Monday, March 31, 2014

it was littoral

In her 1989 preface to the second edition of Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labor, Maria Mies wrote:
I do not expect that the new edition of this book will be able to convert these or other global players to an understanding of capitalism as an iceberg economy. But I do hope that it will help ordinary people in the South and North not to despair when this iceberg economy again, and rapidly, produces one crisis after another. Icebergs are very unstable. (xviii)
There is, of course, the echo of crisis to receive with skepticism, in Mies's formulation; this, after all, isn't it the motor of accumulation? But I think, without getting into it, that as Mies describes, the crisis is the thing that surfaces. In their discussion of the way that the term "cognitive capitalism" covers over other forms of labor, George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici register instead the way that capitalism "can restructure the accumulation process by taking advantage of the inequalities within the global workforce" ("Notes on the Edu-factory and Cognitive Capitalism" 128). I had forgotten that Mies's model literally invoked the iceberg, but as Caffentzis and Federici note, it does:
The huge "iceberg" of labor in capitalism (to use Maria Mies' metaphor) was made invisible by the tendency to look at the tip of the iceberg, industrial labor, while the labor involved in the reproduction of labor-power went unseen, with the result that the feminist movement was often fought against and seen as something outside of the class struggle. (128)
It seems worth noting how Caffentzis and Federici describe the way that this "undergrowth" becomes taken as something antagonistic to struggle. Mies is interested, of course, in mobilizing this base for struggle, which involves, according to her, tracing the "'underground connections' that link the processes by which nature was exploited and put under man's domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people" (77). This relationship has been illustrated:
Tracing these "underground connections" might be a way of thinking about the kind of knowledge work involved in establishing these terms in relation to one another, the work involved in thinking about how inequality based on race and sex are the terms around which reproductive work is organized. But the caveats are all there against the becoming "fluid" of these connections, against their being lost in the organization of some total system (a.k.a cognitive labor).

Mies's book was originally published in English in 1986, the same years as German artist Rosemarie Trockel's wool picture (Wollbild) Eisberg:

To wool enthusiasts, Eisberg might not merit special attention; its small size (30 cm2) permits it to be considered as a swatch, a sample that is knitted up to measure gauge. Two years after Eisberg, Trockel made a piece of identical size; however, in this piece, titled For Those Who Do Not Like Wool Pictures But Are Communists Nevertheless, primed canvas has been stretched over the hand-knit swatch. Trockel's pieces, as Caroline A. Jones notes, invoke a feminism that might be outdated now (and then?)—aren't we so over that, too?—but I'm with Jones in wanting to stick with her feminism, if only because it seems like whatever it permitted its dismissal is related to (the return of) the dismissal of reproductive labor in contemporary accounts of a total system. To venture, then: in writing on Trockel's work, one of the strains that is often emphasized is the way that she raises the question of automated, machine work (the knitting machine) in relation to the handicraft. Trockel's work, in this regard, is often seen to be critical of such automation; it is often he case that in works that involve hand-knitting (such as Eisberg, which depicts the "back side" of the most typical knitting stich, stockinette), Trockel is seen to be registering, as Jones writes, "process" instead of "pattern." Such a celebration, however, of the artwork as craftwork, only returns to the question of the passe quality of such work. There is no progression from "pattern" (automation) to "process," nothing about the materiality of work in these works; rather, it is about this kind of perpetual eclipsing of the one in the other because what each posits, but also forecloses, is the fact of the illusiveness of this "underground," as well.

pictures: "Iceberg Model" from Ecosocialist Horizons; Rosemarie Trockel, Eisberg, from the exhibit "Textiles: Open Letter" at the Museum Abteiberg

No comments: