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Rosi Braidotti: BONUS EPISODE!

Transcript:


KERRY MACKERETH:

Hi! We're Eleanor and Kerry. We're the hosts of The Good Robot podcast, and join us as we ask the experts: what is good technology? Is it even possible? And what does feminism have to bring to this conversation? If you wanna learn more about today's topic, head over to our website, where we've got a full transcript of the episode and a specially curated reading list with work by, or picked by, our experts. But until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Hello, this bonus episode is the second half of our conversation with Rosi Braidotti. In this part, Braidotti discusses the culture wars, genealogies of black feminisms, the relationship between gender and capitalism, the rise of neoliberal feminism and the effect that has had on solidarities between generations of feminists, and of course, the Feminist posthuman project. She takes us from Virginia Woolf to Alice Walker, Paul Preciado to Shulamith Firestone. She explains why Firestone predicted some of reproductive possibilities we now had on offer, but failed to see that capitalism, not revolution, would be the source of these reproductive freedoms. She explains why corporations like IBM that have been thinking about gender as a spectrum, inherit these ideas from John Money and the gender reassignment clinics back in the 60s, and why most good predictions about capitalism can be attributed to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri. We hope you enjoy the show.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

When we think about, you know, what ethical engagements with non-human others look like on the one hand and then on the other, which groups have historically been denied human rights and freedoms, and are still clamouring for their humanity to be recognised - how do we attend to that without falling back into this old understanding of the human? And luckily, we have Sylvia Wynter, we have Hortense Spillers, we've got Mel Chen, who are helping us to negotiate this very tricky headache in a way that is ethical that is attentive to the marginalised and to the people who have suffered most from this transhumanist vibe to reclaim the human. How do we -


ROSI BRAIDOTTI:

We I agree with you, I think the entire feminist posthumanist project starts from the perspective of those who are not fully human. If you read the [Donna Haraway’s] “Cyborg Manifesto”, we're looking at 1985. And if you're looking at Shulamith Firestone it’s 1971, or 72. And both are techno-utopian texts that take into account race and class and the environment in a very spectacular manner. So I want to, I'm a bit concerned, if I may, at the short-term memory that comes with these discussions, and I know it’s because of the internet and several things but I just put to press a book that has a bibliography of almost, you know, 12 pages, I just want to remind you that there is our long history to this, there has never been a moment where the visions of the sexualized, racialized, naturalized other was completely divided or segregated in feminism, I would challenge that very strongly, but there are different degrees and different historical moments, but intersectionality has been there all along. Even at the height of Womanism - I'm thinking, I remember Alice Walker’s Womanism it was Black femalehood, and I'm making up new words here. Her dialogues with Audre Lorde, Audre Lorde’s dialogues with Adrienne Rich about race and sex, but also about being females, not feminine, females, chromosomally, socially, females, and with all the complications of that and the openness of that because these are not steady, fixed gender roles. These are chunks of meat, flesh, activated by a set of factors, some genetic, some social, a lot of them persona, identification, wishes, desires, and the complexities of that - I think that's what feminism always brought in is very material, our favourite matter has been the body. And for a long time, in the early phases, we had, feminism had to re-claim femaleness. Remember Virginia Woolf’s love for Vita Sackville-West, she's more female than feminine. It’s the moment when Virginia Woolf is a queer thinker, and her femaleness is animal, she describes Vita as sort of parrot, some sort of weird, kind of non-human she's of course a transgender [in how she was represented in Woolf’s novel] Orlando, you get the opening, sexuality is the opening of multiple possibilities, and the matter of the body that sexuate matter is able to be sexed in a multiplicity of ways. Now, in relation to that the gender system is simply a binary mechanism of capture and control that reduces the enormous multiplicity, polymorphous perversity of sexuality in humans and non-humans, sexuality is everywhere, and it's not the prerogative of humans. Gender is a mechanism of control, so you get ... for me materialism is there at the beginning, always, intelligent self-organised, sexuate matter that gets, of course, we perceive it through grades of interpretation and language that are completely colonised by premises. But we're also smart enough to know that that's what feminism is, what anti-racism is, what anti-fascism is, to look at the languages that we use to define the human and I completely agree, more recent Black feminist theories, Wynter with Man 1, Man 2, are extremely useful, things get much more subtle. I think you look at the critical epistemology as complex theory, theories of complexity that build on each other and make certain traditions possible. My plea at the moment is for continuity with the older generations. Do not break everything up. Because that makes us weaker, do not - there is there is a selective memory at work. I don't know whether anybody even reads Alice Walker, who was extraordinary, oh it’s because she says “woman is” and then we don't read it!? What does that even mean? Contextualise it, look at what is being put under that category at that particular moment in history, and how complex the discussions have been. And then remember that while this goes on, advanced capitalism at the same time, is bringing in a technological revolution that is going to absolutely deterritorialize the gender system completely as we said before, new technologies coming in, [Paul] Preciado is right, the pill is here, some landmark moment where technology really comes into the body. And that's a point of no return. From that moment on, gender system’s are dead, advanced capitalism doesn't need a gender system it needs a multiplication of genders, because that's how they make their money. And of course, technology allows us to niche and frame our multiple modes of belonging in ways that are compatible with multiple forms of consumerism. So there is a very simple, banal way of reading also, the multiplication of gender. Jean-​François Lyotard wrote back again in the 80s, in The Inhuman: [Reflections on Time] saying sexual difference was completely collapse because advanced capitalism needs multiplications and things, the speed is such that we will multiply. So let's multiply and have 1000 sexes. But let's also remember that the matter that we are made of is the matter that everything is made of, the elementary particles that we are made of at the elementary particles of life. So let's bring in then Physics, and Karen Barad does that, Vicki Kirby does that, I also do that in my own manner. So we can create continuities and discontinuities and then we need to bring in our political philosophies of equalities and inequalities but bring them in touch with contemporary scientific theories. We need to stay attuned to that and not defend an historical 18th century vision of the human that we would try to resemble. We don't have the time to do that because of the speed of everything else. There is an argument here about acceleration and speed. And I really do advanced capitalism with Deleuze and Guattari, I read it as systems of accelerations and speeds, not with Marx and systems of dialectical oppositions that will be resolved in a sort of a teleological vision of history. I don't see that, I think capitalism has mutated in that direction that brings us to where Elon Musk is going, and something that we need to intervene upon. So my pursuit and feminism is a call for intervention on these debates, not say, Oh, you know, that's advanced capitalism, let it be, no, we have to have something to say because at last capitalism has brought in an equal opportunity programme in the Space exploration - 26 positions open right now, for women, disabled and other to become astronauts. So there is a de facto kind of selection going on. And we can't just stand there and say, oh, that doesn't concern me, this is of the greatest importance. And we have equality minor feminism written into this brave new world. What about all the other rainbow feminisms that we carry? Do we want them to go on Mars? Do we want them to become posthuman? Do we create a new party where people say, we take care of this planet? I think it's discussions like this that I would like to see much more directed outwards towards material issues than to identity-inward issues. It's not a moment of inwards is the moment to be in the world. Stacy Alaimo is right thinking today is the stuff of the world out there.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

I love how you weave in and out of gender and capitalism because of course, if we think about what companies are doing with the multiplication of gender, what the Facebooks and IBMs of this world are up to, there's Facebook in a 2014 iteration of it software, instead of the gender binary when you log in you're allowed to have a list of 56 other options. Now what happens to those options when we go into the backend into the system -


ROSI BRAIDOTTI:

But also in Silicon Valley, I think Catherine Rottenberg writes that in her book on liberal Feminism [The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism], Silicon Valley in their normal health package, have a reproductive technology option for women, or anybody for that matter who wants to reproduce and they encourage very much fecondation and freezing of embryos and reimplantation on a later date after you've done your career, either implantation in yourself or your surrogate carrying person and they have that built into their standard health package. So reproductive technology is an extension of a type of liberal feminism that would allow the woman to then have a career but also have the family and create a whole reproductive industry. Melinda Cooper is really good on this. Gestating mother, surrogacy mothers or carriers - that completely multiplies gestational and carrying sort of pregnancy and Sophie Lewis, wonderful work on surrogacy and saying that we should make this now the new kind of templates of making children and in fact, advance capitalism has already done it by writing it into the share. I think Sheryl Sandberg did that. Making sure that women could then recombine labour productively, reproductive labour, quite extraordinary. I think we need to engage with things like this and say, okay, so I mean, advanced capitalism is dis-advanced in thinking the multiplication of possible ways of being a mother, female, caring parent, and surely feminism needs to have something to say here and something practical to say and being against this is cute, but it's not helpful. This is the world that we're living in, Simone de Beauvoir didn't have a world like this. Shulamith Firestone wanted a world like this, but she thought that it would become a revolution. And in fact, what came of her revolution is in fact advanced capitalism building reproductive technology into their idea of female autonomy. That's what it has become. Because capitalism, contrary to what Shulamith Firestone thought, does not break. Because she was a Marxist and Marx got that one wrong, capitalism bends, capitalism adapts, and capitalism multiplies. Deleuze and Guattari get this one, right. It's not a catastrophe. We just need a different conceptual frame, different speeds to intervene on this and to say, Okay, then, you know, free reproductive technologies for everybody. Let's have it all the way, let's have this discussion. And of course, the conservatives will come in and say, Oh, no, no, human life is sacred. But if human life is sacred, why does Silicon Valley write reproductive technology into the standard health package for women, business women, what are we talking about? You see the complications of our time, the paradoxes of a period of enormous transition, and I always look at the silver lining, there are great opportunities here. But we have to face up to what is happening and not say, Oh, you know, the posthuman is something that doesn't concern me. It's the world that we're living in. It has enormous repercussions. They are redesigning the human. I would like to be part of the conversation and redesign it on the side of the dehumanised other, sexualized, racialized, naturalised not-fully humans, we have ideas, imaginings, templates for how we can become posthuman otherwise, give us a chance, listen to what we have to say. And let's get involved in these discussions before the good robots become not so good after all.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Okay, but reproductive technologies are expensive. And so capitalism is much better at being able to stick its fingers in those pies and to resolve those issues for the people that reproduce that want to do it later on. But what about things that money can't buy? So with the Facebook example that I was talking about before, of course, if they sell the data for the people that use Facebook to advertisers with a reduced [gender classification system] - back into the binary, everybody goes, all 56 categories go back into the binary, male, female, other - IBM creating its million face database. Instead they said, instead of making gender a binary, what we'll do is put people on a spectrum, where you get assigned a fraction, but then who decides who is male-0, binary zero, and who looks like, who epitomises the female-1. You're still assigning people a gender within this binary.


ROSI BRAIDOTTI:

I think that's a very interesting question. I think there are people working on this both algorithmically and genetically, the kind of, but again the idea of gender as a spectrum is not new, I think John Money and the people of the gender reassignment clinics back in the 60s, were already looking at a continuum of multiplications of possibilities. I would like to see this discussion happen in a calm and productive manner as opposed to it being weaponized into culture wars, whereby people plant a flag into whatever portion of the territory they consider most truthful or adequate to their self-understanding and fight everybody else who doesn't pertain to that. And that that works across the board it’s not, my generation as well as others, I think we need to stop the culture wars on this, the culture wars are also manipulated politically, by the right to a very large extent, to actually introduce very strict measures. That certainly is the case in the UK, and in some ways in the Catholic world. So if we could just have this conversation, but what this conversation would assume is the explosion of the notion of the human and the explosion of the gender system, we are not even going to agree on that, even that basic cartography, as you know very well, proves very, very controversial and contentious and people would fight it, because they don't approve of it because they are scared of it or because they genuinely don't see it. And I think that is the true crisis in self-understanding. It says if we had this kind of attachment, anthropocentric attachment, to a vision of the human, and its sexual difference that has been so kind of institutionalised by habit and tradition that it has gone into a system. And here psychoanalysis is really interesting, really important, because Jacques Lacan had said it when he failed Luce Irigaray’s PhD, that sexual difference by now has become a sort of human nature. And Irigaray argued, and I agreed with her, but of course it can change, it's historical, but and, Lacan replied, yes, but it’s psychic mechanisms involved in identifying with those imaginary constructions of masculinity and femininity that are so deeply ingrained that in order to make this change, we have to go very carefully and work on it. So I would really also for a sort of understanding a bit of the psychic mechanism of identifications. Identifications are not just willful choices, a lot of them are unconscious drives that you know take you places where you didn't even know you particularly wanted to go. Where do you fall when you fall in love? In an unknown, uncharted territory. And you fall, I fall in love with the most bizarre people and ideas. And we all do, it's a sort of a free fall into the unknown. And this is what sexed gender identities are, in the name of love, in the name of adventure in the name of desire. But we need to be a little bit cautious and maybe a bit more caring about how each of us at the moment are going about finding our position and keep the eyes on the prize, which is political subjectivity and how do we intervene in these discussions, which are aiming after all at redefining the entire spectrum of the human not just our precious sacred sexualities. So broader perspective, take this seriously, stop weaponizing the debates, and intervene as a community on what a de facto redefinition of the human I would say explosion, but this can lead to amazingly important things if we you know, if we take the posthuman turn seriously. So it’s not that I'm particularly enamoured of posthumanism, it's just it seems to me, the world that I'm living in, Shulamith Firestone minus the revolution. I mean, that's not nothing for a feminist. In some ways, a catastrophe and in some others an incredible opportunity. So what the revolution would be today and what Guattari said is molecular, it is at the molecular level of our own, as you say, taking a position along a spectrum, and then within that reconstitute the relations that would allow us to discuss, to debate, to agree to differ, but still function as a political force, still have something to say about enhancement and which model of enhancement we would take let alone going on Mars, and here disability studies have done great work on this saying, you know, I'm otherwise enabled, let me be, and maybe being otherwise sexed, otherwise gender, otherwise enabled is what we need to plead for. So not not autonomy, but multiplicity, heterogeneity, real real biodiversity almost, and can we still be a political force within such heterogeneity as feminist LBGT people? Can we join forces on the things that matter and what are the things that matter? We'll say the planet is a big one, oxygen, air, water, the things that matter are very material and in some ways, we should keep our eyes on that against the transhumanist denial of care for our poor damaged planet and the Earthlings, that live upon it.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Well Rosi it's been an absolute pleasure, if you could be here to solve the problems of getting AI ethics to attend to heterogeneity and the culture wars, which I think have reached a new low in the UK, sadly, with everybody -


ROSI BRAIDOTTI:

Yes [inaudible] but we need to make a truce here. We need to do to see that the nobody gains from it and my generation carries great responsibilities, but we need, we need to talk as we used to say, but they're being manipulated by your government to an extent, strangely enough and in the more Catholic world, they're not as much, a bit more kind of relaxed, terrible time ahead. But yes, there's too much political manipulations of this, we should become aware of it and be more cautious. But you know, relational ethics, it's all about do we want, could we be bothered, relating, you know, it's what, that's where I am again - indigenous philosophies are again, there’s this profound generosity, because they're not-anthropocentric, the fundamental relation is to the planet to to the earth to the air to the water; humans come after. And maybe if we could become-animal, in that sense, become-indigenous, become-other, ground ourselves and realise how little time we have before temperatures reach levels that would just simply not allow us to survive. Is that not a reminder of what really matters in the matter that feminist materialism says matters? To quote many of my favourite colleagues and friends.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

This episode was made possible thanks to our generous funder, Christina Gaw. It was written and produced by Dr Eleanor Drage and Dr Kerry Mackereth and edited by Laura Samulionyte.

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