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Charming for the Revolution: A Gaga Manifesto


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At a recent symposium on art and gender politics convened by Carlos Motta at the Tate Modern in February 2013, a series of short manifestos delivered by artists, activists, and scholars had the peculiar effect of casting feminism as part of an anachronistic and naive version of contemporary politics. At the symposium, Beatriz Preciado, author of Testo Junkie, rejected the idea of a feminism still organized around male and female forms of embodiment and went on to outline a vision of a new regime of power that had little use for conventional gender demarcations. Outlining the “pharmacopornographic” regimes that regulate the body politic, Preciado gave a dazzling overview of a form of the medico/pharmaceutical management of life. She outlined a bleak vision of death and health that involved a kind of totalized pharmaceutical control of pleasure and pain through the production of new forms of prosthetic subjectivity.

At the conference I delivered an elaboration on my “Gaga manifesto” and unfolded another project on anarchy and transformative politics. At least one participant characterized this as an uncritical celebration of mainstream culture lacking an awareness of the serious and often deadly mechanics of global capitalism. Despite the way that feminism was cast as anachronistic at the conference, Preciado and I, in some ways, were saying similar things in very different theoretical lexicons about the end of social norms, the decaying structures of binary gender, and the technological reinvention of sexuality, gender, and reproduction. While Preciado calls her model of a global rule “sex-capitalism” or “punk capitalism” within a pharmacopornographic regime, I seek openings in this new regime for different formulations of kinship, pleasure, and power. I call these “Gaga Feminism.”

Theories of capitalism, unlike theories of feminism, it seems, never go out of style, especially theories of a protean capitalism that evolves as it grows, learning quickly and seemingly intuitively how to exploit every minute shift and change in human behavior. Preciado’s theories of capitalism in Testo Junky are compelling, fast-paced, and laced with speedy testosterone-induced insights that would not be out of place in a William Burroughs novel. “The truth about sex,” writes a blissed out Preciado channeling Foucault, “is not a disclosure; it is a sexdesign.” But feminism also lurks in the corners of Preciado’s book, occasionally as a superego chastising her for abandoning pure womanhood, sometimes as a poststructuralist peek at what we might call, to misquote The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection, the coming exploitation; and at other times, Preciado calls upon a new feminism, with a new grammar of gender, to “turn pharmacopornographic hegemony upside down.”

In response to Preciado and in solidarity with this new feminist project that she gestures towards, I propose that even as capitalism shifts course, changes its emphasis, and reorganizes exploitation and currency, feminism and other forms of critical thinking also mutate, shift, and change course; the cluster of critical responses to capitalism that have circulated in the twentieth century (anticolonialism, anarchism, socialism, the multitude, the undercommons, punk, critical race theory, critical ethnic studies, and so forth) have also transformed themselves from identitarian pursuits grounded in the histories of exploitation and oppression, to new understandings of solidarity, commonality, and political purpose.

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