Heriberto Yépez: From 'The Empire of Neomemory'

Translated from Spanish by Jen Hofer, Christian Nager, and Brian Whitener

[Excerpted from the edition published by Chain Links in 2013]

There are Laws: Taking Down the Pantopia

“There are laws,” begins Olson’s essay “Human Universe” written in Mexico. How does one create the illusion that there are general laws? The foundation of time reduced to space is, precisely, the supposition that there exist laws that function in the same way (homogeneously) across all (heterogeneous) times. If different times are united by the same laws, then, these times are not separated and thus form a single space.

This belief is the basis of totalitarian thought, in all its forms. Television fabricates images—and society fabricates images for television—and the spectacular relations between these fragments produce the fallacy of a commonly held reality: the space of a “nation,” a “territory,” an “epoch.” The takeover of the center of Oaxaca by striking teachers, the flooding in Ciudad Juarez, and civil resistance in Mexico City, in co-existence with the war between Libya and Israel, the state of maximum alert in the United States and England—these events are represented in discourse and the news as symptoms of the same phenomenon, as events related to each other. The pantopia has penetrated deeply into our semi-consciousness and is situated at the border between the unconscious and conscious, in such a way that it permeates, in both directions, human thought. It is thus the Interzone or semi-consciousness that has become the key site in our present-day psyche. Pantopia seems so “natural” to us that doubting that its events are related and even considering that each event might obey its own laws in the space-time in which it is realized, as distinct from other space-times, can only appear a strange or at least very unusual idea.

Olson was not entirely wrong. He had come to Mexico looking for the traces of another concept of time. His error was not having been sufficiently patient to generate a personal time that would be capable of grasping Mesoamerican cultural notions of time, of not leaving behind the time of USAmerican English as he knew it. Moreover, Olson encountered an indigenous culture with an essential similarity to his own: a culture that had mutated towards a notion of imperial time. We have discussed before the ideas of time of the Maya and present-day indigenous communities in Mexico and the United States and we know that the Maya fluctuated between ancient notions of time as plural and an imperial political decision of forming a total calendar—their model of kin. The Maya were a civilization based in a single time, or a set of universal laws which ruled in the same way, macro and micro. However, the greatness of the Maya was that their notion of time captures many models of time—each one functioning in accord with its own process—under a mysterious macro mathematical and poetic model. For the Maya, kin functioned as a cycle of time that turned around itself—and that periodically changed its motor, its god—and this changing cycle functioned as a component of a larger cycle, composed of various smaller cycles, and this new cycle as a component of another larger cycle… And thus, for the ancient Maya time was a series of distinct cycles placed one inside another, concentric or centripetal times. In the Mayan chronovision, imperial notions of time—pantopic—are combined with nomadic understandings. Mayan hegemnemic Time could be defined as an enormous machine of molecular appropriation of other micro-cultural-times.

Imperial ideas transform time into space. Nomadic ideas, on the other hand, tend to understand time as a multiplicity of times. These times—tribes of monads—are autonomous from each other, each one obeying its own laws. (The notion of a single spatialized time is linked to the historical appearance of the State.) The Rarámuri, for example, developed a model based on the existence of more than one internal time, sustaining the existence of various “souls” that simultaneously co-existed within the human body. While the Huichol believe that when a pair of nomad groups meet two different times collide. This understanding of time not only functions to plumb the profound nature of the human animal but also to impede the formation of a unitary political order, a system of centralized control.

For cybermnenetics to be possible, a civilization has to choke off the nomadic notions of space-time and to institute a general calendar, a hegemonic, spatialized notion of time, “universal.” The Maya and Aztecs conserved nomadic notions of plural space-times, although in debased and manipulated forms, used to justify an Imperial centralized order, based in numerical science, just as in Oxidental empires from Greek antiquity to the United States. In the roots of these empires there exists as well nomadic notions of time as polytopic and polychronic, wherein time is represented in diverse forms, precisely, because there is not one time but rather many times, with each forming its own world.

Writing is, certainly, pantopic.

What imperial documents—from official histories to poets and mass media, from films to nightly news—do is make sequential images of distinct space-times, creating the mediatic simulation that they belong to the same visual horizon of events. The creation of the illusion of a total space-time simultaneously shared by all is a lie that builds up a social coexistence. It is this fantasy that I have called pantopia: the notion of a total space, individuated from every other space, which contains all things, all events, ordered under the same set of laws, under the same empire. This idea, of course, is the cruelest of all of them. The pantopia is absolute control: the pantopia is the inexistence of time.

In the pantopic fantasy, time does not annihilate things, allowing death to liberate the world from itself and allowing the world to be always incomplete, which should be the idea that governs us, incompleteness not Totality. Without death, beings are allowed to share, cryogenetically, the same site, forever. In the pantopia, time as individual measure, as autochronology, in which each being lives its own chaosmos, is not allowed to exist.

In the pantopia, time as death and the successive forgetting of each world have disappeared, and time as its own-law, as individual-time, not determined by the laws of another time has disappeared as well. The pantopic is the fantasy of creating a space—whose avatar can be a poetics or a global empire—from which nothing can escape.

As in the house in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, once one enters, for some unknown reason, one cannot leave. In Olson, the pantopia took the form of not a totalizing agglomeration (as in the theory of the black hole or the vortex in Pound or in the Aleph of Borges) but in the gaze. Again and again in his work, Olson speaks of a gaze that can hoard everything it falls upon. The pantopic is thought throughout his work more and more in terms of a screen.

In the present state of civilization, the pantopia is reenforced daily by television. I am not referring exclusively to the device that plays the role of pater familias, but to television in a broader sense and of which the contemporary television set is but a rudimentary precursor of coming televisions. Television makes it possible—as state legislation, monolinguism, and writing once did—for distinct space-times that do not share common laws to appear to possess one via the daily compiling and updating of images that produce the cinematographic illusion of real time and a common omni-space, amongst what are, in reality, dissimilar realities, separate-cosmos.

If images are the units of pantopia, then to undo its regime it is indispensable, before anything less, to impede the formation of images, thereby destroying spectacle. Impeding the function of empires signifies preserving languages alive and increasing the number of them, as in the passage from one language to another—in the impossibility of translation—supposedly common notions, shared images are destroyed, undone. Languages are the primordial defense against the pantopia, as each language is its own chaosmos. And if not letting go of memory produces pantopias, ergo, the cure is to forget.

[NOTE. Over he last two decades Heriberto Yépez has emerged as a new & provocative voice in Mexican letters & as a thinker about writing, art & performance, & a range of literary, philosophical and social issues.  Over that same span he has published in a wide variety of genres – fiction, poetry, essays, translation, criticism, & theory, & has proven to be a controversial literary artist & critic in Mexico, while the range of his critical interests covers both Latin American & North American issues, extending into works of experimental & political interest on both sides of the border & beyond.  His innovative writing & his critical essays have won him – at latest count – some fourteen awards in Mexico, including four national literary awards over the last decade, & he has received increasing recognition among experimental & younger writers in the United States.  With all of this in mind the distinguished Mexican critic Evodio Escalante has written that “there is no question that Heriberto Yépez is one of the most powerful literary intelligences now active in our country.”                                                                                   

The Empire of Neomemory begins as a sometimes harsh critique of Olson’s experience of Mexico but expands into what the Chain editors describe as “a breathtaking investigation of the relation between USAmerican poetry and Empire that careens idiosyncratically through the great men of empire—not just Olson, but those many other men who also traveled to Mexico, such as William Burroughs, Antonin Artaud, D. H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, and Ray Bradbury.”  Writes Yépez himself in summary: “Olson is part of the American dream, the dream of expansionism in all its variants. It is with the purpose of understanding this empire that I have written this book. Olson in and of himself does not interest me; I am interested in his character as a microanalogy for decoding the psychopoetics of Empire. Philosophy tries to comprehend reality through a discussion of abstract concepts produced by floating masculine heads (decapitalisms); in contrast, what I want to understand is the present via concrete bodies, historical microanalysis via the hunt for biosymbols. Using the text, I want to see through it to glimpse the substructure and the superstructure.”  And the Chain editors again: “This work is a dismantling of Olson, and of empire, and yet it is also clearly an inside job, a book that could only be written by someone who had spent hours thinking with and through—and beyond—Olson.” (J.R.)]