The Past is a Foreign Country

amnesia, anyone?

If I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned that gender, race, and class are important.  This is an overly-obvious, and overly-vague statement, of course, but worth stating all the same.  What’s hard to state is the varied ways that they are important, how they shape the textures of everyday life, how they shape shift to ensure the continuance of power.

One of the ongoing debates, of course, is how they interact – if they amplify one another, suppress one another, neutralize one another.  A dear person suggested that working on race (i.e. researching it, thinking about it, thinking about how to talk about it better, how to fail at it better) is an isolating position because although everyone thinks they know ‘race’ they always subordinate it, obscure it, refuse to engage with it, etc..

Reading Ali Behdad, subtly criticizing my man David Lloyd, seems to confirm the musings of this dear person.  For Lloyd is about minorness rather than race, and thus tries to imagine the solidarity of minority positions (something which, in the abstract, I am super on board with – I think theorizing minorness, minority positions, etc, is very conceptually productive).  But as Behdad says:

“The logic of sameness that underwrites such claims of solidarity obscures the various histories of radicalization which makes the project of liberation distinct for each oppressed community” (“Critical Historicism, 294).

He means the ways that thinking in terms of minorities flattens race, but his thoughts go further, suggesting the ways that the ways that people think about class often approaches race as if it’s the same – i.e. the product of the same workings of power.

Which, returns me to Foucault (of course!).  A common criticism of his work is that he suggests that power is everywhere, thus flattening out power.  But it’s not so simple.  What I love about Foucault is that it’s so much about form (i.e. thinking in terms of minorness is quite theoretically compatible with his work) and although the ends of form is sameness (power reproduces itself, discipline tends towards homogenization and normalization) the ways it does so is fundamentally about difference (forms reproduce at different rates, in different locations).  This Foucault is rarely emphasized, but it’s what reminds us to focus on the processes rather than the ends.  It’s what reminds us not to forget how we got here, the discourses that we inhabit and used to inhabit, and the discourses that we actively disavow.

As Ali Behdad writes:

“The figuring of the alien does not remain the same over time because each historical epoch demands new representations of otherness, cast in response to specific cultural emergences, economic needs, political exigencies, and social conflicts”  (Critical Historicism, 289-90).


“Forgetting in this case is a form of historical disavowal in which Americans consciously decide to keep certain knowledge at bay” (Critical Historicism, 290)


Thinking Long-Term

From Rob Nixon’s most recent PMLA piece, “Neoliberalism, Genre, and ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’”:

“If access to resources becomes radically, explosively uneven; if people increasingly feel they are inhabiting futureless states (in both senses of the phrase); if the many sense that they are being asked to bear more and more communized costs while the few privatize and monopolize more and more resources, hoarding profits, social movements will arise demanding a different distributive politics of the commons . . . In such scenarios, the predatory threat arrives in the form not of the greedy, unattached pastoralist but of unregulated, voracious emissaries who have no respect for limits and no sustainable, inclusive vision of what it means, long-term, to belong.” (598)

Lynn Keller also has some great thoughts about biodiversity, genre, and sustainability.

Fugitive Publics

“We went into the hospital, into the university, into the library, into the park.  We were offered credit for our debt.  We were granted citizenship.  We were given the credit of the state, the right to render private any public gone bad.  Good citizens can match credit and debt.  They get credit for knowing the difference, for knowing their place.  Bad debt leads to bad publics, publics unmatched, unconsolidated, unprofitable.”

Identity Politics

It’s easy to be against identity politics (who believes in identity in the shape-shifting 21st Century?).  But it’s also easy to see how the very people who are against identity politics can shape-shift in ways that further obscure minor identity positions.  Such shape-shifting makes visible one way that white privilege plays itself out in a moment that values ‘diversity’ or ‘minority’ positions.  Global networks, proliferating differences can be a way of reifying sameness (performed difference only to mask sameness).  Homogeneity lurks beneath the most heterogeneous of networks.

But certainly someone has theorized this better (or at least more recently than) Spivak (the person who brings the political power to Lisa Nakamura’s article linked to above)?  Because I love Spivak’s work, but I would think, hope, expect, that there is someone who is doing that work within the discourse of the digital, the computational, neoliberalism.  I want to find that person, and celebrate him/her.