Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Review of Nina's One Dimensional Woman

SOAS meet up to go to book launch tmrw, 5.30pm SOAS steps. 
From http://atthesauce.blogspot.com/2009/11/power-play-review-of-one-dimensional.html
"Where have all the interesting women gone? If the contemporary portrayal of womankind were to be believed, contemporary female achievement would culminate in the ownership of expensive handbags, a vibrator, a job, a flat and a man – probably in that order."

So opens Nina Power's energizing romp from today's co-option of feminism by Sarah Palin's anti-choice and the imperialist justification of war as an act of emancipation through to the carnivalesque possibilities of "vintage porn" and why "socialism must not exclude human pleasure from its program!".

Google's take on 'free love'.

The premise of One Dimensional Woman is that modern feminism has coalesced with capitalist consumerism which fails to place the nexus of struggle in the workplace and recognise the sexualisation and denigration of ever increasing casualisation.

Moreover, Power plays with the possibility that pornography, so long the alpha omega of patriarchal sexual domination according to feminists, actually held out the possibility of subversion of monogamous heteronormativity. Instead, pornography today "deploys sex as something to and treated outside of other human and social relations."

Power asks: "Whatever did happen to those dreams of living differently? To the radical Kibbutzim, co-housing groups, revolutionary cells? … Alternative living these days is more lively to refer to the fact that you've bolted a solar panel to your roof rather than undertaken any practical critique of the nuclear family."

This tantalising possibility, of the erotic offering a moment of resistance against power, lingers.Laurie Penny, writing in the Guardian, tells how as a teenager she was seduced into stripping as part of a Burlesque troupe because of the desperate desire to capture the sexually subversive.

The blogger, who also goes by Penny Red, wrote: "When burlesque began in the 19th century, stripping wasn't even on the agenda. A form of low-budget theatre for the working classes, its main objective was to parody – or 'burlesque' – the cultural mores of the aristocracy."

Sexual exploitation in the form of pole dancing and prostitution has been dressed up as empowerment, as Power delicately unpicks. Inversely, the inducement of sexual liberation on the Left all too often ends up as a grotesque parody of itself.

One Dimensional Woman draws us closer at the introduction by promising the book "looks for utopian intimations in alternative histories, particularly in relation to pornography and to various forms of collective and social living."

But in the penultimate chapter, From Sexoleftism and Deflationary Acceptance, we are exposed to disturbing memories of Otto Muhl's 1970s Viennese commune where members "must have sex five times a day – romantic love was deemed bourgeois, foreplay old fashioned."

She adds: "Predictably, sexoleftism rapidly turned into a tyranny of copulation as Muhl is latter accorded droit de seigneur over every young girl who 'comes of age'. Muhl was eventually sentenced in the 1980s to seven years in jail for child sex offences."

Power is strides ahead of the moralist policing of sex dressed up as feminism and the defence of prostitution as emancipatory. However, there is an unnerving feeling that we have collectively walked full circle and arrived two paces behind Alexandra Kollontai.

All Power to your elbow..

The Commissar of Social Welfare in the post-Revolution euphoria in Russia, Kollontai enacted the most advanced legislation ever seen: one-week divorces, abortion and contraception on demand, the establishment of nurseries and socialised child care.

Before the machismo sadism of Stalin, she was an advocate of "free love" but also a realist in terms of what could be delivered under capitalism. "Only the fundamental transformation of all productive relations could create the social prerequisites to protect women from the negative aspects of the 'free love' formula", she wrote in The Social Basis of the Woman Question exactly a century ago.

"Are we not aware of the depravity and abnormalities that in present conditions are anxious to pass themselves off under this convenient label? … All those masters of the house who rape their servants and throw them out pregnant onto the street, are they not adhering to the formula of free love?'"

Kollontai and Power both present seething and compelling accounts of how the workplace dehumanises and exploits women in their own eras. The 100 years of history which separates them holds in its arms the invention of the Pill.

Capitalist technology has delivered emancipation from nature and conception, allowing women in some societies sexual freedom without the constant fear of childbirth and consequent starvation. It has not yet stripped "the much of ages" in which family values and male sexual domination coexist.

This limited new freedom has given rise to a complex and considered adaptation of 'free love' among feminists, LGBT communities and anarchists. The book, The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Catherine A Liszt formulates some of the "constellations" and new relations made possible once monogamous family is jettisoned.

Socialists have a long tradition of embracing open relationships stretching back to the theory and practice of Fredrick Engels, author of Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. From this text springs Kollontai's belief that communism means free love and communal childcare.

Socialists today could abandon their fear of sex sects and not so older men can enamour themselves to young female activists. Rather to strip the stigma from and celebrate current practice in so many working class communities where "infidelity" and the breakdown of monogamous relations cause so much pain and division.

Sexual liberation is not utopia. But the possibility of non-exploitative tactile affection can remind us of the pleasure that comes with human interaction outside the razor sharp competition of the labour market. We can then discover it's not sex alone which needs to be rediscovered.

Power ends chapter 3.3 with an extensive extract from an interview with Toni Morrison published in Time magazine and in doing so brilliantly tips the discussion from sex to communal childcare, and human love.

"[Teenage single mothers] can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That's my job. I want to take them in my arms and say, 'Your baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, call me – I will take care of your baby'.

"That's the attitude you have to have about human life. But we don't want to pay for it."

One Dimensional Woman, by Nina Power, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University. Published by Zero Books and available at all good book shops - and Amazon.

Sent from my iPhone


Anonymous said...

19. The leftist is not typically the kind of person whose feelings of inferiority make him a braggart, an egotist, a bully, a self-promoter, a ruthless competitor. This kind of person has not wholly lost faith in himself. He has a deficit in his sense of power and self-worth, but he can still conceive of himself as having the capacity to be strong, and his efforts to make himself strong produce his unpleasant behavior.[1] But the leftist is too far gone for that. His feelings of inferiority are so ingrained that he cannot conceive of himself as individually strong and valuable. Hence the collectivism of the leftist. He can feel strong only as a member of a large organization or a mass movement with which he identifies himself.
20. Notice the masochistic tendency of leftist tactics. Leftists protest by lying down in front of vehicles, they intentionally provoke police or racists to abuse them, etc. These tactics may often be effective, but many leftists use them not as a means to an end but because they prefer masochistic tactics. Self-hatred is a leftist trait.
21. Leftists may claim that their activism is motivated by compassion or by moral principles, and moral principle does play a role for the leftist of the oversocialized type. But compassion and moral principle cannot be the main motives for leftist activism. Hostility is too prominent a component of leftist behavior; so is the drive for power. Moreover, much leftist behavior is not rationally calculated to be of benefit to the people whom the leftists claim to be trying to help. For example, if one believes that affirmative action is good for black people, does it make sense to demand affirmative action in hostile or dogmatic terms? Obviously it would be more productive to take a diplomatic and conciliatory approach that would make at least verbal and symbolic concessions to white people who think that affirmative action discriminates against them. But leftist activists do not take such an approach because it would not satisfy their emotional needs. Helping black people is not their real goal. Instead, race problems serve as an excuse for them to express their own hostility and frustrated need for power. In doing so they actually harm black people, because the activists' hostile attitude toward the white majority tends to intensify race hatred.
22. If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.
23. We emphasize that the foregoing does not pretend to be an accurate description of everyone who might be considered a leftist. It is only a rough indication of a general tendency of leftism.

Anonymous said...

14. Feminists are desperately anxious to prove that women are as strong and as capable as men. Clearly they are nagged by a fear that women may not be as strong and as capable as men.
15. Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc. clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They say they hate the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he grudgingly admits that they exist; whereas he enthusiastically points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the leftist's real motive for hating America and the West. He hates America and the West because they are strong and successful.
16. Words like "self-confidence," "self-reliance," "initiative," "enterprise," "optimism," etc., play little role in the liberal and leftist vocabulary. The leftist is anti-individualistic, pro-collectivist. He wants society to solve everyone's problems for them, satisfy everyone's needs for them, take care of them. He is not the sort of person who has an inner sense of confidence in his ability to solve his own problems and satisfy his own needs. The leftist is antagonistic to the concept of competition because, deep inside, he feels like a loser.
17. Art forms that appeal to modern leftish intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair, or else they take an orgiastic tone, throwing off rational control as if there were no hope of accomplishing anything through rational calculation and all that was left was to immerse oneself in the sensations of the moment.
18. Modern leftish philosophers tend to dismiss reason, science, objective reality and to insist that everything is culturally relative. It is true that one can ask serious questions about the foundations of scientific knowledge and about how, if at all, the concept of objective reality can be defined. But it is obvious that modern leftish philosophers are not simply cool-headed logicians systematically analyzing the foundations of knowledge. They are deeply involved emotionally in their attack on truth and reality. They attack these concepts because of their own psychological needs. For one thing, their attack is an outlet for hostility, and, to the extent that it is successful, it satisfies the drive for power. More importantly, the leftist hates science and rationality because they classify certain beliefs as true (i.e., successful, superior) and other beliefs as false (i.e., failed, inferior). The leftist's feelings of inferiority run so deep that he cannot tolerate any classification of some things as successful or superior and other things as failed or inferior. This also underlies the rejection by many leftists of the concept of mental illness and of the utility of IQ tests. Leftists are antagonistic to genetic explanations of human abilities or behavior because such explanations tend to make some persons appear superior or inferior to others. Leftists prefer to give society the credit or blame for an individual's ability or lack of it. Thus if a person is "inferior" it is not his fault, but society's, because he has not been brought up properly.

Anonymous said...

9. The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we call "feelings of inferiority" and "oversocialization." Feelings of inferiority are characteristic of modern leftism as a whole, while oversocialization is characteristic only of a certain segment of modern leftism; but this segment is highly influential.
Feelings of inferiority
10. By "feelings of inferiority" we mean not only inferiority feelings in the strict sense but a whole spectrum of related traits; low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, self-hatred, etc. We argue that modern leftists tend to have some such feelings (possibly more or less repressed) and that these feelings are decisive in determining the direction of modern leftism.
11. When someone interprets as derogatory almost anything that is said about him (or about groups with whom he identifies) we conclude that he has inferiority feelings or low self-esteem. This tendency is pronounced among minority rights activists, whether or not they belong to the minority groups whose rights they defend. They are hypersensitive about the words used to designate minorities and about anything that is said concerning minorities. The terms "negro," "oriental," "handicapped" or "chick" for an African, an Asian, a disabled person or a woman originally had no derogatory connotation. "Broad" and "chick" were merely the feminine equivalents of "guy," "dude" or "fellow." The negative connotations have been attached to these terms by the activists themselves. Some animal rights activists have gone so far as to reject the word "pet" and insist on its replacement by "animal companion." Leftish anthropologists go to great lengths to avoid saying anything about primitive peoples that could conceivably be interpreted as negative. They want to replace the world "primitive" by "nonliterate." They seem almost paranoid about anything that might suggest that any primitive culture is inferior to our own. (We do not mean to imply that primitive cultures are inferior to ours. We merely point out the hypersensitivity of leftish anthropologists.)
12. Those who are most sensitive about "politically incorrect" terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any "oppressed" group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.
13. Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American Indians), repellent (homosexuals) or otherwise inferior. The leftists themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with their problems. (We do not mean to suggest that women, Indians, etc. are inferior; we are only making a point about leftist psychology.)

Anonymous said...

The psychology of modern leftism
6. Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general.
7. But what is leftism? During the first half of the 20th century leftism could have been practically identified with socialism. Today the movement is fragmented and it is not clear who can properly be called a leftist. When we speak of leftists in this article we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, "politically correct" types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like. But not everyone who is associated with one of these movements is a leftist. What we are trying to get at in discussing leftism is not so much a movement or an ideology as a psychological type, or rather a collection of related types. Thus, what we mean by "leftism" will emerge more clearly in the course of our discussion of leftist psychology. (Also, see paragraphs 227-230.)
8. Even so, our conception of leftism will remain a good deal less clear than we would wish, but there doesn't seem to be any remedy for this. All we are trying to do is indicate in a rough and approximate way the two psychological tendencies that we believe are the main driving force of modern leftism. We by no means claim to be telling the whole truth about leftist psychology. Also, our discussion is meant to apply to modern leftism only. We leave open the question of the extent to which our discussion could be applied to the leftists of the 19th and early 20th century.

Anonymous said...



Cool. I've been waiting for this book to come out for a while.

Not sure about the kibbutz line, though. From my understanding, although the kibbutz movement was a way to avoid market-based labour relations, that was primarily because if early Zionist settlers in Palestine had adopted a market-based approach to hiring n firing workers, this would have meant hiring local Arabs. Not such a good strategy if you wanna build an ethnically homogeneous state...

Xaven Taner said...

Excellent review Clare. I’ve got this on my wish list to pick up after Christmas. Particularly liked the line about pornography having become divorced from sex and social relations, despite its claims to be a site of genuine sexual liberation and authentic wild pleasures. I’m writing a thesis titled Ideology in the Bedroom which argues from a similar position to Nina’s. The pornographic industry is a great example of ideology appearing as it’s opposite. It’s also pleasing to see a feminist writer not afraid to argue the formal possibilities of undermining heteronormativity within pornography, if only it wasn’t wholly subsumed into patriarchal market relations.

Anonymous said...

Certainly agree with point #15

Anonymous said...

And #20... actually, all of it.

sapronov said...

really enjoyed the article, will get the book soon i hope

the 'free love' pictures remind me of the old jancso film 'private vices, public virtues'

Solomon's Mindfield said...

This great review was written by Brendan atthesauce Montague.

I have only just started reading it-I'm waiting til I have my next bath coz apparently this is the best place to read it :-)

Nina will be doing a launch at SOAS in January. We can't wait. I will post details both here and in the fb Play School for immature students group. Feel free to join it for updates on what we are up to. Eg, last night 30 of us had drinks at mine in the Oxo tower, went to see Mother Courage at the National Theatre then back to mine til 2am then the last dregs of us went ti boat party. Was great eve so if u wanna come out to Play with us then join the group...