Absent text

In recent months I have refused to write. I am not avoiding writing itself, rather written dissertations on ideas of a critical nature, or that state an argument. I am avoiding the doubts that arise each time I confront a text—the premise, how to organize it, when to split a paragraph, the style, grammar, syntax. A weighty, resounding certainty prevails: I have nothing to say.

Reformulating: I have nothing to say within certain parameters of what is considered ‘writing about art’, which ranges broadly from academic articles, art criticism, and occasional posts on social media and tweets (strategic or spontaneous) that create a new kind of public presence halfway between opinion leader, influencer, and digital citizen (whatever that may mean). Beyond the features and peculiarities of each media and the public sphere they create, I am faced with a terrain I find hard to understand.

Is more being written? Yes, but the spaces that accommodate these texts are not stable. Do we read more? I think not, although our immediate response is to repost and ‘likes’ have become another form of low intensity networking. Has writing improved? Well, in all honesty I have no idea. I think each context explains itself, and sighing over Octavio Paz right now (something I’ll never understand) is inconsistent and outright stupidity.

I understand writing as a way of adopting a position from which to watch and think, an opportunity to pose questions that make us uncomfortable, a chance to confront ideas and loose one’s balance; it is a way to take the risk, somewhat calculatedly, of falling and picking oneself back up again. I also understand it as a way of sharing an arc of astonishment or bewilderment with a known stranger.

Consequently, I find it hard to reconcile a kind of ‘textual productivity’ with the best of cognitive capitalism. On one hand is the standard imposed by the field of academic production, in which publication equates to a demonstration and index for evaluating the work. It does not matter what is written, what counts is publishing, and where. Indexed publications are used as a yardstick for the quality of ideas, rather than an opening for discussing them. Texts forge a career path, secure a position, and ensure the continuity of a job, or the opportunity of one. Writing becomes a burden, both literal and metaphorical, for a group of individuals whose economic worth lies in demonstrating their ideas have exchange value in a market characterized by intellectual property and content production. I admit I am generalizing, I am unfair, and I am omitting nuances from my assessment. Without a doubt, one is free to submit—or not—to these conditions, or decide to play along with them or against them, but at times I am under the impression the window of opportunity to escape is increasingly narrower.

On the other hand, there is another, even more worrying aspect to this productivity: Having to chase after the intellectual figure or trend in vogue. It is true that current conditions for disseminating information allow for the accelerated transmission and circulation of ideas. However, I am not referring to this, or to improved access to texts, or reduced circulation times of articles, papers, essays, critiques, hybrid proposals, and writing projects.   

What disquiets me is the pressure to go along with whatever is new, even if this means jumping from one framework of thought to another as quickly as we switch between websites. We can wake up rhizomatic, breakfast in agreement with Nancy, proclaim ourselves decolonized at midday, be feminists for dinner, and end up reconciled with Deleuze by bedtime, with a couple of intermissions along the way, one in favor of political correctness, and the other arguing about cancel culture. Texts, authors, and concepts are cited with incredible ease. Have we really read all of that, and had time to write about it as well?

Perhaps my resentment merely expresses personal inability. Demanding of myself I be at once an advocate, centered, affected, depatriarchalized, decolonized, pursuing fetishes and ghosts, deconstructed, rhizomated, queer, thinking-from-the-South, and unwhitening myself, is impossible. Nor do I want to force myself to hide my disagreement with a certain proposal just to fit in with whatever everyone says we should talk about. I am alarmed to note a sort of self-censorship around simply saying we know nothing about a certain topic, or it does not interest us, or that we disagree.

Sometimes I think I am the worst kind of reactionary, or the product of my star sign (a stubborn Taurus, obstinate, resistant to change, more earthly than intellectual), that what I class as productivity is nothing more than a very robust and healthy new context for the public discussion of ideas. Maybe. In effect, it would appear we have the chance to debate, argue, and think like never before. Certain paths toward a much more effective democracy seem to have opened up, and conditions are being established that allow for pluralistic, diverse, less vertical and hierarchical exchange relationships. However, at the same time, I have the impression this opening up is accompanied by a temporary urgency that makes said exchanges doubly superficial—that is to say, both because of the limits and conditions they are produced under, and for how much we allow ourselves to reflect, question, try to understand, or listen to others.

This is why, returning to my starting premise, I have refused to write during the past months. I have nothing to say under those conditions: I do not want to produce texts to demonstrate I think, or to earn a position; I do not want to be an opinion leader, and I cannot be bothered to invest my time defining myself as your trusted critic-influencer; I do not want to write for writing’s sake, to prove I have read things, or to follow the trends, or what is appropriate or right. I do not want to write to build texts from other people’s words, full of endless quotes picked from here and there, changing my ideas according to the circumstances. I want to write to question things, to take risks, and of course to make mistakes. Because the only thing I am sure of, if I have to say something, is that I understand nothing.

Brenda J. Caro Cocotle

Brenda J. Caro Cocotle (Xalapa, Veracruz state, 1979)

A graduate of the Spanish Language and Literature degree from the University of Veracruz, the Museums master’s degree from the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, and Doctor of Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, England. They have collaborated with various public and private institutions as an arts manager, curator, and researcher. They have also worked as a teacher, have collaborated with several specialized printed and digital magazines, and are the author of Paraguas de navegación (Mexico: IVEC, 2017), an album illustrated by Catalina Carvajal.