Technomagics. Lets make Noise, Sisters!
XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors.
If nature is unjust, change nature!
Laboria Cubonix, Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 2016.
The glitch is the digital orgasm.
Legacy Russell, Digital Dualism And The Glitch Feminism Manifesto, 2012.
My problem is the problem of a woman.
Ewa Partum, 1980.
Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who, immersed as she was in he naivete, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism, hasn’t been ashamed of her strength?
Helene Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, 1975.
This text would not be written without: Zorka Wollny, Aleka Polis, Florence Freitag, and the amazing women from Berlin and Warsaw, with whom we worked using our thought, speech, scream, embroidery, and throwing out, so that such words, as: patriarchy, trash or homophobia, finally lose their meaning, for good.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I started reading the Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa. Her novel The Memory Police brilliantly describes how words and then also things disappear by a state decree. In Poland, this book had two meanings in 2020: on the one hand – it perfectly described the decrees with which the Polish government tried to force various fundamental decisions and changes, such as holding the presidential elections in May 2020, in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic, or imposing the continuation of pregnancies regardless of the fatal malfunctions of the fetuses, in October 2020. On the other hand – Ogawa’s book resonated with various restrictions introduced in reaction to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, it was a huge metaphor for closing and excluding various events, places and phenomena important to me, such as cultural events, demonstrations, concerts and clubs. The Memory Police, written in distant Japan, became for me the language framing this monstrous cauldron of perhaps the most enigmatic, virtual pandemic in history. We still do not know what this disease is and how to treat it, we do not have a functional and reliable vaccine, we have guesses, stretching our sphere of uncertainty to the size of a large balloon, which is easily caught by all post-truths and quasi-analysi, all political nonsense that makes it easier for pseudo-politicians such as Duda, Trump or Orban to govern the emotions and will of entire societies.
In Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann described hell not as a place where there is much evil, but as a zone of undecidability, one where God and the devil, the angel and Mephisto can be both. Such generalized uncertainty is not so much conducive to loosening the rules as to systematically strengthening them. Let us recall another moment of the return of the state of emergency – just after the attacks on the WTC on the 9 of September 2001. At that time, laws and regulations such as the Patriot Act were immediately introduced without taking into account constitutions and civil rights. Now we have another state of emergency, with its direct access of the authorities to citizens, less and less mediated by procedures and regulations. The state power is thus becoming more and more absolute, in an ever stronger sense, as it defies the rule of law imposed on citizens and therefore becomes a state of exception. In turn, through the distorted implementation of the public debate and through the media, what I tentatively called the “affective state of emergency” is strengthened by means of the constant imposition and maintenance of heavy negative emotions on people around cultural, moral, ethnic, sexual or gender conflicts. Vicious attacks against LGBT+ persons, against Margot, against the authors of the Atlas of Hate, against refugees, against women, against feminists and the left, meet the criteria of seeking and fighting the enemy, which is central in Carl Schmitt’s theory of the state of exception, constitutive for fascism as political system.
I have argued for a long time now that women and feminism are the key elements of contemporary antifascism. It is extremely important that we finally see feminism not as some UFO or other external factor of political theory, but as its contemporary center. Without this re-prioritization, we will still think of feminism as some kind of alien to the political theory and practice, while it is fully present and active at the core of contemporary antifascist politics. This is not to say that there are no other anti-fascisms. Of course there are. But feminism has consistently positioned itself in clear opposition to all fascisms we know, because:
– feminism stands against inequalities (fascism is built solely on inequalities, e.g. the superiority of power over those who have been deprived of the status of citizen and human, such as refugees, women, LGBT + people, communists, liberals, the left, black people, Jews, other ethnic or religious, groups);
– feminism fights for the equality between women and men (most fascisms push women and the feminine beyond the margin of full humanity, giving them an inferior status);
– feminism supports the full equality of all people (some contemporary variants of fascism bring particular women, people of color or those of sexual minorities under the category of humanity. But does this mean full equality? No – these specific people still have the status of tokens, exceptions proving the generally excluding rule);
– feminism provides strategies for the diagnosis and dismantling of supremacy policies;
– feminism enhances tools for dismantling the cult of strength and agency understood according to the male model;
– feminism provides strategies for building egalitarian relations;
– feminism allows methods of recovering the factors, behaviors and perspectives excluded by fascism, such as weakness, sensitivity, relationality, reproductive and affective work;
– feminism strengthens and enriches the understanding of cultural tendencies of building and dismantling otherness;
– feminism supports consent based negotiation rather than aggression, as well as the non-violent forms of action and change;
– feminism provides tools to work through and to change discriminatory and violent methods of action and communication;
– feminism is currently the most widespread and numerous anti-fascist social movement in the world.
Similarly to other antifascisms, feminism produces political demands – it wants to change reality. This is an element of politics, although today, after such “wildly ambitious” political slogans as “hot tap water” (main slogan of the Polish liberal party, PO) or “getting up from our knees” (main slogan of Polish conservative party, PiS), we may not remember it. Politics is an attempt to transform reality, among other things, by making claims. Feminism also makes a claim – to gender equality. Exactly on the day when I wrote these words, the Constitutional Tribunal deprived the Polish women of the last remnants of our right to abortion – it eliminated the possibility of terminating pregnancy in a situation when the life or health of the fetus is at risk. This means that the last legitimizing argument for abortions actually taken into account in Polish hospitals has been canceled. Now Polish women are on their own. This means pushing millions of women in Poland into a situation of outlaws, of a state of emergency experienced from the perspective of those who have been exempt from the law, because women with fetuses damaged or threatened with serious disease and death will, of course, look for ways to terminate pregnancy despite the ban. We will all be outlawed. The artist filming our project – Aleka Polis, had the experience of such endangered pregnancy. In her manifesto, written after the fully legal termination of pregnancy due to an incurable, fatal disease of the fetus, she claims: “Yes, even if I had survived this risked pregnancy and had a baby, it would soon die in agony. It is against my conscience. I do not agree to condemn someone as helpless as a newborn to suffer. It is enough for me to suffer on my own, I do not need any more suffering. Yes, it is my choice according to my conscience. I respect every other choice and every other ethical position on this topic. Yes, I want to have the right to decide about my body! As long as the fetus cannot live without me, it is in me, it is me. Yes, I made the best decision for her and for me. Anyone who had not carried a living being in their womb and had not felt the nascent maternal feelings, has no right to speak on my behalf and impose their solutions on me!”
Giving life has always been a women’s skill that men feared and envied and tried to control, submitting women to the dictates and prohibitions, biopolitically governing reproduction, often without taking into account women’s freedom, women’s needs, rights, and even our lives. Today, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal has added more stanzas to women’s tragedy in patriarchy. By subordinating the will, health and life of women to their own ideological phobia, the Tribunal sent us to some literary or political dystopia, it broke with equality and the prohibition of torture. Today Poland is a state of exception, especially for women.
Women have always rebelled and plotted against enforced reproductivity. Herbal, medical, and magical forms of knowledge have always been (mis)treated similarly to women’s autonomy – they were subjected to ridiculization, exclusion, prohibition and sanctions. The rituals and chants we perform here reanimate the memory of the repressed and destroyed tradition of women’s knowledge, developed by witches, midwives and sorceresses. By the power of our technically mediated ability to restore that memory, we do not want to rule out science or conventional medicine in some form of revengeful cut. We want to recall what was separated from knowledge, often artificially distinguished from it and thus also destroyed. By reaching out to myths, we do not overthrow reason, but we invoke opposition to unjustified suffering, artificial exclusion, inequality and harm. By claiming the knowledge and wisdom that has been repressed through the ages, we invoke resistance, waywardness, and disagreement of women rebelling against violence, exploitation, and the appropriation of our power and our bodies.
In the Polish language, a politician, also a feminist one, has to face a rarely discussed, but very fundamental limitation. Well, in our language the very word “claim” is negative. If we define someone or something as “claiming something”, we immediately say something negative. Interestingly, this adjective (roszczeniowy, one who makes a claim) is used only to depict those who defend their actual rights – such as employees or trade unions; people who have been granted alimentary funds and now claim them, or young people who want to have a decent job and livelihood when entering adult life. In English, the word “claim”, the equivalent of the Polish word “roszczenie”, is a neutral, legal and political term. In Polish, it is a term always already assuming that the expressed request is groundless, although the labor code, which trade unions demand to respect, or alimonies granted to parents or guardians of other people, are definitely legitimate claims.
Feminism, the “radical ideology” according to which people, regardless of gender, are equal, makes a legitimate claim to respect international rights and laws already embraced by most countries, at least formally. Such actions as call out or other recently abundant strategies to publicize sexual abuse and discrimination, undertaken by women as part of the #metoo campaign and many others, do not constitute a violation of the law, contrarily to the views of some commentators. They often become the last resort, a cry of despair at the sometimes scandalous disregard for women’s rights. Let’s take the example of students, sexually molested by their professors. It is so common in Polish and international academia, but only every few years, and in an atmosphere of a great scandal, we learn that professor x or doctor y had been molesting women for years. The process of becoming public of such informations is usually preceded by years of struggle by several women to remove the molestator from teaching, they often take place inside the university, and are futile, because, as the anthropologist Mary Douglas has already noted, institutions are by definition the least susceptible to change, they resist it and defend their status quo. The feminist philosopher Sara Ahmed, who served as the Equality Officer at the University of London’s art department (Goldsmiths) for several years, exhaustively describes the ineffectiveness of the university’s anti-discrimination and harassment systems in her publications. Her claims were confirmed by the American lawyer, creator of the legal definition of sexual harassment, Catharine MacKinnon, who in 2016 decided to report 300 cases of sexual assault at different universities in the USA to the White House, and only thanks to this action the cases started to be effectively addressed, and sometimes also solved. I have been observing such anti-discriminatory academic procedures in Poland, and I have the impression that as long as a desperate student does not bring such case to court, not much happens. Students complaining about sexually harassing professors are silenced, ridiculed, downplayed, ignored, punished, disciplined, discouraged; sometimes they are mercifully heard, but it is still difficult to find examples of lecturers or professors successfully punished for the abuse they cause around them. The claims expressed by women who took part in the #metoo campaign in October 2017 was simple: we want our harm to be heard, addressed and compensated, and – in justified cases – also punished. This is not a claim to some “unknown”, this is a claim to the elementary procedure of justice. Just as theft, burglary, or battery generate a legitimate need for justice in most people, also rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination at work give rise to a legitimate claims to justice, both: justified, and fundamental. The need to expose sexual violence, expressed by millions of women around the world in the #metoo campaign, was, in addition to demanding justice, also a claim to visibility. Sexual harassment or gender based discrimination are still a public secret in many workplaces – everyone knows, yet no one sees anything.
Such demanded visibility is yet another claim to the public, that is, to equal participation in the public sphere, from where women had been expelled for centuries, since antiquity. In Aristotle’s political project, considered to this day as a precursor and actual (sic!) vision of the public sphere, only free men with excellent economic status, whose ancestors were Athenians for at least three generations, could participate in the public sphere. Aristotle cemented the making of politics as the activity solely accessible to a privileged, narrow group of men for many centuries. Almost all political options agree with his definition of the public sphere, from conservatism to liberalism, and to the post-war social democracy; it is repeated not only by Leo Strauss, but also by Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas. Only the radical left and feminism demand changes to this scenario, extending the public sphere to women, ethnic and sexual minorities, and economically and culturally disadvantaged groups. Participation in the public sphere should not be an exception, it should be the right for everyone. In the meantime, the majority of people in democratic countries experience participation in the public sphere as an exceptional privilege, not as a valid, common standard. Hence – attempts of the excluded or subjugated groups to appear in the public sphere are often perceived as invasive, as violating the norm. In The Laughter of Medusa – outstanding manifesto of women’s writing, Helene Cixous wrote about the shame, fear and embarrassment that still accompanies many women during public appearances. Her manifesto was published in 1975, how little has changed since then!
In social theory, the main alternatives to the liberal-conservative public sphere, excluding women, minorities and unprivileged social groups, are mostly: the disorganized and unstructured social masses, sometimes fearfully portrayed as the “crowd”, sometimes as revolutionary “multitude”, sometimes as “the people” or “rabble”. The latter versions may be of interest to us now, because, unlike the other two, they clearly advertise themselves as having a claim to democracy. This claim becomes fully understandable and visible when we look at the counterpublics, that is, the multiple public spheres of various groups and individuals excluded from the liberal-conservative public. German theorists Aleksander Kluge and Oskar Negt wrote about proletarian counterpublics, and Nancy Fraser about the feminist ones. For me, the most interesting are the subaltern counterpublics, also invented by Fraser, as this concept allows for synthetic discussions of all attempts to build public spheres by groups excluded from democracy. In Poland, the non-heteronormative and non-binary people are often considered “demanding”, in the negative sense, like as if their claims to equality or justice were illegitimate. Their striving to implement the constitutional principle of equality and the need for respect and recognition of their identities are often perceived as some kind of frills. Laboria Cubonix, the authors of the Xenofeminism Manifesto, published a few years ago, demand the abolition of gender, the availability and more general use of hormones, and full access to genetic engineering. These claims are not invalid. From the perspective of people whose social perception, body or specific regulations, repeatedly prevent the realization of their most basic rights, these claims are fully justified. Emphasizing rationalism, techno-science and courage in the face of phenomena on a scale beyond the individual’s imagination, such as the climate catastrophe, xenofeminists make a claim to issues that until recently were considered only accessible to a small group of specialists or institutions. Four activists-theoreticians volunteer to act and decide on these matters. On the other hand, Legacy Russell, the author of the Glitch Manifesto published this year, but discussed since 2012, proposes to suspend the belief in permanent identity and to recognize error, disturbance, mistake as constitutive elements of contemporary subjects.
Russell is the first author I know to openly admit that the internet environments, including cybersex and online dating, inspires her understanding of gender, identity and politics. So we have: on the one hand, rationalism and the global scale, and techno-science of the Xenofeminist Manifesto, and on the other – online distortion, error and intimacy, designating and structuring the latest versions of feminism, while forcing us to rethink such classical topics, as politics and equality.
The positions of these recent feminist manifestos consistently refer to anti-fascist politics that have always been oriented towards rational debunking of myths. Already in Hegel, racist phrenological pseudo-analyzes, suggesting the possibility of inferring someone’s intellectual abilities from the shape of the skull, are contested as inventions whose best counterargument would be to smash a phrenologist’s skull. Rational debunking of myths is also the core of the classic twentieth-century anti-fascist narrative – The Dialectics of Enlightenment by Teodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. All these authors also support the use of reason to build universal rules and eradicate stereotypes and prejudices. Of course, this vision of universalism has been seriously revised by the author of the Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway, who in the essay Situated Knowledges explains the legitimacy of building universal claims on the basis of a suitably generalized experience of minorities or even individuals. With such corrections, the program of rational, universal knowledge and education, has been and still is the main tool for counteracting exclusion, exposing it and preventing it for the contemporary feminism. Of course, there are also trends in feminism that reject reason, rights and democracy. Sometimes such rejection mainly serves to restore their meaning or to change their exclusive character. But – most feminists also claim recognition, do not only want visibility, but also reaffirm the legal, cultural, ethical, and social grounds of their demands and their rational justification. This claim, usually discussed in technical theoretical and legal texts, is of a slightly different nature to the examples discussed earlier. However, it is, I have the impression, as important as the other ones.
The feminist reappropriation of magical beliefs, superstitions, witchcraft; feminist performance of madness or myth, are usually not a retreat from reason or claims to validity. Formally, artistically speaking, it is often a way to demonstrate and contest the currently inferior status of women, our claims, demands or needs. After all, disguised as a witch, I remind you not only about the threats to gender studies today, but also about the burning, watering, exorcism and exclusion of women accused of strategies and practices of knowledge inconsistent with the official line. While, of course, someone disguised as a witch may very well claim recognition of what is commonly known as “witchcraft,” they usually want to highlight some modern exclusion. Our “cursing” of the words denoting unwanted social phenomena, embroidering together, peeling potatoes in the most important Polish state gallery or reading the Tarot, are primarily gestures claiming the importance of women and all cultural practices and activities associated with femininity, especially reproductive work and care, affective labour and those forms of knowledge that have been downplayed, marginalized or even punished for years. We are – as Cixous wrote – like magpies, we pick up from various fields and disciplines, we build our own culture from scraps of the official one.
Today’s fascism has the face of hatred against women and what is considered feminine – the ability to give life, sensitivity, relationality, affect and care. These features, all inscribed in what Gayatri Spivak calls “the Other of the Subject of the West” – migrant women, ethnic and sexual minorities, economically disadvantaged or disabled people and, of course, women, are all regarded as secondary, although it is thanks to them after all that we stay alive. This paradox of affirmation and exclusion of life, typical for fascism, is disarmed in feminist and other anti-fascist narratives by, among other things, building alternatives to the existing order, dismantling authoritarian forms of political organization and culture, and resistance to the domination of the patriarchal, violent model of civilization. We are not here to meekly put up with further restrictions on our rights and our lives. We have come here to demand change, and we will not hesitate to undermine any injustice, in theory or in practice. Our solidarity knows no borders.
T. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, The Dialectics of the Enlightenment. Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Edmund Jepphcott. Standford: Stanford University Press, 2002.
Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, Duke University Press, Durham, 2017.
Helene Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, in: Signs, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1976), pp. 875-893.
Laboria Cubonix, Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 2016, published online: https://laboriacuboniks.net/manifesto/xenofeminism-a-politics-for-alienation/
Mary Douglas, How Institutions Think?, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1986.
N. Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy”, Social Text, no. 25/26: 56-80; 1990.
Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge, Massachussetts: MIT Press, 1991.
Catharine MacKinnon in conversation with Durba Mitra, “Ask a Feminist: Sexual Harassment in the Age of #MeToo,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 44 (2019), no. 4, pp. 1027–1043.
Catharine MacKinnon, “In Their Hands: Restoring Institutional Liability for Sexual Harassment in Education,” Yale Law Review 125 (2016), no. 7, pp. 2038–2105.
Ewa Majewska, “Strefy wolne od LGBT+”, in: Le Monde Diplomatique, PL, 1(161) 2020.
Yoko Ogawa. The Memory Police, Pantheon Books, 2019.
Aleka Polis, „Miałam legalną aborcję”, manifest, 2017:
Legacy Russell, Digital Dualism And The Glitch Feminism Manifesto,2012. Published online at: https://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2012/12/10/digital-dualism-and-the-glitch-feminism-manifesto/
Spivak, Gayatri. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in: Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence (eds.). Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture Chicago: University of Illinois Press.