Categories
#4 International Now-Here

Keti Chukhrov, Moscow

 


 

Which political role can feminism play in the contemporary world?

The goal is not to achieve simply to achieve legal equality; instead, we need to transform the problem of sex, bringing it beyond the system of binary oppositions. In my opinion, feminism has a great future, since it has proven capable of not only opening discourses on gender and its socio-economic backdrop, but also touches upon an ontological problematique. By asking questions of the feminine sex, feminism also raises questions as to its various modes of co-existing with the masculine part of society. Is the woman really an Other in relation to the (masculine) Others? This is probably one of the most fundamental questions that feminism has been able to ask. For the woman has always been no more than a narrative: she could even be the central object of an artwork, but her ontological status of Otherness, as the existence of the Other, was displaced from society’s communications at large, only to surface briefly in the event of love, which, in turn, could only present itself as an artwork. A contemporary reposing of feminism’s question cannot be reduced to criticizing the masculine or criticizing the feminine. Communication needs to be re-marked in non-binary terms, as does the event that occurs when the two sexes meet, even in this meeting’s erotic option. This does not mean that communication needs to become unisexual or purely based in groups. Instead, it means that we need to get beyond the phantasmal sexual expectations associated with the Other.

Which strategies of solidarity between women of different social, national, and ethnic backgrounds are possible today? Or is it better to shift our focus from the differences between men and women in order to address different universal features, such as political power-relations or social class?

Are there any chances for feminine solidarity in contemporary Russia? I don’t think so. As paradoxical as it may sound, such possibilities were far more frequent during the Soviet period. In any case, even if the woman was a secondary part of society, the universalizing model of the homo sovieticus was still in effect as something she could share with men. Today, business (i.e. finance) serves as the symbolic model for reaching equality. Some say that during the post-Perestroika period, women received their independence, along with the right to self-determination and the right to display their own inventiveness. All of this may be true. However, if one examines the sources of the start-up capital in the feminine business-world, one sees that this capital was probably a gift , and what’s more, a gift presented by a man to a woman on the strength of her sexual characteristics and not her qualities as a business partner. To put it differently, woman’s business in Russia is still highly eroticized. In professional life, women are likely to exaggerate their feminine qualities, viewing other women as competitors. In this situation, there can hardly be any talk of solidarity as far as women are concerned.

Do you feel that qualities like “vulnerability” will die out as unnecessary capacities?

The qualities of vulnerability cannot die, since they are not sexuate qualities but psychological states. Nevertheless, weakness is a symbolic category well-suited to manipulative use by both women and men. In Russia , feminism is not only unacceptable to many men, but also seems intolerable to many women: men actually represent one of the most important stages of a woman’s formative process in both economic and social terms. It is interesting that – despite all of the nominal improvements – the woman is not capable of refusing her own phantasm, even (or because) it makes her an object, waiting for the man to present her with some selfless gift. This situation’s corruption does not lie in its expectation of such “alms”, but in that women come to expect this gift in the name of their sex; they are incapable of separating their persona from its sexuate projections. In other words, the woman defines herself by cultivating her sexuate traits. Her sex is the motor of her personal semiotic machine.

Or is it possible to engage in a certain revolutionary politics of vulnerability?

Revolutionary politics as well as any form of protest can be constructed according to any semiotic model. The image of vulnerability is one such model. However, this image will hardly be feminine. If it is, we will no longer be talking about politics. I am afraid that politics cauterize or burn out any feminine plasticity completely. This is not because they elevate masculinity above all else. Instead, politics do not tolerate the intimate or the sacrificial image of the Other. In fact, sacrifice is something apolitical. Of course, this brings Antigone to mind. Does she carry out the burial of her brother as a political or a familial claim? Is her protest political, or does it attempt to extrapolate the essence of femininity and every-day feminism, long since realized in the framework of rituals? Unfortunately, this question demands a more extensive answer. As far as revolutionary politics are concerned, it is only possible to play out the revolution by counterpoising a given quality to the system at hand, but not through strategic methods of re-politicization. This counterpoise might consist of becoming vulnerable, becoming an animal, a woman, a bum etc. Yet these have little to do with the “politics of weakness”, which are an oxymoron.

How can feminism convince human beings of both genders of the need for emancipation and of the benefits of real freedom?

The possibility for liberation is something that begins in our minds. The relationship between the sexes, their erotic conflict, is based upon a phantasm. This phantasm is fed by narratives (cinema, literature), history and culture. (There is also dreaming: in dreams, the problem of sex exposes itself in all of its nudity). This is why I can only think of feminist liberation in a futurological key. In the first place, it would lie in freeing ourselves of the phantasm that produces the well-worn consumer clichés of physicality, speech, language, communication, and, finally, socio-economic relationships. Yet this is actually rather utopian, since “liberation” from the phantasm presupposes being freed from the greater part of desire. But desire is actually contemporary consumer-society’s main trick, since its satisfaction creates the illusion of immanent, authentic freedom.

Does love have any political potential in your opinion?

Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?

Love is an ontological problem. It only becomes a problem of gender or politics later on in the game. This is why love is so complex. We should remember how often narratives on love are intertwined with death: the aesthetics of love are thanatographic. In this sense, politics plays the role of an obstacle. Creon’s political demands on Antigone are more than justified. After all, he is trying to keep society’s peace. When Antigone carries out the ritual of burying her brothers, she is not motivated by love, but by a sense of obligation. She sacrifices love in the name of a ritual that serves an older society and its political system, its ancien regime. In the cases of both Creon and Antigone, politics bury love. Creon suppresses his love for his niece in favor of his responsibility to society at large. Antigone’s fulfillment of the ritual burial of her criminal brothers is – in a sense – also a political act, but it aims at an electorate that has already passed away. In both cases, the projections of love and eros undergo a drastic castration. Is love possible as something that takes place among couples or families, but that is “open toward society”? Probably. But I am afraid that such descriptions are very similar to the notion of a “civil society”. While the civil society is a wonderful institution, it is based on the Kantian ethical paradigm, which is only relevant thanks to its exclusion of any erotic ecstasy.

Nevertheless, communality based on love is possible through an attentive understanding of Christianity (cf. Slavoj Zizek, “13 Attempts on Lenin”). I do not think that the everyday experience of the relationship between people – especially if it is only based on respecting the Other – has much to do with love. The experience of “stepping out to meet the Other” is not that easy, since help often requires the sacrifice of personal interest. Human love – though virtual and universal – immediately constructs a hierarchy of greater and lesser intensities. The different intensities in the relationships to objects that come from differing subject are actually what compose love’s most painful problem. Only god can love everyone in equal measure. When it comes to the question of extrapolating love to society, political honesty and revolutionary ideals don’t help much. Let us at least remember the excellent film “The Communist” or Ostrovosky’s novel “How the Steel was Tempered”: like many other similar narratives, they are talking about real physical sacrifice and heroic self-effacement. And yes, this is probably love. Only it has very little to do with sex or gender, not to mention coitus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *