Review of Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott. Heterografías de la violencia: historia nihilismo destrucción. Buenos Aires: La Cebra, 2016.

Gerardo Muñoz
Princeton University

Volume 11, 2017

Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott’s Heterografías de la violencia: historia nihilismo destrucción (La Cebra, 2016) is, at first sight, an assorted compilation of fifteen programmatic essays. Mostly written within the last decade and as context-specific critical interventions within the field of Latin American cultural studies, these texts attend to a wide range of theoretical specificities, such as the baroque and performative violence, imperial reason and contemporary literature, sovereign-exception law and the flexible patterns of capitalist accumulation. It is to Villalobos’ merit that none of these issues are restituted to academic knowledge production or leveled out as a selection of “new trending topics” within the neoliberal marketplace. As in his prior Soberanías en suspenso: imaginación y violencia en América Latina (La Cebra, 2013), what is at stake, far from erecting the edifice of a ‘critical theory’ aspiring to fix the limits of reflection—as postulated in “sovereignty” “nihilism” or “destruction”—is the composition of a constellation that circumnavigates the vortex of the general horizon of the philosophy of history and the university machine.

In some way, Heterografías is auxiliary to Soberanías en suspenso, but not in the parasitical sense of amending or filling previous generalities and conceptual wagers. This new collection pushes thought beyond the specificity of the insular ‘Chilean scene’, providing for the indeterminacy of the logic of sovereignty as the Arcanum of both interruption and continuity of the philosophy of the history of capital in Latin America. This is not to say that in Soberanías en suspenso the ‘local Chilean scene’ operated self-referentially as the archive for the reassertion of a cultural investigation. In the prior book, the Chilean scene was taken as a paradigm, in the sense of a singular relation to the singular, which Heterografías translates into a mottled ensemble that interrogates the displacements, variations, and conditions of principial Latinamericanist reason from both nomic and anomic spatial formations.

Heterografías resists positing a new metaphorization of history, as well as yet another ‘political theory’ for what Latinamericanists identify as the object of “Latin America”. Although Villalobos does not thematize it as such, his book is full-fledged post-Latinamericanist, and the reason is not just because it moves and weaves through the Schmitt-Kojève debate on geopolitics and colonialism to the politics of the baroque and Catholic imperial katechon; from Latin American literature (Borges, Lamborghini, Perlongher) to debates on memory and indexing (Richard, Didi-Huberman, Segato). It is post-Latinamericanist because it challenges the university praxis that administers, organizes, and provides for a linguistic transculturation of a post-katechontic ground that is today insufficient, except as onto-theology and the reproduction of the actual (the cliché). Post-Latinamericanism marks here a critical practice of exodus as an otherwise practice of thought at the margins, if not at times outside, the university as the self-referential mediator in the distribution and allocation of the geopolitics of knowledge.

On the other hand, one also appreciates Villalobos’ minimal gesture of displacement of Latinamericanism not as a mere abandonment of the Latinamericanist object—which amounts to another exception, another distance with the object of desire, or its mere dis-placement—but as an otherwise relation that is not regulated by what Moreiras has called the ‘pleasure principle’ that lies at the heart of the hegemonic investment of the Latinamericanist intellectual.[1] A post-Latinamericanism, thus, is necessarily posthegemonic to the extent that:

No se trata de elaborar una ‘mejor crítica’ de lo real ni de desenmascarar el carácter ideológico de un programa en competencia, sino de debilitar la misma lógica “fundamental” que estructura el discurso moderno universitario…. desistir del nihilismo en nombre de un pensamiento que no puede ser reducido a un principio hegemónico de producción de verdad y de saber. La post-hegemonía de la que estamos hablando, no es solo una teoría regional destinada a evidenciar los presupuestos de la teoría política contemporánea, sino también la posibilidad de establecer una relación no hegemónica entre pensamiento y realidad. Ubicarnos en esa posibilidad es abandonar el discurso de la crítica y de la denuncia y participar de una práctica de pensamiento advertida de las fisuras y trizaduras que arruinan a la hegemonía como principio articulador del sentido y del mundo.

(Villalobos 36)

In contrast, what is offered is a radical “destruction” of the principle of sovereignty that, as Villalobos painstakingly labors to display, is always already an-archic and undetermined. Since, according to Reiner Schürmann, the principle (arché) is what structures and accounts for the ground of presencing in any given epochality, Villalobos insists in the an-archic character of every form of apparatus (literature, geopolitics, the national-popular, ethnicity, war, neoliberalism, etc.) that seeks to ground itself through principial formation, as both origin and commandment. In this way, the ‘history of metaphysics’ is not taken here as a teleo-phenomenological compression reducible to the very hyperbolic presencing of mere principles, but as a folding process that transforms the critique of metaphysics into that of its apparatuses. This has radical consequences, since it is no longer a debate about the university regime of knowledge production, or about the co-belonging between the destruction of metaphysics and the metaphysics of destruction, but rather, “de concebir el carácter moderno y prosaico de las prácticas históricas, ya no investidas con un secreto transcendental, sino que constituidas como experiencia radical de de-sujeción” (136).

The gesture does not wish to open a second order of exteriority to thought (whether geopolitically or grounded in the subject), but a practice of the “non-subject” within the interregnum that lends itself to the radical historicity beyond the historicism of its apparatuses. The interregnum highlights the radical dislocation between philosophy and history, disinhibiting the categorial determinations that attest to its in-determinacy (Villalobos 145). By placing emphasis on the indeterminate character of violence, Villalobos is also suggesting the way in which the ‘effective operation of law’ is also flexible and adjustable to every specific historical determination.[2] Thus, to amend the anomic status of the interregnum is always already to fall a step forward into nihilism and its epochal structuration of the given conditions. This is the instinct of all hegemonic principial incorporation as a pastoral or geopolitical formation. Heterografías consistently points to the folds that open to a potential constellation of singulars as an otherwise of experience framed in the duopoly philosophy-history that fuels what John Kraniauskas has called the ‘cunning of capital’.[3]

As such, Heterografías advances the destruction of three transversal axes that have fed the apparatuses of the philosophy of the history of capital in the interregnum. In this sense, there is a series that bonds sovereignty and war to accumulation and capital. It is not the case that these lines have their own autonomy, historical foundation, or even ‘substance’. Rather, these folds act as an assemblage that partitions and makes up what I am willing to call the Latinamericanist exception in its metamorphosized transformations that aggregate knowledge, practices, and discourses. To dwell otherwise on the interregnum entails precisely to ‘free the line’, as Deleuze & Guattari proposed in A Thousand Plateaus, crisscrossing the modalities of war (in times of peace, or what Villalobos calls Pax Americana), sovereignty (as still rendered in the katechontic determination of the State and fictive ethnicity) and accumulation (as an always ‘ongoing appropriation and expropriation’ from modernization processes to neoliberal dispossession).

The scene of the interregnum as traversed by flexible patterns of accumulation is a baroque scene.[4] Not so much ‘baroque’ in the literary or even pragmatic sense that seeks to provide agency to subaltern informal workers in the Latin-American peripheries, but as a modal process that counteracts the dynamic of sovereignty while re-inseminating heterogeneous (heterographic) processes of violence at the heart of the common political experience.[5] The baroque also dramatizes the fissure of finitude that could put a halt to the sovereign exception. To this end, the critical gesture during times of interregnum is to abandon the first principle of action, whether as a purely conservationist katechon or as the immanentization of eschatology. Villalobos calls for a third option, which is an infrapolitical relation with worldly experience and the mundane freed from exclusion-inclusion logic. In an important moment in his essay on Kojève and the geopolitical philosophy of history, Villalobos writes:

Faltaría pensar […] la no-relación entre el ni-amigo-ni-enemigo, lo neutro blanchotiano, que se des-inscribe del horizonte sacrificial de la tradición política occidental, esto es, de una cierta tradición política asociada con el principio de razón, con la comunidad y la amistad, como decía Derrida, o del sujeto y del sentido, como dice recientemente Alberto Moreiras, apuntando a una dimensión no afiliativa ni fraternal, no principial ni fundacional, sino infrapolítica.


The infrapolitical relation is given as a promise that retains the freedom of life in the time of the interregnum against all apparatuses of capture and conversion (it is not by accident that the marrano as the figure of the outcast and dweller in freedom appears a few times throughout the book in decisive ways). How can one participate in conflict without necessarily opening it to war? How can one instantiate exchange without reproducing the principle of equivalence? How can there be a relation between literature and politics beyond representation and the productionist aesthetic institution or the literary canon? The potential to render thought otherwise profanes every articulation of the apparatus and allows for a political exigency in the interregnum: an infra-political relation with the political, which brings back democracy to its post-hegemonic site. It is in this sense that Heterografías is not a book disconnected from “political practices” or what the Althusserians call the material “conjuncture”. On the contrary, the task is achieved through a reflexive gesture that attends to every singular determination of ‘ongoing accumulation’ that exceeds the libidinal and memorialist investments in Marxian locational archives.[6]

The purpose is to avoid a calculable relation with the conjuncture as always already shorthanded for hegemony, will to power, ‘movement of movements’, subjection, etc. so as to de-capture the radical historicity no longer ingrained in History’s metaphoricity. This is why Borges, the a-metaphorical thinker, disseminates the fabric of Heterografías at various key moments, juxtaposing politics and imagination, and undoing the master-theory for political movements that always speak in the name of ’emancipation’. (The fall of Brodie in Borges’ short story is the absolute comic negation of the Paulist militant conversion at Antioch).

As already specified in Soberanías, the threshold of imagination becomes the task for intra-epochal (interregnum) experience. Imagination, of course, does not point to an anthropological faculty of humanity, the prevalence of a sensible component over reason as in Kant, or a new intellect that as post-universitarian is able to secure a new site for prestige. Imagination is a preparatory relay for the turbulent de-formation of the apparatuses into a common universality of singulars. Villalobos does not deliver a general theory of imagination, since imagination is already what we do as a form of dwelling, in the course of every form of life. I would like to re-translate Heterografías in these terms not because imagination remains the unsaid in every practice of destitution as what always escapes identity, equivalency, or the friend-enemy relation. But then, is imagination the outside of nihilism?

Imagination accounts for the heterographic processes that are flattened out by master concepts that capture and distribute principial thought. In this sense, imagination is not reducible to the institution of literature or culture, but inscribes a singular relation with language; the possibility of speaking in the name of that which lacks its proper name.[7] The fact that today everyone speaks in the name of something is the most visible symptom of the fall into technical nihilism. On the contrary, imagination is always the potentiality to speak for a minor people who interfere with the grammar of grand politics. In the last chapter, “Crítica de la acumulación”, the site of imagination is the necessary condition for an otherwise politics in contemporary Latin America:

En última instancia, se trata de pensar los límites históricos de la imaginación política latinoamericana, misma que necesita trascender la nostálgica identificación con una política reivindicativa de clases, y radicalizar su vocación popular en una suerte de populismo salvaje, que no se orienta heliotrópicamente a la conquista del poder del Estado, para una vez allí, disciplinar a las masas. Un populismo sin Pueblo, pero con muchos pueblos, heterogéneos y contradictorios, con una énfasis insobornable en los antagonismos y no en las alianzas, en las figuraciones catacréticas y disyuntivas […] En suma, un populismo post-hegemónico […]


Political mediation, insofar as it is post-hegemonic, ceases to dominate in the principial totality where life and the social, as based on fictive identity, coincide or collapse into each other. This post-hegemonic populism cannot be said to be one at odds with institutions, or merely just its cultural or charismatic supplement. Villalobos seems to be opening here the question of a distinctive form of law that would require imagination, not heterographic violence; attentiveness to singularity, and not another politics of the subject. How could one think a law that exceeds the citizen and the exception? Is it not isonomy—as the principle of the integral movement towards citizenship—what hinders and captures political life over its heterographic excess? Could one imagine a law that is consistent with democracy as the self-rule of a minor people, of a people without history, a savage people, inhabiting the true state of exception?

The answers to these questions are not to be found in Heterografías de la violencia, but the essays therein stimulate the emergence of a post-Latinamericanist debate. Villalobos-Ruminott has made a striking effort to sketch a set of common objectives, tasks, exigencies, and considerations for the possibility of critical thought against the grain of interregnum’s anomie. The task is that of opening a fissure of worldliness (mundanidad) in preparation for a savage democracy to come; enabling the conditions for a way of thinking that is not oblivious to the production of violence within the ongoing accumulation that unfolds and whitewashes the present.


01. See Alberto Moreiras. “Poshegemonía, o más allá del principio del placer”. Poshegemonía: el final de un paradigma de la filosofía política en América Latina. Ed. Rodrigo Castro Orellana. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 2015.

02. It is in the quasi-concept ‘effective operation of law’, where Villalobos comes nearest to Yan Thomas’ studies on the juridical flexibility of law. See Thomas’ Les opérations du droit. Paris, EHESS, 2011.

03. See John Kraniauskas, “The cunning of capital explained?” Radical Philosophy (184) (March/April) 2014. (accessed 6/13/2017). 

04. See Gareth Williams, The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.

05. I am thinking here of Veronica Gago’s recent book La razón neoliberal: economías barrocas y pragmática popular (Tinta Limón, 2015) which seeks to render a micropolitical form of neoliberalism from below, deploying the concept of ‘baroque’ to ‘express’ its emancipatory and empowering dynamic in the informal sector. For Villalobos, on the contrary, the informal economy is not an exception to the visible form of accumulation, but its flexible difference in the age of an-archic capital. The baroque is not a given instance for “emancipation” or “subjective agency”, but the space where sovereignty becomes dramatized in its most extreme degree: “Es decir, necesitamos pensar el barroco como una problematización de la filosofía de la historia del capital, con una interrupción que trastoca la especialización de la temporalidad propia de la metafísica moderna y más específicamente, de su correlato político, la versión liberal-contractualista del orden y del progreso social” (78).

06. “Diría que hay, al menos, dos formas de confrontar este problema; por un lado, la posibilidad de repensar el marxismo, Marx y sus diversas apropiaciones, según su historia, sus filologías y tradiciones, para determinar la “verdadera” imagen de Marx, hacerle justicia a su corpus, exonerarlo de los excesos de la tradición y traerlo al presente según una nueva actualidad. Por otro lado, sin renunciar a un horizonte materialista y aleatorio, la posibilidad de elaborar una crítica de la acumulación” (Villalobos, 215).

07. See Giorgio Agamben. “In nome di che?” Il fuoco e il racconto. Rome: nottetempo, 2014.