Event presented by the Women’s Center for Creative Work at Human Resources on October 7, 2015
Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory proposes that sick bodies are the 21st century’s sites of resistance: chronic, pathologized, and historically feminized illnesses ought to be read as modes of protest against the unlivable conditions of neoliberal, imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist cis-hetero-patriarchy. Sick Woman Theory insists that the definition of “wellness” is a capitalist one — to be well enough to go work — that needs to be rejected. SWT redefines the body with its vulnerability as the default, so therefore, we are constantly (not only sometimes) in need of care and support. Because society has eradicated such infrastructures, what are we going to do now?
From here, Hedva (herself a spoonie) has wound up at mystical anarchism, which proposes a communal politics of love, where the “self” has been obliterated in favor of the Many. This talk will try to converge the feminist mystical tradition of Marguerite Porete, Simone Weil, etc., who proposed rejecting the body for the sake of love, with an intersectional-feminist, anti-white-supremacist, queer, and crip politics, which foregrounds the body as primary matter.
A question for the audience: Are these two positions irreconcilable?
Johanna Hedva is currently a Research Fellow with “at land’s edge,” under the mentorship of Fred Moten.
Laboria Cuboniks (b. 2014) is a xenofeminist collective, spread across five countries and three continents. She seeks to dismantle gender, destroy ‘the family,’ and do away with nature as a guarantor for inegalitarian political positions. Her name is an anagram of ‘Nicolas Bourbaki’, a pseudonym under which a group of largely French mathematicians worked towards an affirmation of abstraction, generality and rigour in mathematics in the early twentieth century. Read an interview HERE.
0x00 Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity. XF constructs a feminism adapted to these realities: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.
0x01 XF seizes alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds. We are all alienated — but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of
immediacy. Freedom is not a given — and it’s certainly not given by anything ‘natural’. The construction of freedom involves not less but more alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction. Nothing should be accepted as fixed, permanent, or ‘given’ — neither material conditions nor social forms. XF mutates, navigates and probes every horizon.
Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer us — the queer and trans among us, the differently-abled, as well as those who have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy or duties connected to child-rearing. XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism reeks of theology — the sooner it is exorcised, the better.
0x02 Why is there so little explicit, organized effort to repurpose technologies for progressive gender political ends? XF seeks to strategically deploy existing technologies to re-engineer the world. Serious risks are built into these tools; they are prone to imbalance, abuse, and exploitation of the weak. Rather than pretending to risk nothing, XF advocates the necessary assembly of techno-political interfaces responsive to these risks. Technology isn’t inherently progressive. Its uses are fused with culture in a positive feedback loop that makes linear sequencing, prediction, and absolute caution impossible. Technoscientific innovation must be linked to a collective theoretical and political thinking in which women, queers, and the gender non-conforming play an unparalleled role.
0x03 The real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealized. Fed by the market, its rapid growth is offset by bloat, and elegant innovation is surrendered to the buyer, whose stagnant world it decorates. Beyond the noisy clutter of commodified cruft, the ultimate task lies in engineering technologies to combat unequal access to reproductive and pharmacological tools, environmental cataclysm, economic instability, as well as dangerous forms of unpaid/underpaid labour. Gender inequality still characterizes the fields in which our technologies are conceived, built, and legislated for,
while female workers in electronics (to name just one industry) perform some of the worst paid, monotonous and debilitating labour. Such injustice demands structural, machinic and ideological correction.
0x04 Xenofeminism is a rationalism. To claim that reason or rationality is ‘by nature’ a patriarchal enterprise is to concede defeat. It is true that the canonical ‘history of thought’ is dominated by men, and it is male hands we see throttling existing institutions of science and technology. But this is precisely why feminism must be a rationalism — because of this miserable
imbalance, and not despite it. There is no ‘feminine’ rationality, nor is there a ‘masculine’ one. Science is not an expression but a suspension of gender. If today it is dominated by masculine egos, then it is at odds with itself — and this contradiction can be leveraged. Reason, like information, wants to be free, and patriarchy cannot give it freedom. Rationalism must
itself be a feminism. XF marks the point where these claims intersect in a two-way dependency. It names reason as an engine of feminist emancipation, and declares the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.
0x05 The excess of modesty in feminist agendas of recent decades is not proportionate to the monstrous complexity of our reality, a reality crosshatched with fibre-optic cables, radio and microwaves, oil and gas pipelines, aerial and shipping routes, and the unrelenting, simultaneous execution of millions of communication protocols with every passing millisecond. Systematic thinking and structural analysis have largely fallen by the wayside in favour of admirable, but insufficient struggles, bound to fixed localities and fragmented insurrections. Whilst capitalism is understood as a complex and ever-expanding totality, many would-be emancipatory anti-capitalist projects remain profoundly fearful of transitioning to the universal, resisting big-picture speculative politics by condemning them as necessarily oppressive vectors. Such a false guarantee treats universals as absolute, generating a debilitating disjuncture between the thing we seek to depose and the strategies we advance to depose it.
0x06 Global complexity opens us to urgent cognitive and ethical demands. These are Promethean responsibilities that cannot pass unaddressed. Much of twenty-first century feminism — from the remnants of postmodern identity politics to large swathes of contemporary ecofeminism — struggles to adequately address these challenges in a manner capable of producing substantial and enduring change. Xenofeminism endeavours to face up to these obligations as collective agents capable of transitioning between multiple levels of political, material and conceptual organization.
0x07 We are adamantly synthetic, unsatisfied by analysis alone. XF urges constructive oscillation between description and prescription to mobilize the recursive potential of contemporary technologies upon gender, sexuality and disparities of power. Given that there are a range of gendered challenges specifically relating to life in a digital age — from sexual
harassment via social media, to doxxing, privacy, and the protection of online images — the situation requires a feminism at ease with computation. Today, it is imperative that we develop an ideological infrastructure that both supports and facilitates feminist interventions within connective, networked elements of the contemporary world. Xenofeminism is about more than digital self-defence and freedom from patriarchal networks. We want to cultivate the exercise of positive freedom — freedom-to rather than simply freedom-from — and urge feminists to equip themselves with the skills to
redeploy existing technologies and invent novel cognitive and material tools in the service of common ends.
0x08 The radical opportunities afforded by developing (and alienating) forms of technological mediation should no longer be put to use in the exclusive interests of capital, which, by design, only benefits the few. There are incessantly proliferating tools to be annexed, and although no one can claim their comprehensive accessibility, digital tools have never been more widely available or more sensitive to appropriation than they are today. This is not an elision of the fact that a large amount of the world’s poor is adversely affected by the expanding technological industry (from factory workers labouring under abominable conditions to the Ghanaian villages that have become a repository for the e-waste of the global powers) but an explicit acknowledgement of these conditions as a target for elimination. Just as the invention of the stock market was also the invention of the crash, Xenofeminism knows that technological innovation must equally
anticipate its systemic condition responsively.
0x09 XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors. Illusion, as the blind presumption that the weak can prevail over the strong with no strategic coordination, leads to unfulfilled promises and unmarshalled drives. This is a politics that, in wanting so much, ends up building so little. Without the labour of large-scale, collective social organisation, declaring one’s desire for global change is nothing more than wishful thinking. On the other hand, melancholy — so endemic to the left — teaches us that emancipation is an extinct species to be wept over and that blips of negation are the best we can hope for. At its worst, such an attitude generates nothing but political lassitude, and at its best, installs an atmosphere of pervasive despair which too often degenerates into factionalism and petty moralizing. The malady of melancholia only compounds political inertia, and — under the guise of being realistic — relinquishes all hope of calibrating the world otherwise. It is against such maladies that XF innoculates.
0x0A We take politics that exclusively valorize the local in the guise of subverting currents of global abstraction, to be insufficient. To secede from or disavow capitalist machinery will not make it disappear. Likewise, suggestions to pull the lever on the emergency brake of embedded velocities, the call to slow down and scale back, is a possibility available only to the few — a violent particularity of exclusivity — ultimately entailing catastrophe for the many. Refusing to think beyond the microcommunity, to foster connections between fractured insurgencies, to consider how emancipatory tactics can be scaled up for universal implementation, is to remain satisfied with temporary and defensive gestures. XF is an affirmative
creature on the offensive, fiercely insisting on the possibility of large-scale social change for all of our alien kin.
0x0B A sense of the world’s volatility and artificiality seems to have faded from contemporary queer and feminist politics, in favour of a plural but static constellation of gender identities, in whose bleak light equations of the good and the natural are stubbornly restored. While having (perhaps) admirably expanded thresholds of ‘tolerance’, too often we are told to seek
solace in unfreedom, staking claims on being ‘born’ this way, as if offering an excuse with nature’s blessing. All the while, the heteronormative centre chugs on. XF challenges this centrifugal referent, knowing full well that sex and gender are exemplary of the fulcrum between norm and fact, between freedom and compulsion. To tilt the fulcrum in the direction of nature is a defensive concession at best, and a retreat from what makes trans and queer politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom against an order that seemed immutable. Like every myth of the given, a
stable foundation is fabulated for a real world of chaos, violence, and doubt. The ‘given’ is sequestered into the private realm as a certainty, whilst retreating on fronts of public consequences. When the possibility of transition became real and known, the tomb under Nature’s shrine cracked, and new histories — bristling with futures — escaped the old order of ‘sex’.
The disciplinary grid of gender is in no small part an attempt to mend that shattered foundation, and tame the lives that escaped it. The time has now come to tear down this shrine entirely, and not bow down before it in a piteous apology for what little autonomy has been won.
0x0C If ‘cyberspace’ once offered the promise of escaping the strictures of essentialist identity categories, the climate of contemporary social media has swung forcefully in the other direction, and has become a theatre where these prostrations to identity are performed. With these curatorial practices come puritanical rituals of moral maintenance, and these stages are too often overrun with the disavowed pleasures of accusation, shaming, and denunciation. Valuable platforms for connection, organization, and skill-sharing become clogged with obstacles to productive debate positioned as if they are debate. These puritanical politics of shame — which fetishize oppression as if it were a blessing, and cloud the waters in moralistic frenzies — leave us cold. We want neither clean hands nor beautiful souls, neither virtue nor terror. We want superior forms of corruption.
0x0D What this shows is that the task of engineering platforms for social emancipation and organization cannot ignore the cultural and semiotic mutations these platforms afford. What requires reengineering are the memetic parasites arousing and coordinating behaviours in ways occluded by their hosts’ self-image; failing this, memes like ‘anonymity’, ‘ethics’,
‘social justice’ and ‘privilege-checking’ host social dynamisms at odds with the often-commendable intentions with which they’re taken up. The task of collective self-mastery requires a hyperstitional manipulation of desire’s puppet-strings, and deployment of semiotic operators over a terrain of highly networked cultural systems. The will will always be corrupted by the memes in which it traffics, but nothing prevents us from instrumentalizing this fact, and calibrating it in view of the ends it desires.
“What might begin as a space whose protest action aims to form humanising culture where Black disabled, trans, queer, and womxn’s bodies are safe and heard, is very quickly appropriated by the anti-blackness of up high – a force that polarises the complexity of oppression and attempts to direct and contain action into the physically violent (inherently colonialist) form that it understands best. In this sense, the state functions to direct the protest politik into the Afropessimistic voice, one that we know disinherits those who do not immediately come to mind when we say the word “black” (ie: black disabled, trans, queer, and womxn’s bodies) and one that abandons the pursuit of humanity, in favour of unhealthy martyrdom and recklessness.
“So apart from the predictability of state-sanctioned physical violence in the form of stun grenades, teargas, rubber bullets, arrest and jail time, it is important to understand this state provocation as incredibly strategic in the way it seeks to awaken retaliation in the same form. It begs us for physical retaliation – the kind that re-confirms black people as bodies, the kind that forces the “you can’t kill us all” mantra – basically the kind of protest that black able-bodied cis-heterosexual men happen to be good at leading and controlling, the kind that does not challenge structural power, but fulfils the fantasy of Fanon’s black man in replacing his white master.”