There are two very separate aspects of this week’s readings that I was interested in addressing, so I am just going to address both separately in one post. In the first part, I am planning on discussing another piece of writing which engages with post-identitarian critiques of intersectionality like Puar’s piece we read this week. The second section will address Haraway’s smaller commentary piece, mostly because I am just interested in alternative kinship and attitudes about reproduction and have some articles I think might be interesting to tie into it.
In reading Puar’s “I Would Rather Be a Cyborg than a Goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics” for this week, I could not help but consider another piece I read earlier in the week. Tiffany Lethabo King’s 2015 article, “Post-Identitarian and Post-Intersectional Anxiety in the Neoliberal Corporate University,” discusses how the neoliberal corporate university creates “anxious subjects,” and how post-identitarian, newer critiques such as Puar’s are used to place intersectionality theories in a time of “post,” as a passé analytic to be avoided or trudged through on the way to “sexier” theory. King argues for a reading of intersectionality “within a longer tradition of Black feminist thought that is both ambivalent about the subject and has the capacity to undo categories like gender that hail subjects,” and proposes a “loving reading practice that tarries with the potential and future of intersectionality rather than overcoming it in a neoliberal era of disposability” (116). She goes into detail about how intersectionality has been corporealized in the image of Crenshaw and while non-Black feminist critiques of intersectionality have gained traction in the academy while Black feminist engagement with the theory seems to have been largely ignored.
One of the things from Puar’s piece that I felt it was necessary to highlight after reading King was the idea that intersectionality stabilizes identity, that it positions it as static as opposed to fluid. King states that context for this claim is not provided–in “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages,” King states, Puar does not specify a scholar or text or time period in which intersectionality is posed in this way. King relates this static interpretation of intersectionality to the specific ways in which intersectionality theory has been deployed within the neoliberal university which seeks to solidify and commodify intersectionality, turning the theories from complex and coming from multiple theorists to a single entity from one person.
King states that the Puar article we read for class this week does a better job “situating intersectionality and capturing some of its shifts, as well as the ways in which it has or has not traveled transnationally” (126). However, she says, Puar’s reliance upon Crenshaw is itself stabilizing intersectionality:
“As Puar draws attention to the ways in which intersectionality produces a fiction of stable identity categories that undermine work to interrogate the very formation of the subject, she is also preoccupied with Crenshaw individually and her intersection rather than the historical, contextual, shifting, and affective energies that produce intersectionality as a contested space of struggle.” (126)
King goes on to call for reparative readings (hey, Sedgwick comes back again!) of Black feminist texts and an openness to the complexities of intersectional critiques and theories. Here are some quotes I think are useful from her article that we can think about in our engagements with Puar and Haraway:
“What post-intersectional theorists do not take the time to consider is that the space of the intersection is a location that has the potential to both undo the subject and move toward a coherent subject when necessary. This may be a place where post-intersectional proponents, queer theorists, subjectless discourses, and projects of becoming and undoing can think with intersectionality rather than moving beyond it.” (129)
“There is a compulsion to ground Black female flesh in the knowable immanence of a particular body with familiar, anticipated, and already-knowable speech. Instead of seeing, hearing, and thinking about the kinds of arguments for not- yet subjects or subjectless positions that leave possibilities open, some opt for hearing what they think they already know.” (131)
I really recommend reading King’s article (linked above), and I hope we can read Puar and Haraway in ways that allow for a more complex engagement with ideas of intersectionality, identity, assemblage, and neoliberalism in the university.
For my second section of this post, I wanted to talk about kinship and reproduction. I very much enjoyed Haraway’s short piece, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Platationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” Once I figured out what all these terms meant (I think? I hope?), I was intrigued by her slogan for the Chthulucene, “Make Kin Not Babies!”, as a call for more non-ancestral/familial kinship networks between humans but also between multiple species. (This part is more about my own personal engagement with this aspect of the article than anything else, but I figure, what better place to work out some of my Not Making Babies ideas than here? Anyway, bear with me.)
I am interested in the “Not Babies” section of Haraway’s slogan. Though I interpreted this section as specifically addressing increasing birth rates and overpopulation as contributing to the destruction of the environment, it meant something different to me, someone who, like many others, is being bombarded with Facebook pictures of friends’ babies and relatives’ assumptions of reproduction. I felt like “Not Babies” not only was a warning call about overpopulation, but also may have been an unintentional (or intentional?) creation of a refuge site for those of us who are not interested or ambivalent about raising children.
Let’s get personal for a second: one of my greatest fears in life is having Motherhood Regret. I am often a bit obsessive about reading motherhood regret articles (here / are / a / few) in which mothers (often remaining anonymous due to aggressive retaliation) describe how they became mothers due to societal expectations, coercion/force, assuming they would enjoy it, or another reason, and then realized it was one of their greatest mistakes. For example, a narrative might go: I was married/in a relationship and figured this was the next step. I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. I feel like my life is gone. I love my children, but I never should have done this. This is only one version of a multiplicity of stories. These Regretful Mothers are forming their own kinship networks via the internet to provide empathy and care for one another. Formation of alternative kinships out of necessity is nothing new, and I wonder what it might look like to employ an aggressively intentional approach.
As I was making my way through Haraway’s article, I read “Make Kin Not Babies!” and experienced an immediate affective response of relief, to my own surprise. I feel it is related to my immediate attraction to the cyborg over the goddess (simply as figures with cultural connotations) because of the image of the goddess as a nurturing, natural, maternal figure, which immediately fills me with anxiety.
I enjoy the idea of a cyborgian goddess as a figure even more, though, because of the concept of nurturing multispecies kinship assemblages, a rejection of “natural” maternal instinct but an embrace of empathetic affinities. I love the idea of alternative kinship systems as not only resisting neoliberal capitalistic individualization and family structures but also as fostering a politics of relation, of love and care between humans and species. I want to reimagine conceptions of friendship and care and love and romance and eroticism as fluid and complex, of kinship as an ever-changing assemblage of some or all of these, of beings as beings-always-in-relation. What might a more ubiquitous acceptance of alternative kinship networks and beings-in-relation do for folks who think they must/should have children? Would a by-product of creating more common alternative kinship networks be a decrease in birth rates? Or vice versa?
So not only does the cyborgian goddess provide Puar with the intersectional-assemblage, it provides me with a figure to represent my emerging sense of what my non-motherly new care ideology might look like.
I think that our care project employs this to an extent; in attempting to foster connection-making over food or sex or games, and mapping experiences of kinship-making and care. I wonder if there are other ways in which we can employ relation, affinity, and kinship into our playground? Are there other alternative methods of care we aren’t considering, for those who feel averse to things it’s assumed they will enjoy?