulette wheel and exceeds the maximum bet at the table, a “público de curiosos”[47] gather to watch him. They observe without speaking. As long as they act as witnesses without disturbing the peace, all goes well. But Mr. Romano breaks one of the cardinal laws of the casino when he stays at the table without betting. An employee informs him that he must bet, or, if he wishes to watch, that he must step aside. The distinction is clear: watch from afar without intervening or continue betting. And it functions thus in the Paradise: a place of peace and chance where an Argentine family in 1978 can go for vacation while a military leader stays in the family’s vacation house in Punta del Este.

 

An Approximation of the World of Savage Capitalism

 

     All three texts carry the markings of the dictatorship. In fact, Fogwill appears to imply something similar to Idelber Avelar’s thesis in The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning that the dictatorships in the Southern Cone were not the path to a supposed international free-market but rather the Process itself was the internationalization of the markets and the opening of the economies. The hindsight of La experiencia sensible presents, as much as the foresight of “Muchacha Punk,” an internationalized and globalized world where the typical relationships between identity, nationality, time and space do not have a place. Avelar asserts that the post-dictatorial “transitions” to democracy are, in themselves, simply a progression in the larger scale transition to modernization in the Southern Cone. The real ‘work’ of these transitions was accomplished during the dictatorships: the dismantling of the welfare state, deregulation, opening formerly state-controlled areas to foreign investment. The violence of the dictatorships allowed for a ‘smooth’ transition economically, thus, “the real transitions are the dictatorships themselves.”[48] He elaborates:

The epochal transition was no doubt the dictatorship, not the return of civil rule that ensued once the real transition had been accomplished. In other words, the return of democracy in itself does not imply a transit to any place other than the one where the dictatorship left off. ‘Transition to democracy’ meant nothing but the juridical-electoral legitimating of the successful transition carried out under the military, that is, the ultimate equation between political freedom for the people and economic freedom for capital, as if the former depended upon the latter, or as if the latter had somehow been hampered by the generals.[49]

Argentina deserves special consideration because of its instability before, during and after the Proceso. Compared to Chile and Brasil, Argentina’s military rule was shorter, and the so-called ‘transition to democracy’ much more abrupt; the real transition, from State to Market, was not so much completed as made possible by the military regime. When Fogwill wrote Los Pichiciegos, between the eleventh and the seventeenth of June 1982, democracy still appeared a long way off. But within a matter of weeks, the wounded began to arrive back on the mainland, and the institutional lie began to crumble. Thus a reading such as Avelar’s, which would tie the proceso and the following transition to the same ultimate logic, is beyond the scope of Los Pichiciegos. Fogwill’s text could not identify or name that transition that was about to begin. The author instead presents a vision of a trade-dominated society founded upon the initial choice of each soldier’s desertion, but subsequently ruled by kings. Fogwill and Avelar’s worlds share the recognition of the true goal of the military regime and its ties to the modernizing project of Northern Capital. Fogwill, in the very moment before the collapse of military rule, sees with utter clarity the ideal society at the end of the path to modernization. His view would become more nuanced and complicated with La experiencia sensible, but already in Los Pichiciegos, we find a prefiguration of the unbridled free-market of savage capitalism. This is what I have chosen to call the ideal world towards which the market strives as presented in the bulk of Fogwill’s work; I take the term ‘savage’ from the “savagely thematic” hotels of Fogwill’s Las Vegas, which is itself in many ways the realization of these ideals. Savage capitalism works to change our conceptions of space, time and the subject, all the while as it smoothes over or masks the very contradictions upon which it is founded.

     Nowhere are these contradictions more visible than in Los Pichiciegos: a near-perfect liberal free-market economy is set up geographically under the madness of the Falklands (Malvinas) War. The geography of the trading colony, precisely under the War, also carries its own metaphorical significance. As we have seen, this is a world where national allegiances no longer play any definitive role; they are only obstacles to be strategically negotiated. The state of war has instilled the necessity to survive through trade and consumption. The realities of the war above ground have no effect on the Pichis’ morality or values, and thus the very conditions of war that installed the Pichis in the underground market community become hindering realities that must be overcome. In Fogwill’s text, all but one of the Pichis suffocate, their ventilation shaft having been clogged by British communications cables. Perhaps this ending was a politically optimistic (in a twisted sort of way) hope that, under the burden of the impossibility of perpetually sustaining their project, the Pichis would eventually die out. The extinction of the pichi mentality would open the possibility for other forms of society not based in the fear of immediate death. The reader never sees any hint of what a post-dictatorship, post-pichi society or economy would look like; but if this lack was a void of possibility for Fogwill in 1982, the end of the War and the fall of the military regime almost immediately fills that void. The true course of post-dictatorial Argentina, visible only a year after Fogwill finished the text, with Alfonsín’s moves to appease international economic bodies and the inability to successfully confront the militares, looks much more like Avelar’s thesis. The war ends, the snow concealing the Pichis’ lair melts (due, of course, to global warming) and a nationwide (or perhaps global) network of underground economies is revealed. This, it seems, would be a more historically accurate end to the story of the Pichis.

     From the perspective of the 21st century, Fogwill returns to the dictatorship through La experiencia sensible. The author has no doubt about the processes he observed in 1982, but in his text from 2000, he explores the functioning of savage capitalism with much greater detail. We have seen how time, space and the individual function in the hotel-casinos of Las Vegas, but we can also read, on a larger scale, how these operate as ideals in the world of savage capitalism. The smoothing, contradiction-hiding action of savage capitalism seeks to change all place into non-place, all time into a perpetual present and all subjects into controlled consumers.

 

From Place to non-Place

 

Figure 2: Guillermo Kuitca. Trauerspiel, 2001.

     The progression we observed from the traditional non-place of the Miami airport to the new non-place of a Las Vegas casino-hotel by way of the Las Vegas airport can be read as a movement away from Marc Augé’s conception of non-place as outlined in his Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity towards Fogwill’s own conception of the non-place in what I have termed savage capitalism. The non-places we see in Fogwill are those places where savage capitalism most perfectly masks its constitutive contradictions. At this point it will be useful to review how contemporary formulations have thought non-place.

     Augé situates the non-place in “supermodernity,” a time of excess defined by changes in scale (both the growing and shrinking of the globe). Supermodernity is characterized by a need to give meaning to the present. This need is a new development that did not exist in the places of modernity, which Augé calls “anthropological” places. These are places that intrinsically possess meaning, both for observers and inhabitants. They are relational, historical, and concerned with identity. Non-places are the opposite: they are never defined as relational, historical, or concerned with identity and never integrate earlier places. Augé characterizes non-places as temporary and ephemeral places ruled by abstract, unmediated commerce and inhabited by solitary individuals. He offers the “traveler’s space” as the archetype of the non-place.[50] Textuality mediates the individual/non-place relationship; the text represents moral entities or institutions and creates solitude in the individual. The created solitude has no identity-forming potential; textuality only alienates. The non-place is an “environment of the moment”[51] and the present moment rules.

     As John Tomlinson suggests in Globalization and Culture, Augé’s rush to idealize the non-place leads him to make a few hasty conclusions. There is a world directly outside of the non-place (beyond the doors of the airport); even if these places are not integrated into the non-place, as Augé tells us, they still exist and interact with the non-place. Thus it would be incomplete to build a theory of supermodernity solely off of the homogenous airport lounges and duty-free shops to arrive at an articulation of globalizing hegemony.[52] It is where these forces interact and negotiate with each other that the true force of globalization becomes apparent. Tomlinson also poses the question of perspective in a non-place: to the employees of an airport, that location is not a non-place, but rather a (their) workplace.[53] These distinctions are of the utmost importance for our understanding of the non-places in La experiencia sensible, for it is the very idealization of these places and the suppression of the contradictory forces within them (such as workplace vs. non-place) that Fogwill highlights.

     Non-places also occupy (if we may use that term) an important place in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s recent Empire. In their view, Empire itself is a non-place. Needless to say, their conception of the non-place is much more inclusive and dialogues not only with Augé’s line of thought but also with the Foucaultian one about disciplinary institutions such as the prison, the clinic and the school as non-places by virtue of their marginality in society. Empire, a term Hardt and Negri use almost interchangeably with postmodernism and the new world order, is defined as the actual sovereign power ruling the world today. This global sovereignty is a non-place because it, by the authors’ definition, “establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers.”[54] Most significant, there is no longer any “outside” to Empire. Thus, according to the logic of Hardt and Negri, “places” (in the sense of Augé’s anthropological places) are based on an obsolete inside-outside binary. Empire now implies within and eliminates without. Since it now lacks an outside, all difference within Empire is difference in degree. Since the outside has been internalized, a Foucaultian notion of discipline no longer applies, and the authors assert the absent but implied thesis of Foucault’s opus that we have moved from a discipline-based society to a society of control. There remains no “place” for Foucaultian discipline (“this border place no longer exists, and thus the modern critical strategy tends no longer to be effective”[55]). Differences, themselves unnatural, produced and hybrid, are now managed and controlled by Empire.

     A reconceived version of Guy Debord’s spectacle becomes the non-place of politics in Empire. Hardt and Negri explain:

In imperial society the spectacle is a virtual place, or more accurately, a non-place of politics. The spectacle is at once unified and diffuse in such a way that it is impossible to distinguish any inside from outside—the natural from the social, the private from the public. The liberal notion of the public, the place outside where we act in the presence of others, has been both universalized (because we are always now under the gaze of others, monitored by safety cameras) and sublimated or de-actualized in the virtual spaces of the spectacle. The end of the outside is the end of liberal politics.[56]

The problematization of Debord’s binaries would be a welcome project. Although Debord’s spectacle itself is all-encompassing, he does make a few fundamental distinctions between it and life, as well as between the image and the real, thus opening the possibility of negation. But this is not how the authors of Empire proceed. Instead, they simply banish anything outside or beyond the spectacle and universalize non-place. Instead of negating the spectacle, the multitude must push through Empire. By insisting on the autonomy and totality of Empire, Hardt and Negri merely seem to be demonstrating Debord’s fifth thesis of The Society of the Spectacle, where he states that the spectacle is “a world view transformed into an objective force.”[57] Indeed, the authors seem to agree wholeheartedly with Debord’s description of the spectacle, except that they eliminate all potential negation and valorize the spectacle, or Empire, in itself. The true power of Empire lies in the mobile multitude and its immanent labor. The multitude’s resistance is constitutive: Empire’s ability to respond to the multitude’s resistance and incorporate that resistance into its own constitution is the very basis of Empire’s immanence. Since all of Empire is a non-place, there is no location in which to base a negation of Empire. Thus negation is replaced by resistance on the level of immanence. Debord’s negation becomes Hardt and Negri’s negotiation.

     It is precisely against this revalorization of savage capitalism that La experiencia sensible works. In purely descriptive terms, Fogwill’s Las Vegas hotel-casino does not differ too much from the conception of non-place in Empire. But La experiencia sensible destabilizes the smoothing action of Empire by calling our attention to those things that Empire would smooth over. It is not as Hardt and Negri describe, for whom “in this smooth space of Empire, there is no place of power—it is both everywhere and nowhere. Empire is an ou-topia, or really a non-place,”[58] and that “Empire is a kind of smooth space across which subjectivities glide without substantial resistance or conflict.”[59] Fogwill’s reader must replace “is” with “would be”; the ideal of Empire would be to create smooth non-places so as to mask its constitutive contradictions. This is not how it is; it is how Empire would have the perfectly managed and controlled world be. Thus the hotel-casino fights to keep the Romanos inside of the hotel, as seen in the incident with the fax machine. There is an outside to the Paradise: the seedy history of the founding of Las Vegas by mobsters, the dead bodies of the Japanese suicides... And there is an outside to the Romano’s perfect vacation in a non-place: the real place of the family’s vacation house in Punta del Este, occupied by a general. This reality lies behind each of the family’s actions. The family’s very presence in Las Vegas is tied economically, through the “sweet dollars,” and logistically, through the general, to the military regime. On a larger scale, the outside of the vacation is the dictatorship. The Romanos do not talk about this outside, but its existence is obvious to the reader. The family’s entire tenure in non-places is prefaced on the reality of the truest of all places in the Argentine conscious: ESMA, the physical location of the majority of the torture cells used by the military dictatorship.

     La experiencia sensible does not deny the existence of non-places; the text shows that the true non-places are those spaces that savage capitalism has succeeded in smoothing. Fogwill situates the non-place of the Paradise so as to most clearly show the formal conflicts the non-place systematically excludes. The negative act of smoothing hides Las Vegas’ history and the desert, it hides the employees and the outside of the airports, it hides the desaparecidos of the military dictatorship. The unbounded flow of money in the casino could not be possible without the historical presence of the definite centers of military dictatorships.

 

Representing Non-place: Another Perspective

Figure 3: Guillermo Kuitca. Terminal, 2000.

 

     There is a strange resemblance between some of Guillermo Kuitca’s newest work and the settings of La experiencia sensible. The subject matter of Kuitca’s The Neufert Suite is the non-place in all of its manifestations. In each frame, Kuitca removes a thematically cohesive set of objects (or rather machines) specific to a location and re-arranges those objects in an architectonic plan. The artist himself has said that the positioning of the icons is not tied to any actual or real location.[60] But the thread that ties the frames together is clear. In one we see the horror vacui ruling the dispersion of Church confessionals, also one of Foucault’s primary interests. We trace over to the videobooths and peep-shows of a porn shop, where sexual desire and capitalist consumption merge. Next, it is fitness machines, one of the most direct apparatuses that capitalism uses to shape the body. Then we encounter gaming tables and slot machines: machines which function within the logic of a perpetual present and endless consumption of chance. Each grouping of machines is sterile and free from human presence. Not only is each grouping of machines void of any users, but the actuality of the respective place where the machines would normally be found is also lacking. As Kuitca says, there is no attempt at a realistic representation of, say, a Church or a gym; the meticulously ordered but yet non-real arrangements rob the spaces of their placeness.

     Kuitca withheld Untitled (Unclaimed Luggage) from The Neufert Suite; he thought it deserved further exploration on its own.[61] That withholding led to Terminal and Trauerspiel, two perspective-oriented representations of luggage claim belts. As in The Neufert Suite, these images are robbed of place and subject. Beyond the belt itself, there is no information to indicate its location in an airport, or anywhere else for that matter. The lack-felt-as-robbery is Kuitca’s way of calling to our attention the smoothing action of savage capitalism. These machines of Capital have been violently decontextulized so as to exist in non-place. The ideal of non-placeness has been obtained, but the smoothing action slips (thanks to Kuitca’s intervention) and these places can be seen as the sterile and dehumanizing projection of a savage capitalism concerned with nothing but its own smooth development. Smoothing fails, the lack is revealed as such, and the viewer opens a space of possibility. Bruno Bosteels elaborates:

In the current configuration [of Kuitca’s work], however, the subject is lacking who could remain loyal to the chance-like nature of such an event; instead, the space for this subject is systematically left vacant, emptied out of all ideological or sentimental identifications, whether in terms of couple, group, class, or nation. Every gamble and every wager always already seems to be diluted and subordinate to the law of money, free only to dance in the chains of this eternal present of capital without a future. The viewers thereby become interpellated: to them befalls the decision whether merely to occupy the individualized slot foreseen for them in the diagram of society, or else to force the very law of assigned spaces, no matter how unforgiving the latter may well be, toward the generic future of a truth that is yet to come.[62]

The lack of a subject in Kuitca’s work points to, but does not name, a new subjectivity; we shall see a similar move in La experiencia sensible. Kuitca’s viewer can speculate what kind of subject could fill the void, but The Neufert Suite only concerns itself with allowing any potential speculation to take place. The subject would have to be, of course, aware of these vacated spaces or seeming non-places, and he or she would have to comprehend the logic that rids these spaces of any content. The new subject would have a fundamentally different relationship to each of the machines shown in the paintings. His or her relationship with power no longer would be mediated by the confessional, his or her relationship with body no longer mediated by fitness machines, with consumption no longer by slot machines, and sexuality no longer by peep-shows.

 

From Time to a Perpetual (Chance-Driven) Present

 

     In all of the theoretical formulations of non-place we have seen, there has been a fundamental change in the conception of time. As history occupies a destabilized place at best, time loses its sense of progression and becomes a perpetual present. As we have seen in La experiencia sensible, this present is measured in unmediated chance. But like the non-place, a perpetual present is an ideal of savage capitalism that suppresses its inherent internal contradictions.

     Hardt and Negri use the shift from a Fordist to a Toyotist model of automobile production as an example of the perpetual present in Empire:

Toyotism is based on an inversion of the Fordist structure of communication between production and consumption. Ideally, according to this model, production planning will communicate with markets constantly and immediately. Factories will maintain zero stock, and commodities will be produced just in time according to the present demand of the existing markets. This model thus involves not simply a more rapid feedback loop but an inversion of the relationship because, at least in theory, the production decision actually comes after and in reaction to the market decision. In the most extreme cases the commodity is not produced until the consumer has already chosen and purchased it. In general, however, it would be more accurate to conceive the model as striving toward a continual interactivity or rapid communication between production and consumption.[63]

This model of production is similar to the functioning of the slot machine (máquina de azar) in La experiencia sensible. The change from a Fordist structure to Toyotism is a change in the conception of time in the production-consumption relationship. The perfect Toyotism would coordinate time so that instantaneous production could satisfy immediate demand. In this postmodern model, time and distance are not factors to be considered, they are outdated notions that must be eliminated. Time approaches the zero-limit represented by instantaneous consumption. This way of thinking time leaves no room for historical reflection. The privileging of instantaneous consumption values the present at the expense of the past and the future.

Arjun Appadurai, in Modernity at Large, has an even more radical articulation of this phenomenon: “consumption creates time and does not simply respond to it.”[64] What consumption creates is a perpetual state of the present. With this in mind, let us return to the Romano family’s encounter with the slot machines. When Mr. Romano frantically drops coin after coin into the slot machines of the Las Vegas airport, he is not making any long-term investment, and he doesn’t even want to win. As we have seen, chance itself became the desired object of consumption. In the consumption-created perpetual present, consumption itself is work. This work is of a very particular nature. In the world of savage capitalism, consumption becomes a productive act. It defines identity, it establishes personal relationships (either as a witness to or a desired object of consumption) and generally rules all actions. Earlier I argued the importance of chance in the perpetual present. In a consumer’s relationship to the world, the importance of chance homogenizes all consumption to random choices. Thus all subjects participate in the identity-defining, homogenous act of consumption.

Following a similar logic, Hardt and Negri introduce immaterial labor, which arises in an economy based upon the production of information and services (not material or durable goods). Immaterial labor tends towards a real (compared to Marx’s abstract) homogenization of laboring practices. The authors locate the motivation of this paradigm shift in the computer, which they view as the central or universal tool of the informatization of production. Thus “the labor of computerized tailoring and the labor of computerized weaving may involve exactly the same concrete practices—that is, manipulation of symbols and information.”[65] Marx’s commodity fetishism no longer conceals the social characteristics of private labor and the social relations between individual producers: the homogenization is now real. Consumption becomes the model of this really homogenized productive work. However, as in the case of the non-place, we can read this ideal as yet another willed ideal of savage capitalism.

     In its highest form, as presented in La experiencia sensible, the time of social interaction disappears and the consumer becomes a simple chooser[66] ruled by chance. As we did with the ideal of non-place, we must situate the ideal of a perpetual present of chance within the casino. In La experiencia sensible, the Paradise ensures the perpetuation of its present through force and constant surveillance, as seen in Mr. Romano’s forced departure from the gambling table when he stops betting. The perpetual present in the casino may be smooth, but the present back at the Romano house is anything but. The text insists on this fact. A historic reality brought the family to Las Vegas, and no matter how efficiently the Paradise smoothes over its many contradictions, it can never succeed in separating the Romano family from the general staying in their vacation home and all that this connection implies. In Argentina during the dictatorship, chance also ruled the present, but the stakes were of a different scale. It was the chance of being “disappeared” that ruled.

 

From Subjects to Controlled Consumers

 

     As the fear and constant surveillance that create the perpetual present become normalized and politics becomes a matter of conformity, the inhabitant of the idealized non-place/chance continuum of savage capitalism becomes an idealized subject as well. The negative energy brought about by the creation of the non-place of the present can be channeled into consumption. In its idealized form, consumption is not viewed only as productive labor, but also as a defining action of the subject. With history effectively smoothed over and made inaccessible for subjective definition in the perpetual present, the subject looks to consumption for self-definition. The “excess” which characterizes Augé’s supermodernity is the negative direction of our productive humanness into consumption. The misdirected energy is negative because the subject-as-consumer loses any other possible notion of his or her relationship to society. When chance becomes the law by which value circulates in savage capitalism, the subject loses any ability of self-definition other than the defining action of conspicuous consumption. Chance, replacing the function of time in the perpetual present, becomes absolute. It is part of the rigid logic of savage capitalism; this rigidity translates into, beyond a controlled consumer, an absolutely determined subject-as-consumer.

Fogwill does not render visible the contradictions within the controlled consumer as he does with non-places and the perpetual present. There is no movement to reclaim a notion of the subject as there is with place and time. That is not to say that his texts are merely descriptive. Although these three texts, culminating in La experiencia sensible, are more than a description of the world of savage capitalism, they do not give the reader a prescribed course of action. By insisting on the existence of place and time and making visible the contradictions that the smoothing logic of non-place and a perpetual present work to hide, Fogwill creates a potential space of contestation to savage capitalism. He does not give the controlled consumer a plan to reclaim his or her subjectivity, nor does he insist that we, as readers, ask specific questions of his choosing about what a new kind of subjectivity would look like. He does give the reader a real, even if metaphorical, place in which to contest or even negate. Never do we hear an answer to the question “what is to be done?” Fogwill’s rendering visible of contradictions and his pessimistic portrayal of the controlled consumer do insist that there exist unanswered questions and unrealized potential. Through both prophecy, as in the text from 1982, and a revisitation of the past, as in the text from 2000, Fogwill creates a literature of passage. In this literature we see a dual acknowledgment of a ‘no longer’ and a ‘not yet.’ The ‘no longer’ lies in the savage capitalism supported by military regimes that pretend to dominate even their own opposition. The ‘not yet’ is the possibility of a new subjectivity. It is a possibility filled with uncertainty, and these texts make no claim to how it will be.


 

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Marx, Karl. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof” Capital I. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. New York: Modern Library.

Reggiani, Federico. “La fama de las letras: el papel de la literatura en la patria de tres cuentos de Fogwill.” Literatura Argentina y Nacionalismo. La Plata: Universidad Nacional de La Plata, 1995.

Sarlo, Beatriz. “Fogwill, la experiencia sensible.” Punto de Vista 71 (December 2001).

_____, Beatriz. “No olvidar la guerra de Malvinas.” Punto de Vista 48 (August 1994): 11-15.

Schilling, Carlos. “Ignoramos todo sobre la vida.” La voz del interior (August 2, 2001).

Schvartzman, Julio. “Un lugar bajo el mundo: Los pichiciegos de Rodolfo E. Fogwill.” Microcrítica. Lecturas Argentinas. Buenos Aires: Biblos, 1996

Speranza, Graciela. “La realidad sensible y atroz.” Clarín, July 29, 2001.

_______________. “Magias parciales del realismo.” milpalabras  2 (Summer 2001) 57-64.

Tomlinson, John. Globalization and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Venturi, Robert, et. al. Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977.

 

 



[1] “I wanted to take a place next to Socrates or Hegel. Who says William Frederic Hegel?” in “Fogwill,” Primera Persona p. 42.

[2] “I studied medicine, letters, philosophy, mathematics, singing, music, French, English, German, rudimentary Greek and Latin, and I forgot almost everything. I taught methodology, statistics, communication theory, theories of ideology and sociology: I learned almost nothing. I was a publicist, a market investigator, redactor, a businessman, a stock trader, a terrorist and a con-man—so say the Federal Police in my rap sheet—, a specialized columnist in many different mediums, a university professor and a corporate consultant. I frequently imagine that I am a woman, but these fantasies quickly flow into a vulgar scene of sadistic lesbianism and unrest” (p. 39).

[3] “Why lie? I write poorly—I have recognized that—but quickly” (p 45).

[4] “--Are you morons? --Yes, sir! --No! You are not morons, you are alive.” In Fogwill, Los pichiciegos (henceforth PC) p. 25.

[5] See PC 70.

[6] “A rocket blew up a jeep: they calculate that each one of those British rockets costs them thirty times more that the best British jeep” (PC 22).

[7] “The idea that somewhere far away some people would be heavily bombing some others” (PC 51).

[8] “--I heard that they throw them into the river from airplanes. –I have also heard them say that they toss them into the river from airplanes, from twelve thousand feet, you hit the water and you become a thick juice that doesn’t float and you go with the current to the bottom—indicated the Engineer. –But it can’t be in planes: however crazy they may be, how could they prepare a plane, do all that work?—said Rubione--. Think about it: you could throw one hundred guys out of each plane: that’s a hundred trips. A shitload of money!” (PC 53). The flights of death were the infamous dumping of “political subversives” into the Atlantic during the height of the dictatorship, see Verbitsky’s El Vuelo, which also deals with the systematic institutional denial of any wrongdoing by the military.

[9] “When the things speak their truth, they materialize the memory...To speak of the war there are no general terms: either ones knows or one doesn’t know what war does to bodies.” Beatriz Sarlo, “No olvidar la guerra de Malvinas,” p. 12.

[10] “--Write this down so that it’s useful. Write it down, think about it, then make your conclusions—he told me. And I continued writing” (PC 82).

[11] See PC 119.

[12] See John Beverly, Against Literature and The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America, Georg M. Gugelberger, editor.

[13] Martín Kohan, “Fogwill’s The Sensible Experience: the future of the 70s” (forthcoming).

[14] The defeat is that of the military dictatorship due to the fiasco of the war, but also the defeat of any form of post-dictatorial idealism solidified by Alfonsín’s early departure from his democratically elected office of the presidency and Menem’s pardon to the imprisoned military leaders.

[15] Dolares dulces, an expression used to show the strength of Argentina’s economical spending power abroad during the dictatorship.

[16] “First deception of the reader: in this story I am I” in Fogwill, “Muchacha Punk,” (henceforth MP) p. 53.

[17] “Third deception of the narrator: my Muchacha Punk was as clean as any chitrula from Flores or Belgrano” (MP 74).

[18] “Third deception of the reader: I never slept with a muchacha punk” (MP 74).

[19] “I never saw a nightingale” (MP 59).

[20] “The delicious and timbric voice” (MP 63).

[21] “Possibly a Malvinero” (MP 57), an inhabitant of the Falkland Islands.

[22] “The waiter gave me a bad look, maybe because he discovered me studying his movements, perplexed due to the similarities that one can postulate in a story between a Spanish waiter in an English pizzeria, and whatever other Spanish waiter in a Parisian Pizzeria, or in Rosario. I have chosen Rosario so as not to cite Buenos Aires. My love” (MP 58). The last line is a pun on a Gardel tango, “Mi Buenos Aires querido.”

[23]Brazil and Argentina, I said, to save them a weighty explanation that would fill the story of common places” (MP 62).

[24] “lice-ridden stinky dirty sons of bitches” (MP 61).

[25] “The horrible image of my country that for some time has been inculcated in young Europeans” (MP 77).

[26] “Had bought for so little in Buenos Aires” (MP 77). Once again, the ‘sweet dollar’ of the years under military rule.

[27] “I haven’t made love with another person since March of 1976” (MP 74). The military seized power in March of 1976.

[28] “hypnotic trance that pushed her towards shopping” in Fogwill, La experiencia sensible (henceforth ES) p. 56.

[29] “disposed himself to loose” (ES 56).

[30] “to free himself of the coins” (ES 57).

[31] “looked as if it would never end” (ES 60).

[32] “the Argentinean atmosphere of that place” (ES 60).

[33] “something mysterious in the environment of the games of chance” (ES 95).

[34] “the exciting sensation of being a whore” (ES 95).

[35] “it wasn’t worth the effort of leaving the hotel” (ES 98).

[36] “It is the city that lends its name—the illusion of being in a geographic space—to those who decided to pass through the hotels” (ES 92).

[37] “salvajemente temáticos” (ES 92).

[38] “Polish, Italian, Colombian and Mexican surnames” (ES 93).

[39] “key elements that one need quickly dominate, so as not to commit errors in the game nor in the tips” (ES 65).

[40] “the coin is only a mean to quantify the lucre, not to measure expenses.” Beatriz Sarlo, Punto de Vista 71 (2001) p. 30.

[41] “has converted into the meeting point for Japanese citizens...who disseminated around the world with the great migratory waves of the first half of the twentieth century” (ES 103).

[42] “subproduct of the hotel industry” (ES 108).

[43] “That city offered them the opportunity to inhabit a shared space and a shared time with all of his suite” (ES 110).

[44] “There, the same mechanisms that the hotel used to concentrate attention in gambling and in consumption converge to maintain the Romano family in the same space-time capsule: the realization of the dream of the mythical, forever-lost family unity” (ES 111).

[45] “nobody cares anything about you.. Then, great... Here you live in peace!” (ES 112).

[46] “You win when the game administrator’s voice announces the result and all of the participants corroborate the legitimacy of his diagnostic” (ES 121).

[47] “curious public” (ES 66).

[48] Idelber Avelar, The Untimely Present, p. 58.

[49] Avelar, p. 59.

[50] Marc Augé, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, p. 86.

[51] Augé, p. 103.

[52] John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture, p. 6.

[53] Tomlinson, pp. 111-12.

[54] Hardt & Negri, p. xii.

[55] Hardt & Negri, p. 183.

[56] Hardt & Negri, pp. 188-89.

[57] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p. 13.

[58] Hardt & Negri, p. 190.

[59] Hardt & Negri, p. 198.

[60] “En esta nueva serie de pinturas trato de evitar toda información concreta: no hay señales ni carteles. En otras palabras, no hay una indicación específica de que se trate de un aeropuerto.” Guillermo Kuitca and Lynne Cooke, “Terminal,” in milpalabras 2 (2001), p. 22.

[61] Kuitca and Cooke, p. 22

[62] Bruno Bosteels, “Guillermo Kuitca: The Art of Theory,” p. 6.

[63] Hardt & Negri p. 290.

[64] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large, p. 70.

[65] Hardt & Negri p. 292.

[66] Appadurai, p. 42.