Memory without organs: denaturalizing repression-heroism

These are the two introductory paragraphs for my final chapter of Between Repression and Heroism: Young People’s Politics in Mexico City After 1968. Some previous writing from the dissertation is posted here. This final chapter follows from an argument in my Chapter Three about activists’ role in the social reproduction of a ‘police state.’ More on that argument can be found on my blog, here. Comments welcome!


Chapter Four: Memory without organs: denaturalizing repression-heroism

“The hero has molar perception which takes in overall aggregates and clear-cut elements, well-distributed areas of fullness and emptiness (this perception is coded, inherited, and overcoded by the walls […])” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 535 n. 11).


Adherents to Mexico City’s post-1968 student-left have naturalized a timeless world of ritual sacrifice by the dominators of the dominated. They have taken their place in the movement of what Octavio Paz (1970, 114-116) calls Mexico’s “true history” – a saga of self-sacrificing heroism in the face of repression. Their commemorative response to a ‘first erasure’ (i.e., the PRI’s abdication of responsibility for the deaths in Tlatelolco on October 2, 1968) has produced a ‘second erasure’ (i.e., a rigidification of social categories that provide young people a way into ‘politics’ but simultaneously set limits on what can be recognized as such). The student-left’s practices of commemoration have produced a center of resonance around which memory of the past is organized. 1968 is Tlatelolco, is the essence of subsequent activist practice against the repressive state. The student-left commemorates ‘Tlatelolco’ as a proper name that captures not only the whole of 1968 but also subsequent state-civil society relations to which it appears naturally linked. In doing so, the student-left overcodes multiplicity with lines of uninterrupted filiation, creating a “genetic axis” of “organized memory,” which hems in experimentation and imposes a predetermined form on young people’s politics (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 12-25). But if some young people in Mexico City understand politics as a question of disrupting the categorical certainties of ‘student movement space,’ through what spatial practices is a world configured which might facilitate their efforts? And if not through the certainties of likeness that are made obvious through adherence to inherited categories that assumes the endurance of a violent ‘true history,’ how can young people pursue linkages and come together in the service of political practice?

This final chapter of my dissertation addresses these two questions through contemporary artistic and literary works that denaturalize the post-Tlatelolco ‘repression-heroism’ framework. The chapter is organized in three parts. The first is methodological. I draw from key thinkers of the intersection of politics and aesthetics (especially Rancière, and Deleuze and Guattari), as well as from a selection of interdisciplinary scholarship, to show how the post-Tlatelolco repression-heroism framework can be denaturalized through ‘memory-work.’ I use ‘memory-work’ to refer to practices that disrupt how the past is popularly known and therefore how it can be reactivated. The second part of the chapter examines three cases of memory-work: Ximena Labra’s Tlatelolco: Public Space Odyssey (2008), Thomas Glassford’s Xipe Totec (2011), and Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet (1999). These three works do not belong together in any obvious sense. They do not represent a ‘movement’ of any kind. But each artist or writer has, in a different way, produced their works in solidarity with young people of the left while at the same time intervening in a political framework that activists have drawn upon to lend post-1968 ‘student activism’ its coherence. Using language from Deleuze and Guattari (1987), I argue that Labra, Glassford, and Bolaño challenge the ‘genetic axis of organized memory,’ with consequences for young people’s politics after 1968. The third part of this chapter connects my analysis of artistic and literary works to my ongoing discussions of vinculación (solidarity exceeding likeness) in young people’s politics. I suggest that, taken together, Labra, Glassford, and Bolaño demonstrate how to configure a world that would facilitate young people’s contemporary efforts to act in excess of inherited categories, and pursue linkages that do not demand likeness. That is to say, these artistic and literary works denaturalize a world in which it is possible only to bring together predetermined groups around a universalized identity, and they thereby create conditions for forging as-yet unknown identities through political struggle. Most generally, Labra, Glassford, and Bolaño expand what can count as politics after 1968. They destabilize the limits of what can be said and done in relation to the past, and by whom.


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