The XenoFeminist Manifesto
May 5, 2016 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Laboriacuboniks is a feminist collective. Their XenoFeminist Manifesto was released in June 2015.

The Manifesto in HTML (epilepsy warning)

Their name is an anagram of Nicolas Bourbaki, a collective pseudonym of early 20th century french mathematicians.

So what is Xenofeminism, then?

A decent overview of helpful links

A pretty good description of what it all is

..And a podcast for those into that kind of thing.
posted by Annika Cicada (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I saw a talk by them at The Long Progress Bar in Brighton last year, and a musique concrete performance by one of their number (who performs under the name Yoneda Lemma). They were inspiring.
posted by acb at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I missed this last year on my trip to Europe and was soooo annoyed:
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:20 AM on May 5, 2016

Looks neat. Are there any English translations?
posted by happyroach at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know right. It's big ideas and weird abstract art, english is like this movement's 9th language.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:43 AM on May 5, 2016

Reading the manifesto, I am uneasy about what seems like a fairly uncritical deployment of hacker-culture ideology (the conflation of science, technology, and reason, for example). But there's also lots in there where I'm like YES, THIS.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:01 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

This manifesto is finding application in interesting ways, Mary tsang (search maagic bioart) is creating some interesting multimedia art projects along these lines.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:20 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

there's also lots in there where I'm like YES, THIS.

Can you point out those parts? Because all I'm seeing is an over-written, masturbatory mish-mash channeling the worst excess of the bloated feminist/marxist polemics of the 1970s. Whoever wrote this seems inordinately proud of their ability to write a great deal while saying very very little (and none of it new or revolutionary). I'm actually having a hard time seeing how this isn't a mockery of the tedious navel-gazing corners of feminism.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:09 PM on May 5, 2016

I think the idea here, is that you absolutely must see it as a mockery of itself and everything that came before it.

this is all kind of a bizarre Dadaist public performance, so please don't take it too seriously. It's meant to work inside a creative process as a form of social critique.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:19 PM on May 5, 2016

Can you point out those parts?

I mean, it sounds like this just isn't your kind of thing. But sure!
  • 0x01 ("alienation is the labour of freedom's construction"): This part isn't so much "YES THIS" as it is interesting. For everyone from Marx to the Situationists, alienation is fundamentally a bad thing, maybe the fundamental problem under capitalism. The idea that it is part of the process of liberation -- in a positive sense, not in Marx's negative sense where its intensification leads capitalism to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions -- is intriguing.
  • 0x04 ("Science is not an expression but a suspension of gender"): After so much sustained critique of Reason, it's neat to see someone arguing for the positive side of rationalism as a way of not being reduced to identities, without simply reasserting old ideologies, hierarchies, etc. (See also 0x0F.)
  • 0x0A ("We take politics that exclusively valorize the local in the guise of subverting currents of global abstraction, to be insufficient"): The localist mentality they're responding to here seems pretty widespread on the left. It's a significant theme in the Leap Manifesto, which has been a subject of serious debate recently on Canada's social-democratic left. I've also known plenty of fellow anarchists who are all about trying to "evade" capitalism/patriarchy/etc by constructing alternative microcommunities. I think these attitudes have a lot of severe shortcomings, so it's nice to see someone explicitly advocating the opposite without basically just calling for accelerationism and/or reform.
  • 0x0E: A call for abolition of gender as a structure, without using that as a cover for attacking specific identities; in part, expanding the range of options rather than criticizing people for being "butch" or "femme" or whatever.
  • 0x0F: A universalism that is intersectional and constructed, rather than just covertly setting up dominant identities as normative or sneaking in stale ideas through a back door. Again, here I'm not so much nodding in agreement as just interested in the idea.
  • 0x15: Living arrangements that aren't (just) either communal or nuclear families. More than anything, this just made me smile -- I've been reading a bit of old second-wave/New Left critiques of the family, and it's nice to see someone talking at all about alternatives that don't amount to living in a typical collective house.
  • In general, the rejection of arguments based on "nature." Shouldn't be necessary at this point, but always pleasing to see.
  • In general, a tendency to favor taking control of technology (e.g. 0x07) for the purposes of liberation. (The DIY open-source estrogen project mentioned in Annika Cicada's previous post is an example of what that could mean.) Speaking as an anarchist who helped start a hackerspace while sneering at primitivists, this appeals to me. The societies we live in are great at making us feel powerless; the manifesto is fundamentally a call for empowerment, in the best, most liberatory sense.
I agree that a lot of this stuff isn't new. Parts of it are a little too nettime/hacker-culture for me, as I said earlier; other parts reminded me of the parts I like best about Shulamith Firestone's Dialectic of Sex. And I agree that an art-world manifesto isn't really a form that demands to be taken too seriously in 2016. But put together in this way, at a time when a lot of the dialogue in radical circles seems reactive, unsure how to proceed, or just plain pessimistic, I find this refreshing.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:42 PM on May 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

This manifesto has inspired in me a couple of pretty intense creative projects I've got underway. The way it puts together a bunch of "not so original things" (but then again, there's nothing new under the sun, so why are we getting wrapped around that? I prefer not to go that way) and turns the prism of perspective ever so slightly in such the way that things suddenly become not only okay to express, but exciting, is really freaking kickass because for myself, as a creator, this whole effort lays down a path in front of me where prior had been some very hindering questions that limited my willingness to express myself.

Simply put, this manifesto is liberating for people like myself. I don't think it's meant to be everyone's thing, but it does allow everyone to approach and access it on their terms if they so choose. I thought that was pretty nice.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:58 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's interesting that you bring up Firestone, Gerald Bostock, because that was exactly who I was thinking of in my comment, so I think from the start we are going to have to agree to disagree. I tend to like my feminism a bit more grounded in practical concepts and the particularities of the cultural which it is addressing, rather than approached in such an abstract way as to render it culture-neutral in a way that also make it content empty. More Abu-Lughod than Firesmith, in other words.

The similarities I saw were works long on high-minded concepts buried in abstractions and an only passing familiarity with any grounding in social sciences held together by high-wire rhetoric and a burning passion. A Dialect of Sex at least had some novel ideas and concrete (if extraordinary) ideas going for it, whereas the XF manifesto seems to think that merely proclaiming decades old feminist concepts can somehow pass for revolutionary if they manage to break the spine on their thesaurus.

Case in point, the proclamation that "alienation is the labour of freedom's construction," a concept that XF seems completely uninterested in unpacking. From what I'm reading into their obscurantist writings, all I'm really getting is the idea that gender, and not just class, is an alienating (in a Marxist sense) force. That would be an interesting observance in 1916, but not so much now. Given that they segue almost immediately into railing against the concept of "natural" makes me feel like that simply read de Beauvoir's Second Sex and wanted to share their thoughts. I simply think the XFs might be better served by engaging as well with Bourdieu's Distinction and more recent ideas about agency to understand that class/gender distinctions might also be self-produced and sustained within those gender roles and socioeconomic statuses.

The feeling that the very rare relevant and interesting statement made in the manifesto are overshadowed -- if not completely eclipsed -- by more recent or interesting theoretical works is a feeling I had throughout reading the text. I see absolutely nothing in the manifesto which has not been said already, and said in a way which does not disappear up its own ass.

To take a different tack, when they say "Systematic thinking and structural analysis have largely fallen by the wayside in favour of admirable, but insufficient struggles, bound to fixed localities and fragmented insurrections," my immediate reaction is to think, "Yes! Good!" while simultaneously agreeing there has been "excess of modesty in feminist agendas of recent decades."

I hope you'll forgive this seeming jump in topic, but it is a given if dealing with the skyhigh and inch-deep perspective of this manifesto. The XFs seem to think they are being novel in focusing on pure theory and "Promethean responsibilities," without any acknowledgement of the reason such approaches have largely been abandoned in the social science in favor of an approach that incorporates the concerns and goals of involved groups. Such an approach is not only more sustainable, given the self-interest of those involved, but also actually addresses what people in specific communities actually want, rather than trying to shoehorn in a bunch of theoretical crap from uninvolved persons with high-minded ideas and an A+ in their Women and Gender Studies class.

To shift again, large parts of the manifesto are simply meaningless. The portion you quote above, 0x04, is actually a portion I found egregious in this respect. Just the quote "Science is not an expression but a suspension of gender" is suspect on a number of levels, mostly stemming from the fact that "science" is apparently treat as SCIENCE! as some distant, abstract authority, rather than a process. This is just a re-hashing of the scientism-fueled thoughts about rationality leading the way and extinguishing all gender distinctions. Yet, even in that same section they write about how the problem is "male hands... throttling existing institutions of science and technology," again without defining what they mean by science and technology.

Reading into the passage, perhaps the problem is not "male hands" but "male egos," and so maybe they are talking about how the domination of men (who are socialized in particular ways) in particular fields skews the perspective and therefore the trajectory of those fields? But even then, that is not an abnegation of "science," but a realization that the sort of pure rationality the XFs propose is unobtainable as the pursuit of knowledge is inescapably colored by the pursuers own lived experiences. I feel like maybe that is something they touch on when they say that "From the postmoderns, we have learnt to burn the facades of the false universal," but given that they seem to be advocating for some sort of universal rationality of scientific pursuit this seems to be self-contradictory.

If the above few paragraphs seem meandering and ill-focused, I would ascribe it to the fact that the source matter is doubly so. What it actually says is as stale as last weeks shit but the manifesto seems to completely disregard the notion that new and more useful thoughts may have been written on the subject of gender and society after 1975. As such, I find the manifesto not only less than useful, but a deliberate distraction away from more substantive and informative approaches to the subject, approaches, I'm sure, the manifesto would dismiss as small minded and local. That, again, the writer(s) of the manifesto seem very happy to adopt the worst literary practices of past polemics in order to cover up the fact that they have very little to say doesn't help.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:10 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

What are the useful things written after 1975 that you would suggest?
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:18 AM on May 6, 2016

From what I'm reading into their obscurantist writings, all I'm really getting is the idea that gender, and not just class, is an alienating (in a Marxist sense) force. That would be an interesting observance in 1916, but not so much now.

What interests me there is the idea that alienation is the way to liberation, rather than a condition to be overcome. Maybe that's old hat, but it's not an argument I can remember seeing before. It's true that they don't unpack it, and I don't want to put too much weight on it. I just find it thought-provoking.

That's sort of my attitude to the manifesto in general. It's not perfect: I agree that it would be nice to see more attention to how gender is socially constructed and sustained, and I think the uncritical attitude to an abstract Science is its biggest flaw. In a systematic philosophical or sociological treatise, which would obviously need to go into the kind of depth you're looking for, those flaws would be fatal. But in a manifesto, the goal of which is to inspire and suggest certain lines of thinking rather than to construct an entire system of thought, they are merely weaknesses. Evidently it doesn't work that way for you, and that's fine.

The way it puts together a bunch of "not so original things" [...] and turns the prism of perspective ever so slightly in such the way that things suddenly become not only okay to express, but exciting, is really freaking kickass

Exactly! For me, like anything else, I don't agree with all of it, but the way the pieces are put together opens up possibilities in an exciting and productive way.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

What I like is that the way their frame is set, the antagonisms of oppression are turned into tools for liberation.

As a person who is trans it takes all those microagressions that I experience on a daily basis and gives me a method to inoculate myself via the same pathways of aggression that are leveraged against me. That's basically 3rd-wave "claiming a thing ", yeah. But it goes further by tracing the borders inside feminism that are causing internecine fights for representation, and then effectively demolishing the power of antagonism by simultaneously embracing antagonism as a permanent feature of the future. That's a meaningful thing to me.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:35 PM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

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