Academic journal article Chasqui

The Unmanageable: Exposing the Literary Commons in Buenos Aires

Academic journal article Chasqui

The Unmanageable: Exposing the Literary Commons in Buenos Aires

Article excerpt

If culture has become one more resource to be managed in an era of globalization, and if the terms of cultural management depend on the currency of authorship, proper attribution, and the circulation of aesthetic 'content,' (whether plastic, analog or digital), it would seem that the only way to disrupt such a system of culture management would be to adopt aesthetic projects that strive precisely to be unmanageable. (1) As the reigning global consensus continues to naturalize relationships of private property and further translate such relationships to new domains of "immaterial labor" and "intellectual property," the contact point between aesthetic practices and intellectual property regimes has become one of the most productive sites for such unmanageable practices to emerge.

The most direct way for a literary project to become unmanageable is to insist on reaching beyond the traditional field of literature. Both of the projects that I analyze in this paper--each in its own fashion--attempts such a task. The case of Sergio Di Nucci's Boliva construcciones does so by adopting a strategy of plagiarism to achieve goals that disrupt the supposed autonomy of the literary in the service of a larger political and economic goal. Eloisa Cartonera, a community-based publishing house that repurposes refuse and trash to construct object of literary beauty, similarly unsettles naturalized notions of what constitutes a literary text, and how such an object should be produced and circulated within the social sphere. Both of these examples, in mobilizing a strategy of unmanageability and demanding that the literary object participate in a wider social and political environment, run the risk of annulling the very concept of the autonomy of art.

The twentieth century has certainly seen its share of artistic and cultural movements dedicated to making culture itself unmanageable. Dada, Situationism, Festivals of Plagiarism, early Hip Hop, and The Pirate Bay have all, in their own ways, undertaken projects of destabilizing the liberal or neo-liberal orders in which they found themselves functioning. In literature, the use of plagiarism as a deliberate technique functions as one of these strategies to produce aesthetic objects that cannot be managed; when plagiarism-as-technique has appeared, its practitioners have generally pointed to notions of intertextuaity, re-writing, creative transformation, and the like, and thus gestured towards an understanding of creativity based more on circulation than on ownership. Such instances exploit the liberal impasse--the abyss between material and immaterial property, between a printed book and the ideas contained within--to reveal the commons: that surplus of human creativity which possessive individualism cannot possibly manage. Before exploring Bolivia construcciones and Eloisa Cartonera as instances of the aesthetic production of unmanageability, it will be necessary to take a theoretical detour to determine exactly what is at stake in the debates over the "cultural" or "immaterial" commons, and how these debates connect to intellectual property and the critique of authorship.

The Digital Commons: A Case of Blind Men and an Elephant

Historically, the commons represent a form of economic, social, and ecological organization based around collective land use. The political valence of a commons is ambivalent: it can represent an authoritarian mode of political organization (as in the case of the pre-Colombian Incan commons in the Andes), a feudal mode (as in the case of open field systems in pre-enclosure Europe) or it can represent a democratic, socialistic organization (as in the cases of common-pool resource management studied by Elinor Ostrom). In every case, however, the commons is opposed to the process of enclosure-, indeed, it is the political and economic process of enclosure that erases the commons through privatization of a shared community resource.

The concept of the commons has also found currency in contemporary debates over the architecture of the digital universe. …

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