WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH MATTER?

Notes

  1. A list compiled by the Feminist Media Collective notes that, during the first five years of his leadership, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government of Canada has cancelled a national child-care program, cut funding to Status of Women Canada, cancelled a court challenges program that funded appeals made by women and minority groups to court rulings that violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, passed the Public Sector equitable Compensation Act which effectively removes women’s right to fair pay, and excluded women’s reproductive health from Canada’s G8 Maternal Health funding; this is by no means an exhaustive list. See “Chipping Away at Gender Equality: Harper’s 5-year Round Up.”
  2. Besides The Nick of Time, Grosz has explored the possible implications of Darwinian evolutionary theory for feminist politics in several monographs and scholarly articles. See Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art, “Darwin and Feminism: Preliminary Investigations for a Possible Alliance,” “Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom,” “The Nature of Sexual Difference: Irigaray and Darwin,” and Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power.
  3. The concept of ‘becoming’ is a cornerstone of Gilles Deleuze’s poststructuralism, which he develops from the work of philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson (the other two thinkers with whom Grosz engages alongside Darwin in The Nick of Time). As opposed to the static notion of ‘being,’ which Deleuze argues has been unjustifiably the predominant concept for understanding ontology in Western philosophy, ‘becoming’ refers to the continual production of difference without fixed directions or goals. According to Claire Colebrook, who has done extensive work on Deleuzian thought, “life is not composed to pre-given forms that simply evolve to become what they are, as though becoming could be attributed to the becoming of some being” (“Becoming” 133). This is because, as Deleuze and Guattari state in A Thousand Plateaus, “becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding relations; neither is it producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation” (239); rather, “becoming is to emit particles that take on certain relations of movement and rest because they enter a particular zone of proximity” (273). See The Nick of Time, “Becoming,” and A Thousand Plateaus.
  4. Grosz is conscious of the several problems her work raises, and even anticipates them to a certain extent. For example, early in The Nick of Time she writes, “Darwin’s work is of direct relevance to feminist concerns and indeed is a commonly elided assumption of much feminist work, even as it tends to be identified with patriarchal privilege” (19). Nevertheless, in her argument that same-sex relations occur, at least in part, in order to ensure the survival of those that reproduce (thereby ensuring the survival of the kin group), her work risks reifying heteronormativity. Grosz writes, “Though leaving no progeny, nonreproductive organisms, even in Darwin’s writings, can nevertheless be explained in terms of the evolutionary advantages they offer, not to the gene pool, but to the social group, whether close kin or only broadly genetically connected organisms of the same or related species. This must be, in part, an evolutionary explanation for the ongoing production and survival value of homosexuality and its near ubiquity in all known cultures, that there is no evolutionary disadvantage to social collectives in which it occurs, and indeed there may be positive social advantages” (83). See The Nick of Time.
  5.  While Ahmed focuses on the gesture’s routinization across a wide range of new materialist feminist works, including Grosz’s The Nick of Time, the routinized gesture can be found in several of Grosz’s other works. For example, in “Darwin and Feminism,” Grosz begins the piece with the statement: “There has traditionally been a strong resistance in the past of feminists to any recourse to the question of nature” (23). And in “Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom,” Grosz writes: “Instead of turning to those philosophical traditions in which the questions of freedom and autonomy are irremediably tied to the functioning and deprivatory power of the (oppressive or dominant other)—that is, the tradition of dialectical phenomenology that dates from Hegel, through Marxism, and influences and inflects existentialism, structuralism, and poststructuralism, which in turn have so heavily influenced most contemporary forms of feminist thought regarding the subject—I want to turn to a more archaic tradition but also a more modern one that feminists have tended to avoid—the philosophy of life, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of nature, initiated to some extent by the pre-Socratics, but fully elaborated primarily in the nineteenth century through the texts of Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson and flourishing well into the early decades of the twentieth century” (140). See “Darwin and Feminism: Preliminary Investigations for a Possible Alliance,” and “Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom.”
  6. “Feminist work in science studies,” notes Ahmed, “which must be read as intrinsic to feminist theory rather than apart from it, explores the traffic between nature/biology and culture, as a ‘material-semiotic’ to use Donna Haraway’s (2003: 201) classic term” (34). Further developing an account of feminism’s historical relationship with the biological, Ahmed draws upon “the longer genealogy of feminist science studies: one thinks of classics such as Alice Through the Microscope, produced by the Brighton Women and Science Group in 1980 (Birke et al., 1980), which involves contributions from feminists based in humanities and social science disciplines; or books like The Woman in the Body, published by Emily Martin (1987), which contributed to the analysis of science as culture. Indeed, we could turn to the edited collection Off-Centre: Feminism and Cultural Studies (Franklin et al.,1991), which contains a section titled ‘Science and Technology’ (with individual contributions from Maureen McNeil, Sarah Franklin, Wendy Fyfe, Deborah Lynn Steinberg and Tessa Randles) and reminds us that feminist cultural studies and feminist science studies have a shared genealogy. We also need to recognize that many of the feminist theorists trained in the biological sciences actually work in, and contribute to, humanities and social science disciplines (e.g. Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox Keller, Lynda Birke and Ruth Hubbard). The history of feminist science studies is exemplary as a history of the willingness to cross the borders between the humanities, social sciences and biological sciences. This interest in the biological sciences cannot thus be described as recent for feminists in the humanities and social sciences, though of course it might be the case that a more specific group of feminist theorists have become interested in biology and science more recently” (37). See “Imaginary Prohibitions.”
  7.  The conceptual figure of haunting has a complex connotative valence, from Derrida’s notion of ‘hauntology’ to the aftereffects of disavowed historical violence in the work of Gabriele Schwab and Avery Gordon. For the purposes of this essay, however, I simply mean to imply that the occluded history of historical materialist feminism returns as a revenant, or spectre, to haunt the discourse of new materialist feminism in Grosz’s work. See Spectres of MarxHaunting Legacies, and Ghostly Matters.
  8. Historical materialist feminism has an expansive and vital history of engagement with the material consequences of gender inequality and oppression for the female body, particularly around the centrality of domestic and reproductive labour as they figure in the reproduction of capitalist social relations, and insofar as those relations are predicated on a gendered division of labour that disproportionately exploits women. In the 1970s, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James began to argue that, despite being unwaged, women’s reproductive and domestic labour is central to the process of capital accumulation, in that it is necessary both for social reproduction and for the production of surplus value. In “Women and the Subversion of the Community,” Dalla Costa argues that, “on a world level, it is precisely what is particular to domestic work, not only measured as number of hours and nature of work, but as quality of life and quality of relationships which it generates, that determines a woman’s place wherever she is and to whichever class she belongs” (19), a place capital dictates to women insofar as they are “transformed into a function for reproducing labor power” (29). James states in “Sex, Race and Working Class Power” that “our feminism bases itself on a hitherto invisible stratum of the hierarchy of labour powers—the housewife—to which there corresponds no wage at all” (14). Drawing on Dalla Costa’s work, Maria Mies notes that “the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation” (Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale 31). More recently, Silvia Federici writes, “the body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance, as the female body has been appropriated by the state and men and forced to function as a means for the reproduction and accumulation of labor” (Caliban and the Witch 16). See “Women and the Subversion of the Community,” “Sex, Race and Working Class Power,” Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, and Caliban and the Witch.
  9. Clementine’s piece ends with the following provocation: “I strapped my boyfriend with homemade explosives and blew him up. His flesh spread everywhere. So did my affection. I’m sick of love. Let’s fall in politics” (54). See “Against the Couple Form.”

 

References

Alaimo, Stacy, and Hekman, Susan. Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008.

Ahmed, Sara. “Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15.1 (2008): 23-39. Web. 19 March 19, 2013.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke UP, 2011.

—. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 2008.

“Chipping Away at Gender Equality: Harper’s 5-year Round Up.” The F Word: Feminist Media Collective. Anne Emberline Graphic Arts, 2010. Web. 25 March 2013.

Clémence X. Clementine. “Against the Couple Form.” LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism 1 (2012): 45-54.

Colebrook, Claire. “Becoming.” Gilles Deleuze. New York: Routledge, 2002. 125-146.

Dalla Costa, Mariarosa. “Women and the Subversion of the Community.” The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. Bristol: Falling Wall P, 1973. 19-54.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2004.

Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art. Durham: Duke UP, 2011.

—. “Darwin and Feminism: Preliminary Investigations for a Possible Alliance.” Material Feminisms. Eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008. 23-51.

—. “Feminism, Materialism, and Freedom.” New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Eds. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. 139-57.

—. “The Nature of Sexual Difference: Irigaray and Darwin.” Journal of Theoretical Humanities. 17.2 (2012): 69-93. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

—. The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely. Durham: Duke UP, 2004.

—. Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

James, Selma. “Sex, Race and Working Class Power.” Sex, Race and Class. Bristol: Falling Wall P, 1975. 9-15.

LIES COLLECTIVE. “Editorial Note.” LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism. 1 (2012): 9-12.

Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). Trans. Martin Nicolaus. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.

Mies, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. New Jersey: Zed Books, 1986.

Schwab, Gabriele. Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma. New York: Columbia UP, 2010.

 

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