On war and violence. Language, translation, oblivion and selective political erasures of options by the mainstream
In this paper, i see the gender and cold war dichotomies as part of the same complex system of binaries that govern hegemony and domination, and produce war.
Dedicated to the memory of Dubravka Ugrešić
A version of the present paper, under the title “Radical Togetherness and Non-Binarism for Caring, Sharing and Survival”, was presented as the Opening Lecture of the “Dubravka Ugrešić Lecture Series”. at the University of Vienna, Department of History, on october 11, 2023, at the invitation of prof. Zsófia Lóránd that honours me. I thank her for her cooperation and the occasion she gave me to discuss my anti-war, anti-violence and connected ideas from a feminist philosophical position. I also thank my friend Frédéric Neyrat for his complicity.
"I actually believe in the advantages of literature over philosophy in many ways."
In this paper, i see the gender and cold war dichotomies as part of the same complex system of binaries that govern hegemony and domination, and produce war. Since, at a young age, i realized the discomfort and oddity of being born a girl, i have been trying to circumvent the gender binarity sealed in language, and preferred a fluid gender to the masculine and feminine, fixed ones. Likewise with other binaries and “identities”. Binaries tend to support and reinforce each other, and to produce the perception of a bipolar or split world, which amounts to reality presenting itself as – and becoming – (as if) dichotomic. Thereby politics, or political thinking reveals itself as insufficient, and disappears, in ready made formulae that eschew the world's complexity and abandon any hope through utopia. Non dual categories do exist, but present themselves as an incomprehensible chaos of anti-system options galore, where – progress is not guaranteed by the political process any more. Only binaries ensure some sort of stability, at the price of nuanced reading of a situation. When there are only two poles, one of them, in being alternative, is made subaltern, which is hidden by the apparent symmetry. I noticed the erasure of alternatives, projects, narratives, translations and languages through a dichotomy dialectics, especially after 1989, including the erasure of other people 1. One of the many agents of erasure is abstract universalism: in many cases, what we get through the universalisation of a dichotomic nationalist paradigm relying on misogyny, is only the overinflated provincializing of the said nationalism. Whatever comes as the carrier or a representative of patriarchal hegemony, is the overinflating provincializing of historically dominant masculinity, regularly bound to nationalism. Every other option is then rendered illegitimate, and erased. Epistemologically, our impoverished political vocabulary signals the degradation to a general confusionality, depoliticisation, desemanticisation. The war-machine operates through language too. This happens in a world where accepted and generalised gender discrimination is constitutive of the general non-egalitarian system of nation states, and sustains, as a pattern, all other inequalities and injustices. This must stop, not only for the sake of women. Proceeding from discontinuities, as a non-species, non-nation, non-identity, non-gender, as i propose, we would give the other species, genders, individuals, other options and “foreigners”, the same chances that we have: only then would we too be safe, inasmuch as others are safe with us 2.
Femmage to Dubravka
My femmage that goes to Dubravka Ugrešić will not have the form of a paper about her work, but of some remarks enabled also by her writing, as well as by others. It is togetherness and interdependence, relying on others, that makes us work, feel and think jointly, which could be a part of a project of feminist pacifist ethics. Dubravka had literary tools to deal with, while i was in philosophy. By the end of her life, she had completely understood and deconstructed nationalist-and-misogynous mechanisms without any need of philosophy. I actually believe in the advantages of literature over philosophy in many ways. I am not a specialist on Dubravka or on Yugoslav literatures, but i had been her reader and friend. In an unexpected and retroactive manner, Dubravka has taught me essential things about life because of her peculiar and uninhibited facing of death, that i deem admirable, and respect. She is the only person i know whose death is not defeat. She had been contemplating death singlehandedly, without wanting to burden anyone. I am most indebted to her in also this retrospective lesson. Much of it came as an unexpected and extravagant gift of awareness over the grave.
I was recently reading two papers of mine written some forty years ago 3. My work at the Institute for developing countries in Zagreb as well as these papers come after the important historic event of a feminist international conference in 1978 in Belgrade, at the Students' cultural centre. The next most important feminist conference took place in 2015 in Sarajevo, organised by Women in Black. Dubravka didn’t take part in any, but benefitted, as the whole generation, from this critical atmosphere, air du temps. It made her strong, resistant and courageous.
I am now struck by my vocabulary of that time (as part of the generally used political language). It is a jargon full of socialist and non-aligned clichés i must say, although i still agree to many of those ideas. In the same way, today's political language will appear as antiquated and insufficient soon. Only after the collapse of Yugoslavia did i realise how a mainstream terminology that one unconsciously uses, works within, limiting one's political imagination. I had been musing on this, on language, translation and epistemology ever since. After the collapse of Yugoslavia and as i migrated to France, i felt that i lack a language making sense, but also that the French, and everyone else, were likewise stuck in the post-1989 mental-politico-linguistic circumstances after the historical cold war, with frozen ideological «scientific» jargons. At a four decades distance, i could re-read my own early papers as someone else's and from within «capitalism». I discovered that people living in the former west as triumphant, didn't necessarily have the privilege of a comparable dispassion/detachment that we had been exposed to in 1989. The cold war division was real and still holding. We were all abandoning the cold war binary governed by the exclusion of third and plural options, but had not found a new shared vocabulary and world-map yet. That is how and why i resorted to the author Radomir Konstantinović 4. Later, Boaventura de Sousa Santos was and still is valuable on that issue. So are many others, especially feminist reinterpreters of history such as eye openers Silvia Federici and others. Somehow, patriarchy was and still is tacitly tolerated and only very generally critiqued, never seen as constitutive of all inequalities and governing them.
"One learns geography and politics when a war hits."
It is through the Yugoslav war that we became political in a new manner. One learns geography and politics when a war hits. Twenty years before it, thanks among others to Konstantinović's guidance, to Praxis philosophers 5 i was a student of (partly relying on them but partly resisting them), i and others were already political through dealing with women's issues, contesting both social practices as well as challenging state dogmas. Our becoming political was gradual. We learned about nationalism, its entanglement with, and support from, patriarchy only through the war, having been raised on the transnational ideology of wishful «brotherhood and unity» (bratstvo i jedinstvo) which made us blind to any manifestation of nationalism. We also realised that nationalism, that was to define the Yugoslav conflict, was an instrumental, purposeful populism with no particular ideology of its own but misogyny combined with producing enemies transformed into «others», other nationals, but actually serving other purposes: gaining and keeping political and economic power in its, at that time, only available form – the nation, as well as male domination within a new hegemony that was hurriedly constructed in utter violence. The philosophical issue to study here is how war and violence to women and other subalterns are constitutive, structural and linked in reciprocal support.
When i first met Dubravka Ugrešić in the seventies, she was ironic, satirical and «weird» (somewhat in the sense of the Russian modern concept of ostranenie, of which she was fond), as an already recognised author, rather than directly political. At that time, she rejected the accusation and label of feminism, thrown at her and others as an allegation. She tried to divest herself from it, as was usually the case in the mainstream. Soon to be declared a witch with others, through a violent misogynous media campaign in 1992 in early Croatia and Yugoslavia, she gradually transformed her freaky «witch» tag into her force of resistance, wearing it proudly in essayistic combat. She didn't join the trans-yugoslav academic feminist movement in the seventies. This is comprehensible, and she cannot be blamed for it. We adopt different and isolated individual strategies in order to resist social or state repression, in the case of women also because solidarity among them has historically been discouraged in order to keep them secluded within separate families. Unlike men's, their model has not been universalised. But she was too intelligent to stay put. Observing the ugly warmongering politics, she soon discovered that misogyny was inherent in nationalism, which she detested and critiqued. Dubravka soon and purposely earned herself a trans-national status or, as she said, a profile out-of-nation 6. Her political education, like everyone else's at that time, came to a great extent from the war. She became daring and outspoken politically out of necessity, indignation and nerve, in particular in her critique of nationalisms, of historical misogyny and femicides and of the politics of post-yugoslav states.
In the second of my two mentioned papers of that time written for the Institute 7, i had attempted a timid critique of the curriculum of the Department of indian studies i had studied at in Zagreb (and after which i had been to India 1970-1972 for a doctorate in buddhist philosophy). Beyond university, i had access to some first elements of subaltern and postcolonial studies in real time, and learned from them. Our whole programme, reading material etc. at university came from traditional western, mainly German and UK indology, in spite of the Yugoslav Non-aligned project. The paradox is that that Department of Indian studies was the most accomplished and immediate product in the country of a long-term non-aligned cultural-educational project, created with the Non-aligned movement as its impulse and inspiration. We also had other departments and courses, of Indian, Arabic or Chinese languages and culture etc. at various universities, many publications and translations in journals, a series of world literature books 8 of which one volume was Southern Asia: Indian, Tibetan, and south-east Asian literatures 9, a trans-yugoslav journal called Kulture istoka in Belgrade, a quantity of translations of literature from southern countries, with various publishers and also in many journals. I was involved in much of this.
"The disambiguation of our terms should also help in deconstructing and stopping war, in particular permanent war-faring."
My purpose is to a great deal epistemological.
Translation and (the national) language or mother tongue come as one and the same capacity, and in the same package with predetermined gender. They have a non-predetermined role in war and violence too. Translation means welcoming otherness in oneself. But backed by an official language policy, it poses or cannot avoid - the national language and gender as given. Deconstructing repressive binaries as a steady war machine requires deconstructing them together, as a dominant system of repressive dichotomies that unfalteringly support each other: gender reduced to only masculine and feminine, body and soul/spirit, identity as construction (always conflicting with another and producing it,), race, citizenship (as opposed to undocumented or illegal immigrant), madness and straightness, east and west or north and south, opposed nationalisms etc. Nationalisms and sovereignty always reinforce the gendered and national/ethnic and class division of societies, as well as other cleavages. While gender is an ambiguous concept 10, i take both nation and nationalism to be lethal especially nowadays, associated with toxic masculinities and toxic sovereignties. The disambiguation of our terms should also help in deconstructing and stopping war, in particular permanent war-faring.
I use my own concepts (“political forgetting”, “erasure”, “useless history”, “partage de la raison”, “in-com-possibles”, “politics of translation”), in a context where i anticipate sharing knowledges, and where it is clear that nation and gender operate together in maintaining knowledge enclosures. These become crucial in nation building. The language itself, as part of the narrative on national culture, becomes a war instrument.
I come from a war and from a language that was once considered one, with plural political standardisations, and sometimes with distinct scripts. The different stylistic standardisations are worked out by political rather than linguistic motivations originating in the mainstream dominant ruled “identities”. They become crucial in nation building. The language itself as part of the narrative on national culture, becomes a war instrument. You now have the same situation between ukrainian and russian. National standardisations of languages are part of the war projects, out of which the national language is (re)born, including by linguistic secession. National projects appropriate the language. National Academies declare themselves the national language owners and custodians exerting language purism. This process is still going on forty years after the war. Dubravka Ugrešić, who wrote in moderate croatian, is of a generation of writers who understood this. So was in particular another important writer, Daša Drndić12. The purge was imposed through the media stigmatising writers, and especially women intellectuals produced as witches, and unequivocally called so. Serbocroatian became four official languages, through renaming.
People of course still understand each other over the fences and speak one language, but are blamed for doing so by nationalists. The resistance is called Deklaracija o zajedničkom jeziku, the «Declaration on a shared (common) language» 12.
No innocence of a language
But language is never innocent or neutral 13. We practice “double-speak” at all times between theoretical and ordinary language: theoretical critical concepts we use in our work are also ordinary words in everyday speech that tend to be normative. Used in social sciences and education, they will often be misunderstood. There seems to be no outright representation of the incompleteness and provisional aspect of knowledge or of language. Our general time of confusionism favours judgemental divagations and misinterpretations that may sometimes have devastating political effects. Wars start also through the irresponsible misuse of words.
Let’s assume that reciprocally incomplete subjects handle reciprocally incomplete knowledges 14 and languages. Taking it into account makes possible the building in solidarity of versatile subjectivities that equally partake in sharing and becoming-together. We need to push Deleuze’s concept of devenir a little further, to devenir ensemble – becoming together. Partial knowledges and subjectivities, made subaltern and subordinate, are disqualified, made invisible or considered non-existent. They become “illegitimate” and are silenced. Yet silence can sometimes also be a resource. As Athena Athanasiou has it, silence is “a socially and culturally devalued genre through which 'subjugated knowledges' are performed and hegemonic discourses potentially contested.15” We have namely discovered, also through reading other languages and opening to other worldviews (cosmovisiones), that different subjectivities (dissident, a-sovereign and in becoming through shared action) can operate and be efficient not only through subjectivation but also through de-subjectivation and de-identification 16.
The limits and sharing of knowledge. The double-edge of concepts (f. ex., gender)
"It is women and, often, feminist women and men, who make the connection between the violence to women and violence to others (in war, and nowadays, to migrants), and draw the obvious conclusions."
The illegitimacy of incomplete and silenced non-hegemonic knowledges 17 and languages is enforced in patriarchal capitalism. Permanent wars and the involvement of the west/Europe in them coincide with the constitutive violence on women and vulnerable social groups by both society and the State, which capture knowledges and languages too. It is women and, often, feminist women and men, who make the connection between the violence to women and violence to others (in war, and nowadays, to migrants), and draw the obvious conclusions.
As Belgrade historian Dubravka Stojanović writes, "[Patriarchy and nationalism] are inseparable. Nationalism sees the nation as an extended family, as a blood relationship. (...) That is why every nationalism must be misogynous, because the very appearance of women (...) would destroy that authoritarian pyramidal creation in which the hierarchy is not questioned but obeyed. I am ready to go so far as to say that nationalism was invented as a means of maintaining patriarchy, as well as a means of gaining power, strengthening it, preserving it… That is, nationalism is used as a means to immobilise society, for development never to come, to stifle all modernity. [...] I want to radicalize this and add that maintaining the patriarchal order was one of the strong motives for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, because within closed national constructs this social order is far easier to maintain than in a complex multi-ethnic, multi-confessional community. In essence, it poses a constant challenge to a closed society and a patriarchal matrix. 18”
At the same time, correlatively and in return, women and the defiant supposedly “weak and vulnerable”, represent the dissenting destituting element and cannot be reduced to a binary or to the received and fixed socio-political configuration crowned by sovereignty. This is because their subordination represents the basis and the constituent condition of the system, but their destituting insubordination (dispossessed of sovereignty) outlines a powerful though formally non-sovereign and unrecognised dissenting subjectivity 19.
There are subjects considered “vulnerable”, “damaged”, “incomplete”, or made invisible in the mainstream. To different degrees, all subjects are necessarily “incomplete”, because the possible scope of our subjectivity is inexhaustible. Historically, subjectivity has socially and politically been denied or hampered in women and marginalised people, as well as in colonised continents. Whatever the span of subjects, they need to assemble and they need allies and a larger front. This is where systematic “disremembering” by various agencies intervenes 20. In addition, many of the non-western epistemes not only do not particularly cultivate the concept of the subject (while subsuming it in the sense of sub-understanding it). They rather prioritise collective subjects or at least do not lose sight of these, because they don’t nurture the extreme individualism known to the (modern) west/north.
Self-sufficient and systemic state sovereignty, largely imaginary for most, which today changes its function and scope in order to maintain itself also in regional unions such as the European Union (EU), also reinforces the gendered division of societies seen as natural, as well as prescribed knowledges, and therefore also the subordination of women among others. The resistance by the mainstream or the establishment of power as such resorts to reproducing binaries, including new ones. Binaries implanted in the minds are there to pretend equivalence and equality in symmetries, but they really attempt to reinforce hierarchy, verticality, and domination at every turn, as well as hegemony. They reinforce also the erasure of alternative knowledges. This permanently maintained and regularly updated subordination is rendered invisible in order to be efficient. The European Union, but also some other countries, dictates a selective political amnesia from the point of view of the present post-cold war and neoliberal triumphalism. It is the EU’s choice of ethno-nationalisms and populism that leads to its closure. The concept of the political (le politique) has become normative. The history taking into account women, “aliens” and other species, but in the first place life and the living, will necessarily be intersectional.
Useless history is then a methodical “political oblivion” and muzzling, a programmed erasure of that past history that has not led to the current state of things, or of alternative histories. This concerns particularly the history of non-dominating nationalities and other «identities», while it is more pernicious with regard to gender and women’s history, because women’s subordination is much older than any other, and has never been deleted from the mental assemblage as a possibility of imagination. Dubravka Ugrešić in her essays, and in particular in her extraordinary Brnjica za vještice, “A muzzle for the witches” (with Merima Omeragić), knows something about it. Silvia Federici, who worked admirably on historic “witches” and the inquisition, too.
Only the official or mainstream scenario that has actually led directly to today's situation considered as paradigmatic and legitimate, will be remembered, recalled or evoked, in its most reductive and crude form. Gender appears here to be an unstable double-front term (strangely sometimes identified with “women” themselves) 21. It discloses alternative histories, such as women's history, but also the history of our disciplines and subjects of research. The grids/registers of the conceptual apparatus ordaining our knowledge interact and are isomorphic with our social organisation and hierarchies. The same hierarchies work in the social sphere and among our disciplines, as well as in theoretical knowledge. This happens nowadays within a general epistemological confusionism and artificial intelligence too, that we face in public opinion, which draws on all fronts.
Non-alignment against east-west block-binarism and possibly other binarisms too
In the 1960s-70s, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), now useless history but nevertheless a powerful concept, effective at that time in international politics and in the UN, UNCTAD, OECD23, etc., was a complex, social and cultural joint transnational and translational political project, comprising the idea of international equality between States and of a new and just economic world order. It rejected the two blocks of that time and supported anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, the cancellation of poor countries’ debt, etc.
It proclaimed gender equality in principle, yet made it wait forever like the rest of patriarchal formations. It was a good project at that time, and much could be learnt from it especially today (2023 23). The emergence of a global market from the 1960s on, contemporary with NAM and an international division of labour, favoured a further sexual division of labour.
The EU has, for example, largely failed its women and other groups (since murderous violence against women continues as does de facto inequality, despite great legal and mores’ advances). These thereby constitute themselves into subjects. Women and migrants, two politically destituting or de-constituting and upsetting elements, as well as all those that are in opposition, have an interest in associating while constituting themselves, in a solidarity spirit of resistance struggles by which they construct themselves together - as subjects, both collective and singular.
We are witnessing changes in borders and partitions of countries (or sometimes recompositions) including in Europe, all linked to violence against women and “foreigners”. One last example is the war on Ukraine, and now the Israeli overkill in Gaza, after the Hamas attack of october 7, 2023. The issue of borders appears in sovereignist projects of new exclusive nationalisms, including in what is seen as “useless history” today.
The western hegemonic injunction proposes to southern and post-socialist countries to "catch up" with the rich countries, and to women to catch up with men and to conform to their imagination, all the rest being useless history and erased. On the other hand, useful history is now the redoubling of the conversion to neoliberal capitalism and capitalist globalisation. Organised political oblivion is at the service of this enterprise, which also includes monolingualism 24, amnesia or the prohibition/rejection of languages that have been constructed as foreign, as well as a depoliticisation of language.
Selective political forgetfulness and borders constantly probed and reshuffled. Erasure
There is a general resistance to see violence against women as systemic and constitutive, the flipside of war. Labels are distributed by the patriarchal mainstream. Structural violence to women, such as systemic femicides, is paradoxically met with denial (Verleugnung; déni) which unconsciously assumes the existence of the removed or the foreclosed (Verdrängt; refoulé), or with Verwerfung (dénégation), which supposes the factual or symbolic annihilation of the other, in the sense of Freudian negation (Verneinung) 25. This was the case with historic witch-hunts seen by historians, until Silvia Federici's rereading of that infamous chapter. Gender studies, feminist theory, post- and de-colonial studies, migration studies etc. are new favourite targets of matching assignations or even allegations, displacement and reduction of meaning. Malignant branding that is officially launched, such as the tags of “islamo-gauchiste” or “woke” in France in 2021, stick on. Or, in 1992, the disqualifying label “witches” for women intellectuals in Yugoslavia and Croatia. I was one of the latter, and there are many other “witches” elsewhere – patriarchy is constantly producing them everywhere. In the near past, “feminist” was a stigmatising attribute.
The universalisation of a nationalist paradigm, as in France, is only its over-inflation and provincialising 26. Everything else is rendered illegitimate, invisible and erased from mainstream and consensus. With regard to women, the "deep state" remains what it has been throughout different socio-economic formations, allowing the maintenance of patriarchy by its adaptations throughout the changes of regime and of economic formations. Historical socialisms and currently dominant capitalisms were all built on the subordinate inclusion of women and the exclusion (or subordinate inclusion) of “outsiders”.
Gender and genre, announcement of a gap
"all subjectivities are always incomplete, which is why their sovereignty is conceit, and imaginary"
In translation, there is a wide sphere of in-between (two) languages, a sort of intersecting contact zone, possibly of erasure too. The sign of another choice, the unthought-of option, l’impensé, is practically unthinkable. Our chance is with that and with those who have not been thought of as yet as co-citizens. We must traverse and reopen that sphere of erasure and blackout. 27
In translational distress, when lost in translation, you loose your landmarks and references. The gap between languages, the indeterminacy of gender and of meaning (but not only of them), is the possibility of all possibilities, a point zero (0) where anything can happen, whether good or bad. The gap between languages or understandings is particularly threatening and can be ominous in times of crises. It has been so particularly since 1989 and the “end” of the cold war, which is an important threshold in recent history, where post-colonialism and post-socialism converge in flattening the historical but also temporal dimension which have become the same, especially in the eyes of western post-1989 triumphalism. We were all ushered into the post 1989 era with no new epistemological tools for the new condition of globalisation.
Certain knowledges as much as histories were made clandestine and were removed. We need to disambiguate and rehabilitate the principle of a knowledge that was deliberately made illegitimate by the prevalent knowledge-and-political configuration (rehabilitate the principle, and not any particular alternative knowledge as such). And for that, we need political imagination.
It is very difficult to elaborate alternative imaginaries and scripts opening up a given framework, and alternative connections that can precede or exceed a context, and that uncover complementary perspectives as well as multiple standpoints in interaction. And yet we need to access this enormous field of possibilities. Through a politics of translation, we need to keep all translating tracks open, having implications on contemporary and possible futures but also on alternative pasts.
This will disclose imaginable alternatives, debatable or different pasts. We need to (jointly) work on translational as well as transnational fluidity, on multiple meanings, which in principle include misunderstandings too. It is important to get through and beyond the binaries, beyond the nation, the state-and-the-non-state sphere, beyond identification, identitarianism and sovereign erection of the self-full-of-itself and the political subject (collective or singular alike). I would claim interdependence rather than sovereignty and, like Zsófia Lóránd (after Karl Polanyi) transformation rather than transition. Political transitions have always been catastrophic exterminating generations.
Instead, we can learn from other knowledges, from political experience and other “unusual” sources, as well as with migrants and deterritorialised cross-border relations; interaction from engagement and resistance to mainstream pressure or conservative trends. In my understanding, all subjectivities are always incomplete, which is why their sovereignty is conceit, and imaginary. When relying on the higher office of the state’s sovereignty, of a religious idea, a social super-ego or a role model, they live individual lives as permanently dispossessed and as eternally indebted (to the higher instance). Their “security” is confiding in the proposed and available pattern, always disappointing. They can mobilise a mechanism by which they veil their incompleteness and insufficiency, including to themselves, in order to absurdly claim sovereignty and eschew interdependence.
Reciprocal incompleteness of subjectivities and knowledges. Bypassing universities ?
There are not only different codes of understanding but also different knowledges and epistemes that are, as Boaventura de Sousa Santos beautifully says, reciprocally incomplete. Languages too are necessarily mutually incomplete, as anyone writing or translating knows. So Hindi and Urdu, Serbian and Croatian are reciprocally incomplete languages, beyond their reciprocal political intolerance and shared basic structure and vocabulary. Female and male are also reciprocally incomplete humans, although not under the binary scheme in which they are stereotypically represented (excluding a «third» possibility), but within a plural scheme, where all are reciprocally uncompleted. (And there are as many genders/sexes as individuals.) So are their knowledges although, within patriarchy, women’s knowledges along with many others produced by – and producing - the subaltern, are often made invisible and “inexistent”. Erasure is the content of reciprocal incompleteness.
I was wondering about softer ways of “translating”. The Asia Research Institute (ARI) of the National University of Singapore (an Institute where i worked for a time) organised a workshop called “Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones: Alternative Imaginaries of China’s Presence in most of Southeast Asia in Contemporary Contexts” 28. I became interested in the idea of “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, a practical and pragmatic approach with nothing pre-given, nothing or nothing-much purposely made invisible. The Chinese translating tradition has a different and peculiar origin and development. Historically, it rather comes as a genre, than as a strictly accurate transposition and rendering of the contents of a text. It questions authorship in the sense that the translator is inscribed along with the author (and sometimes more) in the resulting piece.
Patriarchy and capitalism, EU Borders. Two-front concepts and useless history
The devastating pandemic of coronavirus covid-19 was taken as an excuse to altogether stop migrants fleeing desperate conditions, from getting into Europe (and likewise, into the USA, Israel, Australia, Singapore, Tunisia etc.). We had always known (and i among others had written) that thinking gender relations takes a massive twist from conventional western knowledge that has so far been patriarchal. I propose we take Europe and the European Union in their transborder dimension with some humility, and learn from extra European “others” too, now that Europe’s failures and crises, as well as that of Modernity, have become obvious. Populist leanings are a time machine heading backwards. They fabricate poisonous and displaced memories. Indeed there has been a lot of dissatisfaction, not only of women, with how the construction of the EU (but also of the utopian image of Europe) has been managed. The space for a European utopia is ever more improbable, while the EU is being built through its heavy historic heritage which includes colonialism, slavery, witch-hunt, the subordination of women, the inquisition, imperialism, fascism and now again – war and the correction of borders on the sub-continent.
"Translation may help reconfiguring established knowledge grids. It displaces, dislocates, replants or reboots a concept on another terrain, in another language or context, favouring mutation and an excess of imagination or different imaginaries."
I propose to proceed from discontinuities and interruptions, from lost connections, including from mistranslations, because there is an incredibly rewarding mechanism out there opening unexpected horizons. Translation may help reconfiguring established knowledge grids. It displaces, dislocates, replants or reboots a concept on another terrain, in another language or context (time, space and culture-wise), favouring mutation and an excess of imagination or different imaginaries. Starting from discontinuities or from below the abyssal line 29 also provides very dense traffic (including clogging, glitches and breakthroughs) and the co-presence and interference of that which normally can’t appear jointly in the existing dimensions (endimions 30), in any case not in the same key (i call it the in-com-possibles). Such an impossible co-presence that, although unlikely, nevertheless happens but in an unexpected manner (depending on the scale and the observation point), resembles partage de la raison 31. The latter is like two sides of a coin, inseparable yet incompossible at the same level, within the same grid or by the same code. Partage de la raison in its aspect of sharing confirms the uncertainty, vulnerability and incompleteness of the subject, any subject. And this is the opportunity for a new political configuration to arise, in which we can act jointly from different transitory positionings on building together something new bottom-up while at the same time becoming (devenir)-together, towards a new shared future but a new past as well (and a new understanding of the past). Ernesto Laclau would call it the making of a new hegemony 32, but i prefer thinking beyond the framework of hegemony and domination. The double-front of “partage”, meaning both dividing (separating) and sharing-with-others as well as partaking of/in reason, obliges us to surrender to the in-com-possibility of the two fronts or meanings in the same breath. The dialectics of their interaction, which pleads for pluralism and plural logics, disqualifies not only the binary, not only the reduction to either “dividing” or “sharing”, but also the co-presence, at the same level of reading, of the concept (partage) and its objectal referent. What is here rejected, is the normativity of the concept, and its pre-givenness in a construct that doesn’t accept exceptions or wayward meanings. Dichotomic logic is repressive and imposes the exclusion of «third» choices. But non western options of plural logics with tertium datur («there is a third») amply replace the predominantly western scheme of tertium non datur. According to Athanasiou, “What makes a community compossible,” i.e. present together, “is precisely what diverges from, and is rendered incompossible with, the actualised and established order of commonality. (...) [N]ormative constructions such as (hetero)sexual difference and the nation are indefinitely and infinitely constitutive to the community and its logic/reason” 33. That logic is repressive and will be challenged by non-sovereign and incomplete subjects that purposely remain undetermined in their dissenting political becoming with their “illogical logics” and their breaking away from pre-set forms.
The two incompossible faces of the coin would then rather translate into something more like Deleuze’s pli, or “fold”. And, i can only be safe if you are safe, if all are safe with me. Likewise, if you fall, i fall too 34. It takes thinking about others, about society at large and about the community, before even thinking of oneself. Solidarity and commonality. Yet de-complexed capitalism has incited us to think of “ourselves” first, individuals first, “our” nation first etc. (Trump is not original in this, he has only been one of the most vulgar in the vein.)
Free imagination ?
We need to disambiguate contested knowledges and rehabilitate the principle of a knowledge that was deliberately made illegitimate or erased by the prevalent configuration of the politics of knowledge. We need political imagination for that.
We had unlearned the un-sovereign option mainly through the history of capitalism and patriarchal verticality, individualism and inequality. But the germ was there since the earliest times, in individualism and the constitution of the subject itself as the centre of the world. This implies the heavy construction of the subject directing the world, a particular geography with cosmovisión, an hierarchical conceptual architecture, as well as (self-)portrait in art in the seventeenth century (Rembrandt), and the invention of perspective. As a result of modern capitalism, everything else than the subject is dispensable or at its service. Other civilizational choices in other parts of the world, however, have developed other historical options. They have refused to elaborate the concept of a subject (which they do not ignore; they just disregard it as indecent), surreptitiously suspecting where it would lead.
Patriarchy, capitalism and back to borders
Any progress is paid by a very palpable regression, rollback or reversal, it seems. Our countries’ involvement in wars across the planet (now, the middle east, Africa and Europe) and enhanced militarisation is of course co-constitutive with systemic violence against women. While women's human rights in Europe are advancing in law and for parts of the elite, while women’s movements (which are always resistance movements, where capitalism has been the counter-revolution 35) such as #Me too and #Ni una menos are giving excellent results, male establishments and hegemonic culture have not considered violent males and systemic violence as socially or politically dangerous. They have not developed systematic methods of protecting women and children. A catastrophic historic collective denial of the importance and universal violence to women (and related) has been in force for ages. It will take a long process from that removal and suppression to the political awakening of the subject(s) on this issue. Little is being done in educating boys and men on the issue. Nothing has been done in reorienting and tempering their excess of will to power.
Hegemonic countries today dictate selective political oblivion from the perspective of the current post-Cold War and enduring neoliberal triumphalism. The formal European citizenship has become ethno-national, and the great divide in the EU is now between migrants and citizens, while an unsustainable distinction is made between migrants and refugees. Women's bodies are a major issue here, as well as the intolerable death toll of migrants, with the consent and even fomentation of border changes and outsourcing, at least in the peripheries of Europe 36.
Today feminist theory has conceptually reversed the simplified (marxist) relation between production and the reproduction of life, making the latter - the precondition for production and for survival (Alisa Del Re 37). But there is yet another historic precondition to that precondition, well known to feminists too, and equally hidden from mainstream knowledge: patriarchy and the historic witch-hunt over several centuries were the prerequisite for historic capitalism itself 38. Non-paid work (domestic and other) by women produced their servitude by not admitting them to salaried work, reserved for men. Men were exploited in factories, while women were oppressed in their bodies by them. Later, in socialism, interpreting women’s exploitation in terms of a gendered division of labour and unpaid housework showed that it would have been possible to overcome the class and patriarchal dichotomy. Yet in this, state feminism (responding to the Party) failed, confirming the governing historic importance of patriarchy. It helps us understand the similarity in this respect of socialism and capitalism, and the crossed-out radicalism of the former. Socialism was not radical in its cautiously proclaimed feminism as a formal egalitarianism that was to be monitored, since women were not trusted. Witch-hunts however continue, in any system. Sexual hierarchies are always at the service of maintaining some system of domination. Federici showed that in the transition to capitalism, the burning of witches and declassment of women was part of the process together with land-grabbing from farmers, and colonialism. That violent process has never been completely discontinued to this day (neither has primitive accumulation), and constant renegotiations between the sequences constantly go on. We have a global backlash today on all these issues.
There is a general resistance to see violence against women as systemic and constitutive, which is one more programmed political erasure. Corresponding politics of translation are then deployed to this effect. Certain politics themselves are translated in a more or less utilitarian manner into ideological declamations, whereby charges and labels are distributed. Allegations are dispensed by the patriarchal mainstream, by society and not necessarily by the state, which they support. Although they have no coherent meaning, assigned labels can be murderous. In France, the sticker “gender ideology” has now (2023) become perilous just like “islamo-gauchisme”, and is the object of furious anti-gender and anti-intellectual campaigns. There are attacks at universities and intellectuals, in a new conservative and far-right turn. This comes against the background of populism, confusionism, encouraged by a sort of new social fascism.
At the same time, the EU (and the USA) is disproportionally lecturing other countries and continents on their insufficiency in ecology, in protecting women's rights etc. Such boasting about the west's righteousness is a hypocritical cover-up, since it is clear that defending women is not the actual aim of international action even when it is proffered, as it was in the USA’s and then EU’s intervention in Afghanistan.
The questioning of borders, crucial in any perspective of state sovereignty, is that of western Europe and the west. It is profoundly linked to imaginaries about women. Because migrants and women appear as a troubling, destituting or de-constituting element, neither society nor the (patriarchal) state trust them. Condemning the female sex and gender, and now also migrants, are basic postures of the patriarchal enterprise at the service of capitalism, and are at the heart of the border issue. (Although not only capitalism is patriarchal – all other formations have been so too.) The borders’ question necessarily displays war with patriarchy as its “regulatory” mechanism and as its probability. Feminists and women insist on the solidarity of resistance struggles, on demilitarisation, de-escalation and on peace 39. The decisive solidarity of women and migrants mean much in activism and political thought.
Not surprisingly, because collective interests (the commons) are kept in mind, solidarity, graciousness to others, care, compassion, empathy, shared social responsibility, civility etc. are seen as complementary elements of female culture in most places, but they do serve the common and social cause, and not a gendered and egoistic one. In women, these elements belong both to tradition but also to new emancipatory models and to work. Reproduction of life, traditionally hidden and separated from the sphere of production and its theorisation, is now further analysed in feminist theory as the precondition for both production and everyone's survival. In this, it is women who are on the frontline. No calculation. Just practical necessity, and caring for more people than oneself alone.
Today’s epistemological turn and new knowledges are not only the result of the post-industrial real-time or digital computing IT dispensation and cognitive labour enabled by hackers 40. They are also the effect of sharing knowledges in new ways and through new channels, outside and over universities. Contemporary social sciences and philosophy draw a lot on feminist research in this. But the digital dimension controls much of our knowledge and its transmission in an apparently impersonal, but tricky, way as a mechanism or a deadly and suicidal desiring machine 41 through invisible algorithms of which we don’t even suspect the existence. It has everything to do with the neoliberal organisation of society and politics, for the sake of corresponding economic interests. The condition of women is rearranged in this algorithmic capitalism, remaining subaltern, but at the same time, obliquely and sideways, it gets partly through into the mainstream thanks to a kind of contextual capillary absorption, «pollination» and general atmosphere.
"we need to think of others first: only then would we too be safe, inasmuch as others are safe with us"
Non-species, non-gender, non-nation, non-identity
It is by now obvious that gradation appears in all unequal relations, from gender, class, race, caste, species and other unequal differences. We now have to think of climate and environment, consider nature (of which we are a part), and consider caring about life on earth. Thinking from gaps and interruptions and mending them, as a non-species, non-nation, non-identity, non-gender, from life and the living, we need to think of others first: only then would we too be safe, inasmuch as others are safe with us 42. Only then could we be together in becoming and acting in the shared world. On the contrary, androcentrism and anthropocentrism, with racism, xenophobia, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, etc. nurture continuity with the same (origin), birth, species or gender 43. I would like to see myself as non-binary by choice, in spite of my conventional heterosexual life. I prefer to obfuscate boundaries, baffle definitions, labels, allegations and received identities. But “men” and “women”, as two imaginary extremes, transient “ideo-types” of a complex picture down to individuals, are alleged and constructed to be so in a reductive binary. The gender divide passes through each of us individually.
Social fascism, “leftist fascism” say some
The gradual fascistisation of our societies means to impede the progress of discriminated groups or classes. The Indian hindu ruling class, for ex., obstructs the raising of low castes and classes 44. Which historic denials and political forgetting does this cost? The day when the state takes over the judiciary (or “justiciary”) stance, the regime and society may coincide in fascism through a right-populist osmosis process as a fait accompli difficult to debunk 45. But these things happen also at the hand of international predatory mechanisms through whatever approach, including gender. Due to now prevailing confusionism in the public sphere fed by social networks, some have absorbed fascist inclinations into acceptable politics because the new fascism declares itself apparently social with regard to the domestic population (but not to foreigners or migrants). The paradoxical concept of «left-wing fascism» was so invented, to add to the confusion.
It is now evident that the EU border politics of peace and global security, which includes, beyond Yugoslav countries, Ukraine or other conflicts, also the security of the EU, has sadly failed. In the process, women’s bodies are a regular symbolic stake and effective scapegoats when it comes to violence and arms. Women are «easier» to kill just because they are women, because violence to them is tolerated and, in war, exacerbated. Local civil society associations naively count on the EU, NATO, UN, European governments and external forces to stem off this tendency of correcting borders, but these “others” reproduce the same identitarian politics of political mis-translation, maybe as a reminiscence and repetition of the violence perpetrated by Europe in its past. Other scenarios are now forgotten as inept, unnecessary, arbitrary history, dismissing any possibility of learning from it.
The new migrants' openness is radical, in the name of common survival. They are radically vulnerable but in that - open. Brutally rejected by hate-driven hegemonic powers, fleeing war, repression or hunger, they offer reciprocity, accept in advance others, and prove tolerant. Europe, the west, rich countries have no empathy for them.
Thirty years ago, i wrote about Europe being constructed through the Yugoslav wars. Today i would say that the Ukrainian but also the Gaza/Israel wars too are constitutive of the making of Europe. It makes me sick, because war is unending. We had a false image of Europe as a land of peace.
Our future is with migrants and theirs with us, but we must make them be accepted. They have, like women, an extraordinary lifesaving transformative power that is our only option if we are going to have a future, and that future cannot but be shared. We need to snatch ourselves away from the programmed political forgetting. This would be the indispensible epistemological revolution for/by a new kind of feminist or trans-feminist “non-alignment”, concretely universal.
1. See the case of the “erased” citizens from other Yugoslav republics living in Slovenia at the time of the independence in the 1990s, for ex. J. Dedić, V. Jalušič & J. Zorn, The Erased, Ljubljana, Mirovni inštitut 2003; Sandro Mezzadra & Brett Neilson, Borders as Method, or, The Multiplication of Labor, Durham, Duke University Press, 2013; as well as B. De Sousa Santos’s concept of non-existence in much of his writing, by which the «erased» are rendered invisible and condemned to non-existence.
2. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, see “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching”, Diacritics, 32, n°3-4, december 2004; “Speaking for the Humanities”, Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities 1, n° 1 (october 15, 2009)
3. "Položaj žene (u okviru strategije socijalnog razvoja u svijetu)" (1979: The position of women (within the framework of the social development strategy in the world) and "Pretpostavke za suradnju na polju kulture i obrazovanja s obzirom na domaću političku, društvenu i ekonomsku orijentaciju" (1982: Assumptions for cooperation in the field of culture and education with regard to the domestic political, social and economic orientation). The latter was part of a collective work Pregled privredne suradnje SR Hrvatske sa zemljama u razvoju («An overview of economic cooperation between the SR of Croatia and developing countries»), as part of the project "Unapređivanje suradnje privrede SR Hrvatske sa zemljama u razvoju" (Improving cooperation between the economy of the SR of Croatia and developing countries). Both had been written as part of my work at the Institut za zemlje u razvoju in Zagreb (Institute for developing countries, previously called Institut za Afriku, Institute for Africa). After the Institute, i went to work regularly at the Department of philosophy of Zagreb University (Filozofski fakultet), giving classes on asian philosophies to philosophy and indology students, as well as classes on western philosophies. I had already been teaching as a "volunteering assistant" at the Philosophy Faculty.
4. Konstantinović (1928-2011), an author who accompanies me to this day. First result: Iveković, La balcanizzazione della ragione, Manifestolibri, 1995; also: Autopsia dei Balcani. Saggio di psicopolitica, Raffaello Cortina, Milan 1999.
5. An informal school of Marxist humanist non-mainstream philosophy and social sciences in Yugoslavia in the ninety-sixties, which published the journal Praxis and organised international summer schools on the island of Korčula until 1974.
6. See a like project in Alienocene. Journal of the first Outernational
7. "Unapređivanje suradnje privrede SR Hrvatske sa zemljama u razvoju" or Improving cooperation between the economy of the SR of Croatian and developing countries (within the volume 1, no. 3/4 year 1981 titled "Pregled privredne suradnje SR Hrvatske sa zemljama u razvoju", («An overview of economic cooperation between the SR of Croatia and developing countries»).
8. Povijest svjetske književnosti, a series published by Mladost-Liber, in Zagreb.
9. R. Iveković, "Južna Azija: Indijska književnost, tibetska književnost, književnosti jugoistočne Azije" in Povijest svjetske književnosti 1 , ed. Svetozar Petrović, Mladost-Liber, Zagreb, 1982.
10. In this paper, i shall also be drawing on my previous paper “Programmed political forgetting” from the conference “Traffic in Gender. Political Uses of Translation Within, Outside, and Against Academia”, organised by Eric Fassin, Marta Segarra and Ilana Eloit at the research unit Legs, at CNRS, Université de Nanterre and Université de Paris-8, in Paris on 12-14 april, 2022. It can be found on my page.
13 Luce Irigaray, Parler n'est jamais neutre, Minuit, 1985.
14 Boaventura De Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South. Justice against epistemicide, London-New York, Routledge 2014; The End of the Cognitive Empire. The Coming of Age of Epistemologies of the South, Durham & London, Duke University Press 2018.
15 Athena Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning. Political Dissidence and the Women in Black, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2017, p. 232.
16 Athena Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning, p. 254, confirms this approach that i have been practicing.
17 About hegemonic knowledges, Boaventura De Sousa Santos, Sousa Santos, op. cit. 2014 & 2018.
18. Darko Vujica, “Intervju sa Dubravkom Stojanović: Ništa nije večno, pa tako ni nacije”, in Prometej, 31-1-2022.
19. Athena Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning, p. 19.
20. Jie-Hyun Lim, “Mnemonic Solidarity in the Global Memory Space”, global-e. Global Dynamics, 12, no. 4, January 31, 2019, “Triple Victimhood: On the Mnemonic Confluence of the Holocaust, Stalinist Crime, and Colonial Genocide”, Journal of Genocide Research, april 13, 2020, and “Victimhood Nationalism and History Reconciliation in East Asia”
21. I have worked elsewhere on the relation of gender to sexuality, which is particularly relevant in french where the confusion à propos is great. To make a long story short, let me say that both concepts are mediated for us through the first, and not the second. It is through social spectacles that we see both social as well as “natural” realities. That binary doesn’t actually hold, although we have been using it in feminism to convey that the discrimination of women is not dictated by nature. In addition, the binary works differently in different languages. Which means however that we must defend gender studies and women’s studies under fire.
22. UNCTAD: United Nations Conference for Trade and Development; OECD: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
23. Paul Stubbs (ed.), Socialist Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned Movement. Social, Cultural, Political, and Economic Imaginaries, Montreal & Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023.
24. “I have only one language, and it is not mine”. Jacques Derrida, Le monolinguisme de l’autre, Paris, Galilée 1996- & 2016, p. 13.
25. Freud, Die Verneinung, 1925.
26. Cécile Canut, Provincialiser la langue: Langage et colonialisme, Paris, Editions Amsterdam/Multitudes, 2021.
27. The Coronavirus 2019-2022 era was also an epochal epistemological crisis. There was in the virus and also in the relation gender-migrations a sign, something of an announcement, of the possibility of other unthought-of options (departing from patriarchy and the current forms of capitalism), an impensé. It is those intersections among so many other possible junctures within the pluriverse, and with gender issues, that interest us.
28. From a call for papers dispatched by ARI on december 10, 2019 for a conference on may 27-28, 2020 as “Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones: Alternative Imaginaries of China’s Presence in Southeast Asia in Contemporary Contexts”. Emphasis added by me, R.I.
29. The two sides of the abyssal line can’t appear at the same level according to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledges” (first published in Review, XXX-1-2007),
30. Salman Rushdie, in Grimus, Random House 2003, first edition 1975.
31. An intentionally ambiguous but fertile term, possible and significant in French, which occurs as an in(com)possibility, i.e., as a simultaneous possibility and impossibility, depending on the perspective. The two sides of a coin could illustrate this relationship: they are always together, but each is inconceivable from the point of view of the other. It would be an example of différend in Jean-François Lyotard’s sense: one meaning makes no sense (or is not the same) in the language of the other.
32. E. Laclau & Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London, Verso, 1985.
33. Athena Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning, p. 187.
34. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ibid.
35. A significant link: Didier Billion and Christopher Ventura, in their book Désoccidentalisation. Repenser l’ordre du monde, Marseille, Agone 2023, think that today’s progressive social movements are massively touched by de-occidentalisation, and should try to produce together political forces able to rethink the world order.
36. Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp, Frontex, Le spectre des disparu.e.s. Nihilisme aux frontières, L’Harmattan 2023; Elspeth Guild (ed.), Monitoring Border Violence in the EU: Frontex in Focus, Routledge Studies in Liberty and Security, 2023.
37. Alisa Del Re, “Il lavoro di riproduzione e il mercato”, in Lo sciopero delle donne.
Lavoro trasformazioni del capitale lotte (Libro collettivo), Rome, Manifestolibri 2019; “Cura e riproduzione sociale”, in Welfare. Attualità e prospettive, ed. by Chiara Giorgi, Carocci 2022.
38. Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Brooklyn, N.Y., Autonomedia 2004.
40. After Marx, Gramsci and Negri, Griziotti would say, general intellect and collective intelligence: Giorgio Griziotti, Neurocapitalism. Technological Mediation and Vanishing Lines, preface by Tiziana Terranova, transl. by Jason Francis McGimsay, Minor Compositions, Colchester/New York/Port Watson 2019 www.autonomedia.org See also Jérôme Valluy, HUMANITY AND DIGITAL(S). From the history of information technology in societal expansion... to the capitalism of surveillance and influence (1890-2023), Collection HNP (Édition multilingue expérimentale), TERRA-HN-éditions, 2023; Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, 2020; Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism, Polity, 2012 (French original 2007); Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard UP 2000.
41. Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, Mille plateaux, Paris, Minuit 1980.
42. Chakravorty Spivak, ibid.
43. Except that for gender it is even more complicated: R. Iveković, "Women, Nationalism and War: 'Make Love Not War'", Hypatia, Special Cluster on Eastern European Feminism, Vol. 8, no. 4 (Fall 1993), pp. 113-126.
44. Christophe Jaffrelot on hindutvā, may 6, 2021 in a webinar at the Institut d’études politiques, Paris, within a series of debates on populisms and Hindu nationalism.
45. Boaventura de Sousa Santos has a nuanced analysis of the difference between a fascist society and a fascist state, in much of his writing. A coincidence of both is frequent, which is the ultimate catastrophe. Like him, i distinguish between a fascist society and a fascist state (or fascism in power). As in the example of post-Yugoslav countries, we now often have divided societies with both.