Humanism, Irony, and the End of Literature

The second consequence of the simultaneous affirmation and disavowal of capitalism plays a role in the transitory disappearance of the law (in its form as revolutionary ideology). By “law” I designate the ideologies legitimating the policies of the state. The law becomes an empty signifier because it no longer points to a specific political imaginary. The result of this ideological void reinforced the confusion between what was revolutionary or counterrevolutionary. I am not suggesting that this was a new phenomenon, what I am saying is that this confusion became even more acute. The popular song that I cite below is a very good example of such a phenomenon. This confusion between what is permissible (or ethically acceptable) and what is not is reflected in the emergence of a literary trend that problematizes—if not collapses—the distinction between freedom and coercion. This political or ethical confusion becomes a rhetorical irony in poetry, that is, a statement meaning the contrary of what it says. The resulting irony is a trope that both shows this ethical differentiation and, paradoxically, falls prey to it by becoming one more example of biopolitics. In sum, in the last chapter I argue that according to government rhetoric, “revolutionary ethos” becomes an empty signifier, a signifier without content, which is therefore no longer articulated according to a law. As a consequence, ethical principles have collapsed, resulting in a schizophrenic rule of sorts. The lack of this law is what pushes poets to inquire about the relationship between ethics and literature. If traditional ideologies are exhausted, can literature still have an ethical function? Paideia struggled to articulate a humanist cultural project as a way to suture itself back into an ethical framework. The failure of the project that I discuss in the context of an emergent theoretical shift in favor of civil society drew the group to cultivate irony as a literary practice. In poets such as Carlos A. Aguilera and Rolando Sanchez Mejias, the subject is represented as a disempowered victim, but the irony of the idiom can also serve humoristic ends, culminating in a liberating practice that extracts subjects from the oppressive voice of judgment.

Drawing on Blanchot’s “writing of disaster,” this concluding chapter finally ponders the limits of aesthetic representation. It asks what becomes of literature once its revolutionary potential becomes exhausted. If cultural representation is a symptom with its own historicity, can it also function as a defensive mechanism against the illness that it announces? As I claim in the first chapter, allegory becomes the trope of a revolutionary politics that aims to emancipate what it represents. At the same time, allegories can only freeze time in an ideal past or future; they cannot represent the present. By looking at what I call the “poetics of thought” and “circular poetics,” I show that the poetry collections Cabezas (Heads, 2002) by Marques de Armas and Juan Carlos Flores’s Distintos modos de cavar un tunel (Different Ways to Dig a Tunnel, 2003) expose and concurrently challenge the limits of representation.

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