Matter That Matters: Materialist Feminism & Sexual Difference

bodies-that-matterReading Elizabeth Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art for the first time finally made materialism click for me. I had been feeling a growing dissatisfaction with social constructivism; and while I had been reading plenty of materialists who insisted on “matter that mattered,”  I never knew how to explain it, or at least without recourse to a crude reductionist paradigm. With Grosz, however, we see how differences (and in her case: sexual difference) create a beautiful tension from which art and culture spring forth. At last, a beautiful demonstration on why matter matters. Enjoy.

I want to start with some mythical sense of “the beginning.” “In the beginning” is chaos, the whirling, unpredictable movement of forces, vibratory oscillations that constitute the universe. Chaos here may be understood not as absolute disorder but rather as a plethora of orders, forms, wills—forces that cannot be distinguished or differentiated from each other, both matter and its conditions for being otherwise, both the actual and the virtual in-distinguishably. Somewhere in this chaotic universe, in a relatively rare occurrence, through chance, molecular randomness generates [6] organic proteins, cells, proto-life. Such life can only exist and perpetuate itself to the extent that it can extract from the whirling and experientially overwhelming chaos that is nature, materiality, and their immanent forces those elements, substances, or processes it requires, can somehow bracket out or cast into shadow the profusion of forces that engulf and surround it so that it may incorporate what it needs. Henri Bergson, one of Deleuze’s major philosophical influences, understands this as a skeletalization of objects: we perceive only that which interests us, is of use to us, that to which our senses have, through evolution, been attuned (Bergson 1988). That is, life, even the simplest organic cell, carries its past with its present as no material object does. This incipient memory endows life with creativity, the capacity to elaborate an innovative and unpredictable response to stimuli, to react or, rather, simply to act, to enfold matter into itself, to transform matter and life in unpredictable ways.

Such elementary life can only evolve, become more, develop and elaborate itself to the extent that there is something fundamentally unstable about both its milieu and its organic constitution. The evolution of life can be seen not only in the increasing specialization and bifurcation or differentiation of life forms from each other, the elaboration and development of profoundly variable morphologies and bodily forms, but, above all, in their becoming-artistic, in their self-transformations, which exceed the bare requirements of existence. Sexual selection, the consequence of sexual difference or morphological bifurcation—one of the earliest upheavals in the evolution of life on earth and undoubtedly the most momentous invention that life has brought forth, the very machinery for guaranteeing the endless generation of morphological and genetic variation, the very mechanism of biological difference itself—is also, by this fact, the opening up of life to the indeterminacy of taste, pleasure, and sensation.6 Life comes to elaborate itself through making [7] its bodily forms and its archaic territories, pleasing (or annoying), performative, which is to say, intensified through their integration into form and their impact on bodies. Continue reading “Matter That Matters: Materialist Feminism & Sexual Difference”

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Escape: A Talk

Chisenhale Road 1951 by Nigel Henderson 1917-1985This following talk was presented last week at the 2012 North American Anarchist Studies Network conference. The Q/A period was perhaps more interesting than my talk. If you look around, you’ll find the videos.

Today, I will do three things:
1) Sketch a model of the State
2) Outline our terrain of struggle
and 3) Fill your arsenal with a few political weapons

This paper is a gloss of my current writing project, which is entitled Escape. Like many, I love stories of leaving it all behind, whether those are tales of fed-up employees quitting their jobs, restless romantics hitting the road, or the enraged laying waste to the civilization around them. Yet my thinking about escape originated from an academic interest that began after reading a curious comment early on in the popular book on “running to the hills,” James C Scott’s “The Art of Not Being Governed.” Continue reading “Escape: A Talk”

Politics Is Dangerous: Against Innocence

goodbyeinnocenceThe recent LIES: a journal of materialist feminism is an excellent collection of critical essays, reflections, communiques, and other writings. Despite its obvious roots in ‘zine culture, it rises above such classification; perhaps what I like best is that the collection presents things to disagree with. Many of these authors have certainly spent time in the world of the personal essay, which puts most writers in a position too vulnerable to propose anything worth disagreeing with your friends about – ‘recognize my experience or fuck you,’ – yet these authors reinvigorate the true meaning of the phrase “the personal is the political.” This isn’t a dumb boys club that starts the night with a good argument that is only to be forgotten  after a few slaps on the back at the bar. This is the lived realization that friendship is political, which is now understood as the politics of struggle built on intimacy but hidden by the seemingly-innocuous cover of “friendship as a way of life.” Yet friendship here is neither an underground network of subversive cells nor a support group turned family, it is the way we make it through our miserable lives by being political. They’re not looking for reform, rights, recognition – they’re laughing at Andy Warhol selling pictures of his mangled chest, they’re eagerly sharing diary entries about cheating the boss and getting back at bad boyfriends (aren’t they about the same?), and they’re trying not to gloat about having their finger on the pulse of the struggle way before everyone else.

But for me, the real gem of the journal is Jackie Wang’s “Against Innocence: race, gender, and the politics of safety.” Continue reading “Politics Is Dangerous: Against Innocence”

The Modern State (edited)

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.

Prelude (edited)

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on the works page.