Introduction: On the Accumulation of Bodies

Almost a decade ago, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez published Los migrantes que no importan, first in Spain and then in Mexico, recounting his journeys with Central American migrants as they traveled through Mexico to the US border. It remains one of the most gripping accounts of recent migration to the United States and of the kidnappings, cartel killings, and sexual violence that migrants experienced in Mexico. In the afterword to the book’s English translation in 2014, Martínez considered the response he anticipated from a new readership. In Mexico, he had hoped that the book would “incite rage”—a more productive affective stance than compassion, “a passing sentiment, a feeling too easy to forget.” But the feeling he sought to instill for readers in the United States was respect: for the people who made the difficult journey and “respect for this drive that migrants have, a drive which is stronger than the criminal cartels…and a drive more vital than any limb—a leg, for example—of our very body” (274). Martínez acknowledged the vulnerability of migrant bodies to the trafficking, feminicide, and contract murder associated with the “dark, forgotten and depraved corners of Mexico,” but he remained faithful to the desires migrants themselves expressed to overcome violent obstacles to reaching the United States.

What might readers take away from the new English translation of Sayak Valencia’s Capitalismo gore, which generally views that violence as inescapable? The contributors to this forum offer a range of initial responses, attentive to the aesthetic, ethical, and activist landscapes of a border environment in which violence is a value-producing endeavor. First published in Spain in 2010, then in Mexico in 2016, and then in the United States in 2018, Valencia’s book voices a critique of neoliberalism derived from her witnessing the spectacularization and commercialization of violence in and around Tijuana, where she is a professor of cultural studies at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte. If today such critiques of neoliberalism are widespread—as is the damage that neoliberalism has done—it is worth appreciating the radicalism of Valencia’s intervention when it first appeared, drawing from media studies and queer and feminist scholarship to theorize the relationships between bodily, representational, state, and narco violence.

Valencia gives the name gore capitalism to the explicit and conspicuous violence that constitutes the main products and services of the border economy. It’s a consequence of neoliberalism but is not fully contained by it; it wholly adheres to capitalist logics but extends to illegal activities and a global criminal class that makes death the most profitable business around and makes Tijuana its capital. Neoliberal crises produced in the Third World (a term that Valencia strategically embraces) by the Global North have expanded precarity and limited legal avenues for earning wages. In making violence a tool of production, gore capitalism reformulates the very concept of work and draws a wide range of Mexicans into the brutal and hyperspecialized economy of bloodshed, with opportunities for entrepreneurship and social mobility. A New Mafia manages these necropolitical practices, usurping state prerogatives “to seize, preserve, and capitalize on the power to inflict death” (213). As Valencia puts it, “the only kind of accumulation possible now is through a body count” (21).

Central to Valencia’s analysis is the endriago subject of gore capitalism: the individual who uses “necroempowerment” to acquire capital. Caught in a dialectical bind with the Global North hyperconsumer, the endriago finds in organized crime a way out of poverty, a way to affirm his masculinity, and a way to justify violence. Contrast Óscar Martínez’s emphasis on respecting migrant subjects to Valencia’s caution against clear critical assessment: “the endriago is not a hero; neither is he a resistant subject, nor does he attempt to be resistant. Rather, endriagos are businessmen who apply and synthesize the most aberrant neoliberal demands and logics” (215). She asks whether a moralistic approach is even possible for “phenomena that first shatter and then remake the postulates of humanism that were meaningful to a society structured by the discourse of the welfare state” (76). In this sense, endriago subjectivity needs and generates a dense network of ethical claims and aesthetic productions—in other words, the cultural logic of gore capitalism. Valencia names the phenomenon, of course, after a film genre. Popular media confer legitimacy on cartels and profit from circulating gory images that instill fear. Violence becomes decorative.

For three of the forum’s authors, aesthetic questions take priority. Laura Gutiérrez considers the cross-border reach of gore capitalism through a performance in Los Angeles; Iván Ramos, a Tijuanense like Valencia, reflects on what connects gore as a genre and a lived reality; and Alex Pittman identifies a genealogy of gore representation in the United States that reaches back to the nineteenth-century plantation clinic.

The other three contributors chronicle the life history of Valencia’s ideas both in Mexico and beyond. Dawn Paley, who has written about the business and finance of Latin America’s “drug wars,” assesses gore capitalism’s corporeal politics from the perspective of her work with Grupo Vida, a group that searches for the human remains of disappeared relatives in one of Mexico’s northern states. Hector Parra recalls his initial encounters with Capitalismo gore in Spain and Mexico and locates the trajectory of gore’s path—and possible escape routes—on a larger Latin American map. And Abeyamí Ortega finds in the book an exercise in decolonial, transfeminist border thinking that is all too necessary today.

Valencia herself responds to these contributors with a keen sense of how gore capitalism and Gore Capitalism operate today and gestures to her current thinking about postmortem/transmortem politics. She explains in her book that “gore practices horrify us because they are closer and closer to us and we have not been taught how to think about them, and even less so how to confront them” (235). A new “us,” summoned in translation, may indeed notice gore capitalism on the march, in places where Valencia might not have imagined when she first theorized it nearly a decade ago. Gore Capitalism and the contributors gathered in this forum linger on practices that seem unthinkable and unwatchable, and still demanding of our attention.

 

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David Sartorius

David Sartorius is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland and the co-editor of Social Text.