Archive for September 2011
I was certain this was common knowledge, but two people have asked me to clarify, so I’m providing the full Žižek quote here. Bear in mind that this is my retranslation into English from the Polish translation that I own, so it will definitely differ from the original text. Still, the gist will be there, I’m sure.
One of the specifically pernicious effects of the politically correct Cultural Studies position is a (concealed, but hence even more effective) prohibition against revealing the structural problem of lesbian subjectivity; against an attempt to understand the clinical fact that most lesbian relationships are unusually cold, emotionally distant, radically narcissistic; that love within their context is impossible, and the subject’s own position is problematic. As if drawing logical conclusions from this fact (and not just handwaving it away as an effect of internalized patriarchal repression) was equivalent to accepting classical patriarchal “wisdom”.
(Rewolucja u bram. Pisma Lenina z roku 1917, Posłowie, str. 441. wyd. ha!art, Kraków 2006, tłum. Julian Kutyła; here’s the English version)
Clinical fact! Did you fucking see that? Old boy Slavoj presumes to know clinical facts about lesbian relationships — and what a very specific word that is, too, clinical. Pathological, he might as well have written. Thus spake the privileged interpreter of female sexuality. How he came to possess the objective knowledge of these clinical facts, we can only speculate. (Personally, I’d assume he’s extrapolating from something Judith Butler told him about a friend of hers. Clinical facts indeed.)
When I read it first, I was furious, but seeing how everyone around me was enamored with Žižek, I kind of let it slide. I figured they’ve read it too, and there’s already been a shitstorm about it, and one way or another, the matter’s been settled. But… I don’t think it has, actually.
So that’s why I’ve never liked him, and I never will. I don’t give a shit if this is “on purpose” or to rile up “the liberals” or what. It’s dehumanizing and patronizing shit, turning the lived identities and experiences of women who love women into some abstract post-Lacanian theory that speculates upon their subjectivity — right after it erases their existence. This point he attempts ot make here clearly shows that he hasn’t made the slightest critical engagement with feminist theory, besides ransacking it for whatever he thought sounded cool, and yet he wants to be taken seriously?
Actually, “pretending he gets it” is still giving him too much credit. I think he is quite consciously working to reestablish the acceptability, or even necessity, of male privilege in leftist discourse.
We must reject this completely. Combat Žižek.
I know a lot of sad people. If you’re one of the leftist mutants, shambling and unsightly creatures roaming the capitalist wastelands, born of the constant background radiation of Vast Injustice, chances are you do too. Chances are if you think you don’t, you’ve just been lucky enough to never have to learn to recognize well-concealed sadness.
When I say sadness, what I actually mean is “depression”, sort of. “Depression” only comes into being when a certified professional, in the process of diagnosis, declares it to be present. This curious speech act, “I pronounce you depressed”, reminds me of “I pronounce you man and wife”, in how it legitimizes a previously existing state and announces it to the public sphere. Prior to that, well-meaning people will urge you to finally tie the knot and make it official, while assholes are completely free to deny and disregard your relationship or your mental state.
So when I say “sad”, I’m trying not to exclude those unwilling or unable to get a diagnosis, maybe because they can’t afford it, maybe because of the risk of social stigma, maybe because they’re not in line with the standard performance of a Depressed Person, or maybe because they dislike the way in which mental illness is usually constructed.
This last point probably requires a bit of explanation. Since mediaeval times, mental illness in the West — madness, if you will, or insanity — has been intricately linked with a rather ambiguous sort of social exclusion — partly contempt, partly fetishization of “the beautiful mind”. Consider the Ship of Fools: a physical removal of the odd folks, the misfits, the strange and the queer from “normal” society, coupled with a peculiar half-mocking, half-reverent attitude. Or check out the dude on the right: the particular image is modern, but the Fool is a character probably older than the printing press. He hangs out with a dog; animals are lesser, soulless creatures, aren’t they? And is he stumbling into the chasm, or does he see something beyond it that we do not? What is that expression — fear, or rapturous awe?
(I really should write that Tarot post someday. In the meantime, consider this: what if we read the Fool as the subject of history?)
The Romantic poets did this a lot. The holy madman (always a man), the prophet, the visionary. Spurned by society, he receives in exchange miraculous insights into the Ultimate Reality, but the fire of his genius always threatens to consume him.
While this notion is, I would argue, dehumanizing and disrespectful to actual people with actual mental issues in how it glamorizes and elevates very base, simple, unspectacular, shitty suffering, it still manages to grasp, in a very inept and roundabout way, a certain truth about the relationship between them — us — and society. I should repeat at this point that I’m talking about “our” “community”, whatever the hell that is — the ragtag bunch of fringe leftists that I hang out with. I should not like any of this to be construed as sweeping pronouncements about mental illness in general (although I do suspect that some parts of it are more broadly applicable).
The Fool suggests that there is a link between mental illness, grasping the truth of the world and alienation. Without overspecifying this link, to avoid crude inaccuracies like “the present social conditions are solely responsible for driving everyone crazy”, I believe this is exactly right.
You wake up and smell the injustice, and get angry at yourself for not doing more about it. You get a little twinge of residual guilt for not living up to society’s expectations, closely followed by a raging torrent of shame for not being completely free of that guilt. You’re overcome by paralyzing fear at the thought of being a fake, a fraud, an uneducated idiot, nothing like those smart and amazing people who somehow tolerate your presence. You get into an argument, the fifth one this week, and end up pissed off and exhausted. For a few hours, you’re convinced that every sideways look and derisive laugh and whispered comment must be about you. You go to school, or to work, or try to look for work, or blame yourself for not being better at looking for work, even if there isn’t any to be found. You sleep too much, or too little, or not at all. You keep going, but every day is another needle, and every needle draws a drop of blood.
You care and you care and you care until you’re blue in the face, and at the end of the day, all you’re left with is a mug full of tea and a head full of suicidal ideation.
What is to be done?
Here’s an idea: care more.
What I mean is the things that we’ve already been doing for a while, kind of half-consciously, because if we hadn’t, well, we’d be dead. We sought each other out, and learned to recognize which people were toxic, and which you had to hold on to for dear life. We talked each other through tiny breakdowns and huge tragedies and the ongoing catastrophe of our continued existence. We gave each other shit for doing stupid and hurtful things.
Our survival depends on our ability to care for each other, and for ourselves. The latter I’ve found tremendously difficult at first — what the fuck do you mean I’m supposed to like myself, when I’ve done Horrible Things A through X, and am probably unwittingly working on Y as we speak? — but there’s just no way around it. If you don’t enjoy your own company, even somewhat grudgingly, you’re hurting not only yourself, but everyone who cares about you. We can’t fight your self-hating and self-destructive beliefs for you, but we can help. Just so long as you admit that maybe, possibly, ardently wishing for your own death is something you need help with.
I firmly believe we can do this; not tell each other, smugly, to “get help” from a “professional”, but give help right here and now, and receive it too. Growing up, I was horrified by what I perceived to be the erosion of the institution of “friendship”: I marvelled at how people in these old books could talk to each other about anything, and the people I knew in real life would only venture into certain subjects, especially emotional ones, with a sneer and a four-inch-thick armour of ironic distance. I don’t know if that’s just me or not; I do know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that a psych degree ain’t shit compared to someone who wants you to get better, just so they can get drunk with you or humiliatingly beat you at videogames again.
So hang on. Hang on, to each other.
The inimitable @Astrophilia wrote a good post about Joss Whedon ages ago, and I decided to repost it here, because it turns out there are still people unaware of these basic facts. Also because it’s a great post, check this out:
Firefly has been a point of contention for Internet Feminists™ ever since Alecto first wrote about it in her usual inflammatory style. Unfortunately people were unwilling or unable to look past her accusatory remarks and occasional grasping to see some of the really spot-on points she had made: the problematic nature of having a black woman constantly call a white man sir long after they have both left the military; the ‘happy hooker’ myth being perpetuated repeatedly; the constant objectification of Zoe by her own husband; the troubling remarks by Mal towards Kaylee. It goes on.
Sometimes you do discourse analysis, and sometimes the stark reality of immeasurable pain jumps out at you and demands your attention.
Imagine for a while you live in Poland. Imagine that, in 1993, a law providing for more or less on-demand abortion gets overturned as a result of backroom deals between the glorious heroes of Solidarity and the Catholic Church, in exchange for the latter’s prior cooperation against the toppled regime. Imagine that a new, draconian abortion ban is passed.
Imagine that the social democrats — many of them former apparatchiks of that same regime — win the subsequent parliamentary election in 1993 and form a coalition with the centrist regionalists, riding a wave of growing resentment towards the transition into Proper Capitalism, which was supposed to bring widespread prosperity. Imagine they don’t touch the abortion ban at all. Imagine that the very same social democratic party gets elected in 2001, again taking advantage of growing discontent against the post-Solidarity centre-right. Imagine that, in exchange for the Catholic Church’s blessing for the upcoming EU accession referendum, they promise not to touch the abortion ban at all. They keep their word.
The deals with the Church are my speculation, corroborated by some testimonies but no official documents. Everything else is God’s own truth.
Now imagine you’re here, in 2011, and the 1993 law stands. Terminating a pregnancy is permissible in very restricted cases (rape, incest, serious health risks, an irreversibly damaged foetus). In cases of rape, it’s first-trimester only; if you don’t go to the cops immediately, or the procedure stalls, you might end up shit out of luck anyway. Similar procedural barriers exist in the other cases. As if that wasn’t enough, doctors are free to hide behind a very broad conscience clause. Most do, whether out of actual conviction, peer pressure or a profit motive (why perform the procedure in your state hospital for free, when you can appeal to your delicate conscience, while simultaneously handing a woman the address of your private clinic, where “something can be arranged”?)
Are you quite done imagining all that? Now imagine that, in a country of over 38 million people, there are just over five hundred legal abortions performed a year, in addition to a few dozen convictions of abortion doctors.
Basic demographic data and international comparisons suggest that this is utterly ludicrous. The actual number has to be at least one hundred thousand per year, and almost definitely more. Hundreds of thousands of completely unregulated, invasive medical procedures on women’s bodies.
It’s common knowledge that a black market abortion will run you anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 zł. The average wage is estimated at around 3,000 zł, but considering that about 60% of the population — that’s twenty three million people — subsist below the so-called “social minimum”, estimated somewhere between 750 and 950 zł per capita, the average wage is fucking bullshit. Illegally terminating a pregnancy, if you’re not “middle class”, will cost you around three monthly salaries, possibly more. Just what you’re supposed to eat for these three months is rather unclear. Cake, I suppose.
Access to contraception is limited; it may not be illegal, but you’ll pay a mint for most commonly prescribed pills. State-funded healthcare doesn’t cover most of them. If you can’t or don’t want to go on hormonal pills, good luck finding anything other than condoms outside of large cities. Sex ed in schools is all but nonexistent. At best, the few obligatory hours will get shoved onto the school counsellor or PE teacher; at worst, it’ll be the religious ed teacher. (Did I mention religious education is an “unofficial”, but in practice almost mandatory, part of the curriculum?) Oh, and voluntary sterilization is illegal.
Are you beginning to grasp the scope of this enormity? And I haven’t even gotten to the part about social stigma and gender expectations and pervasive misogynistic myths.
Poland wants women to suffer. There are no words, no fancy concepts, just this simple fact: if you are a woman, the entire patriarchal shithole of a country is out to get you. One way or another, it wants to take your life away.
In the coming months, I’ll be working with some good people to push for comprehensive reproductive rights reform. I’ll try to get the proposed new law translated into English as soon as I can. By global standards, the bill is pretty tame; by local ones, it’s just about revolutionary.
I don’t believe in luck. Please wish us justice.