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What is Xenofeminism?

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In the name of feminism, ‘Nature’ shall no longer be a refuge of injustice, or a basis for any political justification whatsoever! If nature is unjust, change nature! — Laboria Cuboniks  

Xenofeminism draws on a multiplicity of influences and has implications for just as many areas in philosophy, the pharmaceutical industry, music, biology, mathematics, activism, digital technologies and more. What I see as the most radical aim of the XF project is the “right of everyone to speak as no one in particular,” which refers to an inhumanist wish to abolish the particulars of gender (as well as race and class), whilst simultaneously letting “a hundred sexes bloom.” Any feminism of the 21st century must be a transfeminism, and with this gesture XFM wants to take back the ability to mobilise the true universals against the false; We must – in the case of trans*women – at once know that “femme” is not the entirety of someone’s embodied existence and simultaneously defend the right to that physical expression and the identity behind it. — Tobias Linnemann Ewé (Danish translator of ‘Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation’)

XF is like the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century. Really. That. Good. — Mark Fisher

 

In 2015, a website claiming the name laboriacuboniks.net published a manifesto, Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation. On the front page, there is a playfully creepy gif of the reanimation of a mummified figure coded as female and washed in magenta. This combined with the asynchronous neon flashing of the title and the byline, was not only intriguing but also suggestive of kind of joyful, constructively ironic self-reflection that is so often lacking in the piety of the manifesto form. Moreover, the attentively produced oddness of this format serves to clearly underline the “xeno” or alien element, as it made clear that this part of online space is very alien in comparison to the infinite scrolling pastel hellscapes of Zuckerberg and company. Once we get to the text, these expectations are confirmed. XF, as it came to be known, appeared to many within the overlapping niches that comprised it’s readership as a “shock to thought”, articulating new political trajectories stemming from some of the seemingly most abstract tendencies within contemporary philosophy. It seemed and still seems to many that the ideas in here could make things happen. But we are already getting ahead of ourselves.

 

If one is to Google the name Laboria Cuboniks, this bio is offered by the algorithms of Santa Clara:  

Laboria Cuboniks (b. 2014) is a polymorphous xenofeminist collective. As an anagram of the “Nicolas Bourbaki” group of mathematicians, Cuboniks also advances an affirmation of abstraction as an episto- political necessity for 21st century claims on equality. Espousing reason and vigorous anti-naturalism, she seeks to dismantle gender implicitly. Cuboniks is a multi-taloned, tetra-headed creature uncomfortably navigating the fields of art, design, architecture, archeology, philosophy, techno-feminism, sexuality studies, digital music, translation, writing and regular experiments with the use of evolutionary algorithms in offensive cybersecurity.

From what we know from other materials produced by LC, Laboria Cuboniks is comprised of six women, who met in Berlin at, what our best research can determine, a summer school for contemporary continental philosophy concerned with time, technology and the future, and documented in the film HYPERSTITION1. Here, as is explained in this video by LC, they were brought together by a common interest in “neo-rationality[…], reason, science, technology, and/or mathematics”. They had also found themselves the subject of critique in feminist spaces for avowing the importance of these things.

 

The problem LC identified in this criticism was that in the first instance it relied on an unsophisticated notion of technology as simply being military hardware and environmental pollutants. This then linked to another problem LC saw in contemporary feminism; a tendency to deify nature, in the same way (though with different content) that a patriarchal sexist might argue that the disparity of power based on gender is reflective of the way things are meant to be. This deification is something the members of LC, and the philosophical arena that many of them were helping to develop, simply could not buy as an argument. It smacked too much of correlationism. But we are already getting ahead of ourselves.

The philosophical and political movements in which members of LC were involved have come to be known as Speculative Realism (SR) and Accelerationism (#Acc.). These are, however, contentious terms. There is not a single philosopher associated with the founding of SR who embraces the label, and #Acc. has been misinterpreted and reinterpreted by so many that even the authors of the manifesto have dropped the term in recent publications. That said, as the cultural history of these schools of thought is written, these are useful labels. A significant reason for this has been the viral resonance these terms have found on the internet of web 2.0. As philosopher and author of Spekulativ realisme En introduktion, Martin Hauberg-Lund, writes:

Since its official inception in 2007, speculative realism (SR) has spread out like a selfish meme in the great meme pool of the global conversation of philosophy. It has introduced such concepts as ‘correlationism’, ‘the great outdoors’, ‘the quadruple object’ and ‘alien phenomenology’ to designate new strands of thinking that leaves behind Kant’s restrictive ban on metaphysical speculations.” SR has therefore been primarily engaged with theoretical philosophy, and only recently have some of the movement’s associated philosophers begun to take SR into the domain of practicalities such as ethics and politics.

The main enemy for SR, as Hauberg-Lund alludes to, is correlationism, which also, in the view of SR thinkers, happens to be the building block of western philosophical thought. Correlationism, put simply and perhaps somehow incorrectly, is the assertion that human subjects are unable to access reality directly and must rely on mental representation. SR claims this is a dangerously flawed assumption and argues that it is not actually the case. This has lead to a number of developments in the pursuit of non-anthropocentric philosophy and helped to develop the school of thought known as Object Oriented Ontology (OOO). The casting off of representation has, however, posed problems for thinking the political in framework of SR. Though this problem has, in turn, generated a response from some of the thinkers reluctantly labelled as speculative realists, as well as those involved in technology research programmes and those involved in internet and technological activism, developed a project of left accelerationism. As Hauberg-Lund puts it;

‘Accelerationism’ is the name of one of the attempts to translate Deleuze-and-Guattarian and SR-like thinking into the realm of the political. The fundamental idea being: Accelerating the alienating effects of capitalist forces will entice the kinds of radical social transformation needed in order to overcome the political status quo of ruthless economic exploitation. Accelerationism is thus to be seen as a both nihilist and technologically perverse movement that seems both counterintuitive and — productive — at least when taken on face value. It is, nonetheless, one of the more thought-provoking outbursts of theoretical innovation to see the light of day in recent years.

Both of these schools of thought, SR and #Acc.,  are problematic in that they both offer solutions that are far more accessible to those in more privileged positions. That being said, this does not make them particularly different from a great deal of more traditional leftist theory and indeed activism. However, it is still a problem. What is really of value is that these are fields that seem to be offering the kind of an initial shock to thought that has been sorely missing from both mainstream theory and activism since 2008. And that was necessary for the shock of XF to come. In this context, XF can be thought of as an attempt to nuance the politics of #Acc. and to orient them towards existing struggles while not losing sight of the wager accelerationist thought places on the “long games of history”.

Print by Diann Bauer, from the #Accelerate Reader, Published by Urbanomic.

The critique offered by XF is directed at an irritation at the necessity it sees for its own existence. XF is born out of the frustration at the impediments placed on reason by the functioning of gender under patriarchy, and a simultaneous frustration with what they consider to be the reluctance of many contemporary feminisms to deal with the “abstract complexity” of the contemporary world. As LC states with one voice in the above video, “I would rather talk about something else”. How LC wants to address this is through a polyvocal process of engaging with a range of complex, materialist, abstract and alienating fields.

One member of LC, the feminist media scholar, activist and author of the upcoming book on XF, Helen Hester, explains that her interpretation of the movement is to explore the intersection of technomaterialism (technology as it relates bodies and the world), anti-Naturalism (the critique of the tendency to replace the god figure with nature), and gender abolitionism (a “shorthand for the ambition to construct a society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power”). While the focus of another member of LC, and the guest at our upcoming event, the artist and writer Diann Bauer, is the alien temporalities, or xenotemporalities, that govern our advanced technological world. But what unites them all is their particular, peculiar pursuit of alienation. This is by definition what makes XF Xenofeminsm.

Where previously manifestos such as the famous one by Marx and Engels warned of the alienation to come as it was already emerging in the newly industrialised countries of Europe, and declared an injunction to avoid and overcome it, LC’s XF has emerged in a world where forms of alienation have proliferated and saturated the world. And asks, in regards to alienation, “have we ever been otherwise?” If not, could it not be the case that some sort of alienation gives structure to whatever it is that we are. Whatever the “we” is that is capable of reading and writing this text is already alienated from the kind of immediacy of existence experienced by creatures without language. And is it not through the alienation of system such as language and reason that we have been able to develop into a culture that at once produces further alienating structures like capitalism and gender but also produces their critique? Is it not through technologies, such as antibiotics, acting upon bodies that so many of us have been able to live so long that to keep reading we need to modify our eyes with the technology of crafted lenses and lasers. Is such a creature not already alien?  Maybe then some forms of alienation are not all bad. Maybe it will be further alienation that will free us from whatever unjust forms of culturated nature have burdened us with patriarchy. If this is the case, XF is then bold enough to ask the follow-up question, what can we do if we were to embrace our alienation and proliferate it further? Can this be how we attain emancipation?  

But perhaps we are already getting ahead of ourselves.

Upon reading the XF manifesto, the late cultural critic Mark Fisher posted on Facebook, “XF is like the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century. Really. That. Good.” This is the first I knew of the manifesto; this glowing endorsement. Of course, orthodox Marxists would read such a statement and no doubt scoff and dismiss it as hyperbole. But that requires a point of view in the present-oriented towards the past. XF is very much oriented towards the future. When Marx and Engels were commissioned, in a roundabout way, to write the CM, the document they produced was not the document that would go on to shape the history of the 20th century for both good (welfare, weekends, bargaining rights) and ill (gulags et al.), it was a document that could. And indeed could have done, and could still, do better. Suffice it to say, when they wrote of a spectre of communism haunting Europe, this was an exaggeration. 2-300 people, who could, on a good day, be persuaded to call themselves communists does not make a spectre. More than a century later, Derrida would theorise the spectre through hauntology; a theory that attempted to describe a moment overburdened by failed dreams of the future. Fisher took this further to explain the dynamics a present imbued by the past and disrupted by ideas of the future.  Instead of some lingering superstition, the spectre of CM was, and may still be, what is called a hyperstition**, something of the future that can transform the present. XF is nothing if not hyperstional. Perhaps we should be getting ahead of ourselves.

 

XENOFEMINISM in Copenhagen will take place at 19:00 on February 28th at Sorte Firkant. This event is a collaboration between ark books, Ekistensfilosofisk Akademi and Passive/Aggressive, and has been made possible by the generous support of Nørrbro Lokaludvalg.

**Due to technical difficulties related to the financial administration of Ark Books, the author of this piece has only just been able to read Luciana Parisi’s piece “Automate Sex: Xenofeminism, Hyperstition and Alienation” from the edited volume Fictions and Futures (2018) which develops this relationship between hyperstition and Xenofeminism much more full that is here.

Works Cited

Bauer, D. XF Take 4, 2017

Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 2015.

Engels, F., Marx, K. The Communist Manifesto, 1848.

Williams, A., Srnicek, N., #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics, 2013.

  1.  “Hyperstition is a neologism that combines the words ‘hyper’ and ‘superstition’ to describe the action of successful ideas in the arena of culture.” Delphi Carstens.  2010

Macon has spent the last four years trying to shoehorn Infinite Jest into a PhD about popular music and capitalism. He managed to do this by making it about something called sonic fiction. He is one half of the podcasting team and the reason why the critical theory section is an odd mix of Adorno and Deleuze & Guattari. For many months he was mistaken for a ghost that had decided to haunt the store, but it was just him editing his thesis and/or the podcast. Here he writes about things which might be true or are entirely made up.

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