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Notes Towards Day 22: "Feminism Unbound"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

* sign-in sheet

* Beyond Consent: How Reclaiming Sexuality Combats Sexual Violence:
A Conversation with Jaclyn Friedman, in Stokes Auditorium @ HC,
7:30-9:30 on Friday

* Sunday night you have a short posting due, reflecting on this week's discussions

* for Tuesday, please read Chapter 2, “Violence, Mourning, Politics,” from Judith
Butler's 2004 book, Precarious Life (you can hear already, from the title, that this
will pick up and play some variations on the themes of "Revolution, Mourning, Politics"
from the Wendy Brown essay we'll be discussing today)

II. last Thursday, we had a very lively conversation
about bell hooks' claim that Feminism is for Everybody;
on Tuesday, we had a much more halting/measured
discussion of the work of Doris Sommer and Wendy Brown:
not surprising--because they pay so much attention to the nuances of rhetoric,
and caution us against the paired illusions that we can clearly speak
and truly understand--no wonder we stumbled, and went more slow.

I tried (w/ mixed results) to pose their positions against that of Audre Lorde, who says,
in "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action," that she has
"come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken,
made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.
That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect....Your silence will not protect you...
visibility renders us vulnerable...we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles,
and we will still be no less afraid...we rob ourselves of ourselves and each other...."

In sharp contrast, both Brown and Sommer actually advocate
choosing silence, as a "safeguard to freedom."
From Brown's perspective, this is a way to preserve
ourselves from the regulatory power of public exposure;
if we don't speak, our words can't be used in ways we don't intend/don't want;
I called this a fear-based argument, in contrast to Sommer's, which seems
grounded instead in psychological and cultural complexity:
she argues that we should "acknowledge the existence of difference,
and give up any illusions we may have of complete or stable knowledge."

It's not just, as Brown argues, that we should knowingly
protect ourselves from others' (mis)use of our words,
but rather, Sommers says, that we should be more humble, and
acknowledge that we canNOT know others who differ from ourselves.
How much we can actually know ourselves--
how much we differ from ourselves--she leaves unclear.

I enjoyed our discussion about such silences might look like, politically...
how they are-or-might be enacted (for example) in SGA. Several of you
have kept on thinking about these questions on the forum: iskierka, Fdaniel
and EmmaBE had very different answers to the questions of the right
to silence and the obligation to speak. I had also promised you
that we would loop back to the question of what such
understandings of "difference feminism" have to do with Tuesday's key phrase:
"power feminism." So, turn to your neighbor, and discuss for a few minutes:

how do you now understand the relation between Tuesday and Thursday's topics:
the "power feminism" that bell hooks condemns (because it keeps inequity in place), and
the "difference feminism" that Doris Sommer celebrates, because it recognizes that
inequity exists, that "sympathy is not bilateral in an asymmetrical world"?

Anything to report back from these conversations?
We are actually going on w/ this question...

III. discussing "Feminism Unbound: Revolution, Mourning, Politics,"
which basically sets up this contrast, between a simpler and a more complexified
understanding of the world, between a time (the 60s!) when power was "out there,"
and could be attacked, and the contemporary/postmodern recognition that conditions
of injustice and oppression are not outside us, not distinct, objectifiable, graspable
--or easily changeable.

In this essay, Wendy Brown asks what feminism looks/acts like "after sex and gender,"
after the categories have been problematized, after we've realized that "woman" is unstable.
If the "what" and the "we" of feminism are undecided,
she says, the work of feminism is "unbound"
(this is the title of this last section of our course).
If the simplicity of belief in revolution is lost,
if we give up our nostaliga for the "big bang theory of social change"
...what happens? What's left for feminists to do....?

One thing she talks about is a shift to "a new temporality,"
a future "unmoored from parts of the past,
thus puncturing conceits of linearity with a different way of living time."
But that's what caught my attention; other things will have caught yours.

So: let's go around and read what stands out for us,
what has "life" in this project about mourning and loss....

We're going to "unpack" this essay using an "oral inquiry strategy"
we've used once before; it's known as "text rendering," and is
a strategy for reading closely to see what's going on.

Take a few minutes to look through Brown's essay.
Underline a sentence, box a phrase, circle word.
then write a word of your own, summing up a key idea/your reaction to it.

Now we'll do a "read around," four times,
reading on the first round just the sentences you've highlighted
(including all repetitions--so listen for these);
then, on the second round, her phrases,
on the third, her words;
on the fourth, our own.

You'll remember, from doing this before, that
we are making a poem
, distilling what's diffuse,
so here are the rules of this:
short pauses between each offering, and no comments.
Also: LISTEN FOR THE THEMES you are hearing,
and jot them down (this of course will give us
material for the next step in our conversation!).

What did we hear? Where were the repetitions?
What were the patterns and main themes?

Digging into this/our relation to it:
write out a quote that (for whatever reason)
you found striking, and pass it to me....

[Barometer:] Please stand in a single line.
I will read a sentences you've selected from Brown's essay.
If you agree w/ the statement, please move towards the stairs;
if you disagree, please move towards the blackboard.
Please explain yourself.
If hearing these explanations affects your position,
please re-locate your body accordingly.

Anne's Reading Notes

"in mourning, one discovers horizons, banisters, firmaments, and foundations of life so taken for granted that they were mostly unknown until they were shaken. A mourning being also learns a new temporality...the future is unmoored from parts of the past, thus puncturing conceits of linearity with a different way of living time. In mourning, too, the solidity of the subject falters" (p. 100).

"Revolution...appears today both anachronistic and unprecedentedly dangerous. Anachronistic because political, economic, and social powers are dispersed, and thus the reins of society cannot be grasped....Unprecedentedly dangerous because....all visions of the Good now appear to consort with fundamentalism...regimes of truth are inevitably totalitarian" (p. 101).

"the conceit of social contract theory [was that] human beings could consciously and deliberately fashion their world...this was the formula that poststructuralist insight discredited in relocating power to the inside of those ostensibly emancipatory forces" (p. 103).

"...if modernity was always only a promise, then... modernity's achievement was this promise. When the promise dies, it takes...our sense of futurity...the nihilism...of 'the postmodern' is...a draining of the future from present meaning, a loss of redemption...Mourning revolution is thus mourning....rightful expectation, a temporality we do not yet know how to live without" (pp. 103-104).

"Feminist revolution...carried the promise of remaking gender and sexuality...a radical reconfiguraiton of kindship, sexuality, desire, psyche, and the relation of private to public...the feminist amibition to eliminate gender as the site of subordination could technically be met within a capitalist life form....Capitalism does not require gender subordination" (pp. 105-106).

[In the sixties,] "a radical protest of the status quo was lived out in a highly charged subculture that was as libidinally compelling as a group experience can be, a revolutionary erotics that paradoxically bound its participants precisely by inciting challenges to all conventional bonds--those containing intellectual work within the academy, those restricting love and sex to the family, and above all, those separating eros, politics, ideas, and everyday existence from one another" (p. 108).

"What suspicion about the naturalness of gender subordination persists when femnism addreses only the wrongs done to women but not the socially produced capacity for women to be wronged, to be victims?...if the problem is always one of how women are treated by power...if we cannot figure a world in which we imagine...release from the identity that has been the site of our injury?  Feminism without revolution means giving up on seizing the conditions through which gender is made, and it is the illusion...that the conditions are distinct, objectifiable, and could be taken in hand--that we have necessarily abandoned" (p. 109).

"poststructuralism....illuminates the impossibility of seizing the coniditons making gender as well as the impossibility of escaping its challenge to the line drawn in the revolutionary paradigm between 'conditions' and 'effects,' it underminded the possibility of objectifying those conditions and of conceiving agents who could stand outside them to transform them....poststructuralist feminism's appreciation of the psychic coordinates and repetitions constitutive of gender locates much of its production in social norms and deep processes of identifications and repudiations only intermittently knowable to its subjects, even less often graspable, and thus unsuited to a paradigm of transformation premised upon seizing and eliminating the conditions producing and reproducing gender...conditions that are no longer posited as outside of its subjects...are not ours to mastermind but at best only to resist or negotiate" (p. 111).

"the powers constituting and regulating [gender] cannot be seized and inverted or abolished" (p. 112).

"the impulse to blame and complain tends to displace any impulse to develop strategies for the assumption of power; it necessarily entrenches rather than repairs from the conidition it bemoans. Its very crankiness is a recognizable symptom of mourning" (p. 113).

"Revolution was always finest in its opening of possibility....By contrast, the lowest point in revolution was usually its furious will to power distilled into fundamentalism....each [regime] contains critique, delimits what is thinkable, sayable, and doable, erects its truths as deities. Every revolution...arrives with ferocious certainty...this surety precisely reverses the psirit of upturning and opening toward an uncertain future....How, then, to cultivate the fecundity of revolutionary opening without the revolutionary push toward the knowable and the controllable... so that the impulse remains incitational of thought and possibility....A radical democratic critique and utopian imaginary that has no certainty about its prospects...." (pp. 113-114).

"feminism's investment in its own career advancement has replaced the political impulse to overthrow itself, to lose its boundaries both by becoming part of a larger order of transformative politics and by being washed away in such politics" (p. 114).

"this requires shaking off nostalgia for the big bang theory of social change....this requires a certain dwelling in that state of mourning in which a seemingly unendurable loss is also the opening of possiblity to live and think differently....being free of an object that seemed like life itself....let our objects fly?" (p. 115).