Tuesday, April 16, 2013

this is enough

One of the most common desires of critical work is to get beyond the binary. There are many figures for the division--contradiction, antagonism, double bind, splitting--terms that also involve the construction of definitions that function to make clear the boundaries at work between terms. As Maria Mies describes in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale (London: Zed Books, 1986), the strategy of the feminist movement to reject "all dualistic and hierarchical divisions, created by capitalist patriarchy, viz., between public and private, political and economic, body and mind, head and heart, etc.," was the right strategy, and I agree with her assessment that there is still work to be done here, in demystifying "all colonizing divisions," but the next part of the argument, which for her involves the "desire to 'become whole' again" (35), raises more questions about what kind of strategy there is to have in moving forward, and this in no small way relates back to how the divisions, splitting, and difference are conceptualized in the first place.

Of primary interest for her analysis is "the interplay between the sexual and international division of labor." She reflects on what terms we should use to describe these divided and yet related sides of the world market (and similarly, it's a question of how to refer to the divided and yet related aspects of the sexual division of labor). She writes, "If we follow the feminist principle of transcending the divisions created by capitalist patriarchy in order to be able to establish that these divisions constitute only parts of the whole, we cannot treat the 'First' and 'Third' world as separate entities, but have to identify the relations that exist between the two" (39). Her effort to relate the two parts involves thinking about "polarization": "one pole is getting 'developed' at the expense of the other pole, which in this process is getting 'underdeveloped'" (39). The terms of development thus function to describe the international division of labor, but the structure that she presents here is generalized as well to other divisions. Unlike "First" and "Third" world countries, or "center" and "peripheries," she argues that the process of polarization put to use by capitalist patriarchy requires terms that "identify the relations between the two" at the same time that they clarify how the processes produce distinct poles. The polarization that she describes happens both on the level of material reality and on the level of the concepts--both in relation to mental and material labor (see her reference to the distinction in Marx, page 51), and it is because it is preceded by a division of labor that for her is thoroughgoing that this division (like the others that she describes) does not adequately describe the conditions of capitalist patriarchy, but its effects. The division that she finds as primary or thoroughgoing is the designation of the "'production of new life' as 'natural' and not as a historical fact" (51). The polarization of the production of new life and the production of historical life is covered over by the division of labor (between mental and material labor), with the result that the production of new life is underdeveloped, economically and conceptually, and the production of historical life is overdeveloped. 

The "desire" to transcend these divisions, to find a place of "wholeness" again (as problematic as this might be, as Paige Sweet points out) is supposed to take place in opposition to the desire or the force that compels polarization (for the benefit of overdevelopment). She writes: "The very motor driving on this polarization of the world economy, namely, the capital accumulation process, is based on a world view which never says 'This is enough'" (39). As a "motor" of the world economy, polarization functions because there is a world view behind it which never says "enough." Here, the belief in an endless, limitless process functions to describe that "world view." What is the relation between the desire to overcome the binary, to find wholeness, and to say "this is enough"? Who, or what, would such a revolutionary spectator be?

pictures: Philli's feet and a drawing of a pufferfish; Rosemarie Trockel, A Cosmos (2011)

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