Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism 9780823263660

Since independence from Spain, a trope has remained pervasive in Latin America’s republican imaginary: that of an endles

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Table of contents :
[Dancing Jacobins] Frontmatter
[Dancing Jacobins] Contents
[Dancing Jacobins] Figures
[Dancing Jacobins] Introduction. Populist Governmentality
[Dancing Jacobins] Overture
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 1. Archaeologies
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 2. Bullying for Independence
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 3. Statues and Statutes
[Dancing Jacobins] Interlude_ Dancing Jacobins
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 6. The French Repertoire
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 7. Scenes of the Imaginary, I
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 8. Scenes of the Imaginary, II
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 9. The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army
[Dancing Jacobins] Chapter 10. “In My Image and Likeness”
[Dancing Jacobins] Epilogue. Dancing and the Return of the Crowds
[Dancing Jacobins] Acknowledgments
[Dancing Jacobins] Notes
[Dancing Jacobins] Works Cited
[Dancing Jacobins] Index
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Dancing Jacobins A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism

Rafael Sánchez

Fordham University Press

New York 2016

Copyright © 2016 Fordham University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means— electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other— except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. Fordham University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Fordham University Press also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. Visit us online at www.fordhampress.com. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available online at catalog.loc.gov. Printed in the United States of America 18 17 16

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First edition

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List of Figures Introduction: Populist Governmentality

ix 1







Bullying for Independence



Statues and Statutes



Theater for the Masses



Monumental Governmentality


Interlude: Dancing Jacobins



The French Repertoire



Scenes of the Imaginary, I: The Fragile Collection



Scenes of the Imaginary, II: Bolívar Superstar



The (Bolivarian) People Is in the Army


“In My Image and Likeness”


Epilogue: Dancing and the Return of the Crowds






Works Cited





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1 T-shirt with the gazes of Simón Bolívar


2 Equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar with dedication by Guzmán Blanco


3 Drawing of the Plaza Mayor by Federico Lessmann, 1850–1852


4 Print depicting an idealized Plaza Bolívar by Ramón Irazabal, 1845


5 Photograph of Plaza Bolívar with arcades recently demolished


6 First map of the city of Caracas, 1578


7 Watercolor of Plaza Bolívar by Ramón Bolet Peraza, 1880


8 Gigantic statue of Guzmán Blanco in Caracas’ Parque El Calvario


9 Photograph of equestrian statue of Guzmán Blanco


10 Lithograph of Guzmán Blanco Square in Caracas


11 Portrait of Antonio Guzmán Blanco by Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1880


12 Cartoon from Figaro, September 19, 1878


13 Cartoon from Figaro, September 9, 1878


14 Cartoon from El Charivari, June 27, 1878


15 Stairs with Chávez’s eyes



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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. — Scott Fitzgerald “. . . solemn face, sassy ass.” —Venezuelan proverb

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Populist Governmentality [T]he state . . . would be orga nized 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”

Bolívar’s Dance 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).1 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 1

2 introduction: populist governmentality it into the record. But beyond all empirical evidence, Bolívar’s own mention of dancing as part of a well-rounded education attests to the preeminence in which he held this activity. In keeping with the Enlightenment ethos of this avowed Rousseau disciple, education—a school of citizenship—formed the bedrock of the virtuous republics that he was busy founding at the time. But it is not dancing that comes to mind when the Liberator is evoked today. By and large the Bolívar that the Venezuelan public overwhelmingly recalls is an epic warrior and austere tribune of the republic, forever wrapped in his glory and suspended for posterity in one or another exemplary gesture of supreme republican virtue. Pictured as a forbiddingly monumentalized, exemplary persona in the nation’s currency, heroic iconography, civic commemorations, and official historiography, the figure of the Liberator is universally apprehended in Venezuela as the supreme embodiment and manifestation of the Venezuelan “people”—what this people necessarily looks like when contemplated whole, as a fully present, synchronic totality. This figure is the result of a historiographical operation that amounts to a chiasmatic exchange between history and iconography. Although also happening elsewhere, especially among the so-called Bolivarian nations,2 it is especially conspicuous in Venezuela. This operation is an exchange without loss or possible remainder between images and texts: on the one hand, iconic images construed as adamantly synchronic, thus allegedly purged of any temporal traces that might hamper their ability to convey the timeless, truly monumental truths presumably intrinsic to the figure of the Liberator, and, on the other, those diachronic texts recounting the hero’s life from cradle to grave in often excruciating detail. It commands the audience to “read” the Liberator’s exemplary story in his iconographic representations and to “see” the hero’s statuesque iconic persona, and especially his face, emerging whole from the many historiographical writings documenting his glorious life and deeds.3 These quid pro quo exchanges absorb absence into full, self-contained presence and temporality into synchronic simultaneity, rendering every single moment of the Liberator’s existence, from his birth to his untimely death in neighboring Colombia, into one totalizing, timeless truth: the Liberator as sole founder and creator of the nation and as the sublime, necessary embodiment or manifestation of its people’s putatively pre-existing essence as an indivisible, seamless, homogeneous whole unified by bonds of equality. Thus charged with the truly monumental task of representing the nation as a timeless entity, staying identical to itself across time and space, what else, if not thoroughly statuesque, could such a figure possibly be? Given that the Venezuelan postcolony is as intensely differentiating as it is—that it is a space of radical alteration where for complex historical reasons that I address in this book any putative originals, along with the claims to precedence and authority that often accompany them, are continuously defaced through relentless differentiation and spacing—to be effective, the above-mentioned operation, aimed at absorbing reality in its representations or the people/nation in the many monuments or effigies of

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Bolívar as if the two were equivalent, must be insistently iterated across time and space. Examples of this iteration are the myriad civic festivities and commemorative rituals that, with numbing regularity, are officiated around the many busts and equestrian or standing statues of the Liberator occupying the center of the many Plazas Bolívar that, in turn, are the symbolic and geographic center of every single Venezuelan town, no matter its size. Every time, these ritual occasions bring together texts and images, effigies and enveloping proclamations and ceremonies in a mutually constitutive relation that canonizes the figure of Bolívar as both the father of the people/ nation and as this people’s truest, most faithful reflection or representation. One would have to add the numerous portraits of the hero adorning public offices everywhere, the backdrops of Bolívar portraits over the years grown monstrously large that dwarf Venezuela’s presidents as they address the nation on television, and the insistence with which the Liberator’s face, name, words, and glorious deeds show up on walls, bridges, postage stamps, the nation’s currency, and on the myriad books and notebooks that students carry to school every day. Only then would one gain a sense of an entire nation literally beholden to Bolívar—or, as it is proclaimed across this wide range of discursive and iconographic representations, beholden to the Padre de la Patria, the nation’s Founding Father.4 A recent T-shirt captures the panoptic aspect of this sense of indebtedness. Of all things, the front of the T-shirt shows, stacked upon one another, a series of rectangularly framed pairs of Bolívar eyes (from the many paintings) staring at viewers from a variety of angles.5 A caption reading “The Gazes of the Liberator” is there presumably to make sure that the meaning of the composition does not escape anyone. The redundancy suggests that, beyond naming the accompanying illustrations, the caption encapsulates their fundamental truth, enunciating that which makes citizenship and subjectivity possible in Venezuela: that is, that Venezuelans exist as national subjects, as bona fide members of the nation, only insofar as they enter the Liberator’s field of vision, seeing themselves caught and reflected in the Founding Father’s supremely auratic gaze. Not long ago the Hugo Chávez regime decided to officially change the nation’s name from Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, finally making explicit the ownership relation between the hero and his nation that on the T-shirt remains merely implicit. Official Venezuelan historiography had long insisted on that ownership relation, at least since the establishment of the cult of Bolívar during the Guzmán Blanco regime in the 1870s and 1880s; but ever since the late Hugo Chávez won Venezuela’s general election on December 6, 1998, it has been everywhere loudly and unequivocally proclaimed. With his name on literally everyone’s lips and his icon everywhere cloned and compulsively disseminated, it may be said that Bolívar under Chávez fi nally arrived to lay claim to his nation. Be that as it may, what I wish to emphasize here is the extent to which, as a result of the historiographical operation I have described, Bolívar enters the dreams, memories,

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Figure 1. T-shirt with the gazes of Simón Bolívar.

imaginations, fantasies, and nightmares of Venezuelans, looking and talking like a monument. One has only to envision President Chávez before his untimely death publicly adopting the pompous inflections that the official cult of Bolívar attributes to the hero, or the huge rallies where some of Bolívar’s followers bear on their shoulders one or another large, ornately framed portrait lifted from the hero’s nineteenth-century canonical iconography, to realize the extent to which a rhetoric of the monument continues to inflect Venezuelan politics and society today.

Monumental Governmentality In this book I address both Bolívar’s agitated “dancing” and the monumentalized appearance with which he has reached posterity, viewing them as complementary dimensions of the populist art of government, the monumental governmentality that originally took shape in the process whereby Venezuela became a nation, and that is still with us today. First, in order to govern, Venezuela’s political representatives must monumentalize themselves as the putatively changeless “general will” of this nation’s highly heterogeneous, intensely mobile, delocalized populations. It is only by seeing themselves reflected in these men’s appearances on the stage of the polity, as representatives of what, presumably, they all equally share as a community, that these heterogeneous populations may belatedly become the homogeneous, unified, and—most

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importantly— governable people of the nation. If Venezuelan political representatives so adamantly insist on incarnating the universal on the political stage, this is not only out of mere self-importance or pomposity, but for strict reasons of government. But universality does not suffice; the representatives’ pompous, statuesque appearances must be supplemented by their agitated dancing.6 Second, therefore, by monumental governmentality I also mean the “dancing” that, ever since Bolívar first tried it in his attempt to bring Venezuela’s militarily mobilized majorities under some form of unified command so as to defeat the Spanish monarchy, has been the preeminent means by which the Jacobins of this book’s title have bridged the universal and the singular, the general and the par ticu lar, in order to govern their unstable, highly mobilized constituencies. Venezuela’s tradition of government emerged in response to the collapse of the colony and the radically modern, democratic space that opened up in its wake. The Spanish colonial order was a hierarchically structured and racially inflected system of corporations and estates with the white rulers at the top, and centered on the Spanish monarch. It may be seen as a machine for reducing the subjects’ radical mimesis, delocalization, displacement, and mobility brought about by the Conquest and colonial situations to preordained, codified identities. Through the proliferation of ever-finer discriminations among categories of subjects based on color, occupation, and ascribed status and their ongoing collection in institutions such as confraternities, guilds, corporations, and the like, the colonizing machine continuously wrested subjects from situations in which identities were relatively unfi xed, with dispersion, hybridity, and mimetic wandering more often than not the norm.7 It collected them within a series of corporations where they were assigned more or less rigidly prescribed personas and roles: slave, servant, merchant, muleteer, baker, craftsman, peon, and so on. Brought about by the massive displacements and decimations of entire populations that were intrinsic to the Conquest and colonial predicaments, this ceaseless process of collection and dispersion, of which the reducciones, or colonially instituted Indian towns, were one conspicuous instantiation, subjected colonial institutions to continuous wear, redefinition, and strain. The process acquired catastrophic momentum with the final demise of the colony, largely as a result of the Spanish king’s momentous disappearance after his imprisonment by Napoleon in Bayonne, France, some two hundred years ago. With the collapse of the colonial system of articulated orders and estates, now bereft of the kingly “thing” that had glued it together, there was nothing in principle capable of preventing subjects from resuming their mimetic wanderings—this time, however, on a far greater scale and within a vastly reconfigured social terrain, in which no single identity was off limits. Stepping out in droves from the corporate niches in which they had been hitherto more or less precariously enclosed, and imbued with the radically democratic ideals, aspirations, and energies characteristic of the times, these former colonial subjects came together as crowds in the symbolically flattened spaces of the postcolony. Although some of the hierarchies and partitions of old were still


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precariously in place in reconfigured ways, the new democratic syntax that emerged in the wake of the king’s disappearance symbolically rendered postcolonial space a horizontal domain of abstract exchangeability among potentially autonomous, interchangeable individuals. But before such potentiality could actualize itself, something far more uncertain happened. Rather than the proverbial “individuals” of liberal ideology, what initially fi lled these vast, flattened spaces were instead the newly formed crowds as a field of relentless differentiation and dispersion, composed of manifold singularities: the dauntingly mimetic subjects of the Venezuelan postcolony. Relatively absolved from preordained identities, greatly empowered by their formation as crowds, and not yet cast as discrete individuals by any apparatus of rule, these subjects were in principle free to adopt any and all identities that came their way, including, most disturbingly, those of their rulers. No longer protected from such usurpations by corporate privilege, these roles and identities were now relatively up for grabs. And so it was that responding to the changed situation, the postcolonial subjects delivered themselves to a dangerous mimetic, bent on not just killing their white rulers but on “democratically” seizing their identities. With members from the colored populations8 riding horses that hitherto, at least on officially sanctioned contexts and occasions, had been restricted to whites; with women and men of color stepping out of their prescribed roles to address public audiences, thus usurping elite roles previously denied to them; with bands of armed subalterns pillaging and raping entire populations, unceremoniously stripping from the dead and often desecrated bodies of members of the white elite their garments, jewelry, and other valuable possessions,9 no hegemonic role or identity was exempt from usurpation. To use one of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s characteristically powerful expressions, under such dangerous circumstances, “mimesis returns to regain its powers” (1989, 138). It is difficult to imagine a more fraught predicament, or one that so much threatened the possibility of establishing any viable form of government, than such menacing, all-enveloping formlessness. This is especially true in such a place as postcolonial Venezuela, where the symbolic and material resources for including subaltern populations within the emergent republican order—by, for example, granting these subalterns effective citizenship— simply were not there. It was in reference to this postcolonial predicament brought about by the crisis of independence, to the spectacle of crowds seizing public spaces largely on their own, not subjected to any unequivocal source of authority, that Venezuelan congressmen first monumentalized themselves as visible incarnations of the sameness and equality that, beneath their jarring heterogeneities, all crowd members putatively shared as part of a single, unified “people”: they became incarnations of a “general will.” In thus offering their preposterously statuesque personas to the shape-changing, menacing crowds as the virtuous reflection of these crowds’ “true being” as a community, the aim of these early republicans was distinctly governmental. Their goal was to give shape to these formless assemblages by collecting their

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members into a discrete, governable collectivity, “the people” of republican ideology, who as such were accountable to the state. If the active collecting or molding of the crowds into a people always takes place in a theatrical setting and vis-à-vis the monumentalized figure of the republican representative as the incarnation of this people’s true being, then one may very well say that to this day in Venezuela putting one’s own body on the line is a crucial function of government. Both the insistence with which the Venezuelan representatives go on monumentalizing themselves as the incarnation of everyone’s “general will” and their simultaneous invocation of a homogeneous people as the ever-present object of their care and anxieties speak volumes about how haunted the nation’s republican order continues to be by the crowds that first burst into public space during independence. Indeed, so much emphasis on seamlessness, homogeneity, equality, and unity is clearly a case of protesting too much. Such insistence only makes sense if, with the nation’s persistent structural inequalities as a recurrent background, the virulently centrifugal forces of disunity, difference, and heterogeneity that are immanent in the nation’s crowds insistently haunt the polity. The persistence to this day of the monumentalized figure of the representative as the hub of the political says as much. But in order to govern, these men must supplement their epic public performances with their “dancing”: the series of winks, identifying moves, outrageous asides, unexpected outbursts, and veiled allusions which they aim at their audiences so as to keep them for as long as possible collected as a people. The purpose of the manic performances of these dancing Jacobins is to let people know that, beneath all the universalizing claims whereby they pretend to address the public as a homogeneous, undifferentiated whole, it is the particular fantasies, whims, interests, and desires of this or that individual, group, or larger sector within their overall audience that they truly have in mind. It is this peculiar montage of monumentality and dancing, respectively standing for the general and the particular, that best characterizes the art of government that occupies me in this book. By dancing, then, I am suggesting something like a poetics of movement, not unlike the “poetry of movement” that the Liberator mentions in his instructions for his nephew’s education.10 I use dancing as a gloss for the wide range of domains where the Liberator seized upon movement, almost objectifying it so as to render its signs palpable. Not only was Bolívar a somewhat manic dancer; he outdid his men in swimming, in taming horses, in serial womanizing, and in the sheer physical endurance of his small, wiry body. He was known among his men as “General Iron-Arse” because of the unbelievably long stretches that he managed to stay in the saddle (Collier 2001). Given the intense delocalization and dizzying mobility to which his world was delivered in the wake of the implosion of the colonial order, I argue that no goal would have been achievable unless one developed some kind of artistry in movement. I could add to this list of his activities the Liberator’s grand Napoleonic gestures, of which he was prodigal and which so irritated his critics. There was the occasion in Peru,

8 introduction: populist governmentality during one of the many balls offered in his honor after he liberated the viceroyalty, on which Bolívar grabbed José Laurencio Silva, one of his pardo, or mixed-race, generals, by the arm and took him to the center of the ballroom; there the two started waltzing with such “grace and dexterity that the overjoyed public asked them to dance over and over again.” All the upper-class ladies present had until then refused to dance with Laurencio Silva because of his skin color, but presumably after Bolívar’s bold gesture, these ladies queued all night long to dance with the general (Fleitas Núñez 1995, 413). Or I could cite any one of Bolívar’s famously loud, boisterous toasts—for example, when in the middle of a huge celebration he unexpectedly climbed on top of a long dining room table and energetically paced back and forth between the rows of illustrious guests seated on either side while declaiming about his glorious deeds and grandiose plans for the future (Harvey 2000, 172). I can only imagine these guests’ astonished, perhaps even amused bewilderment as wine glasses, saucers, and plates went flying from the Liberator’s impeccably shiny boots. But a cursory perusal of any major Venezuelan or Latin American newspaper or periodical from recent years (not to mention those from the nineteenth century) would yield a rich crop of equally idiosyncratic actions from the long line of Bolívar’s populist successors. Elderly statesmen intersperse grand declarations about the nation’s fate with one or another outrageous performance, such as jumping rope energetically in front of their audiences, or being photographed with both legs suspended in midair across wide pools of water, perhaps to proclaim an unparalleled, unbeatable fitness. National leaders caught on radio or television singing, dancing, or, quite literally, dying 11—this is the kind of behavior that for a long time has been pervasive among politicians and other public figures all over Spanish America. As the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has recently put it (while perhaps drawing too sharp a distinction between emotion and intelligence): “The good Latin American political orator bears a much closer resemblance to a bullfighter or a rock singer than to a lecturer or a professor: his communication with the audience is achieved by way of instinct, emotion, sentiment, rather than by way of intelligence” (Vargas Llosa 1994, 142). Codifying an entire populist art of government, it is these histrionic juxtapositions of often-bizarre antics and pompous solemnity that the Venezuelan popular expression “cara seria, culo rochelero” (roughly “solemn face, sassy ass”) captures admirably. President Hugo Chávez took this histrionic tribunal tradition to perhaps unprecedented heights. He had his own weekly radio and television program during which, continuously switching registers from the monumental to the most banal, he often sang, told jokes, and epically declaimed or lectured his audience on every conceivable subject, from fighting the common cold to the dangers of excessive drinking. Going beyond the centrality of emotional appeals in political speeches everywhere, which, precisely because of this generality cannot account for the idiosyncrasies of Latin American orators, this book explores the historical and sociocultural reasons informing such excessive, flamboyant behavior.

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Virtually every time any of this behavior is mentioned in the global media it is accompanied by sneers. It would seem that simply displaying the widely available image of one or another ruler or public personality from some proverbial banana republic engaging in unconventional public behavior is enough for anyone to presume to know instantly what goes on— a sure indication of how truly stubborn are stereotypes about Latin America. The underlying subtext is that Hispanic Americans behave as they do because of their incomplete modernity, that a thin veneer covers up a much older, luxuriant undergrowth of premodern values, practices, and institutions. Needless to say, characterizations such as these are often clarion calls for the kind of “modernizing” interventions with which Latin American societies are routinely targeted, which would be less of a problem if these interventions did not perpetuate or even worsen the very ills that they ostensibly set out to remedy. A driving impulse of this book, which is focused on Venezuela but has implications for the rest of Latin America, is to lessen the exoticism of this kind of public behavior by reinscribing it as part and parcel of what I call this nation’s monumental governmentality. Anxiously put together in response to urgent predicaments, the unlikely montage of monumentality and dancing is the ultimately unsuccessful, agonistic method by which the nation’s Jacobins attempt to turn themselves into sites for the reconciliation of the universal and the particular, in circumstances in which the spectacularization of the body and bodily performances are among the few precious means at their disposal for generating common ground for the purpose of government. A tight balancing act amounting to an art of government, this montage is the highly mediatized way these republican representatives have of keeping their unruly audiences together as a people for as long as possible. It is through such unruly means that the governors precariously rule. My hope is that reinscribing this seemingly bizarre behavior within an entire art of government will render apparent the coevalness (to use Fabian’s term) of Venezuela’s dancing Jacobins with other quintessentially modern developments across the planet (Fabian 1983, 25–36). Demonstrating the intrinsic modernity of many of those Latin American public and behavioral forms that are so often interpreted as carryovers from a premodern past is a move with incalculable political and social potential. A fresh look at the continent’s many predicaments puts squarely on the agenda how urgent the need is to search for novel solutions. A first step toward this demystification is the realization that the form of government prevalent in Venezuela today is, in some ways, not all that removed from what went on elsewhere, in Europe and the Americas, some two hundred years ago. During the socalled Age of Revolutions, absolutist regimes everywhere were being replaced by republics and constitutional monarchies, and the “politics of exemplarity” of an early republicanism held sway. Eventually, sometime toward the second half of the nineteenth century, this politics became muted and, if not altogether replaced, then at

10 introduction: populist governmentality least supplemented by other, “biopolitical” forms of government in most of these nations. But for reasons explored in this book, for the most part this muting did not occur in Venezuela. Instead, the self-monumentalization of the nation’s statesmen and their frenzied dancing on the stage of the polity has continued unabated to this day. As in revolutionary France after the demise of the ancien régime, in newly independent Venezuela also “the people” and “the individual” were initially the only available governmental constructs in principle capable of collecting the crowds—a radically democratic space of relentless heterogeneity and dispersion—as a somewhat identifiable, governable collectivity. Precisely on account of its presumed self-sufficiency and discreteness as an autonomous, self-willed entity, from the start in Venezuela “the individual” seemed, as a construct, exceptionally well attuned in its intrinsic modernity to the innermost being of crowd members as maddeningly morphing singularities no longer reducible to one or another broadly defined corporation. If, given the prevailing institutional devastation, these threatening singularities were to be hailed into any more stable, hence governable form of identification at all, they needed to be addressed at the required level of discreteness. “The individual” was the governmental construct in principle capable of doing just that—that is, capable, through legislation and other means, of seizing and so to speak shrinking singularities to somewhat manageable, governable size. If as a governmental construct “the individual” was in principle well attuned to the singularities released by the demise of the old order, as much in Venezuela as elsewhere, then something similar may be said of the relation of “the people” to “the crowds.” Ideologically envisaged by the emergent republicanism as a bounded, horizontal domain made up of autonomous, self-contained individuals neatly demarcated from one another and interchangeable among themselves, “the people,” in all of its sociological emptiness, was the collective identity that in principle was governmentally attuned to the crowds as a horizontally expanding field composed of ever-changing singularities, all of them “democratically” vying to seize every role or identity that came their way. In sum, with whatever was left of the ancien régime afflicted by an incurable lack of legitimacy, the only hope of rendering the postcolonial crowds in all of their radical modernity governable was to recast them as a collection of autonomous, interchangeable individuals, that is, as a single, homogeneous people, who as such were accountable to the state—or, more precisely, accountable to those exemplary individuals who were the early republican state’s incarnation. This was in principle. In practice, in Venezuela perhaps even more than elsewhere, the emergent republicanism was an extraordinarily volatile and unstable governmental regime, with both “people” and “individuals” continuously morphing into far more unwieldy, far less governable entities. Diagrammatically, the republican people may be represented on a sheet of paper as an ink-drawn circle with a multiplicity of dots inside, representing the putatively discrete individuals of liberal ideology. For the diagram to represent Venezuela, however, this paper must be wet, with the inky outline

introduction: populist governmentality 11

of both circle and dots blurring to the sides, bleeding beyond the sharp profiles ideally assigned to them. To move now from the diagram to the reality is to watch the diagram gradually fading out and being replaced by a theater where all hell breaks loose, with the audience members riotously leaving their assigned “seats” to go and join the crowds outside. And all of this, moreover, is taking place before the startled eyes of the nation’s representatives, who are gesturing at the audiences from the stage of the polity, attempting to retain their attention as long as possible by means of a frenzied montage of ever-more-hyperbolic self-monumentalization and increasingly manic dancing. Venezuela’s monumental governmentality is composed of two imaginary-cumgovernmental scenes, the alternation of which amounts to nothing less than the longue durée of Venezuelan historicity. Articulated and rearticulated over time in response to pressing social and cultural constraints, much of what has transpired in that nation since independence, from power relations and forms of knowledge to subjective and collective identities and experiences, has tended to fall into one or the other of these two polar-opposite configurations. I call these two imaginary-cum-governmental configurations the Fragile Collection and Bolívar Superstar. Operating within a framework of representative democracy, in the former a restricted and restrictive circle of notables or monumentalized, pompous figureheads rules over a population coercively held at a distance and forcibly reduced to a condition of diminished mobility, even if by no means complete stasis. In the latter, in what amounts to a radically populist form of plebiscitary rule, the figure of Bolívar “returns” during crises as the lonely Superstar of the Venezuelan republican firmament—the “Bolívar Unico” of local state ideology—to meet the mobilized masses halfway 12— side-by-side with whomever, at any given time, happens to be ruling in the Liberator’s name. If, as has been said, democracy is that aporetic space in which freedom and equality must necessarily coexist without either of these two quintessentially modern values ever displacing the other (Rosanvallon 2006), then, in Venezuela, exiting such space is an ever-present temptation. With the Fragile Collection embodying “freedom” and Bolívar Superstar “equality,” Venezuelan democracy may be said to be pulled constantly beyond itself in one or another dangerously undemocratic direction. This democracy, such as it is, is in other words compelled to deny itself through those very means whereby it strives to manage the crowds’ ultimately ungovernable, democratizing energies. A crucial claim in this book is that regardless of elitist complaints about Venezuelan crowds’ “barbarous” nature as a throwback to a premodern, uncouth condition, these crowds are anything but premodern. That is, both the postcolonial crowd as a space of ceaseless alteration and contagion and the monumental governmentality that arose in response to it partake of one and the same troubled modernity: a relentlessly equalizing condition in which, since the breakdown of the colonial order some two hundred years ago no hegemonic role or identity is any longer off limits; all are in principle up for

12 introduction: populist governmentality grabs. To call modern the kind of wholesale usurpation whereby, during the din of battle or the generalized plunder that often followed in its wake, members of subaltern populations performed roles from which hitherto they had been barred, or seized goods and regalia hitherto reserved for the white rulers’ aggrandizement, is to draw attention to how much, from the start, during the Venzeulan wars of independence, freedom and equality as universalizing energies were driving such generalized mimesis from within. Indeed, in rendering all identifying signs of hierarchy interchangeable among themselves as tokens to be appropriated and discarded in the relentless, homicidal sliding from one term to the next that so characterized these wars, does not such an unbridled mimesis presuppose the equalizing action of subjects in principle freed from all established forms of social obligation, a “modernity” so to speak from below, ready to replace whatever hierarchies were still in place with a tabula rasa? With the republican people cyclically becoming a republican crowd, one may very well say that in Venezuela’s republican history, the origin ceaselessly returns. This, then, is what modernity looks like in this “European Elsewhere”:13 a chiaroscuro domain of dislocation and disidentification where, propelled by the irrepressibly equalizing impetus intrinsic to the crowds, violence, ceaseless contagion, and morphing are the norm, and government is the always agonistic pursuit of representatives who barely rise above the fray to urgently monumentalize themselves, only to tumble down again and again, swept aside by the crowds.14 In that uncertain, fraught terrain, the disappropriating pressures that everywhere subject any and all social identities and configurations to unremitting wear and tear are considerably heightened. These deconstructive drives are intensified within a postcolonial condition where the material and symbolic resources needed to temporarily arrest reality by subjecting it to one or another lastingly hegemonic design are often sorely lacking. During those periods when the notables hold sway, many quintessentially liberal institutions—a free press, thriving civil society, a functioning division of powers, seemingly autonomous cultural and educational institutions, an army obedient to the civilian order, and so on—may be said to be more or less precariously in place, even if affl icted by a certain sense of make-believe, the seldom fully avowed suspicion that beyond all the official proclamations about their lofty character, all of these institutions ultimately are the glittery ciphers of a postcolonial state knee-deep in far less glamorous realities. In line with this suspicion, whenever in this book I allude to the Fragile Collection, what I have in mind is not just the nation’s gallery of pompous notables along with all the lofty illusions and proclamations intrinsic to this inflexion of Venezuela’s political imaginary,15 but also a restricted, punitive form of representative democracy orchestrated from the state by these patrician figures. For all practical purposes this governmental form excludes the masses, denying them full, effective citizenship— and, somewhat paradoxically, all of this in the name of a forbiddingly homogeneous “people” as the ultimate source of sovereignty. The phrase Fragile Collection evokes, then, a form of representative democracy characterized by a mixture of

introduction: populist governmentality 13

practices of political representation, patron-client relations, and the endemic exercise of sheer violence, all orchestrated by a restrictive strata vis-à-vis chronically unstill populations that remain for a while in a state of restless yet diminished mobility. The same cannot be said of those historical junctures when “Bolívar Superstar” returns. The history of Venezuela is punctuated by moments when the nation’s majorities have yet again turned into dangerous, largely ungovernable crowds, and the very existence of the republic appears to be at risk. It is at such moments that the Liberator returns to heal the nation from all manner of disruptions, divisions, and contradictions.16 Brought back as a figure of totalization by one or another political force from the chiaroscuro background where, during “normal times,” his figure has been kept in reserve by the state, Bolívar Superstar resolutely casts representation aside. Hand-inhand with the populist leader in charge, he returns to lay direct, unmediated claim to his nation. Indeed, whenever this radically populist “return” replaces the Fragile Collection, every aspect of the republic becomes increasingly rearticulated around the figure of one or another authoritarian leader. This leader rules his restless, often armed, and—this is crucial—largely heterogeneous constituencies as a single people forever locked in deathly struggle with a series of sworn foes—the oligarchy, imperialism, and the like. At all times ruling “in the shadow of the Liberator,”17 as Bolívar’s designated lieutenant, the leader functions as a sort of general equivalent, publicly and visibly expressing what the heterogeneous majorities equally yet unknowingly share as members of a single, homogeneous “people,” thus momentarily enabling the conversion of the many into the one through reflection of the Liberator. But this lasts only for a while. Eventually a counterreaction sets in, and the distance between the masses and the political stage is precariously reestablished.18 Presupposing as it does a deceleration of the masses’ mobility that renders them somewhat more amenable to the state, this distance is the minimal necessary condition that practices of political representation require in order to function. With the nation’s notables once again precariously in charge— a situation that amounts to the cyclical, Thermidorean redressing of the nation’s Jacobin beginnings—we are back to the Fragile Collection. The instability of the situation is signaled by these notables’ dissonantly populist leanings. Although often extolling the virtues of a more differentiated civil society or a more balanced division of powers, they nevertheless cannot stop talking of “the people” while monumentalizing themselves on the stage of the polity as this people’s grandiose reflections. Governing the nation’s unenfranchised majorities demands nothing less. These majorities are potentially capable of being hailed only by such a massively nondiscriminating term as people (and all the forms of patronage and intimidation surrounding the construct). Whereas the “general will” incarnated by the Bolívar Superstar figure is putatively the will of an intensely mobilized, often armed constituency, the common will the notables so ponderously incarnate is that of a people not delivered to such dizzying motion, yet persisting in a state of chronic restlessness, always relatively beyond the grasp of the state. No matter how rhetorically invoked by the notables, in the

14 introduction: populist governmentality shadow cast by such a forbiddingly homogenizing “people” the nation’s liberal practices, values, and institutions lead at best a precarious existence. By now it should be clear how much both the pendulous oscillation between these two polar-opposite configurations and the intimate institutional and cultural texture or structure that accrues to each come about in response to the relative degrees of mobility of the Venezuelan subaltern populations. Whenever the mobility and restiveness of members of this population greatly exceeds the capacities of the state institutions to control them by assigning them to identifiable locations, or, much less, to meet their accumulating demands, Bolívar Superstar will succeed the Fragile Collection, only to be eventually replaced by the latter in the ongoing flux and reflux of the Venezuelan crowds. As these masses return or, better yet, are returned to a condition of relative quiescence, forms of political representation are once again urgently set up as the stage on which the nation’s notables can claim to represent them. This situation cannot last— simply because, in Venezuela, one of the sine qua non conditions for the perpetuation of representative rule is never quite met. I refer to the complete or nearly complete immobilization of the nation’s majorities and their reduction to the condition of passive spectatorship, watching from afar the evolutions of their representatives on the distant political stage. As tacitly proclaimed by the pompous personas and agitated dancing of these grand hommes together with their insistent invocation of a homogeneous people, not even during so-called normal, relatively uneventful times do the Venezuelan masses stay put. At all times, much like swift currents circulating just beneath seemingly calm surfaces, there are untutored comings and goings that are largely beyond the reach of the state. Eventually, usually during one of the severe social and economic crises to which the nation is recurrently subject, the masses resume their previous intense mobilization, and when this happens— when the republican people once again become a republican crowd—the theater of political representation so urgently set up for the majorities’ benefit collapses. With everyone exiting this theater through any door, window, or crack available to resume their wild wanderings as part of the crowd, the representatives are left behind on the stage, ever-more-manically dancing before an emptying auditorium. We may call this situation a wholesale crisis of political representation. When it comes to pass, the stage is set for the momentous return of Bolívar Superstar in ever-more-monstrously bloated, monumentalized figurations.19 As I elaborate in a later chapter, this was the situation in 1812, when the early republican theater of political representation that the Venezuelan Founding Fathers set up to replace the colonial government catastrophically crumbled. It fell apart largely on account of the restlessness of the new nation’s crowds, both before and after the Declaration of Independence and the approval of the first Venezuelan constitution. One may already discern in the first republican theater the stirrings of what, in due time, would eventually become the Fragile Collection described above, though it would not

introduction: populist governmentality 15

be until 1830 that this configuration crystallized with some of the main features or attributes that it has retained since then. From then on, successive generations of pompous and histrionic characters have intermittently occupied the political stage whenever the situation is relatively calm. Their unlikely montage of ever-more-hyperbolic monumentalization and increasingly frenzied dancing does not, however, exactly match the sober behavior that the Founding Fathers had in mind. You can tell that just beneath these notables’ solemn gestures and over-the-top grandiloquence, their restless feet are itching to get on with the dancing. Presiding over periods characterized by a tense calm, when the masses’ chronic instability and mobility have yet to reach a breaking point, the Fragile Collection of notables proclaims a world at peace. But the scene is deceiving. Properly read, the monumentalized poses of these august representatives and their agitated dancing reveal just how much displacement and mobility are still going on beneath the seemingly calm surface. Notwithstanding appearances, the Fragile Collection is as much a figure of mobility and displacement as Bolívar Superstar, even if, in contrast to the latter, the world that it obliquely evokes is one in which the endemic restlessness of the subaltern populations has been considerably diminished. But before the scene of the notables congealed with some of the attributes it still has today, between the years 1812 and 1830 Bolívar Superstar emerged amidst the violence and devastation of the wars of independence. With the armed Venezuelan crowds in a state of intense agitation and occupying every available postcolonial space, Bolívar saw no better course than to monumentalize himself so as to enframe his fickle, dangerous potential constituencies into a patriot army, a still volatile yet relatively more disciplined and reliable “people in arms” accountable to him. In what came down to the incipient crystallization, already during the Liberator’s own lifetime, of the second of the two configurations composing the nation’s governmentality, Bolívar took on the statuesque role of a Rousseauian Great Legislator. A figure paradoxically encapsulating in its sternly majestic appearance all the dizzying mobility and displacement of a world thoroughly thrown out of joint, this Bolívar Superstar became the emblematic personification of the Venezuelan crowds. Once immortalized in canvas, bronze, or stone, this figure became the visible manifestation of the “general will,” not just of “the people,” but, more concretely, of “the people in arms,” that is, of mobilized, often armed constituencies that have been temporarily enframed within an army after being persuaded to give up their condition as crowds. Since their incipient crystallization in the first two decades following independence, that is, between 1811 and 1830, the Fragile Collection and Bolívar Superstar have been succeeding one another with almost numbing regularity. This fateful alternation between polar opposite, imaginary-cum-governmental configurations is the long-term historical pattern with which any attempt to unleash the emancipatory possibilities effectively inscribed within the nation’s troubled social environment—the play of its

16 introduction: populist governmentality historically constituted forces, agencies, and meanings—must come to terms. The status of these configurations is that of ideal types—in actuality things are considerably more hybrid and complex—but at any given time in the history of the nation, social and historical realities do perceptibly move in the direction of either the Fragile Collection or Bolívar Superstar, with everything from practices of government, to modes of legitimation, to bodily habitus, to methods of exercising authority becoming increasingly articulated either in terms of a decidedly representative or an exclusively plebiscitary democracy. Thus one may identify the fateful alternation between potentially exclusive governmental figures as something like the gumsa and gumlao of the nation’s historical process.20 Why, to this day, these alternative configurations have tended to succeed each other with depressing regularity has to do with their intrinsic instability; each is an ultimately flawed attempt to address and give shape to the nation’s unruly, excessive sociality. Since not even during so-called normal times has Venezuela’s republican order ever managed to successfully immobilize and discipline the nation’s supernumerary populations for purposes of government, much less to effectively grant full citizenship to the vast majority of Venezuelans, one may indeed identify such unassimilated, chronically subversive mobility as the undigested kernel of the nation’s republicanism, the traumatic limit the republican order recurrently brushes against, in response to which that order eventually undergoes drastic, cyclic rearticulation This is not to say that everything has remained the same in Venezuela since Venezuela was first established as a republic. From the growth of the nation’s middle classes to the development of an ever-more-diversified civil society and an increasingly complex and differentiated institutional network, much has changed since then. But regardless of these myriad alterations, up to now Venezuela’s republicanism has recurrently oscillated between a punitively restrictive and more overtly populist, plebiscitary form of democratic rule, without ever succeeding in bringing about an institutional design that grants full, effective citizenship to the nation’s vast majorities. My hope is that a fresh look at the structural limitations and constraints that Venezuela’s liberal and republican order inescapably faces will make it possible to open the way for a truly practicable democratic future— one in which the empirical and the transcendental, the existing constraints and transcendental democratic norms, values, and institutions may mutually contaminate rather than exclude one another; that is, a future in which socalled direct democracy and representative democracy, freedom and equality, liberalism and populism, or, for that matter, el país de Páez and el país de Bolívar (the country of Páez and the country of Bolívar) may inform one another with creative, emancipatory effects.21 This minimally entails Venezuelans’ putting aside all the well-meaning intentions and self-serving fantasies about once and for all installing a liberal utopia made up of discrete, autonomous individuals all beholden, as citizens, to the law, and free from strong-man interference. Instead, due attention must be paid to the nation’s inescapable, constitutive populism—not to succumb to it, but finally to

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embark on the necessary reinvention of the nation’s liberal and republican values and institutions in order to make them more responsive to the plight of the nation’s vast, hitherto largely excluded majorities.22 For quite some time, ever since the establishment of the cult of Bolívar by the Guzmán Blanco regime in the 1870s and 1880s, incarnating the universal or the people’s “general will” on the political stage in order to govern the nation’s still highly unstable populations is, in Venezuela, tantamount to turning oneself right before the audience into the monumentalized instantiation of “Bolívar,” the formidable, statuesque persona of everyone’s collective imaginings. This is true not only during those more properly Bolivarian times during which Bolívar Superstar returns to the forefront of the political stage; it is also the case when the Fragile Collection rules and the Liberator’s figure is kept in the background.23 It is precisely as such an imposing statue, far removed from the flesh-and-blood individual that Bolívar once was, and not as a vague heroic ideal, that the figure of the Founding Father became lastingly installed in the nation’s political imaginary. Maintained in this exalted position by an ever-expanding panoply of cult practices, images, and institutions it is as a statue that, to this day, the figure of the Founding Father has reached posterity as Venezuela’s transcendental signifier. This “Bolívar” is a forbiddingly monumentalized figure, at one and the same time standing for both the sovereign people and for the excessive state force needed to totalize this people anew as a unified collectivity. In Venezuela it is not Bolívar, the flesh-and-blood individual, but the statue of Bolívar that “is the people.”24 For all practical purposes, these monumentalized representations, orchestrated by the state, perform as the nation’s transcendental signifier in public squares, state-orchestrated events, public speeches, and major and minor celebrations.25 And as the preeminent sites where the people’s otherwise invisible and unavailable “general will” achieves visible existence, thus actualizing itself, these monumentalized representations are what “the people” of Venezuela necessarily looks like; they are this people’s truest appearance when contemplated as a whole. In the absence of such repre sentations, there is no unified people to speak of, but only the nation’s postcolonial majorities. If constituting “the people” anew is a preeminent task of the nation’s government, then crafting and disseminating the monumentalized representations of the Liberator across the national territory is nothing less than imperative. As I have already done in a few places in this introduction, from now on, whenever I write “Bolívar,” placing the name of the Liberator within quotation marks, it is to this monumentalized figure that I refer and not to the flesh-and-blood individual from the past. I have found no more elegant means to bring out the extent to which the ongoing monumentalization of both Bolívar and the nation’s representatives is not merely the expression of a Venezuelan nationalist weltanschauung but a crucial practice of government. Monumentalization is the deliberately contrived artifact of a governmentality that both draws on a preexisting institutional network and continuously

18 introduction: populist governmentality reproduces itself by practices of rule—iconographic representations, discursive productions, situated political performances, and the like—that have an inherent integrity that must be analyzed in its own terms.26 This book is a contribution to understanding some of the formative principles of the overall, properly theologico-political, totalizing design underlying many crucial developments in the history of the Venezuelan nation,27 as well as the cracks and fault lines in this design through which other, perhaps more emancipatory possibilities insinuate themselves. The overwhelming preeminence of the Liberator’s statue in Venezuela’s political imaginary, practices of government, and physical landscape as, ultimately, the sole legitimate embodiment or objectification of “the people” and of its overall “general will” necessarily implies in turn that any titles that the Venezuelan statesmen may claim for themselves are necessarily derivative. As the embodiment of the people’s will, “Bolívar,” in whom all of these titles ultimately originate, must countersign them all. For over a century, these statesmen have been mimicking through their performances on the political stage the cult-instituted figure of the Founding Father, scrupulously sculpting their public gestures, words, and overall demeanors after their statuesque model. Their mimetic overinvestments make good governmental sense. There was a time, particularly during the inaugural years of the republic (roughly between 1830 and 1842), when appealing to “the will of Bolívar” to incarnate the “general will” was not only unnecessary but anathema, but since then appealing to the monumentalized figure of the Liberator has been an inescapable condition of government. Moreover, since the “general will” that “Bolívar” is supposed to incarnate is also enshrined in the constitution as nothing less than the law of the nation’s union as a people, it also follows that the Venezuelan representatives, in monumentalizing themselves on the political stage after “Bolívar,” also constitute themselves there as incarnations of the law. It is precisely as such lawful incarnations of the universal that they have managed, through reflection, and always in the Liberator’s name, to bring the Venezuelan people into being as an object of government. These republican próceres or grandees represent the whole people/nation on the stage of the polity precisely as the designated lieutenants of “Bolívar.” To gain a sense of this form of Bolivarian rule,28 it suffices to visualize any one of the many huge political posters that until recently were plastered on walls and buildings all over Venezuela, which depicted President Hugo Chávez heroically staring at a distant horizon, with a huge portrait of Bolívar and other Founding Fathers occupying the background.29

Theater for the Masses It should be clear by now how much the representatives’ ability to convincingly incarnate the putative “general will,” thus belatedly constituting their audience as a people, is not simply a matter of these noble figures’ histrionic or seductive abilities, but is, rather, essential to an entire form of government. An overall aim of this book is to bring to the

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fore, making it analytically available, Venezuela’s actual existing republicanism, not as a debased reality forever falling short of a grand ideal,30 but as a form of government in its own right, a monumental governmentality. This republicanism reveals itself, in all of its various articulations, as a historically inflected, world-constituting ensemble: a formative institutional complex made of ideological constructs, representational practices, institutionalized topographies, subjective identities, sensuous economies, forms of discipline, and modes of constituting authority, all formed and put together in constitutive tension with a resilient, relatively formless “outside” which the institutional complex seeks to mold as an object of government. My crucial methodological assumption throughout is that by juxtaposing this ensemble to its constitutive outside, one may apprehend its articulating nodes as points of passage at which relative formlessness is transmuted into restless, whimsically unstable republican form—and equally, apprehend them as the crucial junctures where the republican order, such as it is, breaks down and unravels.31 For reasons as much empirical as theoretical, I analyze Venezuela’s monumental governmentality as an inherently bourgeois republican theater of political representation, complete with foyer, audience, stage, and backstage. Empirically speaking, my decision to do so is consistent with the wealth of theatrical allusions and metaphors that recur in a republican and liberal tradition that turns upon the notion of representative democracy as the sole legitimate form of government. With regard to theory, Lyotard and others have pointed out the inherently theatrical nature of re-presentation, or the representative relation. Whether aesthetic or political, any representation of a presumably discrete entity or entities assumed to be fully present and visible elsewhere but absent and invisible here requires a segregated theatrical space of the modern bourgeois kind, a theatrical machinery or infrastructure. Ever since the Age of Revolutions at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, the stakes attached to modern political representation have been unusually high: the constitution of the putatively discrete, autonomous individuals that are the basic units of the social and political orders that came out of the rubble of the ancien régimes out of a field of ever-changing singularities. From all that I have said so far, it should be clear that nowhere were these stakes higher than in Venezuela at the time of independence. Nowhere was it more urgent for the nation’s would-be representatives to flee from the terrors in which they were immersed by taking refuge behind the walls of this theater, so as to represent their would-be constituencies to themselves as a collection of discrete individuals extricated from the raging crowds outside. Accomplishing this aim, however, minimally presupposed that the mobilized crowds would “willingly give up their inclination to immediately represent themselves or by-pass representative structures altogether” (Lloyd and Thomas 1998, 89),32 and would acquiesce, as an audience composed of passive, immobilized citizens, to being represented at a later place and time by the active citizens of the republic—that is, by their rightful representatives. There was the rub. In Venezuela, never to this day has a

20 introduction: populist governmentality passive, immobilized audience for the nation’s representatives stabilized, even fleetingly. Without such an audience, representation falters, and the theater eventually falls apart. Thus it is fair to say that ever since the breakdown of the Spanish colonial order, when in increasing numbers the Venezuelan subaltern populations stepped out of the colony’s crumbling social order, up through the presidency of Hugo Chávez and until nowadays, Venezuelans have never quite settled into the kind of well-disciplined, relatively passive, immobilized spectatorship of which the nation’s republican leadership has dreamt. Drawing on writings from the Venezuelan Founding Fathers as well as on the text of the first Venezuelan constitution and the congressional debates that preceded the drawing up of both that text and the country’s Declaration of Independence, an upcoming chapter of this book renders explicit, as the interpretive framework most capable of illuminating the peculiar turn that government has taken in that nation, the theatrical paradigm that is largely implicit in this body of writings. Neither the hyperbolically dancing-cum-monumentalizing bent of Venezuela’s governmentality nor the ner vous oscillation between imaginary scenes that is intrinsic to this form of government becomes truly intelligible without taking into account how far the project of setting up a modern representative democracy has always been from being realized there. In order to grasp why this is the case, it is crucial to gain an understanding of the paradigmatic dimensions of representative democracy. Not that representative democracy has ever materialized anywhere in all of its paradigmatic implications. As the recurrent waves of revolution during the nineteenth century in Europe and elsewhere throughout the world clearly attest, this form of government is everywhere afflicted by great instability. For principled reasons having to do with the tension between democratic ideals and values and representative democracy understood as governmental regime, nowhere has a bourgeois theater of political representation ever been perfectly realized, with “active” and “passive” citizens neatly demarcated from one another. But Venezuela differs from other representative democracies in that no alternative governmentality has ever successfully developed to supplement the shortcomings of the representative machinery. Indeed, a crucial claim in this book is that in Venezuela— frozen as it is in an inaugural moment of modernity, that moment when a Jacobin addresses from the political stage the fleetingly assembled majorities swelling with republican sentiment—the passage from sovereignty to discipline, or from politics to biopolitics analyzed by Foucault has never been successfully accomplished.33 Instead, ever since the moment of independence, social life there has been punctuated by moments of mobilization and violence; it has been permeated by a chronic, pervasive disquiet, a ner vous mutability and displacement that constantly upset any calculus of power.

Constituting the (Populist) Nation Monumental governmentality is ultimately a matter of founding and refounding the nation out of sheer, primordial chaos. Articulated through a vast range of historiograph-

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ical writings, iconographical representations, civic rituals, educational practices, and forms of public and domestic bodily training, to mention just a few of the possibilities, it hinges on the repetition of a truly paradigmatic scene: one in which, in a mythical moment of foundation and acting in Bolívar’s name, from the political stage one or more of the nation’s representatives calls Venezuela’s homogeneous people into being out of a resilient, chaotic substratum. Theatrical through and through, this scene is so consequential for Venezuela’s history and society because of what is at stake every time it is reflexively reenacted or invoked—that is, nothing less than the very birth and rebirth of the nation. If the reader discerns in the above scene echoes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and, beyond that, of a certain French Jacobin political tradition, this is not coincidental. Just as in Rousseau and the Jacobins, so too in the Venezuelan republican tradition of which this scene is emblematic, society issues from the contract or pact whereby, in a moment of absolute foundation, individuals bring it into being on the basis of their very own “general will,” which is assumed to have been there all along. In the Venezuelan tradition, however, just as in Rousseau and the Jacobins, due to an ineradicable lack of self-presence this “general will” must be supplemented by a series of governmental prostheses—the constitution, Bolívar, the notables, and the like—that, parading as the incarnation and manifestation of the people’s unified, indivisible will, belatedly legislate “the people” into being. Beyond rhetorical appeals to this people as a presumably preexisting entity, Jacobinism is through and through a governmental formation— one that, I might add, despite whatever antagonistic differences go on proliferating just beneath the discursive surfaces, is committed in the name of the people to the relentless suppression of difference, so as to bring about ideologically a homogeneous citizenry pitted against one or more irreconcilable enemies. One objective of this book is to investigate, from a uniquely anthropological viewpoint, “the decisive impact that the Jacobin question has had on the development of the kind of revolutionary or progressive political culture that would be with us until this very day” (Castro Leiva 1991, 72–73). I will add to Castro Leiva’s formulation that it is not just Venezuela’s “revolutionary or progressive political culture,” but also the entire spectrum of Venezuelan republicanism, from the far left all the way to the right, which has been decisively inflected by the “Jacobin question.” In line with the nation’s constitutive populism, whenever a collection of ponderous notables preside over seemingly demobilized populations, these notables must go on, in true Jacobin fashion, appealing to the nation’s putatively homogeneous “sovereign people” as the constituting instance from which everything republican necessarily springs, and this people must be constantly invoked if the practices and institutions of the republic are to retain any legitimacy. As Castro Leiva suggests in passing, it is possible that, for a variety of historical and sociocultural reasons, such a “question” has been more consequential in Venezuela than elsewhere in Latin America. Above all a matter of shaping or molding into a unified collectivity what are in fact intractable, heterogeneous crowds, the making of a people

22 introduction: populist governmentality remains an inescapable governmental challenge in that country, riddled with difficulties and obstacles. Such a hubristic and overly aestheticized understanding of the republic, reminiscent of Schelling’s “aesthetic state,” should come as no surprise given the slippery, elusive foundations of an always-dissolving people on which the republic precariously stands and to which it so “artistically” responds. In Venezuela, allowing for the expression and articulation of differences while paying no heed to the nation’s constitutive populism is playing with fire. A good example of this was the Venezuelan Federal War of the second half of the nineteenth century, when one of the two opposing camps rallied the nation’s majorities in support of the federalist ideal of a decentralized republic. In line with what has happened every time a federalist experiment has been tried out in Venezuela, the eventual triumph of the federal forces did not bring about the establishment of a federalist republic, but rather the opposite: the most relentless process of state centralization that had been experienced hitherto in the country.34 While most Venezuelan historians see this outcome as an inexplicable paradox, in my view what eventually happened was neither mysterious nor paradoxical, but was inscribed in the postcolonial logic of the situation. While during the war the term federalism performed as something of an empty signifier in the Laclauian sense, meaning different things to different constituencies, as the war drew to a close insisting on the kind of decentralization advocated by the federalist program would have been suicidal (Laclau 2005, 104–6). The insistence on decentralization would have left the nation’s unenfranchised majorities at the mercy of the elites from the different Venezuelan states, and for all practical purposes would have meant depriving these majorities of any unitary instance capable of interpellating and addressing their demands as “a people.” Under such circumstances the reversion of this populace into menacing, formless crowds overflowing with endlessly differentiating mimetic desires and inclinations would have been all but inevitable, a perspective that was especially daunting considering the number of weapons that had been disseminated among the population at the time. In the name of expressing difference and particularity, this kind of federalist experiment in other words leaves the republican polity vulnerable to all sorts of toxic, indigestible differences that threaten to overwhelm it. Since then the situation has not changed: given the endemic inability of the republican order to effectively assimilate the nation’s unenfranchised populations, sooner or later in Venezuela the kind of federalist experiment that is oblivious to the majorities’ predicament ends up by conjuring the specter of the crowds. At that point the way is opened to the reassertion of the most virulently centralizing tendencies. The Venezuelan historian Caracciolo Parra Pérez once called attention to the fallacy of thinking that federalism and democracy are at all synonymous, at least in Venezuela: “Contrary to what its supporters say, democracy is not federalist. . . . Radical Jacobinism, which during the nineteenth century incarnated the extreme democratic tendency, is essentially centralizing, monopolistic, egalitarian, destructive of freedoms,

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partial to the ‘one and indivisible nation’ ” (Parra Pérez 1992, 386). This book is among other things an investigation of the historical and sociocultural reasons why this “radical Jacobinism” has had such a long existence in Venezuela. It is the conundrum with which any attempt to redesign the social order along more emancipatory, less authoritarian lines must come to terms—not by setting it aside but by effectively addressing the intractable realities of which it is the enduring cipher. Venezuela’s populist Jacobin governmentality also accounts for one of the most enduring traits of this nation’s (and the region’s) constitutionalism: in a wholesale “fetishization of the law,” the notion that the nation does not pre-exist but follows from the constitution, which, as the repository of the nation’s law or of its overall “general will,” brings the nation into being ex nihilo.35 François-Xavier Guerra speaks of a uniquely Latin modernity in terms of a constitutional tradition for which nationbuilding is always a matter of absolute, radical beginnings (Guerra 1992, 22–25). In the conflictive “horizon” of nineteenth-century Hispanic America’s republican history, with its emphasis on “virtue, which sacrifices private interest for the sake of the common good, and the active exercise of the general will” (Botana 1994, 477), “classic republicanism” stands in stark contrast to “liberal constitutionalism.” For liberal constitutionalism (predicated on the protection and exercise of the citizen’s rights and on an effective separation of powers), it is not virtue but the “spontaneous exercise of freedom” that really counts (ibid.). To this day both varieties of republicanism have figured prominently in the Venezuelan republican experience. And yet, for pressing historical and sociocultural reasons (and not on account of misguided ideas in people’s heads, as critics often assume), it is the Jacobin variety of classical republicanism, which privileges “union” over and against the expression of differences, that so far has had the greatest impact on Venezuela’s political institutions, dominant political imaginary, forms of subjectivity, practices of government, and main civic celebrations and commemorative rituals. The Venezuelan political scientist Juan Carlos Rey speaks of the uniquely “juridical forms” that ideology has taken in Venezuela. Thus, while elsewhere ideology would have borrowed its formal masks from other domains such as religion or philosophy, in Venezuela our ideologues have been jurists, and it is to our Constitutions, Codes and Laws . . . that one must primarily go in order to discover the illusions that our society has generated concerning its own realities and possibilities. Among other things, this has expressed itself in a belief in the intrinsic virtues of the laws and of juridical-institutional engineering, as well as in a search for the solution to political problems through permanent attempts to reform the written Constitution.

Adopting a panoramic view, Rey discerns a longue dureé in the historical record, arching all the way from the creators of Venezuela’s “first Fundamental Law with their naive belief that the constitutions are molds for fabricating peoples, and that it is enough

24 introduction: populist governmentality to design a desired political order on paper for it to become true in reality . . . until the present [when] such a belief survives, even if powerfully critical views have not been lacking.” According to Rey, this “peculiar ideological bent” is so pervasive in Venezuela that the nation’s central political problem of creating a democratic political order in the unique circumstances of the postcolony is routinely and “immediately translated . . . into the problem of how to . . . give ourselves a written Constitution . . . capable of insuring freedom” from the dangers of both “anarchy” and “tyranny” (Rey 1989, 128). Bent as it is on founding anew, or “re-founding,” all aspects of the nation, from educational institutions and workers’ organizations to the nation’s entire political, economic, and juridical order, the Chávez regime would amount to the latest, most virulent expression of this peculiar Venezuelan bent. Critics in the media referred to the “constitutional franchise” that President Chávez and the regime constantly handed out to the most heterogeneous social actors in their efforts to recreate, or, better yet, “refound” everything from scratch. Th is recent development suggests that at least in terms of the nation’s ideological and juridical underpinnings, not much has changed since the nineteenth century, when, in the wake of independence, “the period’s constitutional theory” assigned supreme power to legislation, “since the other task of the State, administration, only deals with what is contingent and secondary. Legislation establishes the structure of the State, guides its activity and sets the rules of coexistence among individuals. On this the population’s happiness or disgrace depends” (Pérez Perdomo 1990, 13). What Rey calls Venezuela’s “peculiar ideological bent” is distinctively governmental and not merely ideological, if by ideological one simply means, as Rey seems to, a mystified, distorted representation of a more basic underlying reality. Why go on insisting on the constitutions’ molding capacities if it is not the case that, in all of their supposed abstractness, these texts indeed exert some discernibly formative, governmental impact in the so-called real world? If Venezuelans attribute to the nation’s constitutions prodigious demiurgic capacities, this is because, in some admittedly complex ways, molding the nation is what these fundamental charters actually do. These written texts provide the discursive framework in reference to which subjective identities, social relationships, political practices, individual initiatives, and even aesthetic experiences are consistently molded as part of a monolithic, homogeneous people construed as an allencompassing, constraining totality. They all must express this totality and they all must be subordinated to it. Considering the force that, as Derrida argues (2002, 228–29), is intrinsic to the law, such lawful, discursive constraining of otherwise heterogeneous realities is in and of itself a form of molding. Critics of Venezuela’s and Latin America’s constitutional tradition claim that many of the intractable problems of Latin American government since independence are squarely attributable to the insuperable lack of fit between these nations’ highly abstract founding charters and the local realities to which they presumably refer. That

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is, with their highly formalistic character, privileging universal rights and the citizen’s abstract equality before the law, these texts are intrinsically ill-equipped to effectively govern an intensely asymmetrical and exclusionary society afflicted by chronic turbulence and instability. Conflict-ridden realities periodically break through the formalistic governmental frames that have been arbitrarily imposed upon them to reassert themselves with ever-renewed violence. Critics imply that including in these texts the full range of differences and contradictions that characterize postcolonial Venezuela would bring about a more livable, harmonious situation. I disagree. Rather than there being a lack of fit between Venezuelan constitutions, as fully modern texts, and the archaic, premodern contexts to which they have been applied, there is a fairly close fit between the texts and the context. It is because of, not in spite of, their formal character that these modern texts are at all capable of assembling the nation’s also inherently modern, mobile, heterogeneous, and governmentaversive populations as an identifiable, governable people. While such a formal “people” indeed presupposes an abstract exchangeability among Venezuelans as equal subjects before the law that hardly corresponds to what goes on in the social world, this very formality on the other hand generates common ground among individuals who, sociologically speaking, are not only highly disparate but often at loggerheads with one another. Leaving the door open for the assertion of all those indigestible heterogeneities would, instead, further precipitate the nation into the abyss of misrule. If it is indeed the case, as critics insist, that much like the “sovereign people,” the nation’s short-lived constitutional texts are fabulous fictions obscuring a series of deeply rent heterogeneous realities, then it is this very fictitiousness that is the key to these constitutions’ governmental effectiveness. In other words, it is on account of their fabulous formality and abstractness that these texts are capable not only of serving as the framework for governing deeply fissured realities that are anything but equal, but, moreover, are relatively effective tools of government.36 If Venezuela’s foundational charter and other hallowed republican constructs are inflected by fictionality and abstraction, this, then, is for pressing governmental reasons. And beyond any such constructs, the bodies and overall demeanor of the nation’s representatives as living/dead, monumentalized embodiments of the law are also wrapped in abstraction. Indeed, these founding texts must necessarily become incarnate in order to have any governmental purchase in the highly fissured terrain of the Venezuelan postcolony, largely bereft as it is of alternative institutional structures capable of effectively orchestrating the conflictive relations among highly heterogeneous individuals and groups. And this, in turn, can only happen if the text of the law seizes the very bodies of the representatives on stage, transubstantiating or rendering them into the thoroughly fictional, mirrorlike reflection of what their constituencies abstractly share. Thus the text of the law becomes endowed with the concrete, indeed bodily capacity to intervene in the world. Given all that I have said in this introduction about the irrepressible instability and mimesis endemic to Venezuela’s postcoloniality, the

26 introduction: populist governmentality governmental imperative of rendering representatives’ bodies into the law’s seamless surface of inscription almost goes without saying. For government to have a fighting chance, besides generous doses of patronage and violence all that these lofty representatives in principle need to add to their monumentalization is their idiosyncratic dancing. In this book I discuss a range of social, discursive, and iconographic practices by means of which the nation’s law, in all of its generality, seizes their bodies, with truly momentous governmental effects. The fiction of a homogeneous people and all the other abstract constructs and appeals intrinsic to Venezuela’s republican tradition are governmental tools in their own right, and as such are part of the monumental governmentality that I address in this book. One summarily sets aside these fictions, viewing them as misguided ideological artifacts, only at the cost of great social turmoil and catastrophic institutional dislocation, as is vividly demonstrated by the aftermath of the neoliberal program of structural adjustments applied in the Venezuela of the 1980s and 1990s. Moving forward in the name of making room for the “liberal” assertion of difference, such programs usually end by opening up Pandora’s box where, under a veil of abstraction, all sorts of destructive differences (not just those differences sanctioned by the imaginary of liberalism) have been precariously contained. The same may be said of this republicanism’s corrupt and clientelistic practices, its pervasive cronyism, its authoritarian tendencies, and the extravagant idiosyncrasy of Venezuelan political figures, or of this tradition’s altogether obsessive reliance on heroic iconography and the nation’s glorious past and heroic beginnings as the sole admissible template for the formation of virtually all authoritative public behaviors and identities. Along with the incessant appeals to “the people” and intimately articulated with them, all of these corrupt practices and heroic invocations form part of the repertoire of government, whatever purposes of personal aggrandizement and private enrichment they also fulfill. All of these ideals, corrupt practices, and institutions are driven from within, necessitated and made possible by the governmental imperative of constituting the Venezuelan majorities into a comprehensive, governable totality. Much of what I have said so far implies that, since the crisis of independence and up to this very day, a fault line traverses the entire social, affective, and imaginary landscape of the Venezuelan nation. It sets this nation’s republican order off from the largely unenfranchised majorities that are its menacing, constitutive outside, those unaccountable, supernumerary populations that Venezuela’s republicanism cannot effectively absorb yet must somehow govern and address. This fault line is an invisible wound in the body of the nation that still awaits suturing. Venezuela’s dancing Jacobins gaze at their fickle constituencies across an unbridgeable gap, a gap that becomes fully visible only during crises. At all times an unfathomable pit opens up right beneath their dancing feet, starkly separating the republican stage where they so anxiously perform from their always-unsteady, never-fullyimmobilized audiences, which they precariously hold together by means of their ur-

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gent interpellations and appeals.37 The gap is barely glossed over or disguised by uplifting appeals or ideological proclamations advertising the republic as the capacious house where everyone belongs. One may then well conclude that the nation’s republican order is still that “gothic edifice perched on the verge of an abyss” that the Liberator eloquently invoked in a letter to Francisco de Paula Santander, president of Colombia.38

Some Themes and Implications A crucial implication of my argument is that the “really real” prior to the nation’s monumental governmentality is not a unified, governable people, but, rather, postcolonial Venezuela’s intensely heterogeneous populations. Bereft of any self-presence of their own as a single “people,” it is these government-aversive, highly mobile, delocalized, and volatile populations that are the ever-changing, slippery terrain upon which, since the very beginning, the institutions of the republic have precariously rested. As such, they also form the resilient, unwieldy horizon of the nation’s monumental governmentality, what this governmentality continuously confronts and strives to reduce to manageable, identifiable shape accountable to the state. Indeed, one of the guiding assumptions behind this book is that among many other momentous effects, the demise of the colonial order unleashed in Venezuela a mimetic crisis of truly colossal proportions. Since then, to echo the words of Lacoue-Labarthe that I chose as one of the epigraphs to this introduction, such untamed mimesis has been the “empty place” around which Venezuela’s republican order has been ever-so-precariously “installed,” never fully succeeding in excluding or “sealing off ” the population’s intense mobility and metamorphic wanderings from the everyday workings of the state. As a result, these workings become irreparably contaminated from within with chronic instability and restlessness, the “dancing” that I evoke in this book. Through its characteristic modes of operation, this “state of chaos” (Esposito 2015: 88) often intensifies the very restlessness that it otherwise so insistently claims to be warding off. Much as at the beginning, when it first came into being, the nation’s republican order continues to be haunted by Venezuela’s unruly multitudes as the unassimilable excess that this order cannot possibly accommodate, but that, as the ultimate seat of sovereignty, it also cannot possibly ignore. Confronting the formless multitudes by reducing them to a somewhat governable “people” is indeed one of those tasks that government in that country can never really leave behind. The very fact that a nineteenth-century trope such as the one opposing “civilization” to “barbarism” still has ample currency in Venezuela clearly suggests as much. This book lifts the thin veil of civility that during so-called normal, relatively uneventful times somewhat obfuscates the nation’s volatile social realm behind an appearance of unity and homogeneity. To interpellate these local populations in the hallowed name of “Bolívar” is already to acknowledge their being as a space of radical heterogeneity, mobility, and dispersion, always ready to implode into myriad disparate fragments.

28 introduction: populist governmentality In this respect the proliferating iconographic representations, historiographical writings, public celebrations, and retellings of the nation’s origin myths that repeatedly position “Bolívar” as Venezuela’s demiurge or Father of a people/nation emerging whole from the ashes of independence are in effect so many ways of construing and positioning the state in precisely such an exalted, demiurgic capacity. To interpellate “the people” in Bolívar’s name amounts to a backhanded acknowledgement of just how truly fickle that “people” is.39 Regardless of discursive appearances, Venezuela’s putatively homogeneous “people” is implicitly a figure of intense dispersion, delocalization, and mobility. These are the true foes that the Venezuelan state must constantly confront and somehow agonistically navigate, fashioning itself after them through practices and forms of representation and address that mimic the crowds’ lateral, horizontal flight while, all along, striving to vertically fasten all this turbulence to itself. Indeed a seamless, homogeneous people can only come into being if it is contrived as such by energies expended in offsetting the world’s unruly dispersion through everincreasing centralization, by a centripetal force bent on gathering-in, in which surface differences and dispersions are continuously reduced to “underlying” sameness. “Bolívar” himself is the agent in charge of pulling off this homogenizing, equalizing feat as the centralized state-subject of Venezuela’s political imaginary, a thoroughly otherworldly instance invested with the unified personality, imposing face, and monumentalized appearance of the nation’s Founding Father. The nation’s political imaginary envisages the Bolívar-state as a portentously unified subjectivity continuously acting on the world so as to author “the people” as an objectified entity accountable to “Bolívar.” To go on talking of equality as the people’s exclusive essence is, therefore, to already envisage such a homogeneous, objectified people collected around “Bolívar” as a stand-in for a forbiddingly centralizing state— and gathered around whomever, at any given time, happens to be his worldly delegate or lieutenant. Such talk is not idle ideological chatter. This “Bolívar” figure, much like the image of the king in the frontispiece to Hobbe’s Leviathan, may be seen as a huge subject tightly compressing within itself a collection of minute subjects, the singular beings forcibly contrived into discrete individuals that make up a republican people temporarily wrested away from existence as a mere crowd. Looked at from a different angle, such a centripetal figure is, however, always in the process of exploding; it is always bursting, so to speak, from within with the centrifugal energies whereby, left to themselves, discrete individuals in Venezuela are continuously becoming morphing singularities, just as the configured “people” continuously becomes a figureless crowd. What all of this means, again, is that without the iconic representations of the Liberator there is no Venezuelan unified people. Without them, such a people is nowhere to be seen; all that meets the eye are the nation’s dispersed, heterogeneous crowds. In all of their dense materiality. these iconic representations have always invested what are in fact mobile and mobilized conglomerates with the monumentalized features of the hero. The process assigns to these conglomerates all of the hero’s attributes—unity

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of intellect and will, a seamless identity, and a single, teleologically unified life history bridging past, present, and future. These are the attributes that the ideology of the modern subject seeks to establish as canonical through a wide array of media, including the nineteenth-century statuary that has done so much to install “Bolívar” in the political imaginary of all Venezuelans. “Bolívar” is a marvelously complex contraption, simultaneously exhibiting both the people’s “true face”—what this people necessarily looks like as an already constituted collectivity, given once and for all— and the daunting, formidable forces of gathering needed to constitute such a people anew. To contemplate any of the monuments of the Liberator is to watch the fraught, unsteady oscillation between the given and the constituted, “the people” and the (forbiddingly centralizing) “state” occurring right before one’s eyes, without either of these two poles ever settling into a lasting figure. This ner vous oscillation is one of the better-kept “public secrets” of the Venezuelan polity.40 The centrality of the monumentalized representations of “Bolívar” in Venezuela’s political imaginary and practices of government in turn implies that a certain politics of the “figure,” in the sense that Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy give to this term, is at stake in that nation (Lacoue-Labarthe 1990, 77–104; Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1990, 296ff ). According to these authors, no properly political totality ever comes into being out of the sheer flotsam and jetsam of experience if not through identification with the figure that embodies the particular “project of becoming” that actualizes the essence in common of the community.” The “political” is precisely such a will to figure or to convert the ineradicable dispersion of the world into a discrete, neatly bounded totality; it is a “project” of molding that necessarily entails the ongoing deployment of myriad practices and exclusionary mechanisms.41 But for all of these practices and forms of exclusion to come together as part of a common project, they must all somehow reflexively refer to a shared instance as the common denominator that both signifies them all and, as their articulating node, transmutes them into expressions or manifestations of the same supremely unified subjectivity bent on forcefully crafting or molding the world according to some well-thought-out plan or design. This all means that the figure through which “the people” is both signified and contrived is a signifier of force. Such a figure is, in other words, a mark of violence (Nancy 2005, 20). Of it may be said what Lacoue-Labarthe has said of the Nazi myth, that it is a “power [puissance], the power that is in the gathering together of the fundamental forces and orientations of an individual or a people, that is to say the power of a deep, concrete, embodied identity” (Lacoue-Labarthe 1990, 93–94). Itself the visible incarnation of the community as such “deep, concrete, embodied identity,” the figure of “Bolívar” presents everyone with an entire program of becoming, aimed at bringing about the self-formation of the people that is supposed to be there all along. All of this being the case, the political project of becoming that a figure such as “Bolívar” so monumentally signifies and forcefully brings about in Venezuela is, among other things, characterized by the relentless centralization of political, symbolic, and

30 introduction: populist governmentality economic resources in the hands of the state. Another way of saying this is that such a “Bolívar”-orchestrated project is necessarily predicated on massive, all-engulfing corruption, the routine exercise of violence, and— all in the name of equality—the ruthless eradication of differences (even if all sorts of differences and inequalities keep proliferating just beneath the official discursive façades). How else, if not through such forceful, violent means, can such a forbiddingly monolithic construct as the Bolivarian “people” possibly come about? Bringing about such a homogeneous people indeed minimally entails the development of ever-more-comprehensive networks of patronclient relations, all centered on and articulated through the state, as the very texture out of which “the people” is made. It also entails, in the name of equality, the continuous expelling of all sorts of differences to the outside of the assembled totality, constituted in irreconcilable tension with a series of external foes. For this purpose, only the most relentless deployment of bullying tactics and fear-instilling mechanisms will suffice, along with the ongoing expropriation of resources away from sectors of society and their concentration, all in the name of “Bolívar,” in the hands of ever-fewer individuals. Beckoned from below, as the agents of the centralizing state, these relentlessly grabbing few are forever responsive to, and answerable to, their intensely mobilized clienteles. As a result of all of this, to contemplate the figure of “Bolívar” as a (would-be) member of his people is to render oneself an enthralled recipient of a promise of totalizing fulfillment, as well as of a series of threats and injunctions to constantly toe the line, never deviating from the ranks of this forcefully contrived collectivity. Such contemplation brings with it the tacit reassurance, encrypted in the Liberator’s monumentalized features, that, provided one exhibits the adequate esprit de corps, all that is needed to keep oneself gathered with others as part of the Bolivarian people will keep on flowing one’s way. The figure of “Bolívar” also unequivocally conveys to any Venezuelan standing across from it a pervasive sense of fear, a series of tacit yet stern warnings, injunctions, and threats, all of them aimed at instilling the appropriate sense of peoplehood in the population. While this may be the case wherever the self-formation of a people is at stake, which is to say in every democratic regime—not even the most well-articulated democracies can do away with the excessive figure of the sovereign as the incarnation of the totality—in Venezuela, even during uneventful times, the figure of “Bolívar” is constantly in citizens’ faces, brought to them by countless state agencies and practices. This ubiquitous presence intimates just how powerful the forces of dispersion really are in Venezuela and the extent to which the political continuously retreats.42 Something that immediately follows from the overwhelming centrality of the monumentalized figure of the Founding Father in Venezuela’s political imaginary and practices of government is the insistence with which the figure of a strong executive recurs in all of the nation’s many successive constitutions, as an office invested with extraordinary powers that, much as with Bolívar’s “president for life,” render it the hub of the entire political system. To use Bolívar’s own expression, to this day in Venezuela

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such a president is the “Sun” around which everything revolves. Everything, from civic virtues to social and political institutions, is imagined to ultimately originate in “Bolívar” as both founder and protector of the nation. To become president in Venezuela is to step temporarily into the place that the figure of the Liberator occupies permanently. The president achieves truly monumental proportions in the public’s imagination, often being popularly construed as a quasi-magical being, immune to any constraints of time and space and, like his ideal counterpart, possessed of nearly superhuman prowess. Regardless of all the lip ser vice that is paid to it, the ideal of a balanced distribution of power is systematically underplayed in favor of the figure of a strong executive. Installing someone permanently in the office of the presidency is a permanent temptation of the nation’s republicanism. The late Hugo Chávez’s successful bid for infinite reelection is just the latest episode in this saga. There is more at stake here than sheer egotistical hubris or the incumbent’s immoderate thirst for power. It all has to do with the unenfranchised multitudes’ insistent haunting of the republic.

Venezuela’s Radical Populism This book takes as axiomatic that, from the very beginning, a form of radical populism has been constitutive to Venezuela’s republicanism. Rather than a discrete phase in some overall process of development, it is, as a temptation, at all times deeply inscribed in Venezuela’s monumental governmentality as well as in this nation’s republican order as a whole.43 It is true that during so-called normal times the temptation stays relatively dormant, for the most part encoded in the busts, portraits, and equestrian statues of “Bolívar” disseminated everywhere as the officially sanctioned figure of the social totality. In single-mindedly emphasizing equality as the people’s essence, to the exclusion of any explicit articulation of difference, such an omnipresent figure already clearly advertises that a form of radical populism is, in Venezuela, the sanctioned program of becoming. Ernesto Laclau has recently singled out such privileging of equality over difference, or, to use his own expressions, of the “axis of equivalence” over the “axis of difference,” as populism’s most distinctive trademark (2005a, 77 ff.; 2005b, 34–38). I would add (even if Laclau surely would have disagreed) that it is not populism per se that his work really theorizes, but radical populism, a singularly virulent manifestation of the phenomenon. As Laclau himself clearly indicates, single-mindedly privileging equivalences or equality to the exclusion of the articulation of differences delivers the social realm to a putatively absolute, hence unequivocally radical moment of (re) foundation as the only available remedy for the proliferating antagonisms and dislocations that threaten to do away with any semblance of order. Such attempts at the absolute (re)foundation of a homogeneous people as an absolute bearer of equality in the face of radical dislocation surely count as instances of not just populism but radical populism.

32 introduction: populist governmentality The distinction is important. As Benjamin Arditi has recently clarified, populism comes in all shapes and varieties. As the “internal periphery” of all democratic orders, preventing them from becoming closed off from the demands of their citizens, some version of populism, understood as an appeal to “the people” aimed at opening up the political game to hitherto excluded segments of the population, is intrinsic to democracy. Laclau, however, admits of no such empirical diversity. What for Laclau is populism tout court is, for Arditi, liberalism’s dark underside, erupting now and then in diverse parts of the world as attempts to start everything from scratch, an eventuality pregnant with all sorts of possible violent consequences. These attempts include doing away with every democratic right not having to do with the blanket reassertion of equality as the pristine, immaculate essence of a new, reconstituted people (Arditi 2005, 77).44 But to call such attempts at absolute (re)foundation merely populist—not identifying them for what they are, as forms of radical populism—is to confuse a singular, historically situated phenomenon for a presumably universal condition, thereby trading historical and political insight for the dubious satisfactions of a thoroughly deductive model. Far from a kind of universal phenomenon, or populism as “the royal road” to the “constitution of the political” (Laclau 2005, 67) emerging against the “real” of antagonism (ibid., 83–86) the kind of populist reconstitution of Society with a capital S that Laclau talks about is historically situated through and through. Moreover, this kind of populism can never be predicted on the basis of a deductive model; as Arditi intimates, it always comes about as a result of decisions that are made in the midst of radical undecidability. Such radical populism is not, then, as Laclau has it, the fate that sooner or later awaits any social compact. Rather, it comes about only in certain times and places, those where, for whatever complex social and historical reasons, there are two occurrences: everything blows apart amidst horrifying destruction and violence, and decisions are made to take things to an extreme. Hispanic America, and, most singularly so, Venezuela at the time of its separation from Spain, was one of these places. It is precisely in response to the dislocation and violence erupting at the time that the nation’s congressmen, first, and then Simón Bolívar himself, monumentalized themselves as incarnations of the new nation’s “general will” or of this nation’s “people,” thus turning themselves into living-dead monuments or statues right there on the political stage. Since then, the self-monumentalization of the nation’s representatives for the purpose of government or of enabling the nation’s largely unenfranchised multitudes to congeal through reflection by their representatives as a single, governable people, tightly collected under the shadow of “Bolívar,” has proceeded unabated. This book foregrounds the dire circumstances of the Venezuelan postcolony as the kind of situated context in which something as momentous as Laclau’s radical (re)constitution of “the people” historically comes about. But his formalistic understanding of populism as an “articulatory practice” does not survive this historicizing move intact, losing much of its deductive elegance and appeal. Instead of

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Laclau’s “tendentially empty signifier” emerging out of a series of equivalent “demands” to retroactively name Venezuelans as a single, neatly bounded, homogeneous people, what we now have is something different. Any minimally careful consideration of the empirical record, away from the rarefied atmosphere typical of a purely deductive model, cannot fail to bring out the sheer authoritarianism and violence presupposed by Laclau’s “people,” how truly messy, laborious, fraught, inherently contested, and, indeed, violent is the process of constructing such a seamless whole in reference to a signifier that, as a mark of violence, can never be empty. Whether that signifier goes by the name freedom, Chávez, Solidarity, Bolívar, or Perón, in the real world such a “people” cannot be, even briefly, a relatively vacuous projective screen for a series of proliferating demands. For the signifier the people to effectively articulate the social field beyond relatively evanescent occurrences, it cannot merely behave as a passive screen for subjects’ identificatory needs, desires, and demands. Rather, as a representation it must summon the material and symbolic forces required to mold or recast all of these needs, desires, expectations, fears, and demands so as to constitute itself as the only game in town, the sole available choice in a terrain constantly acted upon by opposite forces and intense centrifugal tendencies. Far from empty, such a signifier of violence must itself be filled with an entire program of becoming: the exhortations, ideals, corrupt practices, symbolic constructs, fear-inducing mechanisms, and selective rewards needed to succeed both in constituting a dispersed populace as a homogeneous people and in keeping this people collected as such. That is, as a signifier, the populist people is a formidable force of gathering, covering up, or glossing over what is in fact a highly unstable constellation of forces. The figure of the populist people must be constantly reasserted through the ever-reiterated chastising and often violent suppression of all other existing choices, construed as the enemy. If, amidst their endemic mobility and distraction, the crowds are at all to form as a people around such a signifier, they must focus on it as the only plausible answer to their predicament.45 This book explores how populism is, then, to a greater or lesser degree, always already a regime, and never just a social movement. I develop the argument of this book across ten chapters. Chapter 1 offers a comprehensive overview of the Venezuelan colonial order before the rupture of independence, as a foil over and against which the intensely centralizing political, economic, and cultural processes that took place after independence may be apprehended in their novelty as relatively emergent phenomena, not easily traceable to any putative colonial antecedents. Chapter 2 addresses the rupture of independence as brought about by the unexpected absence of the Spanish monarch, imprisoned by Napoleon in Bayonne, France, and the ensuing crisis of government resulting from this absence, of which the disrupting presence of the supernumerary crowds in the streets and squares of Caracas and other colonial Venezuelan towns was such a crucial ingredient. With its insistence on the constitution as the forge out of which the nation is brought into

34 introduction: populist governmentality being as an indivisible people out of sheer chaos, chapter 3 apprehends the “artistic” bent of the kind of republicanism that took shape immediately in the wake of Venezuela’s separation from Spain as a governmental response to the “modernity from below” that the Venezuelan crowds were so dangerously instantiating at the time. In this chapter I approach some of the debates that took place in parliament around the signing of the first constitution as leading to a sealing off of the political from the surrounding society that furnished the stage on which the congressmen first monumentalized themselves as the “general will” of the postcolonial majorities. Drawing on the writings of the Founding Fathers, chapter 4 lays out the theatrical paradigm that is the theoretical matrix for many aspects of the argument developed throughout. Chapter 5 goes on to delineate the formation of the nation’s monumental governmentality and the politics of exemplarity that it entails, in reference to the dangerous mimetic crisis that unfolded in Venezuela during the war of independence. After a brief Interlude in which the figure of the dancing Jacobin is poetically evoked, chapter 6 pursues the development and articulation during the nineteenth century of the nation’s governmental canon in a series of contexts, from theater and literature to historiography, all apprehended in close relation with contemporary social, historical, and cultural developments. Chapters  7 and  8 respectively address the two polar-opposite configurations, the Fragile Collection and Bolívar Superstar, that comprise the nation’s monumental governmentality. The last two chapters deal with how the various strands pursued in the preceding chapters came together during the comprehensive project of state centralization launched by the regime of Antonio Guzmán Blanco in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The import of this regime for the understanding of contemporary conditions in Venezuela, including the Chávez regime, is made explicit. Before leaving this introduction a few clarifications are in order. First, I should point out that although the tradition of government I have been alluding to in the preceding pages is found all over Latin America, it is perhaps in Venezuela that it has reached its richest, most luxuriant expression. As Borges, only slightly exaggerating, affirms in one of the epigraphs at the beginning of this introduction, “one cannot speak about that Caribbean republic” other than in the “monumental style” of a local historian. This speaks volumes about the role of local historiography in the formation of the governmental canon that I address in this book. As for this canon’s robust development in Venezuela, this has to do with the violence of that nation’s nineteenth-century history, which in turn is not at all unrelated to Venezuela’s continental role in the wars of independence against Spain. By and large, however, whenever local critics in Venezuela allude to any of the elements of this governmental canon (the cult of Bolívar, for example, or the marmoreal pomposity of the local representatives, the notables of a certain historiography, or, to name one more element of this tradition, the reification of union over and against the expression of differences as the overriding telos of the republic), it is not really government that they have in mind.

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Instead, according to these critics, if local representatives go on mimicking the nation’s heroes, adopting in public the pathetic tones and gestures that have been immortalized in the state’s official iconography, this is due to ideological obfuscation. The same would apply to Venezuelan republicanism’s insistent invocation of the ideal of union. According to these critics’ reasoning, this insistence is a result of the ideological blinders worn by a majority of Venezuelans that consistently bar them from seeing their nation as it really is, in the full palette of its rich sociological and cultural diversity. These critics believe that a thorough critique would cause such heroic notions and predispositions to vanish from peoples’ minds like the windmill-giants of Don Quixote’s febrile imagination. From this critical perspective these ideologies, much like the “fetters of tradition,” are merely a series of obstacles on the way to the one true, modern, and bourgeois path. After a vigorous wake-up call, a bleary-eyed people would step out of their ideological slumber into the morning of a thoroughly disenchanted world, washed clean of their illusions. In this world, I might add, they would be able finally to pursue their dull everyday existences as docile, bourgeois bearers of a discrete set of rights and obligations. This liberal fantasy assumes that, reality being everywhere the same, Venezuelans would readily take to that obligatory path, were such obstacles to be removed. Though I have learned much from a distinguished group of local essayists and historians who hold these views, this book does not share that fantasy. I assume instead that, far from being everywhere the same, reality is everywhere differentially articulated according to variable discursive, iconographic, and governmental constraints, and in response to existential predicaments that change from one place to the next.46 Beyond any other epistemological or methodological considerations, what moves me to insist on the locally articulated character of the world is sheer impatience with what the idea that the world is everywhere the same has meant for Latin America, and in par ticu lar for Venezuela. For the most part it has led to an interminable list of projects of development that time and again fall apart, disjointed by their collision with intractable realities. In the meantime, in Hispanic America, people everywhere grow more desperately poor year after year, in a continent with the dubious privilege of exhibiting the greatest income disparities on earth. So, given all that, why not take a hard, fresh look at some pervasive features of the Hispanic American cultural landscape? I start with the view that such features may, to a large extent, be what the world is really about in that corner of the planet, rather than mere distorted ideas in people’s minds. My hope in doing so is to begin discerning the real cracks and fault lines through which a new, different, and—why not?—better future might continuously arrive, always already unsettling the present. A first step toward such recognition is to modify the very vocabulary with which we speak. This book shows, for example, that the Venezuelan republican tradition continues to insist on the need to mold or give shape to the world, or, more precisely, the nation, not out of weird ideas present in people’s minds, but because this people/nation does

36 introduction: populist governmentality regularly explode into shapelessness. To speak only about Venezuela, at least since the Big Bang of independence, things there have not ceased falling apart. And when that happens, when all the republican institutions so precariously put together are everywhere in tatters, the republican “people” once again becomes “the crowd.” When critics of the Chávez regime repeat, mantralike, a series of liberal sound bites—“civil society,” “democracy,” and so forth—they skirt realizations about the worldly entailments of many of the local republican constructs. It is as if they believe that monotonously reciting these sound bites is all that is needed to conjure away the unfathomable excess that has always haunted the republic, however unacknowledged by them. Against what many critics of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez insistently claimed, the world that lies in wait beyond Venezuelans’ heroic republican constructs is not a liberal utopia, but a hellish scenario. This is particularly true with regard to the timehonored republican construct of “the people.” If one were suddenly to give up that construct wholesale, one would indeed encounter, beyond the few existing islands of police-protected middle-class bourgeois civility, an unwieldy crowd, not a neatly arranged civil society. Here every known personal and institutional landmark is about to be erased by uncontrollable violence. Such a distinct possibility simply follows from the fact that, in such places as Venezuela, “the people” is no mere idea but is among other things a preeminent tool of government. As such, it is also perhaps the only available means by which, through reflection by their representatives, and ultimately, the figure of the Liberator, the crowds collect themselves into anything like a recognizable, identifiable collectivity. Something similar may be said of the other features of the kind of republicanism I have been addressing in this introduction, all of which were anxiously put together on the brink of an abyss, and largely in response to it. Again, such aspects or dimensions are not mere ideas about the Venezuelan world, but are rather the very internally fractured texture of that world—or what, to a large extent, that world truly is for its anxious inhabitants. It is crucial to realize the extent to which many aspects of the Latin American cultural and political landscape, with respect to which one may feel justifiably alienated, are nevertheless part of a viable tradition of government. The significance of this realization is at least twofold. First, it is only through such realization that one may identify where the tradition already exhibits some discernible cracks; second, it is through such detection that one may sensibly exert pressure for change—provided, that is, that one gives up the pernicious, misguided notion that one already knows what the end point of such a change should be. And if someone tells me that the authoritarian bias of the Latin American republican tradition is such that that tradition should be given up wholesale, I can only respond that its liberal cousin to the north is in no way free from criticisms on that score. And carrying out such a wholesale renunciation is not, in any case, possible. This is not to say that the world so anxiously put together by the practices of government that I analyze in this book is either good, or fair, or beyond acute criticism.

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I have written this book in part because of how desperately repressive, nefarious, and boring I find this world’s pompous figureheads, its bloated, megalomaniac populist leaders, and the seamlessly unified, homogeneous “people” about which they all wax lyrical. But the only productive attitude vis-à-vis such a tradition is not one of liberal denial. Rather, to envision how that tradition may release its redemptive potentials— and release them it must, if Latin America is not to remain imprisoned in the perverse hall of mirrors of an intractable destiny— one must first realize that it is neither whole nor unified; in other words, that regardless of how pregnant with worldly consequences it may be, this tradition, much like any other, is also internally divided, haunted by the very otherness that it tries to expel so as to articulate itself. My final clarification concerns the status of the present work. With the partial exception of the two last chapters, this book is almost entirely based on the re-reading of a voluminous body of primary sources and secondary materials. As such it does not make any claim to the discovery of hitherto unknown information or facts capable of throwing unprecedented light on any particular set of historical events. Rather, the assumptions that guide much of what follows are that the time is ripe for a re-reading and reinterpretation of the historical record, and that the accumulated evidence provides more than adequate support for that purpose. For better or for worse—as always, it is the reader who must decide—it is such a reinterpretation that fills the following pages.

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Overture I begin with the bizarre spectacle of the public square spread out both at the center and at the margins of the nation where, as a surplus, it wreaks havoc on such wellworn dichotomies as nature versus culture and city versus countryside. In this and the following chapters I approach this surplus as the serialized imprint of a will that institutes, in an ever-reiterated moment of originary violence, the fantasy-space of the nation. The very literality, modular character, and seriality of the public square—the entire territory of the nation is dotted by a serial proliferation of Plazas Bolívar—is itself symptomatic of just how constitutive such a scene of foundation is to the nation’s very own self-representation. In this regard one may very well say that, in its sheer ubiquity, the public square is an allegory of the nation as fantasy-space wrought by the sovereign will of its Founding Father, Simón Bolívar. Cast in bronze or stone, this, indeed, is what Bolívar’s insistent presence at the center of every main public square of every Venezuelan town, no matter its size, ceaselessly and reflexively proclaims— a point that any cursory consideration of the civic rituals and vast hagiographic literature revolving around the figure of the Liberator easily corroborates. Over the course of this book I will sketch out a genealogy for this demiurgic figuration of the nation as Bolívar’s fantasy-space by delving into the vexed history of the country’s republicanism and the chronic warfare of its nineteenth century. First, however, I turn to two of the emblematic figures of this space: the peasant artist and the blind man.

The blind man at the center . . . Right in one of the four corners of Plaza Bolívar, the “heart, pulse, and footprint of Caracas” (the subtitle of a coffee-table book about Caracas’ main public square), stands a blind man, leaning on a cane. Awash in tropical sunlight, he is surrounded by a captive audience of onlookers. The focus of their attention is the blind man’s account of the life and deeds of Bolívar, the “father of the fatherland,” which he narrates from cradle to grave with an abundance of vivid and fabulous detail. His delivery is indeed fascinating. An instantiation of the kind of sublime republican oratory favored by local politicians and public officials, it gains rhetorical force from the volley of neologisms 39

40 Overture that the blind man fires in rapid succession at his audience. While these undoubtedly intensify the genre’s deliberate archaism and auratic distance, the efficacy of the narrative trap he so carefully lays derives primarily from the blind man’s cunning as a storyteller. Take, for example, the telling’s precipitous descents into joyful vulgarity from the monumentalized heights of the hero, which unexpectedly reaches by means of explosive laughter into the bodily recesses, appetites, and desires of the audience. Releasing narrative tension, these switches from “classic” to “grotesque body” and back are one possible version of the exchange between sacred and profane that Michael Taussig describes as intrinsic to “state fetishism” (1992; 1997). These are also the occasions that the blind man cleverly seizes upon to peddle his charms and lucky numbers to the audience, who are ever-so-grateful to be momentarily let off the hook of the state’s monumentalized story. Beyond his abundant narrative resources, I believe that it is the storyteller’s blindness that ultimately accounts for his compelling hold over his listeners. If the face as fetish, ceaselessly alternating between depth and screen, is “the mother of all borderlands” (Taussig 1998, 225), then surely blindness does an interesting number on this border. Like shutters, the blind man’s eyes interrupt the play of depth and surface appearances from within which the soul and interiority become installed in broad daylight as the “public secret” that everyone desires (ibid., 225–28). Beyond the everyday play of the seen and the unseen from within which the public secret gains currency and continuing sustenance, the blind old man affords a somewhat paradoxical guarantee—namely, that the secret indeed hides something: the secret congealing into thingness, precisely and paradoxically, in the midst of total invisibility. It is these gestures whereby the “inside,” at specific times and places, is totally withdrawn from view (a curtain is lowered, or a pair of eyes shut) that concern me here. They invest whatever is fancied to be there, huddled in the “inside,” with an air of permanence far removed from the wear and tear of the everyday. Total invisibility, the secret’s secret, coincides with that moment when the doors of the Law are irrevocably shut before Kafka’s man from the country, or when the blind man’s eyelids remain sealed throughout his telling. Listening to his words without access to his interiority, the audience realizes that there is indeed depth, that the nation has a soul forever locked away behind the screen of appearances. All along, and at a safe distance, the nation’s soul keeps watch behind their backs. This realization frees the audience for the distracted pursuit of pleasures and everyday banality. At the very center of the square, somewhat at a remove from the group gathered around the storyteller, stands the equestrian statue of the Liberator. Beyond official celebrations, no one usually heeds the silent figure, but the distracted passerby receives from the blind man the assurance that trapped within its epic form there is indeed a soul; and that, if necessary, the statue may speak the nation’s soul, thus turning into a speaking statue.

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. . . and the peasant artist at the margins Strange as it may seem, at the end of a seven-hour mule trip and on a mountaintop essentially in the middle of nowhere, another Plaza Bolívar rises above high-altitude valleys. Along with a shrine devoted to the nation’s foremost popular saint, and at its rear a calvary paved with extraordinary carvings, this plaza is the creation of a peasant from the Venezuelan Andes. Shortly after the artist turned forty, we are told, the death of his mother provoked an acute existential crisis that prompted him to leave town and seek refuge among the cold and remote pastures that his family owns in the surrounding mountains. There, in the midst of distance, his creativity flourished (Arvelo et al. 1981, 30–33; Panchart 1992, 25–26). In recent years the artist and his work have become the focus of a truly hagiographic cult among populist artists and intellectuals, bent on seeing both as preeminent embodiments of the nation’s popular essence. In the cult’s canonical story, it is distance, triggered by a traumatic event, that forms the narrative scaffold for this epiphany of the popular, surging pristinely on a mountaintop far removed from the confusions and complications of modernity. Distance is also the implicit condition that the contemporary pilgrim must meet if a true encounter with the artist’s creations is to take place. This is made clear by the partial replica of the mountain site recently built by the artist in his hometown to accommodate the needs of less adventurous visitors. As both the literature devoted to the original site and the lore exchanged among pilgrims suggest, a visit to this replica in no way qualifies as a true encounter. In addition to these two converging distances, at whose intersection gushes the spring where the pilgrims’ thirst for the popular is quenched, it was a third distance that first moved my wife Patricia and me to visit the original site. Spiced with the appropriate sense of excitement and adventure, it was, to use the somewhat dull expression, the desire for critical distance vis-à-vis the fabulous narratives of people and nation that, one bright morning in March, made us hit the pilgrimage trail. Soon it became apparent just how much I had underestimated the interpellative power of these narratives, why so often they seem to reach their destination. Tightly holding on to the backs of our mules, more than once we had the chance to taste this power as we descended the steep, rocky slope right out of some improbable western that was the final stage of our trip. Watching the pebbles fly from beneath the feet of our mules into the abyss below, I caught a fleeting glimpse of how narrative power wells up at those fraught junctures where life meets death with unsettling, deconstructive effects. According to Slavoj Žižek, it is in this kind of interspace between the real and the symbolic that fantasies flourish, their power largely stemming from their ability to utter wholeness right there where violence, death, or mere blissful abandon threaten to overcome the subject. Amounting to an “interpellation prior to identification” (Žižek 1994, 60), these kinds of “obscene and impenetrable” impasses permeated with enjoyment (ibid., 61), although ultimately unavoidable, are what the subject nonetheless endeavors to avoid by assuming a symbolic mandate (ibid., 60). Hence the fantasies of

42 Overture the popular woven around the Andean peasant, promising to rescue the pilgrims into wholeness out of a forbidding landscape. If at the center the blind man makes paradoxically manifest the soulful state of the nation, congealing into existence amidst total invisibility, then at the margins it is the peasant artist who ensures that the nation’s popular body will there achieve its most visible epiphany. In between blind man and artist, soulful state and popular body, or, to provide a spatial gloss, center and periphery, the fantasy of the nation-state blossoms into wholeness. Much like the Chinese Emperor’s map in Borges’ story, the fantasy spreads itself over the nation’s entire territory, covering up its every nook and cranny, its lacks, absences, and discontinuities. A fantasy of wholeness forming just where an impossible real eludes the grasp of the symbolic, it is this kernel of enjoyment that for Žižek would glue subjects to their mandates as citizens in the symbolic order of the nation-state, and, in so doing, lay this order’s most lasting foundations. Revealing as the above binarisms are, however, they do not quite correspond to what we eventually found at the site, and for which nothing of what I had read or heard before prepared me: not just the manifestation of the popular, but the popular manifestation of the main official emblems of the nation-state. Where the literature and stories had predisposed me to a mountain rendezvous with folk religiosity, we also found something for which we had not really bargained. Upon arrival we were greeted by a miniature Plaza Bolívar (Liberator’s bust included), laid out in between the gorgeous shrine boasting the Venezuelan flag in the foreground and a calvary with carved wooden figures further up the hill, all tightly collected within the walled compound comprising the site. Where the popular should have shone undisturbed, instead all the main signatures of the nation-state were scribbled in popular characters across the rugged surface of this faraway place. An anamorphic stain on the very site of the popular, these state signatures appearing on the margin are the surplus that scrambles all the neat (and ser viceable) divisions of fantasy-labor between peasant artist and blind man.1 They also, I might add, trouble the boundaries between real, imaginary, and symbolic registers, thus exposing their status as porous, nondiscrete domains subjected to ongoing, reciprocal contamination (Derrida 1996, 59). All this is not meant to suggest that popular creativity is in any way reducible to a debased expression of some more elevated, canonical instance. The marvelous shapes produced by the artist, many of which are displayed at the site—shrine and altar, carved crosses, saints, chairs, weavings, miniature sanctuaries, and so on— clearly say otherwise. What the juxtaposition of the blind man and the popular artist does is raise a series of intriguing questions. First, what is it about agency and creativity in Venezuela that, no matter where they are, seems to demand from its citizens that they occupy, even if briefly, the soulful state of the nation? And what about the anamorphic stain on the faraway shrine, or, for that matter, on the nation as a whole, dotted as it is by a proliferation of Plazas Bolívar? As a surplus, this stain is what in the objects is more than the objects. Because of this stain, looked at from one side objects such as chairs,

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a few carvings, or a collection of people gathered on Sunday at the square are just that, people, chairs, or carvings. Looked at from the other, however, these same things are objects charged with a state “stuff ” spectrally adhering to them. How is it, moreover, that all this came about historically? What are the possible genealogies for such an idiosyncratic position of enunciation and for the surplus it disseminates across the world? As I address these questions in what follows, I will be concerned with the reflective trap that already for well over a century has locked the nation’s soulful state and its popular body, “Bolívar” and “the people,” in a densely knit set of reciprocal exchanges. These exchanges crystallize as a fantasy of absolute presence in response not so much to unavoidable lack, but as the result of decisions that violently legislate presence right at those fraught, often scary edges where, exposed to alterity, presence threatens to become unraveled. Much of what I will say below is mindful of this excessive zone of radical undecidability where presence is always contaminated by absence and differences, decisions are never the only ones possible, and, for good and for bad, the future remains always open.

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Chapter 1

Archaeologies To write history means giving dates their physiognomy. —Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Death and the Empty Place of Power If Benjamin is right, there can be no better way to write the history of Venezuela during the Guzmán Blanco regime than to assign to the closing decades of the nineteenth century the physiognomy of Plaza Bolívar, Caracas’ main public square. In the prevailing historiography the regime is generally considered Venezuela’s first comprehensive experiment in state centralization, as such preliminary to the more enduringly successful state-centralizing process carried out under the Gómez dictatorship in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the feature of the Guzmán Blanco regime that best expresses its significance for both contemporaries and generations of later historians is the aggressive program of public works it pursued throughout the nation and especially in the capital city, Caracas, during the Septenio, the label given by the regime to its first seven years in power (Caraballo 1983; Zawisza 1983; 1988, 31–59). In this the Guzmán Blanco regime did not differ from governments across Latin America that, with varying degrees of success, embarked during approximately the same period on similar modernizing programs, a key element of which was the alteration of the colonial façades in the capital cities to align them with the main capitalist centers of the world at the time, especially London and Paris (Needell 1987; 1995, 519, 524–37; Rama 1984, 71–102; Romero 1976, 249). Such an initiative was consistent with the new ties Latin America contracted with the North Atlantic world in what Eric Hobsbawn (1989) has called the “Age of Empire,” a period broadly characterized by a shift from commerce to the large-scale export of manufactured goods and capital from industrializing capitalist centers, especially England and France, to the peripheries. This story of empire is well known. For my purposes it will suffice to take the story’s broad outlines largely for granted when arguing about specific developments within Venezuela under the Guzmán Blanco regime, starting with the decision to thoroughly remodel Caracas’ main central square and install, at its very center, an equestrian statue 45

46 Archaeologies of the Liberator, Simón Bolívar. In focusing on this site, my aim will be to elicit from its physical layout a series of crucial questions regarding the kind of republican governmentality that crystallized in the wake of Venezuela’s independence from Spain and survived until very recently without exhibiting perceptible cracks. Since this book is a genealogical investigation of this governmentality and the political imaginary that went with it, an exploration of how it came about historically, in response to what kinds of constraints, the following remarks on Caracas’ main public square effectively frame much of what I will say in the rest of the book. Shortly after assuming power in 1870 in the wake of a bloody revolution against a coalition—or fusion, as such frequent realignments were commonly called at the time— of liberals and conservatives, Guzmán Blanco decreed the erection of the Bolívar monument at the center of the square, which was already baptized Plaza Bolívar (Schael Martínez 1974, 8; Misle 1999, 98; Zawisza 1989, 165). Along with the other inscriptions that were to figure in the base of the monument, the text included Guzmán’s personal dedication: “General Antonio Guzmán Blanco, President of the Republic, erects this monument in 1874” (Zawisza 1989, 165). Implicitly placing Guzmán in a direct relationship with Bolívar, as the only living citizen entitled to personally honor the Liberator’s memory, Guzman’s dedication exemplifies the circuit of interlocution established by the exuberant state cult which the regime instituted around the figure of the dead hero.1 While positioning Guzmán as the exclusive intermediary between Bolívar and the nation, the circuit focused in turn on Guzmán as the ultimate addressee of the nation’s grievances and expectations and as the recipient of its unending shows of gratitude. The inscription registers some of the enabling ambiguities of “Guzmancismo” as a system of rule. Not for Guzmán any of the showy displays of either gratitude or devotion that the nation constantly lavished on him. Instead, almost as if proclaiming “I do it just because I choose to, out of my own sovereign will,”2 Guzmán equates himself with Bolívar, suggesting a private tête-à-tête between the two. Perhaps the inscription even raises him above the latter, as it is Guzmán who institutes the very conditions that will allow for Bolívar’s memorialization. Numerous writers have called attention, often critically, to the virtual identification and even exchangeability that the state cult instituted between Guzmán and Bolívar (Briceño 1964, 10, 196–207; Carrera Damas 1989, 224–25, 250–51; Esteva Grillet 1986, 123; Key-Ayala 1949, 133–34; Larrazabal 1873, 26; Zawisza 1988, 10, 179). Guzmán was paired with Bolívar in virtually every one of the cult’s manifold expressions, from civic rituals, international exhibits, triumphal arches, and the distribution of commemorative medals (with the effigies of the two men inscribed on opposite sides) to the flood of public speeches, public-works inaugurations, and official publications that made up the regime’s spectacular politics. What makes the inscription especially interesting is that its play of slippages and substitutions takes place at the very site where that play is most at risk of being undone. At the very center of the capital city’s central square, dedicated to Bolívar, in the context of a republican cult for which this dead hero’s found-

Figure 2. Equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar with a dedication by Antonio Guzmán Blanco. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

48 Archaeologies ing will was the numinous center of the centralizing state, it was indeed not easy to pull off the one-for-the-other conjuring trick— and yet it was crucial to do so precisely at this site. For complex reasons having to do with, among other things, the convergence of a Jacobin republican tradition and an official neoclassicism focused obsessively on the aesthetic of the monument, there was no other possible focus for the state cult than the equestrian statue of the Liberator. At the center of a series of concentric circles radiating outwards to the entire nation, this statue, and not the living ruler, was the unavoidable topographic and symbolic axis of the cult. As such, in all its numb materiality it was also the stumbling block that Guzmán both needed to circumvent and inevitably confront. Indeed, something that must be made clear from the start is that, no matter how seemingly authoritarian, the cult of Bolívar instituted by Guzmán was a thoroughly republican cult. This means that even if its tacit focus was Guzmán, on whom it implicitly bestowed a quasi-providential status, this cult still had to meet some of republicanism’s exacting criteria. Republicanism’s bearing on the cult’s dynamics and constraints is perhaps best understood in reference to Claude Lefort’s remarks concerning democracy as the regime “where the locus of power becomes an empty place” (1988, 17). Since for liberalism, and republican ideology generally, power belongs abstractly to “the people,” it follows that no single individual may legitimately occupy or “become consubstantial with” the symbolic locus of power, which instead should remain empty and unrepresentable (ibid.). Republican democratic politics may be characterized as the continuous struggle to preserve this very emptiness and unrepresentability through the ongoing redistribution of power, the institutionalization of conflict, and the formulation of procedural rules for securing the accountability, delegate status, and alternation of those in power (ibid.). All of this applies, if in an idiosyncratic and somewhat perverse fashion, to the Guzmán regime. Thus no matter how dictatorial the regime was in practice, its entire discourse of legitimation as well as the panoply of its ritual, symbolic, and emblematic forms were overridingly liberal and federalist (Gabaldón 1983, 101–45; Carrera Damas 1988, 33–58; 1997, 102–11). As a result, the regime’s irresistible impulse to signify and articulate the ensemble of its centralizing practices through the person of Guzmán was marred by a tacit prohibition, that which prevents the ruler from symbolically occupying the locus of power and thus becoming its embodiment. It is primarily in reference to this prohibition that one may understand the practice, widespread in the nineteenth century, of “renouncing” power. Allegorized in the magistrate’s gesture of supreme republican selflessness, this practice became after independence pervasive among rulers throughout Latin America, and especially in Venezuela (Castro Leiva 1985, 135–36; Zawisza 1989, 11; Lynch 1992, 115). In line with the neoclassicism that led an especially stubborn afterlife in Latin America as the official aesthetic of a good many liberal regimes, the obligatory reference in virtually all such

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self-sacrificing gestures was to the Roman dictator Cincinnatus voluntarily renouncing power and retiring into privacy to lead the frugal life of a peasant ploughing his lands on the banks of the Tiber. In these gestures, power is the heavy burden that a uniquely punishing fate has imposed on the ruler. Thus in his speech at the opening of the Venezuelan Academy of Language in 1884, Guzmán Blanco mentions “having had to rule Venezuela against his own will” among the “eight impositions” that fate had made him endure (Briceño 1964, 46); and a few years before, in his 1874 presidential message, after having ruthlessly ruled the nation for four years, he “modestly” claimed for himself “the glory of self-sacrifice” by tendering his resignation. As Leszek Zawisza dryly notes, “after this speech he would still remain fourteen more years in power” (1989, 11). Beyond the customary sneers of historians and commentators at the cynicism with which Páez, Guzmán, and other Venezuelan rulers played at relinquishing power while jealously holding onto it, I believe that the insistent, almost routine way in which they had recourse to this gesture speaks volumes about the kind of constraints they were under while exercising power. The concentration of ever more political power and authority, not to mention wealth, unto themselves clearly ran counter to the republican prohibition against occupying the locus of power, which needed to be left empty. In the blinding light that this empty center projected over the political, the renunciation of power was a preeminent means of its exercise. In circumstances in which, no matter how much of this power a ruler had grabbed, symbolically speaking his hold over power was always precarious, “renouncing” power was a way of symbolically holding on to its exercise—for example, by staging the “acclamations” which, amidst protestations, every so often brought the ruler back to power, presumably on the wings of popu lar fervor.3 Beyond their significance as “mimesis of the first actor,” Bolívar, magnanimously renouncing power to end his days in Santa Marta, Colombia, destitute and abandoned by many of his erstwhile followers (Castro Leiva 1985, 135–36), these gestures were the symbolic means these rulers had of regaining republican legitimacy in the face of their unrepublican behavior. It is true that the Guzmán regime tested the limits of the prohibition against embodying the locus of power through countless initiatives, of which the most significant were erecting several statues of the ruler both in Caracas and elsewhere, placing his portrait in public offices across the nation, displaying it at public-works inaugurations and distributing it free to followers at state ceremonies, and stamping school walls, bridges, and official buildings everywhere with the ruler’s name and effigy (Caraballo Perichi 1983, 181–85, 193–95; Briceño 1964, 231–34). While Guzmán’s proliferating iconography tacitly called for the locus of power to be fi lled with the ruler’s monumentalized repre sentation, this nevertheless never happened— something that, in and of itself, attests to the ineluctability of the prohibition. Instead, the dominant order “resolved” the conundrum by choosing as Guzmán’s proxy the filler best suited for the job in the prevailing ideological circumstances—the dead Bolívar.

50 Archaeologies In addition to republicanism, then, death (in connection to strictures on power visà-vis civil society) is the second of the two terms that need to be unpacked in order to appreciate the paradoxes and limitations of the regime sponsoring the Bolívar cult. If the locus of power was in some way to be occupied (and occupied it needed to be, given the centralizing impetus of the regime), then republicanism demanded that such occupation could only be performed by the monumentalized representation of one or another dead republican hero. In her book The Statues of Paris, June Hargrove identifies the injunction against erecting statues to living men as one of the main changes brought about by the French Revolution regarding memorialization and the appropriate status and use of public monuments (1989, 11–45). The single exception to the French republican mandate that only the dead should be monumentalized was the emperor Napoleon’s decision, apparently made with considerable trepidation, to allow his effigy to top the Column of the Grand Army, inaugurated on August 15, 1810, to “mark [his] fortyfirst birthday” (ibid., 44). Not even Guzmán’s avowed model, Napoleon III,4 who was responsible for promoting a cult of his uncle, the dead emperor, that was the direct inspiration for the Bolívar cult, ever dared to break this rule and have statues erected to himself. It was not statues, but “objects designed to be of public utility,” such as railroad stations, boulevards, and other public works, that were the monuments the Second Empire consecrated to the ruler. According to Matthew Truesdell, this shift from emphasizing the physical person of the leader to emphasizing what the leader had accomplished reflects a fundamental shift in the nature of political legitimacy in the nineteenth century (1997, 88). Consistent with the republican requirement concerning citizen equality, only death could legitimately bestow the kind of symbolic preeminence that the ancient régime assigned to the body of a monarch. No matter how selective Guzmán’s adoption of the model of the Second Empire was, he still needed to wrestle with the republican injunction to leave empty the locus of power and somehow accord death its role as the republic’s most stringent criterion for the monumentalization of its exemplary citizens. In the next section I will evoke the meandering process whereby, responding to this double injunction, Plaza Bolívar was remodeled and given its equestrian statue, a process that, over time, issued in the crystallization of the populist political imaginary that I explore in this book.

Plaza Mayor / Plaza Bolívar When in 1872 Guzmán decreed the erection of the Bolívar statue, he had already been involved with the fate of Plaza Bolívar for several years, since at least 1865. In that year a debate appeared in the pages of two local newspapers, El Federalista and El Porvenir, concerning the future status and appearance of Caracas’ main public square, the remodeling of which was by then underway. Not yet the supreme authority that he would eventually become, at the time Guzmán held the office of vice president (Primer

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Designado) in the federalist administration of Juan Crisóstomo Falcón. This administration was established in 1863 in the wake of the Federal War, a bloody conflict that had raged over a period of five years (1859–1863), thoroughly ravaging the nation’s economy and, according to some historians, leaving behind some 200,000 dead (Pino Iturrieta 1992, 126–27; Polanco Alcántara 1992, 273), a truly staggering figure considering that the total population of Venezuela at the time was estimated at about two million inhabitants (López 1992, 644). As much in Venezuela as elsewhere throughout Hispanic America, the often-violent contest over the form, centralist or federalist, of the postindependence state was one of the most salient legacies of the breakdown of the Spanish colonial empire (Ríos 1995, 149). Although “submerged in many places” between 1835 and 1845, this contest was to resurface between 1845 and 1870 in “a second wave” of federalism (Safford 1985, 383–84) that broke over several Latin American nations with renewed violence. The Venezuelan Federal War was ended by the signing of an 1863 treaty (the Tratado de Coche), which critics have criticized ever since for making too many concessions to the defeated centralist regime; this treaty is nonetheless generally regarded as having inaugurated a new period in the nation’s history. It is a commonplace in the Venezuelan historiography of the period to mention in passing a seeming paradox, namely, that while the war was conducted by the federal forces in support of a program of state decentralization, which demanded the devolution of larger quotas of autonomy to the regions, their victory would eventually lead to the opposite: a process of state centralization the intensity and comprehensiveness of which were truly unprecedented in the history of the republic. In this regard the Falcón regime may be seen as a transitional phenomenon in which federal and centralist forces fiercely grappled without either gaining the upper hand. The impasse was not resolved until 1870, when, with the advent of the Guzmán dictatorship, state centralization became in practice the overriding dynamic of the regime, even if symbolically it was never unambiguously acknowledged as such by the regime’s apparatus of legitimation, which, by and large, remained predominantly federalist. Arguably, it was this incongruence between the centralizing impetus and the official symbolism of the Guzmán regime that largely accounts for many of the latter’s unresolved conundrums and instabilities. It is, however, already possible to discern Guzmán Blanco’s centralizing ambitions in his 1865 views concerning the fate of Plaza Bolívar. Diligently parroted by his followers in the pages of El Federalista, a pro-Guzmán newspaper, Guzmán promoted the conception of the public square as a park, a site for “recreation and strolling” as opposed to the vision of his opponents, who wished to turn Plaza Bolívar into an austere plaza de armas, or military square. While the proponents of the alternative views equally wanted to eliminate the bustling marketplace that operated at the site and place at the center of the remodeled square a monument of the Liberator, their agreement ended there. Nothing could have been further removed from the civilized garden/square

52 Archaeologies advocated by the Guzmán camp than the vision of Plaza Bolívar as a forbiddingly empty site dedicated to the performance of military drills and parades on especially marked occasions (Zawisza 1988, 32). The rationale of the debate is complex—beyond voicing aesthetic preferences, the sources offer little clarification concerning the possible contemporary political significance of choosing one or the other alternative—and a more thorough exploration will have to wait until the last two chapters of this book. I can already say here, however, that even though the debate was couched in purely aesthetic terms, buried within its folds were stakes no less momentous than whether the republic that was to emerge from the ashes of the Federal War would be federalist, or, as the proponents of Plaza Bolívar as civilized park envisaged, forbiddingly centralist. The 1862 design by the French engineer Alfred Roudier already prefigured the overall physiognomy that Plaza Bolívar has kept until the present. That year Roudier arrived in Venezuela with a colleague named Pillardeaux to make studies for a railroad line between Caracas and the coastal city of La Guaira, the site of Venezuela’s main international port. Although these men would not be responsible for the materialization of this project (it was only some years later that the Guzmán administration inaugurated the railroad from Caracas to La Guaira), during his brief sojourn in Venezuela Roudier made another contribution to the nation, one which, in retrospect, has proved more lasting and consequential than the railroad: the blueprint for the eventual remodeling of the public square, Plaza Bolívar. In Roudier’s design the space of the square is divided by eight straight roads converging on an empty center reserved for the equestrian statue of the Liberator. The resulting pattern—popularly known as British Flag (Zawisza 1988, 34)—was to be completed by the landscaped gardens and tall trees that eventually filled each of the eight triangular spaces that emerged between the converging roads. As Leszek Zawisza aptly remarks, regarding the morphological characteristics of the Roudier plan, its solution, even if on the one hand connected to French and Cartesian geometry, and, on the other, to the British “square” filled with trees, is found in neither France nor England. In light of its assimilation and diff usion it may be considered a thoroughly Venezuelan typology, characteristic of our nineteenth century. (ibid.)

I do not know whether the design’s apotheosis as a “Venezuelan typology” was solely the result of Roudier’s improvisational genius or whether it was in any way also inflected by the expectations of those commissioning the design. Considering the extent to which the Guzmán regime was culturally and economically oriented toward both France and England, I would not be surprised if the latter were the case. This suspicion gains substance from the wholeheartedness with which Roudier’s plan was from the start adopted by Guzmán during the Falcón administration. From his position as both vice president of the nation and governor of Caracas, Guzmán was the main spokesperson for the plan.

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Be that as it may, what I would like to emphasize here is the extraordinary poetic prescience of Roudier’s solution, which brought into a relation of strict correspondence the intimate and the faraway, the symbolic hearth of the Guzmancista state and the “global system of nation states” that, according to Prasenjit Duara (1995, 158), emerged everywhere in the world in the latter third of the nineteenth century. Roudier’s hybrid solution, juxtaposing Cartesian geometry and British gardens with the trope of the Father of the Nation greeting the masses on horseback, provided a fitting, synthetic expression of the kind of late-nineteenth-century globalization that had in the Guzmán regime its most effective local agent and representative. Unlike its late-twentieth-century version, this earlier globalizing wave was not in tension with but rather presupposed local states as the agencies in charge of totalizing the nation and linking it to the international capitalist system. In its dual global and local character, Plaza Bolívar was the site where the state symbolically gathered the nation as a homogeneous whole around Bolívar and turned it toward the wider world. As one would expect, in its whole-making thrust, the state exerted a considerable quantum of violence, grinding all manner of differences down into the officially sanctioned view of the nation as a homogeneous totality. No wonder that in at least one novel from the period immediately following Guzmán’s rule, he is said to have become known by his contemporaries as the “tremendous leveler” (Pardo [1889] 1981, 53–55, 160). The public-works component of “levelling” state action had technological underpinnings, and in this respect it is poetically fitting that Roudier’s main occupation was not urban planner, but railroad engineer. The facility with which at a moment’s notice he switched from the latter occupation to designing the plan of the square already indicates the extent to which public squares, statues, and railroads belonged together in the late-nineteenth-century imaginary repertoire. This can also be seen by simply taking literally such expressions as “state centralization” or “assembling the nation around the centralizing state” (which I have used liberally throughout this chapter). In every case such expressions presuppose the activity of wrenching things from their contexts and bringing them at great speed before a centrally positioned state subject capable of representing them as a collectivity (all of which is of course in accord with Heidegger’s definition of technics; see Weber 1996, 7, 51–54). While public works partially broke down traditional sites of assembly and social intercourse to establish the monumentalized public spaces from within which the state, turned into bronze or stone, could address and convene the people of the nation, it was the locomotives, if not in reality at least in the rhetoric of the regime, that were meant to break down Venezuelans’ resistance and bring them before the state. A combination of railroads, telegraphs, a relatively modernized army, and a whole panoply of state-centralizing techniques— all either introduced or, as in the case of the telegraph, nationalized by the Guzmán regime5—were employed along with public works in the move to totalize the nation’s people around the centralizing state.

54 Archaeologies None of this was lost on the proponents of the alternative plaza de armas plan for Plaza Bolívar, who were branded as “conservatives” by the Guzmán faction because their proposal envisaged a measure of continuity with the public square’s colonial past. Before the 1860s and 1870s, the single major alteration that the republic had introduced vis-à-vis the square concerned its name, changed in 1842 from Plaza Mayor or Plaza de la Catedral to its present-day designation as Plaza Bolívar, a modification that both anticipated and called forth the momentous transformations in appearance and status necessary to bring the public square in line with the imaginary of the republic. As for the rest, in 1865, the year in which the above debate took place, Caracas’ main public square exhibited the multifunctional character that since the dawn of the colony had accrued to the site: it was both the city’s main marketplace and the focus of the civic and religious celebrations of the polity. It also retained the overall physiognomy acquired in the closing decades of the colonial regime, as a large stone-paved quadrangle with a pillory at its center, and exhibiting the arcades that one of Caracas’ last colonial rulers had erected in 1755. While, like their opponents, the proponents of Plaza Bolívar as a plaza de armas also called for some radical changes in the appearance of the public square, it was their insistence on keeping the square’s colonial arcades against the demolitionist intentions of the Guzmán camp that betrayed the federalist significance of their proposal. Such insistence is also revealing of how deeply the federalist ideal sank its roots into the colonial past. Accusing the plaza de armas proponents of a reactionary attachment to the relics of a colonial past that the republic had rendered obsolete, the Guzmán camp did not fail to point to their opponents’ insistence on retaining the arcades as a crucial flaw in their designs. In a republican culture that made the complete rupture with this past one of its main tenets and organizing principles, nothing was more damning than the charge of exhibiting backward-leaning tendencies. Merely by voicing their predilection for holding on to a physical feature as emblematic of the later colonial period as the arcades, the plaza de armas proponents became suspect, and positioned themselves at a discursive disadvantage vis-à-vis their opponents. Not that they in any way openly advocated a return to pre-republican days; they were not so foolish as that. For the most part they couched their predilection for retaining both the arcades and the open space of the square, uncluttered by the shrubbery and strolling characteristics of a park, in strictly aesthetic terms, as the look that best enhanced the beauty and significance of the square. Nevertheless, as subsequent chapters will show, whatever they might or might not have said explicitly, their view of the square effectively betrayed an allegiance to the pre-republican past, even if not to precisely the kind of past that their opponents criticized them for. Their defense of the arcades hinged not so much on their status as colonial survivors, but as tokens of a collective identity with roots in the colonial past that was now threatened by Guzmán’s modernizing designs. For reasons that will be clarified later, what was at stake both in this defense of the arcades and in the insistence that Caracas’ main central square should be remodeled as a military

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Figure 3. Drawing of the Plaza Mayor with colonial arcades and marketplace, by Federico Lessmann, 1850–1852. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

square and not as the garden square proposed by the followers of Guzmán was, in other words, not the defense of the colonial past per se, but the perpetuation of the regional elites’ long-term self-identity and political, military, and economic autonomy vis-à-vis the designs of the centralizing state. That some kind of transformation of the square was needed if the republic was to succeed in demarcating itself from the colony followed from the crucial symbolic status that the colonial regime had assigned to the square, as the site in and around which the constitutive principles of the colonial polity were publicly articulated and objectified. The differences between the colonial and the republican regimes were to some extent already tacitly registered in the detail of the republican ceremony that had been performed in the square since independence, in which, as Georges Lomné suggests, the “baroque machinery” of repre sentation characteristic of the colony had been replaced by the “Bolivarian liturgy of unanimity” aimed at depicting an undivided fatherland unanimously celebrating the hero (Lomné 1998, 332–37).6 But this was insufficient if the republic was to achieve an enduring and tangible expression. A physical reshuffling or, as it eventually happened, thorough remodeling of the site was not accomplished for several decades, though not for lack of awareness of its desirability among sectors of the republican leadership and the general public. Increasingly, from

56 Archaeologies at least the 1840s, just a few years after independence, a chorus of voices denounced in the press the presence of the marketplace in the square as an unseemly spectacle that detracted from the dignity and sobriety that should attend to the site on account of its ceremonial status within the polity. Already in 1845 the magazine El Album included a supplement with a print by Ramón Irazábal offering an idealized image of the square as a largely empty site, and this at a time in which it still teemed with the busy life of the marketplace (Zawisza 1988b, 30). A caption accompanying the print expresses hopes for a time when, following its renaming as Plaza Bolívar in 1842, the statue of the Liberator will be erected at the center of the square. Here one may readily discern the claims that the imaginary of the republic made on the physical reality of the square as the austere site for the enactment and display of a strictly republican civility overseen by the Liberator. It neatly demarcated that civility from the promiscuous and disorderly ancien régime social life that it retrospectively ascribed to the colony and contemporarily identified, as an unwanted survival, with the excessive commingling of the marketplace. The demarcation was explicitly regarded as the preeminent means whereby both the rightful functioning of the polity and the rights of its citizens were to be preserved. As the example of Iraza-

Figure 4. Print presenting an idealized image of Plaza Bolívar, by Ramón Irazabal, 1845. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

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bal’s print suggests, it is not oversight, but rather the dire political and economic circumstances that had afflicted the new nation since its proclamation in 1830, after the separation from Gran Colombia, that explains why concerted efforts to reshape public space were postponed for so long. This is not to suggest that the square was a mirror, passively reflecting the constitutive principles of one or another preexisting sociopolitical order. Precisely because of its symbolic status within the polity, as the 1865 debate over its future appearance powerfully intimates, Caracas’ main public square was from the beginning the foremost site where these principles were themselves established, fought over, and transformed over time. With all that this entailed by way of the imposition of a highly centralized republic, eventually those in favor of the demolition of the colonial arcades along with the eradication of any traces reminiscent of the colonial past prevailed. Leaving aside for now a more thorough exploration of the social, political, and cultural implications of remodeling Plaza Bolívar as a civilized park as opposed to a military square, at this point I will make explicit some of the questions that the decision to remodel Caracas’ main public square tacitly yet insistently raise. First, given the prevailing republicanism, how does one account for the irrepressible drive to fill the empty center of power with the monumentalized figure of the nation’s principal Founding Father, Bolívar? Why, in other words, was and is there such a need in the local political culture to anthropomorphically represent as a figure what according to the prevailing republicanism all citizens equally share, and what in a republic is the sole democratically legitimate, hence necessarily nonrepresentable, source of power? I am, of course, referring to these citizens’ general will. Another way of putting this is to ask what it was about the order of sociocultural experience emerging with independence that so insistently called for such a figure to come into being as this order’s main articulating principle. Also, once instituted, what kinds of constraints if any did such a fateful representation place on the expression and articulation of social, cultural, and political differences? Moreover, how does it inflect the local political process, so that, for example, the constitution of viable social and political identities, or the very exercise of political authority on the part of living incumbents, as was the case for Guzmán and was recently for Chávez, is contingent on the ability to raise or invoke the potent specter of the nation’s dead founding figure? This and the following chapters attempt to formulate some answers to these questions. A good way to start addressing these questions is by taking leave of Plaza Bolívar, and, beginning the archeological foray into the colonial past comprising the rest of this chapter, track back in time to the colonial square. My purpose in revisiting this older layer buried beneath what is now Plaza Bolívar, with the appearance it has had since its remodeling by the Guzmán Blanco regime in the 1870s, is to foreground the colonial square as the site where the main principles of the colonial order were locally articulated and publicly displayed. In so doing I wish to make clear the extent to which,

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Figure 5. Photograph of Caracas’ Plaza Bolívar with arcades recently demolished. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

precisely because of its symbolic and governmental role within the colony, the square was a site that the republican leadership could not simply leave untouched if the republic was to be effectively brought about as a distinct social and cultural formation different from the colony. The following discussion is relevant not only to the Plaza Mayor or main public square of colonial Caracas. It also applies to the main public squares of the capital cities of each of the six provinces composing colonial Venezuela which, much as in the case of the largest of them all, the Province of Caracas or Venezuela, were ruled, administered from, and symbolically put on display as a hierarchically ordered universe on these very sites.7 Loosely held together as part of an imperial whole by the figure of the monarch ruling from distant Spain, as well as by a vast royal bureaucratic machinery, amounting to relatively autonomous “city-provinces” (Guerra 1992, 348–49) not just in Venezuela but also all across Hispanic America, these colonial provinces were the main politico-administrative units of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. The very fact of these provinces’ relative governmental and administrative autonomy already suggests how far the Spanish Empire was from the kind of absolutist political and economic totality that is often portrayed in the literature, as well as from the republican order that, at least in Venezuela, succeeded the colony. What follows is a view of the Venezuelan colonial order as a highly decentralized politico-administrative, economic, and cultural universe. Not only was this order made of relatively autonomous “city-provinces,” each ruled from the main public squares of

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their respective capitals (Guerra 1992, 348–49); in turn, each of them exhibited highly diversified economic structures, with productive units often far smaller than generally claimed by historians bent on tracing back to the colony the highly concentrated character that Venezuela’s agrarian property eventually assumed during the republic. Moreover, it is also the case that rather than orchestrated by a modern state as the repository of a universalist rationality, in the Venezuelan colony many of the most significant political and authority relations were instead presided over by a pactist imaginary according to which what really mattered were the particularistic relations between the Spanish king and different categories of subjects. In presenting such a decentralized view of the colony my aim is twofold: first, to clear the ground in the succeeding chapters from any residual historiographical tendency to interpret the kind of political, economic, and cultural centralization that eventually asserted itself in the course of the nineteenth century, during the republic, as the natural outgrowth of similar tendencies before independence; and second, in so doing, to allow the relative novelty of the republican order that emerged after independence to come to the fore in all of its specificity as an unprecedented governmental formation crystallizing as a result of a series of momentous political decisions taken vis-à-vis radically disjointed realities that need to be analyzed in their own terms. These realities presented the early republicans with challenges for which nothing they had lived during colonial times could have prepared them. This is not to say that the continuities between colonial and postcolonial times are negligible; far from it. As argued in this chapter, nineteenth-century federalism is clearly in line with the highly decentralized provincial structure of the Venezuelan colonial order. What these continuities cannot explain, however, is why such federalism eventually succumbed to overwhelmingly centralizing forces. To do that one must attend to a postcolonial logic of the situation that was marked by the disappearance of the Spanish monarch and the concomitant transformation of the colony’s supernumerary population—which, by and large, was not the source of significant strain during the colonial period—into ever-larger postcolonial crowds originally bereft of any political institution or figure capable of governmentally addressing them in all of their ineradicable modernity. But this is the topic of later chapters, where “Bolívar” figures prominently. For now it is important simply to realize that regardless of the continuities that one may be able to discern between colonial and postcolonial phenomena, the significance of the latter always needs to be apprehended in reference to a postcolonial logic that is largely discontinuous with whatever came before it— a logic, I might add, that regardless of the continuities, ultimately rendered irresistible both the dissolution of the old corporate order and the thorough reconfiguration of the sociocultural world through the adoption of modern vocabularies and practices that went far deeper than the mere window-dressing adduced by some analysts. One last caveat is in order. Even if in attending to the analysis and description of a series of economic, political, and cultural processes in what follows I often stray from

60 Archaeologies a strict focus on the colonial square, it is important to keep in mind that, as the concluding remarks of this chapter make clear, all of these processes achieved local reality and significance as they were seized, orchestrated, sanctioned, and redefined by the authorities based in the colonial square and, often, right on this square’s very surface.

Colonial Foundations Let us, then, begin at the beginning, with that single yet iterable gesture from the foundational ceremony of the city of Caracas, capital of what was to become the largest of the six provinces that made up colonial Venezuela: by knocking the tip of his sword three times against the “pillory of justice,” placed just at the center of what would become the city’s main public square, the conquistador Diego de Losada founded the city. Enacted by the relevant authority in each of the main public squares of the capital cities of every one of the Venezuelan provinces, this inaugural gesture may be said to have brought into existence the spatial coordinates of the colonial order of each of these provinces as a relatively autonomous, hierarchically arranged ensemble, objectified and syntactically articulated in and around the public square as the physical and symbolic center from which everything colonial was meant to radiate outward and toward which everything ultimately converged. In what follows I seek to apprehend this overall spatial-cum-political logic by focusing first on the square as the unavoidable stage where alternative understandings, wills, and designs regarding the colonial predicament were bound to clash and compromise; and I will suggest the extent to which the formulation of any alternative to the colony was also bound to work itself out on this stage by means of the strategic rearrangement and even erasure of its objectified sites, signposts, and landmarks. The very character of the republican regime that would eventually emerge victorious from the ashes of the colony, prevailing over other, competing republicanisms, was to a large extent contingent on the actual character of this alteration. To put it bluntly and somewhat schematically, the very character of the republican regime that would eventually crystallize was contingent on which version of the square ultimately prevailed, something that did not escape contemporaries; hence the urgency of the contests and debates they waged over the material shape of their world. Symbolizing possession over the territory of the new city in the name of the king, Losada’s act, although pivotal, was only one among the series of ceremonial events that “went to make up a Foundation” all across Hispanic America (Fraser 1990, 51)— Foundation being the name given to the ritual officially inaugurating any new city or town across the Spanish Empire. As Valerie Fraser makes clear, neither the sequence of events nor their precise character were exactly the same from one Foundation to another (ibid., 52). No document has been found describing the Caracas ceremony or stating its exact date (Beroes 1992, 563), but there are, nevertheless, enough documented similarities among Foundations everywhere that a twentieth-century historian felt

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authorized to fashion a vivid rendition of the act that founded the city. Here is how Hermano Nectario María describes it: [A]fter instructing his party to place a pillory at the very center of the square where justice was to be executed, Losada mounted his horse with all his weapons, held his sword high and, surrounded by all the future inhabitants, loudly proclaimed that on such a site he was founding a city in the name of God and of his Majesty the King, and that if there was anyone present who wished to contradict him to step forward and he would defend his stance. Immediately afterwards, as a signal of possession, he struck with his bare sword the pillory of justice while everyone present responded with one voice: Long live the King our Lord. This ceremony was repeated and after performing it with the utmost solemnity for the third time Losada declared the city of Santiago de Leon de Caracas founded. (Nectario María 1979, 112)

Itself a reiteration of what went on in Foundation ceremonies everywhere (Misle 1992, 171), Losada’s founding act is not one but three, splitting or self-dividing into a series that discloses origins or foundations as a structure of repetition. Thus, after defiantly raising his sword before the audience, the conquistador knocks it three times against the pillory of justice, and the completion of this sequence is what may be said to found the city. One might then say that, in its prescribed seriality, the repetitions tacitly acknowledge the contaminations always already threatening to derail any foundation while, at the same time, striving to contain such derailing within the kind of trinitarian structure that, at least in the West, is perhaps the canonical way of returning historicity to its authorizing source, regardless of whether such a source is God or the state. Thus, according to Derrida, for any foundation to be identified as such and delivered into the future as that which must be preserved, it must be repeatable and repeated; yet it is those very repetitions that in turn irrevocably alter this foundation’s identity by exposing it to its excluded outside (Derrida 1992, 38–39, 43–44, 55). It is precisely such a contamination that the thrice-repeated founding act seems designed to prevent, while, at the same time, it unwittingly acknowledges the hazardous temporality to which any foundation, along with the identity that it procures, is delivered. In what follows I will try not to lose sight of this troubled acknowledgement, gesturing whenever possible toward the colonial scene of inscription where the identity of the colonial order was belatedly instituted through the iterable practices that also transformed it. First, however, I wish to call attention to the knocking of the sword against the pillory of justice in the passage above, an act that makes glaringly overt what is usually kept hidden, namely, the inextricable relations between force and the law, according to which force is, from the beginning, interior to the law, “implied in the very concept of justice as law” (Derrida 1992, 5). In making these relations explicit, Losada’s knocking with his sword publicly revealed the colonial enterprise as a hubristic, deliberate attempt to thoroughly and forcefully subject space to the law’s overarching designs.

62 Archaeologies The display of both force and law is a momentous performative meant to make unequivocal the law’s willingness to crush whatever crosses its path. Indeed, such a founding gesture dramatically postulated the territory assigned to the new city as a blank slate to be exhaustively inscribed by a colonial script. In principle, from then on no lacuna, opacity, or instance of resistance was to be tolerated. Foundation ceremonies everywhere explicitly displayed the inextricable relations between force and the law. In line with the instructions that the king gave to Pedrarias Dávila in 1513 for the conquest of the Central American mainland from Spain’s original base in the Ca ribbean, these ceremonies were ultimately machines designed to deliver order to the landscape of the new cities. The following passage from these instructions, where forms of the word order figures with an insistence bordering on the obsessive, makes clear the extent to which instituting order was a guiding ambition presiding over the entire colonial enterprise: Having ascertained what things are necessary for the settlements and having chosen the site most advantageous and abundantly provided with all things necessary to those who will settle therein, distribute town lots for the construction of houses, in orderly fashion, according to the quality of the recipients, so that, once constructed, the town will appear well-ordered as regards the space designated for the central plaza, the location of the church, and the placement of the streets; because where such orders are given from the outset, orderly results will follow without undue cost and effort, and in other places order will never be achieved. (Pedrarias Dávila, quoted in Rama 1996, 4; Rama’s emphasis)

Such order was what the foundation ceremonies everywhere delivered with an indeed impressive regularity, as evidenced by the extraordinary likeness of ground plans among a great many of the cities and towns that the Spaniards founded across an immense territorial expanse. To this day, the repetition of a chessboard layout of square blocks and straight, narrow streets intersecting at ninety-degree angles and converging, finally, on an open, central square confers a somewhat baffling similarity on the vast majority of urban centers, both large and small, throughout the region. And what such a uniform geometric layout most unequivocally conveys is order, manifest in the symmetry of its sections as much as in the linearity of the streets, where no obstacle can intercept the straight path of the gaze. Intrinsic to any foundation ceremony, and often immediately following the knocking of sword against the pillory of justice, was the “dedicatory mass in a newly erected church or at least in its proposed site, and also a secular ceremony, which usually involved the symbolic instigation of secular justice together with the actual formation of the first town council, or cabildo, by appointment of the necessary officials” (Fraser 1990, 52). Right from the start the new city was therefore ceremonially endowed with the two institutions—the municipal council, or cabildo, and the Church—that, to a large extent, together made up the local authority structure of any major city or town across

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Figure 6. First map of the city of Caracas, 1578. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

the Spanish New World. At the beginning, then, and before anything really began, a powerful performance tightly compressed origins within a single site. Not only did the ceremonies articulate the will of the colonial enterprise with its local institutions, they also situated the two, setting both into place, and this place was none other than the central square. Prior to the performance, and as one of its critical prerequisites, the place assigned to the square had to be staked out as the space uniquely appropriate for its staging and as the site in and around which the power structure instituted by the ceremony was to be housed (ibid.); hence the characteristic clustering of buildings around the pillory of justice at the center of the square. The pattern is still discernible nowadays, not only in Caracas but in countless other places across Spanish America. Comprising both church and cabildo, the houses of the Crown representatives and the main local notables or vecinos principales, as well as the jail for the transgressors, this spatial pattern crystallized the colonial order in situ, establishing the setting from within which this order was instituted and reproduced locally. It matters little whether everything “really” happened in the exact order prescribed for the ceremony; what is crucial is that this was the proper order in which things ought to originate, even if subsequently, things

64 Archaeologies had to be brought back to order repeatedly. And so, the public square was ideally staked out sometime between the formal inspection and choice of site by the head of the military expedition and the subsequent laying out of the squares, streets and blocks so that construction could begin (Fraser 1990, 52). It was at this spatiotemporal juncture that the square was instituted as the local powerhouse of the colony. Imagined complete, with its ring of buildings housing the authorities who lorded over the here and the hereafter, even when the site was windswept and barely cleared of shrubs and weeds, from the beginning the square was posited as the source and telos of virtually everything, the sole legitimate site from which to draw the power needed to ensure that everything could begin right and stay right. The laying out of the new town as a geometric grid of square blocks and straight, narrow streets all arranged around the central square in turn allowed the “orderly” distribution of plots “according to the quality of the recipients” (Fraser 1990, 52) composing the military expedition. This meant assigning plots so that their relative size and location indexed the relative “quality” of the beneficiaries, without destroying through sheer arbitrariness the very order so eagerly sought. To achieve such a goal nothing was more convenient than the geometric layout. For one thing, it made it possible to envelop the asymmetries of distribution within the symmetrical certainties of numerical and geometric criteria, languages championed as universally valid in the context of Renaissance ideals. Thus, if the leaders of the expedition were assumed to stand well above the rest of the party (in either social status or the sheer size of their economic investments, or both), then the geometric layout allowed for such differences to be mapped with some exactitude onto the landscape. At one extreme, entire square blocks would be granted to the most prominent among the settlers, while, at the other extreme, regular soldiers or commoners would have to make do with perhaps one-tenth or less of that surface. And the layout further met the requirements of difference and hierarchy by allowing social difference to be mapped onto the spatial order of the site. Thus, this or that plot would be so many meters or palms closer to or farther from the central square. Consistent with the overwhelmingly urban bias of the Spanish colonial enterprise in the Americas, the public square was not just the hub of a hierarchically ordered world but, more critically, the dynamic site from which such a world was instituted and authoritatively maintained over time, not the least as an orderly spatial design.8 The significance that the Spanish assigned to such a design is clear from the fact that “square-centrality” was found on either side of the divide that throughout the Spanish Empire, in Venezuela as much as elsewhere, set off the “republic of Spaniards” from the “republic of Indians.” Not only were each of these two “republics” everywhere endowed by Crown legislation with an identical juridical status and broadly similar political structures (even if, of the two, the republic of Spaniards exhibited a far greater degree of institutional complexity than its Indian equivalent), they were mirror reflections of each other. Thus, much as in the case of its Spanish counterpart, the republic

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of Indians was institutionally organized as a network of Indian towns—the pueblos de indios— all hierarchically arranged around a pueblo principal, or main urban center or town, complete with its central square where, besides the Church, the cabildo de indios, or Indian municipal council, was found, an institution in which the entire indigenous political leadership was housed. Erected everywhere across the Empire, in what is now Venezuela these pueblos de indios were set up in order to bring together, enframe, and exercise control over the largely nomadic tribes that the Spaniards first met in the central and coastal areas of the conquered territory. From these powerfully charged sites, the subjugated local populations were continuously gathered and made politically and economically accountable to their colonial rulers.

An Epiphany of the Visible Instantiated, then, on each side of the colony’s fundamental divide, the ubiquity of this main square– centered spatial pattern speaks eloquently about the social order of the colony. Generated and institutionally maintained from the central square, not only did such a pattern spatially codify the existing social hierarchy, but it also helped to naturalize it by parading as its visible, most lasting embodiment. Its compelling simplicity lent itself to all kinds of signifying operations. For example, the pattern helped convert social into chronological precedence, and vice versa: if the local aristocracy claimed economic and political power in part through antiquity of occupation, the spatial layout was a most effective means of demonstrating and asserting this. Thus dwelling near or around the square certified one’s condition as an “old settler”; the location was both among the main perquisites and one of the crucial prerequisites of rule. Of course, this meant that the principles of the local order were encoded in the topography of the site along coordinates that were not merely spatial but also, simultaneously, temporal. From the start, newcomers had to find their way within this doubly encoded topography if they wished to count in town. And even if they happened to be white, finding their way often meant having their identity seized and redefined within that classificatory grid. Hence, for example, to be branded a blanco de orilla (a “white from the edges”) was to have one’s parvenu condition saliently demonstrated by one’s place of residence at the edges of town. In these outlying areas, where the town’s last blocks and streets shed any sharp contours, blurring into the surrounding hinterland, one joined—or, better, increasingly found oneself unceremoniously lumped together with—freed blacks, mixed-bloods, and Indians. But whatever the outcome was, to negotiate one’s way into town was to come to terms with the authority housed in its central square, starting with the town’s municipal council, its cabildo. Originally composed of members elected from within the local aristocracy along with the Crown’s appointed representatives, in later years the institution partially lost its status as an elected body, seeing its ranks increasingly swelled from the sale of offices by a Crown in dire need of fi nancial resources to pursue ruinous military ventures in Eu rope. Newcomers had to obtain



permission from this governing local body to live in town; if they were successful it would also assign the plot on which they could erect a residence. Authorizing and assigning residence was only one among the many functions that the cabildo discharged locally. Other such functions were collecting taxes, maintaining good order, or policía, assigning agricultural lands and indigenous laborers to individuals and families in the town’s hinterland, recruiting and organizing militias for local defense, and, in general, making sure that a minimum level of hygiene and propriety prevailed. Last but by no means least, and often in combination with the Church, the local municipal council was also in charge of orchestrating the civic and religious festivities that on special dates gathered and showily displayed local life in the central square (Troconis de Veracoechea 1992a, 88–90; Williamson 1992, 97; Guerra 1992, 64–68; Haring 1963, 156–57). To a large extent, visibility was the name of the local game. Very much in line with the colonial order’s neo-Thomist theological underpinnings, according to which the sensuous appearances of the world were possessed of an inherent God-instituted truth and legality, everything was ultimately played out along the axis of the visible. Consequently, legislating and orchestrating appearances was a constantly recouped endeavor. Ordinances and laws emanated from the institutions in the central square, seeking to reinstall the visible markers of the order that once originated at the site “from scratch.” Some of these regulations maintained the cityscape’s proper appearance, so that the hierarchical order of society could show forth in the very order of its sites. Another intricate maze of ordinances legislated the dress, prerogatives, and even bodily demeanor of the different classes of peoples moving across the city’s inner boundaries, in and out of their allotted sites, so that, at any moment of their busy comings and goings, a quick glance would suffice to give anyone a rough sense of their trade and station in life. What to wear and when, who had or did not have the right to bear arms or ride horses, which clothes, colors, and banners identified the different brotherhoods or corporations, how the different categories of peoples were to be arranged in church, processions, and festivities, and what order or precedence should prevail among them, and even the kinds of salutes and forms of address that they should exchange when meeting one another— these were all matters that, often codified as ordinances or laws, ultimately resided with or at least were ratified by the authorities in and around the central square (BritoFigueroa 1975, 164–65; King 1953, 531; Leal Curiel 1990, 120–45, 156–69, 170–81, 189–10; Lombardi 1982, 48–49; Olaechea 1992, 17, 250; Morse 1984, 81–82; Rojas Mix 2000, 128, 131–32; Solano 1990, 186–91). One may, then, regard the square as the site of decision making, where the corporate order of the colony that radiated and gathered around it to include the whole of the province was instituted and maintained; but it can also be viewed as the space where, on special occasions, this order was purposefully assembled and lavishly put on display. Processions, bullfights, all sorts of games, the installment of both secular and religious authorities, the execution of criminals or rebels on and around the pillory of

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justice, and the ceremonies marking the passing of monarchs or their accession to the Spanish crown: these were all occasions when the local order’s compelling need to visually display and articulate all of its relevant distinctions and structuring principles was fulfilled at one site. Moreover, a kind of racially inflected caste system regulated by law, what in Spanish was called the sistema de castas, was, as a structuring principle, consubstantial with local colonial society. The system was a hierarchical ordering, with whites at the top, Indians at the very bottom, and different categories of mixed-bloods in between (Williamsom 1992, 144). Occasionally the entire caste system appeared on the square on parade, its members distinctly ranked and dressed, arranged in processions or grouped in separate guilds, confraternities, or milicias (citizen military battalions). On such occasions the separate castes were differentially articulated through an array of contrasting colors and styles in the clothing, emblems, and banners displayed at the site. Something similar may be said of the differentiated system of corporations and estates that commentators often describe as having been one of the main structuring principles of the colonial order, together with the monarchy and the caste system. Also on special occasions the Church, the army, and the local aristocracy (represented in the secular authority, or cabildo), together with the Crown representatives and the different guilds—that is, all the main corporate orders or estates comprising local society— made themselves visibly present in the square. Laws invested these groupings with a series of special duties and privileges, for example, the right of members of the army or of the clergy to be tried by peers in their own courts. Individuals in these corporations were all highly jealous of their inherited privileges and status; hence the unending battles over precedence that in all their amazing punctiliousness crowd the pages of so many of the documents resting in the colonial sections of the Venezuelan archives. These battles were waged over issues that ranged from proper seating arrangements in the cathedral, to the use of emblems and objects by individuals or groups, to the appropriate order of persons and corporations in the ceremonies held in the church or the cabildo, and they continued just outside in the public square. Such battles bear testimony to the status accorded to the visible, as the realm where many of the most crucial local stakes were ultimately played out (Leal Curiel 1990, 171–94). The role of the visible in the epiphany of the social order reached a singularly striking realization in the festivities in 1789 in Caracas celebrating the accession of Charles IV, the Bourbon king, to the Spanish throne. Throughout the festivities, the portraits of both king and queen were prominently displayed on the main platform at the center of the square (Leal Curiel, 140). From this central site, the portraits of the monarchs exercised the dual powers that Louis Marin attributes to representations generally, and that, according to him, were exercised during the ancien régime by the king’s portraits as a means of constituting the power of the monarch. The first is the power of representations to make present and visible what is otherwise absent or dead, which Marin calls representation’s powers of presence; the second is the power to intensify and

68 Archaeologies legitimize the identity of the represented, much like passports flashed before authorities at a border, which he calls the power of representation to institute a subject (Marin 1988, 5–6). As Marin makes clear, during the French classical age (broadly corresponding to the baroque period in Spain), the seizing of these dual powers via the king’s portraits was made possible by the political inflections of a secular theology. In other words, the theological formula “this is my body” would have been modulated politically by theories of absolutism, turning the king’s many portraits into reflecting surfaces that retroactively established the identity and power of monarchs before their subjects (ibid., 9–12). Exercising their thaumaturgy from the very center of power, these royal portraits nonproblematically filled the site that the Guzmán regime underwent so many contortions to keep empty while nevertheless insidiously filling with the ruler (albeit via his Bolívar proxy). One has only to juxtapose these dissimilar strategies vis-à-vis the center of power to catch a glimpse of the largely unbridgeable gap separating colonial and postcolonial predicaments, no matter how much continuity one may detect beneath the political surface. But before addressing the thorny issue of the differences and continuities between the regimes, I must complete my characterization of the colonial order that was locally articulated in and around the public square.

Pactism and the Colonial Order What kind of order was this and in which ways, if any, was it continued or perpetuated by the republican regime that was to replace it a mere two decades after the 1789 celebrations in Caracas? From the ease with which the royal portraits filled the center of power at the center of Caracas’ square, one might be tempted to answer by positing a highly hierarchical and centralized Spanish Empire as the colonial antecedent of the intense processes of state centralization that took place in the century after independence. According to such a view the lines of power and authority would have all radiated outwards and downwards along a series of bureaucratic links spanning all the way from the king in Spain to the distant colonial periphery. In turn, not just bullion or agricultural commodities but also the myriad requests for favors, privileges, or appointments, or, more generally, for juridical adjudication in the especially ambiguous or vexed circumstances of the colonies would have followed an inverse trajectory. Traveling upwards from the colony along these links, sometimes the myriad requests would have made it all the way to the faraway court in Madrid. Such, indeed, is the canonical view that until not long ago a majority of historiographical writings on the subject still transmitted, taking the centralist absolutism of the Spanish Empire largely for granted. In particular, this has been the line adopted by studies bent on identifying a centralist tradition in the longue durée of all Latin American societies (Véliz 1980). Such a tradition is often construed as the colonial legacy from which societies in the area have striven unsuccessfully to break loose, as evidenced by the

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chronic alternation between periods of democracy and periods of dictatorship everywhere in the region. Recently, however, historians have been increasingly articulating an alternative understanding. Jean-Fréderic Schaub, for example, argues in an exceedingly insightful essay that thinking of the Hispanic monarchy’s relations to its subjects on the model of the modern state, thus attributing an excess of normative and bureaucratic autonomy to the workings of the imperial order, is anachronistic (1998, 27–53). This is so because the “reflexive concept of the state” as the subject of a series of practical initiatives and interventions is absent from the documents found in the royal archives. He traces the idea that the workings of Spain’s monarchy might be akin to those of the modern state “on the one hand to the confluence between a literary genre devoted to the thematic of reason of state and [on the other] to the institutional development of the monarchy, as manifested in the production of colossal amounts of administrative documents” (ibid., 33). Schaub makes clear, however, that an understanding of the Spanish monarchy on the model of the modern state is the result of taking materials that obey a different cultural logic and retroactively submitting them to alien suppositions. Thus, regarding, fi rst, the monarchy’s vast amounts of paperwork as the “record of juridical acts,” he shows that these documents, along with the casuistic juridical doctrines on which they drew, “refer us to forms of behavior characterized by particularism and privacy,” and not to any abstract logic of the state (ibid., 35). Both the documents and the juridical doctrines on which they drew are, in sum, evidence of the “total interpenetration of . . . administrative and private law or . . . political field and familial domain” (ibid., 39). Th is would leave, in the discursive field, two domains where one might find support for placing the monarchy in the lineage of the centralized modern state: the so- called political literature of the time— mirrors for princes and reason- of-state treatises—and, in the field of political action, the “arbitrations” (Schaub, 39). Although both are concerned with guiding the “political calculus” of the monarch in an “uncertain present,” according to Schaub it is nevertheless impossible to identify “the foundations of an alternative political rationality” in either set of sources (ibid., 40). Neither, in other words, betrays the existence of an autonomous domain where the notion (and the reality) of the “normative sovereignty” of the state was effectively articulated (ibid., 34). Embedded in a Christian cosmology where a Providence-oriented salvation was the telos of all worldly action, the emphasis of the political literature on political calculation “at no time pretends to displace the normative, i.e., juridical and theological foundations of the Christian royalty” (ibid.). Likewise, the royal arbitrations were “rooted in the conceptual field of . . . domestic economy” (ibid.), and, just like the mirrors for princes and the treatises, fully acknowledged the legitimacy of the existing corporate ordering of society (ibid., 41). According to a host of recent historians, as much in Spain as in the colonies such an order decisively inflected the sociopolitical dynamics of the monarchy, circumscribing

70 Archaeologies its workings within the confines of a “pact” between the king and his subjects— even if such workings would have increasingly registered the effects of absolutist interventions and policies, especially after the accession of the Bourbon dynasty to the Crown. In evaluating the enlightened despotism of the Bourbons one needs, however, to recognize the extent to which the novelty of the royal policies was itself mediated and limited by the preexisting “pactism.” Rooted in a constitutionalism of medieval origins, the pact between king and subjects provided the medium through which every royal initiative and innovation was refracted. Consistent with Schaub’s understanding of the complexion and dynamics of the ancien régime, François-Xavier Guerra claims, for example, that “to use for that era concepts like that of the [modern] State, sovereignty, absolutism, civil society, is to apply to previous times nineteenth-century concepts that were elaborated in a postrevolutionary context, even if their origins go back to a more remote past” (1998, 109–10). Guerra goes as far as to contest the usual view of independence in Spanish America as transference of sovereignty “from the king to the nation,” since that would presuppose that, unaccountable to any other, the king already enjoyed all the “attributes of sovereignty” (ibid.). Insisting that the formula “se acata pero no se cumple” (“it is obeyed but not carried out”) aptly summarized the actors’ understanding of their relationship to the monarchy, Guerra cautions against taking at face value the “absolutist discourse” of the Bourbons in the late colonial period, arguing, instead, that it “must be analyzed not as the expression of reality but as an ideal or as a project, often confused and contradictory, which, moreover, does not suppress the juridical foundations nor the political practices really existing in the Hispanic monarchy” (ibid.). It is these foundations and practices that, in turn, configured the corporate order of society as one of the two poles of the pact within which the workings of the monarchy were deployed. Within the constraints of this pact, subjects expected their monarch to behave less like the deity in nominalist theology, or an agency possessed of untrammeled subjectivity, than as the kind of ruler envisioned in St. Thomas’ writings, characterized by wisdom. This means that, at least for a majority in the colonies, the ideal king was a kind of wise judge who, much like the Thomist God, sat in judgment on a created world imbued with legality. In this world ordained by the dictates of natural law, the king’s primary role was restricted to adjudicating specific instances, issues, and circumstances. This is like saying that, for the colonial majority, their lived world was far removed from the radical contingency with which, in line with the refiguration of the divinity in late medieval theology, absolutist theorists invested the creation so as to better free the monarch to tamper with its constituting principles according to the dictates of his free will. It is this free will that makes it possible to speak of the absolute monarch as being already a paradigmatically modern subject who, “freed from ‘substantial categories’ . . . is literally absolutus, that is, released, free” (Moretti 1983, 45). Whatever the case was in the narrow world of royal ceremonies, portraiture, or historiography, it now seems as if matters in the colonies were considerably more compli-

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cated “on the ground.” In their day-to-day dealings with the representatives and institutions of the Crown, colonial subjects very much behaved on the assumption that, within the corporate order of which they were a part, their status and stations in life possessed a natural-law legitimacy that the monarchy not only ought to acknowledge but, more importantly, confirm. Regardless of how much the Spanish monarchy, especially under the Bourbons, tried to overturn the prevailing pactism, for a large majority of subjects the role that legitimately accrued to the king within the established order remained quite circumscribed. Maintaining good order, levying taxes, protecting and expanding the faith, guarding and preserving the harmony among the existing orders and hierarchies, adjudicating when necessary to redress what might have gone astray so as to return things to their “natural” state—these were the duties and privileges of the king according to the (increasingly beleaguered) views of his colonial subjects. It is true that throughout Spanish America the conquistadors did not succeed in constituting themselves as a hereditary nobility. Thus, even if a kind of aristocracy rooted in the ownership of the best agricultural lands did emerge both in Venezuela and elsewhere, this group’s aspirations to pass on to their heirs the right to exact tribute or exercise jurisdiction over the indigenous populations that had been assigned to them in the original grants from the Spanish Crown, the encomiendas, was frustrated, first juridically, by the New Laws (1542–1543), and then on the battlefield in Peru in 1548 (Brading 1994, 21; McAlister 1984, 192–93), even if inconsistent enactments on the subject of inheritance remained (Gibson 1966, 62). In Venezuela the encomendero group managed to preserve their privileges longer than elsewhere (Lombardi 1982, 43), until a succession of seventeenth-century royal decrees led to the end of the encomiendas (Salcedo Bastardo 1993, 148). According to a view that is still canonical, these decrees would have set the stage, already during the colony, for the transition to the large hacienda as the form of land ownership that, until the present, has dominated the Venezuelan countryside. Leaving aside for now the vexed issue of how agrarian property was effectively structured during the colonial period, it is important to realize the significance the absence of a nobility had for the region as a whole; namely, that one of the main pillars sustaining the corporate order in the Old World was absent from the New, such that relations between the lower and the higher orders of society could not be enframed within a series of prestations and counter-prestations beneficial to both. The consequences of this would not be fully felt until independence, when, with the Spanish monarch absent, horrific violence would be unleashed all across Latin America and especially in Venezuela. This difference between Old and New Worlds already suggests that whatever the nature of the colonial pact between the Spanish crown and its American subjects, it certainly was not a straightforward revival of its medieval precedent. Other New World developments further complicated everywhere, and with especial intensity in Venezuela, the scheme of orders or estates that had developed in Europe and been transplanted

72 Archaeologies to the colonies. For one thing, contrary to the situation in Spain, in Spanish America the different orders of society did not have rights of representation in the Cortes, or Spanish parliament; one can therefore only speak of the existence of estates in the Americas in the broadest sense of groups having jurisdictions and rights (Morse 1989, 98–99). But surely the most important development in the New World was the racial mixing among the different strands of population (Gilmore 1964, 14; Serrera 1994, 66), starting with the mixing of the Spaniards with the various indigenous populations they encountered in their spread both north and south from the Caribbean. Soon afterward came the contributions that blacks, brought in large numbers as slaves from various parts of Africa, made to these original mixings. Over time the manifold crossings among the already hybridized descendants of blacks, Indians, and whites issued in a racial landscape of truly staggering complexity. Generically designated as castas throughout Spanish America, and, more commonly, as pardos, or brown-colored, in Venezuela, the populations resulting from all these crossings did not find any clear place in the colonial order of things. I mentioned before that colonial society was primarily organized along a divide demarcating the “republic of Indians” from the “republic of Spaniards.” The stark division of social reality into two relatively compartmentalized polities already presupposed a considerable distortion of the corporate order that the Spaniards had originally brought with them to the Americas, substituting a deep cleavage among rulers and ruled for the reciprocal relations of vassalage and lordship prevailing in the Spanish peninsula (Serrera 1994). The institutional framework of the two republics then provoked transformations in the structure of the corporate order that were perhaps even more momentous. By not making any legal room for those resulting from racial mixing, the institutional and legal framework of the two republics saw itself increasingly exceeded by a growing population that it found difficult to classify and effectively control. With no recognized legal standing or even identity, the status of all these mixed populations was defined mostly negatively, in reference to the status of Indians or Spaniards, as a series of legislated exclusions or prohibitions detailing all those rights and privileges to which they were not entitled. Thus the pardos or castas were forbidden by law to enter universities, seminars and the priesthood, and from holding any office in the local municipal government; they were barred from certain confraternities, forced by law to wear special costumes signifying their separate identities, excluded from the army until the late colonial period, and in their dealings with the whites had, at all times, to observe the proper deference (King 1953, 529). To use the words of a Spanish captain general in a report to the Spanish king written during the first phase of the Venezuelan War of Independence (regarding which I will have more to say in a later chapter), as a result of all these exclusions the pardos or castas constituted a “third intermediate people in between the white and the black,” whose members “to a certain extent were considered as foreigners” in the colony, even though many had resided there for almost as many generations as the oldest white settlers (quoted in King 1953, 529).

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Finding themselves in a legal limbo and increasingly forced to make a living in the interstices of the colony’s juridical ordering, the members of the free colored population became petty traders or small landholders in those areas of the countryside not claimed by the larger property owners, roamed the partially unclaimed and vast extensions of the Venezuelan plains as bandits or nomads, or gravitated to the main urban centers, where they concentrated in large numbers. In the cities they filled the main occupations and trades, for example becoming carvers, shopkeepers, or carpenters; they organized themselves in brotherhoods, military battalions, and guilds, and sometimes accumulated considerable wealth. They were generally perceived from above as a destabilizing element, which through untutored wanderings threatened to unsettle the established order of things. A remarkably punctilious and ceaselessly proliferating system of racial/ethnic categorization developed to dispel somewhat the opacities of this social world, by rendering its manifold complexities more legible to power. For example, according to Alberto Arias Amaro (n.d., 83), in Venezuela the following distinctions emerged from the mixing among whites, Indians, and blacks: a. mestizos (born of the union between a white man and an Indian woman); b. zambos (between a black man and an Indian woman; c. mulatos (between a white man and a black woman; d. cuarterones (between a white man and a mulata); and e. quinterones (between a white man and a cuarterón). The Venezuelan historian J. L. Salcedo Bastardo has added yet other ethnic/racial labels that, in their vividness, cast a powerful light on the colonial situation (1993, 145–46). Recently attention has been drawn to the structuring role of translation among heterogeneous cultural codes in the colonial situation, as well as to moments when translation simply breaks down (Rafael 1988, 19–22, 26–54, 137, 155). Salcedo Bastardo (1993, 145) has noted that attempts to block all translation were no less central, as in the case of a whole category of persons somewhat enigmatically labeled no te entiendo (“I don’t understand you”) in the colonial documents; or as in the following labels, in which classification was used to block passage or translation across the colonially instituted boundaries: tente en el aire (“stay standing in the air”) and ahí estas (“stay right there”). But as much in their proliferation as in their surrendering of description, these labels already suggest that the system of racial categorization was being stretched to the limit by its inability to keep up with the bewildering combinations unleashed by the reality of racial mixture in the colony. As James Lockhart has argued for Spanish America generally, during the “mature colonial period,” roughly corresponding to the eighteenth century, this system “had, through its own operation, come into crisis” (1984, 316). Beyond a certain point, to respond to the proliferation of unprecedented racial combinations among the “humble people” though the generation of ever finer distinctions was, he says, unrealistic (ibid.). However, according to Lockhart the reaction to this situation was not just to sharpen all distinctions and then abandon them, “but to do both almost simultaneously” (ibid.). Thus, the later eighteenth century was the heyday of the proliferation of “categories for subtle degrees of mixture and cross-mixture”

74 Archaeologies (ibid.). Yet this was also the time when, prompted by social developments across Spanish America, the opposite tendency to “revert to simplicity” also asserted itself, with the generic terms castas or pardos increasingly used to refer to the lower classes as a whole (ibid., 317). This tendency prevailed in Venezuela, where, either implicitly or explicitly, historians allude to the progressive replacement of the older system of ever-finer discriminations by a single generic designation during the later colonial period (Arias Amaro n.d., 43; Lombardi 1982, 48–49; Salcedo Bastardo 1993, 32). If I have gone on at some length about the complexities generated by the realities of ethnic/racial mixing, it is not just to exemplify one of the crucial ways in which the corporate order became fundamentally altered, one might even say unhinged, in the colony. It is also to delineate the colonial antecedents of a cleavage that, with the demise of the colony, came to preside over the history of the independent nation throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, a central claim in this book is that one of the most productive ways of reading a host of historical developments in Venezuela since independence is precisely in terms of the attempts of the elites and the republican leadership to generate conditions of government in the face of an excessive, unruly population not easy to accommodate in the novel institutional arrangements of the republic. “Bolívar” became a solution to this difficulty. While I will address this in more detail later, here I merely wish to make clear two things: one, the extent to which the justmentioned “solution” came about in response to a situation inherited from the colony; two, regardless of how many continuities one may indeed detect between the colony and the republic, the discontinuities and differences are not any less crucial for that reason. Whatever difficulties the growing presence of a supernumerary population might have posed to the colonial order, these difficulties nevertheless unfolded within juridical and institutional arrangements that were fundamentally different from those of the succeeding republic, and that had rendered them considerably less threatening than they would afterwards become. In the colonial setting the king made all the difference—not as the seat of the kind of political logic that turned the social realm into an environment for the Crown’s willful designs (as imagined by such authors as Jean Bodin), but as the pinnacle of the republic and as the “icon” and “guarantor” of its preexisting order (Schaub 1998, 44). That is, in order for the king to realize his authority, even if theoretically that authority was “not limited by any legal disposition,” he needed to respect the ordering of society while engaging in endless rounds of personal contacts with the bodies that composed it (ibid., 52). Sustained by his “undisputed monopoly of favors,” it is this kind of privacy or “bond of personal union which places the king at the heart of all possible representations of authority.” It then follows that “for a public space to come into being, national sovereignty must have first been substituted for the body of the king, after his having been actually beheaded in the Louis XIV Square, or symbolically in the general quarters of Simón Bolívar” (ibid.). But before symbolically losing his head to Bolívar, the king was busily heading the kingdom as the hub of an intricate maze of

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particularistic, personalized ties and transactions, all of which ultimately referred to his bodily persona as the final source of validation and value. Hence in all their mutual conflicts, as well as in their attempts to have their standings and aspirations confirmed, the various corporate actors of the colony addressed the king as a singular being with whom they were enmeshed in a series of private, personalized ties, rather than as the incarnation of a universally accepted normative order. Neither, then, the unfettered ruler of absolutist writers nor the Hegelian monarch as abstract place-holder of a universal rationality, the Spanish king related personally to his kingdom through an endless flow of often ad hoc dispositions and particularistic legislation specifically tailored to the realities, requirements, and aspirations of members of the different corporate bodies. But the king figured as the ultimate court of appeal also in the conflicts arising among and within these bodies, or in the attempts by individuals from any one corporate grouping to remove the legal restrictions blocking their access to privileges or institutions. The king-as-judge, then, had the final say in the battles over precedence that pitted corporate groupings such as the Church, the institutions representing the Crown, or the local municipal council against one another. This was true also when it was a matter of redressing wrongs committed against any subordinate group, Indians or pardos, for example, and with regard to attempts by individual members of these groups to achieve an unusual favor or privilege, such as entering the ministry or the university. In all of these instances the king intervened between the quarrelsome parties as a personal mediator, adjudicating to maintain what was considered justice by preserving both the proper balance and the proper hierarchical ordering among the different segments of society, or to grant mercies and favors, of which he was the ultimate source (Guerra 1992, 56–66, 72–78, 149–62; Guerra 1994, 110–30, 196–202; Leal Curiel 1990, 101–70; Schaub 1998, 41–46). In the strict juridical ordering of the colony, the corporate identity of the pardo population was negatively defined through a series of legislated prohibitions and exclusions. Nevertheless, a privileged segment among the pardos did manage to achieve a somewhat more positive corporate identity within the polity as the result of a series of ad hoc royal dispositions and dispensations. Some pardos were granted the right, for example, to organize themselves into ethnically defined brotherhoods, guilds, or militias— a right bestowed on them both by the king through his representatives and by the local church. According to many historians, such treatment, together with the supposed traditionalism of pardos and Indians, explains why, at least during the first stages of the wars of independence, these groups sided with the king. As I will argue, however, the subalterns’ supposed traditionalism offers no adequate explanation for their political behavior after independence. While in Spain itself it was not uncommon for the monarch to intervene personally in the various quarrels and conflicts among and within the corporate bodies, the enormous distances separating the court in Madrid from Spanish America prevented the king from taking a hand in similar disagreements in Spain’s colonies. Overseas his

76 Archaeologies personal presence was mediated by a sprawling bureaucratic machinery, staffed by copious personnel and oiled by massive amounts of paperwork bearing the king’s seal. The existence of this overgrown bureaucracy should not be seen, however, as evidence that an impersonal rationality permeated the workings of the Spanish Empire. Bearing the ruler’s seal and through the insistent circulation of the signifiers of royalty, the documents can be regarded as having conjured a personal relationship between the monarch and the individuals or corporations to which they were addressed. Based always on tacit acknowledgement of the existence, rights, and duties of the groups in question (Guerra 1992, 123), the written rulings and dispositions as much as the personal interventions by one or another Crown representative ultimately conjured the singular relations of the king with particular categories of subjects not readily translatable into dictates valid beyond the specific instances to which they were addressed, and so these rulings kept proliferating, evolving into a huge body of ad hoc legislation. The particularism of the monarchy was nowhere more in evidence, perhaps, than in the royal portraiture prominently displayed inside the public buildings housing the local authority structure, and outside, during any major celebration, right at the very center of the public square. The entire legalistic machinery of the monarchy was ultimately anchored in the bodily presence—or simulacrum thereof—of the king. With every significant transaction virtually conjuring the singular, embodied relation between the king and his subjects, one may very well say that in its workings the monarchy was ruled by an incarnational logic demanding that, at least in some special places and occasions, the body of the king make itself visibly present. And since in the colonies this requirement could not be met by the actual bodily presence of the monarch, his portrait, as the next best thing available, had to do the job. Prominently displayed on ritual or commemorative occasions, portraits of the king were there to enable the performative actualization of the pact between the king and his subjects (Guerra 1998, 133; Leal Curiel 1990, 140).9 Placed, as Schaub says, “at the heart of all possible representations of authority,” the monarch was then the personalized instance in charge of dispensing justice while arbitrating among all the conflicting interests, bodies, and states composing the kingdom (1998, 52). The presence of this “sovereign arbitrator, the King” (Lynch 1992, 33) accounted for the relative stability of the colonial order.10 Relayed through a hierarchy of representatives and institutions, it enabled the different segments to assert their separate claims and identities and effectively prevented the relations among the different bodies and estates of the colonial order from reaching the conflictive levels that, from a contemporary viewpoint, were otherwise to be expected from the existing exclusions and cleavages. For example, whenever the relations between the local white aristocracy and the pardos were strained, it was possible for either of the two parties to bypass direct negotiations and contacts, and, through a series of mediating instances, appeal for redress directly to the king. This kingly presence was the instance guaranteeing the relative integrity, rights, and identities of the different sectors of the colony, and its disappearance

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ultimately accounts for the multiplication of conflicts among the social actors after independence both in Venezuela and elsewhere throughout Spanish America (Guerra 1998, 119). This is not to say, however, that the colonial order in Venezuela amounted to a sort of pressure cooker, kept from bursting by the kingly valve sitting on top of it all— even if this is just what many studies imply. In this view, with so many parties just waiting to get at one another’s throats, it was enough for the revolutionaries to dispose of the king for the whole to explode into multiple fragments amidst horrific violence. Even if this account contains more than a grain of truth, it is nevertheless a considerable simplification. It is true that the fissures and cleavages were a source of friction and hostility, sometimes leading to individual instances of conflict, and even to rebellions. More often than not, however, the relations (or lack thereof ) among the different segments unfolded fairly pacifically, and not just because the king was there, ready to throw his (surrogate) body between the conflicting parties. Things were considerably more complicated than that. To begin with, the king’s arbitrations and even downright meddling took place in the context of a corporate system, in which every single member of any given corporation was turned towards the royal persona as the higher instance in charge of confirming the validity of a corporate identity that was, however, assumed to preexist the confirmation. Within this relatively privatized relation, the king was also the instance who ultimately sanctioned, authorized, or even promoted change or improvement in the standing and privileges of any corporate sector, or made modifications in the corporate identities of particular actors, insofar as these changes did not jeopardize the existing hierarchical order. This meant that all of these corporate actors, in their singular conversations with the monarch, largely took for granted both their own respective identities and the hierarchical ordering in which these identities were included. Conversely, this also meant that the different corporate actors tacitly posited the king as the precondition enabling the successful articulation of their identities, aspirations, and grievances within the colonial order (the predominance of the white ruling strata, if not unresented, went largely unquestioned). Conflicts arose primarily when one or another member of one strata was perceived to be tampering with the colonially assigned rights of an actor from another strata: for example, when Spanish or creole landowners—that is, landowners born in the American continent but having European origins— encroached on the communal lands assigned to the Indians as corporate members of one of the two “republics” composing the polity. Disputes also arose when members from the lower groupings tried to gain access to the higher orders, usually by having their corporate identities redefined by a royal dispensation (Brito Figueroa 1975, 169–71, 173–74; McKinley 1985, 116–20). When the revolutionaries broke away from the king, therefore, they did not just remove a superstructural kingpin holding together a jarringly heterogeneous social universe. They also did away with a whole complex economy for apportioning value and establishing individual and collective

78 Archaeologies identities, predicated on subtle shifts between the given and the constituted, the takenfor-granted ordering and its articulation in reference to the king through a series of intricate negotiations and differentiated performances. This specular, privatized economy of relations between the king and colonial corporate bodies was far more fundamental and constitutive than any kingly intervention, arbitrating or otherwise. On it depended not just the punctual resolution of grievances among those corporate bodies, but their very viability as actors, for example in airing such grievances within the colonial order of things. Bent on discerning continuities between the colonial past and the present, Venezuelan Marxist historians often bypass this colonial logic and instead insist on looking at the final years of the colony through one or another anachronistic prism—for example, that of class struggle. For this purpose, any recorded instances of conflict between Indians, blacks, or pardos and the white ruling strata in the decades just prior to independence are retrospectively construed as evidence of the intensification of racially inflected class tensions and antagonisms. And, once this intensified class antagonism has been cited, the ensuing violence of the wars of independence is confidently referred back to these instances in order to posit a long history of class struggles, simmering beneath the repressive surfaces of the colonial order, as the latent cause of that violence (see for example Brito Figueroa 1960, 169–211). The canonical historiographical locus for these kinds of arguments is, surely, the intransigent opposition that the Caracas elite mounted from the municipal council against the royal bill of gracias al sacar (mercies to be obtained) issued by the king in 1795. Under the terms of this bill, the pardos could purchase from the Crown the right to be treated as gentlemen (addressed as “Don”) along with the right to be considered white, with all the privileges accruing to such status, including access to the priesthood, the university, and municipal offices (Arias Amaro n.d., 85; Lau 2003, 438–39). The local aristocracy rejected the bill, regarding its offers to the pardos as inadmissible attempts to tamper with the local hierarchies. They expressed their opposition in 1796, just a year after the bill was issued, not a long time considering the distance between Caracas and Madrid and how long it took for documents to travel between the two at the time, and the rapidity of their reaction is often taken as evidence of an intensification of class-related conflicts in the last years of the colony. The language of the document in which they voiced their complaints to the king would only seem to further support this interpretation; in addition to charging the royal representatives with “openly protecting the vile people to the detriment of the esteem which is due to the ancient, distinguished and honest families” of the province, the document insists on the injury brought upon any white person by the “mere rumor” of “mixing with such people” (quoted in Vallenilla Lanz 1990, 74–75) As P. Michael McKinley has convincingly argued in a book dealing with the largest of the six provinces comprising colonial Venezuela (unfortunately no comparably comprehensive study is available for the rest), one should not draw from these and other

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recorded incidents the picture of a beleaguered aristocracy forced to defend its privileges and status against the increasingly vocal and aggressive demands of the majority pardo population. Any such interpretation is contingent on retrospectively reading every sign of antagonism as an announcement of what came afterwards (McKinley 1985, 115). A careful reading of the colonial documents suggests other reasons for the virulence of the creole reaction. As McKinley puts it, during the entire episode “there were only eight attempts by free-coloreds in the province to seek dispensations of any kind,” mostly because of the “small number of those well-off enough to take advantage of the legal reforms” (1985, 119); so much, then, for the notion of the royal bill representing any immediate threat to the whites’ supremacy in the colony. Moreover, according to McKinley, neither the presence of antagonisms nor the existence of a “siege mentality” among the white ruling strata indicates, in and of itself, that tension among the castes in the late colonial period was actually increasing. Such antagonisms probably remained constant over a long period of time, and, in any case, they are what one should expect in a colonial situation marked by endemic poverty and marked inequalities. Something similar may be said of the elites’ anxieties, since one would expect such anxieties to be the norm whenever a small white colonial minority monopolizes power (ibid., 116). A more reliable indicator of an increase in racial tension during the years before independence would be a significant increase in the number of conflicts; yet McKinley notes that “it cannot be said that racial friction in Caracas was increasing unduly” in the late colonial period (ibid.). From all of this McKinley concludes that the status quo that had long regulated the coexistence among castes in the province of Caracas was not under any serious threat during the final years of the colony. This is because the “central relationship in caste interaction,” that between pardos and whites (ibid.)—who according to some estimates together constituted up to 70 percent of the population of the province (ibid., 9),11— did not undergo any significant alteration at the time.12 In general it is safe to say that the white ruling strata was quite successful in containing pardo advances within the existing hierarchical arrangements, so that it was not about to be overrun. A good example is the formation of pardo militias; the top officer positions were reserved to whites, salaries were kept low by comparison with those among white officers and soldiers, and “pardo units were kept strictly segregated from white companies to discourage ideas of equal status” (ibid., 116–17). McKinley argues convincingly that the virulence of the white elite’s reaction in 1796 to the 1795 bill was motivated less by any imminent danger than by awareness among the leaders of this elite of the potential significance of granting pardos the possibility of purchasing a certificate of purity of blood. In recent years the preconditions of elite supremacy— starting with control over the local political and military structure and the restriction of access to the priesthood and university—had been threatened by the failure of existing legal restrictions to confine the pardo caste to a well-demarcated place in society. This failure was due, mostly, to the ambiguities generated by racial mixing

80 Archaeologies and to a series of imperial measures that since the 1760s, at least in writing if not always in reality, had allowed pardos a series of exemptions from the existing legal restrictions, including the right to purchase “dispensations from colour, illegitimacy and the like” (McKinley 1985, 116). Given the tenor of royalist discourse, it should come as no surprise that the white Caracas elite perceived the 1795 dispensations offered by the Crown to the pardos as the monarchy’s intolerable attempt to circumvent its pact with the local social order by tampering with its hierarchical arrangements. The creoles were determined to hold the Crown to its obligations to the local corporate order. From this perspective, it is irrelevant whether the pardos actually presented an imminent threat to the social structure of the province (they did not). What is far more relevant for understanding the events of 1796 is the wider long-term threat that the royal interventions posed in the local scene. In weakening the pact between the Crown and its subjects, such interventions effectively undermined the structure of sentiments and values on which the local preeminence of the elite was contingent. One may agree with McKinley that beyond such long-term concerns and phantasmatic apprehensions, the whites remained safely atop the local hierarchical order right up until the revolutionary rupture of independence, to the extent that McKinley is able to claim, against other opinions, that before 1810 Caracas “probably had more stable race relations than most other colonies in the empire” (1985, 115). If the more prosperous pardos found some sort of accommodation within the Crownorchestrated colonial order of things by means of their memberships in a series of intervening institutions such as guilds, brotherhoods, or militias, this was not the case with the less privileged and considerably more numerous members of this caste. The majority of pardos, who amounted to a much larger segment of the colony’s population, found no such accommodation within the existing arrangements, and were concentrated instead in areas of the province that were largely free from all but the most episodic forms of control. Although the behavior and predispositions of this population varied greatly according to geographical area, the whites were nevertheless interested in presenting a homogeneous image of them as an unruly crowd of vagrant individuals alienated from their communities and joining together in remote areas to pursue a life of crime (McKinley 1985, 119). McKinley makes clear, however, that there was a sharp difference between the “illegal settlements” of Venezuela’s coastal mountains (the Cordillera de la Costa) and concentrations of pardos in the inland plains (Los Llanos), the vast open region just south of the province’s capital city. In the coastal region, pardos joined escaped slaves, Indians, and whites to form relatively orderly communities beyond the reach of the colonial order, where “there is little indication that crime or vagrancy were much of a problem” (ibid., 119). The situation was quite different in the cattle-raising region of Los Llanos, where approximately 40 percent of the province’s pardos lived as a semi-

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nomadic population among whom “crime and vagrancy may have been more pronounced” (ibid., 120). Yet whatever difficulties the activities of this supernumerary population may have posed to white society, they never represented any great threat to the status quo of the province (McKinley 1985, 119). Furthermore, given that these difficulties had remained constant since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, one cannot point to them to account for the decision of the elites in the late colonial period to do something to control not just the unruly elements but the pardos as a whole (ibid., 121). Rather than any real threat posed by the pardo population, it was the generalized economic growth during this period, resulting from a sustained increase in the province’s export economy, that increased the perception of the need to control the pardos by eradicating the illegal coastal settlements, curbing any behavior that was deemed antisocial, and “binding the [nomadic] rural pardos to fi xed residences” (ibid). All in all, it was a matter of imposing more comprehensive forms of social order in the province, as well as of blocking access to free lands for the less privileged pardos so as to guarantee a steady supply of labor to the haciendas (ibid.). Arguing that “everyone would be better off if the castas as a whole were more tied down” to the land, at the beginning of the 1770s a group of cattle ranchers from the Llanos tried unsuccessfully to have the Crown authorities in the province enact a legal code authorizing them to establish a customs system that would enable them to control the movement of people and cattle in the region (ibid., 121). While all these plans ultimately backfired, largely due to the arbitrating presence of the Crown in the province, they are nevertheless symptomatic of the desire within at least certain sectors of the white elite to break loose from the straitjacket of the local corporate order. According to McKinley, it was the attempt to enact these plans in the independence movement that would upset the balance among the different castes, thus unleashing a catastrophic level of violence, unparalleled on the rest of the continent, that would preside over the social life of the independent nation up until the beginning of the twentieth century (ibid., 122).

Provinces of the Empire To complete this archaeological foray into the colonial order on the eve of independence, I will provide a sketch of the provincial hinterland that lay beyond the capital cities that dotted the landscape of Tierra Firme (the name given during colonial times to the territory broadly corresponding to present-day Venezuela) and that was both ruled and administered from these cities’ central squares. In the 1770s, a cluster of royal initiatives drew the six provinces of colonial Venezuela into a unified political and territorial unit centered on the city of Caracas (Lombardi 1982, 103); before that, each province had constituted a relatively independent politico-administrative and economic unit accountable to either the Viceroyalty of Santa Fe (roughly corresponding to

82 Archaeologies modern Colombia) or the Audiencia (appellate court) of Santo Domingo (Salcedo Bastardo 1993, 112). The central areas of Tierra Firme were occupied by the Province of Caracas (or Venezuela, as the richest and most powerful among all the Venezuelan colonial provinces was also called). To the east was the Province of Maracaibo, with its important port and thriving commercial activity, while the eastern sectors of presentday Venezuela corresponded to the colonial provinces of Guayana, Cumana, Margarita, and Trinidad. Alongside all of its other connotations, the most enduring meaning of the term province during the colonial period was that of a fiscal unit: the territory dependent on a main city, or ciudad principal (Guerra 1992, 68–70), and headed by a governor and a captain general (Salcedo Bastardo 1993, 112; Troconis de Veracoechea 1992a, 86–88). Virtually amounting to a small republic, complete with its own ruling elites, partially self-sufficient government installed in the main public squares of the provincial capital, and considerably well-integrated social, cultural, and economic structures, it was precisely this “city-province,” or the articulation of a main city with its territory and its dependent cities that, according to François-Xavier Guerra, was the lower-level political unit not just in Venezuela but, more inclusively, in all of Hispanic America (Guerra 1992, 348–49; see also Góngora 1975, 86). As such, the province was the local terminus of an imperial bureaucratic machinery whose origins were, in Spain, in the Council of the Indies, and, in America, in the largest audiencias and the viceroyalties (Williamson 1992, 91). Throughout Spanish America the provincial offices of governor and captain general were typically held by distinct incumbents, yet in the case of the Venezuelan provinces both posts usually fell to the same person (Troconis de Veracoechea 1992b, 337), uniting the roles of government and military leader. To this admittedly sketchy outline of the politico-administrative structure of the Spanish Empire, one would have to add the corregimientos, or districts, and the cabildos (town councils) just below the provincial level. Both corregimientos and the smaller cabildos were dependent on and administered by the governorships and the larger municipal councils from the main central squares of each provincial capital. This institutional structure came to life and was articulated through a ceaseless flow of legal documents recording initiatives, instructions, and dictates from an army of royal officers, as well as through these officers’ frequent comings and goings, which bound together the highest and the lowest politico-administrative instances of the Empire, all the way from the viceroy down to the last corregidor within the vast domains corresponding to any one of the viceroyalties. Even if more the expression of particularistic authority than a repository of the kind of abstract universalism the republic would later claim for itself, this proliferation of legal papers that “covered the New World,” as Roberto González Echeverría has said (1990, 48), bespeaks the centrality of the law in the workings of the Spanish administration—so much so that “America existed as a legal document before it was physically discovered” (ibid., 47; González Echeverría

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refers to the Capitulations of Santa Fe granted by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to Columbus on the eve of his first voyage). In general, it was the presence of an audiencia or larger body specializing in the dispensing of justice (Góngora 1975, 89), but also capable of discharging administrative and executive functions and generally behaving as a “council of state” (Williamson 1992, 92), that made the viceroyalties and the largest and most important governorships the higher politico-administrative instances within the Empire. This articulation of the figures of viceroy or governor and that of the audiencia, in the Spanish New World, was the “complex superior governmental structure” that “emphasized, quite naturally, the representation of the king vis-à-vis his subjects” (Góngora 1975, 89). Thus, while the viceroy represented the king’s person, “the acts of the Audiencia were under royal seal, and the Provisions which they promulgated were headed with the name and titles of the monarch.” In this respect Góngora indicates that “the reception of the royal seal . . . was one of the important acts of the political ritual of colonial times, and represented a symbolic attempt to compensate, albeit only partly, for the permanent absence of the king” (ibid). Not until the closing decades of the colonial period did Caracas come to enjoy its own audiencia; hence both the subordination until that time of the Venezuelan provinces— Caracas included—to other, higher administrative instances just beyond their immediate territories, as well as the fact that, politically speaking, these provinces were largely independent from one another. The status of the province as a “small republic” ruled and administered from the public square of the provincial capital is one of those colonial legacies that had an enduring impact both on the process of independence and on the later history of Venezuela and Latin America generally. Indeed, in many respects it is true, as many have said, that the federalist form taken by the first Latin American constitutions, including that of Venezuela, as well as the significance that federalism has had in that nation and elsewhere across Hispanic America as a mobilizing ideal, is largely unintelligible unless one is mindful of the status of the colonial provinces as small republics. The provincial make-up of the Spanish Empire also goes a long way toward accounting for the Federal Wars, which, even if only negatively—that is, as a specter of disintegration that, at all costs, must be avoided— contributed so decisively to the formation of the political imaginary that I explore in this book. In this regard one should beware of attributing to the late colonial process of political and economic centralization promoted by the Bourbons more success than it actually achieved, and of overestimating the ascendency of the city of Caracas over the other Venezuelan cities and provinces. No matter how successful the late-eighteenth-century institutional innovations were in some respects in focusing trade, administration, and political authority in Caracas, by and large up until the moment of revolution in 1810–1811 the territory of the captaincy general of Venezuela remained internally fissured among provinces that in many respects not only insisted on preserving their

84 Archaeologies politico-administrative autonomy, but were highly jealous of their independence (Lombardi 1982, 106). As John V. Lombardi and others have argued, since its creation in 1777 until its collapse at independence, the captaincy general of Venezuela had been a “fragile interlocking network dominated by Caracas” (Lombardi 1982, 103) and thinly spread over a vast and fragmented territory where regional autonomies and allegiances still ran quite strong. So fragile indeed was it that, with only half a century of consolidation and reinforcement, and with many of the principal institutional connections formed within less than a generation, this network rapidly collapsed after 1811. One final word is in order here on the role of the colonial cabildo, the most important of the local institutions of government, and, as such, the main local vehicle for the articulation of identity and agency. If the colonial order gravitated around the city, then, located in the central square, the municipal council was in turn the city’s organizational center. As the Venezuelan historian Mario Briceño Iragorry has remarked, “the cabildo was the center of the organization of the city, it was the city itself” (quoted in Troconis de Veracoechea 1992a, 88). I have mentioned some of the most important functions that were concentrated in the cabildo. For all practical purposes, this concentration turned the institution into the governing local body in charge of everything but the highest governmental functions exercised by the Crown’s local representatives. In addition to those politico-administrative tasks required for the day-to-day running of the colony, the cabildo was responsible for the overall regulation of the prevailing pattern of social relations among individuals and corporations in both the urban centers and the surrounding hinterlands. In a social formation so overwhelmingly dominated by agriculture, it suffices to recall the municipal council’s role in regulating access to both urban and agricultural lands to get an idea of the centrality of this institution. If anything, in the Venezuelan colonial provinces the centrality of the cabildo was even greater than elsewhere throughout colonial Spanish America. For reasons having to do with the late unification of the Venezuelan provinces as part of a larger political unit, the cabildos of Tierra Firme retained until the very demise of the colony a degree of autonomy much greater than in the other colonial territories. This circumstance goes a long way toward accounting for both the avant-garde role played by Venezuela in the continental struggles for independence and for the singularly virulent character of the Federal War that shook Venezuela in the second half of the nineteenth century. As I mentioned above, the lower-level political units in colonial Spanish America amounted to “territories dominated by a ‘ciudad principal’ or main city, [as] capital or head of a whole region with its villas and vassal towns” (Guerra 1992, 66; see also Rama 1984, 18). To a considerable extent, these lower-level units achieved sociopolitical articulation through the hierarchical links between the municipal councils located in the public squares of the provincial capitals and those in the smaller urban centers that were dependent on the former. But beyond this articulating function, as the ruling local institution the cabildo also played a major role in relations between the monarchy

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and the locality; it was the institution charged with representing to the king the local corporate order embodied in a main city and its territorial surroundings. Whenever mention was made of the people in documents and public declarations, the referent was always this ancien régime cluster of urban communities politically represented by the main municipal council located in the capital of a province. The traditional meaning of the term pueblo in the context of colonial Spanish America is this kind of corporate community. If I insist on this older meaning here, it is because of its continued relevance for understanding much of the sociopolitical dynamics unleashed with the revolutionary movement against Spain. As I will argue, the replacement after independence of kingly allegiance by the sovereignty of the people, understood as a horizontal brotherhood composed of interchangeable, autonomous individuals, did not entail the supersession of the pueblo of the ancien régime. Rather, the ambiguities occasioned by the coexistence of the old corporate communities and the novel republican constructs account for much of what happened in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America during and after the conclusion of the revolutionary wars (Guerra 1992, 350–81; 1989, 133–34). In order to grasp the sociopolitical dynamics unleashed by the revolutionary movement against Spain, however, one must do more than just review the older, prerevolutionary constructs presumably underlying the novel republican ideals explicitly espoused by the revolutionaries. A crucial aspect of my argument in this book is that such an insistence on deep historical continuities glosses over another dimension that, although also inherited from the colony, would nevertheless acquire an unprecedented significance in the sociopolitical transformations brought about by independence: the supernumerary pardo population. Even if lacking a clear place in the juridical ordering of the colony, that population acquired a new disruptive capacity with the demise of the colonial order and the disappearance of the monarchy as the instance in charge of orchestrating the relations among its different components. Not just a deceptive gloss for the pueblo of the ancien régime, the republican term the people also, and crucially, alluded to this unenfranchised colored population, a consideration that is often lost in discussions of the period of independence. Under the changed circumstances of the republic, the mass of pardos and blacks were capable of assigning meanings to the republican values of liberty and equality that were well in excess of those envisaged by the republican leadership, who were often mired in federalist understandings of the republic that made precious little room for these unenfranchised majorities. Much of the significance and directionality of the novel revolutionary realities were constituted, at the fraught juncture between the older and the newer identities, collectivities, and constructs that often uneasily coexisted, under the same broad designations, such as that of the people.

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“Spain’s most successful agricultural colony” The economic structure of the different Venezuelan provinces is another dimension of Venezuelan provincial life that is worth mentioning here as a foil against which postcolonial phenomena, such as nineteenth-century federalism, the formation and expansion of the great landholding property, and the kind of caudillo politics that was so prevalent in the nineteenth century may be properly apprehended in all of their relative novelty and overall significance as emergent phenomena not easily reducible to colonial antecedents. The hacienda is one of those privileged sites or topoi that have been made to bear the burden of entire canonical forms of historiographical understanding, not only for Venezuela but for all of Latin America. The version of Latin American— and especially Venezuelan—history still dominant in both the Marxist and liberal historiography of the region, as demonstrating an incomplete modernity shackled by the legacy of an archaic colonial inheritance, finds in the colonial hacienda one of its main anchoring points. In particular, historians often seize on the colonial hacienda to account for the patterns of extreme agrarian inequality found in many contemporary Latin American nations, including Venezuela, and their corollaries of exploitation, peasant poverty, and intense rural–urban migration (Acosta 1989, 379; Brito Figueroa 1975, 218–20; 1973, 43–44, 96–97; Cartay 1988, 164–66; Carvallo 1994, 11, 16, 20–21; Salcedo Bastardo 1993, 72–73). According to this view, an overall tendency towards centralization and the concentration of agricultural lands in ever-fewer hands was prevalent ever since, on the eve of the colony’s formation, the conquistadors became beneficiaries of the grants of lands (mercedes) and conscripted Indian labor (repartimientos) that the Crown awarded to them. More ambitiously, this supposed longue durée is often interpreted as part of a larger centralizing impetus that, originating in the colony, would itself account for the alarming concentrations of political power and economic resources nowadays discernible in many countries of the region (Carrera Damas 1997; Véliz 1980). In this view, such centralization would have originated in the highly patriarchal structure and mindset of the colony, with all that this entails of an over-evaluation of hierarchy and an emphasis on “collective responsibility over individual liberties and religious orthodoxy over religious freedom” (Chasteen 2006, 120). If nowadays more enlightened socioeconomic and political forms coexist precariously with despotic forms of personalistic rule ever ready to rear their ugly heads, and with equally archaic and despotic property relations, this is, we are told, largely due to an insidious colonial inheritance in which highly concentrated forms of agrarian property were one of the underpinnings and expressions of highly centralized and centralizing forms of political power. Much as one would expect, the notion that beneath the apparent discontinuities a deep-seated continuity runs all the way from the colonial era to the present enables the Marxist and liberal historian to view all postcolonial ideological projects, power configurations, political decisions, and seeming ruptures as surface manifestations of a more basic colonial matrix.

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I have already cast doubts on the view of the Spanish Empire as an absolutist construct, calling attention instead to the pact between sovereign and subjects as the overall organizing framework within which the various affairs of the colonies were routinely transacted. The understanding of the colonial hacienda as a vast territorial unit on which toiled armies of landless laborers is what corresponds, in the economic domain, to the absolutist construct of the Empire; taken together, these notions convey an image of the Spanish Empire as an absolutist, despotic construct driven, in the most varied domains of life, by an irrepressible, overriding impetus toward centralization. Once such an image has been established in the public perception by a vast historiographical apparatus, including not only the writing of history but also forms of civic ritual and official commemoration, it is relatively easy to attribute all present ills to a colonial inheritance from and against which, as from the most impenetrable of shadows, the various Latin American republics always seem to be fatefully emerging. Meanwhile, what falls victim to this repeated narrative of the beginnings—or, to use the expression nowadays in vogue all across Latin America, especially among the socalled Bolivarian nations, re-foundations—of the nation is a proper understanding of those postcolonial, properly republican political programs, utopian imaginings, and interventions that are responsible for bringing about the very ills that are attributed to a colonial inheritance. Whatever may be the case for the rest of Latin America, fortunately for Venezuela we have P. Michael McKinley’s Pre-Revolutionary Caracas: Politics, Economy, and Society, 1777–1811, which offers a version of the nation’s colonial past strikingly at odds with the canonical one.13 Based on a scrupulous reading of the colonial sources, McKinley’s findings concerning the agrarian structure of colonial Venezuela are every bit as significant as his findings relating to the colonial caste system and the state of relations among the races in Venezuela in the decades immediately before independence. Turning from other accounts to McKinley’s version of the agrarian situation in the Province of Caracas during the decades before independence, that is, during the years of its economic diversification and greatest overall prosperity, is like reading about another country. McKinley replaces the simplified image of the colonial countryside as a domain where virtually all that existed were huge haciendas—vast stretches of land monopolized by single owners and worked by multitudes of landless agricultural laborers, or peons, as well as by slaves brought from Africa—with a considerably more nuanced account. To begin with, according to McKinley and contrary to the prevailing doxa, the colonial haciendas in the province of Caracas that were devoted to the production of cacao, coffee, indigo, sugar cane, and tobacco for export were rather small operations situated amidst a fairly complex agrarian environment. There is nothing more alien to the gloominess of many accounts of the colony’s agrarian situation than the bright picture McKinley draws for the closing decades of the eighteenth century of a countryside teeming with relatively small yet econom ically prosperous export- oriented

88 Archaeologies haciendas, operating in a sea of small-scale peasant production and buzzing commercial activity. While agreeing with other authors that both the agricultural hacienda and the hato, or cattle ranches, were the basic economic units of the province of Caracas, McKinley nevertheless insists on the limited usefulness of this generalization, since the agrarian organization of the province was “extremely varied and complex” (1985, 46). Drawing on a report for the years 1785–1787, he mentions among the complexities the varied models of land tenure, the diversity of labor arrangements, and the different productive requirements for the different kinds of harvest (ibid., 47–48). McKinley notes, contravening the received wisdom, that though their size was considerably smaller that what is commonly thought, “only the hato or livestock ranch exhibited all the traditional characteristics expected of Spanish colonial agrarian units” (ibid., 47). In addition, the report for 1785–1787 alludes to an “infinity of plots . . . which are not . . . formally haciendas” (ibid., 47), which belies the conventional image of an agrarian economy starkly divided between a handful of hacienda owners and a mass of slaves and dispossessed peasants. As one would expect, this agrarian diversity sustained a wealth of commercial transactions— a situation that sits uncomfortably with a related assumption pervading the literature, namely, that there was a weak internal market during the colonial period. But McKinley has unearthed evidence, at least for the Province of Caracas, of a large number of small peasant units operating alongside the export-oriented haciendas, which suggests the presence of a vital internal market. As opposed to the export sector of the economy, oriented to metropolitan demands, this thriving internal market sought to satisfy local consumption requirements. As much as elsewhere, in this crucial sector the white colonials were paramount. Thus, while the large import-export houses were generally in the hands of Spaniards, it was not uncommon for creoles—whites born in America—to own the bigger commercial establishments. Nevertheless this is not the whole of the story. The very workings of the internal market, as a densely ramified network of commercial transactions and productive units spread all across the Caracas Province, were, according to the evidence, themselves contingent on contributions from members of the majority pardo population—at the time amounting to as much as 60 percent of the free inhabitants of the province—who, although subjected to heavy legal discrimination as an oppressed and often destitute majority, nevertheless enjoyed a “degree of economic mobility and freedom from social restraint” (ibid., 18). Evidence of this is the wide variety of economic roles performed by the pardos, ranging from participation in agricultural production as either day laborers or independent producers in leased or privately owned plots, all the way to involvement in the sale of agricultural products as well as other goods to consumers in cities and towns, including acting as middlemen monitoring the passage of goods between agrarian hinterlands and their urban centers. In exceptional instances, pardos owned medium-sized haciendas, even some that were endowed with a few slaves. In addition to whites, who owned the large import-export houses together with the bigger stores, members from this caste were

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also active in commerce in urban centers both large and small, owning small trading stores in cities and towns. One may then say that the Province of Caracas was crisscrossed by a very busy internal commercial network sustained by the contributions of both whites (Spaniards and creoles) and pardos, and that it teemed with the activities and movements of a multitude of agents, from middlemen, muleteers, and emissaries from the big-hacienda owners and small retail merchants, to the representatives of the larger commercial houses. That the situation McKinley describes for the Province of Caracas can be extended to the other Venezuelan provinces is supported by the following passage from a prominent Venezuelan historian. Commenting on the relative participation of members of both the white and pardo castes in the different sectors of the colonial market beyond the Caracas Province, Rafael Cartay states that while colonial Venezuela’s external commerce was in the hands of merchants from Spain and the Canary Islands, a good number of creole merchants actively participated in the internal commerce of the provinces. In retail commerce, on the other hand, we find a great number of pardos alongside people from the Canary Islands. (1988, 260)

There are no studies of the other Venezuelan provinces comparable to McKinley’s in either empirical richness or degree of analytical subtlety. Although his book focuses just on the Province of Caracas, considering how often it is assumed in the relevant literature that what was true of this colonial province was also true of the rest, one may very well conclude that McKinley’s findings for Caracas are also applicable to the whole of colonial Venezuela. Th is is the conclusion that I adopt here. It is a wellestablished fact that the Venezuelan provinces achieved an impressive overall level of prosperity in the eighteenth century, to the point that already by the second half of that century, colonial Venezuela as a whole was widely regarded as “Spain’s most successful agricultural colony” (Deas 1985, 511). In line with what Cartay says about colonial Venezuela’s internal market as a whole, generalizing the image of a rich and diversified agrarian landscape that McKinley presents for the Province of Caracas to the rest of the Venezuelan provinces provides the necessary context for understanding why this might have been the case. There is enough evidence to suggest that during most of the nineteenth century, the Venezuelan countryside presented at least as much complexity as in the last decades of the colony. And yet, much as in the case of the colony, most secondary sources addressing the postcolonial agrarian situation tend to reduce complexity to the simplicity of a bleak image of a countryside starkly divided between a handful of powerful landowners and a mass of dispossessed agricultural laborers. The upshot has been the consolidation of a view of the countryside as a relatively stable agrarian structure, one that in broad outlines has remained unchanged since colonial times. When historical outcomes are either explicitly or implicitly referred back to their remote,

90 Archaeologies putative colonial beginnings, the political nature of those processes responsible for the formation of the great agrarian property, especially during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and for the crystallization of what indeed eventually became a highly asymmetrical agrarian predicament, is largely overlooked. The sharp historical contours of the phenomenon are blurred by the leveling waters of an insidious teleology. I will address here one final historiographical misconception on which entertaining a more complex view of the colonial past casts doubt: namely, the notion that the kind of caudillismo or strong-man politics that according to the prevailing view was dominant during the nineteenth century throughout Latin America is ultimately a colonial inheritance. In this view, all of nineteenth-century political life (including elections, federalism, political parties, and contending ideologies and programs) is ultimately reducible to a series of power struggles among regional strong men, or caudillos, with a caudillo mayor as president at the top; and this situation follows from the strongly hierarchical and authoritarian nature of the colony. With the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, or so the story goes, all that was left was a raw physics of power in which charismatic, and, above all, well-positioned men strove to recreate around themselves the hierarchies of old; all other dimensions amounted to so much window dressing, barely justifying and disguising what was truly essential. The above view of the genealogy and nature of nineteenth-century political life in Latin America may be found virtually in its entirety in John Chasteen’s highly successful introduction to the history of the region, Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America (2006), which is surely a good indication of how pervasive it is. (The publisher’s description tells us that its first edition was adopted at over 450 colleges and universities in the United States.) After accounting for the supposed ills of nineteenth-century Latin American liberalism (“an exotic plant on Latin American soil”) in the decades immediately following independence from Spain largely in terms of a colonial inheritance that bequeathed to the region “strongly hierarchical societies with exploitative labor systems,” the author goes on to reiterate the canonical version of caudillismo. For Chasteen, nineteenth-century caudillismo was a pyramidal system of interlocking patron-client relations going all the way “up to the highest patron of all, the party’s national leader, or caudillo.” Rather than abstract principles, highly personal values such as loyalty were presumably all that truly mattered in such a system (ibid., 125). As for who these nineteenth-century characters actually were, Chasteen’s answer is no less canonical: “Caudillos were typically large landowners who could use their personal resources for patronage or for maintaining private armies” (ibid., 125–26). Whatever truth there is to the above statement for other parts of Latin America, two qualifications must be made here concerning Venezuela. First, the infrastructure that according to Chasteen and a legion of others was necessary to the emergence of such a figure, namely, the large hacienda, was absent during the colonial period.

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Second, that being the case, it is then clear that rather than being an inheritance from the colony, the kind of caudillo figure that Chasteen considers paradigmatic for the whole of post-independence Latin America was in the case of Venezuela a latenineteenth-century phenomenon, the emergence of which must be accounted for without facile reliance on historicist assumptions. Although I do not pursue this in the present book, even a superficial consideration of the historical record for the years before 1870 in Venezuela would amply corroborate that the “typical caudillo of the AngloSaxon imagination” (Deas 1985, 670), so prominent in the historiographical literature on the subject, is simply not there. Consistent with the complexity of the nation’s agrarian structure until the last third of the nineteenth century, what one truly has is a bewildering variety of historical actors, including schoolteachers, relatively small property owners, theologians, and lawyers, whom historians have often arbitrarily grouped under the rubric caudillo, all supposedly vying for state power. As I will argue towards the end of this book, this is nothing but a late-nineteenth-century historiographical projection that retroactively posited the centralized state that came into being at the time as the telos of all previous history.

The Colonial Church Before concluding this chapter I must refer to the crucial role of the Church in colonial Venezuela. Along with the municipal council, the Church was the institution most responsible for the local perpetuation of the colonial order. If the cabildo regulated the relations among the different castes and corporations in each of the provinces directly from the Plaza Mayor or main public square of each of the provincial capitals, including Caracas, enforcing the prevailing boundaries and distinctions among them whenever this was deemed necessary, the Church, with its governing bodies also housed in and around these public squares, provided much of the institutional framework whereby these separate orders could positively realize their identities and their members achieve at least a modicum of status and social recognition. This may be clearly seen in the case of the different cofradías, or confraternities, grouped around a patron saint and constituted for the purpose of fulfilling one or another goal, such as providing poor relief or life insurance for its members. These voluntary associations were sanctioned and overseen by the Church, and membership in them was regulated by stringent criteria in which race and occupation figured prominently. Restricting access to those belonging to the same color category resulted in confraternities that were either homogeneously white, pardo, Indian, or black (Lombardi 1982, 48–49; Luque Alcaide 1992, 302–8; Pollak-Eltz 1994, 32–33; Troconis de Veracoechea 1992a, 111–14; Williamson 1992, 138–39). As so often happens in asymmetrical situations, virtue was rapidly made of necessity: racial categorization was intrinsic to colonial hegemony, but the populations to which it was applied rapidly adopted it as their own to gain a stake in the

92 Archaeologies colonial order. Thus, not just whites but also subalterns eagerly adopted race as a criterion in order to restrict access to their own confraternities, thereby making sure that whatever merits, resources, or awards were available would stay within the group. Through confraternities, the organization of charity, and the provision of education, which it largely controlled in Venezuela much as it did elsewhere in Latin America, the Church was surely the colony’s single most important state ideological apparatus, and, as such, a preeminent site where subjects could develop a stake in the very system that oppressed them. But the colonial Church was not restricted to its ideological role in the perpetuation of the dominant pattern of social relationships; it also reached far and wide to intervene in the respective economies of the colonial provinces, from the production and distribution of goods to acting as the main local financial institution in a situation characterized by a chronic scarcity of currency (Barnadas 1984, 532; Troconis de Veracoechea 1992a, 111–20; Harwich Vallenilla 1992, 643–44).14 While the Church directly owned some of the most productive export-oriented haciendas, I am interested here in the institution’s financial role for the light it throws on a matter crucial to my argument, namely, the urgency that, right from the start, the republican leadership attached to the transformation of the physical landscape of the cities and, especially, to that of Caracas as it crystallized in and around Plaza Bolívar. This urgency is further clarified when one considers that this urban landscape was largely articulated through the overwhelming material presence of the Church in the central areas of all the major cities.15 Encoded in these cities’ main sites and landmarks, this material presence confronted the revolutionaries with a spatial text conveying a hierarchy of meanings and social relationships that were precisely those that the official liberal ideology opposed. It is therefore unsurprising that, in what amounted to an oppositional frenzy, almost every new building or public space that the Guzmán administration built in its program of public works for the city of Caracas emerged against the rubble of the demolition of one or another Church-owned building or installation. After this detour through the social, political, administrative, and economic life of the provinces composing colonial Venezuela, we finally reach the end of this chapter with all the colonial powers firmly planted around the main public squares of the provincial capitals of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, where all this life converged and from which it was diligently administered and ruled. Until the very end of the colony these central squares retained their status as the sites where the busy social life of the provinces converged daily and where, on special occasions, it was put on display in rituals, processions, and various entertainments. The same may be said of the status of the main public squares as the sites where local colonial authority was both displayed and symbolized, as much in the official celebrations that for various purposes were staged in them as in the public executions enacted there, when the power of the king was forcefully imprinted on the body of the condemned. Both civic agora and marketplace, the main public square was the local powerhouse of the colony.

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The above was true even if during the closing decades of the colonial order alternative forms of social life aimed at the formation of an enlightened public sphere were actively disseminated throughout the American colonies from the Bourbon court in Madrid. There are indications, however, that compared with other places in the Americas, colonial Venezuela was initiated late into the “enlightened modernity” characteristic of the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV (Leal Curiel 1998, 174). This is not to say that the inhabitants of Caracas were especially slow to adopt the new customs and practices that the Bourbons introduced “even in places as unimportant as the province of Venezuela” (ibid.). As the testimony from contemporary travelers makes abundantly clear, the Caracas elites reveled in the kinds of balls, dinners, and strolls, the “social gatherings and musical soirées” that at the time were so much the hallmarks of enlightened sociability throughout the Spanish Empire. Yet it was in the private domain— “the dancing areas and the intimate drawing rooms of the private dwellings”—where this novel sociability particularly flourished (ibid., 172). The modifications in the style and decor of domestic spaces, all of them tending toward neoclassicism, are not among the least significant indications of the redefinition of privacy taking place at the time (ibid., 175). The abandonment in the last quarter of the eighteenth century of the older custom of covering the walls of private residences with religious paintings and portraits of the monarchs and the replacement of such icons with geographical charts meant to express the enlightened sensibilities of the dwellers is one striking instance of such changes (ibid., 174). This novel sociability nevertheless had a very limited impact on collective spaces and activities (Leal Curiel 1998, 172). By and large, most collective expressions, from official religious and political celebrations to commemoration rituals and forms of public entertainment, continued to be overwhelmingly dominated by the kind of exuberantly baroque social intercourse that the emergent enlightened sensibilities and mores were pitted against. In general, it may be said that forms of enlightened and then revolutionary social behavior originated in a very traditional context, not without adopting or retaining, often in spite of themselves, many traditional social and cultural traits (ibid., 168). One domain where the supremacy of this ancien régime sociability was especially glaring was in the forms of collective entertainment that had as their setting the main public squares of all the urban centers, both large and small, across colonial Venezuela. Such forms included theatrical representations, “one of the most active means of communication of the ancien régime” (De Solano 1990, 319), and all the other varieties of collective entertainment, usually unfolding in the context of larger celebrations (staged, for example, in order to proclaim a new monarch or honor a patron saint) and often consisting of bullfighting, illuminations, fireworks and fire parades, dancing and tournaments, jousts with reed spears, and dances (ibid., 327). To give an idea of how little inroad the Enlightenment had made into this ancien régime sociability, it suffices to point out that until the very end of the colonial period, the theatrical representations

94 Archaeologies staged in the public squares of Venezuela were overwhelmingly drawn from a seventeenth-century baroque repertoire. In other words, the local producers almost entirely bypassed the extensive theatrical repertoire of their own time, produced in Spain and informed by enlightened values and sensibilities, in favor of the theater of the Spanish Golden Age (ibid., 319–23). Such a marked predilection has much to say about the predispositions, values, and sensibilities of the colonial Venezuelan audience. This largely illiterate public was intensely exposed to hegemonic values and aspirations primarily in the open-air theater of the public square, while enjoying itself with a spectacle that offered confirmation of its shared tastes and worldview. And, as Francisco de Solano insists, the worldview transmitted by the theater of the Golden Age was one in which the world itself was a great theater through which the individual moves without any possibility of escape, a prisoner of his circumstances. It was a world, I should add, inhibited by fear and the need for revenge as redress for any assault on a person’s honor, and one in which all norms and ideas were based on four crucial dimensions: unquestionable faith (in the king, in monarchy, in friendship, in religion), honor (regarding one’s self-esteem, the fatherland, one’s condition), love, and vengeance (to oppose any subversion of the other values). Faith and love did not merely consist of a relation between souls, but bound together the hierarchically arranged members of the social body (De Solano 1990, 322). Th is is all to say that the theater both mirrored and ideologically articulated the corporate order within which colonial Venezuelan subjects largely lived and which informed the imaginary pact that, in their increasingly beleaguered view, bound them to their sovereign. While some members of the local aristocracy may have dreamed intensely of a neoclassical public space embodying the universalism trumpeted by the court in Madrid, public life continued to be dominated by the tumultuous, ancien régime sociability of the square and its profuse commingling and transactions. Beyond theater, the various forms of entertainment that took place in the main public squares as part of the larger celebrations and festivities illustrate well the character of this sociability. Nothing could be further removed from the disciplined, “civilized” mores characteristic of late-eighteenth-century European theaters (with their careful demarcation between stage and audience and tacit rules of decorum forbidding any improper mixtures and behaviors) than this colonial sociability, in which members from all castes and corporate bodies joined in the entertainments of the public square. From the extent to which every sector of society, including the aristocracy, took part in these entertainments, one can infer their truly collective nature and the extent to which they were a source of social validation and prestige. In colonial bullfighting, for example, the local gentlemen participated lance-in-arm on horseback, members from the lower orders brandished their banderillas on foot, and everybody else set up behind the bullring in the public square, loudly expressing their enthusiasms, loyalties, and disapprovals (De Solano 1990, 329). In general it might be said that colonial forms of entertainment, just as much as other collective manifestations, expressed and visually

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enacted the corporate order of the colony in all its wealth of shared values and attitudes, becoming occasions for individuals and groups to engage with one another while mutually displaying and demonstrating their relative identities and social standings. All this evidence concerning the collective forms of entertainment enacted in the public square supports the notion that the corporate order of the colony reached independence quite intact and robust. In spite of some visible strains, neither of the supposed causes usually invoked by historians to place independence within an evolutionary line reaching back to the colonial past withstands careful examination. One can then only agree with De Solano that during the process of independence, “a very abrupt change must have taken place in the mental attitude of the population, the trajectory of which has not been sufficiently analyzed so as to allow one to define the phenomenon of Independence at the level of popular culture” (ibid., 320). It is with this question in mind, of what could have possibly ignited the revolutionary process, turning it into a cause with popular appeal, that I now move to the next chapter, taking leave of the relative peace and prosperity of the colony to enter the turbulent waters of revolution. Answering this question will demand the reintroduction of a dimension, the political, that is often either overlooked or underplayed by historians, and that often played itself out, at least in some of its defining moments, right in and around Caracas’ main public square.

Chapter 2

Bullying for Independence At this point one might very well wonder how revolution could have possibly come to a colonial order still characterized on the eve of independence by considerable tranquility and prosperity, one whose primary social and economic structures remained relatively intact and in some aspects even robust. Glib as it may sound, the answer is that revolution arrived by mail, in the series of written communications brought by official messengers from Spain describing events there in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion. Compared with this exogenous cause, all the other, supposedly endogenous causes mustered by nationalist historians in order to root the modern nation in a colonial archaeology either dissipate under scrutiny or appear at best secondary (Guerra 1994, 196–98; Skidmore and Smith 1992, 29).

Postal Politics Reaching Caracas and the other provincial capitals by sea and thus after a considerable delay, the series of official communications I allude to told a story of truly unimaginable sociopolitical change, outlining the contours of the widening void that the (temporary) demise of the Bourbon monarchy had left at the very heart of the Spanish Empire. Harking back to the events of May 5, 1808, when in Bayonne, France, Ferdinand VII abdicated all rights to the Spanish throne in favor of Charles IV, his father,1 the story continued with an account of how the Spanish Crown passed to the Emperor Napoleon himself, who immediately anointed his own brother Joseph as Joseph I of Spain, which certainly did not recommend the new king to his subjects. Indeed, any doubts concerning Joseph I’s legitimacy would have only been increased by the rapidity of his installation, which made it clear that the sole foundation on which his claims to the monarchy rested was the brute fact of foreign intervention.2 Confronted with the monarchy’s spectacular collapse and the illegitimacy of the figure installed in its wake, first the Crown’s Spanish and then its American subjects could not bring themselves to switch allegiances. As a result, the void left by the demise of the Bourbon monarchy remained open, posing the question of representation all across the Empire with hitherto unprecedented urgency (Burkholder and Johnson 1990, 294–95; Guerra 96

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1992, 118–22; 1994, 198–99; Lombardi 1982, 118–19; Rodríguez O. 1998, 51; Skidmore and Smith 1992, 29–30; Williamson 1992, 211–12). Reactions to the perceived usurpation were not long in coming. All of the major towns, or pueblos, across Spain had already by the end of May 1808 formed provincial juntas, and were soon to be followed in this by their American counterparts. Everywhere the Spanish pueblos articulated their response in the familiar pactist vocabulary, clearly indicating that, notwithstanding official absolutism, pactism remained the tacit imaginary horizon within which these communities’ relationships to the monarchy were largely framed. The reasons for this were not only empirical, having to do with the ideology’s availability, but also discursive. Investing the ruler with limitless discretion (including that of abdicating in favor of whomever he wished), the absolutism of the Bourbons had provided no discursive grounds on which the popu lar reaction against the usurpation could possibly draw (Guerra 1992, 123; 1994, 202). Pactism, on the other hand, located the monarchy’s sole legitimate foundation in “the people” or, more precisely, in the pluralized and hierarchically articulated pueblos. Hence the universality of its appeal once the Crown was transferred without the subjects’ approval to an upstart who was also a foreigner (Guerra 1992, 123–29, 199–208). But to return sovereignty to the pueblo was to immediately raise the issue of representation to unprecedented levels. Who or what was to legitimately represent the pueblo in the absence of the monarch in whom, in a mythical moment of delegation, the people had willingly invested their sovereignty? What criteria would orient the exercise of such representation, how many would the representatives be, and from what site or sites would they be drawn? Finally, what would be the nature of the represented entity or entities, given the universal appeal to a pactist vocabulary, with all its talk of traditional bodies and communities, in an age of general upheaval presided over by the ghost of the French Revolution? The chain of events precipitated by the formation in Spain of the first provincial juntas and ultimately leading, some years later, to the creation of the new Latin American nations may be understood in light of the dynamic that the devolution of sovereignty to the people unleashed over an ever-expanding geographical area (Guerra 1992, 129–44, 177–98, 318–50; 1994, 204–11, 213–15, 222–27). In the response of the Spanish pueblos to the news of Ferdinand VII’s abdication, we may see hints of the turbulence that would ultimately break the Spanish Empire apart. Their decision to disavow the newly imposed king and to assume sovereignty by electing their own representatives took the issue of representation from the realm of a mythical pact between king and subjects to that of everyday politics, rendering it a public issue open to all sorts of opinions and contestations, a fraught domain where the forces of modernity and tradition, center and periphery would eventually converge, clash, and hybridize— even disguising themselves as one another— across an immense geographical expanse, and with truly momentous consequences (Guerra 1992, 129–44, 177–98, 318–30; 1994, 204–11, 213–15, 222–27).

98 Bullying for Independence Initially, however, the representative relation between the Spanish pueblos and the provincial juntas, backed as they were by popular vote, seemed unproblematic. The same may be said of the institutional body that these juntas, with English military assistance, decided to create in late August 1808, the Central Junta. From this moment on, however, the transparency of representation was threatened. Eventually, driven by military defeats at the hands of the French, the Junta turned over its authority to a fivemember Regency (Burkholder and Johnson 1990, 295). It was with this latter institution that the problems began. As a nonelected body unilaterally designated by the Central Junta, the Regency immediately raised the question of legitimacy in people’s minds, triggering the first acts of open revolt against Iberian authority throughout the colonies. Although the decision to summon a Cortes (Parliament) in Spain “for the purpose of writing a constitution” was a “clear break with Spanish constitutional experience” that launched a liberal revolution throughout the Spanish Empire, in some ways that decision arrived too late, since “by the time the cortes opened in Cadiz on September 24, 1810, a newly formed junta in Caracas had already refused to acquiesce to the regency’s authority. This first open challenge to continued Spanish rule in the New World demonstrated that retaining the empire would not be easy” (ibid., 297). Raising as it did the hopes for equal representation of Spain and its overseas dominions, initially the decision to summon the Cortes was received warmly by creoles (ibid., 296). Nevertheless, as it became clear that the Cortes would not raise the number of American representatives (thirty) to match that of Spanish members of parliament (seventy-five), that illusion rapidly dissipated. Added to its failure to fulfill major promises concerning free trade and an end to restrictions on agriculture and manufacturing in the American dominions (ibid., 296), the unwillingness of the Spanish Cortes to grant these dominions equal representation confirmed the suspicions of many American subjects that the American lands were viewed as mere colonies. When a prominent Peruvian bureaucrat and intellectual stated that the Cortes’ “antipodal conduct has been the true origin of the desperation of the American peoples,” that the Cortes “never wanted to hear their complaints, nor to listen to their propositions” (ibid.), he was only voicing an opinion widely shared among creoles throughout Spain’s New World possessions. Following Guerra, I regard the sociopolitical turbulence that swept across the entire Spanish Empire of the period, from Buenos Aires to Madrid, as belonging to a single revolutionary process (Guerra 1994, 195; see also Rodríguez O. 1998, xi). Beyond local differences, what was at stake in the events in both Spain and the Americas was the unfolding of the liberal revolution that started in Spain—unwittingly prepared by the more enlightened cultural practices, ideologies, and policies of the absolutist monarchy—and everywhere signaled the advent of a uniquely Hispanic modernity. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was the constitution promulgated in 1812 by the Cortes in Cadiz that was this modernity’s foundational charter. Although this constitution maintained a hereditary constitutional monarchy, in wresting from the monarch many of his traditional powers while investing sovereignty in the nation and instituting a strict

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separation of powers, the Cadiz constitution fundamentally redesigned the structure of the polity along liberal lines (Guerra 1994, 221). Depending on which side of the Atlantic one is talking about, however, the revolution did obey clearly different rhythms, designs, and intensities. One should therefore refrain from anachronistically ascribing revolutionary significance to events that, to the actors involved, did not in any way appear as moments in an unfolding revolutionary process. Nowhere is it more important to keep this caveat in mind than in the case of the April 19, 1810 decision by the Caracas cabildo, or town council, to refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Spanish Regency and, following its own enlargement, to constitute itself as a “Supreme Junta for the Preservation of the Rights of Ferdinand VII.” Soon to be followed by similar decisions elsewhere in Venezuela and throughout the Americas, the importance of this decision as the first time ever that Spanish authority was officially disavowed in the New World is not at all in question here; but I do question the attribution by historians of secret separatist intentions to the cabildo’s decision to disobey the Regency while, simultaneously, declaring loyalty to the monarch. Indeed, one claim I will defend in the following pages is that in placing the event in a distinctively nationalist genealogy, until recently historians have often read historical outcomes back into the experience of events still messy and uncertain in their significance.3 Far from diminishing the event’s historical significance, the decision not to read any decidedly liberal or, even less, separatist meanings into it simply aims to return the cabildo’s decision to a historicity often suppressed by the ruling teleologies. This is the case even if one cannot discount the significance of a relatively small yet tightly organized and highly articulate minority that, inspired by the examples of the French and American revolutions, actively conspired to bring about independence. As so often happens in uncertain circumstances, the upper hand went to the radicals, and this minority eventually succeeded in imposing its agenda on the majority; nevertheless, there are no compelling reasons to doubt the sincerity of the majority’s initial feelings of loyalty toward the monarch imprisoned by Napoleon. What, then, could possibly account for the extraordinarily rapid turn of events whereby virtually the same political actors who on April 19, 1810 declared their loyalty to the king went on, just over a year later, to declare independence almost unanimously? In order to understand this outcome one must pay heed to the interplay between local and translocal circumstances. Locally, uncertainty regarding sources of authority, provoked by the conflicting news that arrived from Spain, led to a rapidly deteriorating political situation and to the need for urgent solutions to the problem of government (Carrera Damas 1986, 8, 42, 63–71); translocally, the dubious representative legitimacy and apparent fragility of the institutions that had been set up in Spain to rule the American dominions did not recommend these institutions as a solution to this problem. Added to the reports of a total collapse of the Spanish resistance to the French, this lack of representative legitimacy eventually weakened the colony’s resolve to remain loyal to the existing Spanish authorities, making the alternative of

100 Bullying for Independence self-government appear superior. It is true that the latter was unambiguously assumed in the king’s name and as a temporary measure designed to fill the political vacuum before his eventual return. Yet self-government unavoidably generated its own momentum; eventually, the circumstances were such that the step between it and independence became dramatically small.

Bullying for Independence Before reaching large conclusions, however, it is useful to briefly review local circumstances in the period preceding the colony’s decision to assert self-government and, soon afterwards, declare independence. On July 16, 1808, the day following the arrival of two French officers with news of the events in Bayonne and Napoleon’s cession of the Crown to his brother, riots broke out in the squares and streets of Caracas amidst expressions of fidelity to the deposed king. During the afternoon of that day, and in an atmosphere of enthusiastic devotion, the population formally swore an oath of allegiance to Ferdinand VII. Bowing to popular pressure, by the next day the “Frenchified” Captain General Las Casas set up a junta with delegates from the different corporate bodies committed to upholding the king’s rights. Just a few days later this initial junta was replaced by a second, quite similar body, with what Salvador de Madariaga tell us was “one notable innovation: the ‘plebs’ was to be represented” (1969, 116). In reacting to the perceived usurpation in this way, setting an example that the other Venezuelan provinces were soon to follow, the population from Caracas did not stray from the general pattern of the Spanish pueblos’ “pactist” revolt just two months earlier. From the start the Venezuelan juntas acknowledged Iberian authority and, like their Spanish counterparts, also went on to pay obeisance to the Central Junta. Going beyond general similarities, in Caracas’ initial reaction to the events in Spain one may catch a glimpse of the principal dramatis personae—by which I denote here collectivities rather than individuals—that would come into their own in the historical drama that was about to commence. These principal actors have not left the historical stage since they fi rst entered on to it in the years immediately preceding independence. Neither the character of the reciprocal relations between these actors nor the value and significance of their relative identities have remained historically constant. Nevertheless, some features of their relationships and identities have remained sufficiently stable that they can be seen to fall into one or the other of the alternative patterns the social-political landscape has tended to adopt in Venezuela since its beginning as a nation. Already three years before independence, with the Caracas cabildo’s decision to follow the Spanish example and set up a junta for the defense of the rights of the captive monarch, these actors had insinuated themselves onto the historical stage. Two of them—the state as a “reflexive” construct, in the sense that Jean-Fréderic Schaub argues was absent during the colony (1998, 33), and the local elites as a relatively homo-

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geneous, self-conscious collectivity comprised of both creoles and Spaniards—figure amply in most accounts of independence. With some notable partial exceptions, however, a third character has been considerably less thematized, often reduced to the status of a more-or-less malleable companion of the aforenamed protagonists. I refer to the plebs—the body of common people—that, like an enigmatic blot on a canvas, makes such a surprising appearance on the surface of Madariaga’s account in Bolívar (1969). According to Madariaga, the reason given at the time for replacing the junta that the captain general had just set up with another institutional body of the same name was the original’s failure to adequately represent all elements of the province. Since Madariaga also informs us that the composition of the two successive juntas was, with one exception, virtually the same, one would have to assume that representation of the enigmatic plebs was the crucial element on whose presence or absence the entire issue of representation, leading to the replacement of one junta by the other, ultimately hinged. In saying that “the state” entered onto the historical stage during the years immediately preceding and following independence, what I mean is that the redefinition of power and authority in more universalistic terms, as the attributes of an abstract state, got its concrete start in Venezuela only with the 1808 decision by the members of the Caracas cabildo to reject the emissaries from France and, following the example of the Spanish pueblos, set up the two successive juntas for the preservation of the rights of the Spanish king imprisoned by Napoleon. Even if still pledged to the authorities in Spain, these emerging institutions were the first attempt to assert sovereignty over the territory of the Caracas Province on largely local grounds, with little supervision from the European metropolis. With this attempt to erect self-authorizing structures of government—in principle only provisionally, merely until the king returned to his throne—something like a proto-state first established itself on Venezuelan territory. Along with it, a thoroughly reformulated political economy of rule, of which the modern state became an integral component, also saw the light in Tierra Firme. Whether such beginnings would prove auspicious, only time could tell. As for the plebs, I have already alluded to the contortions the colonial order underwent in its efforts to name an excess that continuously eluded its classificatory grid. For this excess to come into being as a recognizable entity, even one irreconcilably divided against itself between a sovereign “people” and an unfathomable “crowd,” nothing less than the nominating magic of an emergent republican vocabulary would do. It is this vocabulary that enabled “the people” to emerge as a collective actor endowed with a recognizable identity as the seat of a new form of sovereignty. Even if in the closing decades of the colony the generalization of the term pardo already intimated such a possibility, in order for this population to reflexively constitute itself as something like a collective, homogeneous actor demanding to be represented as such in the 1808 junta from Caracas, it was necessary that the structures of address centered on the king be no longer in place. While the king was still around, segments of the

102 Bullying for Independence pardo population could find some sort of accommodation within the colonial order through their ad hoc interpellation in the king’s name by one or another local institution. As for the rest of this population, as mentioned in the preceding chapter, its members either made a living in the interstices of the colony’s towns and cities or roamed the vast plains just south of the main populated areas along the northern Atlantic front, as nomadic ranchers, bandits, or both. Under neither of these two guises did this “excess” pardo population, existing largely beyond the reach of the colonial order, seriously threaten that order’s existence or stability; as a supernumerary plebs, it was not included, much less represented. For this population to reflexively constitute itself with a shared identity that already demanded to be represented as a homogeneous entity—thus becoming, for all practical purposes, a forerunner of the republican “people”—the disappearance of the monarch must have at least appeared as a possibility on the horizon. Only such a possibility could have unleashed what Ernesto Laclau calls the “equivalential logics” enabling hitherto heterogeneous populations to start actively thinking of themselves as of the same kind, belonging to one and the same grouping or category (2005a, 79). No sooner did this unprecedented actor insinuate itself in the social landscape of colonial Venezuela than it was also delivered, by the vanishing of the monarch, to an unprecedented and dangerous vulnerability vis-à-vis the other sectors of the colony, especially the white aristocracy. Like the characters in Pirandello’s famous play, bereft of reference points on which to hang their newly found commonality, members of the plebs of the closing years of the colonial regime began roaming the uncertain landscapes of the colony before independence as if in search of an author. During the wars following the Declaration of Independence, the search for authorization acquired agonistic tones as the unenfranchised masses switched allegiances between the insurrectionists and the king. But even before that happened, it is possible to discern the mute yet forceful imprint of the plebs on the major political events during the final years of the colony. The plebs never spoke in its own words, but its traces nevertheless dwell in the words, the decisions, and the initiatives of others. Its momentous impact on events may be gathered from the many statements in the archives of the late colonial and independence periods that make passing reference to its disturbing agency. Yet regardless of how seemingly circumstantial these references to the pressure of the anonymous populace might be, without taking its relentless, continual pressure into account it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand why the elite majority loyal to the king was eventually swayed, often against their best interests and expectations, in the direction of independence by the separatist minority. I propose that it was this pressure, exerted on the official protagonists every step of the way, that ultimately accounts for the decision to sever ties with the European metropolis and declare Venezuela an independent nation.4 This is not to say that popular opinion and sentiments always remained favorable to the cause of independence; they did not. But whether for or against, both before and

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after independence was declared, the presence of a supernumerary population remained crucial throughout the revolutionary process to both the configuration and significance of the main events. In Caracas, at any rate, during the crucial days leading up to the Declaration, the evidence suggests that popular support consistently flowed to the most radical positions, thereby introducing instability into all of the successive institutional arrangements and configurations of forces that preceded the event. Life in the colony during the remaining months of 1808 following the establishment of the second junta, and all throughout 1809, remained under the influence of the disturbing news arriving in the many letters brought by vessels entering the ports of La Guaira or Puerto Cabello. The letters intimated the near-collapse of Spanish authority under the onslaught of the invading French army. Especially during 1809, the situation in Spain was bad, and as Madariaga puts it, distance made “the news that reached the cities overseas . . . seem more alarming” (1969, 123). And things only got worse when, by the end of January 1810, confronted with the imminent possibility of falling into French hands, the Central Junta in Cadiz decided to deliver over its powers to the Regency. On April 18, 1810, the newly appointed Captain General Emparán posted in public places the news that had arrived in Caracas a few days earlier: that “anarchy” had overtaken the Iberian Peninsula. A period of great uncertainty regarding the locus of local authority came to a close (Madariaga 1969, 123). Indeed, the publicized news of a final collapse of any viable authority in Spain could not but steel the resolve of those favoring self-government. Given the pivotal place the king had occupied in the local economy of rule, it is enough to think of the anxiety his prolonged absence provoked in Venezuela to grasp how pressing was the need to assume local political control over the territory. To this generalized uncertainty was added the alarming news of recent events in Haiti, where a massive slave rebellion had resulted in a massacre of the white planter population, the burning of their properties, and the fleeing of the survivors, many of whom ended up on Venezuelan shores. In a place such as Venezuela, where the composition and social structure of the local population was very similar to those of Haiti, to delay indefinitely finding a solution to the problem of government was, literally, to play with fire (Carrera Damas 1986, 95). The establishment of self-rule was preceded by a series of moves and countermoves, of which the last was Emparán’s renunciation of his post as captain general following pressure by cabildo members, backed by a considerable crowd parked on Caracas’ main central square, just outside the Municipal Council building. When the assembled cabildo finally decided to constitute itself as the “Supreme Junta for the Preservation of the Rights of Ferdinand VII,” autonomous self-government was officially started in the Province of Caracas. As the word Supreme indicates, until the return of the legitimate monarch to the crown in Spain no other governing body would stand higher than the junta, which effectively assumed sovereignty over the province:

104 Bullying for Independence In the name of Ferdinand VII measures were taken that implied complete sovereignty. Count Tovar, the aged father of one of the cabildo leaders, was made a Field Marshal; freedom of trade was granted to friendly and neutral nations; export duties were abolished; Indians were relieved of their taxes, and, later, slave traffic was prohibited. An academy was founded for the study of mathematics and a patriotic society for fostering agriculture and industry. (Madariaga 1969, 128–29)

The cabildo’s decision to assume control over the Province of Caracas finally made official the de facto existence of the proto-state that, to a considerable extent, had already been in place since July 1808, when the two previous juntas were established. However, one should beware of drawing from the reconfigured institutional situation the overly ambitious conclusion that the Declaration of Independence on July 5, 1811, little over a year after the constitution of the Supreme Junta, was all but preordained. The connection between the two events is far less straightforward than what nationalist interpretations readily assume. In order to ascertain the true stakes of the Declaration, one should focus briefly on the language that the cabildo used to justify its decision to set up an autonomous government. According to the record of the proceedings, this decision was necessitated by “the impossibility in which that very government [the Regency] finds itself of attending to the security and prosperity of these territories and of administering full justice in all affairs which fall under the Supreme authority” (Madariaga 1969, 128). It is due to this situation of misgovernment that the cabildo found itself, on grounds of “natural law,” justified in establishing “within the very bosom of these countries a system of government calculated to make good these deficiencies, through the exercise of the right of sovereignty that owing to this very fact was vested again in the people” (ibid.). All that the above reasoning tells us is that, at least until 1810, the majority of cabildo members were still largely thinking and acting within the strictures of a pactist framework in which, in the event of the absence of the king, sovereignty devolved to the people. The record is far from suggesting covert separatist aspirations; on its basis the most one can attribute to the majority of the cabildo members is the desire for a reformulated monarchy in which constituent kingdoms such as the Venezuelan Captaincy General would be allowed greater autonomy. To characterize the 1810 decision as separatist, as many authors including Madariaga have done, is somewhat misleading. There is nothing promoting separation from Spain in the cabildo’s decision, which merely states the necessity of an autonomous government until the king is returned to authority. As for the Declaration of Independence, the gap between it and the colony’s assertion of self-government of the previous year is, indeed, large enough that no amount of evolutionary reasoning can do justice to the radical novelty of the event. One cannot begin to understand how, within the space of just a few months, such an outcome could have possibly come about, without bringing on board a political dimension well in excess of evolutionary teleologies, or without taking into account the

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conspiratorial activities of a small yet highly radicalized and vocal group of revolutionaries and the popu lar pressure that, at every critical juncture, they brought to bear on the loyalist majority to sway it in the direction of independence. Organized around the Sociedad Patriótica (Patriotic Society), a sort of Jacobin club modeled after those that were active in the French Revolution, this minority included among its members young representatives of some of the most powerful creole families of the province, with Simón Bolívar being merely the one who eventually achieved the greatest preeminence. The existing records suggest an intensely vital association, bursting with political energies and ideals, meeting regularly in the private houses of some of its members to discuss current political events in an atmosphere of egalitarian exaltation far removed from the prevailing hierarchies: “In these sessions, which took place during the evenings from six o’clock on and sometimes ended very late, members from all the different social classes participated, and, something quite unusual, also women from the diverse corporate bodies” (Lollet Calderín et al. 1992, 609). Today is hard to imagine the impact of the Society on a colonial order that had as one of its constitutive principles the exclusion from public deliberations of both women and the majority pardo population. But the innovation was not solely sociological, restricted to the inclusion of hitherto excluded social groups and categories. It also consisted in the introduction of a novel republican imaginary, complete with elaborate rituals, songs, and other public expressions. Thus on April 19, 1811, exactly one year after the creation of the Junta Suprema and the colony’s official assertion of self-rule, and only three months before the Declaration of Independence, the members of the Society resolved to commemorate this momentous event by both “erecting a ‘Tree of Freedom’ and [by] displaying in the facade of the association’s headquarters” the portraits of Gual and España, the two leaders of the first aborted republican insurrection against Spanish domination in the closing years of the eighteenth century (Lollet Calderín et al. 1992, 609). With clear Jacobin antecedents, the “Tree of Freedom” initiative is the first recorded instance in Venezuela of a long series of ritual commemorations and performances, ranging from school celebrations to the core secret rituals of groups of conspirators, that have a republican tree as their focus.5 As for the display of the portraits of the two revolutionary leaders, one may see in this act the beginnings of a civic cult premised on the withdrawal from all public places of representations of monarchs and their replacement with images of republican heroes. The emergence of an unprecedented, strongly egalitarian civic culture was also signaled by other forms of collective expression, for instance the revolutionary songs and hymns that were sung in the milieu of both the Patriotic Society and at least one other revolutionary association, the Club de los Sin Camisa (“Club of the Shirtless,” a name clearly based on the French sans-culottes), of which there is little remaining notice (Pérez Vila 1992a, 696). Federico Brito Figueroa calls attention to how, at the club’s gatherings, white revolutionaries mingled with members from the subaltern groups including

106 Bullying for Independence pardos, mulattoes, and free blacks, and danced to the tune of revolutionary songs borrowed from the Jacobin repertoire (1987, 1284). One of these songs, which eventually became the Venezuelan national anthem, called for the overthrow of despots and for the “whole of America” to follow the example “given by Caracas” and declare self-rule. Heard in the different towns of Venezuela in the wake of independence, the lyrics of this song have been attributed to one of the founding members of the Sociedad Patriótica (Pérez Vila 1992a, 473). Contemporaries were quite aware of the dangerous innovation that an association like the Sociedad Patriótica represented for the local colonial order. Thus, between December 1811 and January 1812, in the period immediately following the Declaration of Independence, the main local newspaper, the Gazeta de Caracas, included several articles with critical references to the revolutionary association. Identifying its members as “raging democrats” and comparing the group to those “Jacobin societies” responsible for terror and devastation in the wake of the French Revolution, the author of one of these articles charged the Society with favoring a kind of “extreme equality that breaks all the ties and bonds of society, destroying the consideration and respect that are so necessary among Citizens” (Gazeta de Caracas, “Artículo Comunicado,” January 17, 1812, quoted in Leal Curiel 1998, 194). The participation of pardos in the Society’s meetings provoked considerable scandal among members of the privileged sectors of Caracas, who generally cringed at the “inadvisability of mixing such heterogeneous ‘castes’ ” (Leal Curiel 1998, 187). The activists from the Sociedad Patriótica did little to assuage the anxieties of their critics, their iconoclastic behavior giving ample proof of their willingness to supplant the symbolic order of the monarchy with a republican imaginary embodied in a panoply of unprecedented discourses, practices, and representations. A conspicuous example of the Society’s iconoclasm was the celebrations enacted in Caracas on April 19, 1811 to commemorate the establishment of the Supreme Junta on that very day the year before. A group of members from the Society toured loudly through the streets and squares of Caracas, “destroying portraits of Ferdinand VII as they moved along and repeatedly kicked the Spanish flag” (Leal Curiel 1998, 191–92). It is hard to come up with an act that, like the destruction of the king’s portraits, would have so effectively and succinctly expressed the Society’s willingness to precipitate a revolutionary rupture with the monarchy. It is no wonder that the group’s behavior, communicative style, with its emphasis on “limitless freedom and equality,” and initiatives, especially in circumstances in which the “pardos did not hide their aspirations to citizenship,” fueled a fear of Jacobinism among the colony’s dominant sectors (ibid., 194). As one would expect, this kind of radical imaginary went together with a no less radical political activism on the part of the members of the Patriotic Society. From the moment it was created, upon the return of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar from London in December 1808, until independence was declared on July 5, 1811, its members stayed in the streets and squares of Caracas pushing their independence agenda

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among the urban masses. Throughout these months the goal of the Society remained the same: to bring constant pressure to bear on the members of the main ruling body so as to move them to declare independence. A brief summary of the main events suffices to demonstrate this point. On April 20, 1810, only one day after the Supreme Junta had been created, the newly established institution invited the “inhabitants of all the United Provinces of Venezuela” to join Caracas in the establishment of a congress that, on the basis of proportional representation, would exercise supreme authority over the territories of the recently created Captaincy General of Venezuela (Pérez Vila 1988b, 808). From the start, this decision to set up a new ruling body with representation from all the Venezuelan provinces was couched in fairly traditionalist terms. For example, the Junta General de Diputación de las Provincias de Venezuela, the name chosen for the proposed institution, was explicitly linked in bans and other official documents to the Cortes, the Spanish monarchical parliament that stopped meeting in the sixteenth century after the defeat of the Castilian comuneros by the Spanish crown (ibid., 807–8). It is also useful to consider here that the events in Caracas paralleled those going on in Spain, where the Regency, whose authority as we recall had been rejected by the Caracas cabildo, was at the time also busy calling for the Cortes to convene with representatives from both Spain and the Americas (ibid., 808). Subject to liberal influences on both sides of the Atlantic, the political solutions to the vacuum generated by the absence of legitimate government were also similarly informed by a revamped pactist ideology. What set the Spanish and Venezuelan experiments in self-government apart from each other was timing, that is, when a reformulated monarchy was expected to come into being. For the Regency that time was the immediate future, when the Cortes would bring together representatives from the entire monarchy. For the Caracas authorities, who viewed the Regency as illegitimate since it was not elected by representatives from the different kingdoms, a reformulated monarchy would not exist until King Ferdinand returned to the throne; until then the Junta General, composed of representatives from all the different Venezuelan provinces, would exercise autonomous authority over the entire territory of the Captaincy General, waiting for the auspicious moment when the territory would rejoin the other Spanish kingdoms as parts of a reconfigured constitutional monarchy. Another clear indication of the relative traditionalism informing the Caracas initiatives was the uncertainty in the official documents regarding the status of representation. While sometimes the represented entity was referred to using the generic people of republican ideology, more often than not this entity was both explicitly and tacitly assimilated to the traditional pueblos of the ancien régime. When the Junta Suprema from Caracas started on June 15, 1810 to publish guidelines for the upcoming elections to the Junta General (the group that would govern all of the Venezuelan provinces) in several consecutive issues of the Gazeta de Caracas, they named the document “Rules

108 Bullying for Independence and Regulations for the Legitimate Representation of All the Towns [Pueblos] in the Confederation of Venezuela.” Although the language already betrays the uneasy coexistence of older and newer political vocabularies, pueblos unequivocally evokes the basic political units of the ancien régime (Pérez Vila 1988b, 808). Needless to say, the official documents and declarations cannot be made to yield unambiguous proof of unanimity among the different members of the Junta Suprema about the political future. At least since the French and the American revolutions the ideas of republicanism and independence had been sufficiently in the air for it to be possible for us to automatically rule out any unstated desires for radical political change on the part of members of Caracas’ ruling institutions. We do know that a small minority among them entertained political ambitions that thoroughly transcended the framework of a monarchy, even a reformulated one. But the high levels of popular mobilization that accompanied every major step in the direction of independence suggest that in the absence of such considerable pressure, it is unlikely that these elites would have opted for independence. As early as June 1810, local Spaniards tried to bring down the Caracas Supreme Junta, and news came of the successful quashing in Quito, Ecuador of a similar junta by forces loyal to the Spanish Regency (Madariaga 1952, 135). In response, José Félix Ribas led a crowd in a mass mobilization through Caracas demanding the expulsion of all European Spaniards. Th is was the same José Félix Ribas “of the Phrygian cap,” as Brito Figueroa calls him (1987, 1282), who was well known in local circles as a Jacobin agitator, and who also happened to be the elected representative of the pardos in the Caracas Supreme Junta. Allied with Bolívar and the other leaders of the Sociedad Patriótica, his intervention may be linked to similar attempts in other anticolonial wars to establish clear lines of demarcation between colonizers and colonized. Thus, “under his leadership, the walls of the city were covered with printed notices demanding vengeance. ‘Let the knife, let death be our motto,’ said these posters in which the Spaniards were described as cannibals. The Junta had to counter with an edict promising that adequate revenge would be taken” (ibid., 136). We catch here, literally forming before our eyes, the figure of the foreigner that has proved such a stubborn specter in the imaginary of the nation. It is important to focus briefly on the Supreme Junta’s reaction to the street riots. By merely faking acquiescence to the demands from the streets, it began treading the path of concessions that would end with the declaring of independence (Madariaga 1969, 136). To pledge revenge against a group, no matter how small, of local Spaniards, identifying it as the enemy, was already to give in under pressure to the terms of a protonationalist discourse whose main discursive axis was the clear-cut demarcation between “us” and “them,” between natives and foreigners. What the Supreme Junta eventually enacted was not revenge but rather the decision to expel Ribas from the province once the local agitation had sufficiently calmed down. Meanwhile, however, although Spanish-born individuals had both supported the decision to assert self-

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government and, moreover, participated as active members in the Junta that was formed in its wake, inadvertently or not the Junta Suprema was allowing an association between the figure of the enemy and foreignness to crystallize in official discourse. The magnitude of the concession made to the forces of radicalism hinged on the Junta’s acquiescence to a discursive logic that introduced a sharp overall demarcation where none had been officially allowed before. Even if the distinction between natives and foreigners had indeed been structurally relevant to the colonial situation, all inhabitants were considered to belong to the same universal monarchy, at least in some crucial respects. Undermining such a shared sense of belonging by enforcing a radical parting of the ways made the Declaration of Independence possible. The logic of the argument that it was relentless pressure from the streets that ultimately accounted for the decision to declare independence becomes clearer as we examine the events counting down to the date of the Declaration—but the pressure was there all along. A brief review of the main events demonstrates the point. The April 1810 call for the creation of the Junta General met with not only the rebellion from Caracas’ Spaniards (and Ribas’ pushback), but with a swift and positive response from the Venezuelan provinces, the majority of which had followed Caracas’ example in disobeying the authority of the Regency. Indeed, from August 1810, barely four months after the call was made, to January 1811, elections took place all over Venezuela in which the provinces chose their representatives. They used a two-degree election system whereby voters—restricted, as was usual at the time not only in the Americas but also in Europe, to male property-owning adults with a fi xed place of residence— chose electors, who in turn chose representatives. Finally, on March 2, 1811, and with the Supreme Junta in attendance, the congress that resulted from these elections was installed in the city of Caracas. It was composed of deputies from the provinces of Caracas, Cumana, Barinas, Margarita, and Merida (Pérez Vila 1992b, 808). Coro, Maracaibo, and Guayana remained loyal to the Spanish Regency. Only the habits of a nationalist historiography can account for the insistence with which historians use the designation Constituent Congress to refer to this assembly, thereby telescoping a series of antecedent events, obeying various different logics, into what was a largely unforeseeable outcome. If one listens to the contemporary actors speak, nowhere is the term constituent to be heard before July 5, 1811, the date on which independence was declared. During the months preceding that date, the only expression used to designate the ruling assembly convened for the first time a few months before was Congreso Supremo de Venezuela (ibid., 809). Nothing in the public statements issued before early July indicate that the recently established institution had as its purpose the “constitution” of anything, much less an independent nation. The discursive terms in which these public pronouncements were couched evidence the rather more modest ambition of ruling the Captaincy General until the king was returned to his throne. And, in ser vice of this goal, any impression of novelty was anathema, lest the already sore sensibilities of the monarchy be offended. The Castilian word congreso,

110 Bullying for Independence meaning a joining of wills to achieve a common purpose, was more than adequate for this institution. A cursory examination of the founding oath whereby the Congreso Supremo de Venezuela was instituted serves to demonstrate the point. Having met in one of the city’s private mansions and elected a provisional president, the Congress’s representatives moved to the Caracas Cathedral in what is now Plaza Bolívar, where they swore “yes” to the following oath administered by the Archbishop of the province: Do you swear by God and the Holy Gospel, on which you will lay your hands, to preserve the Fatherland and defend its rights as well as those of the Lord Don Ferdinand VII free from any relation with or influence from France; in independence from any form of government emanating from the Iberian peninsula, and without any other representation than that which resides in the General Congress of Venezuela; to oppose yourselves to any other power wishing to exert sovereignty over these lands, or impede its absolute and legitimate independence, when the Confederation of its Provinces deems it convenient; to maintain pure, unscathed, and inviolable our Sacred Religion, and to defend the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary our Lady . . . (quoted in Pérez Vila 1992b, 809)

And so on and so forth. Unless one overinterprets the repeated use of the word independence, taking it for anything other than what it was, namely, the assertion of temporary sovereignty by the local political authorities over the territories of the Captaincy General, everything in the oath exudes fervent loyalty to both the imprisoned king and to one of the main pillars of the monarchy, the Holy Catholic Church. So much for the still-common view of the events of April 19, 1810 as a direct forerunner of the Declaration of Independence in July of the next year. Again, what could possibly explain how, in the space of just a few months, the Venezuelan representatives were so effectively weaned from their undivided loyalty to the king—the Church was an altogether different matter—as to declare Venezuela independent? If one recalls the pressure exerted by the crowds in the streets and squares, as well as within the very precincts of the Congress, an important part of the answer appears. At least from July 3, 1811, this pressure mounted steadily, reaching climactic heights on the night of July 4 and throughout the next day, and not subsiding until Venezuela was declared independent, words met with tremendous applause by the jubilant crowds assembled in the bars (Lollet Calderín and Pérez Vila 1988, 609). And in all this ferment the Sociedad Patriótica of course had a substantial hand, to the point that already by the end of June 1811 there was talk in Caracas of the existence of two parallel congresses, the Congreso Supremo and the Jacobin orga nization, the latter widely believed to be bent on replacing the former. The labor of agitation had begun almost from the moment the Sociedad Patriótica was created. In January 1811 Francisco de Miranda, just arrived with Simón Bolívar

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from England, started doing political work among the urban masses in Caracas. As Madariaga puts it, his “fi rst tactics were aimed at conquering the streets and the colored crowds” for the purpose of declaring independence from Spain (1969, 52). Months of intense activity and “fiery speeches for independence” followed, such as those delivered on the occasion of the first-anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Supreme Junta, when, “with indefatigable loquacity,” Miranda “showed himself ever ready” to support the claims of the crowd (ibid.). Th is revolutionary activity in the streets was inspired and informed by the discussions that every evening took place at the meetings of the Sociedad Patriótica, which according to Madariaga were “often tumultuous and always lively. About two hundred members took part, some of them members of Congress who, disgruntled because their views had not prevailed in the official parliament, came to air them again in the unofficial one” (ibid., 153). These rowdy gatherings were in stark contrast to the meetings taking place in the Congress, whose members “endeavored to hold its debates in the calm that its own dignity and the place it met in [the chapel of the university] required. This was not always easy, for the sittings were public, and the crowd did not always respect or even understand the demeanor of their deputies” (ibid., 154). In all likelihood it was due to the street pressure that Miranda brought to bear on the institution that he was finally given the seat in Congress previously denied to him on account of his well-known European career as a revolutionary. With Miranda’s entry into Congress, the Sociedad Patriótica finally gained an invaluable official foothold. From then on all the popular pressure that had been building up outside Congress could be converted within the institution itself into attitudes and decisions favorable to the cause of independence. The pressure on Congress was so great that some of its members proposed, without success, that it should be moved to another city where its deliberations could proceed without the “demagogic presence” of the Sociedad Patriótica. The fact that “in this heated atmosphere, Congress passed a Declaration on the Rights of the People,” assuring them of their sovereignty, should also be taken as evidence of the considerable pressure to which the institution was exposed, even if, as Madariaga dryly notes, “only landowners were to vote” (ibid., 155). Events finally reached a climax when, under strong pressure from the Patriotic Society, Congress at last engaged in debates regarding the validity of extricating the Venezuelan provinces from the Spanish monarchy (Madariaga 1969, 154). The advisability of independence had already been widely debated in the meetings of the Society, since at least the end of May 1811 (Lollet Calderín et al. 1992, 609). Therefore when, during the first days of July, Congress finally addressed the issue, the event could be regarded as a triumph of the association’s revolutionary agenda. The evidence suggests that from the start the discussions were carried out in an atmosphere of intimidation, induced not just by the relentless pressure from the crowds but also by the initiatives and attitudes of the main leaders of the Society. For example, at one point one of the main supporters of the Spanish cause within the Congress raised his voice to “protest against

112 Bullying for Independence the violent and tumultuous attitude of some members of the Patriotic Society, including Bolívar, who came armed to the bar, to intimidate the wavering deputies” (Madariaga 1969, 155). Although during the course of July 3 Congress suspended deliberations on the topic of independence, the debate was, “of course, revived that very night in the hotter atmosphere of the Patriotic Society” (ibid.). On that occasion Bolívar delivered a rousing speech that, based on the insistence with which local historians cite some of its passages, counts as one of his more memorable. After denying the existence of “two Congresses,” Bolívar addressed the prevailing atmosphere of irresolution in the official assembly with the following, “vehement plea for boldness and swiftness” (ibid.): Congress is discussing what should have been decided already. And what do they say? That we must begin by a confederation, as if we were not already confederated against a foreign tyranny. That we must wait upon the results of the policy of Spain: what is it to us that Spain sells her slaves to Bonaparte or keeps them, since we are resolved to be free? Such doubts are the sad consequences of the chains of old. That great designs must be prepared with calm: are three hundred years of calm not enough? The Patriotic Society respects Congress as it must, but Congress must hear the Patriotic Society, a center of light and of all the revolutionary interests. Let us fearlessly lay the foundation stone of South American liberty. To hesitate is to be lost. (quoted in Madariaga 1969, 155)

I have several reasons for quoting Bolívar’s speech at some length. First, it conveys something of the caliber of his discourse: confronted with the energetic decisionism and sheer enunciative force on display, only in part the result of the popular pressure behind the words, it is not altogether surprising that even the more hesitant deputies were eventually bullied into independence. Second, the speech is a highly reliable testimony to the atmosphere that, up to the very last moment, prevailed in Congress. Given Bolívar’s unwavering stance on independence, it is unlikely that he would have alluded to the arguments within Congress if they were not a real impediment to the realization of his designs. Third and finally, this speech already shows us the discursive strategies that went into the erasure of a democratic space of contestation and its replacement by a unitary will parading as the will of the majority. A brief focus on these strategies will be crucial for the light they throw on the nineteenth-century processes that eventually issued in the fetishization of the Venezuelan state. The second and third points I outlined above are closely related, as it was precisely the atmosphere of irresolution in Congress that called for the decisionism of Bolívar’s speech. Moreover, the efficacy of his intervention was largely contingent on his ability to translate doubts regarding a variety of loosely interconnected subjects into doubts concerning the proper time at which to declare independence. Thus, the passage quoted above is traversed by the assumption that while the congressional representatives may have differed regarding the timing of such an act, they were nonetheless of one mind as to the need to make it. In other words, Bolívar’s strategy consists in the erasure of a space of contestation

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and heterogeneous enunciations and its replacement with a generalized “we,” a unified, homogeneous subject that may be conveniently addressed, berated, and jolted into action by the authoritative “I” of the speaker. Explicitly invoked twice at the beginning of the passage, this “we” is posited as the collective subject responsible for the series of delays that has indefinitely deferred the goal already agreed upon by the congressmen. But was such agreement actually there, or was it fabricated by Bolívar’s discourse? It is enough to briefly juxtapose the records of the debates in Congress with Bolívar’s claims in order to realize that such an agreement was Bolívar’s fabrication. Thus, while it is true that during much of the period preceding the declaration, the members of Congress were busy arguing about the timeliness of a confederation, such a form of government was not considered a precursor to independence, at least not explicitly. Again, it is possible to detect in the debates, as well as in other contemporary sources, an atmosphere of expectation regarding “the results of the policies in Spain.” Yet nowhere, to my knowledge, are such results explicitly construed as that which should be known before implementing an already existing decision to break with the Spanish monarchy (Pérez Vila 1992b, 810; Hébrard 1998, 197–215). Indeed, as Bolívar put it, why wait if the representatives were already “resolved to be free”? What would have made any such wait particularly puzzling is that the occurrence of the resolve of which Bolívar speaks (but which cannot be independently verified in the records) coincided with the moment at which the monarchy, or whatever was left of it, was at its weakest, and thus incapable of quashing any possible Venezuelan designs; this timing makes it so puzzling, in fact, as to render it unlikely that whatever expectation about the results of Spanish policy did exist among the congressmen had any of the significance claimed by Bolívar. Deprived of empirical substance, Bolívar’s claim appears as what it probably was: a rhetorical sleight of hand aimed at positing the existence of an underlying resolve to achieve independence that the representatives’ idle waiting would have unnecessarily postponed. Contrary to what Bolívar claimed, all available evidence suggests that, far from being attitudes shared by most of the Venezuelan congressmen, both the “wait” and the underlying “resolve” were fabrications of Bolívar’s discourse, rhetorical means of imposing a revolutionary agenda by redefining the very terms of the political debate. Although perhaps less obviously, much the same may be said concerning Bolívar’s third rhetorical question. Thus, it is not clear whether the insistence on “calm” that Bolívar cites corresponds to any actual conviction in Congress regarding the need to take time in implementing the “great designs” that all its members would have shared; or, as is more likely, whether such a call for calm represented the appeal some flustered congressmen made to a few revolutionary hotheads in an effort to silence them. If the latter, once again Bolívar was conveniently turning the reactions of a few alarmed individual congressmen into the shared attitude of a collective “we” wavering for no good reason at the very brink of independence. It is, of course, true that at the time of Bolívar’s intervention the monarchy was still the prevailing institutional framework. This, in

114 Bullying for Independence itself, strongly advises against taking official declarations as the transparent expression of the underlying intentions of the congressmen who, even if predisposed toward independence, would have hidden their true thoughts behind overt expressions of allegiance to the monarchy. Yet, given the amount of pressure that both the leaders of the Sociedad Patriótica and the masses were bringing to bear on Congress during the period immediately preceding the Declaration of Independence, it is unlikely that such intentions, at least on the part of the majority of its members, would have been greatly at odds with what is registered in the documents which, for the most part, indicate the majority’s support of the monarchy. It is rather more likely that this majority had to be forcefully bullied into acquiescing to the separatist designs of the radical minority, and that Bolívar’s masterful speech before the Sociedad Patiótica was among the finishing touches in a strategy aimed at discursively fashioning a unitary will for independence that would be fully implemented the following day, within Congress. After alluding in true Enlightenment fashion to the Sociedad Patriótica as “a center of light and of all the revolutionary interests,” Bolívar ended his speech with an urgent call to “lay the foundation stone of South American liberty.” Given the rising political temperatures in Caracas, one would expect such an urgent appeal to have provoked an almost immediate response. And, based on the mass demonstrations in all the streets and squares of the city on the day following Bolívar’s speech, this was indeed the case (Brito Figueroa 1987, 1291–92). Similarly, one would expect that under the forbidding glare of the potent, uncompromising light that the Patriotic Society managed to project through the medium of Bolívar’s speech, any remaining shadows of “doubts” cast by the “chains of old” regarding the need to immediately declare independence would have rapidly vanished, making room for liberty’s shadowless foundation stone. The events in Caracas on July 4 bore ample witness to this second expectation. On that very day, following Bolívar’s speech and after having approved his motion to declare independence, the Society commissioned Dr. Miguel Peña to convey its resolution to Congress. From this moment on, events succeeded one another at a truly dizzying pace. Thus on July 4, 1811, in the hours preceding Dr. Peña’s arrival in Congress, after having listened to the speeches of the most impulsive members of the Patriotic Society, Caracas’ “rabble” perpetrated a series of violent street actions in support of Francisco de Miranda, who, as a result of this pressure, managed from within the Constituent Congress itself to convince its faint hearted members to defeat the conservative tendencies that, in the young Simón Bolívar’s apt designation, predominated in that Dead Sea of a Congress. (Brito Figueroa 1985, 88)

Then Dr. Peña delivered his message; and given the rapidity with which the last remaining obstacles on the way to declaring independence dissolved in the wake of his intervention, one is justified in thinking that he was still glowing with the uncompromising “light” of Bolívar’s speech from the night before. It is true that the street mobilizations that preceded Dr. Peña’s appearance before Congress must have surely

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contributed to its success. This, however, should not blind us to the sheer performative magic of what he had to say. It is as if by uttering in front of the assembled congressmen the words “We detest Ferdinand VII,” Peña completed Bolívar’s job of the night before, finally bringing the assembly into existence as a collective “we” crystallized in its hatred of the Spanish monarch and capable of adopting the resolutions leading to the birth of Venezuela as an independent nation. This is how Madariaga describes what happened next: [U]nder a tumult from a rowdy bar Congress voted a motion to consult the Executive. But the Executive answered that very day, giving its blessing to the idea. That night Caracas gaily celebrated the anniversary of the independence of the United States. The next day, the hall of Congress was crowded with an eager public that noisily applauded the republicans and hooted and booed the moderates. The President reported the affirmative answer of the Government and Miranda rose at once, asking for an immediate declaration. Before the morning was over, Congress, with the one exception of Father Maya, voted in favor of independence amidst the wildest enthusiasm. (Madariaga 1969, 156)

Contrasting Madariaga’s somewhat sanitized version of the circumstances surrounding the Declaration of Independence with an account written by a contemporary witness, we may get a richer idea of what Madariaga’s “gaily celebrated” might have actually meant, at least from the perspective of some of the city’s more privileged sectors. Writing just a few years after the main events, that “apostate and resentful mulatto José Domingo Díaz” (Brito Figueroa 1987, 1292) suggests that what for some in the city might indeed have been joy was for others terror, largely provoked by the spectacle of the former. This is how Díaz described the mood of the July 5 celebrations: During the whole day and night the atrocious and indecent furies of the revolution violently agitated the seditious spirits. I saw drunken individuals running up and down the streets in their short sleeves wildly screaming and dragging the portraits of His Majesty, which had been torn from every place where they were to be found. Those crowds of men from the revolution, black, mulattoes, white, Spaniards and Americans, ran from one square to the next, where raving orators inclined the rabble towards license and unruliness. Meanwhile, hidden in their houses, all the honest men barely dared to watch the passersby from their half-opened windows. (Díaz 1829, 91)

On July 7, Congress voted on the document containing the declaration. Entitled the “Declaration of Independence of the American Confederation of Venezuela,” this document was, in turn, presented to the Congress’ Executive the next day (ibid.). Now the separation of Venezuela from the Spanish monarchy was finally sealed, an event with truly unforeseen, catastrophic consequences that still weigh heavily on the Venezuelan nation today.

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Excursus on the Postcolonial Crowds Before bringing this chapter to a close, I need to address the crowd that, as a stubborn presence, accompanies all the main events on the path to independence. Notice that it was “under a tumult from a rowdy bar” that Congress voted to consult the Executive, and that this kind of pressure did not subside until the very end, when the goal of the radicals was achieved. Thus throughout the deliberations, the crowd “noisily applauded the republicans and hooted and booed the moderates,” until, finally, greeting the votes for independence with “the wildest enthusiasm.” The literature has assigned the masses contrasting roles. In the many accounts concerned with endlessly polishing a heroic version of independence, the urban crowds appear as merely a shadowy accompaniment to the actions of the main protagonists; they are depicted as a malleable instrument that the elites from the competing camps used to further their own designs. Alternatively, these crowds, along with rebellious slaves from the plantations and other subaltern sectors from both city and countryside, are described as together amounting to one of the two camps in the vast class struggle that is considered to be the largely silenced truth of the period. This latter, of course, is the role of the independence crowds in most Marxist accounts, of which the writings of the Venezuelan historian Federico Brito Figueroa provide a conspicuous example. Whatever the merits of such an approach, and there are indeed some important ones, interpreting independence and its aftermath through the grid of class struggle results in serious simplifications. Such interpretations usually massively reduce the complexities of the historical record to the terms of a stark dichotomy, often assigning to each of the struggling sectors well-defined interests and identities. predicated in advance of all historical vicissitudes. In most Marxist accounts the antagonistic transactions between opposing terms rigidly determine in advance the truth of the historical period, regardless of historical conundrums or of the various actors’ ideals, predicaments, or intentions. What proponents of such perspectives overlook in their eagerness to unlock the truth of the period by unilaterally wielding one or another master interpretative key—be it class struggle, heroic exemplarity, or, as it sometimes happens, a combination of both— is the unprecedented sociocultural syntax that, at the time, emerged in the wake of the king’s disappearance. It is within this novel syntax that the independence crowds became reflexively constituted as a horizontal collectivity internally rent by radically conflicting tendencies: on the one hand, there was the desire of this collectivity to cash in on the promise immanent in the novel republican vocabularies and, once and for all, become the seat of a new form of sovereignty; on the other, there was the predicament of this collectivity as a supernumerary multitude, forever in excess of the liberal polities emerging with independence. The crowd’s supernumerary predicament was not new. As I argued in chapter 1, the existence of a population existing beyond the reach of the colonial order, especially in the

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closing decades of the colony, weighed ever more heavily on the available social structures and existing systems of classification. What was unprecedented is how, with the king out of the frame and the emergence of novel republican vocabularies, the independence crowd became constituted as a relatively autonomous force. Constituted as such both in the gap between its own “excessive” predicament and the idealized role to which it was destined by republican ideology, and within the unprecedented social landscape opening up at the time, along with the elites and the state, the postcolonial crowds became a main actor or force forging the triangulated space emergent with independence—a space to which, up to now, Venezuela’s social existence has been largely beholden. Within this novel space, the social significance and status of the crowd is not prescribed in advance, and neither are the significance and status of the other constituent forces. Rather, the relative status and significance of all of these forces shift within the kaleidoscopic scenes that, through their very interactions, they ceaselessly enact. Since, within these changing scenes, every actor or force is forever answerable to the others, always already engaged by the demands, pressures, and expectations of the others, none of the three may ever be said to be in possession of interests and identities that precede their reciprocal engagement. The being and identity of what, at any given time, counts as either “the state,” “the elite,” or “the masses” will, therefore, depend on the state of these entities’ reciprocal relations. More importantly, within the changing constellations formed in the course of the independence struggles, no one of these forces ever possessed the ability to affect or mold the rest without simultaneously being affected or molded by the others. It is therefore a considerable simplification, for example, to assign the popular sectors once and for all to the Spanish camp during the initial stages of independence, on account of one or another intrinsic trait such as their presumed backwardness and superstition. Similarly empty are more elaborate propositions, in which the alleged allegiance of the popular sectors to the king during this initial period is predicated on class positionality as the unalterable given that inexorably pitted them against their “natural” enemy, the white aristocracy. The least one can say of such perspectives is that they fly in the face of the available evidence. Indeed, it is hard to understand how independence could have been declared without considerable popular backing. As for the elites, it is hardly more possible to pin on this sector a set of unchanging attitudes, characteristics, or predispositions than it is to do so with regard to the popular masses. Whatever one may wish to say about this sector, what is certain is that it was not given once and for all as a monolithic bloc. Rather, what in the literature is often identified as the elite of the independence period appears on closer inspection as something far more unwieldy, resembling splinters from the ancien régime’s shattered social structure, driven everywhere by the strong winds of change blowing at the time. It is this vulnerability, the fragility of any and all subject positions within highly antagonistic social fields, that is frequently overlooked. Many accounts, in their rush

118 Bullying for Independence to arrive at the underlying truth of the period by pinning down the objective identities and interests of the main social actors and forces, swap the complex and fluctuating syntax of appearances for a collection of timeless, unchanging essences. Thus readers are often treated to a more-or-less elaborate list of what elites, popular masses, or leading heroes did or did not do, decided or failed to decide according to their preexisting interests and identities, without receiving any sense of the extent to which such identities, interests, and decisions were themselves belatedly constituted in a field of differential and often highly antagonistic relations antedating them. Whatever “underlying truths” may be derived from such a reductive operation are the result of a backward glance, a retrospective fixation on the supposed reality beneath the flow of appearances, that misses how what counts as reality at any time is itself made and unmade by means of complicated transactions and through the very play of appearances. A case in point is offered by the example of Venezuelan historian Germán Carrera Damas, whose work has otherwise considerably informed my own formulations. To my knowledge, Carrera Damas is the Venezuelan historian who has most fully recognized the role that the Spanish monarch’s momentous disappearance played in the crisis of governmentality that eventually issued in the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence and the bloody civil wars following in its wake. For Carrera Damas, however, the king’s disappearance did not result in the emergence of an unprecedented sociocultural syntax; it merely exposed what was already there and what the presence of the king in the persons of his representatives had merely served to disguise or mitigate—namely, the existence of a relatively unified elite in each of the Venezuelan provinces, ruling over the various subaltern classes whose interests and identities, like those of the elite, both preexisted and survived the crisis of independence. According to this argument, the presence of the king had somewhat mitigated the harshness of the existing antagonisms, easing the friction between the existing classes, and the king’s disappearance generated a crisis of governmentality of vast proportions because the different social sectors now faced one another across the existing divides without any intervening mediations. The problem with this style of analysis is that it subordinates all existing complexities and ambiguities to a telos dictating in advance the directionality of the historical process. Carrera Damas interprets any differences within the ruling strata, no matter how seemingly irreconcilable, as merely expressive of the contrasting perspectives that members from the same, objectively existing social class held regarding the means to reestablish their class’ hegemonic control over the rest of the population, a control greatly jeopardized by the monarch’s absence. In sum, according to Carrera Damas, the significance of the crisis of independence ultimately comes down to a crisis of reproduction for the ruling elites of the time, prompting a range of conflicting responses among its members. In this argument, some members were blinded by their allegiance to the Spanish monarch, thereby losing sight of the long-term interests of their class as a whole; others, however, by which he means the faction favoring independence, would have

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kept their sights firmly on such interests, realizing that these were better served by breaking away from Spain. To maintain this view one must forget all about the visions, interests, or perspectives expressed by the different social actors, along with their indecision, finite circumstances, fluctuating allegiances, or troubled forms of identification—or even about the fact that many of those whom Carrera Damas identifies as elite representatives were willing to immolate themselves in the name of ideals that only the most contrived dialectical logic could assign to the defense of narrow class interests. One wonders, for example, about the kind of class logic that someone like Simón Bolívar was furthering when he saw his vast family fortune consumed by the flames of the revolution, before dying poor and exiled in Colombia, rejected by those very Venezuelans he had given his all to set free. The following passage by Luis Castro Leiva identifies well the dilemmas posed by this blindness-versus-insight kind of epistemology: In order to account for the emergence of our nations in their republican form it is not enough to appeal to the sort of dialectical explanations often found in Marxist historiographical narratives for which these nations are merely the liberal, bourgeois creation of creole elites eager to imitate the French Revolution and anxious to preserve the structures of domination that they had inherited from the ancien régime. Doubtlessly, after the fact, nation building at the time of Independence can be understood from the perspective of those interests of domination; but that historiographical reconstruction invariably eludes those voices from the past that, expressing distinct political visions, were actively involved in the configuration of their own republicanism and their conception of liberty. To ignore those voices is to ignore the causal force that that neglected but nonetheless operative past had for the contemporary actors and the decisive weight that the Jacobin question eventually achieved over the revolutionary or progressive political culture that has remained with us until now. [Paying heed to the centrality of past understandings has become] even more [crucial] in recent times, aware as we are now that the economic causes that we so frequently privileged are not nearly as efficient as we once thought they were. (Castro Leiva 1991b, 72–73)

I would add to the preceding only that, no matter how crucial they may be, it is not just the “causal force” of the political voices of the past that must be taken into account if one wishes to apprehend the generative force of a political imaginary that, crystallized during the independence period, indeed “has remained with us until now.” As insightful as he is, Castro Leiva in the passage above still assumes that political ideologies somehow float over the social field, which they then influence or even mold from their lofty external position. Even if this idealist formulation opens analytical possibilities overlooked by other interpretations, one still has to make an objection similar to the one I made to the materialist alternatives advanced by such authors as Carrera Damas or Brito Figueroa—namely, that the formulation prejudges the directionality

120 Bullying for Independence of the historical process by finding its broader outlines inscribed beforehand, in this case in the scripts the different social actors supposedly carried around fully formed in their Jacobin or monarchical heads. Better perhaps, in a Deleuzian vein, to regard political ideologies or actors’ intentions as material forces operative in the same plane of immanence as all the other material forces, constraints, and events. That is, far from ideological conceptions standing above anything else, in this formulation political ideologies, texts, and events relate to each other “on the level of effects.” In other words, “all are effects of a common dynamic that is contained neither in the concepts, nor in the texts, nor in the events, but is located in their interstices, inhabiting the space of their interrelation” (Dean and Massumi 1992, 12). The implication of this vis-à-vis, for example, the “Jacobin” ideology espoused by the faction vying for independence is that in and of itself such an ideology had no causal force, its efficacy being contingent on its status as one “effect” among many. Within this field of effects, the popu lar masses or the elites also became constituted as horizontal— and, in hindsight, one might even say statistically imaginable and enumerable— social groupings. Released by the decomposition of the colonial order, this “common dynamic” allowed for the recomposition of a novel social space articulated by an unprecedented syntax of images, ideas, events, and social groupings. Originating in the (at least partial) collapse of the ancien régime’s particularistic hierarchies, both the ideologies and the social groupings emergent within this novel space were informed and propelled by a similar universalistic logic. In other words, both ideologies and social groupings can be seen as filling up the void left behind by the ancien régime’s failing social structure, with either a spatial imagining of the community as a seamless, horizontal body, or with the actual massing of bodies in horizontal, imaginarily vacant space, It was this abstract, horizontal space that the various ideologies fi lled with “the people” as the seat of a new form of sovereignty. This sovereign people was, of course, variously construed; the competing formulations either restricted its scope to just a few categories or extended it to include the population as a whole. Yet even as the constructs ranged between the poles of utter exclusion and complete inclusion, there was something they had in common. Whether restricted to the propertied classes or expanded to include the dispossessed masses (whom the Jacobins liked to imagine revolutionarily distended as a crowd), in every case this new locus of sovereignty, “the people,” was envisaged as a horizontal arrangement of abstractly interchangeable units. If the new ideologies saw public space filled with a horizontal “people,” the homogeneous citizenry of “the nation,” then simply by stepping out of their particularistic niches and massing together in the emergent public spaces as crowds, the populations that were released by the crumbing social structure of the ancien régime in fact did become the future nation’s homogeneous mortar. No wonder a contemporary historian has referred to the “revolutionary crowd” as a distinctively novel phenomenon

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emergent in and around the time of the French Revolution (Rudé 1959, 9, 196–97, 208– 9, 232–36). Just as in the heat of pressing circumstances such a universalizing logic relentlessly translated hierarchical differences, differentiated habitus, or largely incommensurable experiences into homogeneous, exchangeable qualities and identities, so too Enlightenment ideologies equalized everything according to the strictures of an all-encompassing, universalizing logic. But all this was, significantly, not just a matter of interaction between fully formed ideologies here and preexisting social identities and practices there. At stake, rather, was a “dynamic,” bursting like an electric spark from within interstices among partly formed / partly inchoate entities, imaginings, texts, practices, and experiences, to zigzag its incandescent way across entire fields of immanence. Infusing minds as much as bodies, social practices as much as ideological representations, it is in this dynamic back-and-forth that political agencies and events, texts, images, and massed bodily performances inflect and modify one another as forces emergent within and belonging to the same level of a shared field. Neither of these two terms—that is, the crowds or the elite creole leadership claiming to represent them (both during independence and after)—may be said to have had any real precedence over the other. It is not as if, for example, the leadership of the Sociedad Patriótica were a small group of enlightened individuals unilaterally imposing a revolutionary agenda on the always-malleable masses, even if manipulation indeed played a part. Both leadership and masses were, rather, “effects of a common dynamic,” so that neither may be said to have been in possession of interests or identities previous to or uninflected by their reciprocal engagement. The radical “Jacobin” designs entertained by the leadership of the Sociedad Patriótica were just one effect of an epochal dynamic already subjecting all existing distinctions to a universalistic, radically equalizing logic. Moreover, this leadership’s very self-understanding and identity were themselves inflected by something far more unwieldy than an assortment of readings from their favorite Enlightenment authors. Just like these radical texts, the very self-identity of the revolutionary leadership was itself emergent within a common field undergoing drastic rearrangement as a result, largely, of the unexpected removal of the monarch from the pinnacle of the social order Interpellated as political subjects at the fraught juncture between texts and contexts, ideological formulations and forms of mass political participation, the leadership of the Sociedad Patriótica was always already dislocated vis-à-vis any preexisting form of class affiliation or identification. It was precisely in those liminal spaces that their very identity as political subjects was belatedly constituted. To become a Jacobin was to choose a path on which one’s own viability as an agent was made contingent on answering affirmatively to the powerful call of the crowds. If by such an affirmative act the young members of the local white aristocracy positioned themselves as leaders of the revolutionary crowds, they simultaneously made themselves vulnerable to these crowds’ whims and conflicting desires. In other words,

122 Bullying for Independence they became caught in a field of forces that preceded them, constraining their alternatives in advance as well as the very form that their leadership could take. As for the crowds, in some important respects their self-identity and aspirations were shaped by the conflicting agendas that the different factions during independence addressed to them. Nevertheless, the relation was not nearly as arbitrary as has been posited in much of the literature. Again, the image of the crowd as gripped by superstition and blind allegiance to the monarchy is false. To pay attention to the masses’ tacit republicanism is to realize how much they, as much as the leadership, were subject to the common dynamic of the period; also to realize that, far from a malleable instrument, the “colored crowds” were one of the crucial forces active at the time, decisively inflecting the course of events.6

Chapter 3

Statues and Statutes What is a nation? Can its origins be traced back only as far as the nineteenth century, or do they rather lie in a remote, hazy past, fused with the origins of the population itself, in a myth adult males spin around some immemorial, proverbial hearth? And what is the status of this nation? Is it made up of corporate groups and orders, or do autonomous individuals weave its fabric as they freely associate to compose a sovereign people? And does a nation, however conceived, precede or follow from the state? What, in other words, is the status of the hyphen in the composite expression nation-state? Does it simply represent the bond between members of an indissoluble pair, or does it indicate a gap, a space of fraught, unstable relations? It is possible to discern antecedents to some of these queries echoing through the Spanish colonies as early as the second half of the seventeenth century, for example in the attempts by creoles from the larger viceroyalties to fashion a distinct identity for themselves by claiming descent from Inca or Aztec rulers (Pagden 1990, 92, 96–97). But beyond any continuities, what is clear is that during the first decades of the nineteenth century, every question concerning identity and belonging was reformulated anew within largely unprecedented discursive and sociohistorical contexts that critically transformed them; the answers such questions received were also, at the time, relatively unprecedented. One privileged site for these new answers was the constitutional texts that gave republican shape to the emergent nation-states.

Sculpting the Nation In the drafting of a constitution as in other respects, the patriots from the former Captaincy General of Venezuela were at the leading edge of a vast movement that would soon engulf nearly all of Spanish America. The Venezuelan constitution approved in 1811 was the first of such texts to come to light in this part of the world, preceded only by the enactment, a few years before, of the constitutions of the United States and Haiti, in 1789 and 1801 respectively. It is often asserted that the first Venezuelan constitution was, with only minor variations, a mere replica of its North American counterpart. Nevertheless, a brief consideration of the Venezuelan text and of the processes that 123

124 Statues and Statutes brought it into being suffices to show that mimesis does not come without alterity (Taussig 1993). Not only did its formulations answer to a uniquely Venezuelan situation; its underlying “spirit,” if I am permitted the somewhat mystical term, was radically at odds with the one animating the North American text. The following clause from the 1811 Constitution of the United States of Venezuela already intimates how misguided it is to view this text as the mere replica of its North American model: Having been constituted in society, men have renounced that limitless and licentious freedom to which they were effortlessly led by their passions, characteristic only of the savage state. The establishment of society presupposes the renunciation of those baneful rights, the acquisition of other, more sweet and peaceful, and the subjection of all to certain common rights. (La Constitucion Federal de Venezuela de 1811 y Documentos Afines [1812] 1959, 190; my emphasis)

This clause posits, as the precondition of a civilized existence, a radical break with the “licentious freedom” characterizing the state of nature. Society tacitly figures in the text as a self-contained condition that offers discrete rights to those who have abandoned their savage origins and willingly submit to its abstract imperatives; it is by virtue of such a submission to the law that men are “constituted in society” as citizens. Here society and the constitution are considered equivalent. Indeed, conceived as an abstract set of norms, society is not unlike a constitutional text, apodictically established once and for all, forming and informing, by means of its abstract imperatives, the civilized intercourse among men, and in the process recasting them as citizens. It is all a matter, in sum, of forming, informing, and reforming, of the regulated relations between text and context in which, as in the neoclassical aesthetics prevalent at the time, the latter follows the former as once-formless matter does the sculptural design of the artist. Th is aesthetic dimension sharply differentiates Latin American constitutions and, in particular, the Venezuelan constitution from their model to the north. No matter how much the letter of the first Venezuelan constitution was indeed North American, its spirit, along with that of other Hispanic American constitutions of the time, was most decidedly French. Unlike the North American foundational charter, which presented itself as an instrument for “perfecting the ancient freedoms,” the Latin American texts were from the beginning envisaged as abstract codifications that, formulated by reason, were the formative source from which the very reality of the new nations was to be generated ex nihilo (Guerra 1992, 48–49). In other words, in the North American instance, at least referentially if not performatively, text was meant to follow context; the constitution was to follow from the already constituted nation that it merely expressed. Not so in Venezuela. As this nation’s first constitution made glaringly explicit, the order of things was the other way around, that is, from text to context, the nation following from the constitutional text which, therefore, may be said to have both prefigured and effectively brought the for-

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mer into being. Animated from within by a formative, indeed sculptural impulse, this constitution starkly posed from the start the “architectonic dilemma . . . of our republican aspirations” (Castro Leiva 1991, 23). A cursory glance at the main issues debated by the Venezuelan representatives in the months preceding the drafting and approval of the 1811 Constitution helps understand why this text came to acquire the kind of abstractness and formality, the seeming disregard of context, that rendered it into the formative blueprint of the new nation whose independence had just been declared a few months earlier, on July 5, 1811. Indeed, with one notable exception, about which more in a moment, these debates made no explicit reference to the hierarchical order of society, as if just by virtue of the performative magic of the new republican vocabularies such an order had suddenly and mysteriously vanished. Indeed, by and large the corporate orders and states making up the social fabric of the Venezuelan provinces—which had provoked such profuse talk until literally the very moment before independence was declared in Venezuela— suddenly dropped out of discourse, as if they had never existed. The evidence, however, suggests that, even if refracted by new realities and logics, the colonial past continued to have a bearing on the configuration of postcolonial processes, events, and identities. What, then, accounts for the silence? Once again, it is François-Xavier Guerra who offers a cogent explanation. Consistent with his view of the Hispanic revolution as a unified process spanning Spain and the Americas, Guerra regards the fi rst constitutional texts approved on both sides of the Atlantic as resulting from jostling between the “modern” and “traditional” forces that stepped in to fi ll the vacuum left by the abdication of the Spanish king in Bayonne. In Spain, some elements reacted to this vacuum by proposing a return to the Spanish parliaments, or Cortes, that once upon a time presumably had gathered in the spirit of a medieval pactism. Other elements assumed from the start a more decidedly modern agenda. According to Guerra these modern elements eventually gained the upper hand over their traditional allies largely because, from the start, the latter found themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the well-honed arguments and political agenda of the former. The traditional elements’ nebulous propositions and their attempts to resurrect representative institutions from the past in the spirit of a revived pactism could not but smack of retrospective invention, especially considering that the Spanish Cortes had not met since the second half of the sixteenth century. On the other hand, offering the public a well-articulated political agenda with clearly stated goals and propositions that, moreover, were associated with the most momentous social and intellectual event of the time, the French Revolution, the modern elements eventually won the day, and the constitutional texts became imbued with their characteristic modern flavor, as sites where notions of citizenship or of “the people’s sovereignty” were permanently enshrined. According to Guerra, however, since the social worlds to which these texts were meant to apply remained overwhelmingly traditional, a gap was instituted— and is still in effect today—between the new nations’ thoroughly modern

126 Statues and Statutes constitutional texts and their thoroughly traditional contexts (Guerra 1992, 30–32, 319–38).1 Already the shortcomings in Guerra’s argument should be apparent. From the start, he sets up an unlikely contest between a modern elite forever bent on reshaping existing identities and institutions and a traditional society equally bent on resisting any such modification. This view enjoys a distinguished pedigree; it is traceable back to efforts by nineteenth-century Latin American writers and historians to cast their own societies in the mold of an atemporal conflict between civilization and barbarism. The main difficulty with these abstract oppositions is that they beg a series of fundamental questions. Who, for example, are these modern elites whose interests and identities, according to Guerra, were able not only to persist over time in largely hostile milieus, but moreover were able to prevail over the forces of tradition to the point of completely excluding these from the institutions of government? Also, if Hispanic American societies remained as overwhelmingly traditional after independence as Guerra says they did, then surely would one not expect their so-called modern elites to be themselves contradictorily inflected by traditional interests and positionalities, and, therefore, not as nearly modern as this author claims? Indeed, what kind of overwhelmingly traditional society would that be that consistently tolerated being ruled by an elite inimical to it? As happens with every argument that departs from empirical reality in the direction of evermore-ambitious deductive generalizations, the view of Spanish modernity as an unfinished contest between enlightened elites and barbarous, unenlightened societies dissolves every time it is brought near to any plausible state of affairs.

Modernity from Below The societies within which Guerra’s “modern” elites lived, thought, acted, and, lest one forget, were also acted upon were not nearly as traditional as he makes them out to have been. For one thing, at the root of these societies’ independent existence is the generalized sense of a fundamental rootlessness. The king’s presence had invested every single one of these societies’ components with an inherent necessity, the sense of belonging to a universe ruled by natural law. So the removal of the one element that kept all others in place, the king, threw everything out of joint. From then on, a radical rootlessness came to afflict the high as much as it did the low, from the most privileged sectors of society to the most dispossessed. The new postcolonial crowds found themselves wandering this uncertain territory beyond the reach of any inherited institutions or authorities, which were anyway in crisis. From the beginning such wandering was at every level inflected by the tense interplay between the old and the new. Itself one of the constitutive tropes of modernity, this interplay colored all social configurations and arrangements with an intense precariousness, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. Some things— specific beliefs, habits, or behaviors, for example— could be said to be new, more recent in-

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novations, and others characterized as old, relics from a distant past. From another perspective, however, everything whatsoever was, so to speak, now placed under erasure, as if irrevocably tinged by an incurable pastness. It is this experience of a generalized groundlessness and precariousness, of the floor yielding beneath one’s feet, that is, in and of itself, unmistakably modern. Under such circumstances, what sort of sense does it make to say, as Guerra does, that in spite of the ruling rhetoric and the Constitution’s liberalism, the common people continued to be enclosed within one or another all-inclusive corporate group so that, beneath the official rhetoric, everything continued to be shaped by social logics inherited from the colonial past? At the most, it may make some sort of empirical sense, because one cannot indeed begin to account for such phenomena as nineteenth-century voting behaviors across Hispanic America, including Venezuela, unless one assumes the existence of voting blocs in the main cities and towns of the region operating as factions or clans structured along family lines. Held together by a dense network of patron-client relations suff used by intense personal loyalties, such factions or electoral blocs have recently drawn the attention of scholars in different Hispanic American nations (Gonzáles Bernaldo 1999, 142–61; Guerra 1999, 48–60; Sábato 1999 113–25, 138– 42; 2001; Sánchez Gómez 1999, 435–44). What is true of the rank and file also applies to those at the top; namely, that neither may be said to have exclusively operated according to a modern logic, if by that one has in mind something close to what Guerra does, that is, the calculating behavior of the isolated, autonomous individual exercising his rights and prerogatives—including that of voting—and associating with others in terms of a narrow calculus of exclusively private interests and concerns. Yet if by modern we understand something more like a fundamental rootlessness, the acute sense of the contingency of all identities, as I have suggested, then it becomes difficult to unproblematically label the just-mentioned factions traditional. At least for Venezuela, the empirical evidence collected by historians suggests the remarkable ease with which people were able to quit such groupings, switching jobs, affiliations, and places of residence according to mere calculation or need.2 Much of the evidence for this period suggests that the majority of the labor force in Venezuela’s countryside was highly mobile. The frequency with which one finds landowners in the nineteenthcentury records complaining about how easily peons switched patrons or simply quit working in the larger haciendas in order to pursue subsistence agriculture, or even a life of sheer wandering, bears testimony to the rootlessness of modernity. One might say of the Venezuelan postcolonial masses something similar to what Nancy says of Hegel, writing in Jena at about the time independence was bringing Spanish domination in the New World to an end—namely, that they inhabited a world of exteriority from which life withdraws, giving way to an endless displacement from one term to the next that can neither be sustained nor gathered in an identity of meaning. Never again can this displacement regain the movement of a

128 Statues and Statutes transcendence that would raise it toward a supreme signification. (Nancy 2002, 3; my emphasis)

Under such circumstances, what sense does it make to say, on the subject’s side, that during the nineteenth century the common people in Venezuela and Latin America were imprisoned within one or another corporate grouping? It is difficult to come up with any straightforward answer, considering that, often without notice, the members of such putatively corporate groupings simply turned away from them, choosing instead other, more attractive alternatives. And just as important, on the object’s side, what status should one assign to groupings that were so instrumentally formed and so opportunistically let go? These are groupings, in other words, whose objective existence arose in reference to the actor’s newly found subjectivity, that is, in reference to the emergence of the modern subject as “what (or the one who) dissolves all substance— every instance already given, supposed first or last, founding or final, capable of coming to rest in itself and taking individual enjoyment in its mastery and property” (ibid., 5). One can see such a modern subject emerging not just from the external record of its actions but also from the scattered evidence of rebellions and other instances where the thought of the lower classes occasionally breaks through the crust of silence imposed by the elites. Such rare occasions bear testimony to the extent to which not just the elite but also the Venezuelan crowds were seized by the time’s revolutionary spirit. Given all of this, in what ways, if any, can these opportunistic postcolonial associations be assimilated to the corporate groups and orders of the colony? This would assume that some sort of longue durée is still at stake as the relevant temporal framework for understanding postcolonial historical processes, values, behaviors, and institutions. But what sort of status should one attribute to that concept, given the pervasive evidence of glaring discontinuities between colonial and postcolonial times and of the presence, ever since independence, of a Hegelian subject unshackled from ascriptive identifications and loosed upon the world as an “act” whose “doing is the experience of the consciousness of the negativity of substance” (Nancy 2002, 5), that is, of the lack of necessity or foundations of experienced realities? I do not presently have clear-cut answers to these questions. For now I can only call attention to the predicament that, on the eve of modernity, philosophers and the common people shared within a sensuous world no longer solidly grounded in a transcendence that, at the time, withdrew from the world and “distanced itself in the void of abstraction” (ibid., 3). What sorts of existence can either of these—i.e., the philosophers or the masses—have led under such radically changed circumstances? The answer, I am afraid, is an existence not only from hand to mouth but also subject to “an endless displacement from one term to the next.” Regardless of how oppressive their “objective” circumstances often were, subjects traded a horizontal sliding for the depths of a meaning gathering into itself; at least in some respects people may be said to have been always taking off from their precariously assigned places, identities, and roles. No

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matter how seemingly stubborn, such objectivities are, in other words, already the index of a reality hollowed out of any lawfully prescribed meanings and delivered to an externality where any proclaimed necessity easily dissolves into contingency. Vis-à-vis such “objective” circumstances, individuals are always already positioned at a slant. In the case of postcolonial Venezuela this meant that in some respects after the crisis of the colonial order the members of the subaltern populations were indeed held by bonds of need, loyalty, belief even, to one or another “objective” arrangement often bearing the traces of the colonial past. In other crucial respects, however, with the withdrawal of transcendence marked by the absence of the king, these same individuals became radically exposed to a lateral flight across a flattened-out externality where the hierarchies and distinctions of old were either absent, or, if not, deprived of much of their former legitimacy. To borrow another fundamental category from Nancy, these individuals became caught in a “being-with” each other. Dragged out of themselves by their mutual, horizontal contacts, they were always on the brink of being ushered into novel social arrangements—not on account of any deliberation on their part, even if deliberation often plays a part, but out of the unprecedented encounters among “singular plural” elements coming together in unstable configurations (Nancy 2000). In and of itself, such sliding is how the experience of the modern crowd comes about. From a standpoint that is itself tributary to both the French and the American revolutions, one may designate such horizontal sliding as a movement that is “freedom” and also “equality”: it institutes a universal substitutability among equalized terms— individuals, objects, experiences—which, no longer tied to any self-same identity, in principle may be traded for any other, while, simultaneously, opening up the possibility for subjects to freely affirm and seize for themselves a potentially infinite range of possibilities, from values to itineraries, locations, and identities. I will return to freedom and equality, these crucial sentimental values of modernity, but for now I end this section with an image of the Venezuelan postcolonial crowd as the “being-with” of individuals always already beckoned by a powerful, horizontal sliding across terms that constantly pulls them away from one or another objectivity into the oceanic life of the multitudes. Judging from how frequently landowners complained about their inability to attach the workforce to the land, the possibility could never have been too far away from anyone’s mind. It was probably this background awareness that allowed the common people to acquiesce to the crude realities of domination and exploitation of the day; they remained capable of taking off at a moment’s notice from these very realities, whenever the circumstances presented themselves. In postcolonial Venezuela, where the balance between consent and coercion is heavily skewed toward the latter, where little love is lost between rulers and ruled and sheer naked brutality is routinely exercised against individuals forever bent on taking off at a moment’s notice from any and all constraining structures, notions such as hegemony need to be rethought.

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Constitutional Texts and Con-texts To suppose that the longue durée of the colony was overshadowed by the sharp discontinuities inaugurated by independence has at least the virtue of prompting a fresh look at the new nation’s foundational texts. A common topos in the historiography of nineteenth-century Latin America, to this day recurring in the relevant literature, is the extent to which this period’s constitutions were divorced from the realities of the region (Escalante 1993, 28, 289; Guerra 1988, 331; Núñez Sánchez 2000, 202–6; Pino Iturrieta 2001, 213–80; Rey 1989, 128). Ever since Simón Bolívar blamed the first Venezuelan constitution for the loss of the First Republic to the Spanish, the extreme formality of these texts has been taken as evidence of the gap separating them from the societies to which they were meant to apply. When any contemporary relevance is granted such initial Latin American constitutions, what the author usually has in mind is the status of these texts as the regionally sanctioned means of legitimizing identities, forms of behavior, or initiatives that would issue from realities and answer to (traditional) logics far removed from their proclaimed liberalism (Pérez Perdomo 1990, 9–11). Beyond such occasional acknowledgements, the topos of a divorce between constitutional texts and postcolonial contexts is largely taken for granted in the relevant literature. For the notion of such a gap or discrepancy to retain any plausibility, two related conditions must be met. First, it must be the case that the social contexts underlying the constitutions were indeed thoroughly traditional, structured by precisely the kinds of orders and corporations that were prevalent during the colonial period. Second, one must thoroughly disregard the considerable anxiety with which the emergent elites viewed the social situation that the transition toward independence had created. Often voiced in political pamphlets, personal letters, and other contemporary documents, such anxiety was triggered in particular by the filling of public spaces by postcolonial crowds who were threatening to overwhelm by virtue of sheer numbers any possible ramparts that the elites erected to contain them. To assess just how far removed the elites’ concerns were from the orthodoxies of present-day historians often bent on viewing the postcolonial masses as constrained by corporate straitjackets that they were in fact only too ready to be free of, it suffices to focus briefly on the anarchic freedom and assumption of equality that, according to the testimonies of nineteenth-century elites from Venezuela and all over Latin America, were the masses’ most dangerous attributes. For that purpose I will look more closely at the main congressional debates that preceded the approval of Venezuela’s first constitution. My aim is to upset the received wisdom by suggesting that, far from expressing a divorce from the social realities of the time, the abstractness and formality of Venezuela’s foundational text was a peculiar yet historically sensible and sensitive way of expressing and enacting a tight bond with its context. Indeed, one of the central arguments in what follows is that this abstractness and formality was the means by

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which the elite draf ters of the document addressed and tried to contain the threatening reality of those postcolonial crowds that the emergent republican polity could not readily accommodate. To achieve this goal, the constitutional texts had to exhibit the very kind of abstract universalism that, in its modernity, was already intrinsic to the Venezuelan postcolonial crowds. Contrary to Simon Bolívar’s characterization of Venezuela’s first constitution as the codification of an “ethereal republic,” as a text that on account of its federalism was so formal and abstract that it was thoroughly divorced from contemporary realities (Bolívar 2003, 4), whatever lack of fit there was between the constitution and its surrounding social reality was not due to the text’s abstractness, but to its failure to be abstract and modern enough. In other words, that the first Venezuelan constitution failed to do justice to a context that, in some crucial ways, was thoroughly modern was not due to its universalism but because it was still too laden with the quite concrete, particularistic expression of the federal interests of the various provinces composing the new nation. Those sections of Venezuela’s first constitution’s that exhibit the highest degrees of abstractness and formality are not, then, the index of a cool detachment; it is precisely those sections that are the more attuned to the new nation’s troubled modernity. What, then, were some of the main issues that the Venezuelan representatives debated between March 1811 and April 1812, that is, from the time the Supreme Congress was first convened to the moment when the independent nation’s first constitution was approved? Véronique Hébrard has written an illuminating essay on this topic. Interested in gauging the extent to which society and public opinion were allowed influence in the sphere of political representation, Hébrard approaches the debates from the perspective of the relations between “commissioned” and “commissioning” powers (1998, 196). She concludes that the debates resulted in the imposition of a “logic of absolute representation” that completely excluded society from the sphere of political representation. According to this logic, what the nation’s deputies were in charge of absolutely representing was not the differentiated interests and aspirations of society but, rather, the nation as a seamless, homogeneous totality. The imposition of such absolute representation meant that, from then on, “the entire nation would express itself through the voice of the deputies, as a result of which public opinion would be assimilated to representation” (ibid.). How did such a forbiddingly exclusionary outcome come about? In answering this question, Hébrard resolutely favors the longue durée of the colony. In her view, the culture of absolutism somehow asserted itself over the minds of the representatives, so that unanimity was given pride of place over the overt expression of differences and particularity, which were construed as illegitimate. In this argument, the Bourbons’ absolutist dream of the nation as a homogeneous body, expressing itself through the thoughts and deeds of the monarch, seized the congressmen during the debates, winning the day and displacing alternative understandings of the relations between representatives and the represented. As a result, recognition of Venezuelan society’s heterogeneous corporate bodies and clashing sectional interests

132 Statues and Statutes was excluded from the sphere of representation. From then on, constituted as an autonomous domain, this sphere unanimously represented the “whole nation.” In Hébrard’s argument, tradition behaves like a blind force independent of anyone’s imaginings or deliberations. As always, this sort of interpretation only stands if one disregards the available evidence suggesting that individuals always “take on the tradition” (Naas, 2003) rather than blindly following it. It is only through such “taking on” that any body of knowledge, ideas, beliefs, predispositions, and laws from the past are adopted over and against other equally available alternatives and thus live on, maintaining their hold over succeeding generations. In the Venezuelan instance, a wealth of evidence suggests that a sizeable proportion of the representatives had a far-fromunanimous understanding of how the sphere of representation should relate to society. In order to gain some insight into how unanimity finally prevailed, I will briefly revisit the main issues that divided the congressmen in the wake of independence, According to Hébrard, there were two major disagreements among the Venezuelan representatives. The first had to do with public opinion, the precise location of which intensely divided the members of Congress. The deputies from the city of Caracas held fast to the view that their city was the quintessential locus of public opinion. Other representatives argued that the capitals of the other provinces should share that privilege with Caracas. Still others claimed that public opinion did not happen just in the main provincial capitals but was also to be found in all the urban centers across the entire Captaincy General, including those cities and towns belonging to the Province of Caracas. Beyond these differences, all the representatives were of one mind concerning the “impossibility of the existence of public opinion in the rural spaces” (Hébrard 1998, 203). This debate was subsumed by a second one. From the very opening of the sessions two opinions concerning the nature of the sociopolitical entity that Congress was charged with representing had been pitted against each other. Was that entity composed of “many constituted states,” as some deputies maintained, or was it “a unique space, and, possibly . . . a nation” (ibid.)? The eventual adoption of “absolute representation” points in the latter direction, which is quite puzzling considering the extent to which the majority of deputies were avowed federalists. Glossing over this fact, Hébrard reasons throughout her article as if the imposition of a unanimist view of political representation (according to which the nation was a homogeneous body “absolutely” represented by Congress) was something of a foregone conclusion. Hébrard does make it clear that, before anything else, the majority of the deputies considered themselves to be representatives of one or another pueblo (“small republic” or “city-province”) Thus they favored consulting these political units before taking any decisions that had not been foreseen at the time of their election. They also supported respecting the mandate of their constituencies (ibid., 205). In short, according to the majority, “in no case should general representation damage the particularities of the pueblos, assuming that there are as many opinions as there are sovereign spaces” (ibid.).

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It appears, after all, that the unanimist position was not as unanimous as Hébrard says it was. Indeed, a majority of the representatives were bent on having the interests, desires, and designs of their constituencies loudly heard in Congress. This evidence clearly suggests that the adoption by the congressmen of an “absolute logic of representation” was far from decided beforehand. Rather, it was the outcome of a process that needs to be analyzed rather than assumed. An account needs to be given of the process whereby the views of the minority finally prevailed over those of the majority. Such an account is especially needed considering that the majority position, for which the sovereignty of the different pueblos was paramount, is the one that more closely reflected the corporate structure of the colonial order. As we recall, these pueblos, according to Guerra and others, constituted the local-level political and administrative unit not just in Venezuela but throughout Hispanic America. There is nothing to suggest that, no matter how modified by the social syntax emergent at the time, this structure would have suddenly vanished during the transition toward independence. Why, then, was the texture of the contemporary social realm so thoroughly excluded, not only from the text of the 1811 Constitution but also from the sphere of political representation? This exclusion is especially puzzling in view of the mentioned concern of the majority to protect the sovereign spaces of the provinces, insisting that before supporting any Declaration of Independence they first had to consult the different pueblos they represented. Their argument was that because at the time of their election the issue of independence had not been on the table, they had no mandate to vote for it. The readiness with which these deputies protected the towns’ sovereignty against possible encroachments originating with “general representation” should help dispel any doubts about the extent to which, for the majority, the specific claims and rights of their respective constituencies took precedence over more universalistic appeals (Hébrard 1998, 205–6).3 Another debate highly revealing of the deputies’ concern for the sovereignty of the provinces had to do with whether or not to subdivide the Province of Caracas among several of its constituent towns and hinterlands, thus weakening it. As the largest and most economically and politically powerful of the provinces represented in Congress, “the extension and political preponderance of this province was perceived as dangerous by all the others” (Poudenx and Mayer [1815] 1963, 39). Although this proposition was eventually defeated, the ardor with which it was supported during the debates eloquently expressed the Venezuelan representatives’ understanding of sovereignty as residing not in a unified nation but in each of the corporately orga nized and geograph ically based political units of the territory that eventually would become Venezuela (Hébrard 1998, 206–10). By now it should be clear that far from expressing an absolutist logic, the views of the majority of congressmen were instead consistent with the pactism that had been the imaginary horizon within which relations between the American subjects and the

134 Statues and Statutes Spanish monarch were represented and enacted.4 As witnessed by the intensely centrifugal character of sociopolitical processes both during the independence struggle and after, this pactist understanding of sovereignty was rooted in realities that continue to haunt prospects for nation-building today. For the Venezuelan representatives to have given up this understanding of sovereignty in favor of another view was by no means a small concession. The turnaround of the majority was, indeed, so drastic that one cannot help assuming that it was compelled by truly imposing circumstances. Only the assumption of extreme ambient pressure, of phenomenal amounts of arm-twisting in the midst of enveloping fears and uncertainty, can possibly account for the decision by the majority of congressional representatives to give up views so close to their hearts. The available evidence does bear out such an assumption.

Sealing off the Political What, then, were some of the momentous events capable of so thoroughly turning the hearts and minds of the majority of deputies, not just in the direction of independence but toward the adoption of a form of political representation so inimical to their own values, interests, and inclinations? To what sorts of pressing circumstances must they have fallen prey? Answering these questions requires treading on territory that much contemporary social science and historiography studiously circumvents. Leaving aside the reassurances of all-encompassing social contexts or grand historical metanarratives, neither of which is ever given beforehand but belatedly contrived to impose order on the past, one must enter a twilight zone that more often than not the actors themselves experience as a dark night of unknowing. From the distance of over two centuries it is easy to talk glibly about the elites’ fear of the masses and disparage them for prudishness and narrow-sighted pettiness.. This type of criticism is made possible by our smoothing out or glossing over all the rough surfaces and hard edges of the past’s most dangerous moments. If one resists the temptation of taking this approach, the past may yield some of its secrets, allowing us to discern within every recorded outcome the sediment of fear, forbidden images, and desires that are the restless soil on which every appearance of objectivity precariously rests. I have alluded to the relentless mass pressure that was apparently needed up to the very last moment in order to bring the members of Congress to declare independence. It suffices to recall José Domingo Díaz’s description of the dread with which the “honest men” of Caracas watched from the half-closed windows of their residences the spectacle of the passing mob to gain a sense of why this pressure might have been effective. That dread would have been not only visceral, but also symbolic. We need only think of the portraits of the Spanish monarchs that the crowd tore down from public places, dragging them through the streets and squares of Caracas. Given the role of royal iconography within an economy of rule where the king was at the center of all possible representations, one can easily imagine the chill that must have gone down

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the spines of the city’s most prominent inhabitants. Along with the rumors arriving from Spain of an irreversible collapse of the monarchy, the sight of the Caracas mob must have impressed upon them that the available charts were no longer useful for navigating the time’s turbulent circumstances. One should not think that with the issuing of the Declaration of Independence this pressure dissipated overnight. Throughout the following months it stayed quite high, enveloping like a menacing chorus every one of Congress’s major debates and initiatives, all the way through the drafting and approval of the nation’s foundational chart, and up until July 1812, when its first republican experiment collapsed. The persistent duality of powers, which Father Maya denounced on July 5, 1811 when he refused to vote in Congress for independence, remained unchanged during the months following the declaration. One of these powers, Congress, was itself divided between moderate and radical wings, such that the moderate majority “feared the enthusiasms of a fiery youth and especially the excesses of the plebs and the people of color, all along hoping that things would return to their old state through a peaceful reconciliation with the Crown” (Duarte Level 1995, 230). The radical minority was, on the other hand, animated by the single-minded determination to break with Spain and start a new nation. The other power was, of course, the Sociedad Patriótica, the Jacobin club led by young members of the creole aristocracy and backed by a plebeian urban following, to which several representatives from the congressional minority also belonged and from which they drew constant support.5 The British merchant and traveler Robert Semple has left a vivid testimony to the high levels of mass pressure that the Sociedad Patriótica continued to orchestrate and bring to bear on Congress even after independence had been declared, and right up until the fall of the First Republic to the Spanish. What he has to say about the Society on the basis of a visit he made to Caracas after the Declaration is consistent with how the Jacobin club was perceived locally by many among the elite during the months preceding that event: There is in Caracas a heterogeneous Assembly . . . which celebrates periodical meetings to argue about political issues . . . and reveals great French influence while also having affinities with the French club of the Jacobins, noticeable as much in the harshness and extravagance of the speeches . . . as in the influence which the Society exerts over the determinations of the government. (quoted in Duarte Level [1911] 1995, 226)

To get an even better idea as to where government was being driven by this influence, it is enough to revisit the Society’s daily meetings, helped by the recollections of the Spanish-designated municipal authorities from Caracas. In a report from October 3, 1812, written after the invading forces from the Iberian Peninsula had temporarily retaken the city from the insurgents and filled every available post with incumbents loyal to the monarch, they wrote:

136 Statues and Statutes The Patriotic Society . . . opened its doors widely to all those men that never had dreamed of mixing with those not belonging to their class; an extraordinary gathering of artisans, idlers, and people from the rabble joined these meetings anxious to listen to the incendiary lessons that, with a tone of sufficiency, were given to the people on matters such as religion, the rights of men, the authority of the people, and, mainly, on the necessity of establishing a democratic system founded not on any well-understood, fair equality, daughter of both reason and the law, but on one regulated by the bloody leveling that the cruel hand of the sans-culottes inflicted on an unhappy France. The ignorant plebs blindly adopted the ideas of this plan that so much flattered its pride, even if this means that seduction became more universal and deadly, aristocracy was declared a crime against the State, and the clergy with all the privileges appropriate to its rank was regarded with the horror that a body inclined to maintain the tyranny of distinctions inspired in the democrats. (quoted in Duarte Level [1911] 1995, 230–31)

It could be argued that the above passage amounts to a series of exaggerations with which the newly installed Municipal Council authorities sought to curry favor with the Spaniards—that it consists of retrospective inventions aimed at legitimizing the repressive measures of the loyalist forces by reference to a recent past of abuse and disorder. There is, of course, no denying that flattery must have been high in the minds of the draf ters of the Municipal Council report from October 1812. Nevertheless, beyond some minor differences of tone, there are enough similarities between their own anxieties and those that had been voiced by various sectors shortly before, during the months immediately preceding the temporary restoration of Spanish rule, to suggest that more than mere flattery was at stake. These similarities indicate that the anxieties registered in the 1812 report were fairly representative of how the members of the ruling strata, whether they were for or against the cause of independence, experienced the situation that had been created by the revolutionary behavior of both the urban crowds and their young aristocratic leadership. No great hermeneutical talent is needed to discern in the passage above an unmitigated revulsion at the dissolution of all established distinctions and hierarchies under the effects of corrosive equality. In their rush to identify this equality as a dangerous form of sans-culotte democracy, in every respect to be distinguished from “fair equality, daughter of both reason and the law,” the elite draf ters did not hesitate to summon the specter of the French Revolution, with all the charge of horror that this event evoked in many minds at the time. As for the source of this dissolution, the authors of the 1812 report are quite unequivocal: they identified the dissemination among the “ignorant plebs” by their aristocratic mentors of a wide range of forbidden and subversive topics and ideas, with all that this implied of an overturning of the established hierarchies of knowledge, as the main culprit in the upheaval during the months previous to the restoration of Spanish rule. The enormity of what went on can be gauged by simply

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contrasting such dissemination of elite and subversive forms of knowledge among the general population with the situation prevailing during the colonial period. Indeed, not only was it the case that all nonwhites were rigorously excluded from the colony’s Central University of Venezuela; perhaps more to the point, much as in the rest of Hispanic America, medieval scholasticism provided almost up to the very end of the colonial order the overarching framework for all forms of knowledge (Burkholder and Johnson 1990, 224; Góngora 1975, 187–93). There is nothing more alien to the distinctions enshrined in this curriculum, rooted as it was in a broad classification of all things along an ascending scale of perfection measured by increasing dematerialization (Pagden 1982, 18), than the unholy mixtures, mimetic borrowings, and hybridities favored by the form of teaching that the Sociedad Patriótica offered, which put the basest, crudest elements of society in touch with the lofty realm of ideas. Following a convention that still lingers in many texts of Venezuelan historiography, the quoted passage from the 1812 report sharply demarcates the cultivated elites from the rabble that “blindly” follow the former’s subversive teachings. Nevertheless, the text’s talk of “seduction” turning “more universal and deadly” should already alert us to the inadequacies of an understanding in which change mechanically and unidirectionally flows from one source at the top of the social ladder. There is, indeed, sufficient evidence to suggest that the common people’s access to the radical ideas of the time was not limited to any single and unequivocal path of transmission. There is evidence, for example, of pardos from the cities independently inaugurating circles to discuss the ideals of the French and American revolutions (Brito Figueroa 1985, 75), and from as early as 1797, when the first openly revolutionary challenge to Spanish rule in Venezuela took place, there are sources documenting the ardor with which black slaves from the plantations adopted the radical ideals of freedom and equality that the “vessels of the Enlightenment”— and, more urgently, the ripple effects of the Haitian Revolution—had deposited on the Venezuelan coasts (Verna 1992, 1025–26). The paths through which the common people gained access to the new revolutionary ideas and ideals were circuitous and varied. In 1799, in the city of Maracaibo, a “conspiracy by blacks and mulattoes to bring down the regime and plunder the city” was aborted (Parra-Pérez [1939] 1992, 42). The plan had been for the local colored population to act in “complicity” with pirates who had arrived in Maracaibo sailing under the French flag, and the intention was to “take over the place, ‘introducing the system of freedom and equality’ ” (ibid., 42–43; internal quote from a collection of late colonial documents). But beyond all empirical evidence showing the variety of paths through which revolutionary images and ideas reached the local population, it suffices to say that surely the seduction invoked by the 1812 report is not the kind of passion that lends itself to neat allocations. Any fantasy scenario of a plebeian audience captured by the spectacle that an exclusively aristocratic cast has set up for its benefit is vastly exceeded by the specter of “universal and deadly seduction.” Contagion and ceaseless exchanges

138 Statues and Statutes are the law in such a situation, in which everyone borrows from everyone else in a ceaseless exchange of roles and identities, in a wild mimetic play where power and powerlessness constantly exchange places, neither securing any distinct place for itself. Inaugurated as a space of horizontal exchanges and substitutions following the king’s disappearance, it is this wild mimetic play that, fighting fire with fire, the representational apparatus of the emergent postcolonial state sought to counteract with a theater of its own. Before addressing what this theater was and how it was instituted, I must return to the floor of the Venezuelan Congress in order to grasp some of the reasons why, against the interests and inclinations of a majority of the congressmen, a logic of absolute representation finally prevailed. Given the consistency between both opposition to independence and opposition to absolute representation and the pactist imaginary that structured the relations between subjects and the Spanish monarchy in colonial Venezuela, it is fair to assume that the majority that was initially opposed to an immediate Declaration of Independence is roughly the same majority that later opposed the logic of absolute representation. But it would also have been that same majority that, in a sudden and unexpected change of heart, finally sided with the views of the minority in favor of absolute representation.6 To understand how and why such a surprising turnaround occurred and what it might tell us about tendencies and drives that, often without anyone’s full awareness, have been at work in the Venezuelan political process from the moment when independence was declared, one must note that often in situations where two camps are locked in conflict, change only comes about through the agency of an uninvited third party, whose heterogeneous, threatening presence moves the two contestants to some sort of defensive agreement. Reached as it is through a process in which each party exposes itself to the claims of the other, and often under circumstances both pressing and dangerous, such agreement is likely to yield an outcome that does not correspond exactly to any of the views that were held beforehand. Something like this is what must have taken place in the Venezuelan instance, as “anarchic” freedom and equality threatened to overwhelm Congress. With an unruly crowd already sitting as the uninvited third party in the bars of Congress and wildly applauding or booing every initiative and deliberation of the congressmen, to insist on leaving Congress open to the claims and opinions of society would have been foolhardy. To do so would have made the sphere of representation available to the kind of difference that called for the obliteration of all societal distinctions—to the sansculotte democracy (evoked a year later in the 1812 report) that was at the doorsteps of Congress, pressing tumultuously to gain access to the floor, demanding direct political participation. This kind of direct democracy had to be averted at all costs, and the only way of doing so was, precisely, by thoroughly sealing off Congress, even if that meant closing it off from the surrounding social world, including from the very constituencies that the deputies from the majority represented in the institution. In other words, keeping

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the masses at bay meant rigorously sealing Congress off not only from them but also from the rest of society, to avoid the possibility of these masses slipping into the sphere of political representation. A brief consideration of the junctures during the debates in which the specter of such seizure by the crowd was obliquely yet unmistakably raised suffices to demonstrate that it was the impulse to avert such a risk that moved the majority to abandon its original position and finally join the minority in adopting as its own, against their best “federalist” intentions, the “logic of absolute representation.” In so doing, they also opened the way for federalism to be subordinated in the first constitution to an overridingly state-centralizing logic, which is also at work in the text privileging the claims of the “general will” over the expression of difference and particularity. In trying to understand the majority’s remarkable turnaround, one crucial piece of evidence is a debate that took place in July 1811 over whether Congress should stay in Caracas or be moved elsewhere, either to another city in the same province or to the capital of another province. In this debate the congressmen eventually gave up any pretension of allowing the various sectors of the larger society to be heard in the sphere of political representation, fi nally siding with the minority’s defense of unanimism. It is precisely in this particular debate that the specter of the seizure of Congress by the crowds—that is, by a form of public opinion that not only did not conform to the aristocratic mold of a series of articulated orders and estates, but threatened to do away entirely with such an orderly framework—arose most alarmingly. That specter was insistently raised by those congressional deputies who also happened to belong to the Sociedad Patriótica. No wonder, then, that this debate ended up subjecting all the others to its own urgent logic and dynamics, and that with it ended all talk of making the sphere of political representation more porous to the diverse interests of society. Curiously enough, it was those very deputies who had adamantly insisted on keeping the sphere of political representation open to the influence of the public who, when it came to debating whether Congress should or should not stay in Caracas, resolutely favored the move—of all things, in the name of protecting the institution from the untoward influence of the city’s public opinion! The sense of paradox dissolves, however, the moment one realizes that the expression public opinion meant different things in the mouths of the various representatives. Even if such a view was never made fully explicit lest it offend the sensibilities of one or another deputy belonging to the Sociedad Patriótica or those of the plebs overhearing the debates, in general one can say that at least for the majority of the representatives there were two varieties of public opinions, one definitely good and the other unabashedly bad, one worthy of all praise, the other to be resolutely suppressed. These two varieties were, on the one hand, the opinion formed in the various orders and corporations of organized society, and, on the other, the voice of the crowds. For a while, the ambiguity with which the expression public opinion was used introduced some needed flexibility in the debate, allowing it to move in the direction of a new consensus. In the end, however, as this consensus

140 Statues and Statutes was forged on the floor of Congress, this productive ambiguity could not be sustained, and both the “good” and “bad” varieties of public opinion had to go; and so all public opinion was finally excluded from the sphere of political representation. To see how this outcome came about, it suffices to focus briefly on some of the congressional interventions. José de Sata y Busy argued that Congress should stay in Caracas on the basis of the vigilance and censure that the people of the city should be allowed to exercise with regard to its decisions and deliberations. As he eloquently put it in the session of July 2, 1811, “Let its excesses be corrected, but do not call its just censorship indecorous tutoring. The people of Caracas knows how to think, does think, and has the right to express its opinions with moderation and respect; for that very reason, to call it a tutor or a tyrant is a malicious use of language” (Libro de actas del Supremo Consejo 1959, 143). Given the behavior of “the people of Caracas” on the days immediately preceding and following Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence, it may come as a surprise to hear Sata characterizing it as essentially just and circumspect, subject to only sporadic excess. But Sata was one of the few members of Congress to also belong to the Sociedad Patriótica, and he was also one of the closest associates of the revolutionary leader Francisco de Miranda. So his references to Caracas’ public opinion as the general opinion of Venezuela and as the indispensable “compass” that the congressmen needed to follow in order not to lose sight of the nation’s general interest appear as the less-than-ingenuous proclamations of a revolutionary bent on keeping alive the pressure on Congress from the streets (Hébrard 1998, 208). Francisco de Miranda then referred to the Sociedad Patriótica as that “unjustly suspected voice of public opinion” to which Congress needed to listen in order to avoid “tyrannizing and abusing its authority” (ibid.). This statement resonates, of course, with Bolívar’s words during his speech at the Society’s meeting the next day, July 3, 1811, when he called the Sociedad Patriótica “a center of light and of all the revolutionary interests.” It could not have been lost on the majority that what was at stake in the radicals’ insistence on keeping Congress in Caracas was the subjection of the institution to the will of the Society and the will of the crowds that, incited by the revolutionary club, were active in the streets of the city. Confronted with this threat, the majority of the deputies, and in particular the representatives from the provinces, insisted on moving Congress away from the city. Even more strikingly, they reinvented themselves on the spot, becoming, if not living embodiments of a Rousseauian “general will,” then its executive arm, capable of realizing this will without the compass of any public opinion whatsoever. Suddenly, it was not these representatives’ accountability to their constituencies but their elected status that, in and of itself, was “sufficient warrantee of their sincerity and capacity for laboring on behalf of the general good, without requiring to be pressured by the enlightened public opinion from Caracas” (ibid, 208). It was not, however, the congressional majority that finally clinched the argument in favor of absolute representation. Rather, those who finally sealed the representatives’ consensus around this form of political delegation were two deputies from

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the congressional minority who were also pushing for the adoption of a logic of absolute representation, albeit from a more moderate position. Indeed, in order to understand how the majority so abruptly came to side with the minority, it is important to realize the extent to which the minority was internally divided between moderate and radical wings. Thus, while for its moderate advocates, absolute representation meant representation through delegation, with the revolutionary masses absent and safely placed at a distance, what Bolívar and the other radicals had in mind was a form of representation in which, at every step of the way, the practice of representation drew sustenance and support from the mobilized masses forcefully backing their representatives as the incarnation of their overall “general will.”7 This was so much the case that for the purposes of the present discussion, the members of this radical wing could be said to have acted as the delegates of the crowds within Congress; and, as such, they needed to be neutralized. One of the deputies favoring absolute representation from a moderate viewpoint was Felipe Fermín Paúl, who eventually would side with the royalist camp but at the time still favored independence (Morales Alvarez 1988, 57–58).8 Paúl initially praised the public opinion of Caracas, comparing it favorably with that of other provincial capitals, or, for that matter, with that existing anywhere else in Venezuela. Apparently very much in tune with the radicals, his argument here was that due precisely to the city’s enlightened public opinion, Congress should not be moved out of Caracas (Hébrard 1998, 209). In light of what Paúl said later in the same debate, however, one should probably regard his initial argument as a ruse, aimed at neutralizing the radicals while preparing the discursive terrain on which a new consensus could be built with the majority, a consensus capable of isolating the more radical elements within Congress. That, at any rate, is what his abrupt change in tack seems to suggest. Having praised Caracas’ enlightened public opinion, Paúl went on to address the majority of congressmen who wished the institution to be moved away from Caracas precisely on account of the weight the public opinion of the city had on its decisions and deliberations. In opposition to this view, he argued that not only Caracas but every other place in Venezuela had a public opinion of its own. Elsewhere, however, an unenlightened plebs could readily appeal to “force, which is incomparably more deadly than moderate and peaceful criticism.” In other words, why undergo the considerable hassle of moving Congress elsewhere, since, wherever it went, it would presumably have to face the same kind of unruly masses that it had left behind? Considering that at the time the Sociedad Patriótica was busily opening branches throughout Venezuela, this argument must have carried considerable weight (ibid 1998, 209). That is, abandoning any pretense that public opinion, of whatever kind, should arbitrate anything having to do with Congress, in the end Paúl came out explicitly in defense of absolute representation. His clinching argument for retaining Caracas as the seat of Congress had little to do with the supposedly enlightened public opinion in the city and much to do with the celerity with which the institution could count on the executive branch of government, installed in

142 Statues and Statutes the same city, to enforce its resolutions in the face of resistance from the public, if necessary through the use of military force (ibid.). The efficacy of Paúl’s interventions was clearly contingent on the calculated ambiguity of his discourse. To which public opinion was Paúl alluding every time he used the expression? Was he thinking only of the kind of opinion that the discourse of the Enlightenment so highly praised, or was he instead referring to the pressure exerted by the revolutionary crowds assembled in the streets of Caracas and other cities throughout Venezuela? And, beyond that, was public opinion something unreservedly good, as he first seemed to suggest when he recommended Caracas as the best seat of Congress, or was it something from which the domain of political representation should be protected and rigorously sealed off ? The answer is that Paúl was referring to all and none of the above, something unlikely to escape the attention of at least the most astute deputies. Surely the success of this discursive strategy was partly contingent on suspending until the very end any decision concerning these opposed meanings, allowing listeners to imagine whatever they wished as the debate moved along. In an initial moment, Paúl’s formulations concerning Caracas’ enlightened public opinion were likely received by congressional members of the Sociedad Patriótica as an endorsement of their own position (even if it could be easily demonstrated that what Paúl, Roscio, and others understood by public opinion was far removed from the sans-culotte democracy that the term probably evoked every time it was used by one of the radicals). Paúl’s remarks probably appeared straightforward enough to the radicals, who were at the moment intent on merely gathering enough votes to keep Congress in Caracas, in their view the site of Venezuela’s only truly enlightened public opinion. Either that, or they felt obliged to go along, caught off guard by the moderates’ discursive maneuvers and the realignment of forces within Congress that these rapidly provoked. Paúl’s deliberate ambiguity seems to have neutralized the Jacobins long enough to allow him to achieve the effects he was after when he made his next discursive move. Thus, when Paúl proceeded to argue against taking Congress out of Caracas on the grounds of the ubiquity of public opinion, he probably counted on the ability of the provincial deputies to pick up the shift in meaning. It was not the public opinion of gallant, enlightened gentlemen exchanging witticisms in one or another salon that Paúl was now signaling to his intended audience, but the pressure of the rabble. Under the circumstances—with that same rabble right at the doors of Congress—the majority deputies must have clung to Paúl’s words as if to a lifesaver, seeing them as an invitation to abandon a rigid stance and hurriedly make a deal. In other words, the semantic shift in the meaning of the freighted term public opinion was probably received by the majority as an opportunity to reach a compromise right under the noses of the radicals, who were temporarily caught off guard by Paúl’s discursive savvy. The shift must have signaled to the majority that this was perhaps their last chance, one final opportunity to cut their losses and, if things came to that, save their skins.

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When Paúl went on to recommend the excellence of Caracas in terms of the ease with which both executive and military power could be mustered to enforce the resolutions of Congress against any possible public resistance, the cards were all finally on the table. It was now clear that the truly urgent issue to which he spoke, the one that should take precedence over any other concern, was the fact that Congress was a beleaguered institution. Only military force kept at bay a populace ready to breach its ramparts at the slightest opportunity. To insist under such circumstances on making subtle distinctions between “good” and “bad” public opinion, letting the former in while keeping the latter out, was to entirely miss the point. What the deputies urgently needed to do was present a united front to the outside world, while sealing the realm of political representation off from the social realm as tightly as possible. At this point, the meaning of the deal Paúl was covertly proposing should have been clear: in exchange for his intervention’s veiled promise concerning how Congress could be protected from the masses outside—his subtle discursive shift had already signaled that wherever the institution was located, there would be an urgent need to control the rabble—the majority gave up their ambition to wrest Congress away from Caracas, which would have offset the city’s hegemonic pretensions, and they renounced as well their ambition of allowing the social sphere to be directly reflected in the sphere of political representation. Perhaps the turning point in the debate came when, towards the end, Juan Germán Roscio, the other congressman favoring absolute representation from a moderate viewpoint, explicitly proposed having all public opinion, not just its most unruly components, excluded from Congress. Already hinting at the “politics of exemplarity” that will be the subject of my next chapter, Roscio spoke of the “truth [that] resides in each man,” insisting that only “the ignorance and ‘denaturalization’ of some perverse men make the rest deviate and fall into error” (Hébrard 1998, 210). It is surely not irrelevant that it was in the context of invoking man’s inner truth that Roscio reasserted the “imperative of excluding both corporations and those individuals that erect themselves between the people and its representatives,” thereby “revealing a conception of the nature of conflict in terms of morality” (ibid.). According to Roscio and others sharing his views, it is precisely because the nation’s representatives exemplified man’s inner truth that they were entitled to represent the community. For reasons that will become clearer, the entire representative relation hinged on this very exemplarity. In this way of thinking, the representatives, as delegates of the “general will,” embodied man’s better self, which the machinations of evil men kept buried beneath a maze of conflicting everyday desires and intentions. The situation could not be more desperate, since the precise referent for this kind of occlusion of man’s better self in the Venezuelan case was the kind of sans-culotte democracy that, exemplified by the crowds raging right outside Congress, threatened to overwhelm any principle of government. Hence the urgent need to institute proper political representation, for which purpose it was imperative to seal off the sphere of Congress and constitute it as a kind of theater representing the society left outside its walls.

144 Statues and Statutes All of this was not lost on the majority: in what amounted to a considerable turnaround, the deputies unanimously approved the proposition by the moderate members of the minority to exclude all intermediate organs— corporate bodies that manufactured or expressed public opinion—from the sphere of political representation. Besides the Jacobin club, the main target of this measure was the Municipal Council, where the elites from the various provinces articulated their aspirations and interests. This effectively sealed off political representation from the rest of society. Congress was instituted as the laboratory in which, much as in a sealed theater, “public opinion” would be from then on autonomously fabricated and unanimously proclaimed as the expression of the unified and homogeneous “general will” of the nation, beyond any and all factional interests This was just one among a series of dispositions that drew an ever-more-sharply delineated circle around Congress. A related measure would be the article of the 1811 Constitution that categorically forbade any assembly of armed or unarmed citizens not convened by the constituted authorities. It declares that any such unauthorized gathering “will be dissolved first by means of verbal commands and, whenever necessary, will be destroyed by force of arms in the case of resistance or tenacious obstinacy” (Constitución Federal de Venezuela de 1811 [1812] 1959, ch. 9, General Dispositions, article 216, p. 207; quoted in Hébrard 1998, 222). Adamantly opposed by at least one member of the Sociedad Patriótica, this constitutional article is a good example of the deputies’ determination to restrict collective political expression to the specialized sphere of Congress. Similarly, they decided to allow only individuals to bring petitions before Congress. Stipulating that petitions cannot be made either “in the name of a corporate body” or “of the sovereign people,” the 1811 Constitution carefully enumerated the sanctions befalling anyone disregarding Congress’ representative monopoly: The citizen or citizens who contravene this paragraph, trampling upon the respect and the veneration owed to the representation and the voice of the people, that only expresses itself by means of the general will or through the organ of his legitimate Representatives in the Legislatures, will be persecuted, jailed and judged according to the law. (ibid., ch. 9, General Dispositions, article 215, p. 207; quoted in ibid., 220–21)

Once again it was a matter of Congress claiming for itself, as the repository of the general will, the exclusive right to represent the nation in a unanimous fashion. Ideologically purged of any internal differences and divisive sectional interests, the nation was to be regarded as a unified, homogeneous entity, a people, “unanimously” represented by Congress. As a result of this ideological operation the sphere of representation was constituted as a seamless domain, the unity of which was in keeping with the unity of the nation’s general will. Even if during deliberations the representatives sternly debated their differences, the resolutions reached through this process would offer the larger society an image of unity and unanimity.

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If necessary, the appearance of unanimity was to be ensured by secrecy (secreto): Roscio proposed a measure that would deny the Venezuelan populace information as crucial as, for example, how many of the representatives in Congress had refused the general oath in favor of independence (Hébrard 1998, 217). This provision certainly casts doubts on the presumed unanimity of the Venezuelan representatives regarding independence. The Founding Fathers’ reticence suggests that whatever unanimity there was regarding this issue was contrived in the inner sanctum of Congress during the moments immediately preceding and succeeding the Declaration of Independence. But, beyond this crucial issue, in general one might say that Roscio’s secrecy was a means of concealing how fractured the sphere of political representation was in comparison to the wholesome image of unity the congressmen presented to society. At this moment, the federalism of Venezuela’s foundational charter notwithstanding, the distinctively Venezuelan fetishization of unity over the expression of differences really began.

A Gallery of Notables This is not to say that from this point on all manifestations of difference and particularity were buried beneath a thick layer of official silence. What happened was more complex. As Congress sought to project the image of a nation that was a homogeneous totality, all signs of difference were banished from the face the institution showed the world. But at the same time, these very differences reappeared within Congress, reinscribed as a series of fetishized entities. By focusing on the give-and-take among the first Venezuelan representatives and on the compromises they reached around certain issues, we can witness a wondrous event. The very differences and particularities that the congressmen’s commitment to the illusion of unanimism erased from the image of the represented nation are transformed into a self-contained gallery of exemplary figures in whom such differences are dissimulated, but not really overcome. The reasons for this transfiguration are not difficult to grasp. It is enough to contemplate what happens to a representative after he has been excised from the web of the society of which he was a part and whose interests he had so diligently sought to express. Abstracted from that social network and made to represent the nation’s overall “general will” on the sealed-off political stage, the representative becomes a fetish. In one definition of the term, what indeed is a fetish, if not an object invested with a value that in fact belongs to the social network from which it emerged and where it habitually circulates? The social realm is embodied as a fetishized value by the Venezuelan representative. Standing on the stage of the polity, he seeks to embody the nation’s general will; he presents to the people an image of itself as an abstract community, a collectivity purged of any and all fissures, differences, and dissensions. It should be immediately apparent that such a representative will only be able to accomplish this feat by turning himself into something timeless and statuesque. Indeed, what else, if not some sort of living-dead statue, can anyone possibly become,

146 Statues and Statutes once the individuality that makes him nonfungible, the bearer of mutable and differentiated interests, passions, and desires, has been excised so as to render him the repository of a community’s shared “essence”? Compelled to embody the nation’s enduring will, presumably subsisting over time beneath and beyond manifold inclinations and desires, the representative becomes frozen in the ponderous pose of the monument. Such is the fate of anyone enjoined to eradicate from his words, gestures, and overall demeanor any explicit expression of difference and particularity. In turn, the collection of these representatives is transformed into nothing less than a gallery of busts or monuments, neatly arrayed on the brightly lit political stage. In the inaugural scene on the floor of the first Venezuelan Congress, a group of shouting, gesticulating representatives turned into a collection of monuments, thereby trading in their perishable selves for the dubious benefits of an imperishable image. In the Venezuelan political imagination, a gallery of notables still presides today over the nation, much like a fleecy cloud occupied by demigods hanging over a messy, chaotic reality. But how could such reified entities possibly manifest difference and particularity within the sphere of political representation, given that such differences were meticulously erased without, from the representatives’ public personas? First of all, no matter how great the extent to which societal differences were denied official expression, these particularities and differences nevertheless remained inscribed in the federalism of Venezuela’s first constitutional text. Although in the wake of their sealing-off of Congress from the social world the nation’s representatives made themselves appear as statuesque embodiments of the nation’s “general will,” this was not the end of the story. Given that they formulated the new nation as a federation, these representatives were still expected to lock horns with one another on behalf of the diverse and often conflicting interests of their respective constituencies, even if this contest would now unfold within a political realm rigorously protected from public view by the secrecy that Roscio had called for. The other way in which the suppressed differences and particularities resurfaced grew from the public persona of the representatives. Even if in principle their goal was to turn themselves into monuments, the representatives never quite succeeded. Instead, their appearances—their very words, gestures, and demeanors—remained texts that a shrewd audience could read. In every case, the purpose of the audience’s hermeneutic engagement was to discern, beyond the pompous exterior, the mischievous, even lascivious winks that a representative would address only to the individual, to me, a member of his true constituency. In other words, these representatives’ grandiose words, public gestures, and studied, posed encounters became texts in which particularity and difference were indirectly articulated and expressed. Denied official sanction for acting as intermediaries between their constituencies and Congress, the Venezuelan representatives were at that point in time, and in times to come, largely reduced to expressing themselves by means of their pompously monumentalized yet “dancing” personas.

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From those inaugural moments in July 1811 onward to this very day, every time the representatives parade themselves before the populace, these composite personas present audiences with living texts in which difference and particularity can be read past the proclamations of republican unity. At one level, the representatives are eager to outdo each before their audiences as ever-more-imposing statues, drawing for that purpose on the endless replay and over-elaboration of a shared repertoire of images, tropes, and neoclassical gestures. But at another, less official level, the audience members know that regardless of appearances, that “figurehead over there is mine.” It is not just anyone’s interests, but the specific interests of each member of his intended audience that the representative’s grandiose repertoire of phrases and gestures really address—that is to say, from the audience member’s point of view, not just anybody’s interests but mine, those of my town, social class, corporate body, community, gender, neighborhood, even family. The political efficacy of the Venezuelan congressional representative was and still is partly contingent on this tacit understanding between him and a relatively stratified audience made of differently positioned individuals and social sectors. With regard to the masses—the relatively unenfranchised revolutionary crowds that emerged with independence, and that since then have been such a fixture of Venezuela’s and the continent’s republicanism—the representative’s universalizing discourse mirrored and addressed their own homogenizing experience in the spaces left vacant by the monarch’s disappearance. A Janus-like character, with his—or in more recent years, sometimes her— official, monumentalized appearance, the representative addresses from the political stage the crowds that were emergent with the new republic, while winking with his unofficial side at his constituency’s sectional interests.9 Sealed off from society, the sphere of representation became a theater in which the audience was treated to a multileveled performance by representatives parading themselves to the nation as a monumentalized gallery of notables. And, as such, their neoclassical demeanor and posed encounters came to express both the universal and the particular, both an official realm of republican equality and sameness and an unofficial one of stubbornly persisting differences. Erected by means of the discursive and ideological operations that sealed Congress off from society, from this time on that institution and the realm of the political in general were transmuted into a theatrical stage. To the deadly theater of the masses, the wild mimetic play that the Caracas Municipal Council’s 1812 report so thoroughly decried, Congress now opposed an exemplary theater for the masses.

Chapter 4

Theater for the Masses In addition to the sealing-off of Congress, something else was needed to achieve the transformation of the Venezuelan representatives into exemplars, into living/dead embodiments of the law. The isolation of Congress from society was a necessary condition, creating a political stage abstracted from the give-and-take of everyday life. What that isolation cannot tell us, however, is how the public, not only in Venezuela but elsewhere across the world where the politics of exemplarity of an early republicanism was at stake, eventually came to acknowledge such monumentalized apparitions as the incarnation of the law, acquiescing to them as to the lawful embodiment of the people’s general will. Only such acquiescence could imbue these would-be exemplars with actual exemplary value. What I explore here is how this acquiescence could possibly have come about. (I leave aside until the next chapter the issue of why, in contrast to elsewhere, in Venezuela the monumentalization of the nation’s representatives has proceded unabated, reaching ever-more-hyperbolic extremes; the recently deceased Hugo Chávez is just the latest, perhaps most conspicuous addition to the long list of Venezuela’s dancing Jacobins.) To gain insight into the extra something that, at least according to the early republicans, could in principle guarantee that the overall population would stay fi xated on this emergent nation’s representatives as the public incarnation of its general will, I turn to the writings of Juan Germán Roscio and Miguel José Sanz, two of the main founding figures of the Venezuelan nation and among the most articulate spokesmen for the independence movement against Spain. The differences between the two were not negligible. The more conservative Roscio advocated a moderate form of federalism (Pernalete 2008, 55–69), while Sanz, as one of Francisco de Miranda’s closest allies and himself a member of the Sociedad Patriótica, was decidedly in favor of state centralization (Ruiz Chataing 2011, 50–57). But for my present argument, it is their similarities that count, in particular their common anxiety to contain what they viewed as a dangerous form of anarchic sans-culotte democracy threatening to drown the revolution in a sea of indiscriminate violence. This threat confronted Roscio, Sanz, and the other early Venezuelan republicans with a dilemma: how to set up a viable republic informed by notions of freedom and equality, while safeguarding the polity against 148

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the potential violence of the crowd. Instituting as it does a clear demarcation between active and passive citizens, with the former representing the latter’s interests, concerns, and identities on the lit stage of the polity, nothing less than the erection of a theater of political representation was needed to achieve that goal.

Ruling by Example In an illuminating essay, Luis Castro Leiva calls attention to the goal shared by all of these inaugural writings: to articulate a “rhetoric of freedom” (1991a, 20). Such a rhetoric would need to combine two kinds of eloquence, each supplementing the other: one of the passions and the other of reason (ibid., 25–42). While the eloquence of the passions was intended to awaken in everyone the right kinds of emotion, so that the republic could count on the enduring love of its citizens, the second was aimed at rationally persuading the public of the goodness and superiority of the republican polity as the incarnation of the universality of the law. Opposing the bestiality of the state of nature to the sweet comforts of society where the rule of law prevailed, the concerted aim of these two varieties of eloquence was to ensure that the rational attachment of all to the polity would be buttressed by a wealth of virtuous emotions. Understood as a state of singleminded devotion to the chaste and majestic laws of the republic, virtue was indeed the defining quality that the early republicans sought to cultivate in the citizens. Not the blood and soil of a later nationalism but the “wise” laws of the republican polity, this is what for Venezuela’s founding fathers the fatherland was all about. So central was the Law to the Fatherland in their thinking that in proclamations and writings little or no distinction was made between the two; they considered both, moreover, to be entitled to the same kind of love, as the following passage from Miguel José Sanz suggests: “Anyone who respects and obeys the Law also loves the Fatherland, and, in order to preserve the latter, to calmly enjoy the benefits that the Fatherland bestows on him, he develops that kind of intense love that is known by the name of patriotism” (ibid., 23). Articulated in theoretical treatises as well as in public speeches and through other discursive genres such as letter writing, the task of such rhetoric was to develop in everyone the kind of intense patriotic love that was alone deemed capable of replacing the crowds’ restless and divisive pursuit of a limitless series of objects of desire, leading to anarchy, with a virtuous yet passionate attachment to the abstract and universal laws that, as the expression of the people’s “general will,” unified the polity. It is important to point out that what Sanz depicted as restless desiring, what he called imitation, which involved the lawless appropriation of the symbolic and economic goods that belonged to others, amounts to the disquieting powers of mimesis. Left to their own, these mimetic powers would eventually ruin any principle of reason or order. As Sanz himself put it, “men act more through imitation than through reason, and, allowing themselves to be preoccupied by authorities and examples, establish principles that are opposed to evidence and to reason” (quoted in ibid., 33).

150 Theater for the Masses Castro Leiva notes that for Sanz, “imitation is an effect of sympathy. Sympathy, an emotional force. Preoccupation, an obsession woven by the imagination, reinforced by more and more passions . . .” (1991a, 33). But how, precisely, was the general population to be persuaded to give up its licentiousness and become virtuous citizens? Considering the brutish intensity of the passions and desires the early republicans associated with the state of nature, achieving such a dramatic turnaround would seem, in principle, highly improbable; in short, it is not clear why the populace would pay heed to the solemn exhortations of their would-be representatives, giving up instant gratification of their desires for the austere and continuously delayed pleasures of living in a virtuous polity. Even if in their writings these early republicans never fully spelled it out, clearly they were presupposing some additional institutional precondition that would enable their eloquence to be effective. Venezuela’s Founding Fathers were great devotées of the prevailing neoclassical aesthetic that since before the French Revolution had made of the “new” a reiteration of Greek and Roman precedents. The success of the pedagogy they proposed ultimately revolved around the Roman figure of the tribune and his rhetorical ability to focus on himself the undivided gaze of the audience. In the centrality that Sanz, Roscio and the others more or less explicitly granted to this figure, they stayed close to Rousseau, for whom the Roman tribune gave rise to a long and illustrious line of republican descendants. For the Genevan philosopher, it was the Romans, who for Enlightenment philosophers were the paragons of republican virtue, who first “made of the tribunes republics and of the republic tribunes.” Since then, the tribune has been the model that every republican representative has been obliged to emulate. In line with a Roman heritage in which, in his dual sacral and civil capacity, the pontifex or magistrate-priest was the very apex of the polity (Nancy 2006, 104–5), to this day in Latin America this figure has presided over the region’s republicanism as the exemplar par excellence, worthy of everyone’s allegiance and imitation. The centrality that Rousseau assigns to the tribune is related to this figure’s enunciation of the “cry” that republican rhetoric sounded from the abyss of the state of nature to summon everyone from his or her bestial condition into society (Castro Leiva 1991a, 26). All the pathetic force and reasoning eloquence of which this rhetoric was capable was aimed at keeping everyone focused on the tribune’s words and appearance which were imagined, as in the neoclassical paintings of the foremost painter of the French Revolution, Jacques-Louis David, to be nothing if not theatrical and statuesque. Even Rousseau’s tribunal republic was, after all, a theater, as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has convincingly argued, in spite of the Genevan philosopher’s denunciations of theatricality (2002, 132). In such a theatrical polity, the tribune was in charge of publicly proclaiming the supreme value and authority of the law by grandiloquently embodying it on the political stage. As a grave and lofty actor, this figure bore the responsibility for unleashing the powerful emotional associations that would induce the audience to love the law.

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In Venezuela, the early republican eloquence analyzed by Castro Leiva drew on this Rousseauian genealogy, assigning a crucial role to the figure of the tribune as its paradigmatic subject of enunciation. This centrality is particularly visible in The Triumph of Freedom over Despotism, the classic work in which Juan Germán Roscio mounted a wholesale assault on the legitimacy of the absolutist monarchy in the Americas. He chose religion, of all things, and more precisely Scripture, as the privileged terrain on which to challenge the titles to rule brandished by the monarchy. The move was singularly audacious, considering that it was from the domain of religion that the Spanish monarchy drew its main legitimizing arguments and images, meanwhile accusing the American rebels of apostasy. In a nutshell, Roscio reads Scripture as the repository of a political philosophy that pivoted on notions of popular sovereignty, rather than affording justification for the divine right of kings. Roscio’s demonstration proceeds by setting up, in a series of successive chapters, a gallery of illustrious men, each of whom presumably embodies and represents the sovereignty or general will of the Israelites at a particular moment in their history. From Moses, Abraham, and Jacob to New Testament figures such as Jesus, Peter, and Paul, Roscio parades before us a varied gallery of exemplary figures while striving to demonstrate that the power of each of these prophets and kings emanated from the Jewish people and was ultimately authorized by it. This gallery of exemplary figures occupied such pride of place in Roscio’s republican imaginings because of his convictions about man’s divided nature. There is no contradiction for him in the notion that a “people is both sovereign and subject vis-à-vis itself,” submitting to the very laws and dictates that it has itself proclaimed, because a people is composed of both “body and soul.” The aggregate sum of everyone’s reasoning capacities, the people’s “soul” or “spirit” (and not the entire nature of the people) is the seat of sovereignty; this is a people’s lawful “general will.” When a people submits, therefore, to this higher tribunal, it does not in any way acquiesce to an external agency, but only to itself or, better yet, to its own more noble, spiritual component. Like an individual, a people agrees to bring the law of its unruly bodily appetites and passions under the superior law of its very own “Reason” (Roscio 1996, 77). Roscio had encountered those unruly passions in dangerous proximity, both during the days of Venezuela’s declaration of independence from Spain and in the violent aftermath of that declaration, and he sought to tame them. At this point in Roscio’s argument, he turns to the need for exemplary figures. “Reason” or “Soul” is distributed across the entire people, but it is not evenly “executed and safeguarded by all of its members.” Only among this people’s chosen representatives is that spiritual principle distinctly and publicly embodied, shining forth with singular intensity. As a result of this, the law that emanates from the people’s “federated Reason,” and, “in the calm of the appetites,” is emitted by the assembled social body, can be properly enunciated only by the people’s magistrates, or tribunes (ibid., 77–78). In obeying these magistrates, the majority is not subjecting itself to mere flesh-and-bone

152 Theater for the Masses individuals, but to the majesty of the law as it is faithfully spoken through their “living voice.” By acquiescing to their tribunes’ dictates the people are, in other words, submitting not to those individuals but to the “sweet imperatives” of a “reason improved with the reflections of those more informed than the rest and crowned with the honorable title of constitutional Law and Right of the nation.” Appearances notwithstanding, as a result of this obedience, “it is not the persons of the magistrates but the law itself, as it is intimated and divulged through them, that accrues the deference and the subordination of the audience” (ibid., 78). In this passage Roscio explicitly designates the two crucial elements—the audience and the magistrate—that, often implied or invoked in passing in other contemporary writings, fully reveal the theatricality inherent in Venezuela’s early republican eloquence. The scene in which a tribune addresses an assembled audience, exhorting it to join the republic, is found not only in Roscio’s writings but in those of a host of contemporary authors. In all its theatricality, this is arguably the organizing trope of early republican eloquence, even when the figure of the tribune is not explicitly invoked. Take, for instance, the intense patriotic love for the laws of the fatherland that Miguel José Sanz hoped to arouse in the people, so that they would cease their restless pursuit of an infinitely proliferating series of objects of desire, a pursuit that Sanz feared could end only in anarchy and violence. It is clear that Sanz’s rhetoric is already thoroughly theatrical: to enter the polity everyone must abandon his or her divisive pursuits and lovingly focus on the Law that, like some sacred object of contemplation, is displayed at its very center. Notwithstanding its implicit theatricality, what Sanz’s scene does not tell us is how anyone could pour patriotic love on something as forbiddingly nonsensuous and abstract as Sanz’s Law. Praised with great pathos by Sanz and all the other early republicans as the quintessential republican sentiment, the kind of fervid patriotism they extoll would have rapidly withered in contact with the legalistic polity they had in mind. The absurdity of anyone developing a passionate love of such an unappealing fatherland, stripped bare of sensuous bearings and wasting away in the no-man’s land of an arid body of legislation, should be more than evident. Not that the superiority of the law was ever in doubt, either in Sanz’s rhetoric or in that of any of the other early Venezuelan republicans. As “prohibition,” the Law possessed “all the splendor of its virtuous potentiality” to suppress anything running counter to the good and the just (Castro Leiva 1991a, 21–22). In and of itself, however, the Law could not realize its noble potential. In order to work its virtuous effects on everyone, the Law needed to be loved, and to bring that about, artifice was needed. Here Roscio’s tribune comes to the fore as the necessary supplement that, in anthropomorphizing the Law and putting it on stage, transforms the Law into an exemplary person that everyone should try to emulate in his or her everyday existence. Regardless of how things actually turned out—on its

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first outing, this republican theater collapsed—this was the scenario in which the early republicans invested their hopes. When Francisco Javier Yanes, another of the Venezuelan Founding Fathers occupied with laying out the theoretical foundations of the emergent republic, spoke of the need that every liberal government had of “personifying” the law in order to make it “respectable to the subjects,” he was simply voicing the same demand for figurality as other early republicans (Yánes [1839] 1959, 65). As the living embodiment of the abstract universality of the law, fully powdered and elegantly attired, the republican tribune was to perform on the political stage as a sensuous, potent focus not merely of respect but also of love and identification. The idea was that only by identifying with their tribunes gesturing at them from the raised stage of the polity would it be possible for the republican audience to come to embrace the higher virtues of the republic as their own.

A Pedagogy of Desire And yet we still do not know why these Founding Fathers believed that anyone’s eyes would remain glued to the republican stage, beyond the possible initial frisson. Considering how lively, colorful, and varied the objects of desire in the state of nature are, how could the populace possibly come to love the preachy, somewhat melancholy figure gesticulating at them from the brightly lit stage of the polity? The preliminary answer to this query is that people simply had to learn to desire otherwise, since the existing predatory ways were inimical to the republican project (Castro Leiva 1991a, 36–37). The further question, of course, is by what means anyone thought such radical change in desiring could possibly be accomplished. This is a sufficiently complex topic in itself; I can offer here only tentative suggestions, based on some tantalizing assertions by Roscio and other relevant information, about how the early republicans believed the change from active, lustful desire to contemplative love could be brought about. The alchemy for inducing such a momentous change would involve an artful blending of the space of the theater with several additional valuable considerations. To begin with, not all desiring in the state of nature was bad; it was possible to discern in all men an unfulfilled longing for transcendence. It was the task of the emergent rhetoric to tap into this underdeveloped emotional kernel and use this longing as a lever to lift everyone into the realm of the ideal. Republican eloquence sought to act on the soul like a magnet, powerfully drawing everyone’s attention upwards toward the ideal, embodied in the political sphere, and away from brutish pursuits (Castro Leiva 1991a, 29, 30, 36–37). For such an uplifting effect to have truly lasting consequences, at least two further preconditions had to be met. First, it was necessary that the ascending gaze of the

154 Theater for the Masses audience be met halfway by the radiant spectacle of the republic, already fully installed and ready to receive that gaze. Second, it was necessary that the manifold spectacle of the world be somehow muted or suppressed, enough for the public’s gaze not to be distracted from its absorbed contemplation of the polity. Given man’s divisive inclinations and overall restlessness, to achieve such undivided attention, and moreover, to have it yield the kind of single-minded love and devotion needed to persuade members of the public to acquiesce to being represented by others, the populace must have first been immobilized in some fashion, turned into a passive audience for whatever took place on the political stage. With everyone ordinarily bent on instantly representing themselves, without the demarcation between active and passive citizens and without the contrived, forcefully induced “willingness” of the latter to postpone the realization of their individual aspirations and concerns, representation either does not happen at all or eventually breaks down. What was at stake for the early republicans was the urgent political need to substitute the right kind of mimesis—the public’s imitation of their exemplary “tribunes”— for the destructive variety to which the postcolonial crowds were so eagerly given. The insistence of the Founding Fathers on ruling by example followed from the assumption, well known at the time, “that the attachment to freedom could demand aesthetically stimulating sentimental canons (impressions, affects); that is to say, exemplifications than can be emulated by all” (Castro Leiva 1991a, 36). Since Roscio and other early theorists of the republic considered the republican tribune to be the most comprehensive available paragon of the sentimental values on which the survival of the republic depended, it is only reasonable that in their view it was through absorbed contemplation of this figure that such attachment could most effectively be accomplished. Th is thinking was very much in line with how a late-eighteenth-century Spanish rhetorical treatise, the Tratado de Elocución o del Perfecto Lenguaje y buen Estilo perfecto al Castellano by D. Mariano Madramani y Calatayud, conceived of the force of the sublime in relation to the audience. Castro Leiva tacitly regards the treatise as a compendium of values widely held at the time; he notes that in it, the forceful brilliance of the sublime is always exposed to the light of the liveliest impression. Its existential power resides in the objectivity . . . of its own emotional radiance. The “places” or topoi where that sublimity resides or where the pathetic is apprehended cannot be denied. Whoever does not see that glow . . . is guilty of patriotic insensibility due to either a feeble understanding or to ignorance. (1991a, 37; my emphasis)

In short, in this republican pedagogy of desire everything came down to an opposition between, on the one hand, a sharpness of vision that made everyone hospitable to the “ideal,” and, on the other, a deleterious “sentimental blindness” (ibid.). In sum, vision was the preeminent terrain on which the battle for the hearts and minds of the people would be waged, with the right kind of mimesis being separated

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from the destructive forms of imitation, the wild mimetic play that repeatedly toppled the ideal in the hearts and minds of the citizens through the mad circulation of replicas harboring violence. Vision, understood as passive contemplation, would guarantee that the virtuous laws of the republic were properly installed by means of a descending play of reflections: first, from the transcendent realm of the ideal, the sanctum of the laws of the republic, to the republican tribunes, who would then act as so many mirrors, reflecting, by means of their gestures and overall demeanor, these sacrosanct laws on the stage of the republic; and, then, from these tribunes to the citizen-spectators, who would in turn mirror the virtuous laws of the republic and treasure them in the inner sanctums of their private selves. For this to happen, the passage from the ideal to its final destination in the souls of the citizens needed to be seamless. Reflection and its psychological counterpart, passive spectatorship, along with the privilege that sight affords to presence, in principle guaranteed such seamless transmission, allowing the laws of the republic to be replicated without distortion in the souls of the citizens. This calculus followed from the centrality the early republicans assigned to the imitation of “authorities and examples” in human behavior (Castro Lieva 1991a, 33). Spectators must be led to adopt the right kinds of authorities and examples by means of the right kind of imitation. As LacoueLabarthe insightfully argues, imitation through visual reflection is a mimesis in which the activity of the mime is all but abolished, indeed in which the mime becomes a mirror (1989). Living as they were in constant fear of the crowds’ dangerous mimesis, Venezuela’s early republicans were, in this regard, under no illusion: in the circumstances of postcolonial Venezuela, every other form of imitation that people indulged in could only result in the erasure of the ideal form of the republic and, with it, of every conceivable form of social order amidst catastrophic devastation and violence. In visual reflection, all forms of agency are forcibly reduced to the status of passive replication of an original, a presumably preexisting model (ibid). As will be specified in the next section where I address more fully the various syntactic articulations composing the theatrical paradigm on which hinges much of what is argued in this book, this entails deploying a range of disciplinary practices whereby more complex forms of agency are reduced to the single function of contemplation; indeed, in this republican pedagogy, becoming a citizen largely entails being stripped of most forms of agency and reduced to a monad with eyes watching the spectacle of the ideal. It is only from such a spectatorial subject position, with all that it entails of forced immobility as well as postponement of immediate interests, demands, and desires, that the ideal may at all hold interest for the audience. In its absence, the endlessly varied spectacle of the world would remain irresistible for the majority of the population, who, in the Founding Fathers’ view, if left to their own were unashamedly consecrated to the bestial, destructive pursuit of one object of desire after another. For Sanz, Roscio and the other early republicans, the generalized mimetic violence that resulted from the masses’ restless wandering took the distinctly ominous shape of

156 Theater for the Masses a “democratic and egalitarian danger” (Castro Leiva 1991a, 36) that rendered government impracticable. Immobilizing the masses so as to render them amenable to representation was, therefore, an urgent political goal, and, in order to achieve it, rhetorical exhortation did not suffice. Eloquence needed to be supplemented with orthopedic violence—that is, a form of pedagogical violence aimed at correcting everything that had gone astray by returning it to the straight and narrow. Thus, confronted with the crowds’ wandering from one object of desire to the next which rendered all roles, identities and possessions open to mimetic seizure, Roscio and his supporters firmly advocated the “contraction and regulation of the passions that run in the direction of egalitarian democracy” (ibid., 34;emphasis in original). This would be a means of developing in individuals that taste for the sublime that was so necessary to the survival of the emergent republic. Nothing seemed more crucial at the time than such orthopedic shrinkage, considering that the prevailing “egalitarian exaltation” harbored the possibility of “liberty as a state of license making itself (discursively) present and politically viable through the actions of the ‘democrats, pardos and people of color’ ” (ibid., 35; emphasis in original). At stake, not only for Sanz and Roscio but for the entire republican establishment emergent at the time, was nothing less than “avoiding . . . the terror and violence of the sans culottes while stirring the emergent republic on the path to a form of liberal nationalism” (ibid., 66; emphasis in original). Given the stakes, the insistence with which the early republicans used the word spectator in their writings and proclamations to refer to the desirable status that intermediate bodies such as the Sociedad Patriótica should have in the republic (Hébrard 1998, 213) is not surprising. Such use was consistent with an understanding of Congress as the sole legitimate sphere in which public opinion would be actively “revealed, fashioned and finally established” in a “sealed off ” domain, that is, one isolated from society (ibid., 225). In other words, in accordance with the “logic of absolute representation,” citizens were urged to become passive spectators of the sphere of Congress and in no way to strive to influence its decisions. The expectation was that insofar as decisions made by Congress would emanate from the nation’s sole representative body, as the outcome of deliberations among all of its members, they would necessarily be consistent with the “general interest.” Needless to say, in so uncompromisingly opposing itself to the “power of opinion” (ibid., 215), the logic of absolute representation necessarily introduced the kind of radical demarcation between audience and political stage that the Founding Fathers identified as one of the main preconditions for the existence of a representative form of democracy. This is all spelled out in the Manual político del Venezolano (Political Manual of the Venezuelan), the treatise that Francisco Javier Yánes wrote to instruct Venezuela’s budding citizens on the fundamental principles of the nascent republic. On the inherent virtues of political representation, Yánes said: Political representation has moderated democracy and simplified popu lar government since, on account of reducing and assigning the functions of

Theater for the Masses 157 government to a small number of individuals chosen for their talent, patriotism, knowledge, and virtues . . . it prevents the turmoil and confusion characteristic of pure democracy. ([1839] 1959, 64)

On the basis of this consideration, Yánes goes on to draw a fundamental conclusion: It is therefore an elementary principle of any representative popular government that the exercise of sovereignty must not reside in the nation, but in those to whom the nation has delegated such an exercise. This principle is of the greatest importance, because if the nation directly exercised sovereignty, thus remaining active, there would be two parallel powers with equivalent functions, one of them purely democratic, and the other representative. All the evils of the French Revolution originate in not having acknowledged the principle that the exercise of sovereignty exclusively belongs to the representatives. (ibid., 66)

Yánes was quite unequivocal that the reduction of the entire population to immobility and passivity was crucial to the success of representative democracy: Let us, therefore, beware of attributing to the gathered people either the authority to deliberate on the subjects addressed in the national congress or the right to intervene as a mass in the acts of government, to pressure it to pick up speed, to censor its operations with the power of an assembled multitude. (ibid., 70; emphasis in original)

In modern as opposed to ancient republics, no “assembled multitude” can ever amount to more than a fraction of the entire people; to allow such a multitude to act as if it were the entire people, forcing Congress to yield to its necessarily particularistic designs, would be utterly disastrous. Thus, according to Yánes, in the meetings of the multitude . . . voting comes about through shouting and threats [so that] one can only listen to the cry of political passions that, unfailingly, disguise . . . private hatreds and the desire for revenge. . . . It is necessary that everywhere people become persuaded of the fact that in acquiescing to the constitutional pact they give up the exercise of sovereignty, and . . . that its immediate and continuous intervention . . . would disturb the representative order, destroying the government’s action while substituting for it the disastrous energy of opposing passions. (ibid., 71–72; my emphasis)

How can one miss in these passages from Yánes’ treatise, first published in 1839, the distinct echoes of the events of June and July 1811 in Caracas, when, incited by the Sociedad Patriótica, the crowds loudly demanded at the doors of Congress that their representatives cease their endless digressions and, once and for all, move to declare Venezuela an independent nation? Yánes’ insistence on the need to immobilize and disperse the “multitude,” while putting an end to the pernicious notion that sovereignty

158 Theater for the Masses originates in the meetings of the “assembled people,” draws special poignancy and urgency from the memory of these events. In this light, his warning about the disastrous consequence of not paying heed to the elementary principle that in a representative democracy, sovereignty resides exclusively in the people’s delegates and not in the people, must have touched a raw nerve among his readers. Indeed, in the days preceding the Declaration of Independence, several congressmen called attention to the dangers of a situation in which the Sociedad Patriótica vied with Congress as alternative sources of sovereignty. If it was necessary to the functioning of the emergent republican governmentality that every representative be rendered “sacred and inviolable in his opinions,” as Yánes succinctly put it, then it should be clear how requisite was the immobilization of the “assembled people” and its transformation into a passive audience. It was only from such a spectatorial condition that the population could at all appreciate their representatives as sacred and inviolable personifications of the nation’s fundamental law or “general will” on the political stage. In other words, the emergent republic had to assume all the trappings of the theater. And so it is that everything the early theorists of the polity wrote about its emergent governmentality was imbued with theatricality, from their insistence on the need to monumentalize the new nation’s representatives on the stage of the polity if Venezuela was ever to achieve a “modern,” that is, representative form of democracy, to the significance they all assigned to introducing the rigid demarcation between the political stage and the overall population that would enable such monumentalization to occur. This insistence on boundaries also suggests that it was not a baroque-style theater, with little separating actors and audience, that the Venezuelan Founding Fathers had in mind as the model for the emergent republican governmentality, but a specifically bourgeois variety.

A Theatrical Paradigm Before addressing precisely how the republican theater of political representation was set up in Venezuela, I will review the theatrical paradigm capable of illuminating the raison d’ être and specific workings of the stage machinery that undergirds any form of representation. The first thing to notice is how any theatrical space intended for representing on stage a series of absent realities or entities as if they were fully present here and now is topographically constituted through the articulation of a series of spatially adjacent compartments starting with the foyer, each of them neatly demarcated from the others. Drawing on Geoff rey Bennington’s reading of Lyotard, one may characterize the foyer as a transitional domain, the site of a preliminary demarcation between those allowed into the space of the theater and those turned back at the entrance. The foyer, moreover, is a site charged with far-reaching transformative powers; it is the place where the appropriate audience for the theater becomes narrowed down, and where the demarcation inside the theater between audience and stage is prefigured.

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Indeed, simply by purchasing a ticket, a theatergoer becomes part of a passive spectatorship, an audience composed of isolated individuals all barred from having physical access to the stage. The purchase, in other words, commits the theatergoer to relative immobility, to staying put while quietly watching in the dark from his or her separate seat whatever occurs on the brightly lit stage ahead. But beyond affirming this basic demarcation between audience and stage, purchasing a ticket also creates further subdivisions within the audience itself. Any particular ticket assigns the theatergoer to a viewing category within a highly stratified audience, an internally differentiated totality instigated by the overall price range among all the different tickets. As in Foucault’s analysis of forms of governmentality, purchasing a ticket is then an act with both individualizing and totalizing effects. It first ratifies the isolated individual as the legitimate, passive spectator of the spectacle about to unfold onstage. But second, it also assigns this spectator to a social category within an internally differentiated and hierarchically ordered totality in which the status of any given group of spectators in relation to all the others is defined by the relative degree of ocular access that the members of this group have to the spectacle. The final result is a highly compartmentalized social order, a viewing totality constituted along both hierarchical and egalitarian axes. From the beginning, this contrived “society” assumes an eminently spatial existence: not only is the ticket mechanism both an individualizing and totalizing procedure, but it also assigns the constituted entities to differential spatial locations within the audience, which, in turn, is neatly demarcated from the stage. The articulation of the space inside the theater, the organizational and labor practices, and the forms of discipline and surveillance that remain in force during the spectacle all broadly confirm the set of ideological expectations that surround the act of buying a ticket. What should be apparent is the extent to which this demarcation between spectator and spectacle stands in contrast to the profuse borrowings, amalgamations, and exchanges that characterized not just the Venezuelan colony but the kind of baroque, public-square social life that prevailed until the very end of colonial times and still colors the public life of many Latin American nations today. As for the comportment considered proper to either side of this divide, Bennington offers this succinct description, drawing on Lyotard’s notion of the theater as the paradigm for all kinds of representation, including the political: “ in principle the spectator sits still and silently in the dark, the actors move, talk and gesticulate in bright light” (1988, 11; my emphasis). The virtually complete passivity required from the audience is not something left to chance but, rather, enforced by a series of theater employees and law enforcement officers. A team of ushers move up and down the aisles, torch or flashlight in hand, making sure this fundamental division remains undisturbed for the duration, swiftly intervening in those isolated instances when the unruly behavior of one or another member of the audience threatens to disrupt the orderly unfolding of the proceedings. If things do get out of hand, there is always an officer of the law not too far off who can be called on to restore normality, if necessary through the use of force.

160 Theater for the Masses The spatial organization inside the theater also includes a division between the stage and the wings or backstage, the location of the theatrical machinery, unseen by the audience but of an importance it is impossible to overestimate: “the theatrical spectacle is brought forth, produced, from this invisibility onto the stage. What is seen by the spectator on the stage depends on the complex support of this ‘invisible’ beyond” (ibid., 11). The entire syntactic articulation of the space circumscribed by the theater walls reinforces the role of the stage as the exclusive site for action and re-presentation, rigidly demarcated from the largely passive audience by the proscenium arch and the orchestra pit (Bennington 1988, 11). The theater of political representation operative in the writings, proclamations, and political practices of the Venezuelan Founding Fathers features partitions and demarcations structurally equivalent to those found in actual bourgeois theaters. Functioning like the foyer of a theater, a series of clauses enshrined in the text of the first Venezuelan constitution effectively screened who would have access as privileged spectators to the republican sphere of political representation. If the goal of the draf ters of that constitution was to set up the sphere of political representation as a secluded domain, tightly demarcated from the wider “society,” what better way of doing so than to restrict the franchise, so that only those adult males owning some form of property or receiving rent could choose their representatives (Constitución Federal [1812] 1959, 159–60; Sosa de León 1992, 44)? Another, complementary way of achieving this goal was by legislating the very identities of those social actors entitled to address Congress with their demands: only individuals could petition Congress. How else to interpret this constitutional injunction, if not as a means of depriving all collective bodies of legitimacy in the sphere of political representation? Similarly, all intermediate institutions were excluded from this sphere; at least officially, the only legitimate dealings were those connecting each discrete individual to his chosen representatives (Hebrard 1998, 220). Another constitutional clause aimed at limiting or even banning all popular gatherings, with the excuse that those occasions easily degenerated into riots. Adamantly opposed by at least one deputy from the Sociedad Patriótica, this clause legally restricted all collective political debate “to the regulated exchanges among the representatives in Congress” (ibid., 221).1 It is possible on the basis of even a cursory consideration of the first Venezuelan constitution to discern in its various clauses the overall design of constituting the realm of political representation as a kind of bourgeois theater. First, as already suggested, constitutional mea sures explicitly elevate the autonomous, isolated individual to the status of sole legitimate addressee and spectator of the sphere of political representation. These measures effectively demarcate the sphere of political representation from a series of excluded realities as the sole domain where, beyond elections, the everyday practice of politics could be collectively pursued by a body of elected officers charged with representing the whole nation. Needless to say, this does not mean that merely by

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virtue of the magic of the new republican vocabularies, colonial corporations and postcolonial crowds suddenly ceased to exist, but the existence of these entities was denied all legal recognition and legitimacy. Second, the nation presupposed by these very norms as the sovereign of the emergent republic and the authorized audience of the political sphere is a collection of autonomous individuals, all presumed to be equal before the law, from which all women, children, and dependents, including slaves and domestic servants, are in principle excluded. Third, this nation, as the repository of the community’s “general will,” is an inherently split entity, divided between two clearly heterogeneous dimensions. On the one hand, conceived as a collection of autonomous, interchangeable individuals, this nation is the absent sovereign that the representatives, as an ideal entity, make present or re-present inside Congress. On the other hand, this nation is also collected within the symbolic walls of the newly erected political domain, not as the absent sovereign but as a present yet inherently passive theatrical audience, the republic’s “spectators” that in countless proclamations and writings the early republicans singled out as the legitimate political addressees. Not, then, the jeering, tumultuous crowds of the initial stages of the independence movement against Spain and the wars that followed in their wake, but a collection of isolated, in some respects interchangeable individuals, all quietly occupying their separate seats in the dark and expected to maintain the proper decorum throughout the spectacle unfolding on the brightly lit political stage—this was the ideal audience the Founding Fathers envisaged for their republican theater. But finally, even while legislating the individual as the sole legitimate addressee of the sphere of political representation, somewhat contradictorily the constitutional clauses effectively structured citizenship within the political domain as an internally differentiated audience, much as a ticket subdivides the theatrical audience. From the start the legislated audience was divided between, on the one hand, a privileged group of “spectators” drawn from the nation’s property-owning elites, who were placed near the political stage as both the nation’s electoral body and as the privileged addressees of the political sphere, and, on the other, all the non-elite sectors, who were assigned to more far-off “seats” or locations.2 Because unless one takes the rulings from the first Venezuelan constitution more literally than is advisable—this text was, after all, meant as a blueprint for governing the entire population, not just its elite sectors—within the audience of the republican theater one should include not only enfranchised citizens but also the whole of the unenfranchised population, including women, domestic servants, agricultural peons, and ex-slaves. This is merely to reiterate that one may ascribe to the clauses of the first Venezuelan constitution both individualizing and totalizing effects. These effects are not unlike those of modern power more generally as described by Foucault, and not unlike purchasing a theater ticket. The constitutional clauses enshrined the individual as the sole legitimate bearer of rights and obligations and, simultaneously, used income and property to bring about an internally differentiated and

162 Theater for the Masses hierarchically arranged political audience. The audience that the Founding Fathers envisaged for the emergent republic was indeed not the seamless, homogeneous entity that they otherwise celebrated as the new nation’s sovereign. The situation may be grasped in reference to what Hilda Sábato has recently argued in her study of electoral politics in Buenos Aires in the 1860s and 1870s. As she shows, political participation in that city at the time was not limited to the enfranchised population but included much wider circles of people connected to the elites by bonds of loyalty and a closely knit web of patron-client relations (Sábato 2001). In Venezuela too at the time of independence and afterwards, though the constitutional clauses implicitly addressed only a narrow sector of the population as citizens, much wider sectors of the population were at least tacitly conceived as part of the republican audience, even if only as passive spectators assigned to the furthest reaches of the political theater, to be mobilized only during elections. When envisaging the audience of the early republican theater, one should therefore try to picture these unenfranchised sectors attentively following the political scene from their faraway “seats” where they wait ready to be mobilized during elections by the main political participants. It is possible at this point to see clearly emerging from the Founding Fathers’ various writings, including the constitution, a panoramic view of the political theater they urgently sought to erect as the indispensable infrastructural precondition of the emergent republican governmentality. In this republican theater, as in actual bourgeois theaters, a rigid demarcation in principle separates the brightly lit stage from the audience; the behavioral attributes expected from audience members, the “spectators,” when general elections are not underway are immobility and passivity. Only such a forcibly immobilized audience of passive spectators, neatly demarcated from this stage and compulsorily reduced to the status of monads with eyes, can possibly put the manifold attractions of the world behind and mimetically adopt, as the faithful, visible reflection of their truest, innermost identity, the representations offered to them from the elevated political stage right across from where they sit. This leaves this stage as the exclusive site where all political action, beyond the celebration of general elections, legitimately originates, initiated by a series of elegantly attired and impeccably coiffed representatives, or “tribunes,” addressing with their ponderous poses, words, and gestures the audience below as the rightful representatives of a passive citizenry. Besides the immobilization of the population, the institution of a series of clear-cut spatial divisions and demarcations between inside and outside and between passive audiences and active performers is, then, the other indispensable condition that must necessarily be met if representation is to take place at all. The moment politics is conceived as an exercise in delegation in which the very identity, interests, and aspirations of a passive society are voiced by a group of active representatives, we have entered the space of the theater. Only from within an enclosed theatrical space can anyone claim to be representing anything. For re-presentation to take place, the represented entities

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or realities must be absent in the here and now while present elsewhere; what the real or symbolic walls of the theater do is to institutionalize the gap separating presence from absence, so that the absented realities may then be visibly represented within that space as relatively stable entities or identities. All of which is to say that the inherent theatricality of representation thrives on absence and transcendence. Commenting on Lyotard’s understanding of the nature of representation, Bennington argues that for Lyotard such theatricality is fundamentally religious. What is represented on stage is an absence. The privilege of that absence (the various names of which Lyotard often distinguishes with an initial capital: Exteriority, Zero, Other, Signifier, to mark that the power given them by their very position is that of transcendence) is ensured by its being placed out of reach, beyond representation as posited within representation. By this transcendence, theatricality enforces its own closure, through the entirely negative excellence it confers on what it situates outside itself. Representation is an enclosure built on the strength of an exclusion; it is a “mise en extériorité a l’intérieur,” a placing outside which takes place inside (which constitutes the inside). Whatever name is given to the absence just positioned, it is theological by virtue of that very position. (Bennington 1988, 13; emphasis in original)

Through its spatial layout, as well as by means of the disciplinary practices and regulations responsible for maintaining this layout’s characteristic partitions and demarcations, the modern bourgeois theater is, precisely, the institutional apparatus capable of generating the economy of neatly differentiated presences and absences necessary for any such re-presentation to happen (Lyotard 1973, 180–81). What is crucial to realize here is the extent to which objectifying representation is, through and through, a power relation— a power relation that for the sake of stability and self-sameness, of preserving the “proper” identities of subjects and objects, of discrete individuals and things so as to render these knowable and calculable, is moreover exercised in tension with the relentlessly disappropriating forces of the world. As a form of violence deployed to exorcise the world’s manifold, violent disappropriations, objectifying representation operates by reducing a complex, turbulent manifold where presences and absences cannot be neatly set apart, and, consequently, nothing is ever bounded or the same, to the status of self-contained, objects of representation that, in principle, may be visually apprehended, so to speak, at a glance, and, thus, rendered knowable and calculable by one or another instance of authority acting on a raised political stage. It is indeed from such a lofty, relatively absolved position that it is at all possible to turn a mirror back to the world’s fugitive, ever-changing, fragmentary appearances, so as to retrieve from this world, frozen within its frame, a series of self-identical, presumably preexisting entities isolated from their surroundings. Needless to say, this “trick of the mirror” belatedly constitutes for the purpose of mastery what it seemingly only reflects or represents (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 129).

164 Theater for the Masses Given all of this, the early republican leadership’s emphasis on building into the text of the first Venezuelan constitution a whole system of inclusions and exclusions, divisions and demarcations setting up the sphere of political representation as a theater almost goes without saying. Their goal was to occupy, in front of their forcibly immobilized audiences or constituencies, the eminently theological position of representatives of the nation that had been placed outside. The immobilization of the general population, both enfranchised and unenfranchised sectors, was not something that the Founding Fathers left to chance. If more additional evidence of this immobilizing intent was needed, then the fact that at the very last minute, just before the first Venezuelan constitution was approved, its framers moved to append to the text a series of regulations, the Ordenanzas de los Llanos, aimed at tying the pardo rural population to the land, provides further corroboration (McKinley 1985, 173). One of these rulings ordered hacienda owners and their foremen to keep detailed registers of the people under their charge, noting down their place of origin, social status, age, civil condition, and trade, to be duly certified by a judge. Another instructed landowners to hire only peons capable of producing on demand the requisite passport showing all of his personal data, to be issued by the relevant departmental judge. The passport was to be returned to any peon released from his job; without it, he could not be admitted to any other occupation. In general, the ordenanzas forbade agricultural workers from traveling without a passport in which both point of departure and destination were recorded. Anyone found without the document would be thrown into jail, subject to lashings or fines until his identity was satisfactorily proven (Textos 1983, 180–82). These ordinances, aimed at controlling the movements of a sector of the population the Founding Fathers considered all too unregulated, were added to the constitution just when members of the pardo population were intensely mobilized in the streets of Caracas and other major towns of Venezuela, demanding to be recognized as citizens of the new nation. The last-minute decision to append the ordenanzas to the text of the constitution was so politically reckless that mere economic motivations do not sufficiently account for it. It was as if, in the very last moment, the Founding Fathers suddenly realized that something was sorely missing from their overall design and needed to be added for their theater of political representation to be complete—namely, a series of rulings aimed at effectively immobilizing the population, as a step toward rendering it into a passive people/audience that the nascent representative democracy required if it was ever to be realized. To have added provisions to the constitution that so glaringly risked insulting and alienating the masses only makes sense if immobilizing the population so that it could be constituted as a passive audience was a paradigmatic necessity. Not to have included such provisions would have exposed their whole project as hollow, the fantasy of actors on stage gesturing in the void with no public to witness their per formance and acknowledge them, no public to acquiesce to and applaud their initiatives.

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The rest is history. Much as one would expect, the pardo masses did feel insulted by the ordinances. Faced with glaring evidence of the discrepancy between the white representatives’ universalistic language and the particularism of some of their designs, they did not hesitate to quit the republican for the loyalist camp, in what, using JeanLuc Nancy’s expression, may be characterized as a lateral flight “from one term to the next” (2002, 3). Michael McKinley suggests that the inclusion of the ordinances in the constitution played a significant role in the decision of the Venezuelan masses to switch sides shortly after Venezuelan independence was declared (1993, 238). While the ordinances assumed a republican state already in place with enough power to enforce them, that was not the reality. The colored masses were quite literally all over the place, continually slipping out of hierarchical schemes, and the rulings fell on deaf ears. To put it in the terms of the theatrical paradigm that I have been outlining, one may very well say that at this point, with one of the crucial conditions of representation— the immobilization of the general population as a passive audience—thoroughly missing, the theater of political representation that the early republicans had so urgently and precariously set up rapidly collapsed. With the intended spectators of the republican theater given over to the dizzying mobility that they had in fact never lost, the Founding Fathers’ budding theater of political representation broke down. Gone, for the time being, was the possibility of any subjects representing to a previously immobilized audience here, on an elevated theatrical stage relatively exempt from the pressures, seductions, and instigations of the everyday, any entity or entities presumably preexisting out there in some distance/distanced elsewhere. Under such conditions, the possibility that the Venezuelan populace would see themselves reflected in the ponderous gestures, words, and demeanor of those on the political stage, intent on constituting them as a single, unified people, was put on hold. With the verticality intrinsic to representation collapsing and audience members once again free to move about horizontally, seizing whatever roles and identities came their way, there was little hope of anyone adopting the objectified representations proposed to them from above. The possibility that the masses would have access to the sublime spectacle of their own general will embodied on the political stage by their “tribunes” thoroughly dissipated, and with it the possibility of these multitudes collecting as a single, knowable, and— crucial at the time— governable people. This is the fearful universal “seduction,” the dangerous atmosphere that overtook the city of Caracas during the days surrounding the Declaration of Independence, described by the royalist writers of the October 3, 1812 report of the Caracas Municipal Council mentioned in the previous chapter. As a distinct, threatening possibility, this seduction lurked behind many major and minor events of the Venezuelan wars of independence, haunting the leadership of the royalist and patriot camps alike. Indeed, not just in Venezuela but elsewhere, on both sides of the Atlantic, the prospect of mob rule and government breakdown is insistently invoked in many political writings and treatises dealing with the nature and consequences of political representation in the

166 Theater for the Masses so-called age of bourgeois revolutions. This scene of mob rule is the Other over and against which political representation comes into being as a distinct biopolitical regime. The goal vis-a-vis this scene is not so much, as Foucault would have it, constituting the human body as a productive surface upon which discipline, as the “conduct of conduct,” will exercise its effects; it is, rather. immobilizing, muting, mortifying, even suppressing such a body. That is, as a form of government, political representation seeks to render the human sensorium into a passive receptacle that, on account of its “orthopedic” reduction to mere visuality, can take in the ideal that so universally shines on the political stage. On the other hand, when, as in the wake of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence, the republican theater collapses in the face of the masses’ unbridled mobility, vision instantly loses its preeminence over all the other senses and is absorbed into a reawakened, reactivated sensorium; and, as this happens, once again “mimesis returns to regain its powers” in all of its “terrifying instability” (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 138). With the return of the mimetic subject to the center of the social realm, no hegemonic social representation can possibly succeed in singlehandedly defining what counts as reality; reality is once again the uncertain, intensely unstable, treacherous terrain that it always was. A Jack-of-all-trades once again, this subject gives itself over to restless, invisible copying or usurpation of virtually everything. Whereas the regime of representation presupposes a sensuous economy that privileges sight, now every sense, sight included, promiscuously mixes with all the others, with no discernible order or hierarchy obtaining among them (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 129). In this dark night of the senses, no Enlightenment notion of truth can possibly survive. As the “unstable homoiosis that circulates endlessly between inadequate resemblance and resembling inadequation” (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 129) once again takes over, the mimetic subject dizzyingly changes roles and identities in an often-bloody charivari. An exploration of the consequences of such a daunting return, along with the various means used by the early republicans to take the edge off the masses’ dangerous democracy by setting up a sphere of delegation, will be explored in the next chapter. For now I leave you with the republican theater of political representation barely installed, on the eve of the revolution that would soon engulf everyone.

Chapter 5

Monumental Governmentality What begins to move, then, in the depth of the mirror, behind its shattered surface . . . is the very terrorizing instability that the mirror was supposed to freeze. Mimesis returns to regain its power. —Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics

Not long after having been erected with such urgency, the republican stage collapsed. From the time that Venezuela was declared independent to the moment it fell to forces loyal to the Spanish metropolis, little over a year had elapsed—from July 5, 1811, to July 30, 1812. The conflict had all the trappings of a civil war, and it would retain those trappings to the very end.1 The local pardo population made up the bulk of the forces fighting on both sides. (The highest military leaders and officers in each camp were overwhelmingly white; the few exceptions were found among the separatists.) The pardos’ fluctuating allegiances would dictate the changing course of the war for years to come. Indeed, in the early phase of the conflict it was the decision of most pardo combatants to switch allegiance to the loyalists that largely accounts for the temporary triumph of the Spanish forces. This was a dramatic turnaround from the initial situation in which, at least in Caracas, the main center of revolutionary ferment, most members of the local pardo population were solidly behind the Sociedad Patriótica. What happened? Answering this question requires delving briefly into how Venezuela’s historiographical canon has dealt with the role of the popular sectors both at the time of independence and afterward, during the republic. I then will backtrack to the initial years of the struggle as portrayed by an exceptional eyewitness to the main events, whose anxious account leaves little doubt about the extent to which the colored subaltern populations that made up the bulk of the forces fighting in both camps had motivations, grievances, and passions of their own well in excess of how, for the most part, the leadership of both patriot and royalist camps construed the significance of the conflict. These additional motivations and grievances are not readily appropriable by any of the dominant narratives, regardless of the ideological sign under which they 167

168 Monumental Governmentality were written, and for the most part all the later historical accounts of the independence conflict either misconstrue this excess or simply leave it out. This discussion in turn opens the way for apprehending how extraordinarily urgent it was for the early republican leaders to erect a theater of political representation in which, in principle, the nation’s “tribunes” could through specularity represent the masses.

Landscapes of History Addressing the question of the role of the pardos in the Venezuelan revolution brings us face-to-face with a stubborn historiographical topos (already noted in the previous two chapters) in the work of many Venezuelan historians: that of the elites fighting and winning the nation’s independence against the wishes and desires of the local masses. According to this received view, the masses, due to their backward, superstitious nature, originally sided with the monarchy, and the heroes and notables of the emergent nation had to marshal extraordinary quotas of generosity and self-sacrifice to wrest this ignorant populace from its superstitious stupor. They had to move the masses forward from their backward, royalist position to a pro-independence one. In this view the specific question of why the colored masses, who at least in Caracas had initially taken a separatist stance, eventually supported the royalist side does not even come up, or, if it does, it is rapidly dismissed. The same may be said of the reasons why, for quite a while, these masses kept switching back and forth between royalist and patriot camps before finally settling with the latter. Even if reference is sometimes made to the revolutionary behavior of sectors within this population during the time of the Declaration of Independence, such behavior is largely left unexamined. Recently, Rogelio Altez has singled out the topos of the “backward masses” as part of his critique of official Bolivarian historiography, the “invariable narrative” about independence constantly reiterated in the state-centered hegemonic narrative. In particular, he criticizes the pro-Chávez historian Luis Felipe Pellicer and his “panegyrics of the people.” Altez argues that this narrative celebrates the people as a homogeneous entity preexisting the state while simultaneously construing this very people as the storehouse of a political will subservient to the state and the ruling interests the state incarnates (2011, 39). Altez’s criticism coincides with what Carlos Pernalete Túa has to say concerning the “myth of the brave people” (the phrase refers to the “bravo pueblo” of Venezuela’s national anthem) as a construct by which traditional historiography pays lip ser vice to the “participation of the popular classes during the process of independence” only to drain “the people” from all discernible historical content, thereby rendering it into an empty icon. He notes that “compared to the pantheon of heroes,” this icon is “not given any weight in historical studies,” where the popular sectors figure as “the absent protagonists of the process of emancipation (Pernalete Túa 2011, 58). In the Chavista historians criticized by Altez and Pernalete, the state in other words figures as a heroic pantheon, in which Bolívar has pride of place. According to Altez,

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this official panegyrics of the people leaves unexplored the complex processes whereby the emergent states, as the repositories of “modern values scarcely understood by a few,” constituted the very people that these historians take for granted, by bestowing a national identity on vastly heterogeneous, acutely “dispersed societies” all across nineteenth-century Latin America, and singularly so in Venezuela (Altez 2011, 40). For Altez, tacitly the state is a collection of heavily coiffured Enlightenment gentlemen bestowing their modern values on heterogeneous realities from above, to constitute them vis-à-vis itself as a nation/people. With this allusion to the theme of the enlightened few as the custodian of modern values not shared by the majority, Altez reiterates, as if it were a novelty, the age-old topos of the cultural lag supposedly separating the elites from the backward masses, both during independence and thereafter. He presents this cultural lag theme not as the historical commonplace that it is, but as something of which he is aware but others inexplicably miss. Much as in my own view, for Altez “the people” is a state construct retroactively brought about out of radical dispersion. The similarities, however, end here. The heterogeneous “dispersed societies” that Altez mentions function for him like an inert point of departure that the nation-state leaves behind after crafting “the people”; these heterogeneous masses are not, as in my argument, the laterally disruptive force that this state never quite leaves behind but must continuously engage in its ongoing attempt to constitute and reconstitute itself. From this latter viewpoint, it is relatively easy to answer the question with which I began this chapter, why in the early phase of independence most pardos switched allegiance to the loyalists: as members of the postcolonial crowds imbued with the radically democratic energies and aspirations of the times, these pardo combatants simply did not feel themselves interpellated by the separatists. This is all to say that, unlike “the people,” the crowds are never really yoked to the state. There is always a gap between the crowds and “the people,” through which unprecedented possibilities endlessly insinuates themselves. Anyone who discerns in the historiographical debate sketched out here the two imaginary-cum-governmental configurations I outlined in my introduction, with the Chavista historians championing Bolívar Superstar and Altez and Pernalete the Fragile Collection, is not misguided. Along with theater and other aesthetic genres and media productions, historiography is one of the preeminent sites where, since independence, these polar-opposite configurations have been articulated and rearticulated, with manifold consequences for the everyday behavior of Venezuelan citizens. Yet regardless of significant differences, Altez’s position and that of the Chavista historians he criticizes are in one important respect similar. Both are state-centered; in both approaches, popular energies, rather than being in any way excessive to the state, are seen as the malleable clay that a thoroughly fetishized state molds, in its own image and likeness, into a people. But while Bolivarian historiography, which the official historians aligned with Chavismo currently instantiate, celebrates the tumultuous energies of “the people” only

170 Monumental Governmentality to better yoke this people to the heroic designs of the centralizing state, those historians writing within the horizon of the Fragile Collection proceed somewhat differently. Nowadays practiced by such scholars as Pino Iturriata, Rafael Cartay, Inés Quintero, and other historians who are opposed to the Chavista regime, this style of history, rather than paying serious heed to the excessive energies of the popu lar sectors or to their imaginative, deliberating capacities, for the most part effectively halts the nation’s unenfranchised majorities at the gates of the republican polity—until the day, that is, when these majorities have been properly civilized, or, to use and expression common in this line of historiography, fabricated as citizens. Rather than focusing on “the people,” this variety of history-writing often focuses instead on the increasing diversification and sophistication of a Habermasian “civil society” forever approaching a modernity that, much like a mirage, keeps receding into the future.2 The works of these writers have made an inestimable contribution to our knowledge of hitherto little-explored areas of the past, but in all of them the republic figures as an ideal, self-contained realm of quintessentially liberal and republican practices, values, and institutions, given once and for all and suspended far above the vexing empirical circumstances that any flesh-and-blood Venezuelan chronically endures. Even if the admission is often readily made that such an ideal republic has never been realized in Venezuela, the reasons for this are assumed to have nothing to do with the ideal, which is treated as beyond questioning, but with the “barbarous” circumstances that from the moment of independence have impinged on the republic from the outside, blocking the possibility of its ideal realization. Within this way of looking at things, questions never come up about Venezuela’s really existing republicanism as a historical formation in its own right, one in which, much as in any other historical formation, the ideal and the material, or the empirical and the transcendental, necessarily contaminate each other with highly consequential effects both enabling and constraining. Instead, this variety of historiography reifies the republic as an ideal entity, a “factory of citizens” regarding which one already knows everything that is worth knowing. There is but one short step from here to construing the republican state as an irresistible telos and staging the historical process as that endlessly recouped endeavor whereby the more enlightened sectors of society heroically teach citizenship to the barbarous masses. It is along these lines that the historian Inés Quintero recently referred in a public lecture to the uninterrupted project of “constructing citizenship” against a series of nonrepublican foes as the most enduring dimension of the nation’s republicanism since it first came into being some two hundred years ago (Quintero 2010). Leaving no room for the possibility that the Venezuelan masses might be imbued with values, imaginings, and desires every bit as republican and modern as those prevalent among the upper crust of society, such ethereal republicanism, already chastised by Bolívar some two hundred years ago, leaves precious little room for asking why these masses opted for one particular course of action rather than another, for example switching sides from the royalists to the patriots and back during

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the initial years of the wars of independence. The possibility that these masses may have entertained a somewhat different understanding of the republic than that prevalent among the elite eludes this style of historiography. As for those historians who write within the imaginary horizon of Bolívar Superstar, their critics are surely right to insist that their celebrations of “the people” are intrinsic to the reiterated attempt “since the beginning of the nationalist discourse” to capitalize on the people’s political will “on behalf of whatever constellation of interests at any given time happens to be dominant” (Altez 2011, 39). The capitalization works to domesticate and suppress heterogeneity, in order to reduce the Venezuelan majorities to a somewhat manageable “people,” who as such are subsumable by the Bolivarian state. This sacrificial logic, whereby all societal excess is ultimately subsumed by the state, goes on unabated—writing as an official historian in Venezuela today demands no less—but it is not the whole story. Being a Bolivarian historian attached to the Chavista state does afford some privileged insight into the energies, complexities and aspirations of the Venezuelan majorities. After all, the perspective from within which these historians write corresponds to those historical moments when, emerging out of their relative quiescence, the Venezuelan majorities occupy every available public space, pressing to be heard. Positioned by the state precisely in reference to such excess, it would be odd if the Bolivarian historian did not pick up something of the “sound and fury,” the agency, ideals, and reflexivity of the nation’s majorities that often elude his anti-Bolivarian counterpart— even if that historian ends up sacrificing such insight to the discursive logic of a forbiddingly authoritarian state. The Bolivarian historian may indeed be better equipped than his or her nonBolivarian counterpart to at least partially answer the question with which I began this chapter, why the pardos from Caracas and other places of postcolonial Venezuela kept switching back and forth between patriot and loyalist sides during the struggle for independence. Nevertheless what this historian gives with one hand, he or she immediately takes away with the other. In rushing to subsume the bountiful, heterogeneous, horizontally proliferating energies of the nation’s majorities in a vertical move of sublation by the state, as if all this excess existed only for the purpose of such dialectical overcoming, this historian precipitously takes leave from the traumatic scene where, ever since independence, all such sovereign flights and identifying moves have been continuously derailed. If non-Bolivarian historians refuse to even take stock of the traumatic excess at the heart of the republic (instead reducing it to the banal, simplified terms of “barbarous” populace confronting a “factory of citizens”), Bolivarian historians briefly glimpse the abyss, only to shy away from it in the vertical flight whereby the fetishized, authoritarian state at work in their writings seeks to fasten all unwieldy excess to itself. Refusing any of these domesticating moves, these easy ways out, I prefer to keep my gaze fi xed on the daunting netherland that is the troubled ground of the nation’s republicanism, a zone where, for ill and for good, all proper identities, including that

172 Monumental Governmentality of the state, are relentlessly and “democratically” defaced, where democracy is never simply a comforting ideology but also a cipher of defacing violence, and where everyone, including the poor, is equally republican and modern. Vis-à-vis such a traumatic zone, any talk of “lagging behind” and being “moved forward” is fundamentally misguided. As for the nation’s struggle for independence, better to think of the initial phases of the conflagration not as the epic struggle of separatist elites eager to move the backward colored populations forward towards independence, but as a fight to the death between two equally liberal cousins. By the time Spain responded to Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence, the Cortes had drafted what is known as the 1812 Cadiz Constitution, which established, at least in theory, a liberal constitutional monarchy determined to safeguard the integrity of the Empire. The ideological program the Spanish liberals had approved in Cadiz was backed by American supporters. Indeed, the 1812 Cadiz Constitution was the inspiration for most of the ideas of freedom and equality that would prove to be so corrosive of the Spanish Empire in the Americas in the next few years. The Spanish forces were opposed by liberal Venezuelan secessionists set on establishing an independent nation. Whenever in Venezuela the pardo masses switched allegiances between the pro-independence and Spanish sides, therefore they were not yielding to deep-seated conservative and monarchical instincts. The back-andforth simply followed from shrewd calculation concerning which side, at any given time, seemed to best meet their expectations. These masses were a radically egalitarian and—why not?—in some ways liberal constituency. More than any military genius on the part of the pro-independence generals, including Bolívar, it was the failure of the Spanish side to stick to its original liberal inspiration that largely accounts for the popular masses’ desertion from it and its defeat.

. . . all that they are capable of I will not pursue here the deconstruction of this topos of the backward masses further than to return to the dust of the independence struggles, and to the year 1815, when no less a personage than Don José Ceballos, then-acting captain general of the Venezuelan provinces, unambiguously stated what in his well-informed opinion were the true stakes in the conflict. In a dispatch to the Secretario de Estado y del Despacho Universal de Indias written in July of that year, Ceballos declared in no uncertain terms what had to be achieved if the Spanish cause was to prevail in the Venezuelan corner of the American continent. In his opinion, for the Spanish efforts to meet with success, the pardo masses had to be lastingly drawn into the monarchy’s camp, and, for this to happen, it was absolutely necessary to “improve the Civil State of the Castas in these territories” (Ceballos 1815, 530). Ceballos’ short document is fascinating not least for the testimony it gives to how the prevailing situation was perceived and construed by the contemporary elites. Especially valuable is the picture he draws of the general

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situation of the pardo population during the last years of the colony, and of the transformations this population underwent in the heat of the succeeding conflict. Effectively documenting the colony’s relative success in containing the mimetic impulses of the pardo population within a corporate order that assigned to everyone a specific station in life, Ceballos’ text is no less remarkable for its intimation of how mimesis regained its powers in the wake of the Spanish monarch’s disappearance. It describes the colonial order as a machine for the reduction of mimesis to codified identity by means of a combination of force, beliefs, prohibitions, and ritualized forms of ascription and identification. After alluding to how the castas, or pardos, originated in the Americas from the mixing of the descendants of Spaniards and indigenous populations with the imported African slaves, and chillingly referring to the colonial legislation that rendered these “intermediate people” foreigners in the American lands of the Empire, Ceballos goes on to enumerate the set of injunctions and prohibitions that in the past had pinned down the members of the pardo population to their prescribed identities: Law, or custom, and, generally, deeply entrenched prejudices, bar them from entering the secular and regular Clergy, from all posts in the Municipal Council, and from other occupations and honorable posts. They are forbidden from entering some devotional Congregations and Confraternities, and even from having social intercourse with the white class, whose persons and houses they cannot approach without displaying as great or even greater demonstrations of respect than those that are shown or should be shown to public authority. Women must wear distinctive dress, and are forbidden from using certain adornments specified by the Laws; and before the creation of Provincial Military Corps composed of Pardos, the men from this caste were denied access to the Ser vice of arms which is carried out by their white neighbors. (ibid., 531)

As portrayed in the above passage by Ceballos, the colonial order was above all one of tightly policed hegemonic identities, rigidly codified and diligently protected and maintained. As in every other colonial situation, this order was contingent on what Partha Chatterjee has called the “rule of colonial difference” (1993, 10). That is, its viability demanded that the world of the rulers be rigidly demarcated from that of the ruled; only such a continuously enforced demarcation could generate the scarcity that was the precondition for the perpetuation of the rulers’ hallowed roles and identities. Ceballos paints a picture with which we are by now familiar: a population hedged in by proliferating interdictions, whose men and women both stood out sharply, dressed in the attire the law had either prescribed for their use or simply not barred them from using. Against some understandings that are currently fashionable, which construe identity against the background of an unfathomable, unsymbolizable “real,” one must assume that so much “overinvestment in vestment” (Spyer 1998, 169) issued from something more urgent and imminent than an abstract symbolic injunction—that it was

174 Monumental Governmentality the result of something more like the commonsense, everyday awareness that in the absence of clearly established, readily enforceable commands and prohibitions, nothing would stand in the way of members of the pardo population adopting the available symbolic titles and roles, in an unstoppable circulation of masks that would soon bring the entire social edifice thunderously crashing down. And lurking beneath this banal awareness there must have been the obscure intuition of a subject who, much like Diderot’s actor, was both all and nothing, or, perhaps better, was a malleable nothing who, for this very reason, was capable of becoming everything (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 258–59). Given these premises, what worse violence could there be than the usurpation by the ruled, in this case the pardos, of their rulers’ rarefied social personas? Such usurpation would lay waste, through proliferation and parodic mimicry, to the economic principles on which the entire social order rested. Now it is precisely the specter of such wholesale mimetic usurpation that Ceballos’ dispatch most insistently raises. Indeed, something that his dispatch makes tacitly clear is how much the most momentous consequence of the wars then afflicting the Venezuelan provinces was the unleashing of the mimetic subject whom the corporate straitjackets and strictures of the colony in its closing decades had barely managed to contain. With the monarch’s (temporary) disappearance and the civil conflagration that followed in the wake of that disappearance those institutional barriers preventing subjects from shedding their assigned identities and adopting others coming their way were no longer there. If, as described by Ceballos, the Spanish colonial order was contingent on an ongoing policing of mimesis, rigidly prescribing the kinds of identities that were or were not suited to different categories of subjects, think of what became of that system with “the darkest of pardos becoming accustomed to giving orders to the whites, minimally treating them as equals” (p. 536). It suffices to follow Ceballos’ hint and set the figure of this pardo officer ordering the whites around against the myriad prohibitions and regulations listed in the passage from his text reproduced above to gain a sense of the enormity of the situation and of how much any attempt to push the clock back to the prewar predicament could only amount to so much wishful thinking. With all that it entails by way of the reckless mimetic usurpation in the midst of war of an identity that previously had been set rigorously off limits to all but the whites, in and of itself, the image of this pardo officer bears testimony to the wreckage of the colonial order. But it was not just the pardo officers who gained access to perquisites that previously had been denied to the pardo population as a whole. This was also true of the rank-and-file pardo combatants: stepping out in droves from their corporate niches, these pardos formed the bulk of the cavalries fighting in both enemy camps. Given that the prohibition on bearing arms and mounting horses was one of the preeminent status distinctions between the pardos and the dominant strata,3 when these pardos climbed astride their own horses and sometimes assumed command over white troops and officers, the least one can say is that these distinctions were becoming thoroughly

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erased.4 To expect that after such wondrous transformations these reckless pardo horsemen would go back to their former subordinate status simply on account of their presumed love for the monarchy was foolhardy. As Ceballos graphically put it, my continuous meditation over this point, Venezuela’s most thorny and delicate, which constantly preoccupies my imagination since I have been at the head of these armies, in which the most obscure Pardo got used to ordering the whites, treating them at least as his equals, has led me to conclude that there is no other means regarding these men than to legally bring them out from their inferior class by means of granting them some form of privilege similar to the one specified in the mentioned article 22. (1812, 537)

Ceballos refers here to article 22 of the Cadiz Constitution, which had promised to open the doors of citizenship and improvement to those deserving pardos born from legitimate unions who were legally married and exercising some “useful trade, industry or profession” (ibid., 534). That constitution was no longer in effect by the time of his writing, having been abolished by King Ferdinand VII when he returned to the throne in 1814, but clearly Ceballos agreed with its provisions concerning the pardos. It is of course impossible to know the precise shape of Ceballos’ imaginings. Given the times in which the Spanish officer was writing and his Enlightenment convictions, I fancy him tormented by the kind of monstrous apparitions that peopled the imagination of one of his most famous contemporary countrymen. Much as portrayed in the most renowned of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” one can sense the monstrosity lurking just beneath the orderly, rationalist surface of Ceballos’ text. On one level his dispatch may be read as a cata logue of the social identities from which the pardos had been barred in the past, ranging from the clergy, the educational establishment, and the colonial administration to positions in the army and the municipal councils. The unstated assumption here is that, such as it was, the stability of the late colonial order was largely contingent on these exclusions. On another level, however, there lurks the specter of a universal and complete violence in which each and every one of these identities comes up for grabs. Thus, after making clear that the past of exclusions is now irreparably gone, given the pardos’ wholesale participation in the wars raging in the Venezuelan provinces, Ceballos evokes the dangers engendered by the new situation in words worth a thousand generalizations. In the course of the ongoing wars the whites have seen their ranks reduced from “two tenths of the total population” to “one half, or even less” of that number, he says, attributing this decline to the “barbaric, dogged determination [of the pardos] in the last war in either of the two camps on eliminating only the whites in the opposed camp” (Ceballos 1815, 535). Roaring out of the past, this statement shatters the received truths with which the nation’s historiography has lulled its audience for a long time. The grandiose claims with which the two camps justified their actions to themselves and to others hid an altogether darker reality: the private war of

176 Monumental Governmentality extermination that pardos from both sides were busily conducting at the time, singling out the whites in the enemy camp as targets. Ceballos portrays the horrifying prospects generated by the behavior of this “fearful class” to be singularly acute, considering the velocity with which pardos “reproduce and augment themselves” and “the discipline and ferocity which they have acquired in the cruel war that has just ended, and to which [they] have contributed almost the totality of the forces in the two parties” (ibid.). In the face of these awful premises, the conclusion that Ceballos’ document sets out to defend, that is, the need to improve the civil rights of the most deserving among the pardos if the monarchy was to retain its hold over the Venezuelan territories, almost goes without saying (ibid). Ceballos picture of universal violence, deftly conjured by him, is the most apposite scenario for the threatening mimesis with which his entire document arguably wrestles. Considering the kind of colonial order that the text describes, Ceballos’ reference to pardos usurping the commanding roles that, until then, had been the exclusive preserve of high-ranking white officers takes on truly emblematic status. Overturning many of the established hierarchies, the pardo officers of Ceballos’ document appear as much more than just one possible example in the text among many possible others of a more diff use mimetic violence. Against this backdrop, their transgression assumes its value as an emblem not of violence tout court but of the specific kind of violence that, with such “discipline and ferocity,” the pardos were dispensing at the time. Perhaps more than simply symbolizing violence, it is more precise to say that this example discloses the extent to which violence and mimicry were intertwined in the internecine wars consuming the Venezuelan provinces; in an unholy mix of the visceral and the symbolic, killing whites and usurping their identities were interrelated dimensions of one and the same violence. This hypothesis has the merit of clarifying why the ruling sectors from the two warring camps experienced and perceived this violence as truly universal and catastrophic.5 Not merely the identities of a few high-ranking white officers, but the entire available repertoire of ruling identities was open to mimetic seizure, and the fear of this wholesale usurpation largely accounts for the sense of urgency and alarm in Cabellos’ document. Such fears were also abundantly expressed in a host of other contemporary testimonies; those provided by the nation’s Founding Fathers, cited in the previous chapter, are among the most revealing.6 Is it too far-fetched to say that it is the specter of a wholesale usurpation, of a universally destabilizing mimesis, that haunts the margins of Ceballos’ document? I believe not. From the insistence with which it conjures the hegemonic order of colonial identities and intimates its unravelling, through the mimetic violence of droves of horse-riding pardos, everything in this document eerily suggests such a possibility. I believe I am justified, then, in discerning a menacing specter just beneath the surface of those very sentences in which Ceballos alludes to the pardos’ prodigious reproductive capacities, and to the ominous “discipline and ferocity” with which this “fearful

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class” behaves in the war. Is not the machinelike butchery of this anonymous army very much like a textual phantasm, like a spectral brown tide rising from the margins of Ceballos’ text ready to engulf it, just as the pardo masses were, at the time, threatening to engulf and erase the social order whose reconfiguration along less exclusionary lines the text so anxiously urged? In any case, Ceballos himself lets us know just how much mimesis is on his mind when he declares that what most “constantly preoccupied” his imagination, the very point on which he had most “continuously meditated . . . since I became the head of the [loyalist] armies,” was the pardos’ newly gained awareness of all that “they are capable of ” (1815, 536). As Lacoue-Labarthe has argued, mimesis is precisely such a generalized capability of becoming all things, including adopting those very identities that had hitherto been reserved to restricted categories of actors (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 115, 129)—in this case to the members of the colony’s white ruling strata. This unprecedented and dangerous situation of a generalized mimetic violence unleashed by the pardos is, then, the tacit focus of Ceballos’ document. His paramount concern is how to control this violence through the establishment of a reconfigured form of social order, a point he does not hesitate to identify as Venezuela’s “most thorny and delicate” (Ceballos 1815, 536). And it is difficult to think of anything more delicate and thorny than a situation in which, to call on Lacoue-Labarthe’s expression in the epigraph to this chapter, “mimesis has regained its powers,” given that the social order was in tatters and thoroughly unable to cope with any dangerous excess. Such an overwhelming preoccupation— one shared, moreover, by many of the whites of the colony—is indicative of just how permeable the boundaries between reason and phantasm had become at the time. The scent of fear that emanates from the archival traces suggests just how much the Spanish and creole elites of the colony were worried by the generalized mimetic violence at work there. One imagines that between the rational concern and its phantasmatic underside there was but a short distance, one that the members of the ruling strata doubtless traversed at night, in the company of reason’s nightmarish progeny. And so I envisage Ceballos and his contemporaries haunted by armies of anonymous dark faces in which, much as in malleable wax, the characteristic grimaces, tics, gestures, and expressions of the white rulers’ various official personas were momentarily stamped, only to melt away and be replaced by others in a dizzying succession of apparitions. To echo the title of another of Goya’s famous series of prints, such a treacherous, ceaselessly morphing army was one of the most conspicuous disasters of war. It is indeed difficult to imagine a fate any more trying than that of Ceballos, at the head of such armies.

The Shattered Mirror Plato’s “trick of the mirror” in The Republic was aimed at neutralizing for his ideal polity the threat of the kind of mimetic violence that, with the onset of modernity, achieved

178 Monumental Governmentality unprecedented dimensions in Venezuela precisely on account of the devastation of the order of corporations and estates that had been characteristic of the colony. As analyzed by Lacoue-Labarthe, the trick, resting on a play of reflections, is at the core of all forms of speculative thinking, including the Hegelian dialectic. It consists in neutralizing the invisible mimetic powers of the “mimetician” by seizing, mirror in hand and from a raised stage, this mimetician’s “true” reflection in the trickster’s mirror—that surface where “everything comes to be reflected”—and thus rendering him or her visible (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 89–94). Ultimately at stake in all forms of theatrical specularity is an “internal,” hence thoroughly invisible, capacity that all subjects have to become anything and everything, thereby disrupting the dominant symbolic and political economies. Since it is on account of their very invisibility that the subject’s mimetic powers consistently elude the grasp of the state, it may be said that for a certain political theology it is invisibility itself that is the enemy (ibid., 94–95). Such enmity toward invisibility explains the insistence on the part of ruling classes throughout history on controlling the mimetician’s powers by means of trapping his or her visible image in the reflecting surfaces erected for this purpose on the stage of the polity. Thus subjects may be temporarily wrested away from their metamorphic wandering and brought to recognize their “true” selves in the reflecting surfaces with which they are routinely presented, so that they may temporarily acquiesce to their ascribed status as, for example, masons, carpenters, poets, or cab drivers. The trick of the mirror is based on a sleight of hand: it replaces the mimetician’s “work,” the subject’s maddening capacity to usurp all available roles and identities through his or her invisible copying or representing activity, with his or her own reflected image, as if the two were one and the same thing (ibid.). Through the specular reduction of the subject of representation to the represented subject, or the reduction of enunciation to the enunciated content, it may be claimed that the polity’s dominant roles, idealities, and identities remain beyond the wear-andtear of experience. There is no difficulty in understanding how crucial this reduction is to the polity’s stability and continuity. It is only through such a reduction of what Lacoue-Labarthe calls the mimetician’s “disquieting and prodigious powers” (1989, 94–95) to his or her “own” image, as that which the mimetic subject not only is but, mirror in hand, also does, or, better yet, reflects, that one can possibly say that this subject’s activity of representation no longer contaminates anything. Recast as resting “upon a play of mirrors” and therefore amounting to “nothing—or nearly nothing,” the ceaseless invisible copying or representing whereby mimetic subjects adopt or acquiesce to the ruling idealities while ceaselessly disfiguring and refiguring them is reduced to a mere doubling or mirroring that (ostensibly) leaves everything unchanged (ibid.). Thus recast, these subjects’ representing activity, without which the transmission and perpetuation of any dominant order is ultimately unthinkable, is robbed of all consequence. It is

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this neutralization of the subject, or of the subject’s mimetic capacities, that is specularity’s most wondrous achievement. Thus “ ‘torpedoed,’ immobilized, put into catalepsy,” the mimetic subject is rendered “strange.” Such a “strange subject” is, indeed, as Lacoue-Labarthe says, “unheimlich, as the image in a mirror, the double, the living being made into a thing (the animated inanimate)—or even (why not?) as that other kind of double that deceives regarding its ‘life’: the mechanical doll or automaton” (1989, 92). When he adds “living statues” to the list (ibid., 93), we may realize that the Venezuelan “tribunes” also belong to this company of the living dead. Were not these “tribunes” expected to perform on the stage of the polity as just such living statues, that is, as a collection of exemplary figures reflecting the ideal as timeless and unchanging, while nonetheless imbuing it with the modicum of life needed for such an ideal to animate the polity?7 But regardless of how spectacularly successful it may episodically be, mirroring eventually fails. For the mimetic subject’s specular image is not the subject “himself ” or “herself,” but only one of his or her many possible masks, the one the hegemonic order has selected as this subject’s “true” identity. Nothing but a “native lapse or default of identity,” the Lacoue-Labarthian subject is a jack-of-all-trades, an infinite plasticity or “wax” with no identity that may properly be called his or her own (1989, 115–16). So the subject adopts the social roles or identities that come his or her way. Since the tie between the subject and any such identity is purely contingent, however, the subject “desists,” trading one identity for the next within the discursive exchanges in which all subjects are enmeshed.8 Something like an infinity of circulation is revealed, where, through irrepressible citation, any stable order unavoidably flounders, and the subject’s “desistance” puts scare quotes around any putatively original and unchanging identities, including “his” or “her” own (ibid., 127–30).

A Politics of Exemplarity This is all reminiscent of the “universal and deadly” seduction that the draf ters of the October 1812 report from the Caracas Municipal Council, cited in chapter  3, so thoroughly decried as revolution’s most poisonous gift. It is the seduction rampant in society’s spectacular origins that calls for a second-order theater, a “théâtre antérieur” (Lacoue-Labarthe 2002, 112–13; also 1989, 112–13) capable of fighting, like fire with fire, this origin’s “terrorizing instability” (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 109). As was suggested toward the end of the previous chapter, it all comes down to theatrical machinery, to the erection of the political as an enclosed, segregated domain where repre sentation, “construed as secondary, signifies the loss of the originary effectivity, of the origin itself ” (ibid.). Thus may this fearful effectivity, the “unstable homoiosis” of which LacoueLabarthe speaks be somewhat arrested, at least for a while (ibid., 121). As mimetic subjects are persuaded to recognize their “true,” that is to say exemplary, identities in the

180 Monumental Governmentality reflecting surfaces contrived by the polity, they may be momentarily distracted from the restless wandering in which their “true” faces remain forever elusive. This politics of exemplarity, as one may call it, was extensively practiced at the dawn of the bourgeois era, as the late-absolutist cult of great men was increasingly put to wider political uses (Anderson 2001; Bell 2001a; Bell 2001b, 107–39; Bonnet 2001, 689– 704; Hargrove 1989, 7–51; Neefs 2001a, 627–29, Neefs 2001b, 750–69; Schröder 2001, 666–68). In every case, the uses were dictated by dangerous and urgent circumstances. Both in Europe and elsewhere, public insistence on the exemplary value of certain representative figures as preeminent foci of inspiration and identification was not an isolated phenomenon. It went hand-in-hand with the need to erect a domain of political representation, a representative form of democracy capable of replacing the direct form that both urban and rural masses were practicing with so much reckless brio at the time. As traced recently by David Lloyd and Paul Thomas, at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth a cultural politics emerged aimed at turning the untutored and unenfranchised masses into an enlightened citizenry. Marked by a convergence within the concept of representation of the hitherto parallel domains of culture and the state, this politics arose in response to the terror that the French Revolution had, at least spectrally, released all across Europe and in such overseas dominions as Venezuela (Lloyd and Thomas 1998, 5–6). All of the period’s major political constructs were haunted by this terror, and its traces are clearly discernible in the cultural politics emergent in England in the aftermath of the Revolution. Articulated in the writings of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and especially Arnold, this politics assigned to aesthetic culture the role of mediating between “a disenfranchised populace and a state to which they must in time be assimilated” (ibid., 5). Central to it was the use of cultural means to erect a separate aesthetic and moral domain of representation where the clashing sectional interests of society could be “universally” represented. It was a matter of obliging the masses to give up their impulse to immediately represent themselves in favor of being represented by others, and culture was the instrument chosen to bring this about. Culture, in other words, was charged with instituting a spatial and temporal gap between the represented and the sphere of representation capable of somewhat defusing the “originary effectivity” of which Lacoue-Labarthe so eloquently speaks. Such a “cultural politics . . . turns upon the exemplary person (Coleridge’s “parson” or persona exemplaris and Wordsworth’s poet) who comes to represent ‘man in general’ by virtue of a painstakingly cultivated disinterest” (ibid., 6). This craving for universality on the part of the ruling strata cannot be adequately understood apart from the urgent need to generate “consensual grounds” in societies riven by intractable antagonisms. Hence the canonization of those “virtuous men” who were publicly paraded at the time as the universal’s most exemplary embodiments, by means of a wide range of cultural practices including staged public appearances and performances, as well as via a panoply of literary and iconographic representations (ibid., 6–22).

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Universality thus embodied and made widely available as a shared object of devotion and identification was expected to provide the common ground where, beyond sectional interests, everyone could meet and recognize one another as members of the same unified collectivity. If, according to such a cultural politics, these exemplary figures were capable of inspiring devotion, this was not because they possessed unique traits separating them from the rest of humanity. Rather, devotion followed from their capacity to stand for the general public as its most virtuous, exalted representatives. Perceived similarity, not difference, was the real source of the public’s ongoing allegiance and devotion. To root devotion in representation is, in other words, to foreground perception, the public’s ability to “see” a distinct similarity between itself and its virtuous representatives, as the preeminent source of political efficacy. Since for such similarity to be generally perceived it must be publicly displayed as an object of shared contemplation and emulation, it clearly follows that the period’s cultural politics was ultimately a politics of the spectacle. Visibility was, indeed, crucial. One could call it a fetishism of the gaze, if one did not already know how closely interconnected, in all instances, fetishism and the gaze really are. This politics of exemplarity was meant to work through the reduction of a messy and conflictive psychological reality to a visible object, which, like Arnold’s “best self,” was assumed to exist within all individuals, even if it was without, in the public political world, where it assumed its most perfect visible embodiment. Only as such a visible, public object could everyone’s “best self” become the common denominator that it had the capacity to be, even if only contradictorily, buried as this self was beneath the maze of conflicting desires, interests, and motivations that kept the soul and the community constantly at war with each other (Lloyd and Thomas 1998, 116–20)— that is, if talking of anything like the community makes sense under such trying circumstances. Visibility of this kind is precisely what the community’s exemplary figures were supposed to publicly deliver. By focusing as spectators on these virtuous representatives, individuals could come together as an assembled community. In other words, provided that the right kind of contemplation was enforced, every single member of such an audience/community was supposed to be able to readily recognize that what the exemplary figures represented in public was what was already present in each and every one of them, no matter how obscurely; namely, their “best” or “ethical” self. It may be said that in giving exceptional access to what everyone shared (even if unknowingly), this kind of specular contemplation was the ongoing (re)discovery of the grounds of community. Since this collective form of specularity would also presumably enable every single member of the assembled public to mimetically identify with his or her virtuous representatives, the perpetuation of the community depended upon it. Indeed, as a means of self-modeling, contemplative specularity held out the promise that the spectator/citizens would recreate the commonality that was revealed to them during the

182 Monumental Governmentality spectacle in their otherwise heterogeneous and unique circumstances beyond the spectacle. (Lloyd and Thomas 1998, 53–58) In their normative dimensions, both self and community were, for this brand of politics, the after-effects of a certain type of theater, the bourgeois theater. It is perhaps Schiller who best articulated the theatrical underpinnings of the kind of cultural politics that, even when not named as such, was extensively practiced at the time in the representative democracies emergent in the wake of the French Revolution, in part as an antidote to its terror. For Schiller the goal of such a politics was to realize the desired identity between the ideal or ethical Man, potentially present in everyone, and the state, as this Man’s universal representative. As he put it in his fourth letter on aesthetic education: Every individual man, it may be said, carries in disposition and determination a pure ideal man within himself, with whose unalterable unity it is the great task of his existence, throughout all his vicissitudes, to harmonize. This pure human being, who may be recognized more or less distinctly in every person, is represented by the State, the objective and, so to say, canonical form in which the diversity of persons endeavors to unite itself. (Schiller [1795] 2004, 31)

While for Schiller it was the role of culture generally to “cultivate” the identity between such an ideal man and the state, he foregrounded the theatrical stage as the cultural means through which such a goal could be most effectively pursued. For him the stage offered “a paradigm for the formation of an ethical citizenry” because, as a selfconsciously public institution, the theater “synthesizes . . . the privacy of the contemplative aesthetic subject and the gathering of a number of such subjects around a common object,” presenting “a singular object around which divided subjects can come together” (Lloyd and Thomas 1998, 53–54). The stage shared both “geography and narrative assumptions” with at least one other contemporary cultural institution, the classroom or lecture room, which also played an extraordinarily important role in the formation of a bourgeois citizenry. Both the stage and the classroom were sites where “fundamentally identical beings meet in their divided individuality to come together in a unity produced in relation to a common object of attention” (ibid., 54). And in both instances, “it is as if the lines of sight that connect them to a common object also connect them in a common identification. But the condition of possibility for that identification is the fact that, as they unite, they unite in the same form, as spectators” (ibid., 56; my emphasis). Although perhaps not as paradigmatically, a number of the other cultural practices and institutions emergent in the wake of the French Revolution exhibited assumptions and formal properties similar to those found in both the stage and the classroom. Such, for example, were the literary “portrait galleries” written during the nineteenth century for several Latin American nations as part of local efforts to enshrine a collection of illustrious men as these new nation’s virtuous representatives (Shumway 1991, 190–92;

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Tejera [1881] 1973). It is not in Latin America, however, but in London, of all places, where one finds a striking institutional expression of the spectatorial competence, ideological assumptions, and spatiotemporal co-ordinates that were presupposed by the literary galleries. Simply by walking along its corridors as spectators, visitors to London’s National Portrait Gallery are expected to find their ideal selves as part of the community of the nation reflected in the endless lines of portraits. One could call this institution, established in 1856, a monument to the subject’s preinscription by the signifier, provided one adds that, as with most monuments, what is being monumentalized (that is, the subject) is simultaneously robbed of part of its power. Given how central the category of the spectator was in the representational forms considered above, it is not surprising that, as was mentioned in a previous chapter, the term was profusely used in the main founding texts of the Venezuelan nation. The above considerations should suggest that the practices of representation were constitutive, in a broad range of fields, to the political settlements emergent on both sides of the Atlantic on the eve of our bourgeois form of modernity. This point has been persuasively argued with regard to Europe by Lloyd and Thomas, who call attention to the striking consistency between the structure of representation in such fields as literature, philosophy, and historiography, on the one hand, and the “theory of the representative in political theory,” on the other (1998, 6). In the new nations born from the disintegration of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, too, a broad range of discursive practices, from literature and historiography to politics proper, were inflected by the same overarching political goal: the constitution of a passive citizenry willing to make a few political or cultural agents its representatives by giving up their ambitions to immediately represent themselves.

Politics or Biopolitics? Given just how foundational practices of representation (as well as the politics of exemplarity that went along with them) were to both Europe’s and Hispanic America’s modernities, one question immediately arises: why has political modernity followed such strikingly different paths in the two regions? While in the former representation has become more or less routinized,9 losing a good deal of its original neoclassical luster, the politics of most Latin American nations continues to revolve around the neoclassical cult of the exemplary figure and the kind of representational practices on which this cult is contingent. As if forever frozen in an inaugural moment of modernity, politics in these nations always returns to the same archetypal scene: the theatrical moment when, much like a living monument, the exemplary “representative” addresses his “represented” audience from the brightly lit stage of the polity. In this kind of politics, of which, for historical reasons, Venezuela constitutes a striking instance, the practice of representation retains its anxious, agonistic quality.

184 Monumental Governmentality While the neoclassical rhetoric of the monument was intrinsic to the representational practices everywhere constitutive of the inaugural forms of modernity, in Latin America such rhetoric went decidedly haywire. Indeed, taking over the representatives’ very flesh—their gestures, verbal expressions, and demeanors—this rhetoric still inflects the public spaces of what essentially remain regimes ruled by notables (regimenes notabiliarios), with all that this entails in terms of the political foregrounding of the public persona of the representative. What should be noticed is not merely the agonistic anxiety with which the practices of representation are reiterated as a means of sustaining its claims over a less-than-convinced constituency. Equally important is the relative frequency with which, in Latin America, such practices plainly collapse in the midst of a resurgent chaos where the “terrorizing instability” of the origin once again erupts. The story is different in Europe where, during long stretches of time, delegation becomes routinized to the point of achieving the status of a nearly automatic reflex whereby essentially passive citizenries acquiesce to the established sociopolitical orders. Needless to say, this taken-for-granted status of the practice of political representation has not been without traumatic interruptions. The so-called Age of the Dictators in the 1930s and 1940s was a clear suspension of this pattern; the recent resurgence of populism in Europe is the most recent one. Nevertheless it is safe to say that, at least during long intervals, forms of representative rule have unfolded there relatively unobtrusively, with little of the agonistic quality that attaches to them in Latin America. A good indication of such routinization is that something as consubstantial to the practice of representation as the distinction between public and private domains survived in Europe (and, for that matter, in the United States as well) with the solidity of a fact of nature until relatively recent times.10 This is not to say that until its catastrophic temporary demise in the 1930s and 1940s across vast stretches of the continent, political delegation had always been such an automatic reflex among the various European peoples. As the European revolutions of 1848 or the events surrounding the 1871 Commune in Paris clearly attest, at least for a good while representation in Europe retained a highly contestable status. Yet increasingly over time, and more conclusively towards the end of the nineteenth century, most European nations achieved what may be described as acceptable levels of representative government. By and large, no matter how rocky the starts or how virulent the political crises that periodically shook the continent, in Europe the idea that the state through its representatives speaks for the whole nation gradually gained acceptance. One way of addressing the difference is by focusing on Lloyd and Thomas call the “paradox” of representation. Speaking about Europe, and more specifically England, the authors argue that across both cultural and political domains, the practice of representation everywhere succumbed to “the same paradox, namely, that the representative is empowered in the name of certain specific interests (or passions) only in order that those interests may be sublated in the formal universality of culture or the

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state” (ibid., 6). This was also the fate awaiting representation in the new nations of Latin America. Even if the means for carrying through the practice of representation were somewhat less abundant there, in Latin America the practice was also pursued across a wide range of fields, no less enthusiastically than in Europe and for very much the same political reasons. And, as much as in Europe, a stubborn tension between the universal and the particular gnawed at these practices with results that, at least for a while, were not unlike those obtained in the old continent. Indeed, both in Europe and in Latin America, the unresolved tension afflicting the sphere of political representation was an ongoing source of turbulence. At least for a while, the claimed universality of the state as the representative of the whole nation was everywhere regularly contradicted by the more-or-less glaring evidence of the sectional interests to which state representatives were actually beholden. The events of 1848 and 1871 in Europe clearly indicate the levels of turbulence that, in the past, such unresolved tension actually provoked in that part of the world. How well on either side of the Atlantic did such practices meet the “condition of possibility” that, according to Lloyd and Thomas, representation must meet in order to be successful? The authors remark that for “one and the same representation” to successfully join a number of individuals in a common identification, it is essential that such individuals “unite in the same form, as spectators” (ibid., 56). Now, one crucial way in which the political orders that succeeded absolutist rule on the two sides of the Atlantic remarkably differed was in their relative ability to immobilize citizens so as to constitute them as passive spectators. Given how indispensable such immobilization was for the representative political forms emergent at the time in Europe and the United States and in Latin America, focusing on these differential abilities should yield insight into the distinctive modernities of these regions. The situation in Europe may be grasped in terms of the complementary approaches developed by Foucault to account for the epochal changes occurring there, especially in France, in the wake of the French Revolution, changes that the term modernity conveniently names. One of these approaches, Foucault’s “microphysics of power,” deals with the techniques of power exerted on individual subjects within specific institutions such as schools, prisons, and factories. The other, “macrophysical” approach, demonstrated in his studies in governmentality, focuses on the practices of government, the forms of governmental rationality aimed at “governing populations of subjects at the level of a political sovereignty over an entire society” (Gordon 1991, 4).11 Foucault explicitly addressed the complementarity of his dual approaches to power as early as 1976, when in the first volume of Histoire de la sexualité he used the term biopower. The word designates the “explosion of numerous and diverse techniques” occurring in the course of the seventeenth century “for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations” (1978, 140). The title of one of Foucault’s lectures, “Omnes et Singulatim” (Each and All), aptly summarizes the totalizing and individualizing tendencies that he believed historically characterized the practice of

186 Monumental Governmentality government in the West, and suggests that he regards the development with considerable apprehension (Foucault 1981, 3). A crucial inflection in this history was traced by one of Foucault’s students, Jacques Donzelot, in an important work whose title, L’ invention du social (1984), already suggests the mutations that the Western practice of government underwent in various European nations, especially France, during the nineteenth century. For Donzelot it was the invention in the second half of the nineteenth century of the social as a distinctive discursive entity that brought about the change from an older to a newer form of governmental rationality, the form that until the neoliberalism of recent years was prevalent. The older practice of policing had positioned the French absolutist state as an autonomous agent vis-à-vis the population of the realm, regarded as a transparent, fully visible environment for this state’s ongoing interventions. Police government was preoccupied with drawing “endless lists and classifications” regarding, among other domains, religion, customs, health, foods, highways, the sciences, commerce, servants, and poverty (Gordon 1991, 10), but it was also concerned with movement and flow, with “organizing the whole royal territory like one great city,” rendering it a fully transparent and “visible grid of communication” (ibid., 20). This visibility and transparency, according to Donzelot, all but vanished once liberalism became instituted as the dominant form of governmentality in the nineteenth century. Liberal governmentality discarded the previous emphasis, instead affirming “the necessarily opaque, dense autonomous character of the processes of population. At the same time, it remains preoccupied with the vulnerability of these very processes, and the need to enframe them within ‘mechanisms of security’ ” (Gordon 1991, 20). Crucial to my argument here is Donzelot’s citation of a French draft law on factory regulations from 1820 in order to illustrate the changes in forms of governmentality. While drawing attention to the state’s inability to regulate “all the details of production” due to “the varied nature of industrial occupations,” the draft calls for the delegation of the regulating activities to “those in charge of the conduct of labor” (quoted in Gordon 1991, 25). Prompted by a newly discovered opacity of the social, this “system of delegated, legally mandated private authority . . . in fact accurately foreshadow[s] both the reality and the rationale of the French industrial system for most of the nineteenth century” (Gordon 1991, 25). The following passage from Donzelot will make clear just how different the spheres of economic production in Europe and in Latin America were during the period. Alluding to both the rationale and the actual workings of the French industrial system during most of the nineteenth century, he describes a complex intermeshing of economic and extra-economic activities, according to which [t]he contractual economic relation between worker and employer is coupled with a sort of contractual tutelage of employer over worker, by virtue of the employer’s total freedom in determining the code of factory regulations, among which he may

Monumental Governmentality 187 include—as is most often the case— a whole series of disciplinary and moral exigencies reaching well outside the sphere of production proper, to exercise control over the habits and attitudes, the social and moral behavior of the working class outside of the enterprise. . . . The reason given for this exclusive responsibility on the part of the employer, the pretext for this particular reinforcement of his powers, is the singular character of each enterprise. (quoted in Gordon 1991, 25–26; Donzelot’s emphasis)

By comparing the situation described above with the conditions prevailing in the Venezuelan countryside during the same period, one may begin to have an idea of why political modernity followed such distinctively different paths in Europe and in Latin America. As late as the 1850s, on the brink of the Federal Wars, which at least until the late 1860s and even later frustrated any prospects of peaceful economic development in the countryside, Venezuelan landowners were loudly complaining about their inability to control an already scarce workforce on their hatos or haciendas (Matthews 1977, 19–20). The complaints of the 1850s had their distant antecedents in the views voiced by Venezuelan landowners in the closing decades of the colony, mentioned in a previous chapter. The complaints came despite a ceaseless flow of legislation that, with no lasting or even apparent success, the Venezuelan state had enacted from the 1830s onward precisely in order to attach the workforce to the land, especially in the vast area of the Llanos (Acosta 1989, 444–47). Aimed at “classifying as many peasants as possible as journeymen” to bar them from certain activities such as hiring other workers or working on lands owned by the nation (Matthews 1977, 39, 42), the legislation could not have been more draconian. It prescribed lashings for a variety of infractions (Acosta 1989, 447) and jail terms for those peons that disrespected the hacienda owners or their representatives (Matthews 1977, 42). Yet, as Matthews astutely remarks, the very frequency with which the legislation was modified was a sign of its inefficacy, of how frequently the workers flouted the rulings and of the inability of both judges and the police to enforce them (ibid., 43–44). A “futile and desperate gesture,” the legislation was a resounding failure (ibid., 43; Acosta 1989, 446–47), largely due to the immense availability of lands, the bargaining power that the scarcity of labor conferred on the workers, and the institutional weakness of the emergent state. Probably as a result of all these factors, and a further reason for the failure of these measures, “everywhere during the 1850s force increasingly became the weapon used by the rural masses, starting to supplant the power which the haciendaowners and their armed representatives had as a class” (Matthews 1977, 43). The failure of the legislation and the insistence of owners’ complaints, which echo through colonial and postcolonial archives covering over a century, offer the picture of an extraordinarily mobile workforce, one that a series of extreme measures such as debt peonage or forms of bodily discipline failed to attach to the land. Instead, all the available information suggests the great degree of freedom that workers enjoyed to quit both

188 Monumental Governmentality jobs and domiciles in search of new patrons in neighboring or far-away haciendas, or simply to pursue a life of banditry and nomadism in the vast plains just south of the main inhabited areas. This situation remained largely constant throughout the nineteenth century, and it cannot be said to have been overcome in the present. It is true that with the arrival of the oil industry in the 1920s, agricultural production lost the preeminent place that it had occupied in the previous century. Nevertheless, from the owners’ and managers’ perspective, the problem of an intensely mobile and largely undisciplined workforce continues to be felt in the nation’s major cities, where the population, fleeing an econom ically depleted countryside, has increasingly collected. Everywhere in these cities’ factories and workshops the situation remains at quite a remove from the complex interweaving of economic and extra-economic sanctions and constraints that, according to Donzelot, was characteristic of the world of production in nineteenthcentury France. The comparison with what Donzelot describes in France is significant because, in some crucial respects at least, the challenges the regimes emerging from the demise of absolutism faced on either side of the Atlantic were not all that different. In both Western Eu rope and in the new nations of Latin America, unprecedented problems of governability followed from the crisis of the monarchy, as well as from the emergence of the new republican vocabularies and the concomitant reformulations of both social spaces and individual and collective identities. Itself the effect of complex, heterogeneous processes, everywhere the mutation in the notion of rights, from those of the sovereign over her or his realm to the rights of citizens as members of unified nations, unleashed a series of truly momentous changes. According to Foucault and Donzelot, it was the consequences of these changes that over time prompted in Europe a vast reformulation in both the conception and the modalities of the exercise of power. The top-down practice of sovereign power, in which the monarch was at the hub of everything as the overarching agency from which all decisions major and minor concerning the realm ultimately issued, was over time replaced by a capillary, decentered practice of power. If for absolutism the “body of the condemned” was the preeminent surface on which royal power was exercised, for the newer, disciplinary power, bodies were simply anchoring points from which to get at the “souls” of the agents (Foucault 1977, 3–131). In Foucault’s formulation, such a capillary power and the micropractices through which it is exercised developed in response to the social disruptions taking place during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Brought about by momentous transformations in the economy, by then rapidly becoming capitalist, and the concomitant decomposition of the feudal order and its time-honored ways of maintaining control over a largely immobile population, these transformations issued in a proliferation of “illegalities” committed by the “dangerous classes,” who were freed from most forms of social control and ascriptive identification. Not only that, but consistent with the

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phenomenal increase in “offences against property” occurring during the period, this proliferation of illegalities went along with a change in the legal status of these illegalities from “a criminality of blood” to a “criminality of fraud” (Foucault 1977, 75–77). Such redefinition in the legal status of the crimes was highly consistent with the situation of human singularities who, though they were not yet the “individuals” of liberal ideology, were already, during the closing decades of the absolutist regimes in both Europe and the America, thoroughly refashioning urban space with their presence. First enlightened despotism, and then the revolutionary languages of the time articulated the universalism and abstract exchangeability that were increasingly the condition of these populations—human agglomerations whose members had left behind the feudal structures prevailing in the countryside but, in their increasing anonymity, displacement, and mobility, had not yet come under any effective form of social control. More and more, the penal theories of the time construed the infractions originating among these populations in reference not to “blood,” with all that this entailed by way of the centrality of lineage in a hierarchically ordered universe, but vis-à-vis “society,” as breaches of the “social contract” (ibid., 90). The development of new forms of discipline and punishment during the nineteenth century must be apprehended in reference to this changed status of the infractions. In sum, largely beyond the visible reach of the sovereign state, hence beyond the kind of policing practices characteristic of the absolutist state, society was becoming an autonomous, opaque domain in which the often-threatening activities of an unfathomable mass of individuals posed grave risks to the forms of order envisioned by the theorists of the social contract. Hence the colonization, largely the unintended outcome of processes that did not follow any overall design, of hospitals, prisons, schools, factories, and asylums by disciplinary techniques aimed at seizing the bodies of the agents—not to punish or annihilate, as was the case with sovereign power, but in order to organize, articulate, and, generally, increase their forces. Although Foucault does not put it quite this way, the extent to which these disciplinary practices sought to pin down individuals to their “proper” places as “spectators” so as to wrest them from their dangerous mobility may be appreciated from a brief consideration of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. Employed by Foucault as a diagram of emergent power relations in a wide range of institutions, is not the panopticon a perverse kind of theater, attended by an unlikely audience of spectators? In such a theater, prisoners are immobilized in their individual cells by the gnawing fear of being constantly watched by an invisible observer in a central tower who, as a result of this very invisibility, also becomes the object of the prisoners’ spectatorial anxieties (Foucault 1977, 200). Like a theatrical stage, the panopticon’s tower is a “singular object around which divided subjects can come together” as members of an imprisoned population. At the level of individuals, the new disciplinary techniques, what Foucault called the “anatomo-politics of the human body,” won the day, displacing sovereign power from its hitherto preeminent position. At the level of the population as a whole, the

190 Monumental Governmentality unprecedented opacity of social forms and relations became during the nineteenth century the field of operation of a “biopolitics of the population” (Foucault 1978, 139), a set of regulatory controls such as demographic practices, eugenics, and racism. As an emergent form of governmental rationality, liberalism brought together and articulated for the purpose of government the two forms of power— disciplinary techniques and biopolitics— analyzed by Foucault. The invention of the “social” in the second half of the nineteenth century was a mutation in the very nature of liberalism, from an ideology of rights to a generalized technique of government. It was the discursive hinge that the new governmentality used to turn the threatening opacity of the human landscape into the kind of environment in which a wide range of heterogeneous disciplines and forms of knowledge could be deployed, thus transmuting such opacity into a relatively knowable and governable “social” object. As Donzelot puts it, it was a matter of extinguishing existing political passions by positing the social as a “hybrid” instance, “at the intersection between the civil and the political,” so that the flagrant contradiction between the modern political imaginary and the realities of civil and mercantile society could be effectively neutralized. While the 1848 revolution had left lasting scars in public consciousness, resulting from the wounds that “the affirmation of the equal sovereignty of all” had inflicted in society, the new governmentality affirmed an ethics of solidarity—which draws authorization from the need of maintaining social cohesion rather than from any republican dream of a voluntary society, erected over the ruins of the kind of fatality within which the Ancien Régime pretended to enclose the relations among men. (Donzelot 1984, 10–11)

Central to the “invention of the social” was the enlisting of Foucault’s microphysics of power and his macrophysics of the population for the purpose of governing the most heterogeneous social practices, institutions, and domains as part of a well-disciplined, organically integrated “society.” Thus the emphasis that an earlier liberalism had placed on “rights,” a form of organizing the relations between citizens and the state, could be definitely laid to rest, and, along with it, the endemic social unrest that was intrinsic to it. The idea in all of this was to end a situation in which one’s own well-being or misfortune could be squarely attributed to others, whether state agents or powerful individuals, who were interested in either withdrawing or granting to us our legitimate rights— also a situation in which violently claiming one’s (wrongfully) denied rights was always a distinct possibility. Emergent liberal governmentality sought to replace this volatile predicament with another in which, under the rubric of the “welfare state,” a “permanent negotiating table” is the modality around which “social life is increasingly organized” (ibid., 11). This consensual mode required a thorough, properly biopolitical socialization of citizens. As the political liberalism of the first decades of the nineteenth century was replaced by the latter, biopolitical variety, so too the meaning of the nation also changed. No longer the free and virtuous community of equals

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joined in their love of an ideal republic, the stuff of an earlier patriotic tradition, the nation became the “blood and soil” organic totality of late-nineteenth-century nationalism, held together by bonds of tradition and premised on the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic homogeneity of a people (Viroli 1995, 1–10, 140–60). Two things follow. First, spectatorship is not a naturally occurring attitude. It is instead the result of a wide range of practices and disciplines that fi x agents to their “proper” places while constituting the gaze as an abstract organ of contemplation, detachable as a reified capacity from the agents’ other capabilities and potencies. While indispensable to the representative political forms emergent from the ruins of absolutism, the republican theatrical machinery—the politics of exemplarity of an inaugural republicanism— did not guarantee the constitution of subjects as passive spectators for the long term. Indeed, as I have argued, a historical experience of insistent social unrest and outright revolution everywhere rapidly exposed the limits of the early republican theater as the preeminent practical means for reducing individuals to the status of passive spectators. For one thing, the disruptions brought about by the dislocation of the ancien régime were far too drastic for such an aesthetic modality to be able to fulfill on its own, without any further supplementation, its stabilizing function. For another, the prevailing vocabularies, with their insistence on the quintessential republican values of freedom and equality, which positioned individual as the subjects of rights, rendered any such stability precarious. That is, the subversive potential of languages based on citizen’s rights, and, especially, the republican insistence on freedom and equality, proved too strong a concoction for the neoclassical machinery of government to digest. Periodically seized by the urge to demand equality and the suspicion that their demands did not find adequate resonance in the sphere of representation, the audience of the republican theater disrupted the official solemnities with all sorts of strange noise and even occasionally fled its enforced passivity, threatening to bring the entire machinery crashing down. Hence the transition in Europe to a new governmental rationality, in which not just the citizens’ immobilization as spectators but their productive utilization as agents in a broad range of economic and social fields was entrusted to an array of dispersed disciplinary techniques, anonymously at work in the invisible depths of the “social.” An anatomopolitic of the human body and a biopolitics of the population, in other words, supplemented without entirely displacing republicanism’s neoclassical rhetoric of monumentality and theatrical machinery of government. For the most part, both across Europe and in North America, these techniques took over from older neoclassical forms the functions of disciplining the people/audience of the representative democratic regimes. From a certain angle, then, the new disciplinary practices and techniques may be said to have enduringly succeeded in turning subjects into passive spectators. However, from another, seemingly contradictory angle, these very same techniques put subjects in motion as productive agents in a broad range of settings, from prisons and

192 Monumental Governmentality factories to educational institutions. Only this time, the mobility was not of the subjects’ own doing. It was an externally induced and, paradoxically enough, strictly localized phenomenon; it was the result of the subject’s “biological” capacities being seized locally by a diversified range of forms of “biopower,” which put them to work, so to speak, “in situ.” One way of putting it is that, with the changes in governmentality, it is not just within the political theater, narrowly defined, that the public of the Western parliamentary democracies was constituted as a disciplined, passive audience. Outside the theater’s walls, there was and is a vast range of disciplinary techniques and forms of power/knowledge busy at work in the depths of society, forming the disciplined citizenry of the Western representative regimes. The whole of society, beyond the theater, is over time constituted as an audience for the political show. In a strict sense, this development is the realization of a tendency that was inscribed in the very nature of Western parliamentary democracies. As Nancy has recently put it, it is in the very nature of democracy to tend towards “the negation of political separation”; such a negation has “haunted the Western consciousness ever since the invention of democracy put an end to politics founded on figures of identification” (Nancy 2007, 95), among which the figure of the king was pivotal. In this respect, biopolitics—understood as the “technical management of life” in general, with no other finality that this life’s own “reproduction and maintenance”—is the fulfi llment of the tendency of democratic politics to erase itself as it becomes fused with the whole horizon of life, social life included (ibid., 140). Th is tendency would have reached its point of maximum realization with today’s globalization, a condition in which “politics” is implicitly reduced to ever-more-technical, managerial operations with no recourse to either any “self-founding ‘sovereignty,’ since it is no longer a matter of founding,” or to any notion of justice within the polis, “since there is no longer a polis” (ibid., 94). This is the predicament we find ourselves in today. Caught in the vicissitudes of “empire” (Hardt and Negri 2000), the Chavista regime in Venezuela might very well be one of the last gasps worldwide of a politics based on an appeal to common foundations and figures of identification. Rooted in the kind of political imaginary and governmental rationality addressed in this book, which it enacts, moreover, to an excessive degree, with its insistence on bringing about a refoundation of the republic and of republican practices and institutions under the aegis of the Founding Father Bolívar, the Chavista regime may amount to one of the culminating figures of the political or, perhaps more precisely, the theologico-political in its “retreat” (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1997, 122–42). The second conclusion to be drawn from the comparison is that nothing, or almost nothing, of what took place in Europe happened in Venezuela (or, for that matter, in large areas of Latin America). In almost no significant respect can Venezuela be said to be a disciplined society in the sense in which this term applies to any of the major West-

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ern democracies. To this day, biopolitics has made precious few inroads into Venezuelan society, if, under that term, one includes not only Foucault’s “biopolitics of the population” but also, as many analysts do, his descriptions of disciplinary techniques aimed at individuals. The result of this relative absence is that domains as varied as the family, industrial and agricultural sectors, and the various branches of the state’s administration remain largely beyond the grasp of this form of discipline. They are still sites structured by alternative, yet not for that less modern, forms of social control, with something like an outrageously transgressive bodiliness and generalized despotism pervading the behavior of all social classes and groups, including the most privileged, somehow gluing them all together. What from a biopolitical perspective may look like recurrent bouts of undisciplined or merely “distracted” behavior, occasionally punctuated by the exercise of sheer despotic power, may be said to be everywhere chronic, sharply setting these Venezuelan domains apart from their more “disciplined” counterparts elsewhere.

Monumental Governmentality In the relative absence of a well-honed biopolitics, in Venezuela the neoclassical forms of an early republicanism were elaborated to the point of congealing into an enduring form of governmentality. It is as if in this part of the world entire areas of public life had become frozen in the inaugural modernity of an early republicanism, with all that this entails of paroxysmal, flamboyant, and often bizarre reiteration of this republicanism’s monumentalizing, theatrical impulse. One could very well call it a politics of exemplarity gone wild, in which the illustrious men of an inaugural republican imaginary, much like an expanding collection of living-dead monuments, constantly burst out of their niches onto the political stage to invade with their montage of pomposity and libidinal energy all areas of social existence. Imbuing with their idiosyncratic collage of neoclassical pathos and slippery sensuality the most varied and unsuspected contexts, these “exemplary” figures often blur the fragile boundaries that separate public and private domains in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. It is as if the whole imaginary of these societies was a vast army of monumental statuary forever rehearsing its solemn poses before improvised audiences of spectators. Forming and unforming in the presence of these living statues or in that of any one of their serialized representations, these improvised audiences are the precarious figures of this torrid zone’s always evanescent republican “people.” The historical tendency to monumentalize the nation’s representatives by means of insistence on certain rhetorical and iconographic motifs is nothing short of obsessive. It is to this insistence that one must ultimately attribute the crystallization over time of a state imaginary resembling a vast neoclassical garden filled with statues. This tendency is rooted in a form of governmental rationality that constantly calls for the reiteration and overelaboration of its various monumentalizing tropes and motifs.

194 Monumental Governmentality For historical reasons having to do with the peripheral status of its troubled modernity, in Venezuela to this day the politics of exemplarity of an early republicanism has been one of the preeminent forms in which political rule and state authority are constituted and perpetuated. This kind of politics arose in Venezuela and in other new nations of Latin America, as it did in Europe, in response to the revolutionary activity of the masses. In other words, it emerged as a means of defusing the masses’ “originary effectivity” by setting up a separate political sphere where representation, “construed as secondary,” could effectively signify the loss of this origin (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 109). It was a matter, in other words, of replacing the masses’ dangerous tendency to immediately represent themselves through the erection of a theater of political representation where, constituted as “a people,” they could acquiesce to being represented by others, the community’s paragons of republican virtue. Itself the effect of a certain kind of theater, however, the effect of exemplarity is not long lasting. As I have argued, the republican stage— along with the classroom, the foremost ideological state apparatus—proved quite ineffective as a means of permanently securing the immobility of the masses by turning them into passive audiences of the emergent liberalism. To the extent that the various republican audiences across both Europe and Latin America were periodically seized by strong egalitarian and libertarian urges, political unrest and instability tended to become universal. People/audiences everywhere periodically called into question the universalistic claims of their hallowed representatives by pointing out the particularistic interests to which they were beholden. Such exercises in demystification were not merely academic; they also had quite practical implications, including a dangerous tendency to dissolve into horrific scenes of revolutionary leveling. The neat division between active and passive parts of the polity envisaged and to some extent implemented by the republican ideologues tended to become irreversibly scrambled in each new crisis of governmentality. Hence the cancerous invasion of entire institutional domains in both Europe and North America by forms of biopower that supplemented some of the crucial functions of the republican theater, such as that of constituting “the people” as a relatively stable and disciplined spectatorship, while simultaneously adding quite a few new functions. In Venezuela as elsewhere in Latin America, biopolitics barely developed, and consequently what prevailed was a tendency to take possibilities already inherent in the republican theater and blow them up to flamboyant extremes. Given their postcolonial status and enduring dependence on forms of production that, like mining and agriculture, were highly dependent on the vagaries of the international market, the newly independent societies ushered into the maelstrom of modernity could hardly afford the technological and organizational means that any self-respecting biopolitics assumes. What they had instead, and in relative abundance, was a wealth of theatrical means, as well as a need to use them that was both desperate and, given these societies’ endemic instability since independence, understandable. And so they used them with a vengeance.

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Over time a wide array of means, from historical writings to iconographic representations and other public forms of address, have piled up mountains of images and tropes all infused with a similar obsessive purpose: molding the crowds into a homogeneous people by constituting them as the passive spectatorship of their virtuous representativesqua-spectacular embodiments of the “better self ” of these masses or of the overall “general will” of the populace. Amounting to the nation’s constitutive populism, this agonistic form of politics responds to the haunting threat that the republican “people” will yet again dissolve into a republican crowd, with the same kind of obsessive reiteration with which the scene of the people’s foundation is enacted.12 The increasingly hyperbolic self-monumentalization of the nation’s “tribunes” and their ever-more-manic dancing as mirrors of “the people” are merely the counterpart of how insistently this people desists as a crowd. If, always about to collapse, this scene of the people’s foundation must be reiterated again and again, this is precisely on account of the endemic inability of the nation’s republicanism to lastingly immobilize its citizen-audiences. For the purpose of continually (re)founding “the people,” nothing less than the most intense, relentless use of media of one or another kind will do, with the consequence that politics becomes selfconsciously simulacral, a gimmicky and showy display marked by ever-more-excessive theatricality. Although not, of course, unrelated to the theatricalization of rule everywhere, this bombastic populist show nevertheless takes theatricalization into an uncertain terrain where, somehow with everyone’s knowing approval, it rapidly becomes self-consciously bloated and parodical.13 Contrary to what many analysts seem to believe, all of this suggests how far, at least in its Venezuelan instantiation, Latin American populism is from being a recent phenomenon. A protopopulism of some stripe was from the beginning inscribed in the republican imaginary of the continent’s new nations, an endemic form of plebiscitary democracy in which the refounding of the nation itself is often at stake. Needless to say, in its aim of immobilizing its audience, republican theatricality has had to appeal to supplementary means that are not strictly theatrical. Besides the sheer use of violence, foremost among them are the patron-client networks formed with the state monies and resources channeled here for this purpose, the ultimate aim of which is to maintain a stable audience of followers collected around a few chosen representatives. Sooner or later, however, such networks prove themselves insufficient. Th is happens for a variety of reasons, among which two are surely the most prominent. First, there is the continent’s very own brand of modernity, with its legacy of historical disruption and dislocation, of which such networks are themselves symptomatic. It is enough to acknowledge the eminently contractual character of patron-client relations for this modernity, along with its inherent instability, to come sharply into focus. These relations do not only entail, as is often assumed, a calculus of reciprocities among discrete yet unequal agents who are asymmetrically positioned within stable landscapes of power. They also presuppose a slippery terrain where all available paths

196 Monumental Governmentality are continually redrawn by the trailblazing initiatives of the subject. To gain any insight into this creativity one must at least momentarily suspend the certainties that a single-minded concern with power often implicitly affords. This allows the unfathomable subjectivity intrinsic to any truly contractual relation to destabilize our writings, rendering them more porous to the subjects’ actual predicaments. Second, the chronic inability of the republican theater to retain its people/audience is also related to the location of Venezuela and other Latin American nations within transnational arrangements that are largely beyond their control. Historically this has meant that even the slightest fluctuation in the prices of the main export commodities is capable of precipitating acute social, political and economic crises, of which Venezuela has seen its fair share since independence. Whenever this happens, the legitimacy of the established representative bodies, officers, and institutions suffers. With everyone fleeing the established political arrangements crumbling in their wake, it is at such junctures that the likelihood of the republican people turning yet again into a formless republican crowd is at its highest.

Interlude: Dancing Jacobins . . . Maelo, no dejes que te tumben el plante. —Ismael Rivera, “El Nazareno”

“Cara seria, culo rochelero”: this popular saying, used in reference to the nation’s “notables,” is wonderfully suggestive of the split between their official demeanor and their unofficial, all-too-apparent libidinous underside. Roughly translatable as “serious face, sassy ass,” it accurately conveys the predicament of a prominent individual committed to a statuesque public performance that rests on less than monumental grounds. Both revealed and disguised by his persona, even on the most solemn of occasions, the notable’s unofficial self manages to wink at the audience through his imposing public appearance. Always already frozen for posterity, his calculated grand homme pose reveals to the audiences, rather than hides, his mischievous underbelly. Those watching the ponderous performance unfold never lose sight of the other scene in the background that might at any point quite unexpectedly overtake the official one, filling it with a lascivious energy, such that all statuesque appearances momentarily tumble, dissolving into a flashing moment of excess. It is as if the spectators, displaying the required deference yet waiting for the moment in which the notable will make his move, cannot stop watching because, “you know, from this guy anything is possible.” Always about to happen, the libidinal seizure of public space never does quite come off, and that is the whole point. To put it in more local terms, the official scene never or almost never dissolves into a scene of relajo. Charged with local meaning, relajo is one of those words that resists adequate translation. While my Cassell Spanish-English dictionary translates it as “degeneracy, depravity, shocking behavior, loss of all decency,” the Spanish word conjures a much less final, much more playful and subtle predicament. Widely used in the Caribbean and loaded with sexual overtones, in this region the word alludes to a situation of confusion where all standards of propriety are on the verge of collapsing, activities nearly dissolving into generalized license. What prevents the situation from reaching the sense the dictionary gives the word of final, unwholesome debauchery is that the “scene of relajo” is constituted through the 197

198 Interlude subtle, seductive interplay between official and unofficial forms. In other words, even if the notable himself is in some ways a tipo de relajo, not even in an extreme situation does he ever completely let go. A quaint rhetorical flourish will always be there to save the day, playfully reminding everyone of the notable’s lofty, ethereal being amidst the most earthy excesses. The unstable yet constantly renewed tension between the notable’s two halves—part monument, part flesh-and-blood— allows each to do its job. If his monumentalized persona eloquently speaks of republican virtue, with steely gaze fixated on a Technicolor future, the notable’s kinkier half simply signals the wish to enjoy and make a deal. Neither monuments nor deals may exist without the other. Not even for a second can the polity manage to retain its virtuous neoclassical façade—which no one really buys, but everyone acts as if they do—without the many deals and promiscuous bodily transactions by which it is continuously lubricated. Conversely, without monuments there are no deals, since even the most insignificant unofficial transaction presupposes a façade of republican virtue, which supplements and enables it. Salsa, a dance that in the Caribbean is a rite of passage into public life for everyone, notables included, constitutes an extraordinary instance of the tension I am struggling to evoke here. One can easily envisage any one of Venezuela’s present-day notables abandoning his pomposity, if hesitantly at first, for the first steps of what eventually becomes an all-out salsa performance— a scene that does in fact take place quite often. Contrary to most stereotypes of it, salsa is never frantic. Like the contradictory figure of the notable, the consummate salsa dancer cuts a contained figure that nevertheless intimates a world of untold sensuous possibilities. The dancers, heads upright and slightly turned to the side, at one with the rhythm, gaze past their partners’ shoulders into the unseen distance. The upper halves of their bodies stay quite composed and even stiff while, starting with the movement of thighs and hips, their lower halves suggest an altogether different scene. As if each dancer signals to his or her partner not to trust appearances but to play along, with their lower bodies and occasional sudden turns of the shoulders, the dancers play with official appearances, repeatedly turning them inside out to intimate their sensuous underside. It is as if with every subtle thrust of their bodies, through the very syncopated back-and-forth of the dancing, the dancers say to each other that official appearances, far from being an impediment, are the necessary obverse of an unofficial world of unspeakable jouissance— and vice versa; that jouissance is frozen in potential form in the monument. Not a specifically Venezuelan phenomenon, salsa may be thought of as the fate of monuments in the Caribbean. Or again, vice versa, one may think of the sun-drenched galleries of stony heroes filling the political imagination of the region’s nation-states as always on the brink of an all-out salsa performance. Steeped as they were in the thrills, backstabbing, backstage politicking, and sensuous entertainments with which the everyday life of a plantation society was so prodigal, the Founding Fathers of the nation were no less prone to excess than are the

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present-day notables. The curtain over what is commonly known as the First Republic was finally drawn with a phrase that, repeated in history books and casual conversations, still weighs on the national character: upon being delivered to the Spaniards by his own companions, among them Bolívar, following the defeat of the pro-Independence forces, no less a figure than Francisco de Miranda is said to have delivered a lapidary verdict on the inaugural republican experiment: “Bochinche, bochinche, en Venezuela todo es bochinche!”— everything in Venezuela is bochinche, meaning, according to El Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado “a confusing and disorderly situation accompanied by widespread disturbances.” (In its current colloquial use, at least in Venezuela, bochinche is never far away from the related word relajo.) In so declaring, Miranda effectively alluded to the ease with which the neoclassical pretensions of Venezuela’s official aspirations melt into the unofficial uproar of clashing voices and lascivious innuendo.

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Chapter 6

The French Repertoire I do not wish to give the impression that the republican representatives’ delicate balancing act of the particular and the universal was simply the situated accomplishment of different individuals in their relationship to an audience. It was not. As with every other form of governmentality, the successful monumentalization of the republican “tribunes” draws on and is sustained by an abundant historiography, official forms of celebration and commemoration, a profuse iconography depicting Venezuela’s notables, heroes, and main founding moments of the nation, as well as institutions such as educational establishments, state-sponsored academies of history, and patriotic circles, to name some of the possibilities. All of these are dedicated to disseminating among the general population the virtues and behaviors that every Venezuelan must exhibit in order to be considered a bona fide member of the nation. This chapter describes how this governmental corpus came into being in the case of Venezuela and identifies some of its operative principles.

The French Repertoire As early as 1815, just three years after Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence and in the midst of the wars that followed, one finds striking evidence of what was already a rapidly forming corpus of governmentality. On July 20 of that year, the central square of Bogotá, Colombia, was turned into a theatrical stage for the performance of a series of three plays whose titles and subject matter aptly illustrate the monumentalizing orientation that I addressed in the previous chapter. The performance commemorated the city’s decision, on that very day five years before, to declare self-rule (Lomné 1998, 330). The circumstances were these: the city was occupied by an army of Venezuelan llaneros (plainsmen) headed by Bolívar that had recently retaken it from pro-Spanish forces (Bushnell 1993, 45). As often happens in similar circumstances, the army was “more worried about its own dead than about the well-being of a population with which it maintained the minimal communication that an occupying force often maintains with the vanquished” (Lomné 1998, 330). The three plays revolved around the figure of the republican tribune as the exalted and virtuous embodiment of the nascent republic. 201

202 The French Repertoire It is possible that the first of the three plays, a “great comedy of the Conquest” (ibid., 331), dealt with the figure of Hernán Cortés, although Georges Lomné does not discard the possibility of its having been one of the first performances of Voltaire’s Alzire, ou les Américains (ibid.). In the case of the next two plays, however, the connection with the figure of the republican tribune is explicit. It is very plausible that the “comedy of Julius Caesar” mentioned in the contemporary diary on which Lomné draws was none other than Voltaire’s La mort de Jules Cesar, “a work widely used by the [French] revolutionaries, even . . . during the period of the Terror” (ibid.). As Lomné puts it, “the French repertoire exalted the virtue of the ancients, investing it with a marked republican connotation: think, among other works, of Brutus or Rome Sauvée, by Voltaire, of Caius Gracchus, by Andre Chenier, or of Mucius Scaevola” (ibid.). As such, it was the ideal mirror of the pro-Independence creoles, more particularly those from Caracas, who, from the beginning, expressed their vehement desires to signify that the theater was “an honorable exercise, that far from being incompatible with virtue, it is virtue’s very own school.” (ibid., with Lomné quoting material from Gazeta de Caracas, no. 383, December 6, 1811; emphasis mine)

The last of the three plays, staged to close the festivities, was the Monologue of Ricaurte. In this play the tribune figure was a creole martyr of the insurgence against Spain, Antonio Ricaurte, making explicit that the appropriation of the French repertoire was driven by the overriding telos of monumentalizing the creole leadership, placing it in a direct line of inheritance from an illustrious Roman ancestry. Given the dire predicament of the pro-independence creoles from Caracas, as well as their leadership role in independence struggles against Spain in many other parts of South America, it is not surprising that they would have shown such a keen interest in the repertoire of French drama. This repertoire had been developed in France in response to urgencies similar to those that during the first decades of the nineteenth century led England and Germany to constitute a separate sphere of political representation modeled on the theater; namely, the presence everywhere of mobilized masses often violently seeking to obtain instant satisfaction for their aspirations and demands. In France this imminent threat to any form of established authority took the shape of the revolutionary Terror. The dread and dislocations provoked by the Terror ultimately issued in the replacement of the fête révolutionnaire, fervently favored by Rousseau, by the more uplifting and serene pleasures of the theater, which, precisely due to its representative character, Rousseau no less fervently abhorred. In the words of Lomné, who in this respect follows closely the classic work of Mona Ozouf on the subject, “originally openly hostile to any theatrical fiction, the French Revolution ended up reconciling itself with the stage” (ibid., 320). One would not have expected anything less than a wholehearted adoption of the French repertoire on the part of Caracas’ creole revolutionary leadership. To begin with, there is the previously mentioned fact that this leadership to a large extent borrowed its models of society and

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political authority from the French, particularly the Jacobins. There are good historical reasons for this borrowing, among them the uniquely Latin modernity to which, as described by François-Xavier Guerra, the French have contributed the most elaborate and authoritative models. But beyond this general historical commonality, rooted in an experience of absolutism quite at odds with the evolution of political authority in such places as England, there is a more immediate reason for the borrowing. The revolutionary leaderships of both Paris and Caracas faced the same predicament: revolutionary crowds throwing off all established forms of social and political control. The fact that the French repertoire was more eagerly adopted by the Venezuelan proindependence leadership than elsewhere in Latin America is not hard to explain, given the magnitude of the challenge faced by the revolutionary leadership of what, at the time of independence, was a relatively unimportant colonial backwater. The economic prosperity of the last colonial decades had made of Venezuela the most successful agricultural colony of the Empire, but when revolution arrived the provinces of Tierra Firme still exhibited relatively weak institutional and governmental structures compared with other areas of Spanish America. Even taking into account the political and economic reforms of the late Bourbon period, at that time political institutions and state centralization were not nearly as consolidated in Venezuela as in the viceroyalties of Mexico or Peru, to name the two most important politico-administrative areas of the American Spanish Empire. Venezuela’s institutional weakness came down to the fact that it was not agricultural production but mineral wealth in which the Spanish Empire was ultimately most interested (no matter how much agriculture enriched the local aristocracies). In many ways, Venezuela was a mere frontier settlement, constantly plagued by attacks from both corsairs and pirates. One only has to realize that it was this colonial backwater that, along with Argentina, was at the avant-garde of the struggles against the Spanish Empire in the Americas to gain a sense of the magnitude of the challenge that was faced by Venezuela’s republican leadership. Given the relative institutional weakness and the attendant paucity of alternative means of social and political control intrinsic to the Venezuelan postcolony at the moment of independence, as well as the sheer violence of the revolutionary situation, the embrace of the French dramatic repertoire by this leadership made eminently good sense. A factor contributing to the out-of-control violence of the Venezuelan postcolonial crowds was the intensification of the importation of African slaves during the last decades of the colony in order to meet the ever-growing demands of the agricultural haciendas (Arcila Farías 1988, 732–33). Under the prevailing institutional circumstances, an increase in the numbers of the subaltern classes relative to those of the white population had grave consequences. Add to this the prominent role that these subalterns played for over a decade and across vast territorial expanses as part of the liberation armies headed by Bolívar, and you have the recipe for a virtually unmanageable crisis in governmentality. Indeed, there are archival references to Venezuelan ex-combatants, many years after the wars of independence ended, roaming the territories of nations as far

204 The French Repertoire south as Ecuador or Bolivia. And, seasoned by their participation in the independence struggles, for many decades after Venezuela had become an independent nation the Venezuelan masses still exhibited the same bellicose disposition that had made them feared and famous everywhere across South America. It was in response to these trying circumstances that the nation’s representatives were cast in the role of paragons that the republican polity raised like mirrors before the mobile masses to momentarily arrest them through specularity.

Theater for the Masses, 1830s–1900 The theater, as one would expect from its strategic role in a form of governmentality in which the monumentalization of the representatives was so crucial, not just in Venezuela but all across Latin America, experienced explosive growth throughout the nineteenth century. But what is truly significant is the role of the theater in the formation of the imaginary of the independent nations of the region. In this respect the art historian Gerald Martin confidently refers to theater of this period as “occupying the same place in the construction of the imagination” of these nations during the nineteenth century that television and movies occupy today (1985, 814). Martin notes that this social importance obtained despite the low standard of artistic accomplishment of drama (ibid.), which everywhere in Latin America “was the least distinguished of the literary genres” (ibid., 816). If the state of television in the region today is anything to go by, however, far from being an impediment, the poor quality of the drama, its lack of artistic subtlety and its overall reliance on stereotypes, may have been the key to its social effectiveness. Indeed, the social efficacy of contemporary Latin American soap operas stems largely from their stereotypical plots and, in many instances, total lack of artistry. These qualities render the programs rich repertoires of ready-made, highly codified situations and types, which the audience may conveniently mine and inflect in molding their everyday identities, behaviors, and expectations. Moreover, a cursory glance at the repertoire of Latin American theater in the decades after independence confirms the preeminent role of the theater as the region’s preeminent ideological state apparatus, everywhere charged with the crucial if ultimately impossible task of turning an unruly populace into disciplined citizens. Across Latin America there was general evolution from the neoclassicism of the years of independence struggles to the romanticism that accompanied the formation of the new nation-states once the liberators’ grandiose Pan-American schemes had flopped. During the initial years of the struggle, that is, theatrical stages throughout the continent were occupied by characters displaying virtues similar to those expected of the nation’s representatives, and there was an overall emphasis on symmetry and order, the paramount values of the republican polity envisioned by the revolutionaries; the plays performed by the Venezuelan armies in an occupied Bogotá in 1815 were typical.

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Everywhere, the dominant aesthetic was neoclassical and the repertoire nearly exclusively favored the work of such foreign authors as Voltaire, Alfieri, and Addison (Dauster 1996, 537). As for the work of local playwrights, “the primary note”—as Frank Dauster says of the Argentinean theater of the period—was “oratorical patriotism” (ibid.), a characterization equally valid for what was being produced in such places as Chile, Venezuela, and Peru. And, as much as in Argentina, in all these places the theater was conceived in broadly propagandistic terms “as political instrument” (ibid.). The attitude of the most important dramatist of the period in Chile, who saw himself as a “neoclassical defender of the theater as vehicle for doctrinaire propaganda,” is in this respect typical. Everywhere in the region, plays by contemporary dramatists were “peopled by talking symbols rather than people” (ibid.), unsurprisingly considering the exemplary burden the aesthetics and politics of the time placed on the shoulders of the principal actors on stage. Dauster describes the trajectory of the theater in Latin America during the nineteenth century, specifically from the 1830s through the end of the century, as passing “from pseudoclassicism to romantic melodrama to critical Costumbrismo and finally to Naturalism, but all with a heavy romantic tinge” (ibid., 539). As the name suggests, costumbrista plays were a lighter form of theater, focused on popu lar customs and animated by a satirical intent for which the prevailing social mores or the illusions surrounding political power were common targets (ibid., 99). However, in the case of Colombia and Venezuela the repertoire was in fact considerably less varied. There theatrical activity “was almost exclusively and routinely romantic, alternating with standard Costumbrismo and the Spanish short lyric theater, the género chico” (ibid., 549). It was in the 1850s that Venezuelan theater took this romantic turn, with plays thereafter “conforming to the strictures of historical melodrama suffused with a local patriotic vision” (Azparren Giménez 1997, 92). The goal of forming virtuous citizens was carried over from the neoclassical period into romanticism largely unaltered, only now it was the discrete nation rather than the Bolívar’s Enlightenment-inspired vision of a vast confederacy that was the overriding concern. Like the neoclassical plays that came before them, in every case the historical dramas from the romantic period sought to instill in the audience the appropriate love and loyalty to the nation, as well as values and behaviors befitting a republican constituency (ibid., 75–78, 91–102; Galindo 2000, 1–23; Rojas 1986, 7–17). These dramas may be regarded as hybrid formations, where romantic and neoclassical modes of expression, aesthetic motifs, and concerns reach a compromise. To some extent these plays’ neoclassical abstract universalism was nuanced by a romantic aesthetic in which local color and the subjectivity of the protagonists were given somewhat greater expression (Azparren Giménez 1997, 80–82). Increasingly, and more so as the century progressed, theatrical production seized on the bourgeois family as one of its preferred subject matters. Rather than supplanting historical and explicitly nationalist themes, however,

206 The French Repertoire this “moralizing and lachrymose melodrama” complemented them, with plays featuring the former continuing to be produced until the very end of the nineteenth century. Moreover, both familial and historical melodramas answered to a similar moral didacticism, in which the goal of upholding civic values and the established republican order remained paramount (ibid., 96). In the final decades of the century, the local scene diversified. Included in the new, wider range of theatrical fare were light comedies, operas, and zarzuelas, or lyric dramas, routinely imported from Europe, especially from Spain, as well as plays from some of the more important European romantic authors (ibid., 89). Confirming what was said concerning the primarily pedagogical and moralizing intent of the local theater, those foreign authors with a view of the “theater as an instrument of social improvement and development, in the sense of both moral teaching and moral ratification” were most favored locally (ibid., 88). Also acquiring some importance in the closing decades of the century were locally produced plays belonging to the costumbrista genre. Meanwhile, staged in premises different from those used for these forms of theater, other more obviously popular spectacles such as sainetes (brief comic operas), nacimientos (nativity plays), and Jerusalenes also drew a considerable audience (Galindo 2000, 50). Less constrained by formal requirements and therefore giving more room to the actors’ improvisational abilities, and for the most part devoid of any civilizing or modernizing intent, the primary concern of costumbrista plays was to entertain the audience. They were the explicit “other” that republican theatrical criticism used as a “foil for legitimating its own discourse aimed at ordering the new society” (ibid.). Finally, the last years of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of the first efforts at naturalism. By and large, this aesthetic continued and consolidated both local theater’s role as a “lay pulpit” for lectures on bourgeois society and the sense of the prevailing republicanism as an “atemporal order” (Azparren Giménez 1997, 79). The Venezuelan theater did not follow rigidly evolutionary lines of development, with artistic schools succeeding one another in as orderly a fashion as pupils in schoolyard formation. The monumentalizing and broadly didactic impulses of an early theater were not left behind like a heavy neoclassical costume that an exuberantly romantic actor takes off onstage. Leonardo Azparren Giménez tacitly acknowledges as much when he refers to the local historical melodramas as plays that were both “neoclasssical and romantic” (ibid., 82). The situation for Latin America as a whole is well captured by the Chilean literary critic Cedomil Goic, who characterizes the region’s nineteenthcentury theater as follows: from romanticism to naturalism, the modern drama from Hispanic America exhibits a sustained costumbrista tendency. Neoclassicism persisted fundamentally in the moral-didactic orientation of the theater and in the preservation of the dramatic units dictated by the representational economy. . . . But the new theater

The French Repertoire 207 was nuanced by costumbrista traits, which went from local color to the animation of scenes and regional types. (1991, 661)

In the case of Venezuela, theatrical diversification should not obscure the local theater’s continuing investment in exalting the heroic and exemplary virtues of a few chosen representatives. Throughout the nineteenth century, heroic exemplarity remained a preoccupation of the Venezuelan theater, with consequences for the new nation’s imaginary that reach well into the present. It is sufficient to focus in the next section on costumbrismo as a broader literary genre in order to realize the extent to which a neoclassical politics of exemplarity remained the overriding agenda, not just of the theater, but of local literature as a whole.

Negative Exemplarity The term costumbrismo, although boasting manifestations in a range of literary forms including the theater, is used primarily to refer to a body of short literary texts commonly known as cuadros de costumbres, or sketches of manners. From the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth, not just in Venezuela but across Spanish America, this sort of literary sketch increasingly filled the pages of local publications (Barrios 1994, 15). As a whole, costumbrista texts were characterized by an intense focus on social surroundings, not out of concern with the subtleties or nuances of context but because of a strong desire for typicality. Costumbrista writers turned everyday occurrences into highly conventional scenarios of a gallery of types. Their work features not this or that complex character, practice, or situation, but rather “ ‘The romantic,’ ‘The swindler,’ ‘The salon,’ ‘The visit’ ” (ibid., 16). Costumbrista texts, in other words, “do not singularize but make rough sketches of characters and situations whose caricatured traits make up the generic” (ibid.). This predilection for the generic and the universal in turn informs all the other principal characteristics of the genre: an elitist brand of nationalism; overall satirical intent; the normative relations that obtain among first-person narrators, their readership, and the narrated realities; and the trademark didacticism found in virtually every manifestation of the genre. All of these features must be understood in reference to costumbrismo’s overriding taxonomical concerns. The significance of each characteristic of this literature must, in other words, be apprehended in light of costumbrismo’s overall drive to render everyday actors, circumstances, and appearances into exemplary instances within an ever-expanding gallery of allegorical types. Take, for example, the great gap in Venezuela’s “first costumbrismo” (1830–1859) that separated first-person narrators from the realities they held up to their readership as examples of everything they should avoid in order to attain civilization. Itself constitutive of the authority of these witness-narrators, such an Olympian distance was only possible because these texts reduced all narrative content to the status of objectified

208 The French Repertoire visual entities. Costumbrismo privileged the sense of sight, creating painterly allegories that passively illustrated whatever meaning or meanings the narrator wished to lecture his audience about (Barrios 1994, 15). Commentators often insist on the genre’s presumed humor, while assigning costumbrismo’s characteristic attention to local color to the stirrings of an incipient nationalism, which, in the long run, would lead to the formation of the nation’s literary canon. At least in reference to early costumbrismo, however, Alba Lía Barrios recommends caution with regard to any such generalizations. It is icy sarcasm, more than humor, that in her view set the tone of the genre during its formative period (ibid., 20–22). As for attention to local color, for Barrios, saying that from the beginning nationalism permeated the genre can be misleading, if by that term one means the kind of fervent love for the nation typically associated with romanticism. For her, cool distance rather than passionate attachment was the predominant sentiment in the kind of nationalism suffusing the genre in the first three decades after Venezuela’s independence (ibid., 17–24). With the cuadros de costumbres, sketches of manners, the nation itself entered literature as a legitimate subject for the first time, but it did so as an object of pitiless abuse. The nation as invoked in a series of tableaux was peopled by nearly static allegorical figures who were emblematic of whatever vices or shortcomings the first-person narrator chose to sermonize about; it was a nation the audience was urged to put behind itself on its way to a civilized existence. Always taking its distance from what was perceived as a highly flawed nation, the nationalism of the early costumbristas may be seen as joyless elite pedantry, the attitude of self-righteous satirists and wizened moralists bent on enlightening their audience by heaping abuse and scorn on whatever national characteristics they, in their pedagogical zeal, happened to seize upon. By now it should be clear how much the nationalism of the early costumbrista texts— characterized by elitism, pedagogical zeal, and peculiar forms of narrative authority— thrived on distance and objectification. With no autonomy, acting or speaking largely as mouthpieces of those negative characteristics that were the object of the texts’ sermonizing, the types of the first costumbrista texts stand as monuments to failure: the inability of the postcolonial state to address the new nation other than as a gallery of abstract types, a picturesque collection of largely docile, fully manipulable entities. It is as if, wary of a reality sundered by intractable antagonisms, silences, and gaps, the early costumbristas chose to retreat into writerly worlds peopled by a collection of fully present literary types over which they maintained complete mastery and which they could conveniently ridicule or berate. The other thing that should be clear from the preceding discussion is the extent to which the types of the first costumbrismo were negative exemplars. Unlike the republican “tribunes” that citizens were expected to imitate and revere as the community’s wholly positive, virtuous models, the costumbrista types were to be avoided and rejected. Indeed, instigated by the texts, such rejection and avoidance was the one pre-

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condition that citizens had to fulfill before achieving civilization, which costumbrista writings held before them as a beacon. Negative exemplarity, therefore, was the distinctive inflection that the first costumbrismo added to monumental governmentality. Rather than mirrors of virtues, the allegorical types crowding the pages of this literature epitomized all the vices citizens should steer clear of in their everyday dealings and transactions. Reflecting all those negative elements, costumbrista types were active agents of spiritualization. They were meant to be a means of extracting the readership from the nation’s existing realities while projecting it into a utopian future as the virtually bodyless citizenry of a civilized, freethinking republic to come. Whereas elsewhere on the stage of the polity the republican tribunes were paraded as objects of public contemplation and emulation, one might say that in the costumbrista genre it is these lofty exemplars who do the looking— even if what they see is not pretty. Gazing past their assembled audiences at the world outside the theater’s walls, these tribunes saw a nation that fell far short of their ideal of a civilized republic. “Social climbers, flatterers, corrupt politicians, insipid young ladies, dilettante dandies”— this was all that their forbidding gaze could see, against the blurry background of a faceless, anonymous crowd (Barrios 1994, 26). At least during costumbrismo’s initial period, its caricatures were drawn from Venezuela’s middle and upper echelons; the anonymous crowd was the sole representation that the popular sectors were granted in this literature. At times threatening, at others disorderly or annoying, as found in marketplaces or in other collective settings such as popular theaters, during carnival or on other festive occasions, this crowd was even worse than the negative exemplars; they violated every standard that the costumbristas upheld in their writings, from norms of hygiene to all the valued forms of “civilized” intercourse. This faceless crowd was the “other” against which, ultimately and for a long time, all forms of Venezuelan literature, costumbrismo included, set itself up. The writings of Lacoue-Labarthe offer an intriguing suggestion for dealing with the early costumbrista insistence on setting up a gallery of negative exemplars drawn from the middle classes while largely excluding the popular sectors from representation. To speak first to the insistence on the gallery, it may be regarded as a singularly perverse inflection of one of the strategies this author has identified as a means of forestalling subjects’ ongoing “desistance”from the hegemonic mirrors set up for their benefit. Referring to the unavoidable mismatch between the subject “himself ” or “herself ” and his or her reflections in the official mirrors set up by the polity, Lacoue-Labarthe speaks of multiplying those mirrors: [T]the obstacle upon which the specular reduction stumbles, we recall, is the impossibility of pictorially translating what the mirror could still represent analogically (by either trope or figure), that is, the polytechnic “essence” of mimesis. Unless, of course, we imagine a genre of painting aimed entirely at (re)constituting

210 The French Repertoire a kind of encyclopedia of the respective bodies of the trades or a gallery of portraits of workers (after all, such a painting does come to exist, and “Platonism” does have something to do with it). (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 124)

In other words, confronted with the subjects’ irrepressible “desistance,” the “polytechnic” mimetic powers whereby they ceaselessly become something else, the powers that be do not think of anything better than multiplying the mirrors in an attempt to fi x the multiplicity that constantly eludes them. If the costumbristas could envisage nothing better than instituting a gallery of negative types as the exemplars their readership should avoid, this is largely because of the vexed circumstances of their writing. As a practice of governmentality, costumbrista writings were inflected by the near-impossibility common to many other such practices, namely, that of including the popular sectors within the emergent republican polity. While monumentalizing practices more or less successfully circumvented the new nations’ realities by directing everyone’s gaze beyond them to a series of virtuous exemplars, no such possibility was available to costumbrismo. As a self-consciously literary form imbued with the contemporary romantic imperative of addressing the nation, from the start costumbrismo was compelled to somehow account for this nation’s manifold realities. It is on account of this compulsion that the impossibility of positive representation inflected the genre in the way that it did. Prevented from representing the nation as a multilayered yet unified reality recognizable to citizens as their own, costumbrista writings were from the start committed to an alternative strategy, that is, representing the nation negatively as a collection of abject exemplars, the mere spectacle of whom should suffice to short-circuit any identificatory impulses. In contrast, Lacoue-Labarthe’s “encyclopedia of the respective bodies of the trades” is a last-ditch attempt on the part of the established order to arrest the subjects’ mimetic drift through an encouragement of identification with any one among all the different trades or occupations that were included within it. The “encyclopedia” is designed, that is, to replace the invisible operations constitutive of the subjects’ disquieting mimetic powers with a gallery of visible “workers.” In this regard, Lacoue-Labarthe’s “encyclopedia” may be seen as a radical attempt at “worlding,” a means of rendering this-worldly the subject’s other-worldly, invisible, indeed truly ghostly mimetic powers by subjecting these to the “either-or” calculus of power. Unlike this encyclopedia, the gallery of negative exemplars of early costumbrismo was a method aimed at producing a kind of chorus of disembodied souls, discreetly watching in the dark the political spectacle the republican tribunes were staging for their benefit. To recapitulate, short-circuiting by means of its sharp satire any possibility that its readership would identify with the negative exemplars it presented to them, costumbrismo’s goal was to extricate this readership from the nation’s debased realities while projecting it into a utopian future as the abstract citizenry of a civilized republic

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to come. The nineteenth-century republic was always about to succumb to disorder— not only from the pressures of the threatening crowds, but also from a circulation of commodities increasingly free from any form of political control, about which I will have more to say in a moment. It chose to deny the real nation in favor of an ideal nation-not-yet-realized and ultimately unrealizable, composed of equal and interchangeable citizens, free of “local color” or any other contextual determinations. Charged by the conventions of the genre with representing the nation, it was in costumbrista literature— early costumbrismo in particular—where I propose that such denial of the existing nation achieved the most virulent manifestations. As the discursive context in charge of delineating the nation that the republican tribunes looked at only to find it wanting, from the start this literature powerfully aided in the reification of the Venezuelan republican state. By subjecting the nation’s existing realities to a forbiddingly puritanical glare, costumbrismo reified the state’s perspective as the standpoint from which the nation melts into a formless, chaotic mass, only to be born again, each time refounded and reshaped by the demiurgic interventions of the state that, by constitutional fiat, brings the nation into being. All of this, of course, is testimony to a long-standing Jacobinism, a stubborn French strain that from the beginning, and regardless of the first republic’s federalism, has been constitutive of the Venezuelan republican state. It is not surprising that costumbrismo so seamlessly found its place alongside other contemporary discursive and nondiscursive practices within a shared problematics of governmentality. No less than the monumentalizing practices I have described, costumbrista writings may be at least in part interpreted as an articulated response to a turbulent, inarticulate reality. Barrios acknowledges as much when she accounts for the animosity of the first costumbrismo towards all forms of collective expression, the fact that the popular feast was the crucial “other” against which the genre set itself, in terms of “the need that the ruling class had of preserving the order required for progress to take place under the prevailing mercantilism. In reality, behind the expression order and progress what lurked was the fear of popular irruption. The ironic I of our first Costumbrismo is implacable vis-à-vis the popular” (1994, 96; 98). During the period of the Conservative Oligarchy (1830–1848, the era dominated by José Antonio Páez), the polity was maintained through the ongoing reenactment of the distinction between itself and the threatening outside, with the popular masses inhabiting a theater of shadows, a rapid succession of blurred settings in which no discrete figure emerges from a background of diffuse terror. Chaotic, fi lthy marketplaces or riotous popu lar gatherings where all rules of decorum are flouted—these are some of the primary ways the crowds were represented in the early costumbrista literature. So great was the fear of these crowds that in spite of the typologizing bent of this literature during an initial period, popu lar types were thoroughly banned from it. Only in a second stage, between 1860 and 1890, was the llanero, or plainsman, welcomed in the genre as a popular figure emblematic of the nation (Rivas Rojas 1997, 19–31), though the figure was so empty of singularizing

212 The French Repertoire traits that it is doubtful whether initially its assigned role was to serve as an exemplary model for the subaltern populations.

A Strategy of Disappearance If in the pages of the early costumbrista literature the masses remained faceless, they nevertheless provided the background against which the negative exemplars of this literature took shape. I mentioned above that until 1859, the end of its first period, it was from the society’s middle and upper echelons that costumbrismo’s galleries of negative exemplars or types were exclusively drawn. Indeed, the elite negative types that this literature subjected to censure and ridicule were specifically emblematic of varieties of consumerist behavior. This is consistent with the character of the Conservative Oligarchy as a regime that issued from the alliance of the state with the commercial sectors of the economy. From 1839 onward, following the increase in Venezuelan exports (Rodríguez Campos 1988a, 766), the nation was increasingly awash in imported commodities that threatened to overturn all forms of authority, including that of the nascent postcolonial state. Although these imports covered a wide spectrum, including necessities ranging from cotton products and agricultural implements all the way to footwear, seeds, cooking oil, and flour, in Caracas and some of the other provincial capitals a sizeable proportion of imports consisted of luxury items such as fashionable clothing (from England and especially France) and expensive wines and liquors. Writing around the turn of the nineteenth century in Paris, José María Rojas looked back on 1839, when Venezuelan exports to the international market began to increase, as the year when a “ceaseless” flood of imported commodities and “foreign” usages began to enter the country. Rojas viewed the development with considerable distaste, considering it responsible for bringing ruin to the nation’s patriarchal customs, “filial harmony,” and austere religiosity (Rojas Espaillat 1963, 174).1 He blamed it for replacing the chaste dyadic love of the past with the seedy “triangles” and promiscuous desires of the present (ibid., 175). Whoever points a finger at fashion and other expensive consumption habits is also speaking of a desiring subject eager to adopt an expanding range of commodities as infinite, in principle, as this subject’s abiding lack. And such a subject, gnawed by mimetic desires, will be relatively impervious to the demands made by political power— especially, I might add, to those of a relatively weak state. Th is was the case of the Venezuelan postcolonial state that was established in 1830, when what is nowadays Venezuela finally came into being as a discrete nation. Struggling under the weight of debt contracted to England during the wars of independence (Bushnell and Macaulay 1988, 19; Malavé Mata 1974, 94) and still struggling to impose central authority over a nation in which the passions of federalism and the recent independence struggles remained high, this state’s ability to command the allegiance of its citizens was indeed fragile. Hence the insistence of the early costumbrista literature on portraying all sorts of

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characters, from gamblers and dandies to fickle young ladies, as negative emblems of the kind of disorderly consumerist behavior perceived by the state as threatening. It may seem paradoxical to characterize costumbrismo and its strong anti-consumerist message as a practice of governmentality consubstantial with a regime for which consumption and commerce were clearly crucial. Upon closer inspection, however, the paradox dissolves. The contrasting priorities simply speak to the fact that, no matter how closely they are related, the state and the economy, government and commerce are never quite the same; they answer to different constraints. What is good for the economy may not necessarily be so for the state, and vice versa. While the economy thrives on the changeability of a desiring subject ready to acquire an endless series of commodities while adopting infinite roles, the state thrives on self-identity and autochthony. In this light the negative exemplars of the first costumbrismo may be regarded as attempts to symbolically control this mutability of selves by bringing it under some moral principle capable of setting limits to capricious, destabilizing wanderings. Certainly the links between mimesis and the economy are strong; the mimetic crisis characterizing the last days of the colony and the early independence period was accompanied by a steady growth in the flow of commodities. Colonial Venezuela’s economic success eventually brought an increasing variety of commodities to its coasts, and not just through authorized channels but also via myriad smuggling operations that consistently eluded colonial authorities. The situation intensified with independence and Venezuela’s incorporation into the North Atlantic capitalist world. The irrigation of already considerable internal economic activity by a strong flow of imported commodities clearly belies the image, still widespread among historians, of nineteenthcentury Venezuela as an enclosed, autarchic domain ruled by primitive strongmen surrounded by armies of ignorant peasants. And once one admits that the internal market was considerably more differentiated than is usually allowed, the suspicion begins to take shape that, as Malcolm Deas has it, local politics and social dynamics were presided over by forces far more complex than the stereotypical caudillos of the Anglo-Saxon imagination (1985, 670). Interacting in powerful ways with the vast political crisis brought about by the collapse of the Spanish monarchy, the increasing commodification of social relations that was characteristic of the post-independence period unleashed a mimetic subject who, caught in an irrepressible metonymic sliding, dwelt as part of the crowds in the newly opened spaces vacated by the king’s momentous disappearance. One does not need to determine which came first, politics or the economy, the crisis of the monarchy or the commodification of the social, to discern here something like Derrida’s “economimesis,” according to which the movements of the economy and the mimetic activity of the subject are inextricably connected (Derrida 1981a, 3–4; see also Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 124). Economimesis stays ahead of political demands; as headless circulation, it is always already doing away with the king’s head, that is, dispensing with any constituted principle of political authority.

214 The French Repertoire Confronted with this “catastrophic” economy, the regime of the Conservative Oligarchy ruling Venezuela at the time had few ways of responding,2 all of which combined violence and representation in variable proportions. The weakening of state institutions and forms of authority in the wake of the devastating, economically ruinous wars against Spain had rendered the established order incapable of incorporating the masses into the polity by, for example, actively fostering the constitution of a selfconfident, well-articulated civil society (which, under the circumstances, could only have posed threats to the state) not afflicted by the sense of make-believe alluded to before. Instead, lacking the capacity to shape citizens, the regime became determined to undermine any autonomous expression of citizenship and civility, working to actively prevent any positive identification from taking place in the realm of the social. Generally speaking, the republican order that emerged from independence thrived on ineffability and violence. In other nations the workings of the polity might have approximated what Lacoue-Labarthe refers to as an “entire political orthopedics” aimed at reducing any “senseless,” untoward excess (1989, 124), but in Venezuela the situation was, and in many ways continues to be, somewhat more complicated. Since the nation’s beginnings, the realm of government and the state has been in many respects beholden to an excessive and frequently erratic politics of exemplarity. Considerable energies, of course, continue to be invested in the “orthopedic” task of molding the heroic, virtuous exemplars with which everyone should identify. But these exemplary models are forbidding paragons, lofty, heroic personifications of an entire art of government, which, by definition, even the nation’s political representatives—not to mention its common citizens— can only approximate from an ultimately unbridgeable distance. It is true that, as would-be walking embodiments of state authority, the former do come somewhat closer to the ideal, constantly striving to publicly impersonate all the excesses and solemnities of rule; in order to govern, however, these noble characters must, nearly all the time, supplement their monumentalized appearances with their “dancing.” As for the rest, Venezuela’s common citizens, it is not uncommon to see them gesticulating and walking around like miniaturized replicas of oversized, heroic originals. Yet it is as if a self-reflexive awareness of the gap between presumed “originals” and “copies” is intrinsic to the per formance, with the result that at no moment is the subject really able to call the adopted model his or her own, the “natural” manifestation or outward expression of what he or she “really” is, of his or her “own” inner subjectivity. On the contrary, such a subject is forever explicitly caught in theatrical specularity. Theoretically, of course, this is true of subjects everywhere. In Venezuelan politics, however, this theatrical specularity is, dare I say, more reflexively assumed, with everyone somehow aware of their public selves as make-believe artifacts, prosthetic attachments they put on and take off for one another, while signaling their status as so many mere copies of a few larger-than-life originals. Beyond all the apparent bravado occasionally emerging out of the easy self-mockery, disconcerting fluidity, and sensuous bodiliness

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that are the hallmark of Caribbean social relations, such performances are ways of showing allegiance. It is as if by raising one’s voice and stomping one’s foot on the ground, throwing one’s head forward and slicing the air with one’s finger pointing at the other in a gesture of supreme tribunal authority, one brings the entire state to bear on the everyday. Yet this can last for only a few moments. Before long such figures dissolve, and subjects once again return to their endemic ineffability, to the baroque flow of things that is the nation’s customary way of being.3 In the face of such hyperbolically self-assertive gestures, the only possible (explicit) attitude is one of subservience and devotion,4 which, somewhat paradoxically but nonetheless quite effectively, the subject’s statuesque performance does not cease to proclaim. Indeed, by virtue of modeling themselves after some exemplary, monumentalized figure of authority codified as such in the collective imaginary, such subjects publicly declare that regardless of everyday appearances their own humanity is pledged elsewhere, that it somehow belongs to and draws validation from an absent, higher sphere of personalized power and authority. The largely untranslatable expression tirar la parada, meaning something like “pulling a stop,” or, less literally, “striking a pose” and bringing everything including oneself to a sudden halt—a maneuver used by Venezuelans on the most varied occasions—is the equivalent of this performance. It names those moments when someone interrupts the baroque flow of everyday social interchanges and appearances, freezing suddenly and taking on the rigidity of a neoclassical monument. With connotations of intense make-believe, such performances are ways of luring an opponent into thinking that somehow real force lurks behind one’s austere words, appearance, and demeanor. Theatrical par excellence, even in self-mockery the act of tirar la parada reproduces the scene of tribunes staring straight into an audience, about to lay down the law. A subject in this position is always uncertain about the actual force he or she is able to muster; the only asset he or she can count on and is somewhat recklessly willing to exploit is a propped-up, monumentalized appearance as the means to create the illusion of force—or, at the very least, a situation of tense uncertainty in which, with everyone and everything including the main actors momentarily frozen in a tableau vivant, the uneasy thought “what now?” crosses everyone’s mind.5 José Antonio Páez’s Conservative Oligarchy was a regime of notables, because the imposing figure of the notable presided over not only the sphere of political representation, but also over a whole range of what are sometimes referred to as intermediate institutions and associations of the time. Th is figure left its imprint on the period’s economic, scientific, and literary associations, no less than on the salons, local newspapers, and institutions of learning. But it is important not to see the notable as the expression of a differentiated civil society. When he made an appearance he was typically enveloped in an imposing aura signaling his status as the exalted embodiment of the laws of the republic. As such he also embodied an abstract function of government. Thus any singularizing traits enabling observers to distinguish one

216 The French Repertoire notable from another—identifying them variously as, for example, academics, lawyers, scientists, journalists, or bankers—were, and in some ways even continue to be, largely overshadowed by their abstract exchangeability as personifications of the virtuous republic. This means that telling notables apart was a hard thing to do: beyond minor differences, their appearances were ways of bringing the state, in all its crushing, overbearing solemnity, to bear on the everyday. It also means that the so-called intermediate institutions were largely the expression of a certain form of government, the means whereby the regime gained a hold in social life, subjecting it to its imperious, somewhat despotic logic. In this respect all these institutions’ belabored theatricality, and the insistence with which they staged their presumed goals, were means of letting everyone know that state power was at work in them. In other words, it was always a matter of letting the state shine through these institutions’ cumbersome ceremonial trappings. As a result, discoursing on a new scientific discovery from Europe, for example, or on some abstruse point of theology were primarily ways for a speaker, through his own bloated public appearance, gestures, and demeanor, to publicly assert the might and the right of the state. The exemplary figures of the oligarchic state actively conspired to maintain the entire nation in a condition of formlessness, awaiting the state’s demiurgic dictates. Yet, as suggested earlier, the implications were different depending on whether it was the masses the regime wanted to interpellate or the more affluent sectors of the society. With regard to the postcolonial crowds, the impossibility of incorporating them into the polity meant that the state could not offer them any representational option—not even for the purpose of reducing their mimetic violence— other than a kind of awful ineffability. This is why, not just in Venezuela but all over nineteenth-century Hispanic America, the paired terms civilization and barbarism played such an organizing role in contemporary discourse, from literature and politics to a wide range of civic and educational manuals. That is, the concepts were widely invoked not so much because the masses were backward and archaic compared with their enlightened rulers, as so often has been argued, but, rather for the exact opposite reason, because they were too modern, too possessed of the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality characteristic of the times. Rabble, hordes, riotous crowds, stinking agglomerations of libidinous bodies: these were some of the ways the postcolonial masses were commonly represented at the time. The terminology amounted to so many strategies of disappearance, ways of decreeing the masses’ nonexistence, or, at most, a kind of semi-existence in which, as in some poorly lit purgatory, they would wait until the state one day brought them into the promised land of citizenship. If early constumbrismo, as the literary genre most explicitly charged with representing the nation, was an important discursive context from which the notables looked over that nation, then it is also true that under their forbidding glare the nation thoroughly dissolved, leaving the state as the sole solid reality, a powerful torch in

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a shadowy world. I must call attention to how much the state’s monumentalizing practices contributed, not so much to the “invention of tradition,” as to the ongoing reification of the state. Indeed, no matter how persistent the nation’s traditions might otherwise be—perhaps lingering, as Jorge Luis Borges would say, in an old woman’s stutter or gait—they are what the Venezuelan state relentlessly endeavors to do away with. And as a literary genre, costumbrismo does not so much codify traditions as set them up for disappearance. In many areas of the world, the extensive recording and codification of local mores have been a means whereby the colonial and postcolonial state has regulated its relationships with its subjects. In India, for example, the colonial state diligently recorded and represented to itself and to its subjects a welter of local customary roles, ceremonies, status relations, and hierarchical arrangements as a means of gaining leverage in the local order of things.6 There has been no equivalent to this in Venezuela. The fact that for a long time such representational practices were largely absent not only from Venezuela but also from Hispanic America as a whole is one reason we should be cautious about applying insights gained from the study of other colonial and postcolonial experiences. Beyond a few generalizations about the postcolonial condition that are valid everywhere, the usefulness of any insights to be gained from comparison with other regions is contingent on careful consideration of the relevant differences. Chief among these is the state, which in Venezuela is continually reified as the overarching instance from which the nation is ceaselessly brought into being out of formlessness and chaos. Continuously reaffirmed by a wide range of governmental practices and everyday values and behaviors, the state becomes the only important tradition, confronted with which all others seem to melt away. In line with the nation’s enduring Jacobinism, the image that emerges here is that of a state forever facing a chaotic, shapeless, everchanging reality that it must repeatedly shape. And the result it aims for is an assembly of virtuous, “civilized” citizens extricated from contextual determinations or traditions. To call such an imagined assembly a tradition is only to stretch the meaning of the term to the point of meaninglessness: what is celebrated about such a “people” is not the influence of the past, but the role it may play as the presumed bearer of a “general will” enunciating the future. Even when, with the second wave of costumbrismo of the last decades of the nineteenth century or during the populist regimes of the twentieth, some work on Venezuelan tradition has actually been done, for the most part the general situation has remained unchanged. Emblematic figures of “the people”—the nineteenth-century Plainsman or the twentieth-century Juan Bimba, and the many local dances and festivities that twentieth-century populist regimes have staged and celebrated—were by and large allegories of velocity and displacement. They were shallow, evanescent forms largely bereft of density or sociology, through which the state momentarily pictured to itself the evanescent “people” of a spectacularized, shallow nation.

218 The French Repertoire To insist on the invented character of these banalized “local” traditions as a means of demystifying them and the power relations presumably encoded in their shimmering exteriors is, in Venezuela, an idle exercise. All that these so-called traditions really encode is the gaze of the state at play on the glitzy, glittery surfaces of a make-believe nation. In a place like Venezuela where, with the exception of the originating will of the state, everything, including the nation, is more or less nonproblematically assumed to be an artifact, such demystifying practices make only limited sense.7

The Deceptive Arcadia There are compelling historical reasons for costumbismo’s characteristic inclusions and exclusions. In order to address them it suffices to focus briefly on period between 1830 and 1859, when costumbrismo developed as a distinctive genre. With the wars of independence over and the foundational republican episodes a receding memory, this was a time that saw the emergence and demise of Paez’s Conservative Oligarchy. It was in 1830 that under the leadership of Bolívar’s most powerful surviving general, José Antonio Páez, Venezuela finally became an independent nation. To evoke the conundrums involved I can think of nothing better than to say that, in hindsight, Venezuela came into being marked by an original sin: the expulsion from its territories of Venezuela’s favorite son, the General Simón Bolívar, who died in exile a few months later in Colombia. In hindsight, I say, because the nation would be saddled with its sinful origins only belatedly when, with the invention of the cult of Bolívar by the regime of Guzmán Blanco in the 1870s, Bolívar was instituted as the father figure to whom the nation in its fallen condition remains structurally indebted (Carrera Damas 1989, 177–90, 112–20). During the years between the expulsion of the Liberator and the establishment of his cult, Bolívar’s status in the nation was, to say the least, ambiguous. For the first few years after his expulsion his reputation was subjected to considerable public abuse, with a chorus of voices constantly decrying in the press and in other publications his alleged centralism and overall despotic tendencies. At least in public, during this period Bolívar was universally portrayed as a Napoleon-like figure whose authoritarian militaristic legacy endangered the new nation’s liberalism (Perazzo 1984, 21–28; Carbonell [1931] 1994, 100–03, 109–12; Uslar-Pietri 1970, 124). But in the 1840s Bolívar, or, perhaps better, “Bolívar,” began making a comeback, literally imported from Colombia: amid considerable pomp and circumstance, in 1842 his remains were officially brought back, or, as the saying went, “repatriated” by the state from the neighboring nation. A move with lasting consequences for the nation’s imaginary, the decision to repatriate Bolívar’s remains was taken by the Venezuelan state under considerable pressure from the nascent Liberal party. For over two years, and as part of its bid to seize power, the members of this orga nization waged a relentless propaganda campaign centered on “Bolívar” as the figure of identification around whom the party could rally the masses.

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The status of “Bolívar” was made abundantly clear in 1846 by Antonio Leocadio Guzmán, one of the two main leaders of the Liberal party and father of the future president of Venezuela, Antonio Guzmán Blanco, who has already appeared several times in this book. In an editorial in the final issue of El Venezolano, the newspaper Guzmán had during the previous years directed with truly incendiary results for the local political situation, he called attention to the role that “Bolívar” had played since 1840 in the Liberal party’s attempts to muster the support of the masses (Guzmán [1846] 1983, 436). Prompted by the Liberals’ goal of breaking the tight circle of the Conservative Oligarchy, so as to make government more responsive to the alternation of power among individuals and groups standing for different interests, the attempts took place amidst a severe economic crisis linked to a sharp decline in the price of coffee, which in the early 1840s was the nation’s main export crop. This crisis, one among a series of nearly catastrophic economic downturns that, on account of the nation’s vulnerability to global fluctuations, have affected Venezuela since independence, came with important sociocultural consequences. These included the ruin of large numbers of Venezuelan agriculturalists, owners of medium-sized and relatively large haciendas. In the previous decade, when the prices of coffee were high, many of them had borrowed money at high interest rates in order to conduct their operations, but now, by force of legislation, they had to either repay their loans or lose their properties to the lenders. Given the importance of the agricultural export sector of the economy, the situation could not fail to have significant effects on the nation’s larger economy and society. With the progressive breakdown of this sector, ever-larger numbers of individuals were released from the economic and social arrangements, the productive relations and patronage networks, in which they had been more-or-less precariously inserted in the countryside, and as a result they were increasingly collecting as crowds in the main cities and towns of Venezuela. There they joined the pardo craftsmen and shopkeepers whom the circumstances of a shrinking internal market had made increasingly restless (Pérez Vila 1992d, 76–89; Pino Iturrieta 1992a, 109–14). It was these restless populations, increasingly free from available forms of social control and with no discernible place in the order of things, that the emergent Liberal party sought to attract to itself by using the figure of “Bolívar.” How “Bolívar” could fulfill this identificatory role will be clarified later in this book. What is important to realize here is the extent to which, notwithstanding the charges of ingratitude leveled at the nation later on by the cult, the very birth of Venezuela as an independent nation was contingent on the Liberator’s expulsion. Bolívar had been committed to what Luis Castro-Leiva calls the “Enlightenment illusion” of Gran Colombia as a unitary institutional framework— a country that encompassed, briefly, the territories of what are today four independent nations. Lasting only eleven years after its establishment by the Congress of Angostura in 1819, it dissolved in 1830 under strong centrifugal pressures. But Gran Colombia was Bolívar’s rationalist utopia. By all accounts a grandiose design, the vast politico-administrative unit he conceived was

220 The French Repertoire an inherently centralist construct worthy of the enlightened despotism of the Bourbons. In actuality, as Bolívar’s brief experience with the dictatorship in 1828 suggested, the use of inordinate amounts of state force together with a militarization of all public existence were required for its implementation (Castro Leiva 1985, 17–29). Yet to speculate on the scheme’s practicality is somewhat idle. Although not necessarily theoretically unsound, Gran Colombia was doomed from the beginning. The design flew in the face of the intractable geographical, social, institutional, and infrastructural realities of the day. Neither the vast geographical distances, nor the state of the available means of communication, nor, even less, the politico-administrative and social divisions inherited from the colony could sustain such an abstractly rationalistic construct (Lombardi 1982, 154–56; Soriano de García Pelayo 1998, 115–20). And so the inevitable happened. In 1830 the territories of present-day Venezuela split from the larger unit to become an independent nation. This action was shortly followed by the desertions of Ecuador and Colombia and Panama (the latter two together, as the Republic of New Granada) from the larger politico-administrative unit. As the emergent elites from each of these places asserted independent control over their respective territories, Gran Colombia splintered among unequal national fragments. It is at this point that the task of nation-building truly began in the northern corner of South America. In the case of Venezuela, this involved an attempt to create a stable, orderly republic in circumstances in which everything seemed arrayed against such a goal; surely, the most severe problems were posed by the returning armies that, bathed in the epic light of their glorious deeds, were determined to cash in on their efforts. For the highest-ranking officers as well as for the rank and file, what that primarily meant was having access to the new nation’s best agricultural lands, something that in the heat of conflict had often been promised them. In addition, the officers expected their merits to be rewarded with both high social status and the benefits accruing to the exercise of political power (Carrera Damas 1986, 105–7; Halperín Donghi 1993, 74–76). Meanwhile, the recently established republic was thoroughly ravaged, with many agrarian properties reduced to ashes and the state largely bankrupt under the burden of an oppressive international debt incurred during the struggles (Bushnell and Macaulay 1988, 19; Malavé Mata 1974, 94–96). It was a case, in other words, of too many takers for a pie that was now woefully small. The solution that was found in some ways recreated the situation immediately preceding the wars. For years, the popular masses, interpellated by Bolívar and the army leadership, had played the role of protagonist in the independence struggles, but an attempt was now made to go back in some respects to before any of that happened. Much like the First Republic, the Fourth Republic that came into being, headed by Páez in the wake of Bolívar’s expulsion from Venezuela, was a highly restrictive polity, a “civilian” republic from which many of the main agents responsible for the victory against Spain were largely excluded. But this time,

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the experiment would prove more successful (Barrios 1994, 31–32, 35–35; Pérez Vila 1992, 56–69; Pino Iturrieta 1992a, 103–12). I can only outline here how such a feat of exclusion was accomplished; in any event, beyond a few grand generalizations, the topic still awaits adequate treatment in the relevant historiography. Suffice it to say here that the exclusion was brought about through the alliance between José Antonio Páez, the leading military figure coming out of the wars of independence, and some of the most prominent civilians, both local and foreign, of the Venezuelan postcolony. In the corsi e ricorsi to which, for heuristic reasons, I have reduced Venezuelan history—not without simplification but also, I hope, not without some gains in understanding—the political settlement reached in the decades immediately following the establishment of the nation is of signal significance. After the collapse of the First Republic in 1812, the Conservative Oligarchy was the first lasting crystallization of the kind of imaginary-cum-governmental formation that I have called the Fragile Collection. The type of republic that emerged during the era of Páez indeed demonstrates one of the two alternative forms that, as I have argued, the exercise of political power has tended historically to assume in Venezuela, though neither form is ever fully realized. A highly restrictive arrangement, what is distinctive in this governmental regime is the existence of a relatively autonomous and stable civil society, perpetuated and made possible, however, by means of the most uncompromising exclusion of vast majorities from the polity. While in a republic of this kind citizens’ rights, intermediate forms of association between the so-called public and private spheres, and relatively clear rules of the game exist and may even be said to thrive (Barrios 1994, 37–42; Galindo 2000, 5–8; Pérez Vila, 1992d, 59–60, 63–69; Pino Iturrieta 1992a, 105–8), all of this is not without considerable cost. These accomplishments, such as they are, are only brought about on the basis of the aforementioned exclusion of the masses from the polity, whose boundaries, as a result, become danger zones fi lled with fear and subject to much policing. Much like the First Republic, yet with considerably greater success, the Conservative Oligarchy may thus be considered a regime of notables; perhaps no other sociopolitical formation in Venezuela has since embodied the principles of such a regime better. Even today, Venezuelan historians sometimes wax lyrical about the flourishing rights and freedoms, the robust press and publishing activities, the new theaters, enlightened salons, and various civic associations of both an economic and a scientific nature said to have prospered in the first two decades after the establishment of Venezuela as an independent nation, often portraying that inaugural republican period as a lost Arcadia of civility that the nation has yet to recreate. There is no denying that these are, even if inflated by a retrospective glance, considerable accomplishments, especially when one is talking about an ex-colonial backwater that had just come out of a devastating war. Nevertheless, to highlight the

222 The French Repertoire accomplishments of the Conservative Oligarchy while downplaying the high costs involved in securing those accomplishments is clearly to engage in obfuscation. Highlighting these costs, on the other hand, intimates a disturbing possibility, that is, that in places like Venezuela the complex of practices and institutions generally known as civil society may have had a genealogy considerably more vexed and muddled than is the usual case with the realm of civilized intercourse and the transparency usually associated with the expression. In Venezuela at least, anything that one might wish to designate with that name was born of a highly opaque and antagonistic social field, and as the product of a range of important exclusions that to this day inflect the spheres of civic rights, activities, and associations, burdening them with a grievous inheritance. However, to characterize the Conservative Oligarchy as a regime of notables is also to identify it, as a matter of constitutional design as well as in terms of its hegemonic practices, as a tightly sealed realm of representation. In order to ensure the felicity of the notables’ performances, all conflicting realities were kept from intruding into the sphere of political representation. Just as with the first Venezuelan constitution of 1812, this requirement was firmly enshrined in the 1830 constitution that finally brought the nation into being as an independent entity. A hybrid of centralist and federalist principles, the 1830 document asserted the hegemonic role of Caracas over all of the provinces composing the new nation. By restricting the franchise to a narrow segment of the population, those in possession of both rents and property, the text also and more significantly for us effectively barred the vast republican masses from political representation. It instituted a two-tiered electoral system that restricted the voting population to the segment of property owners with some degree of education. Moreover, in order to qualify as an elector of the second degree, it was among other things necessary to “have a profession or useful industry that produces 300 pesos or an annual salary of 300 pesos. And thus the rents escalated according to category all the way up to deputy or senator” (Barrios 1994, 35). As enshrined in the 1830 constitutional text, the dominant vocabularies of the nascent republic drew on the foundational distinction between “civilization” and “barbarism,” as well as on a wide range of contemporary discursive and nondiscursive practices, indicating that the exclusion of the republican masses was generally experienced from above as a matter of life and death for the polity. And yet all of the available evidence also clearly suggests how fragile a construct the emergent sociopolitical order was, a fortress-like republic whose ramparts only briefly managed to stem the popular tide. Needless to say, neither the hegemony of Caracas nor the exclusion of the masses from the emergent polity could have been accomplished solely by constitutional fiat. To be successful, the constitutional injunctions had to be backed by a set of institutional arrangements capable of enforcing them. It was the alliance between General Páez and the commercial and financial sectors of the nascent republic that laid the infrastructural foundations of what would become a considerable institutional edifice.

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Páez brought to the alliance the necessary military force, including control over the vast masses of llaneros that had made up the bulk of the armies during the wars of independence; the commercial and financial sectors contributed the economic resources that such a force required to stay operative. The agreement Páez reached with these two sectors established a sociopolitical pattern that arguably, in some variant, still informs the workings of the Venezuelan political system today, namely, the establishment and consolidation of state power on the basis of resources drawn from the so-called external sector of the economy, where transnational interests generally prevail in opposition to other more locally based groups and interests. Since the time of independence, and continuing a pattern that was already well established during the colony, the commercial and financial sectors have been in the hands either of foreigners or of locals with well-established transnational connections. With the breakdown in Spanish domination, this long-standing pattern underwent considerable modification as the new nation began trading with the Atlantic world without intermediaries. The withdrawal of the Spanish meant the arrival in Venezuela of large numbers of merchants, mostly of British, Dutch, Italian, French, and German origin, who set up commercial houses, often with headquarters still in Eu rope, along the new nation’s coastline. In addition to overseeing a relatively significant flow of commodities coming in and going out of the nation, these houses acted as financial institutions in circumstances in which, partly due to the crises provoked by the wars, currency was chronically scarce (Cartay 1988, 247–48; for a somewhat different view see Harwich Vallenilla 1992). The commercial and financial sectors provided Páez with his most important allies, whereas the owners of the agricultural haciendas occupied at best a secondary, subordinate position. On account of their role as intermediaries between the local and the global economies, during the nineteenth century the foreign commercial houses became the most powerful sector of the national economy, controlling wholesale trade and the incipient capital markets (Cartay 1988, 249). Under the circumstances, the backing of the commercial and financial elites was a formidable asset. For example, it allowed the Páez regime to maintain a relatively well-staffed and equipped army in a constant state of readiness. Although quite small, and, hence, not capable of asserting complete monopoly over the use of violence (personal armies remained widespread in the region throughout the nineteenth century), the army could be counted on for suppressing dissent whenever it flared up in any province resentful of Caracas’ hegemony. While the regime was necessarily committed to a politics of constant negotiation and to the patient crafting of precarious alliances with the various regional powers, the fact that in the last resort it could appeal to the selective use of military force was far from insignificant. Access to resources and funding also allowed Páez and the other officers who rose to power with him to become large agrarian landowners, thereby inaugurating a long-lasting pattern of agrarian land concentration under the umbrella of the state,

224 The French Repertoire that stands in stark contrast to the colonial situation addressed in a previous chapter. It also allowed them to maintain relatively vast followings of retainers and glue them together by different forms of patronage (Frankel 1992, 133). In very broad strokes, then, these were the institutional arrangements that, at least for a time, enabled the Páez regime to keep the forces of federalism more or less at bay while excluding vast sectors from the polity, including the postcolonial masses and often the landowners themselves, who by and large were allowed little access to direct political power. These arrangements were supplemented by other means, among them the constitution of a highly exclusionary political system whereby the main offices were rotated among members of the dominant sector. Even if elections were conducted regularly, for the most part these were processes in which the ruling interests, often organized as family clans, controlled vast voting blocs by means of radiating networks of patron-client relations. This meant, of course, that for quite a while all elections were rigged from the beginning in favor of one or another member of the ruling oligarchy, leaving little room for anything remotely resembling a real alternation of power. In other words, while the names occasionally changed, the structure of power remained largely intact (Navas Blanco 1993, 44, 123–29; Pino Iturrieta 1992a, 104–5; Villanueva [1898] 1992, 35, 81, 113).8 Among the panoply of supplementary means, mention should also be made of the widespread use of penal measures such as executions and corporal punishment, both sanctioned by laws and regulations passed by the regime itself. In this connection, the issuing of legislation that punished crimes against property with extraordinary severity was of considerable importance for the regime’s perpetuation (Barrios 1994, 35; Pino Iturrieta 1992a, 104–5). Yet beyond the immediate effects of obedience exacted through fear, by and large such legislation failed in its long-term goal of arresting a labor force whose mobility was a constant source of social disquiet and unrest, as well as a grave impediment to the smooth operation of the economy. All of this is to say that, contrary to common historiographical opinion, the Conservative Oligarchy was not a period of unmitigated peace and tranquility. There is indeed abundant information in the archives that suggests the existence of considerable popular unrest during the period. As Alba Lía Barrios puts it, during this time “guerrillas of mulattoes, zambos, ruined agriculturalists, slaves and emancipated slaves routinely assaulted townships and haciendas: to mention only the slaves, there is reliable information concerning some 145 rebellions that took place during the oligarchical period” (Barrios 1994, 35–36). With the exception of a few Marxist historians who often subsume this unrest under one or another teleological framework, this popular ferment has not found its way into the pages of most historical accounts of the period. As Barrios also remarks, for these accounts the “mass” is “the ignored ‘dark side’ which . . . does not weigh significantly in the course of events” (ibid., 35). Often in combination with the flaring up of popular unrest, another ongoing source of tension was the recurrent expression of federalist tendencies in all of the different

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provinces throughout the period between 1830 and 1859. These tendencies had never been completely suppressed during the wars of independence, even as the needs of the struggle led to the subordination of virtually all expressions of difference and particularity to the dictates of a unified leadership. Although during this time Bolívar’s centralist grip over the struggle for the most part went unchallenged, the armies for independence nevertheless remained organized mostly along regional lines and under military leaders who, although subordinate to the Liberator, drew their power from and were firmly rooted in the different provincial realities (Lombardi 1982, 130–33). When Venezuela finally became an independent nation in 1830, the forces of federalism led a somewhat mute, subterranean existence for a while (Lynch 1992, 208–9; Banko 1988, 387), before finally erupting into broad daylight in 1835, during what has been called the Revolución de las Reformas. This movement was headed by ex-military leaders from the wars of independence who had served under Bolívar and were now disgruntled by what they saw as a total lack of official acknowledgement for all the merits they had accumulated during the struggle, as well as, more generally, by the “loss of military privileges and reduction of the size of the armies” (Safford 1985, 378) during the first government of Páez (Deas 1985, 523; Pino Iturrieta 1993, 51). Another crucial complaint had to do with the regime’s moderately dissimulated yet not for that less real centralist inclinations and tendencies. In the view of the rebels, the Páez regime, thinly disguised by a constitutional charter that was a hybrid of federalist and centralist principles, was steadily advancing the interests of Caracas over those of all the other provinces (Banko 1996, 101–42; Pino Iturrieta 1993, 51) The Páez regime suppressed the reform movement through the use of relatively lenient methods, including selective banishments and suspended death sentences (Lynch  1992, 208–9; Banko 1988, 387). It is no coincidence that the period’s considerable popular turmoil has been largely elided from most canonical accounts: at least for a large number of contemporary Venezuelan historians, the Conservative Oligarchy still appears akin to a lost civilian Arcadia, a comparatively prosperous state of grace in which citizens’ rights reigned supreme and from which the nation eventually fell due to the masses’ anarchic interventions at the behest of unscrupulous politicians. This rosy picture is jeopardized if the period’s considerable civic achievements are shown to have existed in tension with an endemic social ferment, whose ongoing suppression was the unstated yet crucially enabling precondition of these achievements—if, in other words, we challenge the topos of an uneventful Arcadia by insisting, with Barrios, on the “relative, tense, preinsurrectional” character of the “peace” (1994, 36) that many historians have singled out as one of those aspects of the period most worthy of celebration. Against such a turbulent backdrop, and much in line with a pattern that, for governmental purposes, the Founding Fathers of the nation had already established at the time of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence, during the First Republic the grandiose poses and attitudes to which the notables of the Conservative Oligarchy

226 The French Repertoire were so given appear for what they were: compulsive, ever-more-flamboyant iterations of the foundational scenes in which the republican order is brought into being. Combined with the use of sheer force or relations of patronage that were in themselves insufficient, this reiteration of the scene of foundation, along with the self-monumentalization of its most notable citizens that it presupposes, was under the circumstances the only shot the regime of the Conservative Oligarchy had at creating the appearance of order while at least momentarily reducing the mobility of the masses and their tendency to violently usurp the rulers’ hallowed roles and identities. To examine how this remarkable (if precarious) feat of the regime’s “tribunes” was accomplished, as well as the lasting consequences that it has had for the political imaginary of the nation, I now move to the next chapter of this book.

Chapter 7

Scenes of the Imaginary, I The Fragile Collection

Formed around the figure of a hero from the wars of independence, José Antonio Páez, the Conservative Oligarchy lasted some seventeen consecutive years between 1830 and 1847. It was a considerably more successful attempt at the monumentalization of the Venezuelan representatives, the “tribunes,” than the republican stage that Venezuela’s Founding Fathers—Roscio, Sanz, and the rest—had urgently set up in 1811, only to see it almost instantly collapse in the war against Spain. It was during the period of the Conservative Oligarchy that, even if only briefly, one of the two alternative “scenes” that compose the nation’s political imaginary—what for reasons that will be clarified I call the Fragile Collection—finally crystallized with some of the characteristics that it retains to this day. Since that period the self-monumentalization of the Venezuelan notables for purposes of government has proceeded largely unabated, President Hugo Chávez having taken it to ever-greater extremes, intent as he was on parading himself before the nation as Bolívar’s living successor. Much like the original republican experiment of 1810–12, Paez’s Conservative Oligarchy proved itself singularly incapable of providing the local populations with stable models of behavior with which they could positively identify and thus become bona fide citizens of the polity, worthy of everyone’s respect and recognition. As argued in the previous chapter, nothing akin to Lacoue-Labarthe’s “encyclopedia of the respective bodies of the trades” ever developed at the time, and to this day the situation has not changed. The only means of mimetic identification produced under Páez’s regime were exclusively negative, that is, the gallery of negative middle-class and upper-class types created by costumbrista writers, aimed not at fostering identification but, rather, at short-circuiting it. Meanwhile the literary landscape confined the vast majorities to the status of an amorphous crowd lurking menacingly in the background. This was the situation throughout most of the nineteenth century, when all of the major cities and main towns of the nation were ringed by ever-proliferating shantytowns (a situation that has persisted since then). Beyond moments of populist eruption when the masses violently knock at the door of the polity demanding to be let in—the Chávez 227

228 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection regime is one such moment—for the most part the relation of the republican state with the masses is as much a variable mix of monuments, patronage, and violence today as it was in the past.

As in History, So Too in the Theater In summarily disposing of the “real” nation while tacitly positioning the state as the sole solid reality, the early works of the costumbrista genre made it easier for other practices belonging to Venezuela’s monumental governmentality to neglect that nation, even as they reified the state via its exalted representatives, who were cast as the sole figures worthy of the citizens’ enduring love and devotion. I cannot here go into the myriad shapes that, over time, this reification has taken; enough to say that in the last decades of the nineteenth century it achieved truly popular dimensions, bearing testimony to how much the monumental governmentality addressed in this book had by then become routinized, affording the terms whereby regular citizens figured to themselves and to others their place in society. Instances of this popularity are the innumerable photographic portrait galleries displaying row after row of mustachioed notables, the busts of notables unveiled before clapping audiences, the tableaux vivants in which emblematic scenes from historical paintings depicting heroic events were routinely represented on the stages of local theaters, and the profusion of funerary crowns and presentation cards in which the iconography or deeds of one or another illustrious man were displayed or described, or both, as was often the case. All of these popular manifestations hark back to the historiography and theater of the oligarchic period. The history of that period and its theater are the preeminent sites where one of the two imaginary scenes composing Venezuela’s monumental governmentality was most diligently crafted, disseminated, and displayed. I refer to what I term the Fragile Collection, the imaginary scene of the “republic of notables” who presided over the first two decades of Venezuela’s life as an independent nation. Produced and sustained by various representational practices, this scene figures the republic as a virtuous polity held together by the words, gestures, and deeds of a collection of “great men” who, embodying the “general will,” are the new nation’s representatives. Even if not without challenges, erected over and against the negative foil provided by the first costumbrismo, this scene of lofty exemplars was dominant up until Bolívar’s definitive comeback in the 1870s and 1880s when, under the auspices of the cult that came to surround him, the notables were forced to take cover under the hero’s comprehensive shadow. Nothing of this was entirely new; we have already seen how, some two decades before, between 1810 and 1812, the fathers of the nation busily constituted themselves as the nation’s virtuous representatives, a task strongly informed by theatrical and historicizing presuppositions. Nevertheless, for reasons having to do with the need to endow the new nation, established in 1830, with a set of founding myths and legitimizing

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fictions, it was between 1830 and 1847, during the period of the Conservative Oligarchy, that the imaginary scene of a republic of notables achieved greater elaboration and consistency, becoming more or less canonized, with consequences that reach well into the present. As we recall, it was in 1830 that, the wars over, Venezuela’s separation from Gran Colombia led to the creation of a highly restrictive form of polity whose elites were eager to take the edge off the masses’ dangerous political and economic expectations, by advertising themselves as the new nation’s only rightful representatives. This was not an easy task under the prevailing circumstances: there were strongly armed populations everywhere, as well as officers just back from the wars who were willing to stake their claims on the postwar situation. Seeking to constitute themselves as the nation’s sole rightful representatives, the elites diligently enlisted a whole range of contemporary representational practices. It was, however, within the writing of history and the theater that they most fully articulated this goal. From the 1830s onward, the representational strategies characteristic of each of these genres have informed how the ruling Venezuelan elites represent to themselves and to others their providential role vis-à-vis the nation. Also noteworthy is the extent to which these two genres were sites of exchange with one another, historiography and the drama combining to produce the plots, claims, characters, and situations characteristic of both historical plays and works of history. The inspiration behind all this was Voltaire’s conception of history, which had a large impact on the actions and self-representations of the main contemporary actors, among them Bolívar, and this often without their full awareness. Voltaire seized on history as both the stage where his heroic figures played out their actions and passions and as the lofty tribunal from where such actions, reasons, and passions were to be judged by the audience. His was a theatricalized historiography, characteristic of the Enlightenment, that instructed its readership on the rational universal principles informing the historical process everywhere, spanning the variety of mores, geographies, and climates that, in all their diversity, made up the totality of human experience (Castro Leiva 1985, 66–76); it was a matter of showing how the proper subordination of the passions to reason drove historical progress. So crucial was it for this historiography that the proper relations between reason and passion be maintained that the overturning of reason by passion was its preferred way of accounting for those times when things went wrong and decadence set in. Some of the topics that Voltairean historiography accordingly tackled were “the greatness and decadence of a particular nation, the physics of power, the causes for the displacement of populations, the nature of industries” (ibid.). As an “artist-historian,” for this purpose Voltaire took inspiration from the actions of particular heroes to create vivid textual portraits or “paintings” that were powerfully expressive of the ways in which, in specific circumstances, reason and the passions came together to shape particular institutions or historical events (ibid., 68). In other words, this type of historiography had a strong aesthetic component as well as an overriding civic inspiration, with a pantheon of heroes functioning as both the

230 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection virtuous embodiment of the republic and the means whereby the republic is brought into being. In this as in so many other respects, Voltaire’s historiography did not stray far from the neoclassical aesthetic that provided one of its main sources of inspiration. As the Italian art critic Rosario Assunto argues, what separated the neoclassical aesthetic of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries from the earlier classicism of both the Renaissance and baroque periods was what neoclassicism did with the beau idéal. It transferred it from “the heaven of Platonism to the land of history, configuring as a relation between nature and history that which in the idealist aesthetic of the sixteenth century had been a relation between nature and idea” (Assunto 1990, 7–8). The preeminent neoclassical art theorist, Johann Winckelmann, held up the ancients, in particular those from Greece, as models the moderns should imitate on their way to a virtuous, civilized existence. The exemplarity of Greece issued from its historical precedence as the site where nature and history first met. During prehistoric times, according to Winckelmann, beauty and the ideal were “much as in a chemical solution, widely scattered in natural reality.” With the passage into history, which he primarily understood as civility, through the medium of art ideal beauty could take definite shape: “art brings about the crystallization of beauty, freeing . . . the idea from nature” (ibid., 89–90). That such a lasting crystallization could only be achieved in a civic context, and specifically in a republic, was a tenet central not just to Winckelmann’s aesthetic but to neoclassicism in general, at least from the late eighteenth century. Such a democratic form of organization contained the educational resources and civilizational values on which artists could draw to install beauty and the ideal in all their lawful universality, virtuous exemplarity, geometrical symmetry, and simplicity. It is hardly necessary to interrogate all the aporias and equivocations entailed in this kind of thinking, in which being and doing, the constituted and the constitutive surreptitiously trade places, to recognize the striking parallels between this concept of the neoclassical artist and the republican “tribune” who has thus far occupied much of my writing. Just as through their demiurgic interventions neoclassical artists installed beauty by “freeing . . . the idea” that already existed in a dispersed state in nature, thus giving it a lasting, universal form, so too did tribunes bring the republic into being, as paragons of virtue calling forth from the populace the “best self” that was contradictorily inscribed in everyone within the natural state. It is not by chance, therefore, that neoclassicism was the aesthetic of the French Revolution. From the start, this aesthetic invested the artist/legislator with attributes that were akin to those of a republican tribune. In other words, turning artists into tribunes and tribunes into artists, the politics, historiography, and aesthetic of the time placed these figures at the center of the virtuous, democratic republic, the privileged site where the ideal in all its different versions could be freed from nature and legislated into (historical) being. As Assunto points out, the way in which the relation between aesthetics and politics is commonly understood today is not the one that prevailed during the time of the Enlightenment and

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the French Revolution. Whereas today such a relation is conceived in largely instrumentalist terms, with aesthetics being subordinated to the political, in that relatively recent past the lines of causation ran the other way, with the aesthetic realm presiding over the political, itself understood as the shaping of a resilient nature through the imposition of universal forms. If, as Lacoue-Labarthe has said, the “agonistic (and consequently mimetic) rivalry with Antiquity . . . is in general foundational for modern politics” (1987, 117), this is because, in its constitutive duel with Christian theocratic rule and the baroque, modernity constructed for itself a version of antiquity as the site where such an aesthetic overdetermination of the world first took place. In the last instance the meaning that modern imitatio has in the “Latin countries” is that of the reenactment of such a foundational moment, when the neoclassical style was dominant along with the political form that neoclassicism ended up taking on—that is, the republican form (ibid., 118).

A theatricalized history . . . In Venezuela, after independence, but especially from the 1830s on, an intensely theatricalized historicity presided over both local theater and the writing of history, with a company of protagonists from the independence struggles figuring as the heroes who acted on the stage of history to bring about the republic. Until recently this image loomed over all writing of history in Venezuela, including those academic attempts that simply took this image for granted while pursuing their more specialized interests. Venezuelan republican historiography began with the main leaders of the wars chronicling their contributions to the cause of independence, either writing about their exploits themselves or having them written about by others (Carrera Damas [1968] 1980, 177; Velásquez 1981, 28). According to Carrera Damas, recording these achievements was a way to justify the wars and wean the common people away from their presumably monarchical leanings (ibid.); or, more likely, once the struggle was over, this chronicling was a means for the combatants to validate their claims over the new order of things. This style of historiographical writing became so popular that in his memoirs about the 1860s Delfin Aguilera, a participant in the Federal Wars, would refer to “that overabundant harvest of generals who, frequently, upon arriving in Caracas, had biographies published about themselves, which nearly no one took seriously” (1974, 50).1 So rich was the “harvest,” apparently, that at one point a Caracas newspaper ironically spoke of “this week, so fertile in the autobiographies of rural celebrities” (ibid., 136). Snide remarks aside, what is important to notice here is the prestige that a certain genre of historiographical writings must have enjoyed at the time, for a bunch of “rural celebrities” to feel the need to write autobiographies to establish their rights over the new situation after the wars. Th is genre of historiographical writing uses history as the backdrop against which the heroic words and deeds of the protagonist can stand out as well-sculpted

232 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection monuments. The writing is animated by the author’s impulse to “erect a historiographical monument to himself” (Carrera 1981, 179). This sort of care for one’s own image led José Antonio Paez to write his autobiography, and a series of Venezuelan rulers extending well into the twentieth century to do the same (ibid.). Much as in Voltaire’s writings, in these works recorded history becomes the tribunal from which the readership/audience passes judgment on the hero, whose actions and deeds are at any rate always already produced for posterity and with such a readership in mind (Castro Leiva 1985, 68–69). From these attitudes and preoccupations emerged, according to Ramón Velásquez, a “historical style that still today is in some sectors hegemonic. The heroic style, the statuesque. A style that aims to stamp pages with the glorious impetuosity of the leaders, the gestures of the caudillos” (1981, 38; my emphasis). And the style has proven perhaps more hegemonic than Velásquez seems to allow, since even in his own writings, otherwise often marked by an elegant lucidity, one can detect the insidious effects of the genre (see, for example, Velásquez 1989). Perhaps it was the Argentinean Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, one of the towering intellectuals of nineteenth-century Latin America and himself responsible for the wide currency the civilization–barbarism dichotomy acquired in the writings of many authors throughout the continent, who best defined how history was understood at the time: “General history, as you well know, has its seat among the Muses. . . . History is not, therefore, the simple narration of events; it is also one of the arts, and, just like statuary, it does not only copy the product of nature, but idealizes these products, harmoniously grouping them” (quoted in Velásquez 1981, 31–32; my emphasis). Once again we witness, this time in the domain of history, that quintessentially neoclassical gesture of freeing the ideal from nature and ushering it into history. In the first general history of Venezuela, Resumen de la historia de Venezuela— originally published in 1841 and strongly neoclassical in both tone and style—Rafael María Baralt drew on the personal memories of combatants as well as on other monumentalized personal histories in order to compose his vast fresco of the beginnings of the nation, precisely in line with such historiographical strictures. In every case, beyond more pragmatic concerns, such histories assigned absolute foundations to the republic while demarcating a luminous republican present from a somber colonial past mired in despotism and oppression.2 This sort of history creates a systemic partition between, on the one hand, a cast of heroic protagonists, and, on the other, a few evil perpetrators seeking to overturn the heroes’ designs. While at the beginning the evil ones were consistently Spaniards, depicted as unseemly, grotesque beings, after Venezuela became an independent nation the identities of the evildoers changed, and have continued to do so. As María Elena González De Lucca puts it, the habit of repeating the ideas of a history which sometimes indulges in diatribe has resulted over time in the construction of a kind of historiography that stands as the reverse of historia patria. If the latter transmits a reverential vision of the past based on the exaltation of the heroes, the former erects itself into a kind of

scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection 233 great tribunal ready to collaborate in the construction of the gallery of the antiheroes: Boves, Piar, Páez, Guzmán, Gómez, etc. (1994, 131)

To this day, it is not uncommon to encounter historiographical writings in which, depending on the author’s ideology, one or another character is picked from the historical record to bear the burden of responsibility for having diverted the republic from the straight, narrow path to the luminous future promised to it by its Founding Fathers, especially Bolívar. All of which is testimony, of course, to the persistence of the constraints that the historia patria— elaborated in the nineteenth century not only in Venezuela but also across Hispanic America— continues to exert in the present (Harwich Vallenilla 1994, 431–34). Transmitted to the general public since the beginnings of the nation by educational institutions, public ceremonial and iconographic representations, academic and civic associations, popularizing treatises (ibid., 432–37), and, more recently, radio and television, this historiographical canon is responsible for the dominant image among the general population of the nation’s past as a saga of irrepressible state centralization presided over by notables, heroes, and caudillos. The centrality of this historiography for the nation’s self-image is such that it remains the main repository of symbolic and discursive forms out of which the identity of the Venezuelan political subject is continually made. The insistence with which this canon continues to be passed on to the public by both state and private institutions ensures that this subject will take the shape of a tribunal figure ceaselessly calling the people/nation into being. This indoctrination, I might add, does not neglect forms of transmission such as school commemorations and other forms of obligatory public and private behavior where the ritual molding of bodily dispositions and demeanors is urgently pursued. Needless to say, all of this speaks loudly to the persistence of an impeccably neoclassical heritage. To be sure, this heritage is continually inflected by its reception within signifying chains, in which the received signifiers are modified by imperatives issuing from pragmatic political contexts. As a result, the republican tribunes do change to some extent, their lofty figures weighed down by popular accretions as they transform themselves before their audiences into the sites of an impossible reconciliation and exchange between the particular and the universal. Nevertheless, even in the public persona of the recently deceased populist leader Hugo Chávez, the marks of this neoclassical heritage are hard to miss. They are discernible, for example, in the declamatory inflections of his oratorical style and in the ideology of the political movement that he represented, aimed at refounding all aspects of the nation by means of a constitutionalism that declared whatever was there before to be a tabula rasa. No matter how interspersed with colloquialisms, allusions to banal everyday occurrences, or even obscene references, the tribunal moments in Chávez’s style in and of themselves offer ample proof of the persistence of a certain neoclassical heritage. In any case, this style is the articulation of both prosaic and sublime moments, supplely combined by the speaker. Far

234 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection from contradicting each other, the sublime neoclassical moments gain their efficacy precisely from their interaction with the prosaic ones, in a specific, mass-mediatized inflection of the peculiar way Venezuelan politicians have of balancing the universal with the particular. Together with the ideology of the movement he represented, Chávez’s style provides compelling contemporary evidence that nineteenth-century romanticism had relatively little efficacy in either modifying or supplanting the neoclassical heritage, which continues to inflect many of the cultural forms expressive of the polity. The common assertion in writings about literature and the arts, that throughout the nineteenth century romanticism and neoclassicism coexisted in Venezuela and across Hispanic America as parallel aesthetic traditions, is inexact. Coexistence does not adequately describe the relations between the two traditions. It is better to speak of an overdetermination of romanticism by neoclassicism, with the latter providing the enduring frame within which, throughout the century, the romantic subject was forced to express itself. As a result, the chances for the romantic subject to truly blossom, or even to modestly develop, were quite limited. I have pointed out that in the early costumbrista literature, the presiding subjectivity, the narrator, was a contrived, elite pedant whose puritanical glare, formulaic didacticism, and icy sarcasm consistently dissolved the new nation’s constituted forms and identities. While costumbrismo was a distinct genre, comprised primarily of brief literary texts appearing in local periodicals and other publications, costumbrista moments punctuate many contemporary discursive forms, including theater and historiography. When such moments come up in plays or historical writings, they usually signal those occasions when their protagonists deign to look at the nation and find it wanting. But these contrived moments of subjective expression were neither the only nor the most frequent way in which something like a romantic subjectivity manifested itself in these works. Literary critics often identify the solemn, declamatory tone and style characteristic of the protagonists of many nineteenth-century plays, novels, and works of historiography as romantic, while pointing out how far such romanticism was from much of what went by that name at the same time in Europe. In other words, there was nothing or next to nothing in Venezuela—or, for that matter, in Hispanic America—of the agony (Praz 1968), inner turmoil, and sheer uncanniness that set European romanticism apart as a distinctive aesthetic movement. Admittedly, some distance had been traversed between the neoclassical talking symbols from the time of the Declaration of Independence and the kind of subjective expression common in the plays and historical writings from the oligarchical period. The protagonists from the later period are not mere mouthpieces for abstract, virtuous ideals; they have become relatively more individualized characters with the marks of individual intent and resolve discernible in the folds of their overwhelmingly legalistic, declamatory style. But this version of romantic subjectivity did not stray from a few set patterns that prescribed what protagonists should at any moment feel, wish, or express. Beyond those

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few occasions when these characters contemptuously stared out at the nation, in Venezuela (and Hispanic America generally) romantic expression was inflected by the neoclassical heritage to which, from the start, the nation’s heroes were compelled to adapt their expression. Javier Sasso has observed that, throughout Hispanic America, the nineteenth-century reception of European romanticism was mediated by the various local writers’ aesthetic predilections and concerns. This local inflection was significant enough that it can be seriously misleading to call romantic the literature of ideas produced everywhere in Hispanic America between the decline of the neoclassicism of the independence period and the emergence of positivism towards the end of the nineteenth century (Sasso 1994, 74). Javier Sasso formulates his doubts about the appropriateness of the label romantic by asking what was borrowed from and what was minimized or overlooked in the romantic literature being written at the time in France, “the metropolitan milieu” that Hispanic Americans universally regarded as “the superior model of culture” (Sasso 1994, 75). Thus, among the writers most influential for Latin America only rarely does one find “the names of those who took romanticism to its inherent extremes of romantic digression, self-dissolving irony, incipient expressionism or artistic sacralization” (ibid.). On the other hand, the names that were of importance are those of writers who, like Lamartine, Chateaubriand, or Hugo, all had in common the experience of having been parliamentary orators. In Sasso’s words, “once and again one may verify that [the romanticism from Hispanic America] tended to identify the poetically ‘sublime’ with the eloquence of the assemblies” (ibid., 75; my emphasis). Not only was the reception of the European romantic universe quite selective, it was also not uncommon for the attitude of writers toward this universe to be distanced, and to occasionally even turn into explicit animosity (ibid., 76). It is considerations such as these that lead Sasso to conclude that “informed by the desire to serve both truth and the useful, these writers’ attitude towards the literary was the continuation of enlightenment preconceptions” (ibid., 79; emphasis in original). According to Sasso, not even the “eloquence of the assemblies,” that aspect of the French romantic repertoire towards which Hispanic American writers were most inclined, can be characterized as properly romantic. Far from corresponding to the language of any actual assemblies, this eloquence was borrowed wholesale from the transcription of parliamentary debates or, if not from them, from Lamartine’s Histoire des Girondins, which was widely popular among young writers and intellectuals throughout Hispanic America (ibid., 84). In consequence, the eloquence so characteristic of the political romanticism of the Hispanic American writers and politicians of the time (they were not infrequently both) was “a deliberately assumed model.” As such, it “continues, without any apparent rupture, an intellectual and affective line rooted in renaissance and neoclassical culture, namely that of the ideology and rhetoric that was characteristic of ancient civic republicanism, which . . . was thus able to continue nourishing—now with other heroes than those found in Plutarch—the discursive gesture of the succeeding generations” (ibid., 86; Sasso’s emphasis).

236 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection Because of its relevance both for the overall argument of this book and for the more specific argument I am making here concerning the relations between romanticism and neoclassicism in Venezuela and Hispanic America generally, it is important to quote Sasso’s conclusions at some length: “It is therefore possible to say that what is most significant about ‘true political romanticism’ is unrelated to the romantic universe, residing rather in its continuation and elaboration of a previous tradition giving rise to an exalted civic discourse, one in which a public man may say of himself, ‘I am an idea walking triumphantly towards the acropolis of freedom,’ or a political group present itself as possessing ‘the cleanest hands and the most exalted foreheads’ ” (ibid., 86–87; Sasso’s emphasis). Such a genealogy would also account for the didacticism and the militant disposition that is discernible in Latin American romanticism, which the Argentinean romantic politician and writer from the second half of the nineteenth century, Félix Frías, celebrated as “citizenship in poetry, art, literature” (cited in ibid., 87). According to Sasso, this “tradition has not yet expired” (ibid). I would say that not only has this neoclassical tradition not expired, but it has crystallized as an enduring form of governmentality, one that has only recently, under the most intense globalizing pressures, shown any signs of changing into something else. One site where mutations are clearly discernible is the Maria Lionza possession cult in Venezuela. Members of the cult become possessed by a variety of sprits, some of global origins, but most notably by a legion of spirits out of the nation’s past, from Bolívar to indigenous caciques from the time of the Spanish conquest to later-day dictators; and when cult members are possessed they assume the thoroughly statuesque appearances with which these dead Venezuelans have entered Venezuela’s political imaginary as emblems of the Venezuelan state. Displayed along a series of descending steps on the domestic altars constructed by cult members, the small and brightly colored busts of the cult’s spirits, both foreign and vernacular, indeed strongly evoke the state-erected monuments of the nation’s civic and military heroes in Venezuela’s squares and other public places. As Michael Taussig has brilliantly shown, in thus monumentalizing themselves through possession the cultists bring to bear on everyday concerns—for example, curing some ailment, warding off misfortune, or acquiring a lover—nothing less than the fuerza, or force, that belongs to the state as the fetishized entity in charge of continuously instituting the Venezuelan nation (Taussig 1997, esp. 165–77). In the terms of this book, beyond the state, the Maria Lionza possession cult is one of the preeminent sites in which Venezuela’s monumental governmentality is practiced by those very populations to which this form of government is primarily addressed. The cultist’s repetition of the nation’s heroic pantheon is not, however, without difference. As the logic of the cult irrepressibly draws cultists into ever-more-globalized terrains with an ever-proliferating series of “spirits” reflecting a wide variety of origins— Vikings, barbarians, Egyptian pharaohs, movie stars from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, you name it—being continuously added to more putatively vernacular ones such as Bolívar, the indigenous cacique Guaicaipuro, and the like, monuments more

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or less imperceptibly morph into monumentalized media icons, taking on the aura of celebrity that is commonly associated with movie stars or television personalities. Unlikely as it may seem, nearly two hundred years after the imaginary of a collection of notables was first installed, the slum-dwelling membership of the Maria Lionza cult draws on it and takes it into unprecedented territory (Sánchez 2001, 408–12, 428–34), providing striking evidence of the strength and influence of this imaginary, which in this instance is somewhat perversely reenacted by that very destitute constituency on the backs of whom it was in the first place erected. But to return to my argument before the digression on the Maria Lionza possession cult, what I wish to underscore here is the endurance of neoclassical forms. Although when, in the nineteenth century, a local version of romanticism had come to dominate most of the arts in Hispanic America, nonetheless public architecture remained overwhelmingly neoclassical. A war-ravaged economy had kept the state from initiating a program of public works deserving of the name until the 1870s or 1880s; when it did begin to erect public buildings, neoclassicism was the favored aesthetic canon. One consequence of such stylistic persistence (although to my knowledge no one has called attention to this) is that, among façades bustling with Greek and Roman colonnades, the scenes within which the romantic national subjects of Hispanic America had to act their parts came to resemble more and more the sets for Hollywood historical costume dramas. The frames within which the nation’s romantic subjects imagined their actions and projects unfolding retained the forbidding severity that one commonly associates with a Roman forum or Greek agora. Hence the constipated, didactic grandiloquence of their expression, a species of neoclassical romanticism, if I may coin the phrase, for the most part custom-made to fit the ideological self-representation of the region’s nascent nation-states. These nation-states invariably pictured themselves as austere Roman polities that, with the severity of the sculptural and architectural designs that housed their official functions, stoically resisted the “barbarous” crowds outside. In no matter how modified a fashion, to this day such self-representation continues to be pervasive all across Hispanic America, suggesting the extent to which neoclassicism persists for the continent as the aesthetic of political rule, and is intimately connected to the monumentalization of the state. Another way of saying this is by way of the distinction Susan Stewart makes between the miniature and the gigantic: “The miniature is . . . a metaphor for the interior space and time of the bourgeois subject. Analogously the gigantic is . . . a metaphor for the abstract authority of the state and the collective, public, life” (1984, xii). Reflecting once again on the notion that both historiography and the theater in nineteenthcentury Venezuela constituted neoclassical-romantic hybrids, an analogy comes to mind: a tiny, fragile creature trapped within an oversized armature, which, although protective, nevertheless constrains its movements and initiatives, setting clear limits to what it can do or become at any time. Whatever the limits of its appropriateness, the analogy at least has the merit of suggesting the ways in which the miniature and

238 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection the gigantic interacted in the historical plays and historiographical works written during the first few decades of the nation. In line with Stewart’s usage, that is, the gigantic may be said to correspond to the neoclassical aesthetic that, in a variety of genres and particularly in the theater and historiography, monumentalized the founding heroes of the nation. During the period of the Conservative Oligarchy, however, an incipient romanticism began to nuance the monumentalizing rhetoric as a means, I propose, of insinuating the supple civility of the hero, his modern subjectivity, into the oversized neoclassical carapace from within which he must express himself. The analogy likens the romantic “I” of the heroes of the Conservative Oligarchy to some small, underdeveloped being making its first tentative stabs at self-expression from within the gigantic neoclassical armor in which it is enclosed, and which it does not dare to even momentarily take off. Historians often comment ironically on anecdotes in which José Antonio Páez, whose presence casts such a long shadow over the entire period of the Conservative Oligarchy, performs such uncharacteristic deeds as singing opera or acting in Shakespeare’s Othello in his own hacienda before an admiring audience (Azparren Giménez 1997, 80). The historians’ irony betrays an entrenched prejudice according to which the heroes of the past were supposed to be consistently monumental, never indulging in such “miniature,” feminine activities as acting or dancing— especially such a hero as Páez, the “Centaur of the Plains,” who from his lowly origins gained prominence by working his way up through the ranks of the patriot armies. Any sign of feminized cultivation is invariably put down to pretense, or, if not, to the characteristic maladroitness of a peasant who, in trying to gain approval by mimicking the manners of the nonmilitary urban elites of his time, showed himself to be ridiculous, a bull in a china shop, at any point capable of showing his true colors by bringing all the glassware crashing down with a single awkward movement. José Antonio Páez, however, clearly did not see any discrepancy between his oversized public persona and his more supple performances as a cultivated, even refined private citizen eager to shine in the civil society of his day. His memoirs craftily document his career as a warrior of the republic who was impatient to lay down his weapons and embrace abstract republican laws, of which he himself was, needless to say, the most virtuous paragon. Of the public image he constructs through his autobiographical writings may be said what Páez himself wrote about Carlos Soublette, an independence general whom he backed for the presidency: “For patriotic reasons a military man, he was someone who completely subordinated himself both to the discipline of civility and the laws of the republic” (Páez [1869] 1990, 240). Paez was, in other words, an exemplary representative whose credentials as a bona fide republican with no taste for the excesses of military rule were indisputable. To establish such immaculate credentials was especially urgent at a time when the defenders of a civilian form of power were confronting the ambitions of military elements eager to cash in on their ser vices during the wars (ibid.).

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The supposed quirks of individual behavior were part and parcel of the kind of romantic expressiveness which, itself a modulation of the official neoclassical rhetoric, gave the national political subject the modicum of flexibility needed to perform in the new nation’s various civic arenas, from commercial to scientific associations. The outcome of such modulation is what I call here the miniaturization of the gigantic, a process whereby the monumental shrinks to the size of the “miniature,” understood “as a metaphor for the interior space and time of the bourgeois subject” (Stewart 1984, xii) while, nonetheless, never shedding those distinctive signs enabling the audience to identify the whole process as distinctively make-believe—in other words, to perceive the gigantism of the state shining right through the intimate, cameo-like scenes of a nascent civility. Far from disingenuous or ridiculous, such a miniaturization of the gigantic may have been among the principal aims of the representational strategies undertaken during the period of the establishment of the nation. These representational strategies, on which the imaginary of the new republic was contingent, proved long lasting, bequeathing to posterity time-honored ways of constituting the public identities of the nation’s exemplary representatives. The first incarnation of this imaginary involved downsizing the larger-than-life military heroes who had fought and won the wars against Spain, adapting them to a civility adequate to a would-be bourgeois society striving to find its place in the “civilized concert of nations” in which the commercial and political interests of England, France, and, increasingly, the United States loomed so large. In some ways this adaptation was a return to the austerity of those neoclassical “tribunes” who had first declared independence against Spain some two decades before, in 1810–12. But after the wars and their dangerous legacy of militaristic rule, this adaptation could not merely consist of reenacting the sober republican monumentality of the period immediately before the wars. Instead, the representational practices characteristic of the period of the Conservative Oligarchy pursued the miniaturization of the gigantic. The combined result of these representational practices was the construction of an imaginary of notables as a self-contained collection, whose members were, in strictly symbolic terms, ultimately equal, even if in practical terms some of them wielded more political and economic power than others. For example, the contemporaries of José Antonio Páez profusely celebrated him as an elevated paragon of republican virtue, but in the last instance the abstract “stuff ” he so effectively embodied was not of a different kind than what was found in all the other notables. No special attribute, in other words, marked him as superior to the rest; rather, the differences between him and the others were quantitative, a matter of his ability to embody more of the same abstract universality that, as an exchange value, was present in all exemplary representatives. This exchangeability made each of the nation’s exemplary representatives a member of an exclusive collection, composed of others made of similar “stuff ” and set apart from the rest of society.

240 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection Strongly contributing to this sense of parity among equals was one other characteristic of histories written during the years of the independence struggles and the period of the conservative oligarchy: Simon Bolívar was not yet the demigod he would become. The different personal histories of the civil and military heroes gravitated around Bolívar as the paramount leader of the wars, and his status was that of a primus inter pares. And even that status became dubious in the decade after Bolívar’s 1830 expulsion to Colombia, when local historiography was determined to emphasize the impeccable republican credentials of the various notables, treating them as largely interchangeable paragons of republican virtue. The figure of Bolívar certainly did not then have anything like the nearly superhuman, transcendent status it would increasingly enjoy from the 1840s on, after his remains were repatriated from Colombia in the wake of a heated political campaign. It was later, during the Guzmán regime, that the cult of Bolívar became the state cult that it is today.

. . . and a historical theater A few comments on the theater of the years between 1830 and 1859, during which Páez presided over Venezuelan politics, will drive home the extent to which the construction of the political imaginary as a self-contained collection of notables representing the new nation’s general will was a self-conscious, deliberate program, one that sought to reach the entire population. I have mentioned that since the days of the Declaration of Independence, the theater was explicitly hailed by the patriotic leadership as a school of citizen virtue. As such it was charged with instilling republican values in everyone, regardless of differences in wealth or status. There was an urgent need to construct a separate sphere of representation capable of defusing the masses’ tendency to immediately represent themselves, and the theater was perhaps the new republic’s foremost ideological state apparatus. The task did not lose any of its urgency or prestige in the decades after the actual establishment of the nation in 1830; during this time the theater became an important public activity, actively promoted, diligently censored, and scrupulously monitored by the state. Throughout the nineteenth century several of the major Venezuelan cities saw the construction of a major theater, Caracas taking the lead with the opening in 1854 of the Teatro Caracas. Coming in the wake of other, failed projects, this theater finally achieved what was expected of a modern bourgeois establishment at the time (Azparren Giménez 1997, 82–83). The conditions of the Teatro Caracas in 1854 reveal the extraordinary significance attached to the theater: “In a city with a precarious urban development, since it did not have cemetery, market, regularly paved streets, or public lighting, with its ‘modest yet appealing exterior’ the Teatro Caracas introduced artificial lighting by gas and had the first modern stage machinery” (ibid., 83). A second landmark in the local history of the theater was the Teatro Guzmán Blanco, which opened in 1881 to become “the Great Temple of opera and of high official culture at

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the time” (ibid., 83). Of the two establishments, the “spectacular” Teatro Guzmán Blanco was by far the more impressive, with its 1,803 square meters and capacity for 1,300 spectators (ibid., 83–84). Besides the two major theaters, this city of approximately 60,000 inhabitants had five other establishments where plays were presented regularly (ibid., 84). Even if in absolute numbers this may not sound impressive, in light of the nation’s depleted population, disrupted social life, and greatly weakened economy, the accomplishment was nothing short of remarkable. And with titles such as El 19 de Abril, o, Un Verdadero Patriota (The Nineteenth of April, or, A True Patriot) and Acción de Araure (The Action of Araure, a play based on an important episode during the wars of independence), the historical plays written and produced by Venezuelans during these years signal that the local theater’s main concerns were not dissimilar to those of historiography; that is, monumentalizing the nation’s exemplary figures by magnifying their military exploits while, all along, emphasizing their selfless subjection to the abstract laws of the republic. That local theater was a strategic official concern is amply confirmed by Reglas de policia para los teatros de esta capital (Rules of Police for the Theater of this Capital), published in 1834 in Caracas, and the Reglas y regulaciones acordadas por el Consejo Municipal en Julio 7, 1836 (Rules and Regulations Agreed by the Municipal Council on July 7, 1836), described by Dunia Galindo (2000, 8). The articles contained in these two legal documents, especially in the former, amply demonstrate the resolve of the political authorities to regulate an activity that a welter of contemporary evidence suggests was widely perceived to be vital to the interests of the state. More specifically, some of the articles clearly reveal that the republican leadership explicitly assumed that the twin objectives of the theatrical paradigm articulated in a previous chapter were crucial affairs of the state—on the one hand, disciplining the audience by immobilizing it as a passive spectatorship that could be focused on the stage of the polity; on the other, constructing a sealed domain of representation by monumentalizing the nation’s exemplary figures on this stage. A number of the articles in both documents confirm that political authorities sought to discipline the public by immobilizing it as an audience. For example, article 8 of the 1836 Municipal Council regulations forbid any “unkempt or inebriated persons from wandering through the corridors of the theater boxes or walking into those that are empty. The same rules will be observed in the pit” (Galindo 2000, 31). Reminiscent of the articles in the constitution denying the capacity of any collective entity to address Congress, taken as a whole these articles clearly demonstrate the official will to impede any human agglomeration from collecting either at the entrance of the theater or within the foyer while, all along, moving all members of the audience all the way from the entrance to their assigned individual seats inside the theater in an orderly manner (ibid., 31–43). Thus, while the local police were enjoined to forcefully dissuade all passersby from massing up at the theater’s entrance (article 12), theater-goers were forbidden from smoking

242 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection in the foyer (article 7) and from wandering or conversing in the aisles during the show (article 9), and were explicitly instructed to “enter the theater and occupy their respective seats” in the stalls “after the bell had been rung” (Galindo 2000, 41–43). Article 12 also instructed the audience to remain silent throughout the show, and under no circumstances to interrupt in any way the actors during the performance (ibid., 44). The overall aim of keeping the members of the public in their individual seats and quietly focused on the stage during the entire performance was additionally accomplished by subjecting any necessary movements inside the theater to the most strenuous regulation. Thus, in what amounted to a “positivist and/or mechanistic” orchestration of free time, a succession of bell ringings were prescribed to inform the audience how much time they had to occupy their seats and become silent before the show began and when, generally during the intermission, they could leave their seats to visit the theater’s restrooms or bar at the back (ibid., 43–45). The task of disciplining the audience by immobilizing it in space was not, however, simply left to a series of abstract regulations. Local authorities made sure regulations were enforced by placing state officials and police officers inside the theater itself. The Reglas de policia, for example, ordered theater managers to set up “immediately before the area where the rows of seats begin, a horizontal barrier with two doors, one on each side, where police officers will be placed so as to impede anyone from entering the pit once the curtain has been drawn” (Galindo 2000, 43–44). Generally speaking, the regulations from 1834 and 1836 called for installing police officers inside the theaters as a way of “demanding of the spectators, on pain of being fined or thrown into jail, that they remain in their seats and behave according to the new norm” (ibid., 25). Most striking among the regulations providing for the presence of state officials inside the theater is the one the political chief of the city of Caracas issued in 1836, according to which the main theater box in every theater, just across from the stage, was to be “decorated with wreaths and patriotic emblems” and reserved for his exclusive use and that of other local authorities. From his prominent position, “the political chief of the city or, in his absence, any other authority appointed by him, controls and above all watches over the representation of the theatrical script as well as, of course, the behavior of the audience” (ibid., 42). Without drawing all of the conclusions possible, at one point Dunia Galindo does appear to imply that “immobilizing the audience and threatening it with fines and expulsion” (ibid., 31) was the overall goal of the set of ordinances approved by the local authorities. Targeting the audience but also theater managers, playwrights, actors, and directors, the disciplinary intent of the state’s policing and regulations is quite transparent. Singularly revealing of the significance that the state assigned to the local theater was the decision to punish seemingly innocuous transgressions in the theatrical order of things with relatively draconian mea sures. For example, in 1843 local authorities decided to jail an actor who, having decided that his costume was

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unfit for the occasion, absented himself from the premises immediately before the play began (ibid., 44). Commenting on the state’s use of the theater for its civilizing and disciplinary purposes, Galindo concludes that “the theater is without doubt the ideal place for the law to try out its first attempts at mass socialization. To no other public entertainment does the legislative power devote so much care and attention” (2000, 23). Somewhat instrumentally, the author locates the reasons for the state’s great interest in the theater in the fact that, as a collective form of entertainment, it enabled the state to exercise control over “a large group of citizens whose social origins were quite diverse,” thereby “allowing it to construct a zone of social and even political acquiescence” (ibid.). Galindo’s Teatro, cuerpo y nación is informed by a cultural studies perspective that is highly attentive to the cultural and social implications and effects of literary and artistic artifacts. As such it is a valuable and unique contribution to the understanding of the role of the theater in Venezuela’s early republicanism. And yet Galindo’s style of reasoning, which assigns a strategic role to the disciplinary purposes of the republican state, also leads to a number of serious omissions and shortcomings. These are discernible in her fairly mechanical adoption of some of Foucault’s ideas in order to account for the significance of the viewing position that since 1836 local authorities had created for their exclusive use in the local theaters. This privileged position, according to Galindo, would have amounted to a form of panoptical surveillance.3 As such, the privileged place (the main theater box) that the law claims and demands for itself allows its representatives to panoramically observe what takes place in the audience, what is happening on the stage; who is walking or “wandering” through the aisles; who is smoking, drinking, eating; who surreptitiously enters the empty boxes; which actor made the public wait or sinned against the prevailing morality; finally, who it was that dared to transgress against the norm. The law examines, reviews, collates samples, evaluates the reactions among the assembled, willfully “kidnapped” public. (ibid., 42)

In sum, according to Galindo, through a form of panoptical surveillance the state made sure that the spectator, momentarily turned into a sort of prisoner, effectively assimilated the civic lesson both “for the soul and for the body” that the theatrical representation was meant to deliver (ibid., 42–43). But according to Foucault, the observer in the panopticon is never visible to the observed, and that is the whole point of this form of discipline; that is, while in principle the inmates in Bentham’s model prison can indeed have their behavior subjected to the most relentless scrutiny by the institution’s authorities, in fact this may or may not be the case. The central tower from which, potentially, prisoners are constantly observed also completely withdraws the observer from the gaze of the observed. As a

244 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection result, prison inmates are never certain whether or when they are actually being watched. Now it is precisely this invisibility, the uncertainty in which prisoners are kept concerning whether at any given moment they are or are not visible to power that, according to Foucault, over time leads prisoners to become modern subjects by subjecting themselves to an internalized form of discipline. Indeed, the beauty of Bentham’s panopticon is that it inaugurates a disciplinary economy in which, ultimately, it is irrelevant whether someone is or is not actually installed inside the central tower. This watchful invisibility is not at all what Galindo describes. The Caracas theatergoers of the first half of the nineteenth century were being watched, all right; yet, unlike Bentham’s inmates, the audience was also quite capable of looking back, lifting their gazes from whatever unruly behavior they were engaged in toward the very place from which, perhaps at that very moment, they were being observed by the local authorities. The difference between the two scenes may be described by means of the distinction Foucault makes between sovereign and disciplinary power, provided one keeps in mind that, as with any other such sweepingly broad categorization, its usefulness is mostly heuristic, its categories somewhat removed from any given empirical situation (Foucault 1977, esp. 3–31). While panoptical surveillance would be characteristic of disciplinary power, in which individuals become subjects by subjecting themselves to internalized forms of discipline, the situation that Galindo describes seems to more closely correspond to a form of sovereign power in which individuals are disciplined and punished only when they are, so to speak, caught in the act by the gaze of the powers that be. Provided they are careful not to be seen, at all other times they are for the most part free to (ner vously) enjoy themselves. Individuals in a society in which sovereign power is predominant are free to do the kinds of things that, on the basis of her careful reading of a wealth of social chronicles and other contemporary writings, Galindo claims were characteristic of the unruly social realm that the early republican state set out to reform. Activities such as urinating, defecating, farting, or fornicating inside the theaters, which, along with such scandalous actions as playing dice, whistling, boisterously laughing, drunkenly moving about, or booing the actors on stage, and even constantly interacting with them to the point of obscenely mimicking their roles from the floor, were all common ways of behaving in the theater (ibid., 25, 28). If anything, such behavior, in some respects inherited from the baroque theater and colonial-era celebrations, was now exacerbated by the audience’s tendency to take republican values such as freedom and equality “in strictly literal terms” (ibid., 11).4 On the basis of contemporary sources, Galindo describes the overall atmosphere of the early republican theaters as one in which a “penetrating smell, itself a mixture of frying foods, feces, and all kinds of human waste” hung like a thick, nauseating cloud, and where the obscurity of the space encouraged all sorts of transgressive behaviors, for example against the honor of young ladies, who were obliged to go to the theater

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carefully guarded by their families (ibid., 27, 28). Not infrequently, this atmosphere and the behaviors it encouraged were “the customary preamble to those ‘fêtes de fou’ with which theatrical spectacles often ended up amidst a generalized collapse of all existing hierarchies and established forms of social order. Besides interrupting early on the spectacles, the whole purpose of such occasions was none other than the incitement of ‘barbarous’ pleasures” (ibid., 31). This, then, was the kind of unruly beast the early republican state set out to tame by violently seizing upon singular acts of transgression amidst the proliferating forms of misbehavior, so as to turn them, through the use of spectacular means such as, for example, the occasional hail of blows to the head or other parts of the body, into examples capable of instilling fear in the hearts and minds of the public. Yet for all the reasons given, to call such sovereign watchfulness panoptic is misguided. Provided one was careful to make sure of not being seen, one could still occasionally relieve oneself in the dark or pinch a passing lady while faking total innocence. Needless to say, I am exaggerating somewhat. As Galindo herself suggests, some of the local theaters during the period of the Conservative Oligarchy did approach the clean, adequately lit, and orderly bourgeois institutions so dear to the state. Nevertheless, calling attention to the extent to which this situation was sustained not by the internalization of discipline, but by a kind of watchfulness that to a large degree left individuals free to do as they pleased provided they eluded the gaze of the state, captures the truth encoded in Venezuela to this day in the play of bourgeois appearances. That is, the kind of civility characteristic not just of the theater but of the oligarchical order as a whole was an altogether precarious accomplishment, one that did not rest on an enduring transformation of subjects into virtuous citizens, but on a volatile mix of situated performances, inherently fragile forms of identification, material inducements, and, last but not least, the erratic use of sheer despotic power. And this situation has not fundamentally changed since then. Regardless of all the proclamations about the Venezuelan state’s lofty pedagogical role in fabricating citizens, ever since the period of the Conservative Oligarchy the kind of contrived tranquility that during “normal” times characterizes Venezuelan republicanism is an always precarious accomplishment, one contingent not on any internal transformation of subjects but on their external subjection to situated forms of coercion often supplemented by patronage. When the so-called citizens of the republic recklessly abandon the theater of political representation at a moment’s notice, to interpret this theater as a factory of citizenship clearly misses the point. Other interpretations are needed. Among these is the notion that understood in the widest possible sense, Venezuela’s theater of political representation was and in many ways continues to be the site of a truly wondrous occurrence: the ongoing reconstitution of the bourgeois polity brought about by means of the ceaseless, reflexive reenactment of a scene of delegation in which in principle, if not in reality, “the people” willingly acquiesces to being represented by others, this people’s rightful representatives. The state itself, rather than being given in

246 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection advance, as Galindo’s interpretation of the theater as a mere form of state discipline necessarily assumes, is continually recreated by the entire representational machinery on which it is contingent, even if more as a fantastic, fabulous entity than as a site to which subjects become enduringly beholden. Whether it be fantasy or reality, in order for a category of subjects to somewhat plausibly claim to represent something as fickle and evanescent as “the people,” they had to erect the local state’s republican stage; and Venezuelan representatives nowadays still have little other choice than to continue to do so. They must do so in order to perform there, on the brightly lit stage of the polity, “as if ” for all practical purposes they truly incarnate the underlying “general will” of their ever-so-treacherous, unsteady audiences or constituencies. What follows is politics as usual in the Venezuelan republic, an agonistic business in which the ever-more-monumentalized yet dancing performances of the representatives, aimed at keeping their audiences focused for as long as possible on them as a people, must be necessarily supplemented by variable measures of patronage and violence. As for the people themselves, the lateral lines of flight whereby they are always already leaving the republican theater and becoming a crowd are offset by opposite, countervailing tendencies to re-collect around the monumentalized figures of their “tribunes”—at least for a while, until everything reaches a breaking point, a temporary point of no return. Until that happens, regardless of what goes on in any individual’s head, the people/audience behave more or less as if the nation’s representatives truly stood for what all of them putatively share. After all, this is just what these representatives’ unstable mixture of posturing, dancing, patronage, and violence does not cease to proclaim. I do believe there is little one can actually understand about Venezuelan and, to a large degree, Hispanic American forms of governmentality—the histrionic, agonistic quality of the continent’s mad populist leaders and their bizarre publicity—without making allowance for the theatrical, monumentalizing constitution of political subjectivities and the fantastic, make-believe scenarios in which these come about, complete with neoclassical and romantic décor. Beyond discrete moments of interpellation, such theatrically enabled monumentalizing practices, along with the forms of patronage and corruption and the occasional massive blows from above whenever someone is caught in flagrante that often supplement them, do have some relatively lasting effects: if not the complete immobilization of the populace, then at least a significant reduction of their otherwise rampant mobility, enough in any case for them to provisionally put aside their restless mimetic wandering and temporarily collect as the people of the nation. Even if these state interventions do not quite succeed in rendering subjects into the bona fide citizens of republican ideology— even if all they bring about is a fickle, occasionally intense but ultimately highly conditional identification of the audience with the representatives on stage—they do minimally poison with anxiety the “magical realism” of these subjects’ mimetic wanderings. As a result, defecating in the dark may not, after all, be the carefree affair that one would imagine, but one filled with

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apprehension. The situation is well captured by a saying from my Caribbean childhood: “la letra con sangre entra” (“the letter [i.e., education] enters with blood”).

An Imaginary of Notables And so the letter of the law entered, or, more precisely, was, stamped on the bodies of the actors and actresses of Venezuela’s early republican theater. Galindo implicitly suggests that the actors’ onstage performances intensely preoccupied the local authorities, describing how, against the wishes of theater owners and other local personalities, the authorities insisted on censoring all dramatic texts in advance. The censors were concerned with extirpating ambiguities from the dramatic texts, thereby reducing them as much as possible to the unambiguous expression of the republican meanings of which they approved; the censorship had no other purpose than to bar actors from altering these texts by means of “their own creative processes and personal interests” and thereby imposing on them meanings different from those that were officially intended (Gallindo 2000, 31). The future of the nation was at stake; indeed, it was for this future’s sake that “the letter that the actor recited on stage had to be a closed and univocal universe from which the polysemic condition of discourse was excised” (ibid., 18). As if it were at all possible, the censors expressed the belief that reducing all dramatic texts to univocality in advance was an effective way of compelling any individual actor to “reproduce a moral absolute on the basis of his or her own voice and gestures” (ibid.). As Galindo astutely remarks, as practiced by the local authorities censorship was “a procedure aimed at separating speech from the body, that is, at reducing corporal expression to a mere ethical surface” (ibid.). Here we come to the second of the two complementary tasks the early republican theater set for itself: erecting a separate, self-contained domain of political representation. Because what, indeed, is involved in such a task if not the monumentalizing of the nation’s “tribunes” by transforming their bodies on stage into legible ethical surfaces? Surfaces on which, I should add, anyone present may read the abstract laws of the republic, clearly visible in every minute gesture or inflection of these noble men’s voices and physiognomies. This monumentalization is so thorough that, at least according to the censors, it should be able to deter any untoward slippages between signified texts and signifying bodies that prevent the republican “letter” from reaching its destination, diverting it from the straight and narrow path that it naturally follows on its way back to “the people.” The very insistence with which, as functionaries of the postcolonial state, the censors intervened in the local theater in the narrow sense of the term should immediately alert us to the fact of how much this theater was part and parcel of a wider governmental formation. Between the theater of political representation and the theater proper there was a relation of strict reciprocity and mutual reinforcement aimed at plausibly bringing about the monumentalization of the nation’s representatives or tribunes in various domains, from the “properly” theatrical to the political.

248 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection In all the fields in which the republican representatives were insistently monumentalized during the Conservative Oligarchy—the theater, historiography and other forms of textual and iconographic representation, and civic ritual and commemorative practices— one may readily detect the impulse that Sylvia Molloy notes governed the “autobiographical venture” in early Latin America (1991, 8). In autobiographical practices, memory is construed as “a faithful replicating mechanism” with which to mold the evoked past in terms of a “self-image held in the present” (ibid., 7–8). Both an individual construct and a social artifact, memory work results in a particular “fabulation of self” as the monumentalized site where the personal and the communal meet. This is so because such an exercise of memory is invariably “doubled by a ritual of commemoration, in which individual relics . . . are secularized and re-presented as shared events” (ibid., 9). This articulation of personal memory and ritual commemoration, the personal and the communal, restricts any form of self-scrutiny (ibid.), rendering the self, I might add, into an ethical surface, a monument where the abstract laws of the republic may be seamlessly inscribed. Sylvia Molly implicitly says as much. The kinds of self-images characteristic of early Hispanic American historiographical writings (also, I must add, of the heroes of the historical plays written at about the same time), she concludes, “tell us a great deal about how history— and what was one of its forms, (auto)biography— was conceived in early nineteenth-century Latin America: as a pantheon of heroic, exemplary figures” (ibid., 8; my emphasis). Used as the common term for referring to a collection of notables considered sub speciae aeternitatis, that is, after rigor mortis has once and for all overtaken its members, the word pantheon achieved great currency in the nineteenth century as part of that century’s cult of grand hommes, Before that, what happens is the Fragile Collection itself as one of the two scenes of the nation’s political imaginary, first crystallizing during the period of the Conservative Oligarchy between 1830 and 1859. To this day, the forms and practices responsible for this crystallization have maintained a discursive space where, in principle at least, the local “tribunes” can always count on an audience of applauding spectators to address. One need merely take a stroll through some of the streets and squares of Caracas today to verify how successful the practices from the period of the Conservative Oligarchy were in establishing the enduring canon from which every Venezuelan citizen must draw in order to constitute him or herself as a viable political subject. You might see any local citizen suddenly tirar una parada (strike a pose); any of the city’s corners or squares can suddenly become something like an improvised political stage, as that citizen turns his or her more-or-less easygoing Ca ribbean persona into the forbiddingly hard, legible surface of a Jacobin republican tribune. That this discursive strategy has not been confined to Venezuela is confirmed by what Sylvia Molloy elsewhere says of the pervasiveness of the “politics of the pose” in fin-de-siècle Hispanic America. Writing about Hispanic American modernist decadentismo, the body of literary and artistic works and social attitudes that subjected many of the existing aesthetic and cultural practices and expressions to a thorough

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revision and renewal, Molloy insists that “decadentismo was, above all, a matter of the pose” (Molloy 1994, 129), or better, a matter of a destabilizing force whereby the pose turned the subject’s body into a “field of visibility” that, eminently legible, disrupted established meanings and identities (ibid., 130). Exploiting the “inevitable theatrical projections” of the body, its “plastic connotations,” the fin-de-siècle pose articulated novel possibilities of meaning (ibid.). In its characteristic effeminacy it “proposes new identifications” that, on account of their sheer eccentricity, are transgressive (ibid., 132–33). Wary of the possibilities implicit in the “feminizing pose” that so many writers or would-be writers and artists of the time were eager to strike, José Enrique Rodó, the preeminent modernist essayist from Latin America and one of modernismo’s foremost ideologists, alerted readers to its dangers. Rodó actually blamed these writers for compromising the continent’s defenses against the United States (ibid., 133–34)! The fin-de-siècle pose, argues Molloy, drew on a nineteenth-century Latin American signifying tradition whereby cultures are read as bodies and “bodies are read (and present themselves to be read)” as cultural declarations (ibid., 129). Linking this tendency to the role that exhibitions, spectacularization, and scopophilia had in the nineteenth century, not just in Latin America but also elsewhere, most notably in Western Europe, she says that during that time to “exhibit is not only to show, but to show in such a way that what is shown becomes more visible, is recognized” (ibid., 130). The fin-de-siècle poseur would have drawn from the specifically Latin American inflection of this nineteenth-century tradition of visualization, in a spiral of ever-increased visibility that he treated as a “strategy of provocation in order not to go unnoticed, in order to oblige the gaze of the other, to force a reading, to prompt a discourse” (ibid.). I believe, however, that to account for the extraordinary fate of this tradition in Venezuela, for the way in which tirar la parada, or striking a pose, has become an everyday occurrence there with incalculable political, cultural, and even personal consequences, something more than invoking a European genealogy is needed. It is also necessary to appeal to the nation’s monumentalizing tradition. Of the pervasiveness of this tradition in Hispanic America Molloy’s essay offers striking demonstration. When, in order to be both communicable and socially effective, even acts of subversion must borrow from the solemn, monumentalizing mode against which they otherwise react, it would appear that the tradition is alive and well. Only by addressing the nineteenth-century tendency to monumentalize the body as what it was—an enduring practice of governmentality that, symbolically speaking, has frozen Venezuelan (and, to some extent, Hispanic American) politics in an inaugural moment of modernity— can one begin to fathom the reasons for the “magical realism” of this nation’s political imaginary and governmental practices. It should be clear by now how much the crystallization of the nation’s imaginary as an expanding collection of monumentalized figures is tributary to the more circumscribed collection of notables of the Conservative Oligarchy’s imaginary. The resilience of this heritage is striking, considering that by 1859 the orderly collection of notables that had been so

250 scenes of the imaginary, i: the fragile collection scrupulously set up in the year 1830 had thoroughly broken down, its members scattered across Venezuela by the winds of war. All the care that had been put into setting up the collection as a closed domain of political representation finally came to nothing. Over the years, those very sectors that the theatrical machinery of the early republican state had so carefully excluded—through limiting the franchise, through institutionalized forms of bodily punishment, and through military force—became increasingly louder, until they finally took center stage with the eruption of the Federal Wars in 1859. Indeed, as a phenomenon, the Federal Wars may be understood as the seizing of the spotlight by both the popular masses and the elites from various different provinces whom the founding charter of the oligarchical regime, the 1830 Constitution, had left out. Even if it was these two forces combined that produced the catastrophic effects of the wars, they obeyed clearly different logics, something that by and large the studies of the period overlook in forcing popular crowds and the forces of federalism together into one single, deceptively simple formula. To situate what happened in terms of the logic of political representation that I have been exploring throughout this book, I need to backtrack in the next chapter to the events of 1811–12, immediately before the wars of independence began. Following the demise of what local historiography refers to as the First Republic, these events eventually led to the first attempt to set up the alternate scene of the nation’s political imaginary, with consequences so momentous for Venezuelan history, society, and politics that they continue to be felt up to the very present.

Chapter 8

Scenes of the Imaginary, II Bolívar Superstar He is in constant agitation. Watching him you would take him for a crazy man. Walking the forest trails he goes fast. Runs, jumps, tries to leave his companions behind and offers to outjump them. In his hammock he swings violently, singing, talking rapidly, reciting verses in French. He is sometimes loud and sometimes profane. That is when he is among friends. When a stranger arrives he shuts up like a clam. —Robert Harvey, Liberators: South America’s Savage Wars of Freedom, 1810–1830

It would not be long before Venezuela’s First Republic unraveled. On July 11, 1811, only a few days after the Declaration of Independence, an insurrection against the newly established state broke out in the city of Valencia, capital of the province of the same name. Strongly backed by the local pardo population, it had to be forcefully put down by republican forces. But this was only the beginning. Eventually out of this process “Bolívar Superstar” would emerge from the ashes of the war as a Great Legislator figure, the largely undisputed icon around which coalesced not only the patriot forces, but, over time, the entire political imaginary of the republic.1 To enable us to grasp how such unanimity eventually came about, this chapter, besides providing preliminary contextual information, includes a substantial excursus concerning the aporias of the nation’s “general will” and Rousseau’s theory of the Great Legislator. The aim is to show how closely interconnected “historical metaphors and mythical realities” (Sahlins 1981) have been in Venezuela. So interconnected have they been, indeed, that one can understand little of what has happened in that nation since independence without grasping the cultural and intellectual formations that, inflected by history, nevertheless from the start have been at work within history.


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White Mythologies and Pardo Realities If, in line with what I have argued in chapter 5, one accepts that the colored masses who overwhelmingly came to side with the loyalists during the early stages of the independence conflict were opting for a form of radical republicanism in doing so, we may nevertheless still wish to know what were the immediate motivations that led those very masses, or at least a sizeable proportion of the pardo population that initially backed the cause of independence, to quit that camp and join its enemies. Directly or indirectly these causes have to do with the various places within the first Venezuelan constitution, the Constitution of 1811, where the “general will” that was supposedly enshrined there was already, to borrow an expression from Geoffrey Bennington, falling “into the singularity of its cases” (“tombe dans les cas de sa loi”), thereby dissolving into a series of particularities that starkly belied the text’s universalist pretensions (1991, 48). One such place was the Ordenanzas de los Llanos that I addressed in chapter 4 when formulating the theatrical paradigm so consequential for my argument. Appended at the last minute to the constitution, these ordinances, which sought to immobilize the pardo population, pegging it to the land, made starkly clear the particularism hidden behind the text’s lofty proclamations about the generality of the people’s will. What for some of the congressmen may have been a fantasy of peaceful farmhands settled in orderly fashion in fields across Venezuela, gazing off toward the faraway horizon at their representatives performing for them on the stage of the polity, for the pardo masses was clearly a nightmare. Much as one would expect from this realization, these masses left the patriot camp in droves to join the loyalists, in what Jean-Luc Nancy (2002, 3) calls a lateral flight “from one term to the next” that for the coming years would plunge Venezuela into indescribable violence.

Constitutional Casuistries In the text of the first Venezuelan constitution there are other instances in which the general will “falls into the singularity of its cases,” thereby going astray. Much as in the case of the ordinances, to whomever was paying attention at the time, some of these instances directly exposed the extent to which the constitution belied its universalistic pretensions by perpetuating the subjugated status of entire segments of the population, especially women and pardos and other people of color. But there are other instances within the text where subjugation is not seemingly at stake, for example, the clauses in which, despite disclaimers to the contrary, the “general will” and the federated structure of the emergent state may be shown to be at loggerheads with each other. Appearances are deceiving. On close inspection, even clauses in which no explicit reference is made to the colored populations, and in which all that seems to be at issue is the tension between the authority of the central government and that of the various

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states composing the federation, may be shown to have been highly consequential for pardos and other people of color within the emergent republic. This is so because one may already discern in these instances the split between federalism and the excluded majorities that, up to this day, has so decisively inflected the history of Venezuelan republicanism. Making little or no room for the aspirations and demands of the colored majorities, already at the moment of independence the federated structure of the new state that was adopted by Congress after the deliberations preceding the signing of the 1811 Constitution can be identified as one of the reasons why, for quite a while, a majority of pardos and other people of color shunned the patriot camp, siding with the loyalists. Already prefigured in the text of the first Venezuelan constitution, the tension between federalism and centralism was one of the crucial sites where the “general will” fell precipitously into the singularity of its cases, a development that dramatically inflected the course of events. Events were so affected not merely because the colored majorities did not see themselves reflected in the federated structure of the new nation-state, but also because this structure undermined the unity of command needed to defeat the Spanish loyalists. These aspects of the issue were not unrelated. Unity of command could be realistically brought about only on the basis of an ability to interpellate the whole of the population, not just narrowly defined segments within it. It would only be after 1816, when Simón Bolívar, back from his exile in Haiti, finally started consolidating his status as a Rousseauian Great Legislator, that is, as the statuesque incarnation of the “general will” or of the equality of “the people,” that the fortunes of the war began turning around, with the patriot camp becoming unified under his umbrella and the colored populations switching back to its fold. For this to happen, however, much destruction and suffering had first to be endured. Let us examine things a tad more closely. Drawing upon the U.S. Constitution and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the text of the first Venezuelan constitution proclaims the “general will” of the people, conceived as a collection of autonomous individuals, to be the undisputed source of sovereignty. Taken as a whole, the federated structure of the new state was more or less explicitly envisaged as something like a second-order emanation of this general will. It was, in other words, the people’s general will, or so the theory went, that remained the sovereign foundation of the emergent national whole (Venegas 1998, 373). For all practical purposes, however, in everything having to do with the everyday government of the population, the text explicitly frames sovereignty within each of the largely autonomous states that made up the confederation. Defined as equal among themselves, according to articles 133 and 134 of the constitution, each of these states was “free and independent” in everything having to do with “that part of their sovereignty which they have reserved for themselves” without, that is, alienating that state from the confederation (Banko 1996, 31; Ruiz Chataing 1995, 25–26).

254 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar Surfacing in several places within the text of Venezuela’s first constitution, the tension between the authority of the confederation as repository of the new nation’s “general will,” of its sovereignty, and the authority of the different states was pregnant with momentous political consequences. To begin with, this tension resulted in a deeply fissured structure of executive power. The 1811 Constitution envisaged the nation’s presidency as a triumvirate, each member of which would occupy the position in brief successive intervals (Banko 1996, 33.) Incredibly, the proposed schedule had each member of the executive holding office for just one week before being succeeded by the next of the three (Michelena 1999, 613)! Only the great anxiety of the deputies from the smaller, less powerful states regarding the independence and autonomy of these states vis-à-vis the largest and richest of them all, Caracas, can account for the adoption of such an unwieldy scheme (Ruiz Chataing 1995, 25). Presumably, the idea was that no one occupying the presidency would have enough continuous time in office to accumulate personal power on behalf of himself and whatever faction or sectional interests he happened to represent. But whatever the reasons for the adoption of the scheme, one thing is clear: it certainly did not make for the kind of unity and stability of command required for waging a war. This would be dramatically demonstrated a few months after the constitution had been proclaimed, during the loyalists’ reaction against the emergent republic, when the republican camp was incapable of presenting a unified front to the enemy. When the republicans finally agreed to appoint Francisco de Miranda as dictador, it was already too late: the fate of the First Republic was already sealed (Michelena 1999, 622–23). After just a few months, weakened by its own internal divisions and the lack of support of the masses, the First Republic fell to the loyalist forces. Behind the congressmen’s insistence on giving a federated structure to the new nation-state was their desire to stay firmly in control of the local order of things by delegating the actual exercise of sovereignty to each of the individual states of the federation. Only this kind of structure would insure the ability of the local elites, of which these congressmen were a part, to maintain their entrenched privileges. Preeminent among these was the perpetuation of these elites’ superordinate status with respect to the colored populations of their respective states, and to hold on to this status the aspirations of pardos, slaves, and other peoples of color to be recognized as equal citizens before the law needed to be blocked. In enframing sovereignty within each individual state, federalism guaranteed just that—that is, that these populations would be effectively barred from citizenship. No wonder, then, that at least the most enlightened among the pardos viewed federalism with considerable suspicion, as a ploy of the old oligarchies to keep the local structure of power intact. Signs of this intention were not lacking. Included in the constitution was a Declaration of the Rights of Man. The treatment as inferiors that Indians, blacks, and pardos were given in the section of this Declaration titled “General Dispositions” is an example of taking away with one hand

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what is given with the other. Nor at any point is the freedom of slaves or the equality of women before the law ever mentioned (ibid., 616). The congressional debates preceding the signing of the constitution on how to implement the people’s equality, without which any notion of “general will” is spurious on its face, already give a good idea of the inferior status that, regardless of all the talk about universal rights, would adhere to the colored populations in the approved text. One example is the debate about which authority should be in charge of publicly declaring the pardos’ newly gained “equal” status. While Francisco Javier Yanes was of the opinion that it should be Congress, since, otherwise, “we run the risk of constituting a heterogeneous body with only a short-lived existence,” other congressmen considered this a matter for the provincial legislatures to decide, taking into account that “in the United States each state is in charge of its own Government, independently defining the condition of its citizens, so that in some of them there are slaves and in others not” (quoted in Banko 1996, 29). As one would expect from his insistent urging of Congress to “recognize the necessity in which we find ourselves of establishing a general and universal government in all of the provinces” (quoted in Banko 1996, 29), Yanes was a member of the Sociedad Patriótica, the Jacobin club of Caracas. Consistent with its Jacobin leanings, for the Society only a centralized state was adequate for reflecting the “general will” in its homogeneity and universality. The problematic status of the “general will” in the federalist structure of the 1811 Constitution surely did not escape its members. This status is already discernible in the uncertainty the text maintains concerning the crucial issue of the ultimate seat of sovereignty: is it the singular pueblo of revolutionary ideology, or the plural pueblos that were the quintessentially political units of the colony? Even if the constitution proclaims the general will of “the people” as the new sovereign, the semantic hesitation between the singular and the plural forms of the noun would have been enough to confirm the radicals’ apprehensions. It would be the most prominent member of the Sociedad Patriótica, Francisco de Miranda, however, who most succinctly expressed the objections of the radicals to Venezuela’s first constitution. With an admirable sense of theatrical closure, he waited until the document came to him for his signature to register his complaints, claiming that, on account of its “inconsistency with the character of the population, with the customs and habits of these countries, instead of uniting us in one social body or general mass [the Constitution] may very well result in division and separation to the detriment of our common security and of our independence” (quoted in Escovar Salom 1972, 72; my emphasis). I cannot help thinking of Miranda at the very moment of signing, haunted by the thought that just beyond the doors of Congress gathered precisely the “general mass” to which, according to him, in all of its particularism the federal constitution failed to do justice. Hailed at the time as the lawful reflection of the people’s homogeneous “general will,” all that the text of Venezuela’s Constitution of 1811

256 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar ultimately reflected was a tangled web of irreconcilable sectional interests. Not long after that constitution was signed, many pardos—lacking any reflection in this republican mirror—went over en masse to the side of the loyalists, leaving the separatist camp weak and divided.

Precipitous Fallings Jean-Jacques Rousseau placed the “general will” at the heart of his doctrine of the social contract, and in some ways he best recognized its difficulties. As Geoffrey Bennington has argued, Rousseau’s doctrine was driven by a desire to collapse the prescriptive into the descriptive, so that the laws of society might acquire the same ironlike certainty as the laws of nature. Shedding all divisiveness and contingency, interdependence among men could thus acquire the same necessity and predictability as that obtaining among things (Bennington 1991, 35–36). Rousseau was confronted during the last days of absolutism with the spectacle of a French society ever more divided by the irreconcilable desires of individuals everywhere collecting in the larger cities, especially Paris, and largely beyond the grasp of a corporate system that was anyway in crisis. It became his overriding project to bring about the unity of the people (Manent 1995, 65–70); or, to unite all singular individuals into one single, indivisible “social body,” to echo the phrase used by the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda, which he probably borrowed from Rousseau. Yet for this to happen, something else had to happen first: the future members of that social body had to recognize and follow their “general will,” which unbeknownst to them lay buried deep within their hearts. The solution for Rousseau was, then, to return to that moment in nature when men were free and equal, before all the corruptions of society had set in. The problem, according to Rousseau, is that no such moment will ever be found— since it was never there. No matter how far back one looks, one finds not blissful equality but the war of all against all, a strife that in Rousseau’s writings takes the form of the mimetic rivalry of which Lacoue-Labarthe speaks. Driven by “comparison,” such rivalry, according to Rousseau, keeps everyone at one another’s throats (Manent 1995, 66, 70–71; see also Lacoue-Labarthe 2002, 49–52 and passim). While for other authors in the liberal tradition such as Hobbes this merciless war was the “state of nature,” for Rousseau it was already society, and an inherently corrupt one at that. In order to properly install a feeling of union in the hearts of the people, a true return to nature was therefore needed. That return, however, could not deliver the prelapsarian essence of Man, but only his abiding nothingness. Th at is, much like Diderot’s actor encountered in chapter 5, who was both all and nothing, Rousseau’s Man—this or that trader, businessman, or shopkeeper, locked in a deadly mimetic war with all the others—is simply a generalized “nothingness” capable of becoming all things, before his “desires” make him something (Lacoue-Labarthe 2002, 39–46). The question, then, is how to tap into this generalized nothingness so as to channel it in the direction of the general

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good, of that which, belonging to all, is capable of bringing about the unity and welfare of all. The method, for Rousseau, is mimesis, as it was for his Venezuelan successors. In order to bring about the desired uplifting outcome, it is necessary to make Man crave the universality of the law by awakening in him that universal desire for perfectibility, that innate love of virtue, which, yet unrealized, Rousseau assumes to be concealed in everyone (Manent 1995, 73). And, much as for Venezuela’s early republicans, the means believed to be effective for such an awakening is reflection, the raising of the spectacle of the law before each man, so that by seeing before him what “de lui-même il ne le voit pas toujours” (by himself he does not always want), that is, “le bien” (the good), Man may identify with it and thereby follow its injunctions. As Rousseau says, “it is necessary to coerce some to conform their wills to their reason; to teach others to get to know what they want” (quoted in Bennington 1991, 72). Here is where all the aporias inherent in Rousseau’s idea of the social contract start spinning out of control, because, while the “general will” is supposed to exist within Man, human beings only become a unified people possessed of a “general will” après-coup. Prior to that, what we have are different individuals always already falling into the singularity of their desires. This “dehiscence” ruins the understanding of the law as a “circular letter” that the “citizen as member of the Sovereign” sends to himself “as subject of this same Sovereign” (Bennington 1991, 40). No sooner does one realize that as a synchronous totality such a Sovereign is never present to itself in advance of the law that constitutes it, than the assumed circularity between the Sovereign and itself, or, what comes down to the same, between the citizen and himself, breaks down, the letter of the law entering a network where it may or may not reach its destination. In other words, in the face of the lack of identity between “sender and addressee of the law” (ibid., 43), the Sovereign unavoidably “falls into the singularity of its cases” (ibid., 45). This exit from the sphere of generality opens up the possibility of history and politics, and, along with it, the law’s “capacity of recognizing cases, of being applied” (ibid., 43). In sum, the risk that the letter (of the law) may go astray is not a “simple empirical accident” but that which makes sending the letter possible. It is as a consequence of this lack of identity between the sender and the receiver of the law, between the “citizen” and himself that, from the very start, the “general will” is always already in deficit vis-à-vis itself. An “originary lack” renders unavoidable the need for supplementary “prostheses” capable of temporarily arresting the fall of the Sovereign into the citizen’s singular desires, the fall of the law into the singularity of its cases. One such prosthesis is “government,” which, as Bennington indicates, in Rousseau comes about as a means of insuring the mutual correspondence between the subjects and the Sovereign (Bennington, 1991, 42). Yet no sooner is a government instituted—itself unavoidably the creation of singular individuals with particularistic aims and designs—than it betrays the “general will”

258 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar it was meant to guarantee and make possible. In Rousseau this situation necessarily calls for added supplements or prostheses, in a process that amounts to the Sovereign’s “inevitable usurpation” (Bennington 1991, 46) and is potentially infinite. Introduced from the outside in order to slow the fall of the Sovereign’s “general will” into the plurality of individuals’ desires, such supplements cannot but accelerate the decadence by exposing generality to the “irreducible exteriority” that always undermines it (ibid., 50). Rousseau mentions several of these prostheses—including the nation-state, the “tribunat” (ibid., 48–50), and various aliases such as “Venture de Villeneuve” and that ineffable British gentleman Monsieur “Dudding” (from the English dud, for fake), which the philosopher invented for himself during his travels— all of them meant to supplement an originary lack in nature (ibid., 53–60).

Vertical and Horizontal Prostheses Sites of an impossible reconciliation between lawful generality and the singularity of individuals’ desires, the Venezuelan “tribunes” can be considered precisely such prostheses or supplements, intended to temporarily arrest the lateral flight of the assembled “people” into the treacherous terrain where “mimesis returns to regain its powers.” The Venezuelan tribunes, operating at the same level as the “general will” in order to supplement its lack, act as “horizontal” protheses. Yet in exposing the generality of the law to the externality of their own singular performances, these tribunal prostheses also accelerate the law’s demise, even while striving to prevent that demise. As “the people” abandon the theatrical scene of interpellation, becoming a faceless, threatening crowd, the tribunes are left behind, gesticulating on stage. But it is not only the audience that threatens to slide from one univocal meaning or identification to another. We saw in chapter 7 how in the theater of the early days of the republic the state employed censorship, effectively or not, to attempt to prevent the actors on stage from subverting the letter of the text—that is, to prevent their resignifying it by means of their own idiomatic inflexions, vocal register, and idiosyncrasies, or by excessive bodiliness. Thus it was implicitly recognized that subjects constantly slide, both those on stage and those within the audience. The desires and worldly commitments of the actors on the stage—be it the political stage or the stage of actual theaters— and those of the audience are the slippery slope down which the law in all of its generality continuously falls. Stirred by “their own creative processes and personal interests” (Galindo 2000, 18), by the multiplicity of their desires, acting on the same level of performativity, actors and audiences, tribunes and the assembled people constantly slide beneath the letter of the law that is supposed to stay indelibly stamped on their bodies as on so many legible surfaces. While all of the above prostheses may be called horizontal, operating at the same level of performativity as the “general will” they so urgently strive to supplement, Rousseau describes one other kind of prosthesis. This is the “prothèse originaire,” which

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rather than “occurring to sovereignty, accompanies its very birth. Now the legislator is precisely such a prosthesis” (Bennington 1991, 70). In other words, Rousseau does not belatedly introduce the Legislator in order to complement the “ideal genesis” of the state with its “factual” one. Rather, the legislator is there from the beginning as that solitary figure who not only supplements in his own singularity the deficit of generality that always already afflicts the “general will,” but, as the incarnation of the law, is himself capable of enunciating it in all of its generality and majesty. Indeed, if the social body, lacking “collective organs,” does not slide continuously “towards a new dispersion in nature,” this is precisely because the collectivity’s spirit is condensed and expressed in a law that in order to be followed first needs to be enunciated. Yet it remains unclear “how to enunciate this law,” because regardless of how expressive the law may be of the innermost “general will” of “the people,” it is not the law but their desires that in all of their endless singularity people enunciate in their everyday lives (ibid., 70–71). Himself “a version of the paradox of the après-coup,” the “Great Legislator” is brought into the scene precisely in order to solve this difficulty, as that singular instance nevertheless capable of enunciating the law of its “general will” to a people otherwise fissured and blinded by a multiplicity of desires. In order to do so, however, the Great Legislator must meet several conditions. First, he must be “a priori a foreigner who speaks a foreign language” (Bennington 1991, 72)—to forestall tyranny by having no particularistic stakes or authority in the state (of which he is nevertheless the founder). Second, in the Legislator (unlike in all other individuals), individual will and the universality of the law harmoniously come together, since that which the Legislator wills or desires is nothing other than the universality of the law. And since the law is itself the expression of the people’s “general will,” it may very well be said that that which the Legislator desires is the people’s union or, in Hegel’s terms, “union as such” (quoted in Nancy 1993, 112). Moreover, the Legislator must in some way be superior to the people whom he institutes, while not being himself a “purely internal product of the society formed by the contract” (Bennington 1991, 73); otherwise, there is a risk that he will use his superiority and his own particularistic interests and desires to usurp the “general will.” What this all means is that “if the prostheses that one has examined . . . opened the supposed interiority of the general will towards a beyond that is so to speak horizontal, one here has an escape towards a transcendent verticality” (ibid). Th is escape, in Rousseau’s words, is “an authority of another order” (quoted in Bennington 1991, 73). One final condition is that the Legislator must leave the state once his founding mission has been accomplished. Otherwise the terrible power he embodies, entailed in his act of foundation, would remain within the state as an insidious source of distortion of the people’s democratic will. The Legislator’s excessive force is commensurate with the specificity of his performance, with the special character of his parole, which “in as much as it is legislating,

260 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar must therefore not only enunciate the law, but enunciate the context for which it makes a law and which guarantees its reception” (Bennington 1991, 74). Indeed, if “the people” were already there as a preexisting context capable of understanding and receiving the law brought by the Legislator, it would already exist as a fully present, assembled totality. In other words, such a people would not need the Legislator’s totalizing intervention, which constitutes it as such. But because of the people’s absence, of a “general will” that is always in deficit of generality, the Legislator’s founding performative must enunciate not only the law but also the context capable of receiving it. That is, he must constitute the people as such a context by means of the very performative act through which he enunciates this people’s very law. It should be immediately obvious that the Legislator is outside the law: “the stroke of force [coup de force] needed for this necessarily escapes the legality of the law, which is established only by this performative and makes of the Legislator a potentially dangerous outlaw” (ibid., 74). It is in order to disguise “this danger and this illegality” that the Legislator appeals “to lies or at least to fiction,” claiming to have “received from the gods” the very law he himself has invented. Thus one may say that not brute power but fiction, “a moment of cunning and simulacrum,” is what, against much common opinion, lies “at the very origin of the political” (ibid., 75).

Bolívar Superstar: The Liberator as “Great Legislator” My excursus on Rousseau’s Great Legistlator is all to say that, in Venezuela’s republican experience, the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, has been just such a Legislator, both historically and as a matter of his role in the symbolic economy of the nation’s republicanism. Unfortunately I cannot here discuss in detail what Luis Castro Leiva in a series of brilliant essays has called the “Bolívarian political historicism” (Castro Leiva 1985, 31– 98; 1991a, 117–90). Let me just say that displaying a blend of Montesquieuan, Rousseauian, and Voltairian influences, in this historicism Bolívar figures as the First Actor on the historical stage of the five nations that he founded. As such, he is symbolically charged with bringing about the unification of the people perpetually fissured by conflicting desires. He does so by publicly enunciating the law that, unbeknownst to them, is nevertheless expressive of their undivided “general will.” As a discursive construct, “Bolívar” is capable of such a Promethean accomplishment, because, unlike other individuals, in him reason and the will coexist in harmony. That is, while all other individuals are internally rent by their conflicting desires, in “Bolívar” the single, overriding desire that takes precedence over all others to the point of obliterating them is a burning desire for the unification of the people. And since for “Bolívar,” who in this as in so many other respects remains close to Rousseau, the law is nothing but the expression of the people’s “general will,” the expression of its unity as a people, to say that he willed this unification or unity is like saying that what he willed was the law, in all of its abstract universality. Arguably, in the other direction

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this economy of desire was itself constitutive of both the “real” Bolívar and of this character “Bolívar” as he has been remembered by succeeding generations, especially since the establishment of the Bolívar cult by the Guzmán Blanco regime some forty years after the historical Bolívar’s death. In addition to Napoleon, Rousseau’s Great Legislator was the principal alias, double, or type with which the Liberator most assiduously identified throughout his career, and for the same reason that other historical figures such as Plato or Nietzsche invented doubles for themselves (Lacoue-Labarthe 1989, 43–47). Like Socrates for Plato or Zarathustra for Nietzsche, for Bolívar the Great Legislator was a means of stabilizing the subject of enunciation through identification with a model or type, thus temporarily arresting or deferring the “madness” of the mimetic drift from one identity or role to the next to which all subjects are irrepressibly drawn. In this regard one may say that if others identify with Napoleon, or, for that matter, with Rousseau’s Great Legislator due to madness, Bolívar did so in order not to go mad, that is, so as to preserve a relatively stable identity as the focus for collective action and identification amidst the extraordinarily conflictive, ever-changing circumstances in which he lived. At the time nothing was more crucial for him than doing just that—that is, crafting himself as the author or legislator of that quintessentially Enlightenment construct that was Gran Colombia.2 I have surrounded “Bolívar” with quotation marks to signal the distance between the historical Bolívar and the idea of Bolívar that has resonated through Venezuelan history. Now we can also see that Bolívar’s own identity was itself caught in an economy of citations, a mimetic economy, by which his real actions in the world were continually shaped. To think of oneself as a Great Legislator is to occupy the role of that single transcendent subject who, in enunciating the law, ipso facto constitutes “the people,” or, what amounts to the same thing, brings a people into being as an undivided totality. And this Bolívar clearly did (Pagden 1990, 146). Among the factors that favored such a self-representation were the books Bolívar had read; Rousseau’s Émile and The Social Contract had figured prominently in his education since his childhood days in a Venezuelan hacienda under the tutelage of the legendary Simón Rodríguez (ibid). Bolívar’s status as a military man—prior to the struggle for independence he had served in the Spanish colonial army—was probably also instrumental to his readiness to cast himself in the role of Great Legislator. In so doing he was inaugurating what would become a Latin American tradition of military men viewing themselves as the embodiments of society’s general interests, in opposition to the narrow sectional concerns of its civilian members. Last but not least, Bolívar’s identification with Rousseau’s Great Legislator was prompted by the defeat of the First Republic at the hands of the royalists. Bolívar blamed the defeat on the divisions brought about by federalism (Bolívar [1812] 1990, 37–38), which plagued the republicans while alienating the masses. He became convinced of the need for a strongly centralized government to counteract the entropy brought about

262 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar by the federal experiment; such a government would be the focus around which all the collective energies of the population could be gathered for the purpose of defeating the Spanish (ibid., 38). As a new Lycurgus, he would base this new government on a highly centralist, antifederalist constitution that would undo the shortcomings of Venezuela’s origins in the First Republic while properly legislating the nation into being, refounding it on the basis of this nation’s collective, homogeneous will. Bolívar wrote his first indictment of federalism, the Manifiesto de Cartagena, from the rebel base in the Colombian city after which his manifesto was named, where he had taken refuge after the defeat of the Venezuelan separatists. It does not seem coincidental that it was from such an extrinsic location that he formulated his first sweeping (and most enduringly influential) condemnation of federalism as a form of government, while adumbrating the kind of strongly centralized political and military regime he felt the circumstances required. Acutely aware of how significant it was to his own designs that he be perceived to be above all sectional interests, and very much in line with his own self-image as Great Legislator, for the rest of his career Bolívar would cultivate the extrinsic position of enunciation of a foreigner; this externality would be the privileged locus from which, at crucial moments, he would make his most consequential pronouncements. Even a cursory review of the main arguments of Bolívar’s Cartagena Manifesto will suffice to give an idea of why, to this day, federalism in Venezuela has led such a shadowy, precarious existence. In it he sought to explain the recent defeat of the separatists. While referring to the “grievous” mistakes that were made by the men of the First Republic of Venezuela, Bolívar blamed the government’s weakness, along with the divisiveness afflicting the republican camp and ultimately leading to the fall of the republic, on both the adoption of a federal system and on the insistence on establishing “countless poorly disciplined militias” instead of creating a regular army under a unified command “fully trained and ready to defend freedom” (Bolívar 2003, 4–6). In sum, Bolívar attributed the defeat of the republican camp to the “federalist structure” of the 1811 Constitution, according to which, as if possessed by unmanageable centrifugal tendencies, each provincial capital saw itself as the capital of the republic (Bolívar 2003, 6; see also Armas Chitty 1992, 42). In Bolívar’s view this federalism, which was consistent with a sociopolitical structure largely inherited from the colony, accounted for the state of near-total chaos and disintegration into which, after the initial enthusiasm, the republican camp had rapidly slid. Two of the Venezuelan provinces, Cumana and Barcelona, disobeyed nearly all orders from Caracas and went on to draft their own constitutions, thus behaving as if they were independent states. They were only taking to its ultimate conclusion the expectation formed in the throes of independence, that each and every provincial capital from the old colonial provinces of Tierra Firme would rule over its own destiny (Armas Chitty 1992, 42).

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In addition to all the historical reasons that have made a federated form of government such a problematic proposition in Venezuela, that Bolívar’s indictment has reverberated for so long in the nation’s public awareness also has to do with the extraordinary force of the language in which it was couched. Added to Bolívar’s undisputed, overwhelming preeminence in the nation’s pantheon, the manifesto’s rhetoric surely contributes to the readiness with which a variety of social actors in Venezuela have over the years rallied against any expression of federalism, no matter how inchoate. A good example of this rhetoric is the following passage from the manifesto, whose words have not ceased echoing across nearly two centuries: The operating codes our leaders consulted weren’t those they might have learned from any practical science of government, but those formulated by certain worthy visionaries who, conceiving some ethereal republic, sought to achieve political perfection on the presumption of the perfectibility of the human species. So we ended up with philosophers for generals, philanthropy for legislation, dialectics for tactics, and sophists for soldiers. This subversion of principles and affairs shook the social order to its core, and naturally enough the State rushed with giant steps towards universal dissolution, which was not long in coming. (Bolívar [1812] 2003, 4)

As the judgment of the Father of the Fatherland, whose words carry unparalleled authority in this nation, Bolívar’s indictment of federalism has rendered any local attempt at state decentralization into an extraordinarily fraught enterprise, liable to be reversed at any time. Under the Chávez regime, a powerful movement of state recentralization that was a reaction to the federalist decentralizing policies of the previous years was conducted precisely in Bolívar’s name. Considering this Bolivarian inheritance, since the 1870s it has taken some guts to come out in favor of any form of state decentralization for the country. Bolívar’s early manifesto also set the terms of the historical debate between centralism and federalism, in the opinion of one present-day commentator, Rogelio Pérez Perdomo (1990, 7). The constitutions of 1819 and 1821, which bore Bolívar’s imprint from a time when he was at the height of his power and prestige, were overwhelmingly centralist. Both assigned great weight and privilege to the executive in the overall structure of the state. Such privilege would achieve its greatest expression in the 1826 project for a Bolivian constitution, which Bolívar also proposed for Colombia, in which the executive became a lifetime appointment. Centralism and authoritarianism, and even monarchical ideas, became closely associated with one another during what Pérez Perdomo has called the “Colombian period” (ibid.)—the years between 1819, when the Congress of Angostura legislated Gran Colombia into being, and 1830, the year in which the vast republic dreamed up by Bolívar came to an end amidst uncontrollable centrifugal pressures. Bolívar’s downfall was fueled by tension between the separatist forces, which increasingly threatened to implode Gran Colombia from within, and his own

264 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar ever-more-hubristic attempts to counteract those forces by imposing increasingly draconian forms of centralized authority (Harvey 2000, 236–37). Landmarks in this itinerary were his appointment as president for life, as the 1826 Bolivian constitution had previously sanctioned; his 1828 assumption of the dictatorship; his flirtation at the time with the idea of a monarchy; and, finally, his expulsion in 1830 from the Venezuelan nation that, bursting free from the Bolívarian straitjacket of the preceding decade, was born that very year from the implosion of the larger political unit, Gran Colombia. According to Anthony Pagden, all of this was in line with Bolívar’s Rousseauism, his determination to think of society as a blank slate forcefully brought into being in an originating moment of foundation. Much as for Rousseau, for Bolívar the very “logic of his own historical reflections” required a strong state that forced “the people” to be free so as to engender the unity or “general will” that such a state otherwise presupposed as the necessary foundation of its own authority. Believing that it was possible “to form the nation by the government” (Pagden 1990, 150), Bolívar and those who reasoned as he did were, in other words, “compelled to create nations ex nihilo” (ibid., 138). In the opinion of a “hostile observer” contemporary with Bolívar, such nationstates, bereft of any recognized past or traditions of their own that might glue them together, will always be in danger of constituting “a world that is in some way fantastic,” held together as they (precariously) are by such violently phantasmatic prostheses as “civic religion,” “moral powers,” and other “non-institutional compulsions” that Bolívar so favored (ibid., 150). Bolívar’s “virtuous republic,” inspired by “principles of ancient liberty,” drew on a sentimental substratum that leaves much to be desired, according to Angel Bernardo Viso, a Venezuelan critic who does not mince words when it comes to criticizing the Bolívar cult. In Viso’s view, Bolívar’s “moral power,” composed of a president and a forty-member Areopagus, with its “moral police, its statistical tables of virtues and of vices, its lists of the virtuous and of the vicious, and its state-controlled education” accounts for much of what went wrong with the hero’s career (ibid., 81). It was one of the most precious items in Bolívar’s republican arsenal. Viso describes how the Liberator presented his moral power to the Congress of Angostura in 1819, which “happily rejected” it, in the following terms: “This project denotes a vindictive and punitive passion, an authoritarian spirit taken to such an extreme that it does not tolerate being in any way contradicted, not even within each individual person’s heart of hearts” (Viso 1983, 83). Presumably in that “heart of hearts” lay buried the “best self” that the project all along implicitly assumed as its bedrock foundation. But then one would not expect any less of someone who, in turbulent times, chooses to cast himself in the role of Great Legislator, carefully sculpting every one of his public words and appearances with an eye always keenly set on posterity. As Pagden argues, Bolívar’s Great Legislator, much like his other abstractions—liberty, public opinion, virtue, moral power—tacitly assumed the existence of “a powerfully consti-

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tuted state”; in its absence, all of these abstractions had little “imaginative force” (Pagden 1990, 152). Hence Bolívar’s overweening attempts in his later years to establish such a state. By 1828, shortly before his downfall, with the forces of disintegration arrayed against him ever more apparent, the conclusion was already firmly implanted in his mind: “The Republic could not now survive without coercion, and coercion meant the rule of the military” (ibid., 153). Under such circumstances, “the emphasis in Du Contrat Social on the role of Great Legislators and the absence of any developed individual will could always be employed to legitimate the temporary role of the singular individual as the instantiation of the General Will” (ibid.). The founding of the Venezuelan nation thus owed much to Bolívar’s Rousseauian reasoning— although, unlike Pagden, I would not lay the entire blame for Bolívar’s downfall and the disintegration of Gran Colombia on the lack of fit between this reasoning and the actual circumstances of his time. There is an important sense in which for both Rousseau and his pupil Bolívar this reasoning was singularly well attuned to its times. A Great Legislator figure emerges or is crafted in response to precisely the kind of intensely dislocated conditions that were prevalent in France and in Venezuela in and around the time of their revolutions. The extraordinary investment in unity, equality, and, not least, force that in all of its monumentality is both presupposed by and compressed in such a figure is directly proportional to the forces of heterogeneity and disunion that are faced. Once again, it is only because the “general will” vertiginously falls into the singularity of its cases that the Great Legislator is in the first place contrived as a means to arrest the dispersion. In this light, the right question to ask is not whether Bolívar’s contraption was from the start bound to fail. Beyond the narrowly defined conditions of a war effort against all odds, carried out for many years by a colonial backwater against a still-powerful metropolis, indeed it was. The question is, rather, whether in casting himself as a Great Legislator come from the outside to refound society or legislate it into being, Bolívar succeeded at least for a while in arresting the forces of disintegration—long enough, in any case, to defeat the Spanish forces. To be sure, this accomplishment came at an immense cost in human life and economic destruction. More importantly, perhaps, one should also ask whether the mobilized and, let us not forget, armed Venezuelan crowds, animated by mimetic rivalry and bursting with often irreconcilable desires, demands, and aspirations, would have seen themselves reflected in and collected around a figure who any less uncompromisingly signified to them their “true essence” as a single people unified by bonds of equality while, at one and the same time, extending to them the populist promise that the spoils of war, in the form of looting, confiscated lands, and so forth, would indefinitely go on flowing in their direction. In other words, it may well be that only a figure who so uncompromisingly incarnated the law of the people’s equality for a mobilized, armed audience had any chance of concentrating and focusing the energies needed to win the war—or at least, this may have been what Bolívar thought, not without justification.

266 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar But to a large extent, this is the subject of the next two chapters. For now what is crucial to realize is that there are good reasons why “Bolívar,” in all of its forbiddingly monumentalized incarnation of equality in a world riven by inequalities and heterogeneities of all sorts, has for quite while been such a fixture in the nation’s political imaginary. It is because the always restless, never successfully immobilized Venezuelan “people” so recurrently turns into mobilized, often armed crowds that “Bolívar” returns with such cyclical regularity. Kept at all times as a reserve of totalizing force in the background of the polity—the many busts, equestrian statues, and oversized paintings of the Liberator throughout Venezuela attest to this—he is brought to the foreground by one or another political force when the Venezuelan masses are virulently on the move, knocking at the doors of the polity and ready to do away with any institutional ramparts standing in their way. The figure of the notable is also hyperbolic and histrionic, but nevertheless signifies a world that, if not peaceable, is yet one in which the mobility and volatility of the masses have been considerably reduced. Not so with “Bolívar.” From the start, “Bolívar” is a figure of dizzying mobility and delocalization, even if his austere, statuesque persona proclaims otherwise. So much pompous solemnity is just a case of protesting too much. But to return to the historical Bolívar: even if this argument cannot be made in strictly empirical terms,3 then at least from the perspective of the immanent logic of the political imaginary that he so greatly helped to install, Bolívar’s final fate appears to have been that of any Great Legislator reluctant to take leave of his creation—that of a founder refusing to leave the community once the task of foundation is finished, who ends up angering the people. It is this refusal that eventually turns the Legislator into a troubling source of distortion within the community. The excessive force required to found the community turns monstrous, and the community becomes “endangered by the continued presence of that violence in its midst” (Honig 2001, 22). This is the reason why the very people whom he brought together as a nation, a people now eager to restore the equality his overbearing presence so thoroughly compromised, eventually eject the Legislator from the polity. As Bonnie Honig convincingly argues, the figure of the foreigner and the “classic foreign-founder script” (ibid., 22) are ways of “managing some paradoxes of democratic founding such as the alienness of the law” (ibid., 7). According to that paradox, the people are only constituted as such by the very laws of which they, in line with democratic principle, ought to be the creators (ibid., 20). Moreover, given the need for laws, a “perennial problem” of democratic foundations is that people considered equal under the law “cannot receive it from any one of their own number” (ibid., 4). What all of these paradoxes eventually make clear is that “a deus ex machina is necessary to solve the problem and this deus ex machina arrives in the figure of the founder, a good person prior to good law, a miraculous lawgiver” (ibid., 20). All of this is simply to restate in somewhat different terms what was said above regarding the aporetic character of the “general will.” Nevertheless, Honig’s focus on the

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kind of “work” the figure of the foreigner does in the cultural politics of the community (ibid., 2), as well as her attention to the “classic foreign-founder scripts” where these demiurgic foreigners invariably appear, considerably enrich the discussion (ibid., 22). Making due allowance for some minor empirical variations that it is the task of any mythical construction to overlook, it may be said that the events in Venezuela in the wake of the nation’s foundation in 1830 retrospectively followed the “classic foreignfounder script” almost to the letter. According to the script, the Great Legislator must either be killed or expelled if for any reason he remains within the polity after its foundation, which Bolívar decided to do. He attempted to halt the disintegration of his most ambitious project, Gran Colombia, first by proclaiming a constitution in which he reserved for himself the role of president for life, in this way making concessions to the idea of monarchy; second, by declaring himself dictator in 1828 while everywhere raising an army to shore up his rule. Bolívar’s flirtation with the idea of the monarchy and his assumption of a dictatorial role exposed the monstrous consequences that the force he wielded as a founder could have for the new nation’s democratic well being. So a string of abuses accompanied Bolívar on his way to exile in Colombia and continued for a number of years after his expulsion, filling local periodicals and public parliamentary debates with claims of his monarchical leanings and Napoleonic pretensions, exposing him as a “wild” intrusion into the polity’s democratic body. His wildness threatened to corrupt the polity with despotism if not expelled in time. Throughout, “Bolívar” was for all practical purposes symbolically positioned as a foreigner, a founder from outside whose dangerous excessive force had to be excluded from the polity for the sake of its health as a democracy. In an academic event celebrated at the University of Caracas in 1841, Antonio Leocadio Guzman expressed the conundrum well: “Bolívar was the leader of all the great Captains . . . the caudillo of the fearless, the Liberator of all nations, the Founder, in sum of the fatherland. Could he possibly be contained within it? . . . How could his gaze not instantly fulminate, his word not amount to a decree, his will not be equivalent to inexorable fate?” (quoted in Diaz Sánchez 1952, 248). Bolívar had become “the impossible citizen” (Carrera Damas 1989, 94), and, as such, had to be banned from the polity. As soon as Venezuela was established as a nation, in 1830, Bolívar was immediately expelled from its territory. But Bolívar’s dangerous force was not to be so easily exorcised. As Jean-Luc Nancy has cogently argued, once a community’s existence is made contingent on any finalizing sovereign principle demarcating it as a cohesive whole from the outside, the principle—of which “Divine creation and the royal decision compose its double image”— will return and never entirely leave (Nancy 2000, 120). From the moment in which any given community is finalized by sovereignty, The commonwealth as such must . . . present and represent his [the Sovereign’s] absolute and final character, his sovereignty, and its armed forces must carry the

268 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar flag of his glory. It is at this very point that the law of the republic—of any republic, even today—inevitably comes up against the exception of the prince, whatever the form of government might be. Even today, democracy has not profoundly displaced this schema; it has only suppressed or repressed it, back into the shadow of its own uncertainties (that is, the uncertainty concerning its own sovereignty, an uncertainty that even today remains consubstantial with it). Like what is repressed, then, the schema of the sovereign exception never stops returning, and it returns as the perversion of democracy, whether this return happens in the innumerable coups d’état of its history or in becoming totalitarian (where the exception transforms itself into a doubling of the structure of the State by another [structure] which incarnates true sovereignty). (ibid., 123)

Or, I might add, the “sovereign exception” returns as a figure like “Bolívar,” which, incarnating “union as such,” is that dangerous exception or coup de force that, necessarily excessive, a transcendent principle vis-à-vis the community, nevertheless institutes the community—that is, brings it about as a bounded entity by enunciating the law on which the community’s very being and continuity is contingent. Since the establishment of the cult of Bolívar in the 1870s and 1880s by the Guzmán Blanco regime, “Bolívar” has never left the polity, where the figure remains as a more or less omnipresent background. The name and figure of Bolívar are stamped all over the nation’s material landscape, from the currency to the many squares, bridges, and walls. Nevertheless, one might still say that “Bolívar” only returns in full force at those critical, populist moments when the polity’s viability is at risk. One of those moments, which I alluded to in chapter 6 of this book, occurred in the early 1840s,when, in the midst of a serious economic crisis caused by the fall in the price of coffee, “Bolívar” was brought back by the nascent Liberal party as a rallying figure capable of collecting the unenfranchised crowds behind the party for the purpose of breaking the political monopoly of the Conservative Oligarchy. Whereas in 1811 and  1812 it was the disappearance of the Spanish monarch that prompted the subaltern populations to step out of the societal positions where, hitherto, they had been more or less contained, in the early 1840s it was a ruinous economic crisis threatening the survival of the nation’s majorities that had a similar effect. In the case of the colony those positions had been the various corporate bodies through which the pardo population was able to achieve some degree of symbolic recognition and economic advancement. In the newly established republic, analogous if generally more precarious positions were to be found in the various patronage networks that tied members of the majority populations to a series of individuals with power. With the relative breakdown of these networks as a result of the economic crisis and the growing inability of patrons to retain their clienteles, the popular masses increasingly collected as crowds in the nation’s major cities and towns, and even in the countryside, ready to lend their support to any genuinely or ostensibly radical project of change.

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The new circumstances were, in other words, ripe for things to tilt away from the “Fragile Collection” in the direction of “Bolívar Superstar.” That the figure of “Bolívar” was able to serve as a rallying principle of identification for the unenfranchised crowds followed from his status as Great Legislator. As such “he” was capable of totalizing yet again the shattered society, which no longer saw itself reflected in the restricted circle of notables. In 1811, 1830, and throughout Venezuela’s republican history, those notables and their enfranchised entourages have striven through their own bodies and ever-more-hyperbolic gestures and demeanors to constitute themselves as the monumentalized representatives of the nation, while, all along, barring the vast majorities from effective citizenship. Bolívar, on the other hand, despite his aristocratic lineage, broke out of the tight circle of notables to directly interpellate the postcolonial crowds as an undisputed focus of authority, devotion, and identification. It is for this purpose that during his own lifetime he constituted himself as “Bolívar,” a Great Legislator figure, the incarnation of the reconstituted totality, with whom all members of society, including especially the unenfranchised crowds, could identify, seeing themselves reflected in his monumentalized persona. In the 1840s, with the Liberator dead, the Liberal party decided to resurrect the figure of “Bolívar” in order to attract the masses to their camp for the purpose of forcing the Conservative Oligarchy to give up their power monopoly. Since then, but especially in the wake of the establishment of the cult of Bolívar in the 1870s and 1880s, the monumentalized representation of “Bolívar” as Venezuela’s Great Legislator has become installed permanently in the nation’s political imaginary as the one figure capable of unequivocally standing for the whole. Every time the crowds yet again seize public space, “Bolívar” is already there to meet them as the vertical prosthesis of the “general will” capable of totalizing the polity anew. Not subjected to the same wear-and-tear as the horizontal tribunal prostheses, “Bolívar” is indeed the mirror in which the volatile crowds may capture their image whole, as a mobilized, often armed people beholden to the state. This might also be expressed in reference to the representational practices and strategies that have become enshrined in the historiographical canon of various Latin American nations. With the establishment of the regime of the Conservative Oligarchy, as discussed in the previous chapter, a historiography often written by the notables or would-be notables themselves featured the figure of the notable on a virtuous path to civility from his heroic days as a warrior of the republic. A miniaturization of the gigantic, this representational strategy went along with keeping the vast majority of the population waiting at the doors of citizenship. Responsive to the recurrent return of the crowds to public space, an alternative representational strategy began to take shape in Venezuela and Hispanic America—not to miniaturize but to revel in the gigantic, in all its sheer, grandiose excessiveness. This strategy pursues ends different from those that are characteristic of the notables’ biographies: erecting a historiographical monument to the nation’s heroes in which their figures, especially their faces, are construed as fitting reflections of the nation as an undivided whole. For example, the Argentinean

270 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar historian Bartolomé Mitre wrote histories of national heroes with a popular audience in mind. Rather than shrinking these giants’ biographies to the miniaturized proportions of would-be paragons of civility, mindful of and constrained by the laws and civilized mores of the republic, Mitre’s biographies blew up these heroes’ figures to the gigantic size of the nation itself, turning them into so many all-encompassing reflections of the nation’s oversized, indeed excessive, turbulent realities. As Colmenares suggests, the attempt was crystallized in a series of “biographical medallions” involving “the excessive amplification of the personal entity, the overflowing of the biographical riverbed and its adoption as a macrocosm or symbolic representation of a collective entity” (Colmenares 1987, 139). Seeking to bring about a correspondence between the rhythms of the life of the hero, of his mission, and the rhythms of history, Mitre’s overriding goal was to “create the image of a national hero” (ibid.). Reveling in the gigantic, this representational strategy reflected a nation that hitherto had been left outside but that now, once again, violently knocked at the doors of the polity. In the aftermath of the federal wars that had ravaged both Venezuela and Argentina, the popular masses were once again intensely mobilized, filling all the main public spaces with their dangerous presence. Emerging out of the awful ineffability and relative quiescence in which they had been kept by the representational apparatus and repressive policies of the oligarchic regimes, by virtue of their unavoidable presence these masses enlarged the nation to truly magnified proportions, vastly exceeding the rarified circle of the notables. The new representational strategy had to be capable of reflecting and framing the vastly transformed, oversized nation that so peremptorily commanded everyone’s attention. The excessive amplification of the person of the local rulers, as well as of the nation’s founding heroes, to the size of a whole nation was just such a representational strategy. In its haste to constitute living rulers as “composites of the nation’s people,” as some kind of “composite person” who in his very singularity “seems to personify a country” (Elkins 1996, 198), this strategy also rendered these rulers largely interchangeable with the Founding Fathers of the nation. In light of such truly grandiose pretensions, the often-remarked megalomania of Latin America’s populist leaders, their apparently bloated egos, appear for what they are: nothing but the aftereffect of strategies and practices of representation that demand of the ruler precisely such extravagantly oversized egos. While Mitre was writing his histories in Argentina, in Venezuela the cult of Bolívar was being invented by the Guzmán Blanco regime. This cult was the site of an intense struggle over the meaning of the nation’s past, one in which “Bolívar” was constituted as a transcendental signifier around which the entire history of the nation was thoroughly rewritten. It is from this time that both the figure of the caudillo, or rural strongman, and the version of the nation’s nineteenth-century past as a period of greedy, ruthless strongmen vying for state power, a version shared by an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans, were first constructed, very much against the self-understanding of the

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main actors and participants in the recently waged federal wars. I will have more to say in my final chapter about this historiographical operation conducted by the state cult, which positioned the centralizing state as the inexorable telos of all previous history. I will only say here that it was in the wake of the cult’s delegitimation of all previous history as the business of warring warlords that the nation’s notables were increasingly forced to take cover under the shadow of “Bolívar,” the Father of the Fatherland. Through the cult, then, the Liberator finally came to assume his status in the Venezuela’s political imaginary as this nation’s founder or creator. With that status came the expansion of “Bolívar” into a gigantic screen where the nation’s realities were reflected, especially the reality of armed popular crowds just out of the federal wars, seeking to be rewarded. The cult instituted a complete exchangeability between the figures of “Bolívar” and that of the living ruler Guzmán, in order to invest Guzman with the kind of transcendence that would allow him to stand for the whole nation. The oftennoted extravagance of Guzmán—his famous boutades, exaggerated gestures, and flamboyant public appearances with an astonishing array of medals glittering on his chest—must be understood in light of the urgent political task of inflating the ruler’s ego so as to render it an apposite mirror of the oversized national realities that would otherwise remain submerged in an ever-more-awesome, dangerous ineffability. But this is the subject of the next two chapters. Similarly, the sheer excessiveness of the continent’s contemporary populist leaders must be interpreted in the same light, as agonistic attempts to encompass in their own oversized public images the nation’s turbulent realities. It is in the face of those realities that one or another subject feels he or she must take center stage and, for the sake of civic duty, allow his or her own ego to swell up to the size of the polity, much as Bolívar felt compelled to do in the beginnings of the Venezuelan nation,. In Venezuela, since the establishment of the Bolívar cult, such extraordinary performances have never been pulled off without the help of “Bolívar”; his figure grows ever-more-monstrously large with each new populist episode, until the pendulum once again swings back towards the pole of the notables, the Fragile Collection. Virtually every time president Chávez appeared on TV, his appearance was presided over by a background painting of Bolívar so gigantic that it literally exceeded the screen. Much as Guzmán had done before, Chávez pumped up his public persona to the size of the nation in response to a pressing political necessity: addressing the vast national majorities that had hitherto been denied access to the polity but whose interpellation could no longer be avoided. Before leaving this chapter there is something I need to make clear. The periodic return of “Bolívar” in moments of crisis as the transcendent, vertical prosthesis of the “general will” does not mean that, from that point on, the community coalesces as a cohesive totality, its members forever focused on his figure as on that which they all share, the personification of the law of their union. The horizontal sliding whereby subjects are continuously turning into something else ultimately cannot be arrested. And

272 scenes of the imaginary, ii: bolívar superstar this is the case even when, with “Bolívar,” a vertical prosthesis of the “general will” has been made available, a reservoir of transcendence not subject to the same rapid degradation as the tribunal prostheses. The return of “Bolívar” may be said to slow down the inevitable return of fragmentation. Yet inevitable it is. While one can always fight the specter of disintegration by bringing “Bolívar” back, something that the Chávez regime’s excessive Bolivarianism demonstrated in a complicated way, the solution does not last. And this is the case because, after refounding the nation, “Bolívar,” unlike Rousseau’s Great Legislator, does not leave. Eventually, with myriad proliferating differences eluding the Bolivarian embrace and the Venezuelan crowds abandoning the Bolivarian scene of interpellation, the “general will” once again dissolves into the singularity of its cases. As for the flesh-and-blood Bolívar, as the epigraph at the beginning of this chapter so graphically intimates, he did not constantly live up to his monumentalized persona of Great Legislator, arrived from afar to refound the polity. In order to try to slow down for as long as possible the precipitous fallings of the “general will” into particular interests and desires, the powerfully centrifugal forces at work within his world, keeping his mobilized, armed constituency collected together for as long as possible as a “people in the army” beholden to him, Bolívar needed to supplement his statuesque “Bolívar” persona with his “dancing”: the manic running and jumping, and the loud, agitated talking whereby he strove to stay at least one step ahead of his companions while keeping their gazes steadily focused on him.

Chapter 9

The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army It is time now to return to Plaza Bolívar, this book’s place of departure, and to the controversy that briefly flared up in 1865 in two Caracas newspapers, El Federalista and El Porvenir, concerning the future appearance of the square. At the time, remodeling was considered imminent; it actually came about in the 1870s, during the first Guzmán administration. The supporters of both of the proposed designs sought to bring about a Plaza Bolívar freed from the marketplace, with the equestrian statue of the Founding Father installed at its very center. The similarities, however, ended there. By bringing together some of the threads I have been following throughout the book, it is possible to offer a sense of what the stakes were in this debate, and of the significance that contemporaries assigned to it.

An Open-air (Bourgeois) Theater The proposal from outside the sphere of government envisaged Plaza Bolívar as a plaza de armas, or military square, no longer functioning as a marketplace, yet retaining the arcades erected in 1756 by a late colonial governor, and thus evoking a measure of continuity with the colonial past. Those proposing the alternate design were bent on the demolition of the colonial arcades. Their proposal, which finally prevailed, sought to sharply break with this past while keeping Caracas’ main public square free of militaristic overtones. Instead, the republic’s symbolic-cum-material center of power would be a kind of polite salon, a civilized utopia surrounded by neoclassical French gardens and fountains and presided over by a statue of the Liberator on horseback.1 The Guzmán regime, under the banner of federalism and decentralization, in fact carried out the most comprehensive and ambitious program of state centralization ever attempted in Venezuela during the entire nineteenth century. So the decision to turn Caracas’ central square into a kind of elegant salon was an unequivocal attempt to redesign the nation’s center of power so that two complementary objectives could be reflected on the one site: on the one hand, subordinating the local elites to the designs of the central state; on the other, collecting around this state the Venezuelan popular masses, who at the time were just emerging from the bloody Federal War, and still 273

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Figure 7. Watercolor of Plaza Bolívar by Ramón Bolet Peraza, 1880. (Palacio de la Gobernación, Caracas.)

roamed the nation in possession of a considerable amount of unconfiscated weaponry, as a unified “people.” In the case of the Venezuelan elites, the official rhetoric and iconography of the Guzmán period insistently identified their “polite” subordination to the state as one of the preeminent goals of the regime. It was crucial that officially sanctioned relations between the state and local society were appropriately represented and enacted in the symbolically central Plaza Bolívar. Figure 7 strikingly visualizes this subordination, depicting members of the local elite— couples, families with children, as well as one or two groups of gentlemen perhaps chatting about the latest events of the day—gracefully strolling along the square’s pathways or pausing in leisurely fashion close to the pedestal of the Bolívar monument. Like a protective presence, the equestrian statue of the Liberator presides over the entire composition. It assumes magnified proportions in the illustration, far in excess of those exhibited by the actual monument, as if to emphasize Bolívar’s tutelary presence. In this version of Plaza Bolívar—the site of a civilized, polished existence thoroughly orchestrated by the state—the local elites relinquish any pretensions to local autonomy vis-à-vis the state in exchange for exchanging pleasantries among themselves. As “Bolívar” occupied a position as the ruler’s proxy and the preeminent figure for the

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central state during the Guzmán regime, this vision of the Plaza prefigured a situation in which so-called civil society is an appendage of the state, simply the variegated institutional tissue through which the will of the central state is conveyed to each citizen. A good number of the urban, political, administrative, economic, and military policies undertaken during the Guzmán period were, among other things, attempts to bring about this subordination. Moreover, the neoclassical design of the square, with eight straight roads converging on the center, reminiscent of the Union Jack and known as British flag, facilitated the convergence of the population as a “people” around the central state represented by the Founding Father’s equestrian statue. Rather than merely cosmetic, argues Christian Páez Rivadeneira, the physical changes in the site transformed its overall social function and significance. The colonial public square had enjoyed a harmonious, continuous, and complementary relation with its urban milieu, “made of regular quadrangles, densely built up around the square.” It was a multifunctional open space where the main urban, collective manifestations of the colony took place, from market activities, executions, and bullfights to royal celebrations, political events, and religious festivities (Páez Rivadeneira 1992, 38). In contrast, the Guzman regime filled in the open spaces. In Rivadeneira’s words, “in this way the use of the public space of the square, that was and continued to be the center of the city, became restricted, strongly limited by the presence of the centralized monument. Socially the square was reduced to being the place for the celebration of civic commemorations of a nationalist character” (ibid., 26–27). In sum, the Guzman public square was a “new concept of public space, strongly hierarchical and commemorative” (ibid., 26).2 Here Rivadeneira, very much in passing, says something that powerfully suggests that ultimately the unenfranchised Venezuelan majorities were the unacknowledged addressees of the ambitious neoclassical remodeling of Plaza Bolívar under Guzmán. As a result of the remodeling, both this site, and, eventually, all the other Plazas Bolívar across Venezuela, became incapable of “welcoming the multitude” (Páez Rivadeneira 1992, 39–40). In lieu of the gatherings of the past where, presumably, the participants actively asserted their interests, inclinations, and desires, all that the Guzmáncista garden squares promoted and made possible was “a passive enjoyment of space: the cult of the symbols of the nation and a strolling that is restricted to the itinerary prescribed by the very character of the design” (ibid.; my emphasis). As a result of this momentous transformation, “nowadays when mass acts are celebrated in the square the participants must occupy the surrounding streets or, even worse, the space of the gardens” (ibid., 142). A public space topographically articulated so as to foster the passive enjoyment of the symbols of the nation, especially “Bolívar,” by visitors who, no longer a multitude, have been transformed into something like a civilized, largely contemplative audience: is this not reminiscent of the republican theater of political representation that, according to my argument, the Venezuelan early republicans set up in the process of establishing an independent nation?


The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army

Seen in this light, the Plaza Bolívar that resulted from Guzmán’s remodeling efforts has the trappings of a bourgeois theater of political representation, a cultic space where the former multitudes, or crowds, now collected as a “people,” are expected to passively watch from a distance the spectacle of “Bolívar” gesturing at them from the political stage; meanwhile, all the prime locations for this type of open-air spectacle have been taken over by the nation’s notables, strategically positioned near the stage. Moreover, typical of the statuary of the time, on the central monument “Bolívar is represented restraining with one hand a spirited, bucking horse and extending the other hand to salute the multitude” (De Tallenay [1884] 1989, 69). As the French traveler Jenny de Tallenay did not fail to notice, this adoring multitude is, indeed, the intended audience of the composition, which is theatrical through and through. The discursive articulation between, on the one hand, the saluting gesture of the Liberator atop his horse, and, on the other, the standing, admiring multitudes emotionally greeting his presence from afar is well established in the speeches and chronicles that accompanied the inauguration of the monument in Plaza Bolívar on November 7, 1874 (Schael Martínez 1974, 54–55). With this image of Plaza Bolívar as open-air theater presided over by the statue of the Liberator on horseback, the (performative) reasons why Caracas’ central square was a showcase for the centralized nation-state promoted by the Guzmán regime begin to emerge. Castro Leiva argues in a series of brilliant, indispensable essays that the “reduction of the whole of Venezuelan political thinking to bolivarianism” has meant the reduction of the entire nation to the “figure, the bust, the equestrian statue, and the face of Bolívar,” and he suggests that this momentous reduction was already advanced by Bolívar himself. Indeed, according to Castro Leiva, the “Bolivarian political historicism” that Simon Bolívar crafted during his own lifetime, his very own “bolivarianism,” already contains many of the main ingredients, elements, and motifs of the heroic cult that was later developed in his name (1987, 117–88). I understand this as saying that, for eminently political and military reasons, and well in advance of the official cult that eventually was developed in his name, the Liberator was busily at work reducing the budding people/nation to his own quasi-statuesque, monumentalized persona—that is, to his “figure,” bust,” “equestrian statue,” and “face”—well before he died (ibid., 177). To then say that during his lifetime Bolívar monumentalized himself as “Bolívar” or a (Rousseauian) Great Legislator figure that, as the only totalizing principle available, could hold the patriot camp together is, I believe, consistent with Castro Leiva’s formulations. Changing the terrain from intellectual history to cultural anthropology in calling attention to Bolívar’s self-monumentalization as the necessary correlate of his “political historicism,” I merely spell out the practical implications of this historicism in the social and historical domain, where becoming “Bolívar” was one of Bolívar’s most pressing political and military concerns, the tool that he desperately needed for drawing the colored masses to his camp.

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It is not until the 1870s, however, when the Guzmán regime established the cult of Bolívar as an official state cult, that the figure of the hero became firmly installed in Venezuela’s political imaginary both as the figure of the central state in its ability to totalize the nation and, largely for that very reason, as the unreachable exemplar that all Venezuelans must nevertheless strive to emulate. In the 1870s, with armed multitudes just emergent from the Federal War, everywhere on the move and occupying all of the nation’s main public spaces, “Bolívar” triumphantly “returned,” brought back by the cult instituted by the regime in his name, and precisely as a state principle of totalization. Since then, he has not really left Venezuela, even if, with the exception of those critical periods when he is brought to the mobilized masses by one or another state or proto-state instance—for example, in the wake of Venezuela’s Federal War or recently under Chávez—“Bolívar” presides over the nation as a distant tutelary deity pictured in portraits and monuments. During the more uneventful periods, everyday existence in all its unassuming banality plods along paths that lie far below the sublime, heroic summits he evokes. It is a colorless transit punctuated by dubious transactions, during which those who are so engaged often wrap themselves in the epic, monumentalized persona of “Bolívar” to envelop, like a capacious mantle, their shady dealings. In sum, everyday life becomes a mediocre netherworld hollowed out by the nagging sensation that true life lies elsewhere, ensconced in some remote, transcendental realm presided over by the Founding Father.3 A good way to understand how all of this came about is by apprehending, in the physical layout of Plaza Bolívar as it emerged during the Guzmán regime, the relatively self-contained theatrical infrastructure, complete with audience, stage, and backstage, that must be there if “Bolívar” is to materialize as not merely a venerated hero but, more crucially, as the public incarnation and manifestation of everyone’s “general will.” It was crucial to bring about the transubstantiation of Bolívar into “Bolívar,” that is, into the monumentalized “general will” of the nation, at this very site, the numinous center of the Bolívar cult inaugurated by Guzmán, and also the symbolic center of Guzmán’s entire regime. This feat of transubstantiation was tantamount to rendering this symbolic center a public mirror where, catching their reflection in the monumentalized features of the hero gazing back at them, the heterogeneous multitudes could in principle collect as a single people around the centralizing state. Sustained by a series of rhetorical proclamations and institutionalized practices, this reflecting magic might prevent the masses from returning to their dangerous, largely ungovernable wanderings; they might remain assembled as a governable collectivity, at least for a while. It is possible to get a good idea of the square’s theatrical layout by taking a second, closer look at figure 7. The first thing to notice is the distance separating the equestrian statue from the inhabitable areas of the surrounding square. Indeed, a series of rectangular demarcations frames the equestrian composition. The series starts with low railings around the outer edge of the square, followed by a thin strip of green lawn and

278 The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army two steps up, culminating in the steep climb up and rectangular circumference of the pedestal, and taken altogether these successive demarcations underscore and enact the unbridgeable gap between any possible viewer and the inaccessible heights of the Liberator’s perch. Like the orchestra pit in actual theaters, which distances the stage from the audience, the rectangular demarcations institute a clear separation between the top of the pedestal on which the equestrian composition rests and the visitors to the square, turning the former into a theatrical stage hosting the nation’s Founding Father. Thus the square meets one of the preconditions set up in the theatrical paradigm I described in an earlier chapter, that is, the strict separation between audience and stage, for “Bolívar” to successfully represent “the people,” or, what comes to the same thing, to represent the (saluting) spirit of the republic to visitors. For such a representation to successfully come about at this central location, for Plaza Bolívar to become the nation’s preeminent theater of political representation, two additional infrastructural conditions had to be met. First, the entire space of the square had to be made into a relatively self-enclosed domain, demarcated, as in the case of actual theaters, from an excluded outside. Such a demarcation between inside and outside, presence and absence is necessary for representation to happen. The second infrastructural precondition involved the syntactic re-articulation of the space thus set aside, the restructuring of this secluded space so that it could foster the transformation of the square’s visitors into a relatively passive, immobilized audience. Such an audience could focus on the Liberator on horseback without being pulled in other directions by the world’s myriad seductions. Only one of these two additional infrastructural preconditions, the one having to do with the audience, is actually featured in figure 7, and I will comment on it in a moment. In order to appreciate how the redesigned public square met the other precondition, it is necessary to take into consideration the continuous iron railings that, placed along the entire perimeter of Plaza Bolívar as part of its remodeling under Guzmán, to this day enclose the entire space of the square, setting it off from the surrounding city. Within such an enclosure, it is possible to turn the square’s visitors into a presumably civilized, internally differentiated, and, if not altogether immobilized, then at least relatively subdued audience capable, as Rivadeneira puts it, of a “passive enjoyment of space.” Even if he does not say it, induced passivity is what Rivadeneira’s cultic celebration of the “symbols of the nation” unequivocally demands. Returning now to figure 7: does it allow us to see the entire space of the square within the railings as something like the differentiated “inside” of the bourgeois theater of political representation first set up in Venezuela by the early republicans? And if it does allow this, how does it do so? To begin with, in the illustration the local notables, pictured on the square’s pathways, occupy all the site’s main “seats,” or locations, which is to say those that converge on the central stage or pedestal from which the Liberator salutes his audience. But two of the illustration’s features set the scene apart from the

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political theater of the early republicans. One of these is that the “stage” thoroughly excludes the local notables from any representational capacity. Only “Bolívar,” the solitary presence of the Liberator on horseback on this open-air stage, is entitled to represent to the citizens their homogeneous “general will.” The second feature is that the square also deprives the local notables near the political stage of any residual political agency. Before Guzmán came into power, this larger group of notables had been expected to play a relatively active political role as part of the electoral bodies that selected the nation’s representatives, but in the illustration not even the slightest trace of such a limited agency survives; nor can we see, I might add, the warlike behavior that many members of the Venezuelan elites had exhibited during the Venezuelan wars of independence and in the Federal War that had just ended. The illustration shows the well-positioned notables to be thoroughly domesticated, reduced to a passive, polite citizenry concerned only with exchanging gallantries among themselves, and rendered into pliable subjects of the central state (symbolized by “Bolívar”). Both of these features speak loudly and clearly about the kind of state-centralizing project that Guzmán was promoting. There are, however, some difficulties with viewing figure 7 as the visual representation of an actual open-air bourgeois theater, complete with its main components and partitions including audience, stage, and backstage. First, once the equestrian statue’s pedestal has been identified as the stage, can one say that the remainder of the square is the audience? Even if one equates the space filled by the local notables with the main “seats” or locations of such an open-air theater, one is still left with the problem of how to regard the luxuriant vegetation that takes up at least half of this illustration’s represented space. Is it possible to say that, in all of its variety, such vegetation evokes something like the multitude turned into “the people” by the republican theater, collecting around “Bolívar”? The second problem is that with the pedestal-stage standing in splendid isolation in the center of the park, the backstage of the open-air theater is nowhere to be seen. If the backstage is the occult site where, in every theater including the political, any play is produced, the omission seems especially glaring. But addressing this second problem actually presents no great difficulty. We need only consider the elaborate preparations that the state put into the staging of celebrations such as the unveiling of statues, the festivities orchestrated by the state to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Simon Bolívar, and the inauguration of public works and history and literary academies, both in Plaza Bolívar and at other official sites, to gain a sense of what form the “backstage” took.4 I have no conclusive answer to the first problem; but if one takes into account that the entire design of the Guzmáncista square sought to exclude the multitude while instituting a space for the passive enjoyment of the symbols of the nation, then intuiting the stirrings of this multitude in the leafy gardens of the square does become a distinct possibility. A space as purposefully contrived as Plaza Bolívar cannot but draw much of its meaning from that which it so deliberately excludes.

280 The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army The notion that the unenfranchised multitude just emergent from the Federal War was the specter haunting the manicured, civilized spaces of the garden square remodeled by Guzmán gains considerable substance from the very insistence with which Guzmán and other members of his regime invoked this multitude under the figure of barbarism. The goal of civilizing such a barbarous multitude to render it a governable “people” was, after all, one of the preeminent goals of this regime. Civilizing was very much on the minds of those advocating that Plaza Bolívar be turned into a garden square; one such advocate wrote in an article in El Federalista, the pro-Guzmán newspaper, that whether it becomes a military square or a recreational square . . . is immaterial to the topic currently occupying us, since built as it is in the last third of the nineteenth century the square will always be the kind of public work that is dedicated to the city’s embellishment. As such, it should not contrast negatively with the style and good taste that is characteristic of those public spaces that, nowadays, carry the exequatur [sic] of the progress, the civilization that surrounds us all. (El Federalista, March 7, 1865)

Immediately after declaring that the square was an objectified public emblem of the progress and civilization heralded by the regime (after all, the square bore progress’s “exequatur,” whatever that term was supposed to mean), the writer of the article makes it clear that its fate was not, after all, as immaterial to the place’s civilizing goals as he initially claimed: “But in any case, much as we were entitled to expect, thus far we understand that it is not to military drills but to the recreation of the population that Plaza Bolívar is destined” (ibid.; my emphasis). The author is explicitly referring to a piece published a few days before in El Porvenir, the publication in which the proponents of a plaza de armas aired their views. With this notion of a public space dedicated to the “recreation of the population,” Guzmán’s Plaza Bolívar and the space of the republican theater dovetail even more closely with each other. As in the political theater, it is in such a recreational space that the passive enjoyment of the symbols of the nation, “Bolívar” foremost among them, is possible. Moreover, at least one contemporary traveler used the term parterre to refer to those sections of the square, bordering the pathways, that were filled with exuberant flora, an expression that, in accordance with a Bourbon inheritance, was at the time used in France to refer both to the sectioned seating inside theaters and to specific sections belonging to public gardens (De Tallenay [1884] 1989, 69). What justified such commonality of use was the fact that, during the Bourbon period, theatrical representations were commonly staged in both royal gardens and actual theaters. Thus, as Jeffrey S. Ravel indicates, “the word parterre acquired new meanings in the gardens of seventeenth-century France, as well as in its theaters. The parallel is instructive because both royal pleasure gardens and public playhouses were shaped by a Bourbon dynasty seeking cultural forms of legitimation” (1999, 68). This parallel was sufficiently close

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for Rémy G. Saisselin, a literary and cultural historian of the ancien régime, to characterize the French garden of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as “a stage setting” (quoted in ibid.).5 In view of such shared representational purposes it is therefore “not surprising to find formal gardening labels, such as amphitheater and parterre, applied to specific areas of the French theater” (ibid.). In a theatrical context parterre refers to the rear section of seats, and sometimes also to the side sections, of the main floor of a theater, concert hall, or opera house; thus, symbolically at least, the garden square’s parterres are the domain where Plaza Bolívar’s foliage assembles as an audience, in the “rear” sections of the square, just behind the privileged “seats” occupied by the elite, to enjoy the spectacle that state power puts up for its benefit. It is then perhaps licit to envision in the varied flora of the garden square inaugurated by Guzmán— cotton, mahogany, and palm trees as well as multiple orchids and a variety of other flowers—the stirrings of a standing, swaying multitude about to disperse, yet still momentarily assembling as a single people so as to greet the salute of “Bolívar,” who addresses his audience on horseback from the center of the square.6

The Other Plaza Bolívar To consider the alternate design for the plaza— a plaza de armas or military square— is to enter a world of meanings, social understandings, and relations that the Guzmán regime actively displaced in the wake of the Venezuelan Federal War. Why would anyone be interested in a public space devoted to military drills instead of the civilized public space advocated by the author of the article in El Federalista and other Guzmán supporters? Answering this question takes us all the way back to the relatively decentralized provincial structure of the colonial order, and to the role of the militias as the armed representations of the ancien régime’s pueblos, or communities. Local notables saw the organization and ostentatious display of these corps of militia on the main public squares of the various provincial capitals as central to their own social identity, stability, and sense of local worth and entitlement. The organization of these military units was one way for the local notables, who were wholly responsible for arming and dressing them, to discharge their obligations vis-à-vis their respective pueblos. Also, it was a means of asserting and symbolically advertising, right in the public square, these notables’ role and significance in the creation and perpetuation of the provincial order of things. In turn, the main public squares were the preeminent sites where the military self-organization of the provincial elites was enacted and displayed. This symbolically charged space was the foremost memory site of these provincial elites, the place where their local power and preeminence were commemorated as a recognizable legacy, that, as such, they could both transmit to the public and pass on to future generations. No wonder, then, if some in Caracas voiced their desire for a Plaza Bolívar exhibiting a measure of continuity with this colonial past.


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But there was more at stake in the Guzmáncista remodeling of Caracas’ main public square than just an assault on the notables’ memory. Revamping Plaza Bolívar as a garden was a means of wresting from the provincial elites the preeminent location where they ceremonially acted and displayed the military self-organization of the provinces as relatively autonomous governing entities. Indeed, one important way to understand the Plaza, and by extension the Federal War itself, is in terms of a colonial legacy that remained influential during postcolonial times, no matter how modified. Beneath the universalizing rhetoric of the postcolonial state, the various Venezuelan provinces (now called states) nevertheless remained, much as in the colony, crucial centers of social and political organization. Local elites, to a large extent, orchestrated this social universe from the main central squares of the various state capitals. The Federal War must be understood as an attempt on the part of these patricians to reassert the political, social, and economic value of the locality, the polis-centered world inherited from the colony, against the centralizing impetus of the postcolonial state. Thus the local patricians wanted a Plaza Bolívar that, in addition to being freed from the marketplace, would remain the site for the vivid display of the military selforganization and force on which the relative autonomy and worth of the various Venezuelan states was ultimately contingent. Taking exception to the notion popular among the followers of Guzmán that everything colonial was bad, the writer of one of the articles in El Porvenir favoring the plaza de armas alternative openly voiced the virtues of some colonial inheritances: “We must preserve the pleasing memory of the beneficial Captain General Ricardos, in whose times were built the only works of art that we see nowadays in Plaza Bolívar: why then destroy those monumental series of arches that remind us of the enterprising and progressive spirit of that illustrious man?” (El Porvenir, August 1, 1865). Far from recommending their destruction, the author of the article was of the opinion that “the series of arches should be extended to the four fronts of the square” (ibid.). These colonial antecedents, vilified by some and selectively championed by others during the decades following independence, are the background to the formation of the patrician ideal of the “citizen soldier” during the early years of the republican experiment, between 1808 and 1812. According to this ideal, individual rights to citizenship were intimately tied to the duty of militarily defending the fatherland. But only those to whom the first Venezuelan constitution granted citizenship rights on account of their access to some form of rent or property were allowed to bear arms; everyone else was excluded from military ser vice (Hébrard 2002, 430). As the confrontation with the Spanish forces unfolded, however, and enlisting the majority of the adult male population for fighting the loyalists became a pressing military need, the patrician ideal of the “citizen soldier” was increasingly put aside in favor of the “soldier citizen” of the republican armies. From then on, with access to citizenship increasingly predicated solely on the willingness to bear arms in defense of the republic, regardless of any prop-

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erty or mercenary considerations, the patrician citizen soldier and the plebeian soldier citizen coexisted in growing tension (ibid.). Veronique Hébrard traces the formation of a political imaginary still dominant in Venezuela to this formative period, roughly spanning the years between1808 and 1830, during which “the military factor structures the political and social imaginary as much as the political practices” of the time, and war became the cauldron of which the nation emerged. In this imaginary, disseminated by a wealth of iconographic and literary representations, the figure of the “man of arms” takes center stage as the hallowed source of everything republican, the wellspring from which the republican nation ultimately issues (ibid., 429). As Hébrard puts it, during this inaugural period, “we witness the celebration of the first military heroes as well as of the most glorious deeds of war aimed at endowing this new national community—threatened before it even managed to consolidate itself—with a network of common values and a shared memory” (ibid., 462). Th is imaginary took initial shape in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, but did not fully crystallize until the 1870s and 1880s with the establishment of the cult of Bolívar by the Guzmán regime. More recently the Chávez regime has drawn ever more enthusiastically on this imaginary, with its appeal to a pantheon of military heroes and caudillos presided over by the figure of Bolívar, in order to envelop the regime’s policies and decisions in the aura emanating from the Founding Father. The advent of the plebeian soldier citizen did not mean that the citizen soldier of the patricians simply disappeared. As late as 1859, several decades after Venezuela’s independence from Spain had been established, the supreme leader of the federal forces, Juan Crisóstomo Falcón, emphatically declared himself an “armed citizen.” In the opening words of the manifesto he addressed to the nation after disembarking in Venezuela from his exile in Curacao, he felt the “unavoidable necessity” of declaring his intentions, so that no one may then claim to be mistaken as to their true nature. The Fatherland also must be aware of what my purposes are and what brings me to it. I am not, the Fatherland is well aware of that, a member of the military for whom waging war is a profession; as such, war inspires in me horror and contempt for those whose trade is to wage it. I am what every man of conscience who bears a sword is . . . an armed citizen and nothing more. (Falcón 1859; my emphasis)

Shedding his previous identity as a high-ranking member of the military in the administration of José Tadeo Monagas, Falcón here revamps himself as a mere citizen who bears arms on account of this status, thus answering the call of his republican conscience, and not on account of any previous military condition. In positing such a direct correlation between citizenship and the right to bear arms, Falcón implicitly placed his federalist “armed citizen” of the second half of the nineteenth century in a relation of strict equivalence to the “citizen soldier” of the early


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republicans. Indeed, the patrician citizen soldier is also someone who bears arms due to the dictates of his (republican) conscience, that is, on account of his condition as a citizen. Falcón’s adherence to the ideal of the arms-bearing citizen is not merely highly consistent with the overall aims of the federalist camp, but was formulated by him with a certain audience in mind—not the federal army as a whole but only the regional elites both inside and outside this army who saw in the funding and organization of corps of militias both a key expression of their local power, social standing, and prestige, and an expression of federalist regional autonomy. I will end this section with an image from the first scene of a Venezuelan play from 1842. Very much in contrast to the realities of the time (Galindo 2000, 142), the play starkly brings out the utopian connotations of the patrician ideal of an arms-bearing citizen by staging this ideal at the very site, Plaza Bolívar, where its realization counted most. The play’s hero, General Pedro, alerted by the distant sounds of a military march, looks through the window of his living room and sees how a group of “ ‘young contenders,’ a species of nationalist youth or voluntary soldiers, march with ‘noble enthusiasm’ towards the square. Once there, the new nationalist youth will participate in the acts commemorating the 19th of April, offering their ser vices to the ‘fatherland’ ” (ibid.). In rendering the city’s main public square the apposite stage for the military self-organization of the local elites, the unobstructed, orderly surface where the “citizen soldiers” or “armed citizens” of the time could militarily assemble, the scene powerfully underscores how crucial it was to the patrician ideal of an arms-bearing citizen that Plaza Bolívar retain its character as a plaza de armas or military square. As Dunia Galindo rightly points out, “even if contemporary realities were in absolute contrast” with such a citizen-orchestrated expression of military force, in displaying Caracas’ main public square filled with its “rightful” citizens, the play’s opening scene prefigures a utopian condition where the voluntary incorporation of the new generations into an army—whether it actually existed or not, that is not what is important here—recovers for the benefit of the spectator a positive vision of the state, of the nation, and, therefore, of the city managed by its own citizens. It is a positive vision in which the ties of national identity and belonging are symbolized by means of the positive evaluation of the “autonomous” will of the social actors. (ibid., 143)

Why, then, did this alternative lose out to the decision to turn Plaza Bolívar into a garden square modeled after those found in such places as “France, England, North America, Cuba, and a number of other civilized nations where these places of rest and recreation exist” (El Federalista, March 7, 1865)? Plaza Bolívar’s remodeling took place in the early 1870s, under the at least nominally federalist administration of Antonio Guzmán Blanco; and the writer of the series of articles in El Porvenir noted that at the time, far from being alone in his preferences, “many other knowledgeable people of good taste” were “heard voicing the same arguments” about the convenience of turn-

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ing Plaza Bolívar into a military square (El Porvenir, August 1, 1865), and so the outcome is especially puzzling. To answer the question it is necessary to bring an uninvited third party into the argument. Even though not explicitly mentioned in any of the articles from either El Federalista or El Porvenir, it is this uninvited guest, I believe, who finally clinched things in favor of a garden rather than a military square. Let me welcome the multitude to the stage.

The Uninvited Multitude In June 1821, shortly before the battle of Carabobo that sealed the independence of Venezuela from Spain, Simón Bolívar wrote an extraordinary letter to Francisco de Paula Santander, who was soon to become vice president of Gran Colombia.7 Though it may sound unlikely, in this letter Bolívar articulates insights that throw considerable light on the reasons why, some fifty-odd years later, Plaza Bolívar would be remodeled as a “civilized” garden square and not as the more austere military site advocated by some. Given its significance for my argument, I quote a lengthy passage from the letter: In fact in Colombia the people are the army, those who have actually liberated the country from the tyrants; these are the people who choose, the people who act, the people who determine. The rest of the population are inert, either malign or patriotic, with no right to be more than passive citizens. We will have to develop this policy, which certainly does not derive from Rousseau, otherwise these gentlemen will again be our ruin. They believe that Colombia is filled with simpletons huddled around the firesides of Bogotá, Tunja and Pamplona. They have not bothered to notice the Caribs of the Orinoco, the herdsmen of the Apure, the seamen of Maracaibo, the boatmen of the Magdalena, the bandits of Patía, the ungovernable people of Pasto, the Guajibos of Casanare, and all the savage hordes from Africa and America who roam like wild deer in the wilderness of Colombia. Don’t you think, my dear Santander, that these legislators, ignorant rather than malicious and presumptuous rather than ambitious, are leading us on the road to anarchy and from there to tyranny, and always to ruin? I am sure of it. And if the llaneros do not bring us down the philosophers will. (Bolívar letter of June 1821, quoted in Lynch 2006, 144)

It would be hard to come up with a more drastic reversal of the early republicans’ theatrical paradigm of governance as the show put on by a restricted circle of notables, described in this book, than Bolívar’s shrewd appraisal of the dangerous circumstances in which government found itself in 1821. According to the republicans’ paradigm, an essential precondition of political representation is a relatively passive, immobilized citizenry, but in the above passage Bolívar describes this citizenry as not only on the move but also, literally, all over the place. From the Orinoco basin and the Venezuelan and Colombian plains all the way down to Pasto in southern Colombia, this unwieldy


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citizenry is not only not the “huddled,” neatly framed collection of early republican and patrician imaginings, but it has a penchant for showing up everywhere. And rather than conforming to the colorless and abstract, homogeneous and interchangeable entities of patrician imaginings, this citizenry comes in a bewildering array of shapes within a wide spectrum of possibilities: bandits and boatmen promiscuously rub shoulders in Colombia’s “wilderness” with herdsmen, dangerous Caribs, and other “savage hordes.” In Bolívar’s rendition, all of these unfathomable, unpredictable beings populate the vast expanses of Gran Colombia on the eve of the decisive battle that was about to shake loose what is today Venezuela from Spain. If one were to choose from the quoted passage the one reversal of the properly republican, or what one might even call the Rousseauian, order of things that best synthesizes Bolívar’s view of the situation then confronting government, what he says about active versus passive citizens would surely be it. Thus, contrary to what they think of themselves, the “lettered” men of the time— a term Bolívar uses elsewhere in his missive to refer to the civilian leadership aspiring to represent the entire population— are not the active citizens they think themselves to be; in fact, “either malign or patriotic,” they are “inert,” and as such, they have “no right to be more than passive citizens.” On the other hand, true activity and mobility are on the side of the vast majority of the population. As Bolívar puts it later in this letter to Santander, while “these gentlemen think their own opinion is the will of the people,” those whom they imagine to be sitting “around the firesides” waiting to be represented, in reality it is the members of this vast majority who are the active citizens of Gran Colombia, and, as such, its true people; that is, “the people who choose, the people who act, the people who determine.” This is the case simply because “the people is in the army” (Bolívar 1995, 157),8 and, beyond any pious republican intentions or proclamations, the army is the entity that, in Gran Colombia, had the final say in virtually everything at the time. Bolívar describes an unstable, largely ungovernable situation in his 1821 letter to Santander. One could argue that in this letter the postcolonial people is far from being reduced to a formless crowd; enframed as it is by its inclusion in the patriot army, this people is the clearly identifiable, fully armed sovereign of the emergent nation. There is, however, enough semantic oscillation in the terms Bolívar uses here to refer to the colored populations—he alternatively calls them “people in the army” and wild “Caribs,” “active citizens” and “ungovernable” populations, agents “who choose,” “who determine” and simply “bandits”—to suggest that Bolívar’s “people in the army” was always on the verge of transmuting into a dangerous, unfathomable crowd, those “savage hordes from Africa and America” that, if left to their own devices, would bring about a second Haiti (ibid.). And this mutability, I would argue again, is on account of these populations’ modernity and not, as Bolívar’s rhetoric at times suggests, due to atavistic tendencies on their part. In other words, it was precisely on account of their newly gained liberty from the corporate straitjackets of the colony that these populations came together as full participants in the democratic, egalitarian, and in

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important respects fully modern space opened up by the demise of the colonial order. It was there, on the symbolically flat terrain where all identities were in principle up for grabs rather than once and for all fixed, along a horizontal axis where mimesis and violence inextricably fused, that the crowds’ republican apprenticeship came into its own. All of this recalls the dispatch that Don José Ceballos wrote to the Spanish government in Madrid in 1815, just six years before Bolívar wrote his letter to Santander, in which the then captain general of Venezuela similarly described the treacherous mimetic predisposition of the colored troops enlisted in the two rival armies, always more keen on slaying the whites in the enemy camp than on fighting each other. The most one can say of Bolívar’s “people in the army” is that it was a rather unstable assemblage composed of heterogeneous populations precariously held together by their shared focus on and devotion to their military-cum-republican leader, as well as by the promise of land and booty that were the common perks of such form of attachment. It is this dangerous maelstrom of torn bodies and stolen identities, characteristic of the postcolonial predicament, that must be taken into account when making sense of Bolívar’s celebration throughout his career of “equality” as the “law of laws,” the supreme republican value to which every other ought to be subordinated. As he put it in the 1826 Bolivian Constitution, which he himself wrote to serve as the blueprint for the creation of Bolivia, whatever else happens, “the sacred doctrine of equality must never be violated” (Bolívar 2003, 62). Often when “sacred” equality shows up in Bolívar’s writings, the other against which it is pitted, and from which the term derives most of its meaning, is destructive “difference,” which he always construed along racial lines, not unexpectedly given the centrality that racial categorization had for the colonial order. In his 1819 address to the Congress of Angostura, for example, Bolívar alludes to the need for immediately installing universal equality lest, afflicted as Venezuela is by a “diversity of [racial] origins,” the country become “dislocated, divided, and dissolved at the slightest alteration,” its fragile yet “complex structure” thoroughly ruined by rampant jealousy and enmity (Bolívar 2003, 39). So urgent was the task of instituting equality for Bolívar that the reconstitution of the “race of men, political opinions and public customs” hinged on its establishment (ibid., 40). To the very end Bolívar unflaggingly defended equality, the powerful force needed to fight “the ferocious hydra of discordant anarchy” (ibid., 101) that threatened to deliver the nascent republics everywhere in America, but especially Venezuela, into “the hands of the unrestrained multitudes and then into the hands of tyrants, of all colors and races” (ibid., 146). In his Angostura address, Bolívar says something important about the strangely dualistic character of equality, that essential republican value. Just before hailing it as an antidote to destructive difference, he somewhat cryptically refers to equality as that “bond and obligation of the greatest transcendence” that the population, in its extreme racial heterogeneity, necessarily “implies.” What a Janus-faced entity, in which “bond” and “obligation,” being and prescription, or, to invoke another dichotomy, the constituting

288 The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army and the constituted, so seamlessly coexist, as if the two were one and the same thing! Rather than contradictory, Bolívar’s characterization of equality succinctly encapsulates his entire (populist) art of government in its very wavering between seemingly disparate, mutually exclusive dimensions. If Bolívar’s “people in the army” is to amount to a relatively governable body and not the volatile, maddeningly heterogeneous assemblage that he so graphically conjures in his letter to Santander, then surely some kind of “bond” must be assumed to be there, just beneath the flow of discordant appearances, as the powerful glue that binds its members together. The preexisting bond must be equality; this follows from the destructive heterogeneity of Bolívar’s following. Under such dangerous circumstances, where any existing community is always about to implode, threatened by unmanageable (racial) difference, difference cannot be explicitly admitted as the principle articulating the community. Another way of saying this is that such a community cannot be imagined, or, even less, explicitly represented as an articulated system of differences. This leaves us with Bolívar’s “people” as a seamless, homogeneous entity, held together exclusively by the Liberator’s insistently proclaimed “equality” as the common denominator. Everything must be reduced to it, at least ideologically. As a construct of government, Bolívar’s “people” clearly privileged the axis of equivalence over the axis of differences, which neatly aligns this construct with the kind of radical populism Laclau recently theorized while assimilating it to populism tout court (Laclau 2005a; 2005b). Yet if for Bolívar equality is a preexisting “bond,” given in advance of political calculation or deliberation, it is also that which political authority has the “obligation” to retroactively bring into being through various legislative and nonlegislative means. Assumed to be given as a bond, equality is in other words also what must be imposed (hence the word “obligation”) après coup, so to speak, if Bolívar’s volatile constituency was to come together as a seamless, unified “people.” When in the 1826 Bolivian Constitution Bolívar reminded the legislators that the “fundamental principle of our system demands that equality be immediately and exclusively established and put into practice in Venezuela” (Bolívar 2003, 39), he had in mind the retroactive institution of this unified, homogeneous, orderly “people.” When the cost of not fulfilling such a task is irreversibly descending into chaos, which is how, not unrealistically, Bolívar saw it, one cannot be too insistent. Hence Bolívar’s “unity, unity, unity—that must be our motto.” With the anxious hammering of one word, he sought to impress on his audience the gravity of the task at hand, adding, “If the blood of our citizens is diverse, let us make it one” (ibid., 49).9 Beyond any other means that he devised—legislative, political, or institutional—it is clear that for Bolívar a monumentalized version of himself was needed in order to retroactively institute equality and, with it, the kind of unified “people” he deemed indispensable to fend off chaos. The office of “president for life” that he proposes in the Bolivian Constitution figures in the precise capacity of such a monumentalized

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alter ego, not only as the centerpiece of the text but also as the agency capable of successfully securing this retroactive establishment of equality. Everything Bolívar says in this text about the need for an executive in perpetuity strongly suggests that, in extolling the virtues of this figure, it is a monumentalized version of himself that he was promoting as the remedy for all sorts of postcolonial evils. Thus, for example, when he equates this executive with “the Sun, immovable at the center of the universe, radiating life” (Bolívar 2003, 56), further adding that this figure must be the “fi xed point around which magistrates and citizens and men and events revolve,” the attribute Bolívar strikingly confers on that fi gure— symbolic centrality, immobility, and exemplarity— are among those conventionally ascribed to the monument (ibid., 57). Bolívar’s “president for life” could serve as such a fi xed point in “systems without hierarchies,” the expression that Bolívar uses to refer to the situation in Hispanic America after the breakdown of the colonial order. This once again has everything to do with the status “equality” had in Bolívar’s thinking as a highly ambivalent notion, with both negative and positive connotations (ibid.). On the one hand, with the expression “systems without hierarchies” Bolívar clearly alludes to a situation of utter dislocation and lack of government, one, I might add, in which, with the colonial corporate order in tatters, in principle all hitherto hegemonic roles and identities have become equally up for grabs.10 In other words, equality in such a terrifying situation names the subalterns’ newly gained, invisible, yet not for that less destructive, equalizing potential to butcher their rulers while mimetically usurping one after the other, along a horizontal metonymic chain, their hitherto hallowed personas. As the terrifying lessons from the wars against Spain clearly suggested, these hegemonic personas, no longer protected by corporate ascriptions, had in principle become mutually interchangeable. Under such circumstances— a gruesome charivari where all hierarchy collapses and mimesis and violence inextricably fuse—government is all but unthinkable. On the other hand, for Bolívar equality is also the positive yet invisible entity that must be imputed to the subaltern populations as the substantial bond that, amidst all the dislocating differences, must somehow already be there as a homogenizing force if these populations are going to cease to be the motley assortment of disparate individuals that they clearly are, and collect themselves in more or less orderly fashion into an armed and mobilized yet also discrete, governable “people.” In this last regard, for Bolívar such terms as people, unity, order, and equality are largely synonymous, so much so that without equality there is neither order nor anything like a unified people. Strategically positioned between two invisibilities—that is, between equality as invisible, irrepressibly disordering mimesis, and equality as an invisible yet necessarily presupposed bond—Bolívar’s “president for life” is the visible, fi xed point that, largely because of this very visibility, transmutes one kind of equality into the other. In other words, as a visible, mediating third between two (invisible) equalities, the Liberator’s living-dead presidential prosthesis retroactively transmutes negative into positive equality, wild multitude into governable people, or terrifying disorder (his “systems without


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hierarchies”) into relatively reassuring order. As the statuesque version of himself, Bolívar’s Sun-like executive was in principle capable of accomplishing all of this, performing as the fixed point from which “all order originates” (Bolívar 2003, 57).This, as we know, is due to this figure’s status as the visible embodiment of what his audience shares, that is, their underlying “general will.” In “systems without hierarchies” where everything falls apart, such an objectified, monumentalized entity can provide the surface of identification on which, through reflection, the heterogeneous multitudes may come to recognize the underlying bond they already presumably share, and thus belatedly assemble as a single and minimally orderly “people.” According to Bolívar, in such dauntingly equalized systems, this was all the order that one was bound to get. The Liberator’s self-monumentalization continued unabated throughout his entire political and military career, drawing upon both his own proclamations and writings and a wealth of discursive and iconographic representations produced by others. Of Bolívar’s “president for life” it may be said what, some one hundred years after the Liberator’s death, Carl Schmitt said about the Führer, as summarized by Manuel Aragón: namely, that “he incarnates whatever there is of the homogeneous in the represented, thus expressing (or giving life) to a popular will that is only capable of manifesting (or presencing) itself by means of the representative, of his capacity to identify this very homogeneity. This, we are told, is true democracy as opposed to the falsity that is intrinsic to representative democracy” (Aragón 1996, 18). In “true” democratic fashion, as much for the Führer as for Bolívar, governance was a matter of the leader turning himself into his constituency’s general equivalent by incarnating or identifying what was shared by all of the members as their true “general will,” and, for that purpose, some form of self-monumentalization was, indeed, unavoidable. Hence Bolívar’s insistence at least in some contexts on parading himself before his constituency as a sort of living-dead, breathing yet frozen embodiment of his constituency’s putatively homogeneous “general will.” In sum, he strove to be not Bolívar but “Bolívar,” a Rousseauian Great Legislator or “impossible citizen” who “returns” to totalize a people/nation on the verge of shattering into disparate fragments. Bolívar’s self-monumentalization was no mere ideological expediency on his part but a powerful tool of government, a figure of last resort that he devised in order to provisionally hold together his volatile constituency. A figure of crisis, his selfmonumentalization was part and parcel of Bolívar’s own extreme version of the monumental governmentality that began to take shape in Venezuela in the wake of the implosion of the colonial order. This monumental governmentality to this day remains a fi xture of that nation’s Jacobin republican tradition, for reasons having to do with the republic’ inability to suture the daunting fault line that opened up with independence. Confronted with such a predicament, only the most uncompromising insistence on unity and on equality before the law, along with the suppression of any explicit affirmation of sectional interests—at the time often dressed up as federalist—would minimally guarantee the survival of the republic.

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As Bolívar saw it, this embattled condition demanded that he shape himself by means of theatrical gestures, proclamations, and writings into “a single athlete striving against a multitude of athletes” (Bolívar 2003, 46). A form of government, Bolívar’s athletic, indeed properly monumental exertions placed him in the fraught position of an individual isolated within society, yet charged with restraining the impetus of the people towards rampant license and the proclivity of judges and administrators towards abuse of the laws. He is directly responsible to the legislative body, the senate and the people— one man all alone weathering the combined force of divergent opinions, interests, and passions of society, who . . . does little more than struggle constantly against the desire to control and the desire to resist control. (ibid., 46)

As the above passage from his Angostura Address clearly suggests already in 1819, some ten years before he proposed the figure of “president for life,” the notion of a strong executive as the centerpiece of an entire art of government appears sharply delineated in his writings. Elsewhere in the same Address Bolívar speaks of the “infinitely firm and infinitely delicate touch” required of the kind of athletic executive that he strove to become, in order to be able “to manage this heterogeneous society” (ibid., 39). With the postcolonial crowds armed and all over the place, nothing less than the Liberator’s titanic performance as a Great Legislator returning to retotalize “the people” through appeal to their sameness, their equality, could at least momentarily keep this “people in the army” fighting the Spanish. Yet one can also see why Bolívar’s centralizing impetus was doomed from the start. In “returning” in the guise of a republican figure while extending his stay in the republic, he disobeyed the republican stricture against occupying the center of power that Antonio Guzmán Blanco, several decades after Bolívar’s death, went to such contortions in order to leave empty. Bolívar did not succeed in making the monumentalized version of himself as “president for life” enduringly fill the republic’s empty center of power, but he did manage to install such an imposing monument at the center of Venezuela’s republican imaginary, even if the feat was necessarily postmortem. Considering Bolívar’s well-known admiration for Napoleon before the latter became emperor, one may even envisage the monument that during his lifetime Bolívar discursively erected to himself as something like an equestrian statue, or an image not unlike that which appears in Napoleon Crossing the Alps, which Jacques-Louis David painted between 1801 and 1805, and of which the Liberator may have been aware.11 If so, the imagined audience for this flesh-andblood equestrian composition was surely not a well-differentiated, relatively autonomous civil society, but the nation’s heterogeneous multitudes transmuted, by virtue of the Founding Father’s equalizing appeals, into an interchangeable, homogeneous “people.” Furthermore, if the Liberator’s antifederalist sentiments are anything to go by, such an admiring people would not, in any way, have come together in the kind of plaza de

292 The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army armas that the provincial elites dreamed of as the site for the military self-organization of the Venezuelan provinces or states. Insisting on the assertion of local difference and particularity that was presupposed by the plaza de armas alternative would have been tantamount to leaving the doors of the polity open to the assertion of a form of difference—the crowds—that was destructive of all the rest. With no unitary instance capable of interpellating and enframing them for the purpose of government, the crowds that at the time were just emergent from the Federal War were a wild, unassimilable excess, and no federalist form of state organization envisaged by the provincial elites could possibly have handled them. Only the most seamless embodiment of unity and equality was at all capable of interpellating the masses as a mobilized “people in arms,” thus wresting them away from their violent mimesis. Such “historical imperatives,” if one wishes to so name them, have an insidious way of asserting themselves, often without the individuals involved being fully aware of the implications of their actions and initiatives. I believe this is the reason why, in the end, Bolívar’s seamless “people” would receive the hero’s greetings not in the kind of plaza de armas favored by the federalists, but in a square of centripetal design displaying all the neoclassical attributes of symmetry and order that in true Enlightenment fashion the Liberator favored. Such a site was the apposite scenario for staging the encounter between, on the one hand, the “returning” hero, and, on the other, that uninvited guest, the nation’s returning multitudes, once again, in all of their threatening presence and mobility, occupying public space.

Chapter 10

“In My Image and Likeness” By now it should be clear that the installation of the bronze equestrian statue at the center of Caracas’ Plaza Bolívar by Antonio Guzmán Blanco in 1873, some fifty-odd years after the Liberator’s own self-monumentalizing efforts, had the character of a prophecy fulfilled. Bolivaranism had been gaining momentum in Venezuela since the 1840s; when, in 1870, Guzmán decreed the erection of the statue, Bolívaranism was already well installed as the obligatory horizon of rule in Venezuela. To fill the symbolic heart of the nation with the Founding Father’s equestrian monument was the preordained “solution” to Venezuela’s intractable problems of government that such Bolivarianism had, by then, made all but inescapable. If converting the largely ungovernable crowds that cyclically returned to Venezuela’s public spaces into a still highly mobilized yet nonetheless governable “people in arms” beholden through “Bolívar” to a highly centralist state was Bolivarianism’s governmental solution, the tried-out method that the nation’s Bolivarian political theology had come up with to deal with Venezuela’s endemic crises of government, then in the gesture of “Bolívar” saluting the multitudes, epitomized in the equestrian statue, this tried-out solution was itself densely codified as an entire program of becoming. Assigning to “Bolívar” the role of demiurge, the one who alone is capable of creating out of chaos the people/nation, may smack of ideological obfuscation and manipulation, a way for the state and local elites to legitimize in the name of the Liberator their superordinate position and providential role vis-à-vis the “barbarous” majorities. But there is more to it than that. If Bolívar’s self-monumentalization arose in response to the formless, unruly crowds, as a governmental tool for transforming them into a governable collectivity beholden to the hero, then postcolonial Venezuela’s endemic crises of government guaranteed that, in all of its demiurgic potential, this politicotheological, monumentalized prosthesis of the nation’s “general will” had a long, rich afterlife ahead. While primarily dealing with the Guzmán period, the fundamental aim of this concluding chapter is to draw out as sharply as possible the long-term governmental implications of this Bolívarian legacy, some of which extend to the current Chavista regime. 293

294 “In My Image and Likeness”

The (Bolívarian) People Is in the Army In 1873, with the nation’s multitudes once again occupying all the main cities and towns across Venezuela and in possession of vast amounts of unconfiscated weaponry, Guzmán’s erection of the equestrian statue drew precisely on this Bolívarian legacy, bringing a governmental practice initiated several decades before by the Liberator himself to a kind of foregone conclusion. Just as with Bolívar’s self-monumentalization as prosthesis of the “general will,” what was (and is) at stake in the hero’s myriad postmortem representations, of which the equestrian statue is only the most prominent, could not be more governmentally pressing. The ongoing goal is the saturation of Venezuela’s public spaces with as many Bolívar-mirrors— busts, equestrian monuments, oversized portraits—as possible, so that, whenever the need arises, the nation’s heterogeneous majorities may be wrested from their dangerous wanderings and, through reflection, made to coalesce in front of those mirrors as a mobilized Bolivarian “people.” Most of the time the many representations of the Founding Father spread across the national territory lead a relatively dormant existence, not receiving more than glancing consideration from generally distracted passersby. Even if this does not detract from their emblematic status as embodiments of Venezuela’s “general will,” as what the people from the land of Bolívar necessarily looks like when contemplated whole as the nation’s sovereign, for the most part when the local populations are in a condition of diminished mobility, during relatively uneventful times, the rhetorical apparatus of the state relies less on such monolithic representations as the means to interpellate them. But as these populations (yet again) become crowds, seizing public spaces, the representations are right there, readily available as the governmental tools that any state or proto-state may use to bring “Bolívar” back to the masses. One such dangerous moment came in 1870, when Guzmán seized state power at the helm of a coalition of liberals and conservatives. The Federal War had ended some years before, in 1863, but at the time, the nation’s popular crowds were still armed and occupying public space. The political imperative to erect a public monument where, much as in a mirror, such multitudes could see themselves lastingly reflected as a statebeholden “people” was no less pressing than it had been forty years before, when Bolívar turned himself into a living monument right before the masses. In 1864 a new constitution had been approved that sanctioned the federalist form of the Venezuelan state, granting its various member states considerable administrative and political autonomy as part of the United States of Venezuela. The period between the approval of the new constitution and 1870, the year when Guzmán first became president, was marked by constant struggles between liberals and conservatives, or Centralists and Federalists, as well as by ad hoc alliances or “fusions,” as these contingent coalitions were known at the time, among members of these competing camps. Times were not peaceful. An article in the March 7, 1865, edition of El Feder-

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alista offers a suggestive idea of the situation in the years immediately before Guzman’s seizure of power, a stark picture of a nation awash in weapons, with armaments “disseminated” among the populations of the various component states without the national government having any say in the matter. Echoing a recent resolution from the War Ministry instructing the presidents of the twenty states of the federation to confiscate weaponry from citizens and collect it in “national warehouses” set up for that purpose, the anonymous author of the article warns these “wise and patriotic men” against allowing any local “disturbances” the possibility of “enthroning injustice, bloodying the land.” The article concludes with a catastrophic scenario in which an armed, warlike population holds political authority hostage: Weapons everywhere: gunpowder, all kinds of ammunition, and, alongside all of this, a decisive passion for war, an unprecedented disregard for death, the dangerous habit of discharging the rifle into the heart of one’s fellow man, the ambition everyone has of imposing one’s will by way of arms, shows of courage that would do honor to the bravest of all Arabs, a habit of sacrifice and ceaseless combat that has lasted for a period of over fifty years from 1810 to the present, an abundance of generals and chiefs all over the place, and, finally, a military spirit a hundred times more developed than in France! (El Federalista, March 7, 1865)

As in Chairman Mao’s famous aphorism, in the article’s scenario “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” the difference being that whereas in China the Communist Party had considerable control over the means of violence, in Venezuela no single local group or organization possessed that control. The period’s confusion and turbulence only began to be addressed with Guzmán’s 1870 seizure of power and the series of draconian measures he immediately put into effect to quash his opponents. This was the first of the three consecutive periods, with only two relatively short intervals in between, during which Guzmán presided over the whole of Venezuelan political life as head of state. His initial period in power, known as the Septenio, lasted seven years (1870–1877); it was characterized by unmitigated autocratic rule, rampant corruption, the most ambitious program of state centralization hitherto advanced in Venezuela, and the relentless repression of the regime’s opponents, all under the cover of federalism and in the hallowed name of “Bolívar.” There is no reason to believe that the situation of violence and dislocation changed overnight; what did eventually make a difference was the ambitious program of public works that the Guzmán administration launched almost immediately after seizing power. Over time, this program brought the relatively unenfranchised, highly mobilized, and armed masses into a state framework, rendering them somewhat governable. The program provided people with means of both livelihood and, no less crucial, identification. As Caraballo Perici indicates, portraits of Guzmán could not be missing from any public work realized at the time (1983, 181–85). These portraits acted as so many mirrors where the masses could catch their reflections as part of armed work-crews

296 “In My Image and Likeness” supervised by agents directly accountable to the state. Keeping these populations occupied also allowed the Guzmáncista state to channel their unstable energies in any direction, either constructive or repressive. In line with Caraballo Perichi (1983), we can understand this program not merely as an expression of the regime’s modernizing impetus—the aspect that most historians emphasize—but also in properly governmental terms as a practice of rule in its own right, bonding the unenfranchised majorities to the state within the framework of the regime’s monumental governmentality. Aimed at converting the crowds into a mobilized, often armed “people” beholden to the Guzmancista state, this governmentality was a complex network of representational and nonrepresentational practices, all articulated around and in reference to the often paired portraits of Bolívar and Guzmán. An important clue for understanding how this came about comes from Guzmán himself. In 1873, on the occasion of inspecting progress made in the construction of a highway uniting two Venezuelan localities, he made it clear that the personnel who recently had filled the ranks of the federal army now staffed the regime’s public works: “Yesterday I saw the very same soldiers that had fought in Tinaquillo, Apure, in the recapture of Caracas, forming at regular intervals while presenting me with the instruments of their labor, appropriate to periods of peace, instead of the rifles which they displayed before me during the war” (González Guinán in Caraballo Perichi 1983, 154). One of the main apologists of the regime suggested that such a remarkable continuity of personnel was no accident, but a manifestation of the kind of “political thinking that had presided over the development of the program of public works initiated by Guzmán.” He declared in no uncertain terms that the program was an indispensable cog in the wheels of government: With the conflict already over, the popular masses that for more than twenty years had participated in the war were left inactive. During that period those that had been discharged from the armies raised by Guzmán Blanco amounted to a highly significant part of the population. It was not, then, extraordinary to want to satisfy the urgent demands for compensation originating in this social strata with employment in the public works advanced by the government. This is precisely what Guzmán Blanco did, and his highly prudent decision met with the applause of every sensible and impartial individual (Güell y Mercader [Hortensio] in Caraballo Perichi 1983, 154).

Trading the weapons of war for those of peace, with public works as the hinge enabling the conversion of recently demobilized yet still armed populations into peaceful citizens with a stake in the future of the republic: this trope was a common tool in the rhetorical kit of the Guzmáncista state, which, in the words of this same apologist, often portrayed Guzmán waging a heroic struggle to “move his people away from the bloody and tortuous paths of war, accustoming it to the beneficial occupations that

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are characteristic in times of peace.” According to this source, in order to accomplish this civilizing mission, Guzmán formed numerous gangs of workers, which have been of great use to the fatherland by collaborating in the extraordinary development of public works throughout the nation. For this purpose he did not spare any costs, no matter how high, to the point of incurring exaggerated expenses, which he seemingly ordered unconsciously [!], confident as he was in the success of the endeavor. Time has demonstrated how right and farsighted Guzmán Blanco was in conducting himself as he did, assigning a large part of the nation’s Rent not only to the fulfillment of material progress but also for the purpose of both getting men used to doing honorable work and in order to stimulate their intellectual progress so that an ignorant people may become a Nation of dignified citizens. (Hortensio 1883, 208)

Guzmán’s “seemingly unconscious” profligacy aside, directing the multitudes away from their mobile, warlike behavior was a truly Promethean endeavor, judging from the vastness of the program of public works that his administration undertook during the Septenio. Moreover, it was one that was bound to make huge dents in the national budget while lining the pockets of more than one officer of the regime. In any event, for a poor nation coming out of a bloody civil conflict, the record that the program left behind was impressive. In addition to remodeling Caracas’ Plaza Bolívar and installing the Liberator’s equestrian statue at its center, between 1870 and 1877 Guzmán’s administration went into a building frenzy. It inaugurated a series of impressive new edifices in the nation’s capital, Caracas, including the Capitol (1874) and the Federal Palace (1877), and remodeled a relatively large number of older establishments, most of them expropriated from the Church, turning them all into state edifices. Among these, the presidential residence, a number of military complexes, and the National Pantheon housing the rests of the nation’s heroes must surely count as the most significant. If to this we add the many roads, public squares, monuments, schools, telegraph lines, aqueducts, harbors, irrigation channels, bridges, and boulevards that the Guzmán administration built and inaugurated during the initial years of its mandate, both in Caracas and all over Venezuela, one is left with an impression of ceaseless, feverish activity. Whatever else one might say about Guzmán’s program of public works, one thing is certain: if the state was to officially channel the masses’ dangerous mobility, then it needed to at least minimally match such mobility with its very own mobilizing abilities. The regime’s public works did so, with their feverish intensity, ubiquity, and sheer capacity. They absorbed the nation’s excess, its formless and unenfranchised population, while subordinating it, as a reserve army, to the state’s whims and designs. Contrary to Guzman’s apologist, however, such colossal efforts did not meet with universal applause. Critics of the regime instead saw this program as a means to yoke the unenfranchised populations to the state as a mobilized “people in arms” forever

298 “In My Image and Likeness” ready to crush the “oligarchy,” the term the rhetorical machinery of Guzmáncismo used to group all those who for one or another reason it construed as enemies into a single category, as such easy to identify and destroy. Writing in La Prensa Libre (Puerto Cabello), a publication critical of the Guzmán administration, one of these critics for example claimed that not peace but war waged by other means was crucial to the regime’s program of public works. Arguing that this program placed “a numerous personnel” at the government’s “beck and call” for rapid mobilization against any real or potential enemies, the writer resolutely identified those working in this sector as a “force that supplemented the permanent troops” (La Prensa Libre, July 21, 1877, in Caraballo Perichi 1983, 155). Other articles published between September 1877 and August 1878 in the same paper both confirm and substantiate this critic’s view that the work crews were a reserve army, bound through bonds of loyalty and patronage to the regime. A yearly report from the Ministry of Public Works adds further confirmation to this view, stating that at some point during 1874 “all public works were immediately paralyzed,” and all those employed in the sector, from engineers to common workers, were swiftly mobilized alongside regular troops to suffocate a military uprising in one of the Venezuelan states (Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Memoria 1875, p. 2, in Caraballo Perichi 1983, 155). But the evidence suggests that at all times and not just during crises this reserve army was a menacing force, available for intimidating any sector or individual targeted by the regime. Thus another article published in La Prensa Libre on September 27, 1877 criticized the idea of taxing the port’s longshoremen because it would render the workers docile instruments who, “at any point,” could be used as a “reserve army” by the state. A similar article in the same paper from July 10, 1877 accounted for the imposition of a tax on all of the nation’s productive activities in terms of the state’s need to “[promote] public works with a militarized workforce of up to eight or ten thousand sappers, each armed with a rifle.” In another article published in La Prensa Libre on July 31, 1878, the same columnist claims more generally that as part of its program of public works, the Guzmáncista state routinely kept a number of day laborers / soldiers on its payroll, well in excess of the total number of those serving in the regular army. But perhaps it is an article published in La Prensa Libre on September 21, 1877 that comes closest to characterizing public works under Guzmáncismo as a practice of rule. It is argued there that Guzmán’s main objective was to militarize the nation, with a series of “flattered bosses” in place and a multitude of “armed workers on the roads, all toiling as peons with their machetes hanging from tightly strapped shoulder belts, as well as dock workers in the ports organized under bosses and military officers designated in advance by the state.” As for the notion widely disseminated by the regime that a series of public works was an adequate index of “progress,” another article in La Prensa Libre, from May 5, 1877, adamantly disagrees. The writer calls the regime’s public works an “extraordinary” undertaking or “façade” operation that, in the long run, would be financially ruinous;

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such a costly sham is opposed to “real progress,” which he defines as the continuous, as opposed to extraordinary, “increase in the variety of goods of all kinds existing in a society.” The “extraordinary” progress made possible by the regime’s public works is merely a source of corruption, he argues, and a “political means of giving a coup de grâce to the revolutionary spirit.” By revolutionary spirit the writer means the spirit of federalism responsible for putting Guzmán in power, which since then had been thoroughly betrayed by the state. Writing about a year later, another critic does not mince words: a means of “keeping workers artificially occupied,” such false “progress” inexorably “leads to communism” (La Prensa Libre, May 19, 1878)!1 Written by critics of the Guzmán administration, all of these articles were part of the flurry of publications that saw the light while Guzmán was in Paris between 1877 and 1879, during the brief interval of virulent political reaction against the autocratic policies of the Septenio, when Francisco Linares Alcántara was president of the republic.2 Linares Alcántara was initially backed by Guzmán and able to count on his trust and approval, but not long after Guzmán left for Paris he began heading a wholesale reaction, in the name of democracy, against the Septenio’s autocratic legacy. Very much in line with a colonial heritage in which the provinces were the basic sociopolitical units of the empire, this period of reaction saw the forceful resurgence of the demands for regional autonomy that had lent a good deal of dynamism to the Federal War but were thoroughly suppressed during Guzmán’s first stay in power. Although the 1864 Constitution had granted the various provinces the status of “independent states” federated in the “independent nation of Venezuela,” when Guzmán seized power in 1870 he conducted, in the name of federalism, a draconian process of state centralization that, through taxation and other politico-administrative and military means, robbed the various states of any real ability to assert their sovereignty. A summary consideration of some of the sources from 1877–1879, that is, the period of anti-Guzmán reaction, nevertheless suffices to demonstrate, first, that regardless of the regime’s determination to suppress them, throughout the Septenio regional demands and federalist aspirations persisted under a veil of official silence; second, that the regime’s critics clearly identified public works as one of the regime’s preeminent governmental tools to quash any such federalist demands and aspirations, all in the name of “progress”; and third, that massive levels of corruption, huge amounts of both conscious and—why not?— even “unconscious” profligacy were necessary to perpetuate and maintain the regime’s “army.” Given the absence of Communist spokespersons and organizations in Venezuela at the time, the charge of “communism” that one of these critics levels against Guzmán policies during the Septenio is baseless if taken at face value. But if what the critic is describing is seen as the symptom of a wound that the Venezuelan republican order has still not managed to heal, the term names with poetic accuracy the brazenly expropriative impulse that, in places like Venezuela, abides within liberal republicanism. Confronted with an unaccountable, supernumerary population that it cannot afford

300 “In My Image and Likeness” to ignore but has been unable to assimilate, the liberal order splits, with liberal theory and liberal practice going their separate ways. As a result, in Venezuela more than elsewhere perhaps, classical liberalism’s declared aim of rendering all individuals into responsible, property- owning citizens has led a lackluster, melancholy existence, increasingly overshadowed by other, more powerful tendencies. Over and against the lofty ideal of a nation of small citizen-farmers (well into the nineteenth century, this vision was popu lar among sectors of the Venezuelan elite), the actual historical dynamic that has been characteristic of Venezuela’s liberal regimes has favored the expropriation of wealth away from large numbers of individuals and its concentration in the hands of ever-fewer, more powerful agents backed by the centralizing state. The seeming paradox of the few growing disproportionately rich and powerful in response to the multitude’s soaring demands dissipates under close consideration. To personally amass and centralize various kinds of resources— political, economic, symbolic—was the means that powerful individuals used to feed and minimally govern crowds of largely unenfranchised, sometimes fully armed individuals pressing to have their “communistic” demands met in the here and now, not in some nebulously defined future. When the alternative of not meeting such demands is to be overrun by the crowds, it makes good government sense to seize wealth and property from others so as to empower oneself to behave with relative largesse toward an impatiently demanding following. This is especially true in a country like Venezuela, which after independence and throughout the nineteenth century was ravaged by a series of civil conflicts that left precious few workable institutions in place. Another way of saying this is that throughout the nineteenth century, feeding and somehow ruling these armed, mobilized masses by parading before them as the public incarnation of their mirrored collectivity while, all along, channeling in their direction the resources needed to keep them at hand as an armed, mobilized constituency were urgent governmental challenges. And only the ruthlessly grabbing few, greedily lining their own pockets while concentrating more and more power and resources as the agents of an ever-more-centralizing state, stood any chance of meeting those challenges. Such boundless greed is the subjective force that best corresponds to the shapeless, boundless, disjointed, vexed reality associated with the demise of the colonial order. The individuals who were best positioned to put their greed to good governmental use were those occupying leadership roles as officers in either the independence wars or in any of the conflicts that subsequently shook Venezuela. Amidst the surrounding institutional and economic wreckage, these officers had the military, economic, political, and organizational wherewithal to siphon resources away from others—and in particular from the smaller gentlemen-farmers of patrician imaginings— and into their own hands. I believe that this governmental imperative to concentrate vast tracts of agricultural lands in a few hands (again, with the purpose of feeding, governing to some

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extent, and settling an armed, mobilized clientele), and not some colonial inheritance or iron law of capitalist accumulation, accounts for the formation of the great agrarian property in nineteenth-century Venezuela. Along with the tendency towards state centralization, in this country the tendency toward the ever-greater concentration and centralization of agrarian property is through and through a postcolonial phenomenon. When the order of corporations and estates that was characteristic of the colony imploded in the wake of the Spanish monarch’s disappearance, postcolonial Venezuela also experienced the progressive reversal of the colony’s relatively more decentralized and diversified economic and political circumstances. Th is tendency reached magnified proportions in the 1870s and 1880s, during the Guzmán regime. During this time not only did state centralization successfully assert itself as the nation’s overwhelming institutional and political horizon, but also the great agrarian property achieved the kind of preeminence that it still has today. If in terms of sheer size the postcolonial hacienda stands in stark contrast to the relatively small, export-oriented plantation of the colony so ably documented and analyzed by McKinley, the reasons for this difference are mostly political, not economic. It is the eminently political, governmental need to feed, control, and symbolically focus the relatively unenfranchised majorities on a series of (appropriately monumentalized) figures of authority that, ultimately, accounts for both the tendency toward ever-greater degrees of state centralization and for the other, related tendency toward the formation of the great agrarian property as a result of the land grabs perpetrated by military officers in the independence and post-independence armies, who were under great pressure to feed and govern their mass followings. It is precisely on account of their ruthlessly expropriating behavior that these officers became primary agents of postcolonial governmentality, a governmentality in which, paradoxical as this may seem, the centralization and concentration of political, symbolic, and economic resources went hand-in-hand with the monumentalization of ever-more-corrupt state agents and rulers parading as the embodiment of republican virtue and uncompromising equality. In this wider context, the large postcolonial hacienda is not merely an economic operation. It is, in its own right, also a unit of government. As such it is not unlike the work crews organized by the Guzmán regime in connection with the realization of public works. Both are governmental structures allowing the mobilized and often armed multitudes to be somewhat enframed by and made accountable as a “people” to some state or proto-state instance, which, in the intensely deinstitutionalized circumstances of postcolonial Venezuela, always has a human face. If, in classic populist fashion, these state agents are potentially capable of commanding the love and allegiance of the majorities, this is largely on account of their ability to centralize, concentrate, and, to some extent, distribute political and economic resources among the majorities, all in the hallowed name of Bolívarian “unity” and “equality.” When not centralizing and accumulating resources means that one risks being overcome by the mobilized masses in search of their own means of livelihood and identification, to do so while positioning oneself

302 “In My Image and Likeness” as the monumentalized embodiment of these multitudes’ putatively indivisible being makes good governmental sense. To call this massively expropriative process communism is, then, not so arbitrary as it may at first seem. After all, in one of its non-emancipatory meanings, the word communism designates precisely the massive leveling process whereby all distinctions, including differences in wealth, authority, social position, and the like, are reduced to the common denominator of an abstract community understood as a space of equivalence peopled by abstractly interchangeable individuals, all of them beholden through ties of love, patronage, identification, and the like to some more powerful instance, the one who, on account of his status as general equivalent, incarnates the whole. In this nonemancipatory sense, communism names the reduction of all real differences and singularities to the “common as thing,” to a “common incineration,” a “death” that obliterates the more emancipatory possibilities of democracy (Nancy 2010, 30–31). At this point, the differences between capitalism and communism tend to dissolve. If capitalism, insofar as it continuously reduces all differences to calculable equivalences, is always haunted by the totalitarian phantasm of a seamless, homogeneous community, then, as a modality of state capitalism, really existing socialism rules in the name of precisely such a thingified “people.” In saying that Guzmán’s public-works policies “led to communism,” the La Prensa Libre critic shrewdly identified the ruthlessly expropriating dynamic at the root of the regime. Very much in tension with the liberal and federalist rhetoric with which it sought to legitimize itself, this dynamic propelled the regime in the direction of grinding all existing differences into the flatly homogeneous substance of a seamless “people,” a dispossessed conglomerate beholden to a few rich and powerful individuals at the top, and, ultimately, to Guzmán. Without employing the term, which was not in use at the time, probably the most lucid of Guzman’s contemporary critics characterized the regime in ways that one would not hesitate nowadays to call populist. This critic, Manuel Briceño, identified the insistent interpellation of the disenfranchised yet armed majorities by means of both patronage and monuments, and as a “powerful element” always in tension with the “oligarchy,” the regime’s declared enemy, as the Guzmán regime’s characteristic modus operandi, its publically unavowed, yet not for that less powerfully consequential, dare I say properly populist, “secret”: “Ruining the whites in order to reduce them to impotence, keeping the white separated from the mestizo, drowning in the latter all generous aspiration, and, finally, utilizing the indigenous populations and the blacks as a powerful element in order to dominate has been the secret of Guzmán Blanco’s politics” (Briceño [1884] 1964, 89). A novel published a few years after Guzmán was out of power repeatedly refers to him as the “Great Leveler,” a designation that sharply brings out the “communism” in his otherwise predatorily “capitalist” persona (Pardo [1889] 1981). Guzmán as communist! This assertion will probably ring scandalous to all those historians who have not only scrupulously documented Guzmán’s enormous personal greed, corruption, and wealth, but have also noted how, to the detriment of local interests, his regime consistently acted as the agent of global capitalism, which in Venezuela

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was represented by the large commercial houses located in the coastal areas.3 And, indeed, both the ruler’s own considerable personal corruption—there is abundant evidence to suggest that Guzmán made little or no distinction between the state’s coffers and his own personal finances— and that of his closest followers were effective instruments of capitalist accumulation in the hands of an unscrupulous minority acting as agents of the centralizing state. Through public works, the indiscriminate (and ruinous) taxation of vast sectors of the population, massive borrowing from commercial and banking institutions in both Venezuela and abroad, and the beatings, jailing, and other abusive practices that it routinely administered to whomever, for whatever reasons, stood in its way, the Guzmáncista state constantly siphoned wealth away from other sectors of society while, all along, behaving as an engine of capitalist accumulation in its own right. In this respect, the label state capitalism fits this regime quite well. Taken all together, however, all of these “capitalistic” tendencies both emerged in response to a communism of sorts—that is, emerged as part of the means necessary to govern the crowds, which were a singularly unsettling manifestation of the common— and almost irresistibly, in all that these tendencies entail of an expropriating, centralizing, and in some important respects “equalizing” bent, led to it. Between Guzmán’s corrupt “capitalism” and the “communism” to which his critics allude there is really no discrepancy; one neatly complements the other. All of this belongs to the logic of the political situation that has obtained in Venezuela ever since the nation became independent. In some important respects driven from below by the unenfranchised masses, in Venezuela an overriding tendency towards state centralization and the accumulation of wealth by a few powerful, pompously monumentalized individuals acting in the shadow of the centralizing state has from independence to this day increasingly displaced more decentralized, heterogeneous ways of constituting and articulating social and economic relations, subjective identities, and the polity. While during periods of relative stability talk of federalism may sound more or less plausible (more so to some, less so to others), during crises, when the masses are all over the place and pressing to be heard, “Bolívar” returns, and such talk is unceremoniously pushed to the side.4 It is largely to be expected that a few unscrupulous and greedy individuals, in the midst of this populist predicament and primarily due to their access to the centralizing apparatus of the state, rise to the top. Such capitalist accumulation of personal wealth and power is part of the communist logic of the situation.5 From this eminently populist perspective, sentiments and subjective predispositions, such as an individual’s greed or his thirst for power, do not explain anything; these predispositions achieve social efficacy and significance on account of their insertion as articulating moments within a wider populist logic.6 In other words, the populist logic of the situation often selects for the greediest, most unscrupulous and ruthless people around, as those most capable of fulfilling the governmental tasks the situation demands.

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The Heroic Face of the Multitudes Things become even clearer if, instead of viewing this “Bolivarian” situation from the perspective of the rulers, one looks at it the other way around, that is, from the perspective of the mobilized, would-be constituency of these rulers— subjects who are periodically wrenched by the catastrophic circumstances of the postcolony from most ascriptive forms of identification, and cyclically delivered to the oceanic life of the crowds.7 In the preceding section this constituency was exemplified by the armed gangs of workers in the program of public works advanced by the Guzmancista regime. From their bottom-up perspective, the myriad portraits, busts, equestrian statues, commemorative medals and the like that this regime insistently disseminated across the national territory would have been like so many mirrors where members of this unenfranchised multitude could see themselves refracted whole as a mobilized “people in arms” beholden to the state. Immersed as they were in their visceral, divisive, deinstitutionalized circumstances, only through mimetic identification with the myriad representations of both “Bolívar” and “Guzmán,” above all with the monumentalized faces of these two rulers staring at them from multiple locations, and only through acquiescing to what they putatively shared, could the unenfranchised multitudes once again assemble into a collectivity that, no matter how dangerously volatile and mobile, could nonetheless still be addressed by and governed to some extent by the state. All of this follows from the fact that these representations not only presented the crowds with a tangible, visible manifestation of their being as a unified collectivity, but, moreover, tacitly conveyed to them from the state the firm promise that all the resources needed to maintain them in such a condition, as an armed, mobilized “people” devoted to Guzmán, would keep steadily flowing in their overall direction. In the context of the many public declarations, civic celebrations, public works inaugurations and other political occasions by which they were continuously enveloped, to contemplate these earnest representations from below was to be both lovingly made whole and to become the grateful recipient of the state’s promise that such wholeness would be preserved over time by the many perks and favors that this state would go on pouring on its ever-devoted constituency in the form of patronage. The rhetorical apparatus of the regime discursively constituted “Bolívar” and “Guzman” as largely interchangeable, which means that either taken in isolation or alongside each other, the forbiddingly monumentalized faces of both figures were the heroic face of the multitude, what this multitude necessarily looked like when contemplated whole as a mobilized, often armed yet nonetheless bounded “people” locked in symbolic and material exchange with the Bolivarian state. Exhibiting all the necessary marks of consistency and predictability, these faces were not so much the outward, monumentalized appearance or manifestation of any particular, idiosyncratic individual, but thoroughly institutionalized constructs. Positioned by a wide range of material and symbolic practices as the articulating node of an entire form of government, these faces

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and the entire monumentalized personas that they epitomized in other words expressed, orchestrated, and enabled the governmental relations of the state with the nation’s majorities. This is to say that in situations in which, as the result of war and other social, political, and economic catastrophes, most institutions are severely strained or simply ruined, only particular individuals from among all the rest can perform as the foci of collective mimetic identification, provided, however, that such individuals have been adequately monumentalized first as the visible incarnations and manifestations of that which all are presumed to share equally. When social life effectively dissolves into the errant itineraries of a multitude of heterogeneous, often clashing singularities, the tendency is for the state to become intensely personalized, incarnating itself as a livingdead, monumentalized persona capable of offering the evanescent assemblage an image of itself as a unified and governable community. Even if it was never enacted, Bolívar’s constitutional provision calling for the office of “president for life” to be filled by one who would be as a “Sun, immovable at the center of the universe” and “an athlete” among “a multitude of athletes” was precisely meant to bring about such a monumentalized state apparition. Contemporary historians of Venezuela often interpret the nineteenth century in reference to the opposition, canonical during the nineteenth century, between a deinstitutionalized “personalism” on the one hand, and an abstract “legalism” on the other. The important thing to grasp here is that the living-dead, monumentalized individuals at the root of this “personalism” are in fact institutions in their own right, their images extended across time and space in myriad “copies”—busts, equestrian statues, portraits, commemorative medallions and the like—that forever drift away from any presumed “originals.” This is so much the case, indeed, that in the end, the so-called originals are nothing but the belated aftereffect of their many replicas. This was especially true of the “living” Guzmán who, despite his overbearingly monumentalized persona, in the end was nothing other than the après coup crystallization of the “dead,” monumentalized representations of him that were disseminated all across Venezuela. The story has been told that when Guzmán received news in Paris that his enemies in Venezuela had toppled the statues of himself that he had erected in Caracas during the Septenio (figures 8, 9, and 10), he became mired in severe depression, as if the mere knowledge of the demolition was enough to induce in him an accelerated process of vanishing. He was only able to step out of his self-cancelling mood, the depressive state of deliquescence into which he had sunk in Paris, and regain the hard edges of his previously monumentalized persona when, brought back into power by his many followers, he returned to Venezuela filled with holy rage against the demolitionists. Together with the vengeful persecution to which he immediately subjected them, the very prospect of having his statues once again erected on the very sites where they had been recently toppled was enough, I am sure, to bring about in him such miraculously hardening effects.

Figure 8. Gigantic statue of Guzmán Blanco in Caracas’ Parque El Calvario (Calvary Park) popularly known as “El Manganzón” (“The Idler”) with inset of an equestrian statue of him also in Caracas. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

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Figure 9. Photograph of the equestrian statue of Guzmán Blanco known as “El Saludante” (“The Saluter”). (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

Considering how often in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America regimes like that of Guzmán, or, most recently, Chávez have been characterized as personalistic, a word that usually denotes a form of government presided over by the arbitrary, capricious will of one or another powerful individual free from institutional constraints,

308 “In My Image and Likeness”

Figure 10. Lithograph of Guzmán Blanco Square in Caracas. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

the clarification is important. Viewing the histories of these countries in terms of personalism versus legalism overlooks the forest for the trees; it mistakes the serialized representations of the ruler for the singular individual that these representations supposedly represent. If instead of focusing on the individual one focuses on the representations, then the possibility of apprehending how thoroughly institutionalized these allegedly personalistic regimes really are suddenly opens up. Rather than referring to individual interiorities or personal idiosyncrasies, these representations, in their sheer exteriority, ubiquity, serialization and monumentalism, bespeak a highly institutionalized predicament, the kind of radically populist republicanism that arises at those fraught junctures when the Fragile Collection breaks down, the crowds yet again haunt the republican polity, and, hand in hand with whomever at the time happens to be ruling in his name, “Bolívar Superstar” returns to hail the majorities as a single “people” pitted against “the enemy.”

“In my image and likeness” Like the late Hugo Chávez, who could not see enough images of himself disseminated across Venezuela, Guzmán was aware that if the populace was to stay assembled as a Bolivarian people and not dangerously explode, bursting from the various centrifugal forces at work just beneath the discursively fashioned appearances, it was crucial that

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he appear to remain as identical to himself across time and space as possible. The following colorful passage from an August 1866 letter addressed by Guzmán to his motherin-law should be viewed, I believe, in light of this pressing governmental task and not primarily as an expression of unbridled egotism on his part—this is how historians often interpret this and other similar outbursts from the ruler— even if egotism was surely also there. This is what he wrote: “I do not fit in anyone’s mold, and everything that lies in my immediate proximity has to be made in my image and likeness” (cited in Cartay 1988, 282; my emphasis). In light of the crucial, properly governmental significance that elsewhere he assigned to personal prestige, understood as the capacity of an exceptional individual in some places to encompass the social “totality,” enveloping all of its members in his dazzling radiance (Guzmán Blanco [1867] 1999, 147), more than mere egotism seems to be at stake here. Seen in this governmental light, what the passage from Guzman’s letter intimates is how much positioning himself as the exemplar that everyone else had to emulate was, for him, tantamount to an entire art of government. His was an exemplarity, moreover, that he did not in any way entrust to the vagaries of his own personal charisma. As clearly suggested by the relentless dissemination of his monumentalized effigy across all of Venezuela, often alongside that of Bolívar, such exemplarity was continuously brought about by a dense network of monumentalizing practices that everywhere paraded Guzmán as the nation’s living paragon of republican virtue. While we may assume the ruler was pleased with the imposing appearance these manifold representations reflected back to him, the distance from the sublime to the ridiculous is often short, and it is easily traversed by the gaze of an astute critic able to pierce through appearances to the hollowness within. This is how one such critic, Juan Vicente González, saw Guzmán: “He is a puerile, vain, and theatrical character, with a weakness for plumes, jewels, embroideries, sequined dresses, pompous words, imposing titles, everything that sounds impressive, that shines, the pantomimes of power. He cares little for being the object of either public or private scorn; what matters to him is the appearance of respect and realizing whatever idea happens to occupy his thoughts” (Juan Vicente González in Manuel Briceño [1884] 1964, 36). Here is Antonio Guzmán Blanco, plumes and all, the quintessential nineteenth-century dancing Jacobin, hyperbolically piling upon himself layer upon layer of simulacra so as to maintain for as long as possible the attention of his momentarily assembled yet still unstable, armed audience, focusing it on his grandiose, heroic portrayal of (re-)founder of the nation (figure 11). With his peculiar blend of monumentalizing poses of nineteenthcentury grand homme and over-the-top histrionic tendencies, he indeed fully belonged to this governmental tradition. His contemporaries often derisively commented on both aspects of his public persona, calling him “General Medals” for his extravagant habit of roaming the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities followed by a large retinue of dependents, his chest literally covered with decorations. González’s characterization of Guzmán powerfully resonates with what one of Simón Bolívar’s more acerbic

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Figure 11. Portrait of Antonio Guzmán Blanco by the Venezuelan painter Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1880. (Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Exteriores.)

contemporary critics, Decoudray de Holstein, had written several decades earlier: “The dominant traits in the character of General Bolívar are ambition, vanity, thirst for absolute, undivided power, and profound dissimulation.” He commented further on the Liberator’s fondness for waltzing and how much he loved “hearing himself talk and giving toasts” before an admiring audience (Decoudray Holstein 1829, 326). If to this

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we add Bolívar’s well-known admiration for Napoleon I, and Guzmán’s for the French emperor’s nephew, Napoleon III, saving all the crucial differences separating the two figures the comparison between them—as dancing Jacobins frantically striving to keep their audiences together for as long as possible through a deft montage of monuments, self-aggrandizement, and dancing—is even more apt. Guzmán’s success in turning himself into the nation’s exemplar may be gauged from the following passage, written by one of his critics several years after Guzmán had left power: Leaving his mark on every aspect of his surroundings, the dictator colored his own epoch with his ideas, his whims, and even his hatreds. It was not beneath him to dictate the content of newspaper articles applauding those that he wished to elevate and censoring those that he wished to ruin. In addition, his writings were so well known that whenever they showed up under a pseudonym in some fashionable publication everyone immediately knew who the author was and what underlying motivations had inspired him. They also produced another effect, namely, to impart a general, overall style and tone to everything that his followers and friends did and said. They went to great lengths to mimic the language of the boss, his way of being angry as well as the kinds of insults he used; and, inspired by such a source, national literature adopted the content and the style that was characteristic of the writings of the ruler. In telegrams, personal correspondence, private salons, in coffee shops, clubs and newspapers, the words and sentences of the dictator were endlessly repeated. (Seijas [1891] 1940, 44–45)

To avoid exoticizing the frenzied mimicry of Guzmán as sheer South American idiosyncrasy, all that one need do is discern the specter of the multitudes looming behind every single more-or-less lurid, flamboyant attempt to mimic the monumentalized persona of the ruler, thereby apprehending this “heroism of flattery” (Hegel) as a crucial dimension of the local art of government, a part of the monumental governmentality that I address in this book. Many of Guzmán’s expressions resonate with what he said about the necessity of his own exemplarity in his letter to his mother-in-law. He consistently positioned himself as the model that everyone had to imitate, while asserting his undisputed sovereignty as the exclusive and all-encompassing law of the land, refusing beforehand the possibility that such sovereignty might suffer subdivision or be in any way compromised by its transmission to others along a radiating chain of command. How crucial it was for Guzmán to preempt this possibility is evident in a passage from another letter, this one dated November 14, 1879, several years after the one to his mother-inlaw, and addressed to his father, Antonio Leocadio Guzmán: “No one in Venezuela believes that any single living person exerts any influence on my plans. Everyone knows that all that I imagine and put into practice belongs exclusively to my own head and sovereign will without my ever having consulted about any of it with anyone

312 “In My Image and Likeness” whatsoever” (quoted in Cartay 1988, 283). Here Guzmán refers to some critics who had dared to question the dubious financial dealings of one of his government’s ministers with some foreign economic interests, while nevertheless carefully avoiding any allusion to Guzmán himself. Not even when his own reputation was at stake did Guzmán admit the possibility that others could see any of his cronies as having any independent will of their own! Moreover, in explicitly denying living individuals the possibility of exerting any influence on his sovereign will, Guzmán left open the alternative possibility, namely, that the dead Founding Father of the nation, Bolívar, actively presided from the grave over his entire practice of government. The practical consequences of Guzmán’s insistence on his undivided exercise of sovereignty are clearly visible in the following passage from the memoirs of the daughter of the general consul and business representative of France in Venezuela, the young Marquise Jenny de Tallenay, who wrote about her stay there between 1878 and  1881. These years witnessed the end of the Linares Alcántara administration, following his death on November 30, 1878, and the apotheosis of Guzmán’s return to power in February of the following year. With privileged access to official circles, the writer offers a unique glimpse of the workings of political power in Venezuela at the time: In Venezuela everyone has grown used to expecting everything from the state. As the agency in charge of conceiving, projecting, and executing everything having to do with the life of the nation, the state is the exclusive source of every public initiative. If the state loses prestige, if it is in any way put into question, individual efforts will not be there to supply its absence. . . . This complete lack of the spirit of enterprise outside the official circles of power, this inaction of the individual and his absorption in the collective idea may be observed everywhere in Venezuela. The personal worth anyone has is merely a reflection of the fraction of governmental authority that is available to him. (De Tallenay [1884] 1989, 91–92)8

One may add that, more than just the reflection of an abstract governmental authority, such a sense of personal worth was “merely” a reflection of the image of Guzmán on his many followers. This is suggested by the illustration of Plaza Bolívar, reproduced in the previous chapter, with all the adult men figured there proudly displaying their Frenchified demeanors, including top hats, a look popu larized by the ruler in his efforts to turn Caracas into a miniature Paris. If, as Carl Schmitt claimed, all the concepts of the state are secularized religious concepts (Schmitt 2005, 36), then in Venezuela under Guzmán not just religion but Jesus Christ himself could be seen on occasion to borrow features from the state, or, more precisely, from Guzmán himself as this state’s personification Thus, commenting on the “fantastic wooden statues” of saints that, at the time, were paraded on Holy Friday in Caracas, De Tallenay refers to a group composition of the Holy Family in one of the “better attended churches” in Caracas:

“In My Image and Likeness” 313 The Virgin is represented wearing a pink dress with a very low neckline, swollen by a huge crinoline beneath which one can make out small dancing shoes with Louis XVI high heels. Long, black, tangled, and curly hair covers the holy image all the way down to the waist. She holds by the hand an infant Jesus wearing a top hat, tailcoat and shiny boots. A Saint Joseph wearing a brown frock coat and gray long underwear, with a panama hat, completes this original work. (ibid., 93–94)

In short, the Holy Family is dressed up for one of Guzmán’s famous balls, with the infant Jesus himself wearing Guzmán’s outfit—which was also the one the ruler had prescribed for his state-orchestrated civil society.

The Prosthetic Dictator So insistent was Guzmán on positioning himself, as Bolívar’s living lieutenant, at the very center not just of the social realm but of the local political imaginary that it is no wonder his critics portrayed him as an all devouring-octopus (Obregón Silva 1887, 99), or as a monstrously oversized figure, a titan, with its lower extremities firmly implanted across the national territory (La Prensa Libre, July 31, 1878). This insistence reached an apotheosis with his decision to have several statues erected to himself: two of them in Caracas, one standing and the other equestrian; another in the western city of San Cristobal, near the border with Colombia; one more in the city of Valencia; and, as if to proclaim to the world that he was the gatekeeper of the Venezuelan nation, a projected equestrian monument to himself which, never realized, was meant to stand directly across from the customs building in the port city of La Guaira. Something noteworthy about the general proliferation of Guzmán iconography during his regime is how much it indexed not the ruler’s vainglorious presence, but, rather, his absence. Much like the portraits of the king during the colonial period, albeit in a different, thoroughly republican signifying economy,9 the entire iconography within which the statues had pride of place was meant to function when Guzmán was not physically present at the site. As for the statues themselves, they were singled out as objects of public allegiance and devotion by an army of Guzmán clones working for the state, as well as textually encircled by an ever-proliferating discursivity, from official celebrations and commemorations to newspaper articles, public works inaugurations, and books of ceremony. Taken altogether, both discourses and interpellations conspired to proclaim in the absence of the ruler what these otherwise mute monuments supposedly conveyed on their own: Guzmán’s continuous authority and presence as the expression of the nation’s “general will” and as the agency in charge of totalizing it. The fact that all of these governmental practices routinely continued their totalizing work in the absence of the ruler clearly suggests that this presence was not really needed. Guzmán’s presence was in other words the enabling assumption of an entire array of governmental practices. Whether he was there or not to see this happen, as the

314 “In My Image and Likeness” ruler’s prostheses the statues behaved as the potent foci of identification around which the multitudes could at all times be assembled as a “people” beholden to Guzmán, and, through him, to the state that he so pompously embodied. When Guzmán left for Paris in 1877, leaving his compadre Linares Alcántara at the helm, his misgivings about his successor were considerably assuaged by the knowledge that his statues stayed dutifully behind. Even if Linares presided over a brief but intense reaction against the policies of the Guzmán regime, not for a second did he consider tinkering with Guzmán’s statues, aware of how much doing so might spark a wholesale rebellion against his government by forces loyal to the absent ruler in Paris. As the new president shrewdly put it: “I will be able to continue in power as long as I take good care of my compadre’s [godfather’s] dolls.” He went even further, on one occasion assuring to the Colombian writer José María Vargas Vila that “Guzmán’s concern for his dolls amounts to an obsession, he wishes people to stare at them until doomsday,” adding that if anything happened to his statues Guzmán would literally die, while he, Linares, along with his offspring, would either be summarily executed or exiled for life (Pino Iturrieta 2010). Given the governmental role of the iconic representations of Bolívar and Guzmán, the urgency with which the Guzmán Blanco administration spread busts, statues, and representations of the Liberator all over Venezuela while planting monuments to Guzmán Blanco, the worldly lieutenant of “Bolívar,” in critical locations of the national territory almost goes without saying. The same thing was at stake in such urgent dissemination as in Guzman’s insistence that every one of his many state officers and subalterns model themselves after his own “image and likeness,” thus rendering themselves into the ruler’s living replicas. Namely, the aim was to bring about the illusion of presence needed to sustain the belief that, regardless of his ineradicable absence, it was the living ruler himself who presided over every act of government. Much as in the case of the many colossal posters of President Hugo Chávez one sees nowadays everywhere across Venezuela, so too in the case of Guzman’s iconographic representations and the army of clones that proliferated around the ruler, it was every time a matter of subduing the powers of absence through the illusion of a fully present “people” tightly collected around the ruler in the shadow of the Liberator.10 Such an illusion of presence, in order to be sustained, called for the prosthetic enhancement of the ruler. More than mere egotism was at stake in Guzmán’s insistence that in places as bereft of “established institutions” as Venezuela the “personal prestige” of the ruler was intrinsic to the practice of government; it was his conviction that such prestige was indeed the only available principle capable of “encompassing society as a whole” (Guzmán Blanco [1867] 1999: 95). What now needs to be added to this realization is that for all the overabundant talk while he was in power concerning his nearly superhuman qualities and stunning personal brilliance, Guzmán was keenly aware of the largely prosthetic character of his own “dazzling” prestige, the monumentalized, hyperbolically histrionic pose of grand homme of the nation that he cut in all

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of his public appearances. As his decision to leave his “dolls” in charge when he left for a two-year stay in Paris in 1867 powerfully suggests, for Guzmán prestige was rather more institutional than personal. Understood as a principle of government it did not ultimately originate with the ruler but was retroactively or belatedly brought about by the kind of Bolivarian monumental governmentality characteristic of his regime (ibid).11 This follows from, among other things, the ruler’s all-too-human inability to be personally present across time and space, as well as the tendency of his constituents, if left on their own, to continuously fall into manifold and heterogeneous interests, inclinations, and desires. In order for his personal prestige to become a minimally enduring principle of government everywhere operative in the ruler’s absence, and, as such, capable of continuously reconstituting “the people” out of this space of multiplicity and dispersion, this prestige had to be constituted again and again as the originating source of all government by the series of monumentalizing practices that repeatedly brought it into being, while all along claiming to be honoring it. Eventually not even Linares’s prestige and authority could prevent his followers from bringing down Guzmán statues, and they were toppled on December 22, 1878, after Linares’s untimely demise. Aware as these followers were of the preeminent governmental role of the monuments as sites where the Guzmancista state hailed the local populations, they knew very well that while the statues stood, no reaction against Guzmán’s autocratic legacy could possibly prosper. Identifying their demolition as nothing less than the main instrument for once and for all annihilating Guzmán’s base of support, Nicanor Bolet Peraza, one of the main leaders of the reaction against the absent ruler, formulated the conundrum well: “As long as these images stand we have not severed the links that tie us to that individual who only awaits the moment when he can take possession of the land again in order to satisfy his desires for revenge against those that have been unwilling to be his disciples” (Bolet Peraza 1878). It is enough to take a brief glance at three cartoons commenting on the statues’ demolition to gain a sense of the extent to which, for Guzmán’s enemies, it was not so much the flesh-and-blood ruler but this ruler’s “dolls” that stood between them and their attempt to get rid of the Guzmancista regime; in all of their numb materiality, they were the stumbling blocks. Thus, in one of the cartoons, a critic of Guzmán is shown dueling not with the living ruler but with two of his statues, one of which “fiercely” wields a sword against him (figure 13). In another, one of these statues, popularly known as “Manganzón” (“The Idler”), is carried away to be buried inside a hearse conducted by a figure emblematic of Justice or the Law, while the ruler contemplates the proceedings from atop his equestrian statue in the background (figure 14). But it is the third of these cartoons that perhaps best illustrates the extent to which Guzman’s statues were perceived by the ruler’s opponents as truly momentous sites of agency in their own right, as capable of reproducing by virtue of their sheer presence a certain style of rule as of preventing any attempt aimed at transcending it. Registering some

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Figure 12. Cartoon depicting a duel between the Guzmán statues “El Saludante” (“The Saluter”) and “El Manganzón” (“The Idler”) and an enemy of the ruler, known in Caracas at the time as a formidable duelist. Published in Figaro, September 19, 1878. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

of the trepidation and uncertainty that must have preceded the demolition, this cartoon, titled “Will I Be Toppled or Not?” features three enigmatically masked characters presumably deliberating about whether or not to sign the decree ordering the bringing down of the statues (figure 14). It speaks volumes about the public’s awareness of how laden with momentous political consequences such an act truly was. Addressing the statues as in themselves powerful sources of agency and not mere inert representations of the absent ruler in Paris, all of these cartoons intimate the extent to which they were crucial material nodes in their own right, around and in reference to which an entire form of government was routinely articulated and deployed. As long as the statues remained in place, the capacity of the regime to hail the local populations in the absence of the ruler, enlisting them in its corrupt autocratic practices and policies, could not be said to be over. Both the iconoclasm and the ensuing rebellion are sure indications that, far from inert, Guzmán’s statues were sites imbued with agency and charged with affect by the ruler’s followers; they were the articulating nodes of an entire regime of power and knowledge that simply could not go on if demolished with impunity by its enemies. Although by then Linares had already died, victim of a suspicious bout of indigestion that unexpectedly left the movement against Guzmán without any visible leader,

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Figure 13. Cartoon captioned “El entierro de Manganzon” (The Funeral of Manganzon), showing a hearse transporting the statue to the cemetery as “El Saludante” looks on from the background. Published in Figaro, September 9, 1878. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

the misgivings he had had about tinkering with Guzman’s “dolls” proved prophetic. The demolition of the statues was the sign that the pro-Guzmán forces were waiting for, the impetus to rise up in great numbers against the Linares Alcántara administration and, in 1879, bring Guzmán out of his Parisian depression and triumphantly back to power in the wake of a national movement appropriately called “La Reivindicación” (the Vindication). By then the ruler’s statues were so essential to an entire economy of rule that any attempt to tinker with them was rightly perceived as a frontal assault on the entire Guzmán regime. Not only did this virulent iconoclasm of Guzmán’s opponents eradicate from the nation’s landscape what were, along with Bolívar’s equestrian statue, the main physical sites where this regime’s following gathered on specific occasions; more importantly, the demolition of the statues amounted to a wholesale assault on the kinds of subjects, experiences, political interpellations, forms of affective identification, and redistributive practices that gave the Guzmán regime its peculiar consistency as a specifically Bolivarian inflection of the nation’s monumental governmentality, for the statues both symbolized and helped enable those practices. The precise conjunction of the rebellion with the demolition of the Guzmán statues strongly suggests that these monuments were more than the products of some egotistical ruler’s whims, even if having statues erected to oneself is something that has never

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Figure 14. Cartoon captioned “Caigo o no caigo?”(“Will I be toppled or not?”), in which three characters are poised to sign the decree ordering the demolition of the Guzmán statues, while in the background a multitude stands ready to bring down “Manganzón.” Published in El Charivari, June 27, 1878. (Courtesy of the Archivo Audiovisual de la Biblioteca Nacional, Colección de Obras Planas.)

occurred to anyone else in Venezuela; they were also among the main articulating nodes of a thoroughly institutionalized monumental governmentality. Corresponding to those moments in which the nation’s unenfranchised majorities lay siege as crowds to the republican polity and “Bolívar” returns, this uniquely Bolivarian inflexion of the nation’s monumental governmentality possesses an institutional integrity and overall dynamism far in excess of the designs of any singular individual, even if that individual is someone as overbearing as Guzmán, or, in the recent past, Chávez.

A Memory of Caudillism In Venezuela recently, the Chávez regime paraded itself before the public as the final fulfillment of Simón Bolívar’s legacy, with everything that has transpired between the Liberator’s era and now portrayed as a betrayal of the Founding Father’s designs for the nation. Under Guzmán as well, a radical, Bolívar-centered revision of the historical record was conducted by the state. Carried out in public speeches, historicizing

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accounts, educational manuals, national exhibitions, and official celebrations and commemorations, to name only some of the sites, a vast, state-orchestrated historiographical operation enveloped both Guzmán and his aggressively centralizing state, in the Founding Father’s auratic shadow.12 This operation positioned both Bolívar and Guzmán as reference points for a thorough rewriting of all previous Venezuelan history starting with independence. From this vantage point, everything that happened between independence and Guzmán’s time in office was reduced to a single, simplified plotline: the epic struggle of the Bolívarian state to gather the nation together as a homogeneous totality against the forces of disintegration. As the principal historian writing during the Guzmán period put it, in characteristic late-nineteenth-century language, “much like electric poles, with Guzmán the two extremes of a century touched one another in order to produce this immense light of fatherland, progress, and freedom” (Francisco González Guinán in Briceño [1884] 1964, 201). Much as recently during Chavismo (with Guzmán replaced by Chávez as the Liberator’s electrical alter ego), everything that fell between these two “electric poles,” that is, between Bolívar and Guzmán, between the heroic beginnings of the nation and the attempt on the part of the Guzmancista state to reinstate those beginnings was either relegated to a distant second place, or, more commonly, vilified as the base machinations of evil men and power-hungry caudillos. The success of this historiographical operation may be gauged from the following account by Rafael Fernando Seijas, a nineteenth-century Venezuelan lawyer and diplomat, written some years after Guzmán had concluded his third and final term as president: “[N]ot even the men responsible for Venezuela becoming an independent nation have escaped unscathed the disastrous influence of the dictators. They have been compared to vulgar caudillos, and the good citizens capable of denouncing such vilification have in turn been thoroughly silenced” (Seijas [1891] 1940, 69). “Bolívar Superstar,” the “Bolívar Unico,” of the Guzmán regime, alone emerged with his glory intact as a figure for the relentlessly centralizing state. Without explicitly mentioning Guzmán, Seijas blames the thorough vilification of the nation’s history conducted during his regime for the imp