Posts tagged difference.

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.

Whether or not you dig St. Vincent, this new album exudes a sexuality that is so singular, so wholly female, which absolutely exceeds male knowledge, sets itself apart from male forms of knowing desire, that it’s really worth listening to and thinking about. I cringe in anticipation of all the terrible writing about this record that is bound to turn up over the next few weeks. Maybe I should have a better attitude but really, how many more analyses of female sexuality, form, and body do we need to see filtered through the bro-gaze when it’s literally impossible for a man to understand, specifically, like, in its specificity. Wholly other. An excess.

The Subject Was Faggots

The new year is already over. It’s like all energy has been focused on filling the Internet these last three weeks with as much black oil as possible, the kind that eats away at the eyes of things in movies. Yesterday the city was covered in a thick white powder. I’ve been sick for much of January and then did something hilarious to my back and neck and so I went to the chiropractor and acupuncturist yesterday in the middle of all the weather and everything was cold and gorgeous, for a bit. If you haven’t gotten a chance to listen to Queerifications and Ruins, DJ Sprinkles latest release of the remixes he’s done over the last few years I really can’t recommend it highly enough. If you like deep house, if you like mournful, gorgeous, harrowing sound(s), if you’re sexual or not, queer or not, the shit is fabulous. It makes everything in the new year look better than it feels. But really, failing to look fabulous is ok. 

Yesterday under the needles I started thinking “what’s missing” to myself and maybe even whispered it once or twice. Face down, all twitchy. What’s given? What’s missing? What do we see? What do we sense? What do miss? What do we not sense? What’s missing? If you were to ask me who or what I am, I don’t think I’d be able to give you an answer that didn’t leap around my mouth depending on the time of day. I think the “post” theorists get a bad rap because if you’re always changing and authenticity is a pose then nothing is real or certain oh my. Of course not. When you ask me what I am my answer is always contingent upon a context and context is always changing, always different, always difference. My identity can switch up because my subjectivity is always producing such fantastic excess which moves beyond even my own horizon of perception. So. Fucking. Fast. But yeah, things get real when we can’t sense something that’s in front of our faces because it’s hidden or un-senseable. Everyone gets scared of the dark at some point or another. Your identity is not scary because I know what you mean when I can sense and see the outlines of your shape. I know who you are because I recognize you. An empty politics. 

If you listen to a lot of DJ Sprinkles or Terre Thaemlitz you know that there are a lot of layers to his music and that sometimes she masks the sermon of a mad preacher screaming about house music and homosexuality. Sometimes it’s Gil Scott-Heron screaming

faggots who had come to ball   
faggots who had come to ball
faggots who were balling
because they could not get their balls inside the faggot hall

and it sounds so fucking beautiful folded down in the mix, with kittens mewing, and a whispering woman’s voice. Celebration from destruction.Oh, Yoko (Sprinkles’ Ambient Ballroom) comes on and everything stops when I cross 155th in the snow because for a few minutes I might not know what happens next. So I listen. Later, I remember Scott-Heron goes on to say 

had there been no sign on the door saying:
"Faggot Ball"
I might have entered
and god only knows just what would have happened 

the subject was faggots.

No more signs. No more signs. No more signs.

Going through my old notebooks. Gonna start writing again. Let’s get through Difference and Repetition, finally, then move on to this and this. Not for nothing but that sketch of intensive processes is a thing of beauty.

Becoming Undone: Thoughts on Further Materials…

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.