Thursday, January 31, 2013

Freudian Self-Analysis in Die Traumdeutung

Another older piece... written for a psychoanalysis course with Liz Kotz

            In looking at Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, I’m interested primarily in discussing his methodology of self-analysis.  Throughout the text Freud returns again to his own dreams to prove his theories.  What’s more, he feels the need to point this out to the reader, and justify this choice.[1]  No doubt, there is an element of performativity to Freud’s anxiousness, but at the same time, it seems that he felt that he came up with a new way of understanding the self.  I will look at the issue of self-analysis from two angles. The first is the way that self-analysis falls into Foucault’s notion of the confessional.  The second deals with the way that Freud uses his own dreams as a way to decode the dreams of others.

            When Freud enters into his own methodology of interpreting dreams, an analysis that emphasizes self-analysis, he quotes Delbeouf, “Every psychologist is under an obligation to confess even his own weaknesses, if he thinks that it may throw light upon some obscure problem.” (Freud 138 footnote)  Thus as Freud enters into the concept of self-analysis, the notion of confession is also introduced.  It is difficult to overemphasize the role that this concept plays into the various descriptions of Freud’s own dreams.

           The initial description of the dream of Irma can act as an excellent example of this “confessional” mode within the book.  Freud goes through his dream and breaks it down detail by detail.  Freud makes a point of emphasizing particularly embarrassing assertions within the dream.  He acknowledges within the description that the description of the dream is neither flattering to Irma, nor to his wife.  But Freud pushes himself to continue analysis.

            The dream builds up to a series of reproaches of the logic of his dream. “I was not to blame for Irma’s pains, since she herself was to blame for them by refusing to accept my solution.  I was not concerned with Irma’s pains, since they were of an organic nature and quite incurable by psychological treatment…” (Freud 152)  The text continues on within this vein.  What interests me most is the emphasis on the word ‘I’.  It once again emphasizes the nature of the subject as individuated one.  It is a subject that will go to extraordinary efforts to avoid any sort of culpability.  

           At the end of the analysis there is a cathartic moment.  The text moves from a vicious parody of his own dream logic, to a wry recognition of its ridiculousness, into a calmer examination of some of the other details of the dream.  Also at this point, Freud emphasizes the fact that the accusations that he makes of his colleague.  “It was a noteworthy fact that this material also included some disagreeable memories, which supported my friend Otto’s accusation rather than my own vindication.” (Freud 153)  Freud ends with an admission of non-full-disclosure, and in a manner that seems to suggest the need for further therapy, he suggests, “If anyone should feel tempted to express a hasty condemnation of my reticence, I would advise him to make the experiment of being franker than I am.” (Freud 154)

            But this emphasis on self-analysis has another side to it.  After all, Freud makes the point of stating that he has an endless amount of dream material to work from with his patients.  Although the act of self-analysis plays into, and expands, a certain form of the confessional, it also has other meanings.  After all, Freud by in large dismisses the empirical efforts on the part of his colleagues, and he similarly refuses that methodology, by placing his methodology within some sort of sample or representative population. 

            In looking at popular methodologies of analyzing dreams, Freud spends a significant period of time discussing the idea of the decoding method of dreaming.  “It might be called a form of described as the “decoding” method, since it treats dreams as a kind of cryptography in which each sign can be translated into another sign having a known meaning, in accordance with a fixed key.” (Freud 130)  This method can be made even more specific, a book of interpretation by Artemidorus, “takes into account not only the content of the dream, but also the character and circumstances of the dreamer.”  This system, in effect, sees a particular stable tie of the symbolic to the subject.

            Freud is arguing something quite different.  Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, symbolic material can represent quite different things for different dreamers in different circumstances.  In later descriptions of dreams, he shows how dreams are built out of a complex series of experiences, opinions, and illusions from day to day life.  The dream of the failed dinner party is the best example of that.  He even himself recognizes that, “one might be tempted to agree with the philosophers and the psychiatrists and like them, rule out the problem of dream interpretation as a purely fanciful task.” (Freud 132)

            Freud, however, anchors his concept of interpreting dreams built upon a new place of stability, the desiring subject.  The dream becomes, as Freud puts it, a way of fulfilling a wish.  It becomes the way that the desiring subject expresses their desires that are suppressed, a way of circumscribing the laws that are contained within the society and/or the subject.

           Freud uses self-analysis in order to accomplish this.  After all, if all desiring subjects use a number of different images that are tied to a complex series event in their lives, why not move to the material that is best understood in the analyst’s life.  What’s more in doing these experiments, Freud uses his own dream material as a test subject for his work for his patients.  He links his own self-analysis with the attempts of his patients to express ideas without using their critical facilities.

           Both of these elements move into a certain way of how the subject is formed, and how to form the subject.  It gives the beginnings of recognizing how certain desires are expressed in dreams, and how that repression finds it’s way even into this realm. Although, it is not as strong as it is in waking life, so it allows for the understanding of the patient in a way that conscious, self-aware side will not allow.  In making the doctor recognize these same elements in themselves, it allows for them to better understand a patient.    

[1] “No doubt I shall be met by doubt of the trustworthiness of  “self-analyses” of this kind; and I shall be told that they leave the door open to arbitrary conclusions.  In my judgement the situation is in the fact more favorable in the case of self-observation than in that of other people; at all events we may make the experiment and see how far self-analysis takes us with the interpretation of dreams.” Freud, 137.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reading J. Edgar Hoover in Woman's Home Companion, 1944

A short article written by J. Edgar Hoover for Woman’s Home Companion in January of 1944, offers a useful entrance into a conversation about the role women’s magazines played in the construction of domesticity, both for its content, and for the curious nexus of state power, commercial enterprise, and expertise contained in its intersection. Written as an ostensible warning about delinquency, the narrative contains all of the elements that would eventually make up what Betty Friedan would eventually call the ‘feminine mystique’, placing an extraordinary psychic, social, and political burden on the domestic labor of women. When one pairs this article with Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers, we find a structure of expertise that both chastises mothers for spending too much time with their children as well as not devoting enough attention to their children. Without dismissing that particular hypocrisy, Hoover’s article gestures towards a set of discursive structures of a newly expanded domesticity, one that incorporates the previously excluded new immigrants and working classes, and folds them into a expanded cross-class alliance that produces whiteness. In effect, the domestic space of the home is meant to play a central role not only in consumption, but in social reproduction of the society, providing That burden is inextricably linked to the concept of futurity contained in the child, in this case through it potential threat to security in the form of delinquency. Hoover opens his article by posing ‘juvenile delinquency’ as a threat to the nation, one that has been exacerbated by the war, but was preceded by two generations. Delinquency is cumulative and progressive, in Hoover’s description of the phenomenon.

“Girls and boys who are now mothers and fathers suffered from adult delinquency of the past. If they allow the disintegrating process to continue until they and their own children are completely isolated one from the other, it is because they have never been taught how to do otherwise. They are themselves second-and-third-generation delinquents, adults in years but not in parenthood.” (Hoover 45)

The current crisis as identified by Hoover can be understood as a generational one, a crisis produced through the sins of the past, each family passing on the blight of delinquency to the next generation. It’s not difficult to see this as an obvious precedent to the concept of the culture of poverty that would become a sort of common sense thirty years later, but more significant to this discussion are the linked concepts of development and futurity, both of which are implicit in the argument. Hoover notes that the forms of disintegration in the present are easily explainable in terms of the development process, arguing, “They are themselves second-and-third-generation delinquents, adults in years but not in parenthood.” The parents of delinquents continue to produce delinquents because of their inability to completely develop, due to their abnormal parentage. One might even go as far as to argue that they are not fully modern. The parent who fails to fulfill their role as sufficiently mature parent poses a substantial threat, one that threatens to transform the current crisis into a catastrophe of the future.

Hoover then sees the mother as the key figure in rescuing the future from this present crisis, to rescue the process of raising children from abnormality, a threat that is placed in terms that would be familiar to any reader of Lee Edelman’s recent polemic, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. The mother becomes the one who can guarantee the development of the child, guiding it into the norms of patriarchal heteronormativity, recognizing the central role of women in the reproductive labor of industrial and consumer capitalism. He notes,

“The mother who does not provide that decent place is definitely falling down on her war job. Whatever rearrangement of her own eating, sleeping and working hours is entailed, she must be ready to give her children and their friends—no matter how recent vintage the latter may be—hospitality and decency. If she fails to do this she is driving them to places of their own choosing, clandestine places, where there may be hospitality, but where decency is unknown.

If her burdens are already too heavy or her strength too frail to permit her becoming a two-shift or three shift mother, she must find some way of staggering these emergency duties among relatives, neighbors, friends. This applies to the comparatively small group of mothers who must take jobs which keep them from their homes at the hours their children most need them, and to the unfortunately larger group whose families live in such cramped quarters that both old and young are driven into the streets and into the taverns during those hours when the family wage-earners must sleep.” (Hoover 47)

Hoover immediately characterizes the work of mother as labor, indeed, as a form of labor designed to support the war. Drawing on the nationalist fervor of the time, he argues that any failure for a mother to live up to these expectations “is definitely falling down on her war job.” Drawing on a discourse of sacrifice that is best described by Lauren Berlant amongst others as key to the generic form of the domestic melodrama, he places the difficulties and hardships at the forefront of this article, emphasizing the burdens of the mother, and the exhaustion of her labors. Hoover notably recognizes a number of problems that limit mothers from taking up their proper role in the feminine mystique, notably poverty, but also physical limitations such as the health of the mother and the cramped quarters that many families live in. Hoover minimizes the genuine need for mothers to take on waged labor, but he recognizes this as well. In each of these cases, he links these needs to the threat of the tavern, with its pathological forms of sociality. Within these situations, Hoover recognizes a limitation of the nuclear family form, and advocates a solution either in extended kinship networks, neighborhood networks of friends, or in the limited governmental programs set up to provide daycare or other services.

Perhaps more significantly within this passage, the labor of the mother is defined in primarily affective, rather than productive terms. Hoover already assumes an audience of mothers who are no longer engaged in primarily agricultural labor, who live without servants, and who exist in either urban or suburban spaces. Within this context, the labor of the mother is primarily defined by the care of children, or to draw on the direct language of Hoover himself, “she must be ready to give her children and their friends—no matter how recent vintage the latter may be—hospitality and decency.” The terms ‘hospitality’ and ‘decency’ play a central role in this discourse, defining both a normal and a pathological sociability in its formation. The mother’s attentive care creates a ‘hospitality’ needed by children in a manner that also creates a sense of ‘decency.’ Presumably this indicates a fidelity with the conventions of patriarchal heteronormativity, in line with the rising consumerist, social democracy. However, the potential threat contained in neglect is far more interesting. Hoover notes that “if she fails to do this she is driving them to places of their own choosing, clandestine places, where there may be hospitality, but where decency is unknown.” What is notable here are a number of curiously structured dangers. The first danger takes the form of self-organization; children might find their own alternative spaces of ‘hospitality.’ These spaces are defined in terms of both their ‘clandestine’ nature, and their lack of ‘decency’, but the full implication of those terms is deliberately left open, gesturing towards sexual deviancy, criminality, and possibly even radical politics. Through the motif of what would become the feminine mystique, Hoover marks the family as the sole legitimate space of socialization and community, the space that would regulate the forms of sociality and protect against the various forms of ‘deviance’ discussed above. As Stephanie Coontz notes in The Way We Never Were, not only were women discouraged from entering the public sphere in the post war period, but previously acceptable homo-social spaces such as the saloon became increasingly marked as pathological.

Despite these dire warnings, Hoover ends his article on an optimistic note, stating,

“In short, the situation is far from hopeless for any mother who really wants to do a good job for her children and will give time and thought to working out a practical program for doing it. And if enough mothers do give that time and thought, the situation is far from hopeless for the nation and its youth.” (Hoover 47)

Despite the strong critique of the lack of developmental maturity and lack of parental skills on the part of parents, Hoover’s article ends on a surprisingly volunteerist basis. The vast problems of delinquency and developmental disfigurement laid out in the early part of the article wind up being easily solved through the simple enactment of a ‘practical program.’ I want to argue that, in effect, that popular women’s magazines play a significant role in filling that gap, in producing and accessible and popular version of the modes of expertise, in the form of developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, and home economics developed to reconceptualize the family in light of the radical transformations in the structures of domesticity due to both industrialization and the structures of consumerist social democracy put into place to stabilize that structure. Those transformations not only took the form of economic transformations, but also came in the form of new forms of intimacy, child-rearing, diet, manners, and forms of sociality. Within these transformations, women’s magazines become a key forum for negotiating the crisis, for producing new forms of common sense built upon the normative structures of expertise contained in their pages. Beyond that, one can think of the magazines as a pedagogical space in a double sense, both creating new forms of common sense, but also as a space that disseminates the technical and disciplinary apparatuses for the collective laboring practices occurring in the household. Instead of accepting the common sense premise referenced by Ruth Schwarz Cowan, the notion of the untrained housewife, or the primitive labor of the household as claimed by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, domestic and women’s publications gesture towards an intense training process for the domestic labor of the housewife, a set of disciplinary apparatuses that links to not only the school system, but to corporate structures as well as the informal ideological state apparatus of the home. In order to do so, I am looking into a number of publications, notably the archives of Good Housekeeping, and Better Homes and Gardens from the period of 1942-1950, in order to explore the movement from the years of the war into the initial post war period. This will supplemented by both the run of the Journal of Home Economics along the same period, and the edited collection, Women’s Magazines 1940-1960, edited by Nancy A. Walker. Together they represent a broad set of approaches to domestic publications, reflecting the diversity of publications within the genre, and can provide a basis for understanding the discursive shift in domestic structures that are developed with the post-war era.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Scalzi's Old Man's War....

(a small note before I begin, this isn't something you should read if you're planning on reading the series, because it will contain spoilers, in that case)

     When I initially started reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, I had thought it would be something that I wasn't going to write about.  I had picked up the first of the series after I had read his novel, Redshirts, and had finished it fairly quickly.  The same was true for each of its sequels.  I had really enjoyed reading the books, but hadn't thought about any particular critical questions that came out of those text, beyond the fact that they were fairly enjoyable military science fiction heavily influenced by Heinlein that avoided some of the obvious issues with sexism and racism that you find in the sub-genre.  It was only when I was in the middle of the final book, Zoe's Tale, that I realized that it had a fairly interesting implicit critique of Heinlein's text, Starship Troopers, one that works through inhabiting those generic norms in a very peculiar way.  If Heinlein's text both satirizes and embraces the sort of militaristic nationalism built on sacrifice and interchangeability, Scalzi's novels undermine it through the construction of a set of individual family relationships that escape that logic.

     The opening premise of the first novel, originally published on Scalzi's blog, Whatever, was that the military of the Colonial Union was drawn from the elderly, who could join the military if they abandoned any claim on returning to the Earth.  We already see a fairly interesting take on the world system at this point, with a division between members of the economic core being recruited to the military and members of the economic periphery being placed throughout space as colonists, although the repressive and authoritarian nature of the regime is only partially revealed.  In any case, once the recruits are brought on board, we discover that the Union has developed a level of technology that allows for the rejuvenation of the bodies of the old, transforming them into much younger individuals, who have physical capacities that go far beyond human potential.  From there, the text followed a number of tropes that are recognizable in Heinlein's text, tropes that are probably drawn from Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, exploring the process of basic training, the experience of the death of one's comrade, etc.  But the latter part of the text introduces something unexpected within this form of textual production, the return of the narrator's wife.

      The text opens with the narrator visiting his wife's grave, and entering into the military.  In effect, with the rejuvenation process, similar to Starship Troopers and All Quiet on the Western Front, the novel operates under the conventions of the bildungsroman, starting with the educational process of having a new body, and moving onto the formal education of basic training.  The army becomes a way of being reborn in such a way that you cannot return to your former life, a way of profoundly transforming the way that you conceptualize the self and collectivity in the form of the corps.  However, this notion breaks apart when the narrator, John recognizes his former wife, who is now known as Jane Sagan.  Through the following chapters, we learn that the military not only draws on the living, but uses the DNA of the dead to produce what can only be called super-super soldiers, or the special forces.  The uncanny return of this figure then breaks up the unity of the life and world of soldiers, returning the normative functions of family and marriage as a form of disruption, a break in the totalizing narrative of the story of the military.  Rather than acting as a moment of alienation, the return of this world becomes a way of imagining a life outside the corps, one that the corps uses to keep both figures involved in its world, but one that is not a part of it.

       The family life that is started in the first novel is expanded in the sequel, The Ghost Brigades, through the introduction of a daughter, who is adopted after her father is killed while attempting to destroy the military government of the Earth.  Through that process, we are also introduced to further contradictions of the Colonial Union, and the fact that it, rather than the universe, is a paranoid, ruthless, and aggressive force.  The experience of a hostile universe has been as much projection of the expansionist desires of the government, as any external reality.  Additionally, we're made aware of the incredible extent of censorship imposed upon the home planet, and even within the ranks of the corps.   The third novel, The Last Colony, shifts perspective considerably, while dealing with the same problems set up within the second.  Rather than being focused on the corps, the novel shifts to the family life of John, Jane , and Zoe, and their role as colonial functionaries.  Although the protagonists are still operating productively in the structures of the colonial union, they are no longer part of the corps, primarily because of the discoveries made by Jane.  The three are then brought into the stratagems of the Colonial Union through the establishment of a colony, meant to break the power of a new alien collective, the conclave, which was designed to create more harmonious social relations between worlds, although on the premise of excluding all species not a part of it from colonization.  The crisis then translates into the collapse of the Colonial Union, in part because of the refusal on the part of John to sacrifice his daughter.

      To break out of this partial plot summary, what interests me is the way that this very peculiar family structure, a 90 year father, a wife who had been alive for a short amount of years, and a daughter who was effectively the same age as her adopted mother, breaks up the sacrificial logic of the military.  We move from a sacrificial structure of interchangeability to one in which the act of sacrifice is unacceptable.  The cliched refusal to give up one's daughter points to a set of social relations that are not superseded by state logic.  This is not to say that this family life immediately translates into a resistance, or that it can't produce a form of compliance.  Not surprisingly, these factors also translate into a series of actions, from fighting in wars, rescues, and the simple acts of colonial administration that allow for the daily life of the regime to function, but even in those moments, we're made aware that the needs of that regime don't constitute the entirety of life's possibilities.  More significantly, the repression implicit in those structures are made clear, through the compromises that one has to make to survive, to hold onto one's family etc.  The child may be the guarantor of futurity, to use the language of Lee Edelman, but it doesn't guarantee that the future that one is fighting for is defined by the dominant social systems.

      This works in the novels because of the very strange nature of the family in question, one that doesn't break the conventions of heteronormativity, but operates in what might be called an apositional relationship to them.  What I mean by that is that it would be impossible to translate the family structure of the novels into some sort of queer relation, one that operates in transgression to norms, but through simply ignoring them selectively.  One could have productively written that novel, after all the relationship between a very old man and a woman the age of a child, or conversely the relationship between a woman who is far more physically imposing than her husband could very easily translate into a conversation about the transgression of norms.  But the text doesn't operate in that manner.  Instead, we're offered a sort of heterosexuality without heteronormativity, a conventionality without the patriarchal baggage attached.  The path to this formation is obviously not simple, given that there isn't a neutral core of heterosexuality free of these conventions.  Instead, one has to engage in the dense and complex sets of estrangement in the formal history of science fiction to understand it, beginning with Heinlein's vision of a military where women and men serve as equals to the responses to that tradition contained in feminist science fiction, which both draw on the work of Heinlein and critique it, along with anti-racist and anti-colonial science fictional projects.  In writing this, I feel that my explanation isn't adequate to what I'm trying to say.  Perhaps I will revisit at some point when I have reread the novels....  I'll end it there.

Friday, January 18, 2013

identity and capitalism

      Some of the recent conversations at the edges of the recent controversy in the UK Socialist Worker's Party have reminded me of some ongoing concerns.  A small number of posts have brought up the old question of class vs. gender, which in itself has never been a terribly productive conversation despite its commonality.  Within these conversations, a small, but distinctive group  of marxist men will begin by accusing those opposed to them of engaging in 'identity politics', demand that 'class' be put at the center of the conversation, and then proceed to defend themselves based on their authentic class position.  In effect, their rejection isn't of the concerns of identity, but in demanding that their identitarian concerns be put ahead of others.  What's ironic in this construction is that feminism in its academic and activist forms have largely rejected this identitarian tendency.  In effect, the men in the conversation project their own identitarian concerns onto the much richer and complex feminist project expressed by their feminist counterparts.  I want to take this as a point to argue that a marxist historical materialist project should reject the notion of beginning with a standpoint in identity at all, whether that be class, race, or gender, but that it should conceptualize those formations within the context of the struggle within complex structures of accumulation.  In order to make this argument, I want to look at the reasons that Kathi Weeks rejects the centrality of class analysis in her text, The Problem with Work, and then turn to the arguments made by Etienne Balibar about the formation of class in his work with Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities.

     Weeks frame her critiques of the primacy of class within a set of socialist feminist concerns, noting that it often it plays a powerful role in the erasure of a variety of structures of exploitation and domination.  She gestures towards the focus on division of labor as advocated by Iris Young.  Such an analysis would allow for the complex mapping of the modes of exploitation and domination in the workplace, and out of it.  It also recognizes the wholesale destruction of working class cultural practices that marks the 20th century in a complex and uneven manner.  But she brings up something more significant in the following passage,

     "So by at least one way of reckoning, class and work belong to different fields of analysis, and my project pursues the critical study of work instead of class analysis and antiwork politics as a substitute for class struggle.  But there is another way to approach class that does not produce such a sharp contrast with the category of work and that yields a different, and I think, more compelling approach to this territory.  The distinction between the two fields of analysis becomes rather less clear when class too is conceived in terms of a process rather than an outcome.  Process notions of class disrupt the functionalism of static mappings of class formations by attending to the practices by and relations within which they are secured, re-created, and challenged.  If class is figured as a process of becoming classed, it may be that work--including struggles over what counts as work--could be conceived as a useful lens through which to approach class; in this way. the struggle against work could be a terrain of class politics.

      But let me add one caveat: rather than conceiving class groupings and relations as the ground of antiwork politics, as that which provides its fuel and organizational form, it might be better to think of them as what might emerge from these efforts.  By this reading, class formation, or what the autonomist tradition calls class composition, is best conceived as an outcome of struggles rather than their cause.  The particular composition of the working class that might emerge from this politics of work--that is, the collectivities that might coalesce around its issues and the divisions that might develop in the interstices of antiwork struggles and in relation to postwork imaginaries--remain an open question." (Weeks 19)

      Weeks' approach to the category of class doesn't act to reject its usefulness, but reimagines it in such a way as to think of it primarily as an effect of struggles, rather than as a cause of them.  That is to say, class composition is created through the struggles that occur in response to the modes in the various laboring structures that they operate within.  That approach recognizes that class composition can only be understood in mobile terms, that is as 'processes', rather than 'static mappings.'  We might indeed draw on the Deleuzian language implicit in Weeks' formulation, and state that class composition and decomposition can be only understood within the lines of flight and apparatuses of capture that constitute the terrain of struggle.  Although Weeks doesn't spell this out, it also becomes significant that class formations are inevitably products of defeat in the worst cases, and compromise in the best cases.  They reflect the oscillation between capitulation and resistance that defines the history of class struggles.  Therefore, such historical formations must be learned from critically, precisely because any simple embrace of such formations is simultaneously an embrace of the present situation.  Instead, the recomposition of class resistance must be open-ended, and without a predetermined goal, defined by goals produced by its own struggles, rather than embracing the image of success constructed by dead struggles of the past.

      Etienne Balibar's work in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities provides a useful lens of analysis in order to understand this process within a historical perspective. He begins by noting,

      "What seems very clear, then, if one looks at the actual text of Marx's analysis, is not that there is a predetermined linking of forms, but rather an interplay of antagonistic strategies, strategies of exploitation, domination and resistance being displaced and renewed as a consequence of its own effects." (Balibar 164)

     The class form is then produced through a complex structure of social relationships, defined by exploitation and domination on one hand and resistance and solidarity on the other hand.  A shifting set of forms must be largely understood as an effect, rather than as a cause of the 'interplay of antagonistic strategies' that shape and form it.  Balibar will go on to point out that this fact means that the splits and conflicts found throughout working class history "are no accident but represent the very substance of this relationship."  Class identity is not only an effect of the complex and overdetermined structure of the class struggle, but it is also an extremely unstable and shift formation.

       Balibar then goes on to spell out the historical terms that define the shifting nature of that particular formation.

      "I want to suggest, to begin with, that what showed itself in the nineteenth and twentieth century as a relatively autonomous 'proletarian identity' needs to be understood as an objective ideological effect.  An ideological effect is not a 'myth', or at least it cannot be reduced to one(all the more so since it does not imply that the 'truth of the myth' lies in individualism, since individualism is itself, par excellence, and ideological effect linked to the market economy and the modern state).  In the same way, it is not possible to reduce to a myth the presence on the political stage of a force that identifies itself and is acknowledged as the 'working class', however intermittent its direct political acts may be, however variable its unity and divisions.  Without its presence, the persistence of the social question and its role in the transformation of the state would remain unintelligible.

     But what the work of historians does force us to register that there is nothing spontaneous, automatic or invariable about this ideological effect.  It is the result of a permanent dialectic of working-class practice and organizational forms in which the forces in play include not only 'living conditions', 'working conditions', and 'economic conditions' but also the forms taken by national politics in the framework of  the state (for instance, the questions of universal suffrage, national unity, wars, secular versus religious education and so on).  In short, it is a constantly overdetermined dialectic in which a relatively individualized class is formed only through the relations it maintains all the other classes within  a network of institutions.  (Balibar 169-170)

       Balibar moves on to state class is not only an effect of struggles, but the very conception of an autonomous notion of class is constructed as a particular way of negotiating a series of historical struggles, one that negotiates a series of differences and conflicts in order to frame and form those very struggles.  He makes the point of pointing out that this statement doesn't turn class into a myth opposed to the 'real' individualism, which is itself a distinctive ideological effect of the particular nature of the market economy and the modern state, and that one cannot deny the reality of this ideological structure as a political force.  But one has to look at a complex series of forces, that cannot be reduced to the reductivist understanding of the workplace.  Instead, the working class is formed through a series of political questions that may seem incidental to it, including religious questions, questions of suffrage, etc.  One might push this farther when looking at the proletarian structures of the United States and elsewhere to focus on structures of race and gender contained in the division of labor itself.  Our concept of the proletariat or independent working class has either resisted those forms of domination, or it has all to often contributed to them, but those questions are not incidental to the notion of a relatively autonomous working class, instead they form the very fabric of that structure, and cannot be separated out of the process.

     In effect, the question of identity is crucial to any historical materialist practice, but one that must be understood largely as an effect, or perhaps more generously, a part of the complex and overdetermined process that structures a particular regime of accumulation, which is itself in constant transformation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Another short essay on Joanna Russ: Biopolitics and The Femle Man

      I've been rereading Joanna Russ' The Female Man, while working on a substantial rewrite of an earlier paper that I want to turn into a dissertation chapter.  Within that context, I came across a fairly interesting passage that I had previously given very little thought, one that links the text with a very problematic biopolitical thread that can be found in feminist utopias, one that I had previously thought was left out of her work.  The relevant passage occurs in section viii of the first section of the book, which gives a brief historical sketch of the world of Whileaway,

      "Humanity is unnatural!" exclaimed the philosopher Dunyasha Bernadetteson (A.C 344-426) who suffered all her life from the slip of a genetic surgeon's hand which had given her one mother's jaw and the other mother's teeth--orthodontia is hardly ever necessary on Whileaway.  Her daughter's teeth, however, were perfect."

      This comment along with the obsessive concern about IQ in an earlier section point to a moment that the focus on social construction is briefly undone, and the eugenics of earlier feminist science fiction and utopias enters back into the picture.  If the initial conceit of the book is that the four characters, Janet, Jeanette, Jael, and Joanna are all the same individual within different social settings, the radicality of Whileaway can no longer be understood within the transformation of social structures, but in some sense draws on the eugenic construction of its subjects, placing it closer to the work of Herland than I'm sure Russ would have liked to be associated. 

       At the same time, a reasonably observant reader of the text could note that the description of Whileaway oscillates between satire and idealization, that is, between the world as a sending up of earlier traditions of science fiction that Russ thinks rather poorly of, and the radical possibilities contained in rereading, rewriting, and drawing from those traditions, in order to produce the type of cognitive estrangement that the genre has the potential of producing.  I would largely agree that one is not being a terribly attentive reader if one ignores Russ' satirical engagement with the history of the genre, but I would point out that it's a satirical engagement that papers over the racial implications in those utopian traditions.  This point is reflected in her own critical rereading of her review of Gilman's Herland, which notes the ways that she minimalizes the racism in that novel.

      To move on from this very particular moment in the novel, albeit one that gestures towards a set of significant contradictions in the text, the more I work through questions of social reproduction the the 20th century of the United States, the more I'm convinced that the question of racialization has to be put at the center of the forms of reproductive labor in the household, and more specifically the ways that those forms of labor are organized and valorized.  If the first half of the century is defined by a variety of attempts to incorporate new immigrants and elements of the working class into the dual regime of sexuality and consumption, those attempts simultaneously consciously worked to integrate these groups into an expanded whiteness, that only worked through a series of brutal acts of exclusion that denied the humanity of large sections of the world.  The civilizing discourse of Gilman, the settlement house movement, theorists of mass consumption operated on the premise of a sort of racial uplift, one that largely drew from the now discounted evolutionary theories of Lamarkian selection.

      These points are probably most substantially developed by Michel Foucault in his, History of Sexuality, Volume 1, but several essays by Etienne Balibar do a good job of expanding on this in a number of essays in the text co-written with Immanuel Wallerstein.  There have been a number of substantial feminist critiques of Foucault based on his presumed discounting of sexual difference, and I would certainly accept that the intense weight put upon women in the bourgeois project of sexuality is not taken into account.  The figure that is utterly erased from the text is that of the mother, but at the same time, Foucault's reading of sexuality as a both bourgeois and racist project only just recently seems to be incorporated into contemporary feminist work.  This is not to say that feminists have refused to confront racism, but all too often its taken as a separate issue to the questions of sexuality that they are taking on.  This erasure all too often leads to the inability to recognize the way that a biopolitical project that's deeply embedded in the logic of the formation of race haunts the history of the twentieth century.