Posts tagged difference.

Incomplete Ideas on Gender and Performativity

Right before I fell asleep I spoke out loud “would you accept the idea of gender as an identification rather than an identity?” I’m not sure why. I’m going to think out loud working through that thought as a question with no known answer. 

What is the difference between identification and identity? How does gender complicate that question? People seem to complain about identity politics a lot. I’m not sure why that is other than white men get uptight when you make them pay attention to individuals who aren’t white men. I think there is a difference between saying identity politics is bad and identity is a bad concept. Identity politics is what every single person on the planet should aspire to—a politics based on the idea that everyone has a different identity, that everyone is different. That’s what I think identity politics might mean. But I loathe identity as a concept. Too often identity feels like another way of saying subjectivity and both those concepts are bound up in a really whack history rife with phallologocentric assumptions and like, fuck that. Moreover, if you care about difference, about the possibility for a just relationship with others based on an ethic of difference, then the idea of IDENTITY or SUBJECTIVITY being an essence, a stable representation, an image, or any other normalizing and totalizing concept as the centrality of one’s being means that difference is already erased, effaced, and eliminated. Put another way, the moment when I say this is what I think the world is and what is right and wrong and what is normal and abnormal is the moment where difference is erased. No matter what your Intro to Philosophy professor told you when you were a freshman, no matter what your loved ones told you when you were growing up, no one person is the center of the universe. You are not the norm. You are not ideal. You are not the origin. 

So I always flinch when people think or behave in ways that reinforce identity or subjectivity as anything other than “what I do next” as Grosz might say. Subjectivity is what I do next. Identity is what I perform next? Then identification becomes really unique and important because what I choose to perform next emerges out of a moment of identification and affinity rather than certainty and alienation. Excess versus lack. How does this relate to gender and performance? I don’t know but it feels like Butler is misread, like, a lot. Performances are not discrete or maybe isolated is a better word. Performances are framed. Frames are a way of marking difference. Frames emerge and recede, performances happen and then don’t, but the movement driving those processes keeps going. Performativity is not a characteristic, things don’t have performativity. Performativity is a force. It is movement. Performativity is iterabilit—the ability to emerge and re-emerge over and over. Doesn’t the idea that Butler says gender is performative confirm that identity is unstable? A performance is not a one to one replication of what is performed. A performance is a representation and an incomplete one at that. Performativity is what allows one to perform an action one day and get up the next day and perform it again, differently. Performativity is the river and performance is the rings coming off my foot when I wade into the water. Difference is the force directing the river. Gravity maybe? Not sure if I like that. Downstream with no destination is better. 

So like, there is no authentic you. You are not your parts. You are not your ideas. You have parts and you have ideas but those things never coalesce into any kind of essence. The more I think about it the more I like Irigaray and Grosz’s stuff on sexual difference and the “at least two sexes” which is really really hard to not freak out about. I like it because it doesn’t deny the fact that everyone has a body that has stuff on and in it. And that when they say AT LEAST TWO that means that in any relation there is at least two sexes making up that relation. And that those two sexes are necessarily and wholly different from one another. They exceed one another. Our job is not to assume anything about an other’s body because it will absolutely be different than our own. Those two sexes are not necessarily MALE and FEMALE. That’s like, our ideas about what two sexes means. That’s on us. That’s a habit of thought. Life is the process of establishing habits, experiencing different shit, and learning new habits. Over and over again. Difference is the force that powers that process. So what about identification and identity? Man I don’t know, I think that’s what I’ve been riffing on. Identification as another way of describing the emergence of the actual from the virtual? Identification as another way of describing the moment that water shifts from a liquid to a gas? Identification as the feeling of the river rush over your toes? I just know that I like it better than identity because of everything that gets assumed when that word is spoken out loud, right before bed. 

Generational divides are not simply straight spaces.

I’m gonna go off-brand for a sec and go negative, but, for me, one of the biggest takeaways from that Halberstam trigger-warning thing is that there is a qualitative difference between thinking as a negative response and thinking as a productive act. The piece reads like a flinch.    

I haven’t said anything about this and I figure I should if only to participate fully in whatever is going to happen tomorrow, but, I was one of the people selected to go to the Tumblr Q&A with the President at The White House. I still really don’t totally believe it’s real but everything has checked out and I’ve RSVP’d and the like. If you’ve read this blog for a while you know that teaching, higher education, debt, and difference are all things I talk about frequently. It’s smart politics on their part to bring me in. I’ve got north of 145k in federal student loans, got three degrees, and am an assistant professor at a large urban community college mostly comprised of blacks, latinos, africans, african-americans, islanders, asian-americans, eastern Europeans, first gen immigrants and/or college students of widely varying backgrounds. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen at the live portion of the Q&A. I think I might get to ask him a question? Which, like, feels wildly surreal. I’ve run through all different scenarios of charming banter about my hair or my username and in my mind I’m as disarming and adorable as can be. The reality will be much sweatier and dry mouthed I assure you but I am wearing canary pants and a seersucker jacket so there may yet be hope for a bit of charm.

Frequent readers will also know that difference is the engine that drives me and my ethics. I talk about it in the classroom, in writing, in everyday life, in thought and action. I’m not perfect and I have A LOT to learn, like I fuck up allllllllll the time, but always so I can get better at using the space I’m lucky enough to have in this world to cultivate difference in whatever form or reality it emerges as. Originally I wanted to ask a question about what can be done to get more women of color in the classroom as teachers, in administration as policy makers, and in leadership roles as presidents and deans. Noni Mendoza Reis & Mei-Yan Lu from San Jose University cite an AAC&U report which states

Twenty-eight percent of Chief Academic Officers, a clear pipeline to the college presidency, are women (35% are white women and 3% are women of color). Among all senior administrators 38% are white women and 7% are women of color. Twenty-three percent of college presidents are women with 19% of all female presidents being women of color.

They go further and note that:

Balderrama, Texeira, and Valdez (2006) reported that in 1997 women of color accounted for only 2.5% of all full professors, compared with 72.1% for White males, 17.3% for White females, and 8.1% for women of color (Harvey, 2001). The Chronicle of Higher Education (2005) reported that nearly half a century after the civil rights movements of the l960s, 35% of tenure track faculty (assistant, associate and full professors) in all academic fields are female. Of these, only 5% are females of color.

Which is disgusting frankly. So my original question was going to deal with what he thinks our responsibilities are to our students who are women of color to see, learn from, be inspired by, and be mentored by other women of color by getting more of them into those positions in higher education. While I may feel like I am good at what I do there are things and ideas and perspectives and forms of knowledge that women of color have that I never will. That’s what difference means. Women of color need to be better represented in higher education and that is our collective responsibility. 

Since it feels like the the Q&A is probably going to focus more on student debt I’m going to change my question. If allowed I’m going to ask how his new debt policies will provide relief for women of color specifically. In her paper “Theft of Wealth From People of Color” Seeta Persaud notes a litany of shocking facts. I’m quoting the first page of her report to give some scope:

According to a study released last year by Insight, Center for Community Economic Development, the median wealth for single black women is $100. Twenty-five percent of women of color have student debt, and nearly 50 percent of women of color have credit card debt in order to pay for basic necessities, thereby endangering financial security and economic mobility. According to Insight [s]ingle black and hispanic women have one penny of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts and a fraction of a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by single white women.

  • Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively; the median for single white women is $41,500. 
  • While white women in the prime working years of ages 36-49 have a median wealth of $42,600, the median wealth for women of color is only $5. 
  • Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, the latter of which occurs when debts exceed assets. 
  • While 57 percent of single white women own homes, only 33 percent of single black women and 28 percent of single Hispanic women are homeowners. 
  • Only 1 percent of single Hispanic women and 4 percent of single black women own business assets compared to 8 percent of single white women. 
  • Social Security is the only source of retirement income for more than 25 percent of black women. 
  • Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.
    [Source: Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future3

It should be noted that as a result of the debt deal entitled “The Budget Control Act,” as of July 1, 2012, subsidized Stafford loans for graduate and professional students will end,thereby further increasing and solidifying institutional barriers to economic mobility for women of color, especially as access to jobs and income have not kept pace with educational debt. Further, the “longstanding racial disparity among college graduates has grown markedly worse in the course of the downturn. Between 2007 and 2010, unemployment among white college graduates under the age of 25 climbed by just over 3 percent; it shot up by more than 7 points for Latinos and nearly 6 points for African Americans.”5

Of course these stats have HUGE implications for any type of debt relief program that Obama comes up with whether it’s passed by Congress or not. More women of color have to work longer hours at lower wage jobs because their households rely on that extra income to live. If these women already have high debt to begin with, in order to support themselves or their families of course their student loan debt is going to lapse or default. Many work jobs that don’t qualify them for the “public service” relief programs that I myself qualify for. Women of color have lives vastly more complex than any other individual in this country. They are invisible, cast off, abused, erased, denied, all because they dare to keep living in the face of increasingly brutal treatment. If there’s ANYONE who deserves some relief it is the woman of color. The best, brightest, most compassionate, most hilarious, and gifted students I have are the women of color at BMCC. So I want to ask a question that directly implicates any type of debt relief within that context. 

Soooooo, that’s just a bit of what’s been rustlin my jimmies these last few days and some background on the question I hope I can ask tomorrow. I’m fairly realistic about the intensity of power flows at the federal level but I also believe that in every moment there is an opportunity for tiny acts of repair. That’s my hope for tomorrow. When I’m at The White House. With The President. W.T.F. 

Here’s the breakdown of the division session I planned and assembled for the Southern States Communication Association this year. Going to list number of women/men, POC/LGBTQ (identified as such openly, so this number is probably imprecise) for each panel. That’s a pretty crude mode of tracking info but I do believe shit like this matters as a model and practice:

4/1, 1/1
3/1, 0/1
4/1, 0/1
3/2, 1/0
4/2, 0/2
5/1, 1/2
5/1, 1/1
3/2, 1/1
3/2, 0/0
5/1, 0/1
2/3, 0/1
3/0, 0/1
4/3, 0/3
3/2, 0/0
0/1, 0/1
6/5, 0/2
4/1, 2/1

Obviously I am disappointed that there are not more POC represented at the conference. I can’t know for sure, but it feels like for this conference, the schools represented, and the field as it stands in the region right now, we are failing people of color somehow. It’s tough to guess as to why because I don’t live or work in the region anymore but I’m going to think about it and actively make it part of the agenda for the executive committee over the next three years. I am quite pleased that with the exception of one honorary panel women exponentially outnumbered men and that LGBTQ identified individuals felt comfortable enough to claim space on almost every panel programmed. The ratio of grad students to faculty was about 60/40 and junior faculty to tenured faculty 80/20.

I’ve been talking to Lyle this morning, trying to articulate better. I think that a project of increasing importance for all people is placing human experience and being in the middle of living world without elevating the category of human above plants, animal, matter, etc. Developing an ethic or a politics based on the reality that humans are no higher or lower than other living beings but that we coexist together on an even plane, differences intact and part of existence. So who knows what that philosophy looks like but it feels like Deleuze is a starting point. I think that Grosz is trying to develop an ontology of the living world, the world that we actually occupy, that accounts for the processes that give and make life, that take away life as well. Things get real fucked up when you say the word NATURE because, well, I start thinking of words like natural and normal and that shit feels gross because who gets to make those designations? When a doctor assigns a sex to a child based on a socially constructed understanding of what a penis or clitoris should look like we run into tons of questions, many of which complicate Grosz’s ideas about sexual difference. And what about individuals who fall outside that overly simplistic binary? So, for me, I don’t think Grosz is saying that interpretation, experience, the symbolic, value, etc. aren’t important or crucial issues that need to be engaged and acted on, rather that they are not the foundation upon which to construct a politics, ethics, or ontology of difference. I think that there is a way that living things develop, a living process of life that Grosz and Deleuze are thinking about and trying to articulate a philosophy around. The challenge for me is trying to think all the complexities and dimensions of difference into my articulation and understanding of that philosophy.

I don’t think there is anything worse to have to deal with than a wounded man, specifically, or a wound, generally. A question that I struggle with over and over, that I’ve struggled with for well over ten years, is how I want to think, from what place do I want to engage and present ideas to others. Looking back, I wrote my dissertation the way I did because I was a baby. Someone said something to me about a thing I did that really pissed me off, that I thought was wrong, and that hurt. A lot. So I wrote a 225 page document as an answer, directly or indirectly, to the questions that wounded me. I searched out the theories I thought might have informed their ideas and critiqued them, a lot. I was pretty miserable through the whole process not because writing a dissertation is always already awful, although it can be, but rather I was trapped in a miserable cycle of using ideas I hated as a main pillar to cast my own ideas against. It was awful. Elizabeth Grosz pointed this all out to me by talking gently about how she writes and thinks. I was sitting in on a seminar she was teaching and she started talking about how she doesn’t respond to critiques anymore. She doesn’t not read them, but she doesn’t acknowledge them in her own work. She makes HER argument, she produces HER ideas on their own terms. She made Nietzsche and Deleuze make more sense in three weeks than I thought was humanly possible, but that’s where it came from for her. If you acknowledge the critique, if you build your entire idea as an answer to an opposing theory then you necessarily have to prove that theory, the one you disagree with or hate, as true in order to refute it. It was really simple and beautiful and changed the way that I write and think. It’s probably pretty frustrating to read because there is nothing to ground an argument in but the idea itself. I try to write productively, without the lack, the negative of an opposing view, because, quite frankly, I don’t want to be so fucking miserable all the time. Happiness is a real thing. Like Spinoza, I believe in joy.

I’ve been thinking all morning about intensity. Intensity is a measure of qualitative difference such that when divided in half it does not produce two equal parts. Changes in temperature, pressure, velocity—measured in intensity—are all qualitative differences. Intensity isn’t quantitative. Intensity is about states, not identities, not numbers. If you divided boiling water in half you wouldn’t get two half boiling temperature pots of water. When water reaches it’s most intense moment in the boiling process, when it passes a certain degree, the whole system shifts into water vapor. At its most intense water shifts into vapor. It doesn’t stay in that state indefinitely. Intensity doesn’t have maximums, intensity has limits at which things qualitatively change. Deleuze calls these moments of radical qualitative phase state shifts singularities. One of the big takeaways is that liquid water, has the potential of becoming vapor folded into its being. The folded, unseen potential for water to become vapor is the virtual. There is absolutely nothing symbolic about this process. It is actual. It is material. It is based in the laws of matter. Call it a realist ontology, call it thermo-dynamic philosophy, call it whatever you want, but it is definitely an articulation of living being, an ontology of difference. Such an ontology of difference wholly focuses on creation rather than elimination. There is no lack in this model, only making stuff of other stuff to make more new stuff. There are limits but no maximums.

Haha I think about love a lot. Love isn’t a residue, love is the expression of what we don’t observe or sense in ourselves, brought out in the encounter with another individual. Love is an expression, a bursting forth of the virtual into the actual. Love is an unfolding. Of course it is also a refolding. Expression, contraction, expression, contraction. Love isn’t symbolic. The times that I’ve failed at love are the times when I think that I already know. That’s not love because I’m not expressing anything, nothing is being drawn out of me that I don’t already anticipate. I’m failing. I’m stuck in a habit of behavior. Joy is the relation between two things in order to produce new things. Joy is learning new habits of behavior. Love is an expression of joy just as itself is also an expression, a drawing out of and by an other.

If you believe Grosz, as I tend to, sexual selection is as important if not more so than natural selection. She writes extensively about sexual selection in Becoming Undone. She frames sexual selection as choice wholly separate from nature and survival of the fittest. Sexual selection is a process of selecting based on certain characteristics over others. Birds selecting birds based on the sound of one song over another. She extends the concept of sexual selection to race, orientation, and other “fundamental” characteristics that usually coalesce into what many call identity. She uses Irigaray to mete out sexual difference, the difference of the at least two sexes, as the fundamental difference of living being. She does not fall into the traps of biological determinism nor does she invoke other such normative and limiting discourses. She focuses on the excess of one sex over another, on how female sex exceeds male understanding, that males absolutely cannot understand or know because they are male. The excess, the unseeable, the virtual, the unsensable is what produces difference in her model of being. Both Grosz and Deleuze shift being away from representation and identity—models of lack—toward difference and subjectivities—models of excess.

I’m riffing on excess, intensity, limit, and love for lots of reasons. I’m invested in joy. I’m invested in difference. I’m also invested in the internet. I’m invested in the potentialities of joy, of difference, and of the internet to make life more livable. I believe in a living being based in the real. Like how I’m on this train writing this thing and that’s real. We are real people in real relations living real lives that will end and unfold and refold right back up. Our death will become something else’s new life. That’s real. There are also other very real problems, ideas, issues, and characteristics of life, of living, that need to be dealt with. But I believe that those problems or solutions are not the basis for reality. The more we fixate on the big bad wolf the easier it is to forget that we’re standing in the middle of a living breathing forest.

So, things are real, as always, but I’ll just say that one of the incredibly beautiful and intense things about this weekend was helping a woman fairly fresh out a 13 year bid create a digital story. A lot of folks talk about privilege round here and rightly so, but like, this woman’s story was about forgiveness and bank robbery and prison and reform and learning about things like wi-fi and google and having a grandkid. Right? Like, there are people who went into prison before this internet existed and came out after all that and we’re teaching digital literacies and she’s talking about robbing for food and I’ve got so much to learn about difference.

I Believe in Past Lives

Trigger isn’t really an adequate word for what you can do to a person when you treat them a certain way. The difference between talking at someone and having a dialogue with someone means that the relationship between two living beings of different and excessive subjectivities prevents the trauma from going all out, because, well, there’s someone there who cares for and respects you on the other end. Hopefully. It’s when the other person doesn’t respect your difference, when they treat you like you’re less than, that trauma snaps to in an instant. And that’s like shooting a gun at some thing—an erasure—not pulling a trigger.   

Thinking Beyond a Knowable Seeable Identity

By pegging all our hopes on the idea that, hey, there are academics out here doing important work, on a hey, hey, look at me because if you see the work I’m doing then you’d know kind of argument we are failing as thinkers and teachers. Dude coasts on such shitty visibility politics and because college professors—especially if they have tasted grad school—have had it drummed into their heads every fucking day that their careers depend on the self-same garbage visibility game, of course, OF COURSE we all took the bait and screamed as loud as we could to look harder at us, at the work we are doing and value it, value US. I think it’s a decades-long habit of behavior and a phenomenally terrible ethic on the part of academics, teachers, and thinkers who work in or outside what folks call the academy. We are failing ourselves, our students, our peoples by buying into the idea that if we could be better seen then we would be higher valued (generally speaking) and that an academic’s true value is determined by the guidelines he laid out in his article.

When people try to wedge some new idea between the identity of “the academic” and “the teacher” to separate the value for the student (as a job-getter, producer, cog, etc.) and society (healthy, thriving, progressive, etc.) we fall further into a trap that makes college look like a fucking waste of time and academics like grade-A assholes. Now I know a LOT of absolute motherfuckers in the academy, and I have personally wasted YEARS of time in college as a student and as a professor, but that’s not a college thing—it’s a life thing. Whatever. A big problem I see in many conversations is the idea that focuses on value as THE marker of a progressive politics and ethic of higher education. I fall into the camp of PhD’s who teach on the tenure track at a community college. I’m fucking lucky to have a job. I thought I was hot shit when I graduated. Had a few publications, got a three year instructor gig at a state school in Ohio. After Ohio sucked every ounce of confidence and pleasure I had left in my abilities to teach and write I miraculously got the job at CUNY and have healed, slowly, as I have found a group of students and colleagues that are beyond my wildest dreams. I teach a 5/4 load which means 5 classes in the fall, 4 classes in the spring. That’s a MASSIVE teaching load. As a point of comparison I have colleagues in tenure track positions who teach 2/2 or even 2/1 loads because their institutions are research-oriented universities. Ya’know, I’m ok with that because they probably have a much higher expectation to produce written scholarship than I do at BMCC, although that shit is all changing at the community college level as more and more PhD’s turn to “lesser” institutions due to the job market. More PhD’s means more can be asked of us to produce. 

This narrative I’m starting to piece together sounds like a perfect thing to ascribe some really neat Marxist or socialist theories so we can see the inequities put upon laborers by our institutional overlords all of which end up in the idea that if I can draw more attention to the work that I do, I can be better compensated which in turn allows me to better compensate others and on and on. That’s cool, some of my best friends are Marxists, but I am not and more to the point I think it’s a trap. Wage equality, fair systems of value, and labor exchange are all terribly important ideas and theories that need to be addressed and fought for through actions(s) but rely too heavily on visibility and identity as the basis of a politics. A truly progressive politics of justice must be borne out of difference and the imperceptible. Well what the fuck does that even mean? I think it means that if we concentrate only on the ways in which certain identities act in certain ways, if we limit them, we create essential characteristics of that identity which must be adhered to or else that identity is a failure, ab-normal, not valuable. Under such a politics equality is really fucked because equal treatment can’t mean equal identities—everyone is different, everything is difference.   


I wrote that up there, last night, half-drunk and angry. Let’s keep it, well, because maybe it’s true in lots of small ways. But also. What if the work that scholars and teachers do are part of the same continuum of interaction and living being? What if we spoke of the small immeasurable moments between students and teachers in a classroom using the same politics as discussions of the Harvard professors in the Oval Office? What if we took up the challenge of Elizabeth Grosz in Becoming Undone and thought how to “transform the ways in which identity is conceived so that identities do not emerge and function only though the suppression and subordination of other social identities?” Such a politics of imperceptibility, “where agency lies below the line of the subject and forces flow through the subject but are unseen by them” is hard to do. How can I describe what I cannot see? Focus on relations not identifications. Let things, bodies, subjects, ideas exceed our understanding. Let there be a difference, a real unknowable difference. Grosz suggests that

“Instead of asking how to equalize differences, supplementing the least privileged through compensations sought from the most privileged, so that all subjects have access to the rights of the most privileged, we need to address the question of whether a plurality of subject positions can be adequately accommodated by the ideals represented by the able-bodied, white, middle-class, Eurocentric, male heterosexual subject.”

The already established privileges of one subject position, one nexus of power WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH to satisfy the plurality of subject positions that exist, who don’t have the same possibilities OR DESIRES that such a position of privilege would afford, who are different and therefore need something not understood or available to that one dominant positions offered by the white male hetero subject. Transgression means thinking and transforming the present in order to allow those different subjects a place to live in plurality and hospitality. 

Essentially I think thinking about teachers vs. academics by focusing on the value of either is an outmoded and empty form of thought. I do not want to think of new ways to reallocate old privileges to new groups of marginalized subjects. That is a structure of habit. I want revolutionary, progressive, and transgressive ideas and ways of being in the world. Constantly making new habits. Living being.