Nancy Fraser – A Feminism Aimed at Liberating All Women Must Be Anti-Capitalist

Link to an interview with Nancy Fraser, conducted by Olimpia Malatesta:

“A Feminism Aimed at Liberating All Women Must Be Anti-Capitalist”

 

This makes a rather incongruous endorsement of “left populism” in the context of “anti-capitalism”, which is a bit of an oxymoron.  Fraser is too tepid here — she’s mostly offering a slightly watered-down version of ideas that have been circulated by others for some time, with little justification for watering things down.  Overarchingly, though, she is astutely arguing Walter Benjamin’s maxim that behind every rise of fascism lies a failed revolution.

 

Bonus links: Review of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (includes a useful questioning of Fraser’s “social reproduction” theory) and “On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference” (this interview expresses a more coherent position than Fraser’s) and “Alt-right Trump Supporters and Left-wing Bernie Sanders Fans Should Join Together to Defeat Capitalism” and “Today’s Anti-fascist Movement Will Do Nothing to Get Rid of Right-wing Populism – It’s Just Panicky Posturing” and “The U.S. Political Scene: Whiteness and the Legitimacy Crisis of Global Capitalism” and “About the Fate of Contemporary Girls” Excerpt (“women should be much more wary today of what capitalism is offering them in the way of liberation than they should be of men.”) and “Supporting a Feminism for the 99%” and “Against the Populist Temptation”

Josh Cook – World War II’s Poisonous Masculine Legacy

In his review of Jared Yates Sexton’s The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making (2019), under the title “World War II’s Poisonous Masculine Legacy,” Josh Cook makes the following statement:

“Some of the racist, sexist, and homophobic vitriol spewed at Trump rallies is performative, spewed by men who did not believe it, or at least with that intensity, but were afraid their masculinity would be questioned if they did not pose as an angry, hateful Trump supporter, who doesn’t care about your feelings. Many of Trump’s supporters engaged in the same kind of pissing contest as internet trolls, where the point was not actually to advance an idea, but to prove how tough you personally are through a specific demonstration of emotional disregard and potential, and occasionally actual, violence.”

This is an important statement — though hardly a novel one, see “Ten Must-Read Books About White Masculinity and the Rise of Trump”.

But what is missing (the elephant in the room), is that Cook’s critiques of performative identity do not address his own performative identity.  Read his review, and one is left with the sense Cook is performing the identity of the sensitive (beautiful soul) male who would never advocate violence.  The problem here is that this nonviolence seems to be advocated precisely when violence is ethically justified.  On the one hand, insistence upon non-violence is one of the hallmarks of cold war (neo)liberalism.  On the other hand, advocacy of non-violence as the sole legitimate strategy is both a self-serving myth and a form of liberal blackmail meant to de-legitimate systemic change.  This is a problem inscribed in the kind of identity politics that Cook takes as a given, which tend to trivialize the difficulty in switching identities that are adopted unconsciously and pursue a tactic of shaming/guilting opposed groups into submission.  Consequently, such “identity politics” tactics simply don’t work at the broader political level particularly when there are real disagreements between social classes:

“As Yuval Harari noted, in his Homo Deus, people feel bound by democratic elections only when they share a basic bond with most other voters. If the experience of other voters is alien to me, and if I believe they don’t understand my feelings and don’t care about my vital interests, then even if I am outvoted by 100 to one, I have absolutely no reason to accept the verdict. Democratic elections are a method to settle disagreements between people who already agree on the basics. When this agreement on basics falters, the only procedures at our disposal are negotiations or (civil) war. That’s why the Middle East conflict cannot be solved by elections but only by war or negotiations.”

This problem with Cook’s analysis is compounded by his rather confused invocation of “abuse” in relation to the concept of “trauma” and, more broadly, using the term “violence” in a way that seems to (purposefully) exclude systemic violence.

Cook seems to argue that “toxic masculinity” performance should be ceased.  Aside from the problem of defining exactly what is “toxic” here, or why it is specifically “masculine”, that seems well-meaning.  But readers should be questioning the performances that Cook implicitly substitutes because they are just as problematic, and Cook provides no conceptual framework for analyzing the normative ideological battle he fights.  He rejects some ideologies and endorses others.  But his reasons for choosing one over the other are not explicitly discussed in any way.  They are instead naturalized as if they are neutral and unworthy of discussion or potential dispute. Sounds a lot like his point is not actually to advance an idea, but to prove how “sensitive” he personally is through a specific demonstration of alleged moral superiority and a resort to emotional blackmail, coupled with potential/implied coercive ostracism.  We see that his objective is not about overcoming social hierarchies but shuffling them like a game of musical chairs.  When will Cook be cured of this “chronic illness”?  If the goal of ideology is to conceal its aims of domination, then Cook’s analysis is principally ideological, and somewhat totalitarian at that.  It is “predicated on the idea that a non-toxic identity and life can be had[,]” but what if “this toxicity is precisely where our humanity, our subjectivity, resides”?  In this sense, Cook’s invocation of “toxic masculinity is “a gross oversimplification, with possible quite catastrophic consequences for emancipatory movements.”  The more urgent point is the one Henry Giroux later made (drawing on the notion of victimhood status under neoliberal capitalism):

“At its heart, the alignment of white masculinity with the racist discourse of hate and xenophobia has to be condemned while also understood as a mode of depoliticization. As a mode of depoliticization, this script of victimhood robs poor and middle-class whites of their sense of agency and possibilities for individual and collective resistance against the very forces of structured inequality and economic and social abandonment produced by neoliberalism.

***

“This is particularly true for segments of the white male population who are constantly being told that they are the victims of a society that increasingly privileges racial and ethnic minorities.

“Susceptible to calls by demagogues to express their anger and resentment at the societal selfishness, greed, and materialism that surrounds them, many white males have found a sense of identification and community in the racist, sexist and xenophobic appeals of a range of current demagogues that include Trump, Bolsonaro, Orbán, and Erdoğan. While I don’t want to excuse the poisonous politics at work here and its dangerous flirtation with a kind of fascistic irrationality and the toxic pleasures of authoritarianism, the white males seduced by the pleasures of a toxic authoritarianism need to be addressed in a language that not only speaks to the roots of their fears and economic securities, but also as Michael Lerner has brilliantly noted, to those fundamental psychological and spiritual needs that have been hijacked by a ruthless capitalist disimagination machine.

***

“The pain and suffering of different groups under neoliberalism has to be understood not through shaming whites or other supporters of a fascist politics, but through efforts to unite these disillusioned groups across race, gender, and class divides.”

In other words this fits into a de-politicization (or “university discourse”) based on envy, with fetishist enjoyment of impotent rage proffered as a kind of bribe to accept a destructive social structure.  Or basically what the French have long called ressentiment.  But class struggle is an alternative to this populist temptation.

Maggie Levantovskaya – Identity Shaping on Social Media

Link to a review by Maggie Levantovskaya of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (2019):

“Identity Shaping on Social Media: On Jia Tolentino’s ‘Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion'”

 

Bonus links: Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age and “The Programs of Neoliberal Feminism” and “‘If Only There Were More Female Billionaires!’— New York Times” and Organs Without Bodies and “Capitalism and Female Labor”

Alenka Zupančič – Interviews in LARB

Links to, and quotes from, interviews with Alenka Zupančič from the LA Review of Books:

“Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič”

“The rise of the affect(s) and the sanctimony around affective intuition are very much related to some signifiers being out of our reach, and this often involves a gross ideological mystification. Valorization of affectivity and feelings appears at the precise point when some problem — injustice, say — would demand a more radical systemic revision as to its causes and perpetuation. This would also involve naming — not only some people but also social and economic inequalities that we long stopped naming and questioning.

“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.

***

“(Moral) outrage is a particularly unproductive affect, yet it is one that offers considerable libidinal satisfaction. By ‘unproductive’ I mean this: it gives us the satisfaction of feeling morally superior, the feeling that we are in the right and others are in the wrong. Now for this to work, things must not really change. We are much less interested in changing things than in proving, again and again, that we are in the right, or on the right side, the side of the good. Hegel invented a great name for this position: the ‘beautiful soul.’

***

“What distinguishes children from adults is not that the latter are sexual beings whereas the former are not. What distinguishes them is that adults are supposed to be basically able to understand and handle intersubjective situations that involve sexuality. This means above all that the fact that children are, as Freud argued, very much sexual beings does not absolve adults when they want to involve them in their own sexual gratification. On the contrary, it makes their endeavors worse. There is a limit. To some extent, this limit is arbitrarily set — one could always say, why not two months earlier or later than the so-called ‘age of consent’? What is important is that there is a limit. This limit does not protect children against sexuality; rather, it protects their sexuality, making it so to say theirs and nobody else’s.

***

“Desire aims at what we didn’t get when our need, articulated in demand, was satisfied. It always aims at the other thing, beyond the thing at hand. Desire sustains itself through the difference between two kinds of satisfaction: satisfaction of the need or demand, and another satisfaction, the only support of which is negativity — That’s not It! I want that which I didn’t get. This is the symbolic frame through which objects appear as objects of desire. Drive, on the other hand, is not driven by what we didn’t get, but by the paradoxical surplus satisfaction that we got without even asking for it. We didn’t ask for it, yet it got unexpectedly attached to the satisfaction of the need. (The classic Freudian example is the oral pleasure produced during our satisfaction of the need for food.) Drive wants to repeat this satisfaction and precisely that satisfaction, again and again, often regardless of what “we” want. The motor of the drive is repetition of the unexpected real satisfaction, whereas the motor of desire is difference, which is why desire is in perpetual, ‘metonymic,’ movement further.”

 

“On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference”

“sexuality is not, as is sometimes said, at the bottom of every other problem, but something that, in and of itself, constitutes a problem. A problem for every subject to grapple with, that every subject is divided by. It is a negative core of any identity, not its positive foundation.

“This is why there are no direct, immediate sexual identities. Even when one identifies with one’s anatomy, this is already an identification, there is nothing immediate about it. Sex involves much more than anatomy, even when it coincides with our anatomy. The popular opposition between genders as biological or else socially constructed is a false opposition: there is no ‘biological gender’ in the sense of identity, because identity is by definition never immediate, ‘biological’ in this sense. Biology, anatomy is obviously a factor; it is far from insignificant. But a sexed subject does not simply emerge out of this or that anatomy, but out of its symbolization, including its rejection. *** One always becomes what one is, and this is to be taken quite literally.

***

“To sum up, psychoanalytic theory conceives of sexuality as something which fundamentally disorients the human being, not as something which provides him or her with a solid identity. If the notion that sexuality is at the basis of identity has any meaning, it can only have it in this sense: it is at the basis of any identity because it uproots the subject from the immediacy of her being. And this uprooting, this non-immediacy, is the condition of any symbolic identity. In fact, we can use psychoanalysis in order to interrogate identity itself, both conceptually and as a meeting ground for social struggle.

***

“Society is not composed of man and women; it is split, and this split is repressed. This is not the same as to say that women are repressed. Women were, are, oppressed, but this is not the same as repression, in the psychoanalytical sense of Verdrängung, of the split inherent in the structuring and curving of social space. Without making this split of negativity part of the picture, significant shifts in the structure cannot really occur. This is what feminism is about; it is not primarily about neutralizing social differences, but about bringing them to light, and attempting to affect the very structuring of the social space. To do something to/with this divide, and not simply to try to climb to the right side of it.

***

“the Marxian point is that social space is divided in an antagonistic way: it is not simply composed of classes as positive entities, struggling between themselves, but involves a fundamental negativity or divide that structures the very space in which classes appear as different classes. For Marx, the proletariat is not simply one of the classes: as a class that has no class, it embodies the very point of social antagonism; it is the symptom of this social order. Not only does it have some kind of empirical consistency, but it is also located at the very point that reveals the structural inconsistency of an inequality that can be empirically apprehended.

***

“To put it more simply, the question on the table for every emancipatory struggle is: Do we think that we live in more or less the only possible world, that there are just some pockets of injustice and discrimination still left, and all we have to do is take care of them? Or do we think that these pockets are symptoms of some deeper problem, an asymmetry or antagonism that will not go away even if we manage to do something else?”

 

Ian Graye – Review of Lacan and Postfeminism

Link to Ian “Marvin” Graye’s Review of Lacan and Postfeminism (2001) by Elizabeth Wright:

Review of Lacan and Postfeminism

 

Bonus links: The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan and “About the Fate of Contemporary Girls” Excerpt and “On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference”

Liza Featherstone – Bad Romance

Link to a review by Liza Featherstone of Kristen Ghodsee’s book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence (2018):

“Bad Romance”

 

But Ghodsee is open to criticism of the same sort Jodi Dean leveled at Naomi Klein: why is “unregulated capitalism” the problem rather than just “capitalism”?  Isn’t Ghodsee just making typically vague (left) populist claimsWe can critique that position by saying that “populism is simply a new way to imagine capitalism without its harder edges; a capitalism without its socially disruptive effects. Populism is one of today’s two opiums of the people: one is the people, and the other is opium itself. *** What remains of the passionate public engagement in the West is mostly the populist hatred, and this brings us to the other second opium of the people, the people itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms.”

Nancy Fraser – Feminism and Marxism

Link to a video of comments by Nancy Fraser:

“Feminism and Marxism”

 

Bonus links: The Trouble With Diversity and “The Feminism of the 1 Percent Has Associated Our Cause With Elitism” (“Today, we are told that we really have only two options — either right-wing authoritarian populisms, which are racist and xenophobic, or else go back to our liberal protectors and progressive neoliberalism. But this is a false choice — we need to refuse both options.”) and “The Politics of Identity”

Julian Vigo – The Spawn: Feminism’s Misandry Problem

Link to an article by Julian Vigo:

“The Spawn: Feminism’s Misandry Problem”

 

Bonus Quotes:

“one should . . . admit how problematic it is to anchor one’s political demands to status of victimhood. Is the basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity not the weird combination of the free subject who believes themselves ultimately responsible for their own fate and the subject who bases their argument on their status as a victim of circumstances beyond their own control? Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat – if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment.”

Slavoj Žižek, “Sex and ’68: Liberal Movement Revolutionized ‘Sexuality’ But at What Cost?”

“In short, the extreme horror of Auschwitz did not make it into a place which intrinsically purifies every single one of its surviving victims into ethically sensitive subjects who got rid of all petty egotistic interests.”

Slavoj Žižek, “We Need to Examine the Reasons Why We Equate Criticism of Israel with Antisemitism”

“They play the Beautiful Soul, which feels superior to the corrupted world while secretly participating in it: they need this corrupted world as the only terrain where they can exert their moral superiority.”

Slavoj Žižek, Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail (2016)

“The beautiful soul attitude finds a particularly fertile ground in what many call the ‘infantilization’ of our societies. We are encouraged to behave as children: to act primarily upon how we ‘feel,’ to demand — and rely on — constant protection against the ‘outer world,’ its dangers and fights, or simply against the world of others, other human beings.”

“Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič”

“PC anti-racism is sustained by the surplus-enjoyment which emerges when the PC-subject triumphantly reveals the hidden racist bias on an apparently neutral statement or gesture”

Slavoj Žižek, “The Need to Traverse the Fantasy”

My only disagreement with Vigo’s article is her characterization of “motherhood privilege” (more broadly, “parenthood privilege”) as “delusional nonsense”.  Laws and corporate policies do sometimes grant benefits to parents that are not given to the childless — isn’t that a parenthood privilege?  For instance, assume that parenthood is burdensome but socially beneficial; could someone benefit by avoiding more burdensome and less socially beneficial wage work in a capitalist society through parental leave that is not available to other workers who would like to have time off from wage work to engage in burdensome and socially beneficial activity other than parenthood?  If so, then there is a parenthood privilege.  There is a trace of chauvinist defensiveness in Vigo’s argument there, though this doesn’t undermine her larger point.  See also “About the Fate of Contemporary Girls” Excerpt