Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism

Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism

Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism

Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism


"Since independence from Spain, a trope has remained pervasive in Latin America's republican imaginary: that of an endless antagonism pitting civilization against barbarism as irreconcilable poles within which a nation's life unfolds. This book apprehends that trope not just as the phantasmatic projection of postcolonial elites fearful of the popular sectors but also as a symptom of a stubborn historical predicament: the cyclical insistence with which the subaltern populations menacingly return to the nation's public spaces in the form of crowds. Focused on Venezuela but relevant to the rest of Latin America, and drawing on a rich theoretical literature including authors like Derrida, Foucault, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, Lyotard, Laclau, Taussig, and others, Dancing Jacobins is a genealogical investigation of the intrinsically populist ""monumental governmentality"" that in response to this predicament began to take shape in that nation at the time of independence. Informed by a Bolivarian political theology, the nation's representatives, or ""dancing Jacobins,"" recursively draw on the repertoire of busts, portraits, and equestrian statues of national heroes scattered across Venezuela in a montage of monuments and dancing-or universal and particular. They monumentalize themselves on the stage of the polity as a ponderously statuesque yet occasionally riotous reflection of the nation's general will. To this day, the nervous oscillation between crowds and peoplehood intrinsic to this form of government has inflected the republic's institutions and constructs, from the sovereign ""people"" to the nation's heroic imaginary, its constitutional texts, representative figures, parliamentary structures, and, not least, its army. Through this movement of collection and dispersion, these institutions are at all times haunted and imbued from within by the crowds they otherwise set out to mold, enframe, and address."


[T]he state … would be organized around this exclusion; it would be erected
upon this empty place or installed around it.

—Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography

It may be that one cannot speak about that Caribbean republic without echoing,
however remotely, the monumental style of its most famous historiographer,
captain José Korzeniowski.

— Jorge Luis Borges, “Guayaquil”

He likes to indulge in sarcasms upon absent persons, reads only light French
literature, is a bold rider, and passionately fond of waltzing. He is fond of
hearing himself talk and giving toasts.

— Decoudray Holstein, quoted in Karl Marx, “Bolívar y Ponte”


Simón Bolívar, Liberator of Venezuela and four other Latin American nations, loved to dance. So great was his love that in a series of instructions for the education of his nephew Fernando, he included dance among the useful knowledges and skills that, with geography, history, and calculus or geometry, should form the repertoire of any well- rounded, virtuous education (Bolívar 1997, 240–42). Praising it as “the poetry of movement,” he alluded to dancing’s ability to “bring grace and fluency to the person while also being a hygienic exercise in the temperate climates” (ibid., 242). An abundance of testimonies suggest that far from being casual or isolated, this remark exemplifies the high regard in which throughout his career Bolívar held dancing. And when the opportunity arose, Bolívar himself “plunged into the dance” with relish and intensity (Harvey 2000, 206). One contemporary referred to him as “a very quick, but not a very graceful, dancer” (quoted in Harvey 2000, 208). Among numerous other allusions to his dancing, the somewhat “fantastic and surreal … spectacle of the Liberator waltzing, late into the night, around the campfires of his men” (Harvey 2000, 169) in Angostura, where for a few agonizing months his troops had been stranded, has made . . .

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