I was asked by a friend to have a look at some stuff she wrote on her blog regarding the incident with the scientist and the shirt, so I did and I wrote a comment. However, that comment ended up being something of an essay in itself so I figured I’d post it up here too. The friend in question goes by http://watchtowerorchid.wordpress.com/. Please enjoy.
I have actually avoided this discussion. I hadn’t known it was a thing – and that was mainly by design – I wished to steer clear of what I anticipated as an area I wanted little to do with. But I’ll say something now anyway.
I discussed views on gendered politics and suchlike with a housemate and coursemate of mine the other day so let me rehearse some of that conversation here. It is my belief that firstly any language which makes an attempt to be motivated, politically, ideologically, discursively, must bring with it an history of concepts; that is the conceptual order which that language gives rise to and is risen from. I believe that this extends beyond language too, to the field of discursive practices which leave traces of their conceptual field behind (for example, the received, produced, and embedded markers which can be interpreted in what shirt one wears in any given set of circumstances). I feel that two main points rise from this particular stance.
- Given that any utterance and any practice will mobilize and activate the always-already charged hierarchical structures of the conceptual order (which, in our particular historical moment, is generally taken to generate a degree of social inequality through hegemony), speech and action is impossible without making reference to that order and hence any discursive practice armours that order through its opposition. If, as is pertinent to this area, one takes for example feminism, it could be suggested with a degree of fairness that a part of what feminism is defined as is being against misogyny (though I do not necessarily believe that it should define itself as such, but that is separate). Taken in this light, the concept of feminism itself comes to be sustained through (and itself sustains) the existence of misogyny, for if feminism defines itself in part upon the opposition to misogyny then the two concepts are enmeshed in such a way that for one to exist perpetuates the other. This is a (very poorly illustrated and simplistic) demonstration of the trace in discourse. The simplest conclusion to escaping the bind of this kind of order is simply never to speak and never to act – to effectively cease to be a marker, an absolute death, an absolute absence. The other conclusion is to have a complete and absolute knowledge of every aspect of the finite system of representation; that is, to know everything from every possible perspective in every permutation of history and every discourse that that could generate. This is apotheosis, ascension, absolute presence, becoming God.
- Given that the above two are impossible as far as is forseeable, the best solution for my particular position is to take as much responsibility for my utterance and practice within the field of discourse as possible. That is to say, I feel it is an imperative for me to be aware of what parts of my own personal discourse are founded on paradox, or enact hierarchies, or subject, subjectify, and make abject other individuals within the field of discourse whether that is my intention or not. It is my responsibility to be aware and to know what it is I come to represent within a discursive field. That is not to say that I must in any way change or regulate myself, if I am content to enact a certain mode of practice then there is no way to suggest that that could be an absolute wrong within the same field. What is important is the knowing, the preparedness to be aware of the weight of one’s action and utterance in a field of discourse.
THEREFORE (finally xD):
I simply wish to say that whoever the dude is who wore the shirt shoulda known what he was doing. It is true that intention is almost entirely irrelevant to the discourse around the action itself, but had he been aware, I feel it would certainly be soothing to those who find it a reprehensible thing to know that he was in some position to take a form of responsibility.
As to the shirt itself (which I have not seen), I think that what is “appropriate” for here and there and wherever or whenever is a matter that is of course also governed by the strictures of an order which emerges out of an historical moment. But it must be remembered that the process is multidirectional. That is to say, it is the discursive field which surrounds the event, the utterances and actions of those who critique, discuss, argue over, and speak about the occurrence which generate the historical moment. They arise out of each other. Hence what we, as commentators, should be mindful of is what field our discourse generates and what conceptual order our utterances challenge, dismantle, or uphold, and how our practice of writing and the battles we pick embodies those particular values and representations we wish to embody. Which is why when Boris Johnson or anyone else is quoted (or paraphrased) as suggesting that the reaction to this event is hysteria, irrational anger, “it’s just a shirt” etc. etc. what is important is not really what discourses those arguments embody (since they’re clear as an autumn sky) but how those who wish to add critique choose to elucidate their own interpretations such that they do not continue to generate the same sentiments through oppositional discourses and instead begin to dissolve that hierarchical order itself.
For me personally, since I feel I often have no right to speak in such forums, I elect the path of expressing my gender politics (if indeed I have one and you wish to name it as such) through tacit action. If gender equality should go without saying and be a matter of course, then I will do it without saying it and make it so.
Of course, by saying all of this I undermine myself in this practice, but for better or worse it is said and it somehow felt appropriate to say it here. In many ways I’m simultaneously flogging a dead horse and resurrecting the ghosts of all the discourses I wished to leave behind by enacting this kind of practice in the first place. But then, I did say I was going to re-hearse an argument, and what could such a practice be but the return of those always already dead spectres of language in a funerary procession headed simultaneously to and from their own graves?