30 minutes after reading the TNI essay on Tiqqun and Preliminary Materials… I developed a fever of 102 degrees. A 24 hour bug but the kind of thing where your mind fixates on one or two images or ideas for hours on end because your brain is boiling. So I mostly thought about what I’d read. That essay is a curious thing. I do not think it’s written very well and maybe more importantly I think it is very poorly edited. Most importantly though, the essay doesn’t do anything different or, perhaps, think differently about ideas, politics, power, identity, or difference.
The most compelling and important thing the authors say in that essay is “We cannot refuse the hard work of thinking about difference.” I absolutely agree. But they do not engage difference or hard work in their thought process, in their ideas, in their process. At all. I mean, I guess it depends on how you view difference. If, in your view, difference is tied to identity, that there are a multiple of different identities that must be compared in an equal way, in terms of equality, then the essay is probably very alluring and satisfying. Weigel and Ahern argue in different ways the value of labor, particularly women’s labor, the unseen labor of marginalized people just trying to live in the current age, the labor of many against misogyny, all to great effect. They flip Tiqqun’s rhetoric for their own use and riff on the Man-Child as the figure that best embodies capital’s target or capital’s anxiety or capital’s affects. There are lots of good burns. Some of it is pretty funny, but all of it is toothless. There is not one interesting critique or one moment that feels different or that thinks differently about difference or provides any real alternative than the critique they half-lob at Tiqqun. Nothing feels radical at all. Nothing feels progressive or political in the slightest. All those descriptions of the Man-Child feel incredibly, disappointingly safe. There is no risk. At all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Becoming Undone by Elizabeth Grosz and how totally fucked up the things she’s writing about sound at first blush. The book doesn’t seem to be very popular or at least written about very much, probably because it’s ostensibly about Darwin and evolution and Luce Irigaray and feminism and politics. It’s dense and absolutely spellbinding. Some of the ideas are incredibly, almost unthinkably radical. Grosz is probably first and foremost a Deleuzian, a lapsed Lacanian, incredibly invested in Irigaray and Bergson and feminism and progressive politics. One of the most compelling ideas in the book is the the way she connects the living material world, animal and material, the actual real world, to difference, to political acts, and to art, through Darwin’s writings on sexual selection and Irigaray’s writings on sexual difference. She writes a lot about feminism and how feminists are lost, stuck really, in arguing for equality, for equal treatment. She argues that the patriarchy is not a system, not a structure, but a pattern. A habit. She argues that woman and man are wholly different and that the most significant or foundational difference, the ontology of difference, is sexual difference, the difference of the “at least two” sexes. All controversial ideas. Hard, dense, work. Difference is never reducible to identity in Grosz’s mind (or Deleuze or Foucault). Instead of thinking about identity (which is what most feminists and progressives do) she focuses on relations, on acts, on continual becoming as the most radical and ethical way of being in the living world. She argues that “identity cannot be understood as what we are, the multiple, overlapping categories that make us into subjects; rather, we are what we do and what we make, we are what we generate, which may give us an identity, but always an identity that is directed to our next act, our next activity, rather than to the accretion of the categories that may serve to describe us” (1285-1288 kindle edition lol). That’s the main idea of the book, I think, and she bases relations, the acts that make up the becoming, on sexual difference—the irreducible and indisputable difference between a woman and a man. Sexual difference means that comparison, categorization or hierarchization of a man and a woman will always fail because they are absolutely and fundamentally different. They experience the world differently, they think differently, they desire differently. This is straight out of Irigaray. Grosz also spends a lot of time comparing Irigaray and Darwin and rescuing them both from critiques of essentialism and biological determinism by talking about the difference between sexual selection (differences between individual animals within the same species as the engine driving desire and sex with one animal that looks a certain way over another) and natural selection (sex as an act to ensure the survival of a species). She ices any argument that sex between man and woman is the norm, that homo relations are mutations, that race is is a lower form of species (in fact she crafts a fucking breathtaking argument for race evolving similarly to different colored feathers or adornments in the animal kingdom which drives sexual selection—”black is beautiful”—which is based on sexual selection and desire rather than natural selection), that individuals born with no sex organs or both sets are less than, or any other garbage used by various folk to dismiss Darwin and often Irigaray. The book is radically complex and I don’t necessarily want to get too deep into it, but do bring it up because her model for thinking about difference, for considering sexual difference as a way of being, and wholly outside identity or hierarchies of suppression is incredibly relevant to my thoughts about the TNI essay.
The Man-Child is a failure as an alternative to the Young-Girl because it’s the same thing. Nothing exceeds our understanding of either the Young-Girl or the Man-Child. It’s all familiar. It’s all habit. The Man-Child is no different than the Young-Girl if the Man-Child is the dickhead grad student, the sexist and arrogant humanities professor, the mansplaining twit. The Young-Girl isn’t real even if we recognize her qualities. The Young -Girl is symbolic, she’s a target on a projection map, she’s only real in so much as capital lets her be recognized, on its terms. That’s the point, or maybe one point. Those Man-Child riffs feel very fucking real and the bros they depict are fucking awful but they only feel real because it’s habitual. It’s recognizable. Habits aren’t just behaviors. Becoming is the process of recognizing habits, engaging in a relation to learn new habits, and then forming new habits. Over and over. Weigel and Ahern don’t move anything forward, they keep everything anchored to the past, they keep putting off the future of Grosz’s becoming which seems to be the very thing they want most to come. They seem to want to make that very point about Tiqqun and the Man-Child but it reads like lip service. I don’t care one way or the other about Tiqqun. I do care a lot about difference and justice. Radical politics cannot be about personal identity or the ways that one identity suppresses or oppresses another identity because within that frame all identities will remain trapped forever, giving in or giving up on the potential of the future because in that frame the white hetero Euro male is king and always will be because he is a fuck. There is never any justice or difference in this way of thinking, in this world. But we know this. This is nothing new. And yet this is the only thing said in lots of different ways in the essay.
My experience as a man and with men generally makes me think that men are entitled assholes who think they know everything and try to force everyone around them to live their lives the great white hetero way. It’s destructive and gross and incredibly dangerous. Women are different than men because men are not women. An ethic of encountering others based on this difference has the potential to be liberatory, radical, and undefined. Imagining a way of being in the living world, inhabited by different others whom we recognize as different because there is something that exceeds our understanding, something different than us, by not identifying the other based on some similarity to our own identity, is a way of thinking difference that is hard but vital. That kind of imagination requires new languages, new relations, new ideas. It requires hard questions and difficult answers.