The Myth of Woman as Nature: Myth-making, Existential Freedom, and Existential Morality in Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

Myths are world-making. In a phenomenological sense, the myths that we are born into, the myths that permeate the society in which our psychological development and a particular social ontology coalesce into an individual existence, create the world as we experience it. We are thrown into myths. We do not get to choose the myths that make our worlds. Well, at least not initially. To reject or perpetuate a particular myth is to choose which myths will continue to make our worlds, and this, I would argue, is for Simone de Beauvoir an act of freedom. Whether that freedom serves to promote or restrict other existents’ freedom is a question of existential morality. For this paper, I explore Beauvoir’s conception of existentialist freedom and morality through a few of her descriptive passages regarding the Myth of Woman as Nature. I begin with an exposition of Beauvoir’s concepts of existential freedom and existential morality, followed by an exposition of woman’s situation as it relates to myth-making. In the following three sections, I explore passages that relate to various Myths of Woman as Nature, namely, Mother, Spouse, Life/Death. I conclude by returning the discussion to the concepts of existential freedom and existential morality.

Existential Freedom and Existential Morality

Human existence is experienced as embodied in a society. The original position of embodied consciousness is one of duality and is reflected societally; a group “defines itself as One” while “immediately setting up the Other opposite itself”.[1] The consciousness as embodied in the Subject position posits the Other as distinct and opposing, and in doing so, the Subject “asserts itself as the essential and sets up the other as inessential, as the object”.[2] A society of Subjects and Others is, moreover, imbued with myths.[3] The situated existent lives out their transcendence and immanence in relation to myths that the Subject either incorporates into their becoming or not; myths that the Subject either ascribes to and perpetuates, or disavows and rejects, as part of their creative projects.[4] In this sense, the Subject furthers the creation of the original myth by taking the myth on as their own to then perpetuate the myth anew in society.

When two Subjects meet, each one is faced with the relativity of their Subject position; they experience themselves as the Object for the Other, and in this recognition a reciprocity arises in the relation between them.[5] The Subject needs the Other in order to move beyond embodied immanence; to continuously expand themselves beyond their facticity and for their freedom to be affirmed.[6] Man finds that nature does not suffice for transcendent movement because it is either assimilated or destroyed by the Subject leaving the Subject in isolation.[7] Therefore, man needs an Other with consciousness.[8]

However, the movement toward a free existent also entails conflict; each Subject seeks to assert itself as the dominant authority while reducing the Other to an inferior, dominated, state; each seeks to force the Other to affirm their freedom as Absolute.[9] However, dominance only exists in relation; the dominated are necessary for the dominant’s existence and as such the dominated become essential as the dominant become inessential.[10] Conflict is avoided if both Subject and Other freely and reciprocally recognize each other as both Subject and Other.[11] This movement requires that the Subject continuously “surpass himself at each instant”, but, such a movement is perilous and arduous; it may end in the Subject’s recognition never being reciprocated.[12] So, the Subject desires contradictions; to have both the transcendence of existence and the immanence of being.[13]

The Subject achieves freedom in transcendence. The subject achieves freedom in their projects; in expanding their existence continuously into the world and future.[14] Existential freedom is an autonomous and continuous becoming; a continuous going beyond oneself toward the Other. Existence becomes degraded every time a Subject halts this continuous becoming and seeks refuge in immanence; by solidifying their becoming into a facticity, which is to say, by making themselves into an object.[15] To solidify oneself into an object willingly is a moral failure on one’s own part, while to force another into a solidified object is oppression.[16] Existential morality requires never solidifying oneself or another into a set being, and it is not possible in isolation. Existential morality requires the reciprocal recognition between two free existents. In this continuous movement, toward the Other as a free existent, the Subject creates and gives meaning to themselves and the world; their freedom is recognized and affirmed reciprocally with the other Subject. The ongoing reciprocal movement urges both Subjects to continuously transcend themselves indefinitely.

Myth-making and Woman’s Situation

Woman’s situation is one in which she has been forced into a solidified inessential object position. While man is conceptually his own existent, woman is defined, “determined and differentiated in relation to man,” first and foremost as “a sexed being”.[17] Woman’s assigned definition locks her into a facticity as a sexual being in relation to man; “she is the inessential in front of the essential”.[18] She is the inessential being of a sexed relation defined by the free activity of man as essential; “He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other”.[19] As the Other, woman is never able to transcend beyond the transcendence that forces her into immanence; she is the inessential who never reciprocally returns to the essential.[20] Man has forced woman into the position of the intermediary Other between a Nature that is too foreign to himself and other men who are too identical to himself.[21] As an inessential Other and a submissive consciousness she offers a way for man both to exist and to be, because she is neither indifferent to man nor demands reciprocal recognition.[22]

The Myth of Woman as Nature emerges from man’s desire to “accomplish himself as being through carnally possessing a being while making confirmed in his freedom by a docile freedom”.[23] Woman is both the inessential sexed object-being man seeks to possess as well as the submissive freedom that recognizes man’s freedom. In her, man perceives the “plentitude of being,” an abundance of solidified being, through which the nothingness of his existence, his lack of a solidified being, can create himself.[24] Woman is the freedom that man can surpass in order to create and give meaning to himself and the world, but who does not require reciprocal recognition. The reciprocal relation, where two Subjects reciprocally recognize each other as both Subject and Object, is absent in the relation between man and woman; woman’s submission to the status of the inessential Other occurs from the beginning and spontaneously.[25] Woman’s situation is one in which she is unable to posit herself as Subject.

Myth-making is a free activity of a Subject, “who projects its hopes and fears of a transcendent heaven,” onto the world, future, and others.[26] Subjects make myths, and as only men have posited themselves as Subjects, the myths of the world are men’s projections of their hopes and fears.[27] The creation of and giving of meaning to the world, to women, and to men themselves is all done through men; “women have not created the virile myth that would reflect their projects […] they still dream through men’s dreams”.[28] The world is made through myth in the image of man and man’s projects; men “describe it from a point of view that is their own and that they confound with the absolute truth”.[29] Woman is situated in a world in which she is represented to herself through man; she does not project herself into the world, instead she is projected on.

The Myth of Woman as Nature – Mother

Woman, like Nature, is ambiguous. Woman inhabits contradictions; she is both the solidified being of immanence and the Nothingness of existence that allows for transcendence. She is both the object that can be possessed and the consciousness that resists possession. As the Other, she is Evil, but because Evil is necessary for Good, she slips perpetually between Evil and Good.[30] Nature is both Life and Death. Nature is the fertile material source from which man’s existence emerged, is sustained, and which man transforms in his image at will to suit himself.[31] But, it is also a chaotic force that threatens to immerse him in the finitude of inert and dead matter; it is an opposing force to Man as Spirit.[32] Through man’s projections, Woman comes to embody Nature “as Mother, Spouse, and Idea” and each takes on the duality, the contradictions, man perceives in his own existence.[33] Man’s ambivalence to Woman as Nature reflects man’s ambivalence to his own existence which is at the same “consciousness, will, transcendence” and “intellect” as it is also “matter, passivity, immanence” and “flesh”.[34]

In one version, the Myth of Woman as Nature takes on the form of Mother. Woman’s ambiguity makes her seem magical. She is everything in nature that isolates man as a finite and contingent existent along with all in nature that allows man to surpass and move beyond himself to “commingle with water, earth, night, Nothingness, with the Whole”.[35] Beauvoir states:

Thus, Mother Earth has a face of darkness: she is chaos, where everything comes from and must return to one day; she is Nothingness. The many aspects of the world that the day uncovers commingle in the night: night of spirit locked up in the generality and opacity of matter, night of sleep and nothing. At the heart of the sea, it is night: woman is the Mare tenebrarum dreaded by ancient navigators; it is night in the bowels of the earth. Man is threatened with being engulfed in this night, the reverse of fertility, and it horrifies him. He aspires to the sky, to light, to sunny heights, to the pure and crystal clear cold of blue; and underfoot is a moist, hot, and dark gulf ready to swallow him; many legends have the hero falling and forever lost in maternal darkness: a cave, an abyss, hell. But once again ambivalence is at work here: while germination is always associated with death, death is also associated with fertility. Detested death is like a new birth, and so it is blessed.[36]

 

Earth is named Mother, and she is embodied. She has a face. To have a face is to be an entity that can turn and confront man. The face that confronts man is revealed as chaotic. Chaos, from the Greek word khaos, means a void or vast chasm; it is an emptiness devoid of structure and order. It is the Nothingness of man’s existence as a consciousness unconfined to a stable being. Chaos is the Mother’s womb; a chaotic space of darkness and fluidness, from which Nothingness emerges. Whereas daylight brings order and clear demarcations of boundaries that isolate one existent from another, night brings a commingling, an unorderly blending of boundaries.

Mother represents night; the lightless emptiness of the womb from which existence emerges; from which the Nothingness of existence is birthed. Mother represents opaque matter; a fluid and thick matter that lacks translucency and obscures meaning. Mother represents sleep; to sleep in the lightlessness and fluidness of the uterine night. To be asleep is to rest, but it is to be passive; it is to be unable to see with reality with clarity, and it is to be endangered. Mother represents the mare tenebrarum, the dark sea, in which man navigates his existence as well as that which is dangerously disorienting; that in which he can lose himself and drown. Mother represents the fertile, dark, moist matter that threatens to swallow man in the finitude of death; in passivity and immanence.

Man aspires to be pure Spirit and perform a heroic escape from finitude. Man aspires flight toward the transparency of the heavens; heavens illuminated with the clarity of distinction and demarcation. But, his feet are stuck in a thick soil that muddies existence with ambiguity. His existence is precarious; at any moment he can succumb to the chaos, fall into the abyss, and be swallowed into the cave. Mother is both Life and Death. She is both to be feared and revered; loved and hated.

In this myth, Mother is a magical force that both opposes the hero Man while at the same time giving Man the symbolic material to create his narrative of transcendence. Woman’s ambiguity and submissive freedom is necessary for this movement to occur.

The Myth of Woman as Nature – Spouse

The Myth of Woman as Nature takes another form, namely, that of Spouse. Mother and Spouse coalesce in woman’s horrifying yet magical ability to procreate.[37] The Spouse is “desirable prey”.[38] Woman as Nature – Spouse represents the riches of the earth that man seeks to possess.[39] In the imagery and imagination of man, woman’s body morphs into “all the fauna, all the earthly flora: gazelle, doe, lilies and roses, downy peaches, fragrant raspberries; she is precious stones, mother-of-pearl, agate, pearls, silk, the blue of the sky, the freshness of springs, air, flame, earth, and water”.[40] Beauvoir states:

Man finds shining stars and the moody moon, sunlight, and the darkness of caves on woman; wildflowers from hedgerows and the garden’s proud rose are also woman. Nymphs, dryads, mermaids, water sprites, and fairies haunt the countryside, the woods, lakes, seas, and moors. This animism is profoundly anchored in men. For the sailor, the sea is a dangerous woman, perfidious and difficult to conquer but that he cherishes by dint of taming it. Proud, rebellious, virginal, and wicked, the mountain is woman for the mountain climber who wants to take it, even at risk of life. It is often said that these comparisons manifest sexual sublimation; rather, they express an affinity between woman and the elements as primal as sexuality itself. Man expects more from possessing woman than the satisfaction of an instinct; she is the special object through which he subjugates Nature.[41]

 

The Myth of Nature as Woman – Spouse is man’s projection of woman as a magical and sexed object-being capable of being conquered and possessed through man’s virility. Nature’s garden of delights retains its desirability in the image of the virginal wilderness to be explored and conquered by man and in magical creatures taking the form of beautiful maidens who coyly resist man’s glances. The Spouse as prey is temperamental. Like the moon, she is reticent of unveiling her secrets, but her denial is ephemeral. Eventually, her secrets will be revealed in full to the heroic man able to decipher her. The Spouse as either an unrefined wildflower or a cultivated rose blossom for man; opening themselves and life to him.

The cave no longer represents the chaotic abyss of the maternal womb, but now is perceived as a site to be explored by man. The sea no longer represents a threatening force capable of disorientating and drowning man. While both the cave and sea retain their dangerous magic, the danger is now an enticing challenge for man. His Spouse cannot give herself too hastily to him, or else she would just be unconscious Nature proper. She must resist and rebel in order for man to satisfactorily transcend her as the Other. She must show that she is a consciousness because only a consciousness can affirm man in his projects. But, she must also be able to be subjugated. She must be transformed into a submissive object when confronted with man’s virility in order for man’s affirmation to be complete. This myth is not a mere transformation of sexual impulses, but a primal affinity; the Spouse as prey is the symbolic embodiment of man’s desire to conquer and possess all of Nature.

Man’s Spouse must, importantly, “embody the wondrous blossoming of life while concealing its mysterious disturbances at the same time” because “man cannot be enraptured in his embrace of a living thing unless he forgets that all life is inhabited by death”.[42] Nature appropriated is the appropriation of Life. Nature subjugated is the subjugation of Death. Through his Spouse, man conceives of himself as a virile force able to possess Life while conquering Death. The Spouse is the sexual object through which man feels himself as most transcendent, but at the risk of making himself flesh; at the risk of reducing himself to immanence.[43] Here, man experiences the duality and ambiguity of existence once again. When man posits himself as a Subject over his Spouse as the Other, he is an autonomous freedom ruling over the world.[44] Yet, at the same time in reducing himself to flesh he becomes “a limited and perishable object”; he is again reminded of the immanence of Death.[45]

The Myth of Woman as Nature – Life and Death

Woman always carries Death along with her. Man projects his own deterioration onto her aging body; her aging body becomes an object without value and evokes the image of Mother.[46] Beauvoir states:

The Mother dooms her son to death in giving him life; the woman lover draws her lover into relinquishing life and giving himself up to the supreme sleep. […] Born of flesh, man accomplishes himself in love as flesh, and flesh is destined to the grave. The alliance between Woman and Death is thus confirmed; the great reaper is the inverted figure of corn-growing fertility. But it is also the frightening wife whose skeleton appears under deceitful and tender flesh.[47]

 

In bringing man into life, the Mother has condemned man to death. The Mother is the ambiguous figure who is at one and the same time the bringer of both Life and Death. In bringing man into the flesh, the Spouse entices man into a lifeless slumber. Man seeks to escape from the finitude that psychologically haunts his existence through trying to appropriate life from the Spouse. He seeks to accomplish his freedom, to transcend the facticity of his embodiment, through the sexual act. But, in doing so, he is one again reduced to the immanence of the flesh that destines him to death. The Spouse is, then, the ambiguous figure who is also at one and the same time the bringer of both Life and Death.

Woman as Nature is the dual visage of fertility and sustenance on the one face, and deterioration and decrepitude on the other face. Despite woman’s duality, in the end man is always confronted with Death. Woman, thus, appears to embody Death concretely. Woman appears as the deceitful, magical, and dangerous specter whose objective existence is fundamentally oppositional to man.

Conclusion: Myth-making and Existential Morality

In each of these myths, woman is the symbolic representation of all of man’s hopes and fears as the bringer of Life and Death. As the bringer of Life, she is a symbol of hope. She is the Mother who births man both in the physical sense and the existential sense. She is the material sources that brings the Nothingness of existence into this world and along with it the possibility of transcendence. As the Spouse, she is the material sources on which men act in order to achieve transcendence. As the bringer of Death, she is a symbol of fear. She is the Mother who has condemned man to death, and she is the Spouse who reduces man to finite flesh.

In these myths, woman is reduced to an intermediary between Nature and other men. She is the abundance of being. She is all of the passive and inert objects of nature that man can act on and transform at will. Her solidified being, her facticity, is of the moon and stars, of fruits and flowers, of docile animals. But, she is also a consciousness that offers recognition and affirmation of man’s freedom. Her consciousness is magical, haunting, malignant, and temperamental, but it has to be. She has to be resistant to man in order for man achieve transcendence, but she cannot resist too much.

In these myths, woman is the privileged object through which man achieves transcendence, and it is a transcendence that seeks absolute submission from the Other. The Other needs to recognize and affirm man’s freedom as Absolute; to submit to being the inessential Other without demanding reciprocal recognition and affirmation. Woman, in these myths, epitomizes the inessential Other. She lacks activity; her only verb is “to be”. She is that which births man and dooms man to death, or she is that which resists only to succumb to man’s virility, or she is that which is horrifying. She does not birth, doom, resist, or horrify as an action stemming from a transcendent consciousness seeking to project itself into the world. Her abilities to birth, doom, resist, or horrify are not abilities at all, but instead are facts of her being. These are not activities that she chooses, but instead are just effects on man that are inherent in her matter as sexed object-being. Woman, in these myths, is fully denied Subject status.

In these myths, woman is fully denied her ability to transcend beyond herself. She is locked into immanence. She is locked into her facticity; into her situation. She is locked into a situation that has been created through man’s transcendence. Man transcends beyond himself in creating the Myth of Woman as Nature (as Mother, Spouse, Death). Woman has no myths of her own. She has created no myths about herself, man, or the world. The transcendent myths created by man serve to oppress woman by perpetuating her status as an inessential Other who is incapable of transcending beyond the verb “to be”; who is incapable of creating her own myths. But, it is not only woman’s freedom that is denied when woman’s transcendence is stifled. As man’s freedom also requires a continuous movement of himself into the world, a constant reciprocal movement toward and between Subjects who continuously urge each other to transcend indefinitely, man also denies his own freedom in denying woman’s freedom. In other words, Existential freedom is a constant movement of transcendence that requires the reciprocal recognition between Subjects. To halt this movement, or to limit this movement to only half the population and thus limit one’s opportunities for transcendence, denies oneself freedom.

Ultimately, I read Beauvoir as asserting that these myths are world-making. These myths narrate embodiment and, reciprocally, embodiment narrates these myths. This reciprocal movement is what makes these myths take on an aura of naturalization. But, these myths are not facticity nor are they absolute Truth. That we are born into these myths does not make them immutable or essential. They are pure contingency and they can be transcended. The re-creation and incorporation of these myths into our embodied existence is a moral failure. The choice to reject or perpetuate these myths is a world-making moral choice between oppression and freedom, for oneself and Others.

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde and Shelia Malovany-Chevallier (New York City: Vintage Books, 2010) p. 6

[2] Ibid. p. 16

[3] As well as customs, values, laws, taboos, norms, etc.

[4] Ibid. p. 47

[5] Ibid. p. 16

[6] Ibid. p. 159

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. p. 160

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. p. 16

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. p. 6

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. pp. 16-17; 160

[21] Ibid. p. 16

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. p. 161

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid. p. 7. I will be using the terms “man” and “woman” throughout my exegesis of Beauvoir’s work. I do so only with the intention of connoting “man” as “masculinized existents” and “woman” as “feminized existents”.

[26] Ibid. p. 162

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. pp. 162-63

[31] Ibid. p. 163

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. p. 167

[36] Ibid. pp. 166-67

[37] Ibid. p. 167

[38] Ibid. p. 174

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. pp. 174-75

[41] Ibid. p. 175; emphasis is mine.

[42] Ibid. p. 176

[43] Ibid. p. 180

[44] Ibid. p. 180

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid. pp. 178-79

[47] Ibid. p. 183

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Sara Ahmed’s Feminist Attachment to Anger

In the “Feminist Attachments” chapter of Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed addresses the silencing of feminist voices through an argument that re-conceptualizes feminist political theory as attachment to emotions. Feminist voices that challenge the taken for granted, naturalized, and thus invisible, norms of the neoliberal West – norms that create worlds based on the “truths” of some at the exclusion of others – have been consistently silenced as being too emotional. Such silencing implies the underlying assumptions that (1) emotion is inimical toward and incompatible with reason and (2) that reason is superior to emotion. Such a dualistic hierarchy “translates into a hierarchy between subjects” where reason is associated with the masculine and Western whereas emotion is associated with the feminine and racial others. This serves to silence those who fall on the emotional side of the duality by excluding them from rationality. Instead of arguing for the rationality of feminist discourse, which would fall back into the dualistic value hierarchy of reason vs. emotion, Ahmed argues feminist discourse needs to attach itself to the rationality (thought) of emotion and, mutually interpolated, the emotionality (embodiment) of reason – an interrelation that is concealed through the dualistic projection of reason and emotion onto embodied subjects.

Ahmed engages with Wendy Brown’s concept of “wounded attachments” in which Brown argues that feminism’s attachment to the harms inflicted upon women, i.e. the violence enacted upon women by the norms of the neoliberal West, conserves and codifies the very norms in the social-political-legal identity of women, giving women no way to ever let go of the wound. Moreover, such wounding is universalized when it is conserved and codified as a social-political-legal identity, as if all women are harmed similarly under patriarchy, which ignores the complex histories of differential woundings. While Brown argues feminism ought to let go of its attachments, Ahmed argues that feminism ought to attach to emotionality.

Ahmed states that feminism based on suffering, in which women’s pain becomes a fetish object – with the underlying assumption that women’s suffering could be represented and then that such representation could be used to identify legitimate and illegitimate feminism – could “work to delegitimate feminist attempts to understand the complexity of social and psychic life” (p. 173). However, despite there being good reasons for not basing feminism on women’s pain,

“our response to ‘wound fetishism’ should not be to forget the wounds that mark the place of historical injury. Such forgetting would simply repeat the forgetting that is already implicated in the fetishising of the wound. Rather, our task would be to learn to remember how embodied subjects come to be wounded in the first place, which requires that we learn to read that pain, as well as recognise how the pain is already read in the intensity of how it surfaces. The task would not only be to read and interpret pain as over-determined, but also to do the work of translation, whereby pain is moved into a public domain, and in moving, is transformed. In order to move away from attachments that are hurtful, we must act on them, an action which requires, at the same time, that we do not ontologise women’s pain as the automatic ground of politics.” (pp. 173-174)

Recall here Ahmed’s conception of the ethical-political as involving a remembrance of the historical conditions of suffering, and bearing witness to the presence of suffering in the here and now through an acknowledgment of the historicity of that suffering. Recall also Ahmed’s claim that there is no private suffering – that suffering marks its subjects in various ways, some ways that may be more visible than others, yet, nonetheless surfaces in various intensities. Here, Ahmed is tying these concepts together with an ethical-political imperative to act on hurtful attachments by reading, interpreting, and translating that pain in order to transform it. Feminism’s task, for Ahmed, is to respond “to the pain of others, as a pain that cannot be accessed directly, but is only ever approached” (p. 174). And, in order to respond to pain, feminism must open up a safe space for the disclosure of pain, for the “speaking about pain”. The disclosure of pain in speech acts, for Ahmed, is a condition that allows for a “we” unified in “different stories of pain that cannot be reduced to a ground, identity or sameness” (p. 174).

Ahmed further challenges Brown’s conception of “wounded attachments” by challenging Brown’s conception of feminist anger as ressentiment. While Brown conceives of feminist anger based on historical suffering as reactionary – and thus unable to let go of the power oppressing them as well as act authentically from their own values and principles – Ahmed argues Brown’s form of detachment is impossible because it assumes the embodied subject can be removed from the historical conditions impressed upon them. Ahmed states, “There is no pure or originary action, which is outside such a history of ‘reaction’, whereby bodies come to be ‘impressed upon’ by the surfaces of others” (p. 174). We are already caught in a web of impressions as interrelated histories and there is no subject position outside of such historical conditions. Ahmed argues what feminism is is deeply interconnected with what feminism is against; the impressions of historical violence against embodied subjects is both what feminism is and is against. Feminist anger as against-ness would be the response to the impossibility of a subject position outside such historical conditions.

Anger is an appropriate political and ethical feminist response to historical violence and suffering. Anger is a movement that interprets and transforms that historical violence and suffering; it is a way of moving from pain, to recognizing that such pain is wrong, to acting to transform the social and political conditions that gave rise to that pain. As such, anger is an attachment worth holding onto. Utilizing the work of black feminist Audre Lorde, and social psychologist Carol Tavris, Ahmed argues that anger, affectively and effectively, is world-making. She states, feminist anger “is not simply defined in relationship to a past, but as opening up the future” (p. 175). It is an against-ness that also entails a for-ness, and with this it at once recognizes the historicity of suffering while imagining a futurity of different possibilities.

Attachment to anger involves interpreting and delineating what one is against. Anger moves from recognizing against-ness to interpreting what one is against, “whereby associations or connections are made between the object of anger and broader patterns or structures” (p. 175). Anger here serves an epistemological function in that the object of anger then becomes delineated and a language is created in order to bring the object into the world and respond to it. The object is then not the foundation of feminism, as Brown seems to assume, but an effect of anger’s movement outward toward the world of historical suffering that also opens up possibilities for a different future. The epistemological work in feminism to name and respond to an object of anger has taken many forms dependent upon each individual subject’s experiences. Thus, in order for feminism to continually open up possibilities for the future, feminism must be open to losing its object of anger. It is the object of anger, and not the against-ness of anger, that is to be detached from. Anger in this sense is world-making in that it both brings into existence a different conceptual world than the world structured by naturalized norms, norms that may have been at one time feminist creations, and as such brings into possibility a new future world.

Instead of thinking of anger as opposed to reason, Ahmed suggests that we think about anger as a speech act. Ahmed acknowledges that the speaker’s anger may not work as a political act if the addressee returns the anger without receiving the message behind the anger. If the addressee simply receives anger, the addressee could respond simply with anger. Nonetheless, Ahmed asserts that “the performance of anger – as a claim of against-ness – may work; it may ‘get uptake,’ and be received by the addressee” (p. 177). Ahmed advocates for feminism to take “an engaged stance” that recognizes that feminist voices are embedded in historical conditions in which feminist anger may be received in such a way that sustains those very conditions, but to nonetheless persist in speaking. An engaged stance would also recognize when we, as individuals or as a collective under the name of feminism, could be silencing the anger of other feminists. Ahmed states:

“Learning to hear the anger of others, without blocking the anger through a defence of one’s own position is crucial. Such a project requires that one accepts that one’s own position might anger others and hence allows one’s position to be opened to critique by others (it does not then, like guilt or shame, turn the self back into itself by ‘taking’ that anger as one’s own). As Berenice Fisher argues: ‘The voices that make us most uncomfortable and the feelings that accompany them constitute a built-in critique of our ideals’ (Fisher 1984: 206). The fact of resistance within feminism to hearing the anger of some feminists is a ‘sign’ that what ‘we are against’ cannot be relegated to the outside. We need to take care not to install feminist ideals as ideals that others must embody if they are to pass into feminism. Such a reification of political ideals would position some feminists as ‘hosts’, who would decide which others would receive the hospitality of love and recognition, and would hence remain predicated on a differentiation between natives and strangers (see Ahmed 2000). To avoid such a politics, we may need to stay uncomfortable within feminism, even when we feel it provides us with a home. This discomfort, as I discussed in the previous chapter, means ‘not sinking’ into the spaces in which we live and work, and it means always questioning our own investments.” (p. 178)

Feminists need to learn to hear the anger of others who have experienced the historicity of suffering differently as an ongoing critique of naturalized norms. In the introduction, Ahmed stated:

“So not only do I have an impression of others, but they also leave me with an impression; they impress me, and impress upon me. […]Emotions are intentional in the sense that they are ‘about’ something: they involve a direction or orientation towards an object. […]Emotions are both about objects, which they hence shape, and are also shaped by contact with objects. […]The memory can be the object of my feeling in both senses: the feeling is shaped by contact with the memory, and also involves an orientation towards what is remembered. […]Emotions are relational: they involve (re) actions or relations of ‘towardness’ or ‘awayness’ in relation to such objects. […]If the object of feeling both shapes and is shaped by emotions, then the object of feeling is never simply before the subject. How the object impresses (upon) us may depend on histories that remain alive insofar as they have already left their impressions. The object may stand in for other objects, or may be proximate to other objects. Feelings may stick to some objects, and slide over others.” (pp. 6-8)

If we understand Ahmed as asserting that each of us exists in our own psychological world – phenomenologically we exist in a world we affectively experience as our own, with only our own direct access to but nonetheless is lived as intentional, directed outward toward others and objects; each world creating a multitude of worlds within the world at large; worlds that impress upon each other and thus are mutually constructing/constructed by each other; worlds interconnected through naturalized norms that have a historicity of impressions upon us as either the violated or the violating; norms that are either invisible or visible to us and that we either adopt or are opposed to – then what feminists need to do is to learn to hear and read the anger of others as an ongoing critique of the worlds we differentially inhabit. Ahmed advocates anger as a worthwhile feminist attachment because anger, anger that is not attached to an immutable object that serves to define whose experiences are legitimate, but anger as an ongoing critique of the worlds we inhabit, is a movement that opens up oneself to the shared world at large and the possibilities for creating new worlds. For this movement to happen, we may need to stay uncomfortable, to stay angry, to stay wounded, and to stay attached, in feminism.

Close Reading: Irigaray’s Deconstruction of Heidegger’s/Plato’s Being

Infinite projection – (the) Idea (of) Being (of the) Father – of the mystery of conception and the hystery where it is (re)produced. Blindness with regard to the original one who must be banished by fixing the eyes on pure light, to the point of not seeing (nothing) anymore – the show, the hole of nothing is back again – to the point at which the power of a mere bodily membrane is exceeded, and the gaze of the soul is rediscovered. A-lētheia.

This pasage is found in the section entitled “Plato’s Hysteria” (Speculum of the Other Woman, p. 315). In this section, Irigaray deconstructs Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Irigaray offers a psychoanalytic reading of the allegory in which the lover of wisdom’s path to Truth originates in the materiality of the cave/womb and culminates in the rediscovering / revealing / unconcealing of the Truth of the immateriality/immortality of the essence of Being. Irigaray’s larger project in Speculum is to deconstruct major texts in psychoanalysis and philosophy, offering a reading in which such texts construct a phallocentric conception of subjectivity that relegates the feminine to a material, embodied, non-subjectivity.

Irigaray applies many psychoanalytic concepts in this passage. The infinite projection Irigaray speaks of, the transference of one’s own unconscious impulses onto the other, is mediated by (the) Idea (of) Being (of the) Father. There are multiple interrelated ways to read this. One is as “the Idea of Being of the Father” in which case the projection takes the absolute and unchanging essence of the Father as ultimately the sole creative actor. Another way is as “the Idea of Being Father” in which case the projection sublimates one’s unconscious impulses into the creative Father and in which one comes to take on this ideal role. The projection serves as a way for the father to go back into the mother and guide himself out, himself as reflected in and through his son; a son who then picks up the role of the Father. Through this projection, the hystery, the narrative of the womb, of the mother/originator is forgotten. The projection serves as a pure, bright, light that blinds the masculine subject to the (focal) point of not seeing (nothing) anymore; of not seeing the spectacle of birth, the show (pre-labor blood), and the cave of origination anymore. Gazing at the focal point of pure light, the unified phallus of the Father, the son is freed from the powerful materiality of the womb; a womb that has doomed him to death. In this gaze that conceals the hystery, the son has rediscovered/revealed/unconcealed the Truth of his immortal and immaterial essence.

Within feminism, Irigaray challenges binary conceptions of masculine / feminine subjectivity as well as the formation of the masculine phallocentric subjectivity. In this passage, Irigaray is conveying the way the formation of masculine subjectivity within a binary psychosocial-linguistic morphology necessarily excludes any possibility of feminine subjectivity.

Robin James’s Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism, Chapter 2, “Into the Death”

 

Resilience within neoliberalism is defined as the ability to adapt to hardships, traumas, and oppression; it is a fluid movement through hardships in which the raw material of damage is recycled into resources as further investment into the perpetual transformation of resources into wealth. It is an ideology of turning lemons into lemonade, turning that lemonade into a retail chain store, then turning that retail chain store into a corporate conglomerate that reaches all areas of the world through its monopolistic production and distribution of all genetically modified, yellow #5, liquid-ish, bitter flavored saccharine foodstuffs.

Resilience on a social level redistributes life and death analogous to capitalism’s redistribution of wealth; the benefits produced from those struggling to survive are redistributed to those higher on the hierarchy; to those deemed by the white supremacist neoliberal norm as beneficial to the hegemonic system. Lives deemed viable to the hegemonic system are invested in. They are distributed the means of resiliently transforming themselves; they are distributed the means of resilience, namely the intensification and precarity of damage as well as the resources to transform that damage. Lives that are deemed to be not viable to the hegemonic system, are divested; while these lives are distributed precarity, they are not distributed the means of resilience. Instead their lives and labor provide the economic, social, and political capital that is invested into the lives viable to the system. Neoliberal biopolitical management is all about the categorization and management of life and death in order to sustain the viability of the hegemonic system. In chapter 2, “Into Death,” James asks: What if we disrupted the viability of the system by going into death? Death is defined as “living a supposedly unviable life, a life that isn’t profitable for MRWaSP, a life whose support diminishes the resilience of other, more elite groups” (p. 49).

James begins by elaborating on a distinction between death as negation and death as divestment. The Sex Pistol’s anarchic response to liberalism functioned as a negation through challenging modernity’s insistence on arche, on a teleological, future-oriented, progressive development. The song’s structure is an ordered teleological progression that shifts at the end with a negation of its origination; a shift that is reflected in the lyrical claim: “no future” (p. 53). But, death as queer negation of futurity would sound more like what Lee Edelman describes as “meaningless repetition, ‘random signals,’ white noise, or ‘electronic buzzing’”; these sounds do not reproduce and thus truly negate a teleological progression into the future (p. 53-54) (see/hear, The Normal, “Warm Leatherette”). Tricia Rose and James Snead also distinguish between the “progression and regression” or “accumulation and growth” within European/Western music and the “circulation, equilibrium,” and cyclical repetition in the music of black cultures (p. 54) (see/hear The Winstons, “Amen, Brother”) (perhaps also, X-Ray Spex, “Identity”). Negation and repetition, as statements of anti-futurity, “are counter-hegemonic responses to a specific white supremacist, heteronormative arche, one premised on teleological development, accumulation, and growth,” an arche that is foundational to liberal capitalism (p. 55). However, neoliberalism appropriates such negation as the raw material damage to be put in service of privileged groups and their resilient transformations.

Whereas death as a negation of the future serves as a response to liberal hegemonic ideologies, neoliberalism requires a different response, namely “biopolitical divestment” (p. 57). For James, Atari Teenage Riot’s response is to rework the anti-future response to liberal teleological and progressive development by repurposing the techniques of cutting, looping, and repetition in order to “de-functionalize the harmony” of progression (p. 58). The death as negation response was a critical response to a liberal subject who was “concerned with maintaining its integrity as it progresses through the future” and with the “authenticity of experience” (p. 59). However, the neoliberal subject is “concerned with optimizing its life” and “intensity of experience” (ibid.). ATR’s response is a critique of the neoliberal subject showing that the “‘life’ they invest in and administer is bankrupt” because they are playing a game where they have been biopolitically managed through the use of data, stuck in feedback loops of damage leading to the perpetuity of either resilient transformation or precarious bare life; a game with no chance of winning (p. 59-60). Death as divestment is the MRWaSP’s response to the neoliberal subject who “is allowed to play” but is denied the opportunities and resources to flourish and win because their lives have been deemed unviable to the hegemonic system (p. 61). James states:

Scraping by, barely surviving, unable to profit from the surplus value one’s labor generates (e.g., by storing up the ‘life’ or ‘credit’ one needs to win a video game), “bare life” is the other side of resilience discourse. Biopolitical death isn’t the negation of life, but insufficient resilience. Understood through the lens of resilience discourse, biopolitical death is not a subtraction, opposition to, or rejection of life, but an investment in “unviable” practices, practices that may help you survive, but won’t help you win. Just as resilience intensifies “life,” death intensifies “unviability.” Queerness and blackness are carriers of biopolitical death because this death is the fate of what or whomever was too racially and sexually “unruly” (to use philosopher Falguni Sheth’s term) to reproduce and support post-racial, post-feminist, “homonational” society. Instead of constitutively excluding impurities, MRWaSP maintains the ideal balance of diverse elements by divesting itself of those who cannot successfully keep up with the demands of modern life. Live in a way that doesn’t upset this balance, or we’ll leave you to die. In MRWaSP, death is biopolitical. (pp. 62-63)

For James, ATR’s music does not allow for the resilient recycling of damage. Instead, it intensifies noise to the point of “overdrive and breakdown” causing an affective response of precarity that prevents the hegemony and individual from being able to use that damage to invest in themselves (pp. 63-64). In this way ATR’s music is an expression and critique of biopolitical death that causes resilience to “invest in death rather than (normal) life” (p. 64). While the anarchy of death as negation could serve as an effective strategy against liberalism, neoliberalism incorporates such a strategy into its deregulated biopolitical management of life and death as part and parcel for its resilient recycling of damage. Correlatively, the excessively high or low intensities as well as the distortion of linear temporal progression – such as in drug use and in the use of MIDI’s in musical compositions – are also not effective critical responses to neoliberalism. Such attempts at “deterritorializations” are “faux subversions” because their effects are within relative and finite limits that the neoliberal biopolitical management of life and death has accounted for (pp. 64-65). One may think that they are challenging the hegemony, but they really are not transgressing the limits of the hegemony. Such attempts at excessiveness are actually “the very measure of a healthy deregulated economy (of capital, of desire) in which rigidly controlled background conditions generate increasingly eccentric foreground events” (p. 68).

ATR’s response is a musical and political riot, and that riot is one in which the order and discipline of neoliberal biopolitical management is taken to its extreme and turned against itself. James states:

Rioting isn’t anarchy, it’s biopolitical management for counter-hegemonic ends. ATR takes the tools biopolitical neoliberalism uses to invest in life, like algorithms (statistical data, synthesizer patches), and applies them instead to death— that is, to processes that reduce the viability of MRWaSP capitalism. It carefully, microscopically, and vigilantly intensifies death. So, for example, while neoliberal management strategies invest in promoting flexibility and adaptability, riotous, queer management strategies invest in the opposite— stringent, uncompromising order. It seems counterintuitive to say that stringent order is the way to contest social control. That’s because classical liberalism treats anarchy and negation as remedies to the hegemonic insistence on order and discipline. However, resilience discourse normalizes disorder; anarchy and negation are the means of capitalist production and MRWaSP reproduction. (p. 70)

Then:

Neoliberalism uses biopolitical management to optimize flexibility. Precise, exact quantization can undermine this “one requirement.” The key is to craft a texture that’s so rigid it won’t shatter and produce damage that can be plugged back into resilience circuits. This rigidity will confuse ears tuned to expect flexibility, distortion, and aion-like deterritorialization. That’s why it sounds riotous. (p. 71) (see/hear Atari Teenage Riot, “Into the Death”)

For James, ATR’s music riots. It combines methods of cutting, looping, and repetition with precisely measured meter. The effect is hyper-organized, and this “hyper-quantization and intensification” serves as a “counter-arche” that intensifies biopolitical death (p. 71-72). While neoliberalism distributes privilege and death in order to intensify the lives the hegemony has deemed viable to the system, the hyper-organized response intensifies bare life and plugs this intensity into death (p. 73). In other words, instead of playing the game of plugging resilience capital back into the system as a perpetual investment for ever expanding wealth, one plugs those resources into bare life, the unviable life, death (pp. 73-74). The intensification of bare life, as opposed to the intensification of damage and resilience, is in this sense riotous. James states: “If death is something controlled in order to better manage life, then inhabiting death queerly will fuck neoliberal hegemony’s algorithms, fuck up its management of life” (p. 74) If some must be divested from in order to invest in others, then investing in the divested instead of the invested will disrupt this system and refuse the system the optimal means of “maximizing hegemonic relations of privilege and oppression” (p. 74). Consider here the neoliberal claims that a certain amount of unemployment is good for the economy, that by investing in the rich the wealth will trickle down, or that mass consumerism is the key to an economy that works for everyone. Each of these claims can be read through James’s perspective as demonstrating how some lives serve as the capital for others. James’s response is to invest in bare life excessively – which means to invest in employment for everyone, disinvest the rich, and to refuse mass consumerism.

James’s argument points out something I would like to consider in relation to hegemony and anarchy. James states that anarchy was a counter-hegemonic response to liberalism, but because neoliberalism appropriates and incorporates anarchy into its method of biopolitical management, anarchy only fuels the hegemonic neoliberal system. But, what I find interesting is that the neoliberal system James describes is two tiered; there is the authoritarian overarching background structure of neoliberalism that is ordered and disciplined, but there is also the deregulated foreground structure. James is saying that by hyper-organizing the deregulated foreground one can disrupt the ordered and disciplined overarching background. While James states this is not necessarily anarchy, I question whether it is another form of anarchy; a form of anarchy that targets the overarching background instead of the foreground. James seems to conceive of anarchy as chaos. But, if anarchy is conceived of as a lack of an authoritarian overarching background structure (i.e. a structure that places ultimate rule in one overarching authority, in whatever form that authority may take – one person, one group of people, one economic system), then by utilizing a method of hyper-organization that makes the authoritarian overarching background structure impossible, one is utilizing a form of anarchy that is not chaos but organization. In other words, perhaps organization need not be an authoritarian overarching hegemonic structure and anarchy need not be chaos.

Tom Regan and Patricia Williams on Nonhuman Animal Rights – Some Quotes to Consider

Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor (pp. 156-165)

“Some time ago, I taught a property class in which we studied the old case of Pierson v. Post:

Post, being in possession of certain dogs and hounds under his command, did, ‘upon a certain wild and uninhabited, unpossessed and waste land, called the beach, find and start one of those noxious beasts called a fox,’ and whilst there hunting, chasing and pursuing the same with his dogs and hounds, and when in view thereof, Pierson, well knowing the fox was so hunted and pursued, did, in the sight of Post, to prevent his catching the same, kill and carry it off.

[…] It was about this time that I began studying something that may have been the contract of sale of my great-great grandmother as well as a census accounting that does list her, along with other, inanimate evidence of wealth, as the ‘personal property’ of Austin Miller.

In reviewing those powerfully impersonal documents, I realized that both she and the fox shared a common lot, were either owned or unowned, never the owner. And whether owned or unowned, rights over them never filtered down to them; right to their persons were never vested in them. When owned, issues of physical, mental, and emotional abuse or cruelty were assigned by the law to the private tolerance, whimsy, or insanity of an external master. And when unowned – free, freed, or escaped – again their situation was uncontrollably precarious, for as objects to be owned, they and the game of their conquest were seen only as potential enhancements to some other self. […]

From the object-property’s point of view (that of my great-great grandmother and the nameless fox), the rhetoric of certainty (of rights, formal rules, and fixed entitlements) has been enforced at best as if it were the rhetoric of context (of fluidity, informal rules, and unpredictability). Yet the fullness of context, the trust that enhances the use of more fluid systems, is lost in the lawless influence of cultural insensitivity and taboo. So while it appears to jurisdictionally recognized and invested parties that rights designate outcomes with a clarity akin to wisdom, for the object-property the effect is one of existing in a morass of unbounded irresponsibility.

[…] This underscores my sense of the importance of rights: rights are to law what conscious commitments are to the psyche. This country’s worst historical moments have not been attributable to rights assertion but to a failure of rights commitment. From this perspective, the problem with rights discourse is not that the discourse is itself constricting but that it exists in a constricted referential universe. The body of private laws epitomized by contract, including slave contract, is problematic because it denies the object of contract any rights at all.

[…] Such expanded reference – first made controversial by Christopher Stone’s famous article ‘Should Trees Have Standing?’ – is premised on the degree to which rights do empower and make visible:

We are inclined to suppose the rightlessness of rightless ‘things’ to be a decree of Nature, not a legal convention acting in support of some status quo. It is thus that we defer considering the choices involved in all their moral, social and economic dimensions…The fact is that each time there is a movement to confer rights onto some new ‘entity,’ the proposal is bound to sound odd or frightening or laughable. This is partly because until the rightless thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of ‘us’ – those who are holding rights at the time.

One consequence of this broader reconfiguration of rights is to give voice to those people or things that, by virtue of their object relation to a contract, historically have had no voice. Allowing this sort of empowering opens up the egoisme à deux of traditional contract and increases the limited bipolarity of relationship that characterizes so much of western civilization. Listening to and looking for interests beyond the narrowest boundaries of linear, dualistically reciprocal encounters is characteristic of gift relationships, networks of encompassing expectation and support.

[…] Such an expanded frame of rights reference underlies a philosophy of more generously extending rights to all one’s fellow creatures, whether human or beast.

[…] The task for Critical Legal Studies, then, is not to discard rights but to see through or past them so that they reflect a larger definition of privacy and property: so that privacy is turned from exclusion based on self-regard into regard for another’s fragile, mysterious autonomy; and so that property regains its ancient connotation of being a reflection of the universal self. The task is to expand private property rights into a conception of civil rights, into the right to expect civility from others. In discarding rights altogether, one discards a symbol too deeply enmeshed in the psyche of the oppressed to lose without trauma and much resistance. Instead, society must give them away. Unlock them from reification by giving them to slaves. Give them to trees. Give them to cows. Give them to history. Give them to rivers and rocks. Give to all of society’s objects and untouchables the rights of privacy, integrity, and self-assertion; give them distance and respect. Flood them with the animating spirit that rights mythology fires in this country’s most oppressed psyches, and wash away the shrouds of inanimate-object status, so that we may say not that we own gold but that a luminous golden spirit owns us.”

Tom Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights,” in In Defense of Animals (pp. 13-29)

“What to do? Where to begin anew? The place to begin, I think, is with the utilitarian’s view of the value of the individual — or, rather, lack of value. In its place, suppose we consider that you and I, for example, do have value as individuals — what we’ll call inherent value. To say we have such value is to say that we are something more than, something different from, mere receptacles. Moreover, to ensure that we do not pave the way for such injustices as slavery or sexual discrimination, we must believe that all who have inherent value have it equally, regardless of their sex, race, religion, birthplace and so on. Similarly to be discarded as irrelevant are one’s talents or skills, intelligence and wealth, personality or pathology, whether one is loved and admired or despised and loathed. The genius and the retarded child, the prince and the pauper, the brain surgeon and the fruit vendor, Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous used-car salesman — all have inherent value, all possess it equally, and all have an equal right to be treated with respect, to be treated in ways that do not reduce them to the status of things, as if they existed as resources for others. My value as an individual is independent of my usefulness to you. Yours is not dependent on your usefulness to me. For either of us to treat the other in ways that fail to show respect for the other’s independent value is to act immorally, to violate the individual’s rights.

Some of the rational virtues of this view – what I call the rights view – should be evident. Unlike (crude) contractarianism, for example, the rights view in principle denies the moral tolerability of any and all forms of racial, sexual or social discrimination; and unlike utilitarianism, this view in principle denies that we can justify good results by using evil means that violate an individual’s rights -denies, for example, that it could be moral to kill my Aunt Bea to harvest beneficial consequences for others. That would be to sanction the disrespectful treatment of the individual in the name of the social good, something the rights view will not — categorically will not —ever allow.

The rights view, I believe, is rationally the most satisfactory moral theory. It surpasses all other theories in the degree to which it illuminates and explains the foundation of our duties to one another – the domain of human morality. On this score it has the best reasons, the best arguments, on its side. Of course, if it were possible to show that only human beings are included within its scope, then a person like myself, who believes in animal rights, would be obliged to look elsewhere.

But attempts to limit its scope to humans only can be shown to be rationally defective. Animals, it is true, lack many of the abilities humans possess. They can’t read, do higher mathematics, build a bookcase or make baba ghanoush. Neither can many human beings, however, and yet we don’t (and shouldn’t) say that they (these humans) therefore have less inherent value, less of a right to be treated with respect, than do others. It is the similarities between those human beings who most clearly, most non-controversially have such value (the people reading this, for example), not our differences, that matter most. And the really crucial, the basic similarity is simply this: we are each of us the experiencing subject of a life, a conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our usefulness to others. We want and prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our life, including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death – all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals. As the same is true of those animals that concern us (the ones that are eaten and trapped, for example), they too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with inherent value of their own.

Some there are who resist the idea that animals have inherent value. ‘Only humans have such value,’ they profess. How might this narrow view be defended? Shall we say that only humans have the requisite intelligence, or autonomy, or reason? But there are many, many humans who fail to meet these standards and yet are reasonably viewed as having value above and beyond their usefulness to others. Shall we claim that only humans belong to the right species, the species Homo sapiens? But this is blatant speciesism. Will it be said, then, that all – and only – humans have immortal souls? Then our opponents have their work cut out for them. I am myself not ill-disposed to the proposition that there are immortal souls. Personally, I profoundly hope I have one. But I would not want to rest my position on a controversial ethical issue on the even more controversial question about who or what has an immortal soul. That is to dig one’s hole deeper, not to climb out. Rationally, it is better to resolve moral issues without making more controversial assumptions than are needed. The question of who has inherent value is such a question, one that is resolved more rationally without the introduction of the idea of immortal souls than by its use.

Well, perhaps some will say that animals have some inherent value, only less than we have. Once again, however, attempts to defend this view can be shown to lack rational justification. What could be the basis of our having more inherent value than animals? Their lack of reason, or autonomy, or intellect? Only if we are willing to make the same judgment in the case of humans who are similarly deficient. But it is not true that such humans — the retarded child, for example, or the mentally deranged – have less inherent value than you or I. Neither, then, can we rationally sustain the view that animals like them in being the experiencing subjects of a life have less inherent value. All who have inherent value have it equally, whether they be human animals or not.

Inherent value, then, belongs equally to those who are the experiencing subjects of a life. Whether it belongs to others – to rocks and rivers, trees and glaciers, for example — we do not know and may never know. But neither do we need to know, if we are to make the case for animal rights. We do not need to know, for example, how many people are eligible to vote in the next presidential election before we can know whether I am. Similarly, we do not need to know how many individuals have inherent value before we can know that some do. When it comes to the case for animal rights, then, what we need to know is whether the animals that, in our culture, are routinely eaten, hunted and used in our laboratories, for example, are like us in being subjects of a life. And we do know this. We do know that many – literally, billions and billions – of these animals are the subjects of a life in the sense explained and so have inherent value if we do. And since, in order to arrive at the best theory of our duties to one another, we must recognize our equal inherent value as individuals, reason – not sentiment, not emotion – reason compels us to recognize the equal inherent value of these animals and, with this, their equal right to be treated with respect.

That, very roughly, is the shape and feel of the case for animal rights. Most of the details of the supporting argument are missing. They are to be found in the book to which I alluded earlier. Here, the details go begging, and I must, in closing, limit myself to four final points.

The first is how the theory that underlies the case for animal rights shows that the animal rights movement is a part of, not antagonistic to, the human rights movement. The theory that rationally grounds the rights of animals also grounds the rights of humans. Thus those involved in the animal rights movement are partners in the struggle to secure respect for human rights – the rights of women, for example, or minorities, or workers. The animal rights movement is cut from the same moral cloth as these.”

The Personal and the Political

Zoe Williams’s article in the Guardian on Hannah Arendt’s prescient and insightful dissection of totalitarianism and violence discusses the relevance of comparisons between the Nazi movement in Germany during the 1920-40’s with our own time and the rise of the Alt-Right movement.

I encourage reading Williams’s article because I think she does a wonderful job explaining Arendt’s position on the origins of totalitarianism and violence. Briefly, the rise of Nazi totalitarianism for Arendt was a complex social event that incorporated a large mass of citizens who were vulnerable to economic instability, who were reduced and atomized to merely workers, and who felt completely disenfranchised from the political and public structures that were determining their lives. This mass of people were incited to follow a genocidal leader who portrayed himself as a savior figure and touted a deeply subversive racist ideology that used fear of “otherness” to rile up anger and unite the mass.

Arendt was very concerned with the use of ideology to rile up masses of people to act out violently. Violence, as Williams very aptly points out for Arendt, is used to justify the use of totalitarian violence. Williams makes this claim in response to protest movements on the left and radical left of the political spectrum. Arendt’s warning is that should the left respond fervently in ways construed as “violence”, it will only be used by the right to justify the ideology of the right. This ought to be concerning given Trump’s claims to bring about “law and order” and the subversive racist messages imbued in such a proclamation. Particularly concerning are proposed laws that specifically target protesters, making it legal to run over protesters and labeling protests as “economic terrorism”. Such tactics have been used for decades now against environmental and animal rights activists and more recently with a petition in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement – where even when these movements are largely nonviolent, they are nonetheless labeled as “terrorists”.

What I would like to add is that it has become obvious that the government is not going to help us. Trump’s cabinet is stocked full of every flavor of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobic, xenophobia, anti-environmentalism, money-in-politics, pro-corporation, anti-worker to poison the palate. It is obvious that we have to enact change where we can, changes from the grassroots levels outside of government. While I think Arendt (and Williams) makes a very good point about how totalitarianism and violence works, I will not follow her down the path of a clear distinction between the public and private. I do not think that there can be, nor that there ought to be, a clear distinction between the public and private realms. However, I am saying that we need to really start, collectively and nonviolently, making a strong movement that incorporates our everyday private actions into our political views. We need to start changing our everyday behavior with more urgency.

Corporations might have access to government through money, but we are the ones giving these corporations money. We have to enact change everywhere we can. Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a revelation of how corporations perpetuate racist structures through lobbying and legislation. We need to be aware of how corporations are spending the money we give them, and refuse to give our money to corporations that perpetuate racist, homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, and transphobic social and political structures. We need to support investigative journalists and lawyers who fight for freedom of the press and freedom of speech so that we have the information we need to make informed choices about where our money goes. We cannot just purchase from corporations that claim charitable goals, we have to refuse to support corporations who seek to promote harmful political goals.

Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything makes a solid case for how the urgency of climate change can bring together seemingly disparate activist groups for a common cause. Without clean air, clean water, clean soil, none of us are going to survive. It is the one thing we can all stand behind because it is necessary for us all to exist. In fact, the people who are going to suffer the most from climate change disasters are the people who have been disproportionately dealt more social and political burdens and disadvantages. The people who live in places where there is no infrastructure to handle climate change disaster, people who live in poverty all over the world, and people who have been subject to environmental racism are going to be the people who suffer the most. While I agree with Klein’s assertion, I don’t agree that she leaves animal rights activism out of her collective of movements. One thing that we all can do to take matters into our own hands is to either cut out completely or limit our use of animals for food and products. Animal agriculture plays a significant role in environmental degradation. Humans purposely bring trillions of animals into existence every year in order to eat them and use them for products. Those animals require a lot of land, water, and food as well as create a lot of waste and that waste pollutes the water, air, and soil as well as increase greenhouse gases. Not eating animals and not using products that contain animals is a way to help animals, help the environment, and help people.

Considering Justice

Justice claims seem to largely fall into two categories: (1) Political, legislative, economic, and social claims in regard to the structure, organization, and operation of public and private institutions. (2) Juridical and legal claims in regard to the criminal justice system. Regarding (1), the U.S. and much of the neoliberal world is structured and operates according to the theory of “distributive justice.” Under the distributive justice paradigm, benefits and burdens, privileges and disadvantages, are distributed throughout society. The distribution of rights, wealth, opportunities, etc. is largely based on an individual’s group identification. Regarding (2), for the vast majority of citizens, the U.S. operates according to a theory of “retributive justice.” The theory of “retributive justice” is opposed to the theory of “restorative justice.” “Restorative justice” is a theory that advocates restoring the communal bonds between the perpetrators and victims of crimes through a process of acknowledging grievances, apologizing, making reparations, and rehabilitation. “Retributive justice,” on the other hand, is based on the biblical ideology of “an eye for an eye.” It simply seeks to punish and exact retribution.

Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  In agreement with King, I am highly suspicious of the “distributive justice” and “retributive justice” paradigms of the neoliberal U.S. nation-state, because these paradigms are based on a hierarchical and dichotomous way of thinking that ideologically atomizes individuals and leads to a logic of oppression. A logic of oppression operates within hierarchies where privileges and disadvantages, benefits and burdens, are disproportionately distributed based on one’s placement within the hierarchy. Within that logic, one’s place in the hierarchy is perceived as legitimate, because according to this ideology one’s place is either what one has chosen or is due to “natural ability”/”natural inability.” Thus, “justice” is interpreted as being the distribution of rights, wealth, opportunities, or lack thereof, in accordance with status hierarchy. Those higher on the hierarchy are thus perceived as being “justly” “entitled” to more privileges and benefits, while it is only “just” that those lower on the hierarchy be distributed more disadvantages and burdens. According to this logic, within the criminal justice system, retribution is demanded from those lower on the hierarchy, while one of the benefits and privileges those higher on the hierarchy receive is leniency. My suspicion (and anger) is directed toward the injustice of such paradigms that masquerade themselves as justice, thereby perpetuating the willful ignorance and denial of the “entitled,” and thus are a threat to justice everywhere.

Human Modification, Control, and Use of Nonhuman Animals: Human and Nonhuman Animal Relations in Jurassic World

Jurassic World has reached audiences in more than 70 countries and has grossed more than $1.6 billion dollars in revenue worldwide (IMDb). The impact of the movie’s sociological message is potentially significant due to the extent of the movie’s worldwide viewership. This paper is a content analysis of the movie Jurassic World. The paper begins with a brief summary of the movie’s storyline. The paper then analyzes the main theme of the movie, namely the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Next, the paper analyzes the Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements in the movie. It is argued that the product placements and theme of the movie convey a very specific message about the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. It is argued that the message of the movie overall is, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals. As a sociological analysis, this paper only focuses on a description of the message conveyed in the movie, and therefore, it does not make any claims in regard to the morality of the message.

Jurassic World is a dinosaur theme park located on Isla Nublar. The entire tropical island is a zoo and amusement park where dinosaurs are genetically modified, cloned, and held in captivity in order to be used for educational and entertainment purposes. One of the main protagonists of the movie is Claire, the park’s Operations Manager and aunt of Gray and Zach, brothers who travel to the island in order to visit Claire. Another protagonist is Owen, an ex-Navy service member and lead trainer of a pack of Velociraptors named Blue, Charlie, Echo, and Delta. Much of the movie consists of the various protagonists fleeing from numerous dinosaurs, including the main nonhuman animal antagonist, an escaped Indominus-rex. Interspersed between the flight scenes, the audience finds Owen in conflict with the main human antagonist Hoskins, Head of Security for InGen who wants to weaponize the trained Velociraptors. Owen, who trains the Velociraptors for human educational and entertainment purposes, finds it objectionable that Hoskins wants to train them to be weapons of war. When the Indominus-rex escapes, kills several park employees, and in the process releases other dinosaurs who then proceed to destroy the park and attack and kill park visitors, Hoskins convinces Owen to use the Velociraptors to hunt the Indominus-rex.

The summary highlights the main theme of the movie, namely the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Claire, Owen, and Hoskins each portray different relationships to the dinosaurs. Claire views the dinosaurs as commodities and “assets.” In a scene in the park’s control room, Claire is speaking with Lowery (control room employee). Claire states she “closed the deal” and introduces the movie audience to the Indominus-rex by saying “Verizon Wireless presents Indominus-rex.” Lowery states, “That is so terrible. Why not just go the distance, Claire, and just let these corporations name the dinosaurs.” When Claire questions Lowery about relocating more quickly a tranquilized Pachyderm, Lowery asks Claire, “why don’t we show a little sympathy? I mean, you do understand these are actual animals, right?” Claire ignores the question. Later, Claire and Masrani (park founder and CEO) are flying over the park in a helicopter when Masrani asks if the dinosaurs are happy. Claire states that they have no way to measure the dinosaurs’ emotional well-being. Masrani responds that you can see it in their eyes.

Claire views the dinosaurs as essentially unknowable “assets” to be controlled for human profit while Owen opposes controlling the dinosaurs as commodities and views the dinosaurs as living beings that can be known and trained. In one scene, Claire asks Owen to check the Indominus-rex’s containment area for vulnerabilities because he is “able to control the Raptors.” Owen responds, “It’s all about control with you. I don’t control the Raptors. It’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.” The discussion becomes diverted. Claire brings it back to the issue of the Indominus-rex, asking “Can we just focus on the asset, please?” Owen responds, “The asset? […] It’s probably easier to pretend these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet. But they’re not. They’re alive. […] You might have made them in a test tube, but they don’t know that.” Owen states what the dinosaurs know are their natural instincts, implying humans must understand the dinosaurs’ instincts in order to respect the dinosaurs.

The relationship between human and nonhuman animals based on respect as knowledge appears again in a later scene when Claire and Owen are speaking about the Indominus-rex’s genetically modified creation. Claire states the corporation needed to increase the “wow factor” with the creation of a new, more dangerous, dinosaur. Owen responds the corporation made a new dinosaur, “but you don’t even know what it is?” Owen asserts all the Indominus-rex knows is a small enclosed area and “animals raised in isolation are not always the most functional.” Owen concedes that the Velociraptors are born in captivity, but they are siblings who learn social skills and are bonded to him at birth, which creates a relationship of trust. Owen states the “Only positive relationship this animal has is with that crane” as the Indominus-rex is fed a decapitated and skinned dead cow dropped from a crane. Claire’s character portrays the idea that nonhuman animals are merely commodities to be modified, controlled, and used by humans for profit. Owen’s character disagrees with the modification of nonhuman animals when humans do not understand what they are doing. His character asserts nonhuman animals can be trained to be of use to humans for education and entertainment, but humans must be knowledgeable of nonhuman animals’ natural instincts.

Hoskins’s character portrays another type of relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Hoskins states the dinosaurs have instincts that can be harnessed as weapons of war. Owen asks, “What if they decide they wanna be in control?” Hoskins responds, “Well, then we remind them who is.” Owen states to Hoskins, “You come here and you don’t learn anything about these animals except what you want to know. You made them, and now you think you own them.” Hoskins responds, “We do own them. Extinct animals have no rights.” Owen states, “They’re not extinct anymore.” Hoskins responds, “Exactly. We’re sitting on a goldmine. And Masrani is using it to stock a petting zoo.” Owen states, “He just wants to teach people some humility. He doesn’t make weapons.” Like Owen, Hoskins seeks to know and train to the dinosaurs’ instincts, but similar to Claire he seeks to control and use the dinosaurs as a means to human ends through selective modification and without regard to gaining fuller knowledge of the dinosaurs.

Hoskins’s character also portrays the relationship between human and nonhuman animals by equating nonhuman animals with nature. In the same scene, Hoskins states, “Every living thing in this jungle is trying to murder the other. Mother Nature’s way of testing her creations. Refining the pecking order. War is a struggle. Struggle breeds greatness.” In this quote, Hoskins’s character is portraying the idea that nonhuman animals are of nature, nature is inherently violent, and humans must control the violence by being violent in order for humans to remain at the top of the hierarchy. When Hoskins speaks of his bond with a wolf pup he raised, he views himself as able to control the pup and thus as superior to it. Opposed to Hoskins, Owen’s character asserts dinosaurs should not be used in war because they cannot be fully controlled and could unpredictably turn on their handlers. The following scene shows Owen almost being eaten by the Velociraptors he was previously training and feeding after racing into the Velociraptors’ cage in order to save an employee who had fallen in.

All of the characters in the movie portray humans as being at the top of the natural hierarchy, even though nonhuman animals display human-like qualities. The disagreement between the characters is over the proper way humans are to relate to the nonhuman animals below them. In a scene in the Indominus-rex’s confinement area, Owen observes how the dinosaur had marked up a wall in order to make them think the dinosaur had escaped. Claire states, “We are talking about an animal here.” Owen responds, “A highly intelligent animal.” Later, park staff discover the Indominus-rex had clawed out the tracking device that had been surgically inserted into the dinosaur’s body. The dinosaur “remembered” where the device was inserted. Owen states the dinosaur “is learning where she fits into the food chain,” and then says the dinosaur should be killed immediately because the dinosaur is dangerous to humans. Later the Velociraptors are described as “communicating” with the Indominus-rex. The dinosaurs are portrayed as displaying characteristics traditionally associated with humans, namely intelligence, subjective remembrance, and communication. In another scene, Masrani is speaking with Wu, the lead scientist who purposely created the dinosaur with “exaggerated predator traits.” Wu recalls that Masrani wanted a “bigger” and “scarier” dinosaur with “more teeth.” Masrani responds, “I didn’t want a monster.” Wu states, “Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We are just used to being the cat.”

All of these examples imply that no matter what level of intelligence, subjectivity, or communicative ability a nonhuman animal may have, humans are at the top of the hierarchy and are justified in modifying nonhuman animals so as to use nonhuman animals for human ends. However, the movie also contains a cautionary message that humans can be knocked off the top of the hierarchy by their own arrogance and ignorance. Owen’s character repeatedly criticized the other characters for modifying nonhuman animals’ physical traits through genetic modification and their psychological traits through lack of understanding and neglect of their instincts. However, he did so only to the extent that humans were arrogant and ignorant of their ability to control these modifications. In the scene noted above, Owen stated Masrani wanted humans to learn humility. Owen’s character implies that humans cannot effectively control nonhuman animals if humans are arrogant toward and ignorant of nonhuman animals. Owen’s character had knowledge of the Velociraptor’s instincts and modified the Velociraptors’ instincts through training. While his character argued against controlling the dinosaurs, he himself sought to control them in the sense of modifying and using the dinosaurs for human ends.

While his character is portrayed as the nonhuman animal protector, such as in a scene where he comforts a dying Brontosaurus, he still assumes a position of superiority and seeks to control the pack of Velociraptors. Hoskins and Owen use the Velociraptors to hunt and kill the Indominus-rex. When Owen uses the Indominus-rex’s scent for the Velociraptors to track down the nonhuman animal antagonist it is because the Velociraptors’ instincts were trained and modified through a “hide and seek” style game Owen had devised. In a later scene, Owen rides a motorcycle with the pack of Velociraptors, as if he is a part of the pack. When the Velociraptors break away from the humans and begin to follow the Indominus-rex, Owen states the Velociraptors “have a new alpha,” implying he was the alpha previously in control of the pack. Later when Owen is surrounded by the Velociraptors, he calms Blue and removes a device from the dinosaur’s head. Blue then communicates with the Indominus-rex and the Velociraptors defend Owen, Claire, Gray, and Zach from the Indominus-rex. The message is that humans can modify, control, and use nonhuman animals for human ends as long as humans are not arrogant and ignorant of the limits of their abilities to do so.

The movie implies that if humans try to arrogantly and ignorantly modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, then the consequences will be disastrous. At the end of the movie, the Tyrannosaurus-rex and Indominus-rex tear through the park during their climatic fight scene. By the time the Mosasaurus comes out of the water and eats the Indominus-rex, the park is nearly destroyed and an uncountable number of humans have been killed. The Tyrannosaurus-rex walks onto a helipad as the dinosaurs reclaim the park from the fleeing humans. The overall message of the movie is, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals.

Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements enhance this message. Claire drives a silver Mercedes-Benz throughout the movie, rushing from one area of the park to the other along island dirt roads. Many of the park vehicles are Mercedes-Benz 4x4s. The Mercedes-Benz logo is prominently displayed, up-close and center screen, several times in the movie. The Samsung logo is also clearly displayed in an early scene when Claire is talking on her Samsung cell phone to her sister about her nephews while driving. Claire is on her cell phone throughout the movie. She uses her phone to alert the park staff of the Indominus-rex’s escape, to ask her assistant to find her nephews and get them to safety, and to call for a helicopter to rescue her and her nephews as they flee from the Velociraptors in her Mercedes-Benz. All of the television monitors in the park’s genetic modification and cloning lab, education center, control room, and surveillance stations are Samsung. All of these products are displayed as being useful to humans in gaining knowledge about, modifying, and escaping from the dinosaurs. Claire is often seen using these technologies in these regards. These product placements not only support the theme that humans are hierarchically superior to nonhuman animals, but also the message that humans can use these products to learn about, modify, and protect themselves from nonhuman animals, thus giving humans a level of control over nonhuman animals.

In conclusion, this paper has argued that the Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements along with the theme of human superiority over nonhuman animals in Jurassic World convey a very specific message about the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. The human protagonists and antagonist all imply that humans are hierarchically superior to nonhuman animals. The hero of the movie exemplifies the message that humans can effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals for human ends so long as humans are not arrogant and ignorant in doing so. The heroine of the movie uses technologies displayed in product placements throughout the movie in order to learn, modify, and escape from nonhuman animals. Together the hero and heroine convey the sociological message that, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals.

The Imaginary, Freedom, and Bad Faith in Sartre’s Black Orpheus

Introduction

When Jean-Paul Sartre wrote Black Orpheus[1] in 1948, continental intellectuals had already become acquainted with his work in Being and Nothingness (1943)[2] and to a lesser extent in The Imaginary (1940).[3] Sartre argues in Black Orpheus that Négritude poetry is a revolutionary act that asserts the objective subjectivity of the colonized and enslaved African peoples through various literary techniques that dialectically oppose, transpose, and synthesize the Manichean dichotomies of whiteness that are subsumed within the white colonizers’ language. With the publication of Black Orpheus in French and English speaking anthologies devoted to the poetry of the Négritude movement, Sartre entered into a political discussion that today can broadly be recognized within Critical Whiteness Studies. In this paper I explore how phenomenological and existentialist concepts in The Imaginary and Being and Nothingness inform Sartre’s perspective in Black Orpheus.

I must make several admissions. I admit that a limitation of this present paper is a lack of depth into the works of prominent Négritude intellectuals, such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor. A study of how Sartre’s concepts in Black Orpheus developed due to and in response to the work of Négritude intellectuals would be a significant and important study. Moreover, it would be an equally important and significant study to question Sartre’s reading of these intellectuals and whether and to what extent Eurocentric whiteness is lingering within Sartre’s concepts. In fact, much of Black Orpheus could be criticized for speaking inappropriately and inaccurately for Négritude intellectuals.[4]

However, both of these issues would focus on different questions than what is presently being considered. The present issue considered is Sartre’s application of his earlier concepts to a concrete social and political movement in which a people had been oppressed and exploited due to in part being assigned an inferior ontological status. Contemporary Négritude scholars acknowledge that the main point and value of Black Orpheus is in drawing attention to Négritude arguments that deconstruct “through radical critique and counter-construction” the image of “the African invented by Europeans.”[5] In this vein, I wish to focus on Sartre’s challenges to Eurocentric whiteness which also requires understanding how Sartre applies his earlier concepts to his analysis of Négritude. The relevance of this present study is in how Sartre’s concepts may be applied to or critiqued by Critical Whiteness Studies.

Sartre begins Black Orpheus by addressing Eurocentric white people directly. Sartre states:

When you removed the gag that was keeping these black mouths shut, what were you hoping for? That they would sing your praises? Did you think that when they raised themselves up again, you would read adoration in the eyes of these heads that our fathers had forced to bend down to the very ground? Here are black men standing, looking at us, and I hope that you – like me – will feel the shock of being seen. For three thousand years, the white man has enjoyed the privilege of seeing without being seen; he was only a look – the light from his eyes drew each thing out the shadow of its birth; the whiteness of his skin was another look, condensed light. The white man – white because he was man, white like daylight, white like truth, white like virtue – lighted up creation like a torch and unveiled the secret white essence of beings. Today, these black men are looking at us, and our gaze comes back to our own eyes; in their turn, black torches light up the world and our white heads are no more than chinese lanterns swinging in the wind.[6]

This passage is worthy of being quoted in its entirety because of just how philosophically infused it is with Sartrean concepts. I will proceed by looking more closely at this passage as it regards other portions of the essay while simultaneously drawing out Sartrean concepts of the image, bad faith, “the look,” being, negation, responsibility, and freedom. I will do so by beginning my examination with how Sartre conceives of these concepts as relating to the Négritude poet’s construction of the individualist image of African blackness, followed by the poet’s deconstruction of the individualist image of European whiteness, and concluding with the poet’s reconstruction the relational image of African blackness and European whiteness.

Construction of the Image of African Blackness: The Imaginary and Freedom

Throughout Black Orpheus, Sartre speaks of the Négritude poet’s use of the image in order to liberate black imagination.[7] This liberation is correlated to the oppression of the black imagination by the white imagination. Subsumed in this correlation we find individualist and relational images. There are images in which the individual conceives of themselves as they are in themselves. There are also images in which the individual conceives of themselves as they are in relation to “the other.” In this passage, we are given the image of African blackness in relation to European whiteness, and vice versa. We are also given the image of how whiteness conceives of itself and how blackness conceives of itself. In this image, whiteness conceives of itself as an objective truth, the immutable and normative essence of beings, worthy of adoration. Blackness conceives of liberating itself through a process of imagining itself apart from the judgments of the white imagination.

The image of blackness or whiteness is consciousness in action.[8] It is an intentional and synthetic act that aims toward an object that is absent through an analogous representative, i.e. an analogon.[9] Consciousness directs itself toward an object, in this case blackness or whiteness, absent in its concrete physical or psychic form in order to make the object present in imagination.[10] The image, as quasi-observation, does not provide any new knowledge regarding blackness or whiteness.[11] It is instead constituted by our embodied experiences of the world, what we know of the world, and what we creatively put into the image.[12] Thus, the image is presented as a spontaneous creation, a lack, and as “nothingness.”[13] Both the poet and the white person in this sense are directing themselves toward the object of African blackness or European whiteness in order to make each the absence-made-present.

The content, or the source of the poet and white person’s image, is the analogon which in turn is comprised of kinaesthetic and affective elements.[14] Words in general can serve as signs that can direct consciousness toward a concrete form.[15] In reading, “the reader is in the presence of the world.[16] Words as signs, however, are different from the images that the poet aims at. The poet’s words do not seek to be signs that emptily refer to objects in the world, but instead the poet’s images are filled with the “presence” of the object aimed at.[17] The poet’s images are filled with blackness and whiteness as experienced in the world.

Thus, literature becomes the poet’s instrument of constructing their image of blackness, because it is only in literature that the “the sphere of objective signification becomes an irreal world.”[18] Only literature can serve as an analogon for the image of blackness and whiteness.[19] The poet uses literature as an analogon for the individualistic and relational images of blackness and whiteness. Blackness and whiteness concretized in embodied, temporal and geographical experiences become the psychic objects that the poet aims for.[20] The image of whiteness is relationally comprised of the lived embodied experiences of the poet through the poet’s knowledge of their own blackness; through embodied experiences with whiteness, “blackness has passed from the immediacy of existence to the meditative state.” [21] In the irreal world, the poet aims at their own blackness which subsequently nihilates and posits the irreal world of whiteness at the same time.

The poet’s imagination creates an irreal world, with an imaginary Africa from which they are descended and at the same time nihilates and posits an imaginary Europe in which they have been entrapped, with each populated by the objects of blackness and whiteness within their thought.[22] The poet’s images of Africa and Europe are a synthesis of physical and psychic aspects, with kinaesthetic and affective aspects.[23] In this irreal world, the poet’s retention (remembrance) and protention (anticipation) constitute a movement of judgment-making in irreal space and time; where objects are located in an indeterminate space, time is fragmented, and both space and time become “absolute qualities” of the objects.[24] The image of blackness becomes imbued with movements and feelings of the imaginary Africa in an irreal space and time; where Sartre sees the poet’s African blackness imagined as a palpitating “silky wing” pressed against the body, “spread throughout him like his searching memory,” like a “betrayed childhood,” like “the swarming of insects and the indivisible simplicity of Nature, like the pure legacy of his ancestors.”[25]

The poet’s feelings are an intentional act which “aims at an object but it aims in its own manner, which is affective.”[26] The poet’s desire is particularly imaginary. Their desire seeks to obtain in the perceptual world what is affectively sought after in the irreal world.[27] The poet’s desire is to reveal their African subjectivity as an objective value freed from the whiteness that entraps their thought in the colonizers’ land and language.[28] The poet’s image of blackness and whiteness, in unreflective consciousness, is “constituted by a certain way of judging and feeling of which we do not become conscious as such but which we apprehend on the intentional object as this or that of its qualities,” which is to say “the function of the image is symbolic.”[29]

The image of blackness and whiteness is a symbol for what the imaginer puts into the image. “Imaged comprehension” teaches us nothing about the object itself but it can teach us about what consciousness and one’s thoughts must be so that one imagines and imagines the object as one does.[30] The image is a “presentifier” in that it is “the object of our thought giving itself to consciousness”; it is a “sens” or a “self-referring” “presence” that “‘incarnates’ a totality” of the object “but not in all its parts.”[31] The image of African blackness or European whiteness refers to a totality of affective and kinaesthetic qualities that give the objects a symbolic sense. Whiteness is imagined as Europe, as “cold,” full of “gray crowds,” “the land of exile, colorless” and blackness is imagined as “dazzling Africa,” “of fire and rain”; both make the images of blackness and whiteness fully present through symbolizing a totality of (and thus going beyond the separate) physical and psychic aspects to which the images refer.[32]  The image of blackness and whiteness “makes present a reality which eludes our conceptual and our perceptual awareness.”[33] The poet’s act is a “magical” “incantation destined to make the object of one’s thought, the thing one desires, appear in such a way that one can take possession of it.”[34] It is exactly in this magical sense that Sartre sees the poet as imagining African blackness.

In taking possession of their blackness in an irreal world, the poet is expressing their freedom. Imagining is an unreflective act (in that in imagining one does not reflect upon what one is doing) that takes place within a situation; from a “particular viewpoint from which constitutes the world at the unreflective level.”[35] Understanding the poet’s motivation for taking on the imaginative act reveals aspects of the situation; “the imagining act emerges from and is revelatory of a situation.”[36] The imagining act reveals what consciousness must be in order to imagine; namely, “nihilating, intentional, nonsubstantial, situational, creative, and free.”[37] Unreflective consciousness, in recognizing itself as non-identical with the world, things in the world, and its own past, as well as by intending itself creatively toward an irreal object, expresses its “transcendental freedom”; it moves beyond the world and is the site of human freedom, a possibility beyond one’s human situation.[38]

Deconstruction of the Image of European Whiteness: The Imaginary and Bad Faith

The poet finds themselves in a situation in which they are entrapped in European whiteness. Through a creative synthesis that uses the colonizers’ language to silence the language while simultaneously reducing dichotomous hierarchies into an uneasy mélange, the poet constructs the image of blackness, which subsequently deconstructs the image of whiteness.[39] Sartre argues that it is because the Négritude poet imaginatively constructs the individualistic image of blackness, that they reconstruct the relational images of both blackness and whiteness, while at the same time they deconstruct the individualistic image of whiteness. The image, in this sense, is an act of freedom that transcends the poet’s situation as well as a proclamation of the white person’s responsibility in their bad faith.

While the poet’s act is an imaginative act of revolutionary freedom, the white person’s act is an imaginative act of bad faith. The act of imagination is central for either the move toward freedom or toward bad faith.[40] The imaginary attitude makes possible “the use of various strategies to deceive oneself into believing whatever it is that one wants to believe.”[41] Whiteness as the image of objective truth, worthy of adoration, and the immutable and normative essence of being is an imaginative technique that allows white people “to hide aspects of ourselves from ourselves and each other.”[42] The white person in bad faith is “hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a pleasing truth.”[43] The white person, in order to hide a displeasing truth or present as truth a pleasing truth to themselves, must in their unreflective consciousness know that of which they are hiding or misrepresenting, that is to say “consciousness is fully self-transparent.”[44]

Sartre’s critique of whiteness addresses itself to the white person who fails to go beyond the cultural values associated with their facticity because they are unreflectively locked into their situation; they occupy the image of whiteness from within an unreflective consciousness. Caught unreflectively within the transcendent image of whiteness, within a transcendence that affirms itself as their facticity, they imaginatively misrepresent to themselves truth.[45] It is an image of a whiteness that is not colonizing and oppressing, but instead is something to be adored. It is an image of whiteness as the objective norm from which all values are given. It is the image of whiteness as the immutable and normative essence of all being.

The white person fails to see the negation of being and the contingency of their situation. They fail to see that they are “a being which is what it is not and which is not what it is.”[46] They fail to see that consciousness must be “contingent in order that there may be a consciousness rather than an infinity of pure and simple in-itself.”[47] They fail to see themselves as a for-itself; as a being whose existence entails a double negation that disallows them an immutable essence to which normative values are automatically affixed. The nothingness of being at the core of existence for the for-itself is what makes values and freedom possible. They fail to see that “nothing makes values exist – unless it is that freedom which by the same stroke makes me myself exist.”[48] Moreover, “Just as there can be lack in the world only if it comes to the world through a being which is its own lack, so there can be possibility in the world only if it comes through a being which is for itself in its own possibility”[49] Only a being who lacks an immutable and normative essence can have possibility and freedom.[50] As Thomas Flynn explains, “This nonidentity of consciousness with itself is the ontological root of Sartrean freedom just as self-transparency is the source of Sartrean responsibility: each one ‘knows’ what he is doing.”[51] The Eurocentric white people Sartre is addressing fail to see the possibility, freedom, and responsibility in their contingency.[52]

The Eurocentric white person does not seek to create themselves, but instead flees from their freedom to an image of whiteness in which they have been created as an immutable essence, an essence which is the foundation of all earthly normative values. In such a refusal they fail to see that “it is necessary that we make ourselves what we are,” and that this self-creation is a “constant obligation.”[53] Humanity does not exist merely as a thing, as an in-itself with a set essence. We exist as a nothingness, as a “lack of being.”[54] Our existence is one of constant choice in how we are to continuously create ourselves. We cannot choose to not choose to create ourselves. The choice to remain unreflectively locked into an image of whiteness is a choice of how to create oneself. Thus, the image of whiteness these Eurocentric white people choose is a creative act by which they define themselves in bad faith. In that they seek to make themselves an immutable and normative essence through their image of whiteness, they seek to be an in-itself-for-itself; their fundamental project is a desire to be God.[55]

Reconstruction of the Images of African Blackness and European Whiteness: “The Look”

We have up to this point explored how the poet, for Sartre, has constructed the individualistic image of blackness and deconstructed the individualistic image of whiteness. What remains to be explored is how the poet reconstructs the relational images of blackness and whiteness. For Sartre, the poet does this through “the look.” The look is revelatory in two ways. It reveals the other-as-subject while simultaneously revealing myself-as-object. It is a reciprocal relation in which “the revelation of my being-as-object for the Other” also entails that I “must be able to apprehend the presence of his being-as-subject.”[56] While I cannot experience the world as the other does, “my apprehension of the Other in the world as probably being a man refers to my permanent possibility of being-seen-by-him.”[57] The other “is the subject who is revealed to me in that flight of myself toward objectivation.”[58]

Just as we “cannot perceive and imagine simultaneously,” “we cannot perceive the world and at the same time apprehend a look fastened upon us […] because to perceive is to look at, and to apprehend a look […] is to be conscious of being looked at.”[59]  For the Eurocentric white person to apprehend the poet’s look is to break the spell cast by the image of whiteness. Just like the voyeur peering through the keyhole, the Eurocentric white person has historically peered into the embodied experiences of the poet.[60] They have been the subject peering at the other as an object, judging the other, and enjoying the privilege of seeing without being seen. The situation of the voyeur is one in which they have been engrossed in their unreflective consciousness within their situation.[61] They cannot fully apprehend their situation and themselves because they have fled into a form of bad faith.[62] But, when someone comes upon them, sparking their reflective consciousness, drawing them into an awareness of themselves in situation, then they see themselves because somebody sees them; their gaze comes back to their own eyes.[63]

They become an object for the other.[64] They become conscious of themselves as an object to be questioned and judged by the other.[65] In recognizing they are subject to the other’s judgments, they are ashamed.[66] Their shame reveals to them that they are an object to be judged by the other and that their freedom is limited by the freedom of the other who can judge and act upon them.[67] Their possibilities are limited because “every act performed against the Other can on principle be for the other an instrument which will serve him against me.”[68] Sartre wants the Eurocentric white person to see themselves because the poet sees them. He wants them to know that they are being questioned and judged by the poet, and he wants them to feel their freedom limited by the poet’s freedom. This revelation of shame is the shock Sartre wants Eurocentric whites to feel.

Conclusion

If I have been successful in linking Sartre’s phenomenology and existentialism to his analysis of Négritude in Black Orpheus, then numerous questions arise. Do Sartre’s concepts have value today for social and political discussions of race, particularly critiques of whiteness? Does Sartre himself fall into the voyeuristic position of the Eurocentric white person in his analysis? If so, how does this affect his theories? Could Sartre’s concepts be useful for an ethics that takes into account race? What is the relation of Black Orpheus as understood in this way to Sartre’s later works? While I suspect that Sartre’s concepts do have relevance for social and political discussions on race, even though Sartre may fall into the voyeuristic position, obviously much more study would be required to make these arguments.

[1] Jean-Paul Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” trans. John MacCombie in The Massachusetts Review Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn, 1964 – Winter, 1965), pp. 13-52

[2] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1984)

[3] Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary (New York: Routledge, 2004)

[4] Souleymane Bachir Diagne, “Négritude,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/negritude/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” p. 13

[7] Ibid. p. 20; 28; 32

[8] Thomas R. Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Summer, 1975), p. 432 and Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 7; 20

[9] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 9

[10] Ibid. p. 19

[11] Ibid. p. 84

[12] Ibid.

[13] Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 432; Jonathan Webber, “Philosophical Introduction,” in The Imaginary, p. xxiv

[14] Ibid. p. 434

[15] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 21

[16] Ibid. 64

[17] Ibid. 84

[18] Ibid. 64

[19] Ibid. p. 84

[20] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” p. 15; 18; 20-21

[21] Ibid. p. 20

[22] Ibid. p. 21

[23] Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 434

[24] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 64; 79; 127, 132; Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 433

[25] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” p. 21

[26] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 69

[27] Ibid. p. 71

[28] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” p. 19-20; 23; 29-30; 48

[29] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 97

[30] Ibid. p. 101

[31] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 105; Flynn pp. 436-437

[32] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” pp. 20-21

[33] Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 437

[34] Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 125

[35] Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 438

[36] Ibid. p. 439

[37] Flynn, “The Role of the Image in Sartre’s Aesthetic,” p. 439

[38] Ibid. pp. 439-440

[39] Sartre, “Black Orpheus,” pp. 23-28

[40] Webber, p. xxv

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.  xxv-xxvi

[43] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 89

[44] Ibid.; Thomas R. Flynn, “L’imagination Au Pouvoir: The Evolution of Sartre’s Political and Social Thought,” Political Theory, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May 1979), p. 159

[45] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp. 98-99

[46] Ibid. p. 100

[47] Ibid. p. 130

[48]Ibid. p. 145

[49] Ibid. p. 150

[50] Ibid. p. 152

[51] Flynn, L’imagination Au Pouvoir: The Evolution of Sartre’s Political and Social Thought,” p. 160

[52] Sartre, p. 129

[53] Ibid. p. 101

[54] Ibid. pp. 125-126; 134

[55] Ibid. p. 735

[56] Ibid. pp. 344-345

[57] Ibid. p. 345

[58] Ibid. p. 345

[59] Ibid. p. 347

[60] Ironically, Sartre could be accused of doing this very thing in his analysis of Négritude poetry. However, Sartre does open up himself to be looked at in return.

[61] Ibid. p. 348

[62] Ibid. p. 348-349

[63] Ibid. p. 349

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid. p. 350

[67] Ibid. p. 351

[68] Ibid. 354

Hope Wears Your Name Wrong: L’art neurose

Hope wears your name like a beautiful mask,

elaborately adorned, enigmatic, enticing, and deceptive.

Hope wears your name like a smile so pure that it cuts you,

and a laugh that bleeds an innocent malice.

Hope wears your name cruelly, like a betrayal,

a lie so sweet it becomes a sugar laced addiction.

Hope wears your name like an emptiness so desperate

to be filled with anything that nothing becomes something.

Hope wears your name like a spectacular failure,

an attempt so painstaking it resonates a temporal futility.

Hope wears your name like a meaninglessness,

so derealized that it even robs nihilism of its comfort.

Hope wears your name like an isolation,

a breathtakingly detached and omnipresent empathy.

Hope wears your name like a neurosis,

an obsessive passion for absurdity.

Hope wears your name wrong.