disappointment, Nicolás Cuello

narrator Nicolás Cuello
term disappointment
published 14 April 2021, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Disappointment, as a sensible experience, can be thought of as the opposite of what Laurent Berlant (2011) described under the category of cruel optimism. The latter refers to a particular type of affective economy in the technologies of contemporary governability, that is, a form of disciplined affectation in neoliberal societies through which people choose to bond with objects of desire through historically predetermined hopeful promises and joyful images, that hold them bound to the fantasy of morally superior futures, even against their own well-being, for the sole purpose of giving continuity to their existences under the therapeutic effect that comes from following the right path, the path of normative guidelines that prescribe what can make these lives better, what can make them a good life. Through this category, Berlant names the way in which these forms of optimistic attachment wear down fantasies of mobility and progress, creating problematic bonds with such objects of desire, thus demonstrating how the promise of happiness described in turn by Sara Ahmed (2010), that semiotic architecture that works as an invisible guide orienting the experience of the existent, can be revealed as impossible, mere fantasy, or directly dangerous, risking the lives of those who dream.

As a counterpart, disappointment is a feeling that can potentially symbolize the loss of the hopeful attachment that neoliberal democracies institute as a condition of possibility to access a happy future, revealing through sensations of breakdown, fraud or disenchantment, the systemic, productive and profitable features of the self-destructive emotional contract that imposes us the clause of maintaining at any cost a bond with that object of desire - in this case, a good life, a democratic life - in order to avoid its loss, since the mere possibility of its absence or any attempt to deviate from the righteousness of its path threatens, in one way or another, to end our own life and society as a whole.

 

In this sense, to become disappointed, that is, to voluntarily or accidentally practice a negative reaction to the falsehood, insufficiency or directly the failure of that neoliberal promise that instrumentalizes our attachment can turn into an oppositional consciousness (Sandoval, 2001) capable of accelerating through uncomfortable emotions a collective critique of the cruelty inherent to contemporary regimes of global governability. These regimes operate under the internalization of radical individualism and a practical realism determined by the rhythms of supply and demand, that are multiplied even more by the work of sensible artifacts that extend the soporific power of magical voluntarism, that dominant belief that David Smail (1993) recognizes as the unofficial religion of contemporary capitalist society.

From the year 1983, an important part of the tensions that characterized the recovery of the democratic order in Argentina, can be found prefigured in a series of conflicting presences within a time that, after seven long years marked by the organized terror of the civil-military dictatorship, embraced the public space to begin the feast of democracy, along with the newly elected president Raúl Alfonsín. Also known as the Democratic Spring, this process did not condensed a homogeneous yearning for institutional reconstruction, but a polyphonic series of political strategies to make it concrete. In other words, not only instituted a legal way out of authoritarianism, but simultaneously invoked the strength of all the struggles for political freedoms, representing itself the possibility of realization of different imaginaries of social transformation.

 

Therefore understood as a polemic signifier (Reano and Smola, 2013), the hopeful promise of Argentine democracy resided precisely in its ability to become a form of imagination of the social whose meanings never ended up fixed in a predetermined way, but were worked out through sinuous historical disputes. Some of these tensions were materialized in a group of micropolitical experiences and non-organic initiatives of collective organization, such as La Marcha Pagana (Pagan March), promoted by La Coordinadora de Grupos Alternativos (1986), a gather of groups of political affinity, mostly anarchists, which through their differences sought to make visible the repressive persecution faced by all those subjects involved in the strange design of other ways of living during the democratic return in Buenos Aires. It was composed of unsatisfied gay activists, anarchist magazine editors, melancholic leftists disappointed by their parties and a prolific series of street graphic action groups, young punks, heavy metal fans, underground performers and several killjoy feminists organized against the police edicts. As a political space, it was strongly nourished by its constitutive differences, and it was from here they designed a particular way of doing defined by a deep criticism towards the traditional modes of political action. Thus, they prioritized protest under affective registers that operationalized the force of ridicule, the unraveling of pleasures and the loss of meaning as an experience of critical subjectivation in public space.

Through a series of meetings that took place in a cultural space related to the Humanist Party, these groups gathered to discuss how they could intervene in the current climate against the Divorce Law, which was once again marked by the violence of the police and the media pressure the religious discourse, giving shape to the initiative of La Marcha Pagana: a rally convened for August 15, 1986, at Plaza Congreso in the city of Buenos Aires. The principal vector for the organization of the experience would be the demand for the urgent separation of Church and State, but it would be different from other proposals because it celebrated the exercise of absolute freedom to achieve it as its absolute horizon. Through flyers filled with precarious drawings made to the rhythms of a raunchy camp (Cuello y Lemus, 2016), a type of hypersexual representation that juxtaposed the poetic density of punk graphics, the use of pornographic images and a vast universe of blasphemous signs, its protagonists cheerfully called for the occupation of public space wrapped in ragged costumes of nuns, priests and altar boys, aiming to blind the military gaze with the gender-fluid extravagance of a multitude of bodies drunk on shiny cheap gemstones, but also with the smelly mohawk of angry punks and the artisanal vests full of rusty chains from young metal fans who sought to undermine the social call to normality.

 

The rally landscape was completed by an uncontrolled abundance of posters that denounced the Church’s complicity with State terrorism, rejecting the forthcoming visit of Pope John Paul II, while also mocking the local clergy with a strongly sarcastic tone. A series of banners attempted to disrupt the transparency of these explicit demands by introducing onomatopoeias (Oh, Uh!, Ahh!) on a large scale that graphically reproduced a confusing mix of roars of awe and pleasure. Meanwhile, two precarious puppets of big dimensions functioned as escorts of the ridiculousness during the time the concentration lasted, until their protagonists were brutally repressed. From the liveliness of their irreverent expression, both home-made artifacts activated a pagan force imbricated with anti-repressive desires, in a coven that linked the inorganic agency of those uncontrollable subjectivities that aspired not only to the recovery of the night but also to interrupt the fictitious promise of citizenship that had inaugurated the return of democracy, altering the rhythm of the common through sexual misconduct.

 

In addition to being thought of as the affective source of a platform of disidentificatory political agency, these collective feelings of disappointment can be considered as an impulse that rejects the desire to repair the social relations that this particular group of marginalized youth felt broken (Berlant and Edelman, 2014) in the face of the ongoing repressive sexual morality that inherited its foundations from the military dictatorship, exposing the resounding failure of the democratic promise concerning individual freedoms and their inclusive aspiration. This was a kind of methodical disenchantment with the power in place, which forged emotional platforms of structural antagonism, centered its force of transgression upon bodily freedom as an anti-normative principle; a political presence that strategically intended to resist the alchemical processes of pacific reworking of its distress, turning it into a mode of disengagement (Berlant, 2006), a protest register where such negativity is considered as a language of suspension, that is to say, a strategy capable of blocking the industrialised incorporation of numb subjectivities to the cruel promise of the current social agreement of neoliberalism and its conditions of uncritical reproducibility, opening up imaginative paths for other forms of life.

  • Ahmed, Sara. 2010. The promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Berlant, Lauren. 2006. Cruel Optimism. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 17(3): 20-36. https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2006-009.
  • Berlant, Lauren. 2006. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Berlant, Lauren y Edelman, Lee. 2014. Sex, or the Unbearable. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Sandoval, Chela. 2000. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: University of Minnessota Press.
  • Smail, David. 1993. The origins of unhappiness. A new understanding of personal distress, London: Karnac Books.
  • Cuello, N. y Lemus, F. 2016. “De cómo ser una verdadera loca”. Grupo de Acción Gay y revista Sodoma  como  geografías ficcionales de  la  utopía  marica. Badebec, 6 (11), 250-275.
  • Reano, A. y Smola, J. 2015. 30 años de democracia. Debates sobre los sentidos de la política en la transición argentina. Revista del Centro de Estudios Avanzados , 29, 35 - 51.
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