Tag Archives: andrea dworkin

If Only You Had Been Right

I’m thinking – what else would I be doing? – about the valuation (in left-accelerationism and elsewhere) of the cognitive, its overvaluation or undervaluation. Here, for example, is what the internet already knows to be Dominic Fox’s Favourite Andrea Dworkin Quote:

There is also, possibly, sexual intelligence, a human capacity for discerning, manifesting, and constructing sexual integrity. Sexual intelligence could not be measured in numbers of orgasms, erections, or partners; nor could it show itself by posing painted clitoral lips in front of a camera; nor could one measure it by the number of children born; nor would it manifest as addiction. Sexual intelligence, like any other kind of intelligence, would be active and dynamic; it would need the real world, the direct experience of it; it would pose not buttocks but questions, answers, theories, ideas – in the form of desire or act or art or articulation.

I imagine an allergic reaction to this being triggered almost immediately by the word “intelligence”, and the reader breaking out in hives at the valuation of the “active and dynamic”, the masterful and virile intellect posing its “questions, answers, theories, ideas” to “the real world”. A pose of aggressive sufficiency, in which “desire or act or art or articulation” is always caught up in a movement of intelligence from itself to itself, “discerning, manifesting, and constructing”, making things smart. This vision of what intelligence is, and does, is indeed what I love in Dworkin: I think it is more characteristic of her than almost anything else; even her macabre involvement with extremes of violence, horror and humiliation is subservient to it, driven relentlessly forward by it. Pessimism of the intellect, but never pessimism towards the intellect. (Firestone was much the same).

We see also here Dworkin’s devaluation, in which I share wholeheartedly, of the world of appearances – “painted clitoral lips”, the imaginary realm scoped out by scopophilia, turned into manifest reality by pornographic staging. For her there is a dreadful fall from the qualitative – the deep interior of things, that which intellect must delve into and reason out – into the quantitative, that which can be measured, posed, addictively consumed. Intelligence has nothing to do with this “unreal” world, the world of commerce and communication (and this is where my Dworkin meets my Badiou, in their shared disdain for the democratic-materialist unworld of circulating signifiers). There is nothing to be learned from the “posed”, the “painted”. An entire dimension of performativity – everything that can happen on a stage, in front of a camera, for the amusement of an audience – is condemned here as essentially unworthy of thought. (Dworkin is in this sense perhaps the least “queer” lesbian ever).

My imagined allergic reader feels the lash of this condemnation and recoils. A part of humanity, perhaps a preponderant part, is to be carved away and cast into the fire. You can try to offer reassurance, but it’s too late. Most people don’t experience their intellect as in any way sufficient to their lived reality; the demand that everything be filtered through “intelligence” feels tyrannising and small-minded. They say that Dworkin hated sex; she didn’t, she found it endlessly rich and fascinating and complex. A challenge for thought, a genuinely worthy problem – “not the fun kind”, as she said of herself. What she hated was the kind of inane cruelty that comes out when things slip the reins of intellect and people’s childish wishes are brought garishly into fruition (the porn fairy waves her plastic wand…); the way this cruelty demands subordinated bodies to play its games with, to fashion into the material of its enjoyment. I’m with her there, 100%: obscenity and transgression are always fun for someone, and damn that someone to hell (even if, or especially when, it’s me). But you cannot separate humanity from obscenity: there is no possible “integrity” that does not involve some kind of compact with the unavowable.

Weekend Gloss: “For amusement, re-run the delectable nude scene”

The Spirit Zone was a sequence of 14-line poems that were not sonnets, which I wrote in the run up to the Millennium celebrations and the opening of what was then known as the Millennium Dome. (The Dome itself is now called the O2 Arena, and is within walking distance of where I currently live). The Dome’s original exhibition was divided into different “zones”, of which the “spirit zone” was one. I never visited it, but I was interested in running the different senses of the word “spirit” through a poem sequence and seeing how they did and didn’t link up.

This poem is constructed around something one of my cousins told me when we were both around 11 or 12, which was that there was a moment in the 1984 film The Woman In Red when Kelly LeBrock sprang naked out of bed, and if you paused it and whacked up the brightness and contrast you could – in spite of the director’s best efforts at tasteful concealment – see her bush. It’s funny what stays with you.

(He wasn’t the only one, apparently, who found this detail of the film particularly arresting:

Review of The Woman In Red, from Rotten Tomatoes
Review from Rotten Tomatoes

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it – or them – myself, although Kelly LeBrock was good fun in Weird Science).

“Troubles march in long lines” is indeed the epigraph to Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography, where I think it’s credited as a Russian proverb. The last few lines of the poem wonder a little about Dworkin’s systematising overview of the ubiquitous phenomena of male sexual violence and predation. Things that look like accidents – like road accidents, of which there are staggeringly many every year – start to fall into line when you take the perspective of an emancipatory global-historical movement. We’re a long way, still, from the realisation of that projected emancipation, which I ended up imagining here as a kind of cataclysmic moment of historical self-awareness, “a trailing shriek of feedback”. Once again, turning up the brightness and contrast until things blur and saturate, and the hidden is abruptly brought to light.

(Why “farcically”, by the way? Because farce comes from forcemeat, stuffing meat – forcing, stuffing, overfilling having here an obviously sexual sense. I owe a lecture of Valentine Cunningham’s, circa 1994, for this bit of etymological insight.)

I’m not sure now that the implicit charge of messianism can be made to stick. Dworkin’s public oratory certainly had a fire-and-brimstone resonance to it (Susan Brownmiller nicknamed her “Rolling thunder”), but I don’t think she thought women’s liberation depended on an apocalyptic moment of all-out sex war. (Well, sometimes she sort of did: “harden your hearts, and learn how to kill” was her advice to young feminists at one point. But then someone like Elliot Rodger or Marc Lépine crawls out of the woodwork, and you’re reminded of what it’s like to feel that way). Dworkin wanted things to happen in the here-and-now; some of them seemingly-impossible things, like “a 24-hour truce in which there is no rape” (who would declare such a truce, on whose behalf? Who would enforce it?). The claim in this poem that “oppression is contingent” is nevertheless too easy an evasion, I think, of the moral force of that demand. Everything’s contingent, including veritable systems of oppression; that’s why it’s possible for them to end.