(Man, one assumes, is the proper study of Mankind. Years ago we were all cave Men. Then there is Java Man and the future of Man and the values of Western Man and existential Man and economic Man and Freudian Man and the Man in the moon and modern Man and eighteenth-century Man and too many Mans to count or look at or believe. There is Mankind. An eerie twinge of laughter garlands these paradoxes. For years I have been saying Let me in, Love me, Approve me, Define me, Regulate me, Validate me, Support me. Now I say Move over. If we are all Mankind, it follows to my interested and righteous and rightnow very bright and beady little eyes, that I too am a Man and not a Women, for honestly now, whoever heard of Java Woman and existential Woman and the values of Western Woman and scientific Woman and the alienated nineteenth-century Woman and all the rest of that dingy and antiquated rag-bag? All the rags in it are White, anyway. I think I am a Man; I think you had better call me a Man; I think you will write about me as a Man from now on and speak of me as a Man and employ me as a Man and treat me as a Man until it enters your muddled, terrified, preposterous, nine-tenths-fake, loveless, papier-mâché-bull-moose head that I am a man. (And you are a woman.) That’s the whole secret. Stop hugging Moses’ tablets to your chest, nitwit; you’ll cave in. Give me your Linus blanket, child. Listen to the female man. If you don’t, by God and all the Saints, I’ll break your neck.)
Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)
The wordless histories of walking, dress, housing, or cooking shape neighbourhoods on behalf of absences; they trace out memories that no longer have a place… They insinuate different spaces into cafés, offices, and buildings. To the visible city they add those ‘invisible’ cities about which Calvino wrote. With the vocabulary of objects and well-known words, they create another dimension, in turn fantastical and delinquent, fearful and legitimating.
Michel de Certeau, Heterologies (1986), cited in Carolyn Nordstrom, Shadows 0f War
In ‘A Scanner Darkly’, as in ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’, all intersubjective relations devolve into webs of suspicion and betrayal. It goes with the territory, and the territory is nowhere – an existential East Berlin where everything you do has to be deniable. You’re guided by the grim categorical imperative which agents ignore at their peril: act as if the person to whom you are talking to will sell you out. If they haven’t fucked you over yet, just wait… If they don’t fuck you over, you’ll do it to yourself… Before long, you split in two, like Arctor, and then there’s no way back (all the king’s horses and all the king’s men … ). But total mental breakdown is the best cover of all (‘they can’t interrogate something, someone, who doesn’t have a mind’). Double agents, double lives, shivering on street corners, not sure if you’re the Man or waiting for the Man, but you’re always waiting… Cold war and junkie Cold, cold efficiency (‘I am warm on the outside, what people see. Warm eyes, warm face, warm fucking fake smile, but inside I am cold all the time, and full of lies’), the duplicities and self-deceptions of the addict doubling those of the spy in deep cover.
Mark Fisher, ‘Mors Ontologica’
Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. The international women’s movements have constructed ‘women’s experience’, as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.
Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1991)
These extracted sentiments cast a weird light on some recent examinations of Science Fiction and international politics. An emergent sub-sub-field its own right, the interface of SF and IR at first sight signifies the expanding openness of the discipline to the hitherto forbidden joys of aesthetics and culture . Yet, despite nods to various low-political concerns, the more obvious, and better-worn, link between this social science and that culture is to trace a commonality of geo-political units and event cycles. Space opera empires, inter-galactic wars and cross-species diplomacy order the day in a game of analogues.
This incipient tendency indicates a rather different path than that suggested by the self-image of the cultural turn. Continue reading
Because of the politics of becoming, gaps and fissures open up periodically between positional sovereignty as the highest authority to interpret the law and sovereignty as the effective power to decide what it will be. These two dimensions of sovereignty often shade into one another. But the discrepancy sometimes becomes a fissure that is too dramatic to ignore
William E. Connolly, Pluralism
As the recent protests kicked-off in Egypt two weeks ago, I was working on a thesis chapter about the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In particular, I was looking at the drafting process and the intellectual debates that defined the famous human rights document. A key figure in that debate was the Lebanese representative, Charles Habib Malik, and I thought it worth pausing to remember an important figure in the contemporary human rights movement, who did much to develop human rights both intellectually and politically.
“They want justice… They want freedom… They want a sense of equality with the rest of the world.”
Malik defined himself as Lebanese, Christian and Arab – identities that importantly influenced his thinking and defense of human rights as a moral and political project. Despite claims that he was “Westernized” and that he was clearly a strong opponent of international communism, Malik was not a conventional Western liberal. In particular, he clearly saw himself as a fundamentally religious thinker whose political project was not only the defense of individual rights but ensuring the equal standing of Arab countries in world politics, which went together with a more general concern for securing the independence of colonized peoples and the protection of small states from great powers.
Independence springs from the Arab sense of the difference from others, a sense that has been sharpened in recent centuries by the relative isolation of the Arabs from the rest of the world. Unity takes on many modalities: from the mild form of general community and consultation enshrined in the Arab League to the extreme form of complete political unification desired by certain nationalist movements, particularly in Iraq and Syria. But regardless of its modality, every Arab feels an immediate mystical unity with every other Arab.
Lack of love. Strategy, commerce, exploitation, securing an imperial route: these were why the West for the most part came to the Near East, not because it loved us. Add to this the immense racial arrogance of modern Europe. The West has not been true to itself, and therefore it could not have been true to us.
(Charles Malik, “The Near East: The Search for Truth,” Foreign Affairs, 30, 1952)
Nice piece on Al Jazeera by Mohamed Shokeir that takes the US media to task for its coverage of Egyptian protests.
He asks some important questions about US conceptions of “Arab Anger”, the lack of solidarity with a people fighting an oppressive regime and the myopic US-centric narratives that have dominated the news.
I’ve hesitated to comment on events unfolding in Egypt (and in the wider region, from Tunisia to Yemen). Not only do I lack any special knowledge of events but many others have said all that I would say with greater skill and clarity. Yet, a sense of solidarity with protesters and my frustration with the commentary on events leads me to offer a few thoughts on the ambiguous role that appeals to “realism” are playing in the response to the actions of the protestors and the government in Egypt.
As the protestors and Mubarak’s goons wait it out in Tahrir Square, the rebellion against the president has entered a key phase. Will the threat of continued violence give Mubarak the space he needs to solidify his power till next year, and in the process avoid the thorough changes the Egyptian people are demanding? As protestors face violence, exhaustion and deprivation the prospect of compromise must seem more desirable than before. The time seems ripe for expressions of support from key states and leaders. The protestors need our support; it’s much easier for Mubarak to play for time from the presidential palace than for protesters in the streets, but the men and women able to make a difference do not use their voices to share in democracy’s street-choir. And these moral midgets are attended to by their Lilliputian advisors, who counsel patience, restrain and reform that preserves stability.
Barak Obama has clearly mastered the dark art of evasive support, leaving no doubt that he’s all for Egyptian democracy that doesn’t change too much, too fast, and, most importantly, doesn’t compromise the key strategic interests of the US.
The administration’s restraint is also driven by the fact that, for the United States, dealing with an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak would be difficult at best, and downright scary at worst. For 30 years, his government has been a pillar of American foreign policy in a volatile region, not least because of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. American officials fear that a new government — particularly one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups — may not honor the treaty signed in 1979 by Mr. Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat. (NY Times)
Predictably, Joe Biden made the point with less tact, but perhaps more truth, when he expressed his insensibility to the crimes of Mubarak against his own people.
Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
I suppose, in a way, British men are like white people were in Nineties South Africa or young Germans after the Second World War. We are expected to go through a period of atonement for the sins of our fathers. To be treated worse than we merit because of crimes previously committed in our name: in this case the crime of feeding, protecting, loving and nurturing women in accordance with our biological imperative. They don’t want that any more. They want to be linesmen. And so we have to let them tell us endlessly how they wish we were all dead.
Thus spake a gourmand and professional waffler last week, a child-of-privilege educated at Westminster and Oxford, who, despite these handicaps, manages to articulate for us the crisis of contemporary masculinity. Apparently two compatriots got caught up in some garden-variety lechery of the career-halting kind. Their trials and tribulations, although obviously upsetting for them on a personal level, at least had the merit for many of acting as a flashpoint for opposition. That is, a common-sense opposition to the political correctness surrounding the damages wrought on men by feminism and feminists. Finally, people can begin to speak out.
It is rather tempting to pursue the bizarre line of metaphorical reason here (if ‘sexist crimes’ are merely love expressed biologically, and if British men today are like post-fascist South Africans and Germans, does that make apartheid and Nazi rule the equivalents of a natural and benevolent stewardship? Did they even involve ‘real’ crimes?). But we should resist that. Coren is but a symptom, and should not detain us overlong in picking the low-hanging fruit. The triggering events are themselves already old news, the detritus of the news cycle now rendered especially vulgar and tattling by some actual struggles for justice.
The tropes at play have been with us for some time, inflecting what are essentially public relations SNAFUs with the full force of mythological sex wars. But these themes do seem to be becoming increasingly familiar. Those who grumbled about the rise of such minimal concessions as equal pay legislation in the halcyon days of economic vibrancy now have the pressures of austerity with which to buttress their case. Outrage at the redundancy of a favourite sports broadcaster spirals rather quickly into a diagnosis of women’s ‘special treatment’ in our society and the counter-sexism of a gender settlement in which men are no longer authorised to authentically, organically, just be themselves. Castrated. Emasculated. Prostrated.