Argentina: Editorial Nudista. 2022. 120 pages.
To make someone sing: this is the drive behind Maximiliano Crespi’s Un poco demasiado: Notas sobre el chantaje del presente. The art of faire chanter, with which French jailers made their prisoners sing (chanter), forcing them to say what they would rather have kept quiet, gave us the Spanish word “chantaje,” meaning “blackmail” or “extortion” in English. In general, this term refers to pressuring someone to say or do something against their will. Here, Crespi decries and dismantles—not without anger and a certain impotence—this same operation in contemporary autofictional literature.
A certain “no one” blackmails and extorts us through a desperate plea for empathy, introducing themself initially as a “good person in pain” who writes down their most intimately gut-wrenching and painful subjective experiences with the end goal of selling them to us in a badly written book. It is as if simply representing oneself wracked with pain exempted oneself from beautiful, corrosive, or sarcastic political writing, with a narcissistic stance that sucks any and all politics out of current literature. But what makes this trend all the more dangerous is that it subverts literature itself, mistaking it for a therapeutic space; it generates, in fact, a collective therapy centered on the victimization of the self-exploitative subject put forward as “the sufferer,” who also writes (badly). Why should we take part in a confessional act that demands empathy for another’s pain? Only in appeal to moral duty, having traversed the intimate scenery of very poor rhetoric: I must be moved. Neither the deepest pain nor the vilest suffering are enough to turn someone into a good person, much less a good writer.
In this sense, Crespi’s text suggests at least two things: first, a propaedeutic methodology of literary writing, and second, a set of guidelines that lay out a work ethic for the contemporary writer. One concerns writing as a system, as a technology of the literary industry; the other concerns the steps of care that are to be taken with a given writer’s contemporary subjectivity. Crespi gives us the broad strokes that will allow us to ponder in greater detail the stark edges of an emerging subjectivity, one that feels the irrepressible impulse to be anonymous no longer and prefers to stand out with an “I suffered more and worse,” a desperate pursuit of literary acceptance so miserable that it leaves its writers entirely impotent before their own writing—which is to say, before their own existence. Crespi suggests that, in this redemption, such narcissistic existences enter into play through the autofiction of the self-exploited contemporary subject. Foucault observed the risks of this confessional obligation in Technologies of the Self, warning us—and underscoring Marx—of this alienation at the hands of the priest or the analyst. Autofiction now allows for the avoidance of both these types, and for their replacement with the enunciation of a self that intimately exploits itself as merchandise: now we can all be the Nietzsche of Ecce Homo.
“ETHICS AND POLITICS: THE TEXT BOUNCES BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THESE BUMPERS, PRODUCING THE LITTLE BURSTS OF MEANING THAT ALLOW FOR FRAGMENTARY WRITING”
If we scratch the surface of such writing, what literature is left? What does it contribute to the corrosivity, the dismantling, the dissolution of literary politics (canon, structures, language, etc.)? Nothing whatsoever. Just a sampling of the human miseries not fended off by psychoanalysis, unreflected-upon and unelaborated, enlisted in a text that forms an existential formula under the autofictional imperative: I suffered (more) and that enables me to perceive myself as a writer. What’s more, I have the moral obligation to demand the reader’s empathy for my pain—as poorly as I might represent it, in literary terms—because my staggering arrogance allows me to give existential advice to empathetic readers, but not to critics. Where do literary imagination and the political function of literature end up? This might be the question Crespi asks of us readers with little empathy for the pain of others. The answer: in their narcissism, these sensitive souls that see fit to confess their inner darknesses or their banal pedagogies of Goodness have banished them; I write this so that what happened to me will never happen to anyone else, expropriating and tearing myself apart as I represent, confess, and decry my most torturous trials and tribulations; I immolate myself before you in this banal, empty writing because I am morally superior. At any rate, no reader will reach the depths of feeling of the one auto-fictioned, the writer themself. By pushing the complacency that hurt me to the outside, I make space for happiness to come in; the vain promise of a neoliberalism that wrings said writer out and makes them believe in their authority as an author, exacerbating the loss of the very paper that is so dear to the publishing industry.
Ethics and politics: the text bounces back and forth between these bumpers, producing the little bursts of meaning that allow for fragmentary writing. The fragment permits and favors not a single suture, but rather the interweaving of every brief, pointed reflection. This book demands to be read with the care and attention of one who might poke their eye or slam their finger with every turn of the page. I read it during my vacation time, thus maintaining ample ocular and digital caution. It is not a book for restful time off; it is a book for the task of urban questioning, to elaborate Crespi’s proposal of a “speculative philology” yet to come. But this is just half the task of solving the problem of autofiction: the rest falls to those who thus write and organize the emerging world of literature from the impotence of self-representation.