Space, Gender, Subjects
I am attempting to stay true to my word. At a thousand words a day, the daunting task of actually writing out my thoughts, more academic that I would like otherwise, has me trapped. Intimidating, as one friend put it. The fact that I have decided to keep a blog is a motivating factor here.
The theme of this piece, like the last piece, is still gender (and maybe forever more the pieces in this blog will, however tangential, who knows!). But rather than my fascination with it, or my preoccupation with it, I want to explore thoughts that pertain to it in what I’m hoping will emerge as a topic of space, of gender(ed) space, or engendered space. I had an entirely productive meeting with my advisor where we discussed space, the concept of space, of physical, material space, and the bodies within it. I think of geography as often a foreign otherness, an academic discipline that seems too distant to my methodologies as a political scientist, or a social theorist. But why? Our bodies, themselves, take up space. As we have moved through time, I mean historic time, space, or rather nature, has become privatized. We have our own spaces. But we have public spaces. And what difference does that make? Am I the same person in my own space as I am in public? Do I perform differently in these venues? Do I do violence to my own authenticity when I do not?
These answers I explored through a Simmelian analysis in my paper on gender strangers, where I declared that being outside of the social, we as individual bodies are not parody-like instruments of a socially constructed gender—but compose our own enflleshed identities and subjectiviites that, looking at the mirror, we hope are, indeed, authentic. Braidotti says much about this in her book Nomadic Subjects, where the intersection(s) of bodies, movements, and spaces become indissoluble points of analysis for the subject theorist. Where bodies are located makes much difference in how they relate to the conscious, the self, the subject that inhabits it. Is that a correct way of framing it? That these bodies, these things or objects, contain within it, enflesh within it, conscious states that are indissoluble from it? It sounds, well, Spinozan, doesn’t it? That all bodies and all sensuous knowledge and all rational knowledge extend from the monism between mind and body—between the subjective and the enfleshed. One and the same.
So gender and space, there relationship: I want to think of how space becomes the source, perhaps the vector, the site, where subjectivities are forged—and then, in what instances do these subjects move toward and away from identities that constitute the framework for activism, for mobilization, for translation into a narrative of self that we, as social scientists (if I can use that word) may study, or apprehend, or observe, or discuss?
Discourse happens at these sites; representations of gender happen at these sites. And perhaps we are most unaware of the nature in just how we present in these public spaces our (in)authentic self(ves). I cannot imagine a moment where I am not authentic and, yet, all too well aware of how inauthentic I am. I become complicit in that Foucauldian network of power, that milieu of social forces that complete me as a social subject, as a human qua controlled being, a simple body, a docile body. Am I making sense? Where I at once am myself yet am not myself, where I am the thing that stares back at me in the mirror yet am not because I have situated myself, subjected myself, to the social mores that bind me to that space, in that space. And thus, what does this do to something as enfleshed and as human and as lived as gender, as its expression, as its identity—and to the subjectivities that must emerge form these spaces?
The force of space, the non-totalizing forces that must be at play in any given space, is surely observable. I think of Latour in his analysis of the French Council of State, where he observes the austere surroundings of the palatial edifice, the scant interactions of the individuals within it, and the unmoving ‘objective’ force of the law. An objective force created, mind you, by the construction of folders, and papers, and files, and mailroom clerks, and paper clips, and sundry organizing materials. ‘This file is incomplete’ and thus law is made; thus an edict about a man whose residency is in jeopardy depends on the completion of a file, of matter in the matter of SPACE!
This is utterly fascinating, too, that space and geography are more than merely strategic points within a game—and this last observation is what makes it grist for politics. No. It is rather that space and geography create the conditions of possibility for such strategies, that, in itself as a nonhuman agent, as a matter of MATTER actually act upon the subjects that inhabit it. To think that, instead of power being that which person A has over person B is rather that which thing 2 has over persons A and B, define them in their relations, solidify and make concrete their passage through time in that space as actors, as authentic gendered creatures—as gender strangers unto themselves—this spatial power!
So when I think of how spaces become themselves queer(ed), and in particular by my trans* brothers and sisters and all those familial terms between the binary way of articulating that gendered relationship, I turn to the ways in which space act upon us, rather than how we act upon space. How there is a correlation to the nature of what that space does to us internally; how we feel that space; what affective economies occupy that space; what discursive forces may in fact find their home within certain spaces and not others. These are the ways whereby gender and sex and space and matter—where nomadism becomes so absolutely crucial to our study of being-in-the-world—actually, well, matter.