Writing Insurgencies with José Rabasa and Exhibition Anonimato by Laurence Cuelenaere

Friday, May 10, 2019

By Yangyou Fang & Alejandro Martinez

The Exhibition Anonimato by Laurence Cuelenaere
On April 26, a series of photographs were on display at the entrance of Palmer House. At first glance, those black and white photographs seemed to prompt questions that we ignore: Who are those people? Why can’t we see their faces? Some signs in the photographs began to bring us closer to a specific place: Mexico. Photographer Laurence Cuelenaere said about her work: “By embracing the anonymous, the indeterminate, the non-normative, and the spontaneous, the images subvert the conventional subject/object relationship of the photographer/photographed.” The anonymity of the photographs, the lack of faces, the silences, seem to account for bodies that cannot be completely represented, through photography or otherwise, and that we need to (re)learn how to see and listen to them.

As others entered to see the photographs, the sounds of discussions emanating from the next room perhaps served as an orientation to the intense dialogues and debates of the symposium Writing Insurgencies with José Rabasa.

The exhibition will return to Princeton, in the upper hyphen of East Pyne Hall in the fall.

The Symposium
On a rainy afternoon at the long table of Palmer House, Professor Nicole Legnani warmly welcomed the presenters and participants from a variety of disciplines and parts of the world. The objective of this symposium was to celebrate the scholarship and activism of José Rabasa, whose foundational publications have influenced and continue to influence a generation of scholars dedicated to (post) Colonial and subaltern studies, Nahuatl Poetry and Painting, indigenous studies, the History of Voice, escritura salvaje (wild writing), the Zapatista movement, and borderland studies among others.


From left to right: Ileana Rodríguez, Nicole D. Legnani, Alejandro Martínez, Sarah Castro-Klarén, José Rabasa, Gabriela Nouzeilles, Germán Labrador Méndez, Anna More, Ivonne Del Valle. Photo Credit: Jesús R. Velasco

The first presentation of the roundtable “Ethics of Reading / Writing” by Professor Sara Castro-Klaren initiated the dialogue with a metaphor and a personal anecdote. According to her recollection, colonial studies in the 1970s were as desolate as the wayco (from the Quechua word for mudslide). She attributed her early interests in indigenous studies to her childhood experience interacting with the indigenous population in Peru and acknowledged the contribution of Rabasa’s work to historiography and (post) Colonial studies. Indeed, a snapshot of this revival could be seen in no better space than this very symposium held on April 26­–27, with twenty-four incredibly diverse, interdisciplinary, and illuminating presentations coming together with the vibrant discussions and debates that followed.

In the first roundtable, following Castro-Klaren’s address, Guillermo Zermeño Padilla remarked on the renovative


Santa Arias and Sergio Delgado. Photo credit: Jesús R. Velasco

significance of Rabasa’s work in contemporary historiography. Matthew Carlin invited the participants to reconsider the survival of alternative temporality as ethical apostasy in the colonial period with applications for contemporary analysis, while René Carrasco pondered on speech acts and Rabasa’s concept of “elsewheres” in the life of South American subjects. John Gibler, a journalist who writes from Mexico, offered his own reflection on Rabasa’s Writing Violence on the Northern Frontier (2000), which had inspired him to listen attentively to subaltern voices while writing about insurgencies. The second roundtable continued to exhibit the spatial and temporal reach of some Rabasian concepts. The theme “Writing Frontiers” embarked on an academic journey from Santa Arias’s “San Juan de Puerto Rico at the Bourbon Court” to Perla Chinchilla Pawling’s analysis of Jesuit missions, from Sergio Delgado’s investigation on Mexican tabloids about the atrocities of Las Poquianchis in the 1950s and 1960s to Dannelle Gutarra Cordero’s “Slavery frontiers” in the Haitian Revolution. In the last presentation of this day, Federico Navarrete’s research on ethnosuicide and ethnogenesis in Colonial Mesoamerican reminded us of the reemergence of “neocolonialism” in society and the necessity of re-focus on the underrepresented and the oppressed.

The second day began with a roundtable on “Subaltern Studies” in which John Beverley and Ileana Rodriguez remembered the foundation of the Latin American subaltern studies group, and how, despite being rejected by an important grant to finance the project, they went ahead with the vision and were stronger for it. Beverley


John Beverley and Ileana Rodríguez. Photo credit: Jesús R. Velasco

highlighted the crucial impact that Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India had on the group (even though, unfortunately, it has never been translated into Spanish). Rodriguez recounted that the development of a subalternist thinking—a refuge from modern narratives that have erred in understanding the indigenous— was both important and necessary. She also remarked that subaltern studies had been seeking “fascinating categories.” For example, the field considers el chisme (gossip) an important form of knowledge. She clarified that the Subaltern Studies Group's difference is that they consider India's prioritization of the National State's constitution an example of postcolonialism, while for the Latin American group the subaltern is produced by a more continual postcolonial subordination. On the same roundtable Daniel Nemser and Ivonne del Valle both reflected on “Alboroto y motín de los indios” of Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora and made further references to two contemporary events: the 1992 and 2006 Los Angeles Riots. Both highlighted the importance of Rabasian theories and suggested their applications on the contemporary events.

Nemser challenged Clover’s theory that there exists a distinction between early modern and present-day riots,


Sarah Castro Klarén and José Rabasa. Photo credit: Jesús R. Velasco

and concludes that the 1692 indigenous riot should be reconsidered as racialized, with the colonial state and capitalist economy as its targets. Del Valle complicates the agency of participation and writing, and suggests that the participants-writers of the civil unrest in San Salvador Atenco of 2006 substituted Sigüenza y Góngora’s pen with modern technology: a Mac. During the discussion of the roundtable there was praise for el chisme.

On the next roundtable, “Bodies and Affect”, Nicole Legnani began by saying that her amber earrings were from Tepotztlán, and that she was told by a woman in the market place that amber was favorable to rational thinking and that José [Rabasa] would appreciate the paradox. Legnani discussed a case of heretical insurgency in colonial Peru that exposed the paradox of colonial epistemology, one that could assert a subject’s consent to demonic possession with certainty on the one hand, while grappling with coerced conversions on the other. Obed Lira opened with a question: “If the subaltern can’t speak, can it feel?”, and proposed that we needed a new Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency… with an affective turn. Drawing on the theories of Spinoza, Anna More offered the possibilities of the body in the context of colonial insurgency. Analisa Taylor offered a suggestive analysis on the Oscar-winning Roma (2018) from a novel perspective of subaltern resistance to divulging secrets. After Jesus Velasco went through the juridical production of fulanizations, a common practice in Spain and Portugal in the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X, a heated debate on Hardt and Negri, Spinoza, and Roma followed.

Finally, on the last roundtable, “Insurgent Ecologies,” the presenters discussed the ecological elements of (Post)colonial studies across geographical and chronological boundaries. Orlando Bentancor tackled Insurgency and Subalternity in the Cochabamba Water Wars, Marcelo Fernández Osco presented visual archive of the agrarian struggle of the Aymaras during Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, ninth Sapay Inca (1418–1471/1472) of the Kingdom of Cusco. Germán Labrador Méndez invited the room to ponder on the public and ecological space through a close-reading of the cryptic inscriptions scattered throughout the coastal villages of southern Galicia by José Meijón Area. The last presenter, Abdul Karim Mustapha, drawing historical accounts from Naufragios and Rabasa’s Tell Me the Story of How I Conquered You: Elsewheres and Ethnosuicide in the Colonial Mesoamerican World (2011), provided a philosophical interpretation of three Ecologies of Politics: Non-being, territoriality and insurrection.


From left to right: José Rabasa, Gabriela Nouzeilles, Germán Labrador. Photo credit: Jesús R. Velasco

At the closing of the enriching and illuminating symposium, upon the suggestion of Jesús R. Velasco, each participant shared a brief but heartfelt reflection. Each presenter, moderator, and student reflected on the lasting impact Rabasa has had on their intellectual and personal formation, and how the symposium had been an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience, which—through academic investigation and social activism— they would value moving forward. For each participant, the symposium was an introspective, enlightening and inspiring journey from foundational theories to investigative analysis, from the past events to present affairs, from the oral to the textual and sensorial, linking the coloniality with ecology, bodies and voices with insurgencies, and the Rabasian foundation to all the future possibilities of academic and activist productions.