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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cultural Techniques of Things that Matter « Machinology

Cultural Techniques of Things that Matter « Machinology:

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Unveiling to Know Avail: Revealing the Wariness of Womanhood

“[T]hey raise the veil just enough to let us catch a glimpse of the Medusa head behind it…Perseus wore a magic cap that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters.
-     Das Kapital Vol. 1, Marx
I no longer want to write on the veil, do you hear, right on the veil or on the subject of the veil, around it or in its folds, under its authority or under its law, in a word neither on it nor under it…Go and see if I’m lying.
     - A Silkworm of One’s Own, Derrida
The ‘war on women’ is performed upon cruelly crafted stages[1]. In the ideological drama continually reinventing simulacra of phallogentrism the most basic rule of warfare has been violated; a prince/ss ought not engage in war upon multiple fronts. At home Americans battle to capture the appeal of women, while in Afghanistan American women engage in war as women, against women, and for women simultaneously. In January the U.S. Army launched a new “elite cultural support team,” a cohort of women soldiers trained to assist special operations forces for what the military calls ‘gender appropriate engagement’ (Zucchino). These women don both prosthetic helmets fit for cyberpunks and traditional Burkas, veiled revelations of pious faith.
While much has been written about the figure of the Afghani woman portrayed as a victim of the veil, the introduction of the veiled American female fighter complicates the plot of previous polemics. This essay attempts to critically assess, explore, and compare the differences in approach between a more traditional, Marxist method of ideological critique and the more generative, deconstructive style of Post-Feminist. In order to demonstrate the ways in which understandings of women & war and virtue, vice & the veil have become truly ‘special operations forces,” this essay tries to interpret, analyze, and undo the rhetorical/ideological grammars of David Zucchino’s L.A. Times article, “A counterinsurgency behind the burka” (Zucchino).
     While there are many ways of being a Marxist[2], this paper will expound upon a more traditional Marxist interpretation; in practice this means adopting a basic base/superstructure framework of analysis, assuming ideological phenomena are necessarily reducible to class, and maintaining the distinction between ideological criticism, which is historical and scientific, and moralism, which is a crass and utopian socialism[3].
Marxist criticism is a method of ideological critique that is premised upon a materialist understanding of the production of rhetoric. Marx & Engels most dogmatically state the materialist thesis in “The German Ideology:”
[W]e do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and…we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process… (Marx & Engels, 154). [4]

     In essence, Marx & Engels look at what wo/men do, not what they claim to do. This statement may seem to indicate the idea of rhetorical criticism has no place in the Marxist struggle, so how can the two projects be reconciled? As Foss astutely notes, Marxist ideological criticism is “a way of analyzing cultural products in terms of the social and economic practices and institutions that produce them” (Foss, 212-3). The Marxist method of criticism is deduced from the theoretical assumption that rhetorical artifacts are necessarily constituted by and constitutive of the specific historical and material circumstances out of which they emerge, rather than being the mere imitation of eternally perfect forms or ideas, as idealists presume, or as a free-floating structure of representation, as some structuralists contend. All of history is the history of class struggle. Thus, political economy furnishes the stage upon which the dramas of history unfold, and culture, the state, and rhetoric reflect the alienated condition of a civilization wallowing in the mire of ‘false consciousness.’
Marxists employ a dialectical method which seeks to unearth the contradictions between a text’s ideological content, rhetoric as a distilled mystification of proletarian estrangement, and its actual content, the totality of social relations concealed, yet present, which testify to the universality of class struggle. The Marxist worldview is necessarily totalizing, the model of base and superstructure argues that the control and development of the modes of production determine social relations in all of their variegated manifestations. Only criticism which aims to expose the concrete situation of society in relation to the totality of economic history can de-mystify ideology. Although any artifact can be criticized through a Marxist approach, Marxists approach texts merely to prove what they already knew, that texts are evidence of capital’s precarious contradictions. Marxist critics’ ultimate aim is to raise class-consciousness, but it remains to be seen whether they are as competent conjurers as their bourgeois counterparts. 
Post-Feminism: écriture feminine
Feminism is a cacophony not a chorus[5]. Many forms of feminist criticism have proliferated since the days of the suffragists. While, political equality is a necessary and laudable end, second wave feminists sought not mere equality in political representation or pay, but to undermine and even flip the structures of patriarchal privilege, challenge the representation of feminism as a single, unified movement by attending to race, class, sexuality and identity, and politicize the personal. Flipping the binary or revising the history of physical anthropology only proved the ruse of the form – decentering masculinity only proved the center’s absence.
Third wave feminists deconstructs “the false theatre of phallocentric representation” that presents man/woman in an andocentric and oppositional binary by writing through the body, by inventing grammars, syntaxes, andthe impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes,” and  (Cixous, 886 & 884 respectively). Largely influenced by French feminists such as Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous post-feminism critiqued not just the reified representations of man and woman as forms of symbolic violence but sought to undermine the supplementary, associative binaries subtending the power infused fields of gender’s everyday textuality[6].  Post-feminists deconstruct binaries such as: Phallus/Lack, Presence/Absence, Speech/Writing, Nature/Culture, Mind/Body, Reason/Emotion, etc… The point is not merely to equalize the two terms, but to implode the logic of violence subtending the oppositional system itself. By working from “within”[7] language itself - through what Cixous termed écriture féminine or “women’s writing” or similarly through Irigaray’s playfully mimetic writing - critics can open up the effervescence of the third, a space beyond the despotism of the binary’s dual structure (Cixous, 887 & 875 respectively). Women’s writing, however, was not confined to women as defined according to an essentialist biology. In fact, Cixous thought that not all women could engage in women’s writing but that some men could[8].
Women’s writing is a mode of writing which resists the ideology of patriarchal society by exploding the strict division of the social into neatly defined binaries. Traditional feminists seek to unearth the ways in which an artifact is constituted by and constitutive of gendered assumptions. Since second wave feminists argue that the ‘personal is political’ and post-feminists believe that ‘there is no outside the text’ any artifact is open to criticism. Post-feminists saw rhetoric as the primary means of patriarchal repression. Thus, feminine liberation required the invention of new rhetorics that let gendered differences be. This mode of writing is often very performative – challenging the strict adherence to linear reasoning, switching between exuberantly emotional and overtly rational voices, and blurring the divisions between genres and figurative and literal language. Post-feminists differ from their ideological counterparts in that they do not merely map an artifact onto a static grid of intelligibility, but perform the process of writing through body, of singing the song of the woman, and of becoming feminine outside of an economy of life and death struggle.
Voice! That, too, is launching forth and effusion without return. Exclamation, cry, breathlessness, yell, cough, vomit, music. Voice leaves. Voice loses. She leaves. She loses. And that is how she writes, as one throws a voice—forward into the void (Cixous and Clement, 173).

Reading Behind, Beyond, & (in) the in-between of the Burka[9]
     On the one hand, comparing these two methods appears to be a simple and discrete process of evaluation since they are based in very different basic assumptions about the nature of rhetoric, Marxism from a materialist framework and Post-Feminism from a deconstructive background. On the other hand, the engagement with a particular artifact births the realization that comparison necessarily occurs on the limits, where a text speaks in multiple tongues, and where what is at stake is precisely what remains, as if, un-said.
     David Zucchino’s article offers a promising specimen for analyzing the resonances and discontinuities between Marxist and Post-Feminist interpretation because it narrates the contradictory intersections between the masculine drive for mastery and profit, invulnerability and presence and the implicitly opposed converse, the feminine as nurturing and fragile, veiled and absent. But if one reads more attentively one may meet another possibility, “a process of different subjects knowing one another and beginning one another anew only from the living boundaries of the other: a multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of encounters and transformations of the same into the other and into the in-between” (Cixous 882). One may don Marx’s accursed cap and reveal the magic of bourgeois alienation’s mystification or one may embody the more than naked fragility of the veil – the veil in all of its supple, playful, yea-saying to “erotogeneity” (Cixous, 889).
         Crucial differences between the two methods manifest themselves most explicitly in the ways in which the role of the critic is understood. Criticism for the Marxist is a world-historical task of de-mystifying the totality of social relations and raising class consciousness. The Marxist assumption that a text’s true meaning, purpose, and effects can be objectively distinguished from the phantasms of ideological sorcery denies the deconstructionist premise that a text’s meaning is ambiguous to the point of undecidability. For Cixous, women’s writing is precisely not about arriving at a singularly defined conclusion. Rather it is a “process of becoming…As subject for history, woman always occurs simultaneously in several places. Woman un-thinks the unifying, regulating history that homogenizes and channels forces, herding contradictions into a single battlefield” (Cixous, 882).
         With the Zucchino piece, a Marxist would call attention to the historical and material impetus for the text’s production. For example, Marxists might criticize Zucchino’s intention to represent the U.S. Army’s objectives in Afghanistan as a humanitarian, civilizing mission as ideological window-dressing mystifying the contradictions between the espoused ideals of U.S. Exceptionalism and Neoliberalism’s violent underbelly of cultural effacement. A Marxist would emphasize the dialectical nature of Zucchino’s article, exposing the ways in which the alienated and contradictory nature of reality is distilled within the text itself. For example, the article begins with the tragic tale of the program’s first female death. The fact that household bombs are destroying even the more culturally sensitive women is evidence for a Marxist critique of the ways cultural imperialism mystifies the root causes of conflict; capitalism is most insidious when it dons the human face for its veil.
         In contrast to the dogmatic rigidity of the Marxist approach, a post-feminist critic would approach the text not from ‘without,’ wielding critique as an infallible weapon or absolute barometer of truth. Nay, beyond the self-comforting fictions of class determinism, deconstructive feminists unravel, diminish, and undo a text’s concealed ruins and ruinous concealment, as if, from ‘within’ the artifact itself. A third wave feminist might begin with the title, “A counterinsurgency behind the burka,” by proceeding to play ‘in’ its ambiguity. In just the first five words a multiplicity of meanings emerges that exceed the iron grip of the Marxist vanguard. One example is the indeterminate status of behind, does it mean “to the far side of (someone), typically so as to be hidden” meaning a counterinsurgency veiled by the object it seeks to reveal (New Oxford American Dictionary)? Or “in a line or procession” or  “after the departure or death of” as if the counterinsurgency must wait and follow after the burka (New Oxford American Dictionary)? Or “in support of or giving guidance to” as if morally backing the burka or using the burka as a sign of authority (New Oxford American Dictionary)?
         Disclosed within this singular example is all the difference in the world. “[T]o touch “that” which one calls “veil” is to touch everything. You’ll leave nothing intact…as soon as you take on the word ‘veil’” (Derrida, 24). While Marxists might contend that you cannot ‘play’ your way out of poverty, post-feminists are likewise justified in arguing you cannot produce your way out of patriarchy. What would Marxists make of this line for example, “‘We're kind of a third gender,’ she said. ‘The men don't worry about looking weak in front of us.’” (Zucchino)?  M-C-M circuits need not apply. A post-feminist criticism is at least a necessary supplement to, if not an outright more promising grammar of textual encounter than Marxist criticism for exploring the elisions, fissures and excesses which constitute the stuff of any oikonomia.
                  But these two methods are not merely talking past one another[10]. For example, Zucchino tells about one woman’s recollection of why she joined the team, “when the Army asked for volunteers for the new cultural teams. ‘I knew that was my calling,’ she said. ‘I thought it was the coolest thing ever’” (Zucchino). This vignette is a prime example that encapsulates the ways in which subjects are ‘hailed’ by the call of Ideology (Althusser). Althusser’s post-Marxist conception of Ideology without a history evinces the need to think beyond the impossible desire to transcend, escape, or overcome Ideology completely[11]. One can never get outside of Ideology. As Althusser writes, ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time that it is nothing but outside (for science and reality)” (Althusser). The logical conclusion of the Marxist ideological critique of naturalized conceptions of the subject is the dialectical undoing of stable categories of gender. As Althusser puts it, “individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects” (Althusser).[12] Althusser’s post-Marxist approach offers a more fruitful way of communicating between the dogmatic tendencies of orthodox Marxism and the sometimes overly ‘romanticized’ radicalism of post-feminism.
Out of conceiving the category of the Subject as Ideologically interpellated Rhetoric emerges in a new light. Rhetoric forms the sinews of connections, the sensitive surfaces of subjects’ nervous skins, and the intoxicating milk of seduction’s dance with desire – rhetoric emerges as the inter- of interpellation and the in of the in-between. Without a voice thrown into the void Althusser’s policeman remains mute. Without the first laugh of Cixous’ Medusa there would be no Ha in the Hail.

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes toward an Investigation)." Althusser, Louis. "Lenin and Philosophy" and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. Monthly Review Press, 1970.
Cixous, Helene and Catherine Clement. La Jeune née. Paris: Union General Editions, 1975.
Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs 1.4 (1976): 875-893.
Derrida, Jacques. “A Silkworm of One's Own.” Derrida, Helene Cixous and Jacques. Veils. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. 39.
Dictionary, New Oxford American. "Behind Entry." New Oxford American Dictionary. n.d.
Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1902.
Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism Exploration and Practice. Ed. Fourth. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc., 2009.
Hart, Roderick P. and Suzanne M. Daughton. Modern Rhetorical Criticism. New York City: Pearson, n.d.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. “Das Kapital Volume 1.” Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York City: Norton & Company, 1978. 294.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. "The German Ideology." Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York City: Norton & Company, 1978. 154.
Zucchino, David. “A counterinsurgency behind the burka.” L.A. Times 2011 йил 11-December.

[1]“a drama manglingly restaged, to reinstate again and again the religion of the father. Because we don't want that. We don't fawn around the supreme hole. We have no womanly reason to pledge allegiance to the negative. The feminine (as the poets suspected) affirms: ". . . And yes," says Molly, carrying Ulysses off beyond any book and toward the new writing; "I said yes, I will Yes" (Cixous, 884)
[2] Marx’s name remains a specter that haunts the left’s obsession with the ‘true’ Marx, as we saw in our class reading of Althusser’s attempt to separate the humanist, early or young Marx of the Manuscripts from the scientist of Das Kapital and as Derrida artfully demonstrates in Spectres of Marx. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony adds some nuance to the concept of ideology; whereas ideology is represented as a more coherent and abstracted representation of the ruling classes consciousness contained within popular ideas, hegemony seeks to flesh out the contradictory aspects of more varied social classes in their everyday, partial and incomplete manifestations. Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature clearly illustrates the distinction: “Hegemony is then not only the articulate upper level of  'ideology', nor are its forms of control only those ordinarily seen as 'manipulation' or 'indoctrination.' It is a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world. It is a lived system of meanings and values-constitutive and constituting-which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming (Williams, 111).”
[3] Most notably Marx’s attacks on Fourier and Proudhon in The Communist Manifesto & “The Poverty of Philosophy.”
[4] If one looks at what Marx & Engels did one need not read very far to realize they incessantly invoke literary figures, fictive characters such as ‘Mr. Moneybags’ or rely upon histories which are nothing more than narratives – such as the historian Thucydides. The opening Perseus quote shows Marx’s use of mythology to make an argument. Some might contend that though allusions abound, literature per se was not the basis for deducing economic principles and this may have some merit. Marx & Engels’ objects of criticism in the quote from “The German Ideology” were classical economists and ‘German Sociologists’ who often invoked the figure of Robinson Crusoe to explain economic principles, Natural Law Theorists who alluded to man in the ‘state of nature,’ or religious conceptions of man as made after God’s own image.  
[5] “[M]ake the old single-grooved mother tongue reverberate with more than one language” (Cixous, 885).
[6] “to transform directly and indirectly all systems of exchange based on masculine thrift” (original emphasis, Cixous, 882).
[7]“If woman has always functioned "within" the discourse of man, a signifier that has always referred back to the opposite signifier which annihilates its specific energy and diminishes or stifles its very different sounds, it is time for her to dislocate this "within," to explode it, turn it around, and seize it;” (Cixous, 887).
[8] Dr. Davis noted this in class, but I still haven’t been able to find the cite, but can be deduced from “The Laugh of the Medusa” more generally; “there is, at this time, no general woman, no one typical woman. What they have in common I will say. But what strikes me is the infinite richness of their individual constitutions: you can't talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogeneous, classifiable into codes…(Cixous, 876).
[9]  “[W]riting is precisely working (in) the in-between, inspecting the process of the same and of the other without which nothing can live, undoing the work of death” (Cixous, 882).
[10] There are entire schools of feminist thought which are based in a materialist framework, largely influenced by Engels The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State which isolates the first divisions of labour as between male and female and criticizes marriage as a form of bourgeois prostitution and the nuclear family as an unnatural derivative of the transition from feudalism to industrial production. Yet the work is also criticized for basing its argument largely on biological assumptions about natural selection and for reifying gender understood as the man/woman dyad. “It is one of the most absurd notions derived from 18th century Enlightenment that in the beginning of society woman was the slave of man” (Engels, 60).
[11] “[O]ne of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’. It is necessary to be outside ideology, i.e. in scientific knowledge, to be able to say: I am in ideology (a quite exceptional case) or (the general case): I was in ideology” (Althusser).

[12] Capital’s necessary tendency toward expansion inevitably leads to the new social arrangements of identity in order to adapt to the needs of developing the modes of production Engels saw the first manifestations of, and predicted the continuance of the downfall of bourgeois marriage as a response to growing productive needs.

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