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Afterword: Spread It Around!
c l a u d i o l o m n i t z
In Jewish tradition, what the authors of this book call cultural agency is a
godly attribute: ‘‘Blessed is He whose words are acts.’’ This description of
God implies, by default at least, that most people do not do as they say, that
their acts fall short of their stated intentions, or, at the very least, that people
talk a lot before acting. These very human attributes are acknowledged in
another well-known saying: ‘‘Man thinks, God laughs’’ (or, to put it in a more
contemporary way, ‘‘People think, God laughs’’). Puzzled, baΔed, stumped,
scheming, wily, interpretive, reflexive: these are human states. Perhaps some
of the authors of this book would echo Nietzsche and call them ‘‘all too
human,’’ but let us refrain from doing so at this time and simply note that
the Judeo-Christian tradition elevates ‘‘cultural agency’’ above these human
qualities.
And yet we know with some precision, from reading J. L. Austin and
others since, that performative statements, statements that ‘‘do things with
words,’’ are a kind of enunciation next to various other sorts of propositions
and tropes: Say ‘‘I do’’ at the right time and place and, by golly, you’re
married! Respond, instead, to the question ‘‘What do you think about mar-
riage?’’ and no amount of moaning will grant you a divorce.∞
In other words,
there are contexts for cultural agency, and contexts for reflection, rumina-
tion, cultivation, and inconsequential expression. This book reflects on cul-
tural agency in the Americas, so I will focus these brief remarks on a few
general aspects of that context.
In Latin America there is a longstanding tendency to sublimate cultural
agency as the only true and acceptable form of intellectual production. Mis-
sionary practice runs deep there, and so does revolution. As a consequence,
Latin American intellectuals generally seem to agree that the object of cul-
tural production is not to understand the world, but to change it. The
intellectual is thus a kind of visionary or healer. A most impressive and
perfected example of the magic of Latin American cultural agency is Paulo
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