Difference, diversity and nomadic subjectivity by Rosi Braidotti


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Rosi Braidotti

     An earlier version of this lecture is forthcoming under the title Figurations of Nomadism in: Culture/s in Contention: Differences, Affiliations, Liminalities, edited by John Foster and Wayne Fro-man for the International Association of Philosophy and Literature. Publication date: 1998.

There is a general almost common-sensical agreement among cultural critics of the progressive kind (feminists, post-colonial, queer and other "others") that, to quote Appadurai 1 :
The world we live in now seems rhizomic even schizophrenic, calling for theories of rootlessness, alienation and psychological distance between individuals and groups, on the one hand, and fantasies (or nightmares) of electronic ubiquity on the other.
In other words, one of the paradoxes of our historical condition is the simultaneous occurrence of contradictory trends: for instance, on the one hand the globalization of the economic and cultural processes, which engenders increasing conformism in consumerism, life-style and tele-communication. On the other hand, we also see the fragmentation of these same processes: the resurgence of regional, local, ethnic, cultural and other differences not only between the geo-political blocks, but also within them.

The trans-national economy affects our daily life in the West at both the macro- and the micro-levels and produces never-ending contradictions. Thus, capital-flow undeterred by territorial constraints has turned cyber-space into a highly contested social space; more than a place, cyberspace is a set of social relations mediated by technological flows of information. Money circulates in cyber-space and occasionally materialises as actual cents and bills having first appeared on a computer screen as digital data. Thus, postmodernity is closely linked to electronics, which has a number of troublesome aspects:

Firstly, it is unevenly distributed world-wide, in terms of access and participation. Gender and ethnicity are major axes of negative differentiation. Secondly, technological postmodernity freezes time and displaces the subject, allowing for deferred or virtual inter-personal relations. It is about hyper-mobility 2 . This also makes for prosthetic extensions of our bodily functions: answering machines multiplying our aural and memory ability; faxes; microwaves ovens; electrical toothbrushes; frozen embryos; video-recorders and tele-communication networks amplifying other bodily capacities.

All the above spells the end of the space-time continuum of the humanist tradition. It diffuses our bodily self into many discontinuous locations. The problem is: we already live this way, but we cannot represent this to ourselves in a creative manner. Schizophrenia is the only image we can come up with; which I take as a sign of our imaginative poverty. I shall return to this.

Following the work of postcolonial thinkers like Gayatri Spivak 3 , Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy and others, I think that - from a European perspective, one of the most significant effects of postmodernity is the phenomenon of trans-culturality, or the coming of a pluri-ethnic or multi-cultural context. World-migration - a huge movement of population from periphery to centre - has challenged the alleged cultural homogeneity of European nation-states. This new historical context requires that we shift the political debates from the differences between cultures to differences within the same culture.

The feminist movement is especially conscious of this necessity. Spivak states it clearly 4 :
the face of global feminism is turned outward and must be welcomed and respected as such, rather than fetishized as the figure of the Other.
Appadurai echoes this, and says:
Thus, the central feature of global culture today is the politics of the mutual efforts of sameness and difference to cannibalize one another and thus to proclaim their successful hijacking of the twin enlightenment ideas of the triumphantly universal and the resiliently particular 5 .
One of the central paradoxes of the postmodern historical condition is the shifting grounds on which periphery and centre get pitched against each other in such a perversely complex manner, as to defy dualistic or oppositional ways of thinking and to require instead more subtle and dynamic articulation.

Last but not least, the postmodern predicament is about the shift of geo-political power away from the North-Atlantic in favour of the Pacific Rim and especially South-East Asia. Cornel West put it succinctly, from a North American perspective:
Postmodernism (...) is a set of responses due to the decentering of Europe - of living in a world that no longer rests upon European hegemony and domination in the political, economic, military and cultural dimensions which began in 1492 6 .
Though slightly less optimistic about this, Spivak basically agrees, but she does raise the suspicion that the many discourses about the "crisis" of Western humanism and more specifically poststructuralist philosophy may actually re-assert some universalistic posturing under the pretence of specific, localized or diffuse subject-positions.

My position on this point is quite different. I think that this shift in geo-political power becomes both confirmed and theorized in poststructuralist philosophy in terms of the decline of the Euro-centred logocentric system. Philosophers such as Deleuze, Derrida and Cacciari 7 have pointed out one interesting fact about this shift of geo-political power relations, which makes their discourse about the end of Western European hegemony radically different from the Right-wing nostalgic discourse about the 'decline of the West', which was so popular at the end of the last century, in the work of the likes of Otto Weininger 8 and Oswald Spengler 9 .

In a contemporary perspective, the more radical line of deconstruction of Euro-centrism from within Europe runs as follows: what makes western philosophical culture so perniciously effective and so seductive, is that it has been announcing its own death for over one hundred years. Since the apocalyptic trinity of modernity: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud (and Darwin), the West has been thinking through the historical inevitability and the logical possibility of its own decline. So much so, that the state of 'crisis' has become the modus vivendi of Western philosophers: we thrive on it, we write endlessly about it; if the crisis did not exist, we would probably have to invent it. Nobody, let alone critical thinkers, should therefore take the notion of the 'crisis' of western humanism naively or at face value: this state of prolonged and self-agonizing crisis may be the 'soft' form Western postmodernity has chosen in order to perpetuate itself. Again, Spivak makes the point:
Given the international division of labour of the imperialist countries, it is quite appropriate that the best critique of the European ethico-politico-social universals, should come from the North Atlantic. But what is ironically appropriate in postcoloniality is that this critique finds its best staging outside of the North Atlantic in the undoing of imperialism 10 .
That the poststructuralist discourse about the decline of Eurocentrism be at least partly subversive can be demonstrated by pointing to its unpopularity in institutionalized academic circles, although this trend may be less evident in the American than in the European university system. The relatively dismal careers of the leading poststructuralists in their own home-country testifies to the fact that mainstream philosophy and social science in Europe view poststructuralism with great suspicion. Butler and Scott 11 have suggested that this may be related to the fact that this philosophy evokes a fear of loss of mastery and a sort of cognitive dispossession - thereby meeting with very hostile receptions.

It seems to me therefore that it is to the credit of poststructuralists that they challenge the power of logocentric discourse and denounce the ethno-centric Western habit that consists in passing Europe off as the centre of the world, confining everyone else to a huge periphery. Let me tell you, it is quite crowded at the margins.

The convergence between the discourse of the 'crisis' of the West within poststructuralism and the post-colonial deconstruction of imperial whiteness is not a sufficient, though I would argue it is a necessary condition for a political alliance between them. At the very least, this convergence lays the grounds for the possibility of such an alliance. Anthony Appiah 12 reminded us of the need not to confuse the "post" of postcoloniality with the "post" of postmodernism, but to respect instead the specific historical locations of each. And feminists are in a very good position to know that the deconstruction of sexism and racism does NOT automatically entail their downfall. I do however wish to stress both the concomitance of these lines of critique and their necessary intersection over the issue of political subjectivity and resistance; identity and sexual difference.

Do not think for a minute that I'm enjoying this proliferation of "post-ism-'s" either, (and I have gone to great lengths to avoid the fatal and ill-advised "post-feminism"). Many have criticized this prepositional mode of thinking.

But I think that facing up to these contradictory demands is our historical responsibility because Europeans - as early-21st century North Atlantic people, are historically condemned to our history, in so far as we are the ones who come after the historical decline of the promises of the Enlightenment. Whether you choose to call our predicament 'postmodern', 'post-humanist', or 'neo-humanist' makes little difference. What does matter, however, is our shared awareness that we must make ourselves accountable for the history of our culture without burying our head in the sand, but also without giving in to relativism. Relativism is not an option, because it erodes the possibility of both political coalitions and intellectual debates.

In the specific case of the critique of European ethnocentrism, I think a poststructuralist feminist perspective leads us to discuss quite seriously for instance the grounds on which we postulate (European) identity. Identity is not understood as a fixed, God-given essence - of the biological, psychic or historical kind. On the contrary, identity is a process: it is constructed in the very gesture that posits it as the anchoring point for certain social and discursive practices. Consequently, the question is no longer the essentialist one: what is national or ethnic identity?, but rather a critical and genealogical one: how is identity constructed? by whom? under which conditions? for which aims?. As Stuart Hall put it: who is entitled to claim an ethnic or national identity? who has the right to claim that legacy, to speak on its behalf and turn it into a policy-making platform? These are questions about entitlement, agency and subjectivity which rotate around the issue of cultural identity.

In a slightly provocative move, I would like to go on west and argue that we take the European Union as the perfect illustration of the paradoxes of postmodernity such as I have defined it, not the least of which is European philosophy's deconstruction of what Lyotard calls the "master-narratives" of the West. Let me explain.

I think we would all agree that the universalistic pretension of Europe, which is linked to its colonial past - is based on the power and symbolic potency of the nation-state. Nationalism in European history goes hand in hand with the self-appointed mission of Europeans to act as the centre. Nowadays, the process of the trans-national economy spells the decline of nation-states as principles of economic and political organization. Ralph Dahrendorf among others has analyzed this great paradox of our times: that it is capitalism itself which has brought about the demise of topologically based economies. The decline of the nation-state also marks the historical crisis of the values it represented, mostly masculine authority founded and embodied in the patriarchal family, compulsory heterosexuality and the exchange of women - all articulated across the crucible of imperial masculinity.

The decline of all this has generated an enormous wave of nostalgia which, as Frederic Jameson 13 reminds us, is one of the key features of postmodern politics.

Speaking as an anti-racist feminist, however, I certainly cannot mourn the decline of the nation state and the forms of nationalism and masculinism it sustained. On the contrary, I actually rather fancy the idea of nation-states becoming kind of museums of popular culture and folklore: they would have no function whatsoever except to embody the symbolic capital of a country, its historical, linguistic and literary traditions and customs. While the essence of their decision-making mechanisms would lie well beyond their national boundaries; it is also perfectly clear that the coming of the electronic frontier and the information highways accelerates the process of de-materialization of the nation state.

In this context, the project of the European Union is the perfect manifestation of the historical decline of European nation-states and more specifically of the century-old virus of European nationalism. When de Gaulle, Adenauer, de Gasperi and the American government laid the foundations for the European Union after World War II, in fact, they were not only attempting to stop European fascism from happening ever again - and thus stop more intra-European civil wars (wrongly called 'world' wars) - but they were also, of course, trying to reconstruct the economy in opposition to the Soviet block. That it actually took so long (almost 50 years) for the issues of culture and education to be put on the agenda of the European Union, beyond the economic and military priorities, tells you something about how complex and potentially divisive culture is, in the broad context of a project that ultimately aims at undoing the European nation states and to re-group them in a federation.

I can also demonstrate this by reminding you that on the Continent, the opposition to the European Union is led on the one hand by the authoritarian Right, especially Jean Marie Le Pen and his cronies; on the other hand, by the nostalgic Left, which seem to miss terribly the topological foundations for working class solidarity. The 'internationalists' tradition of the organized left is of no assistance at the time of the transnational economy. Speaking as a Left-wing intellectual, I must say that the Left is as unable as other political forces to react with energy and vision to the historical evidence that is the increasing irrelevance of Euro-centric modes of practice and thought to today's world. Its traditional empathy with the 'third world' and especially with third world socialism reproduces - albeit unwillingly - the centre/periphery relationship and seems unable to subvert it. In such a context, more lucidity is needed and a renewed sense of political strategy. The feminist, pacifist and anti-racist movements can be of great inspiration in this process.

Thus, I have argued that, as a project, the European Union has to do with the rejection of false etno-centrism that historically has made Europe into the home of nationalism, colonialism and fascism. The unification project has to do with the sobering experience of taking stock of our specific location.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, former leader of the May 68 student movement in Paris and now a Euro-Parliament member especially active in the field of anti-racism, recently stated that if we want to make this European business work, we really must start form the assumption that Europe is the place where we live and that we must take responsibility for it 14 . Imagining anything else would be a repetition of that flight into abstraction for which our culture is (in)famous: at best, it may procure us the benefits of escapism; at worst, the luxury of guilt. We have to start from where we are at.

I want to stress this point because, given the legacy of colonialism, it is much easier for Europeans to address social questions related to far-away places, than to stare at the problems in our own backyard. Neither the political Left nor the feminist movement is an exception: how much of our time and energy is spent speculating about, for instance, the terrible status of women in other lands and other cultures, as if the status quo in our daily practice were so incredibly perfect?

Yet, women of colour like Chandra Mohanty 15 have warned us very strongly against the ethno-centric habit that consists in constructing the 'third world woman' as an object of oppression that requires our support; Spivak has also equated this form of 'solidarity' to benevolent paternalism, which has a lot to do with colonialism. It is against this flight into abstraction, that feminists have proposed situated perspectives and applied the politics of location: it is time to take a good, cold look at ourselves.

Mine is consequently a plea for lucidity and for embedded and embodied perspectives. We need both political strategies and imaginary figurations that are adequate to our historicity.
'Fortress Europe'

This is, however, only one side of the paradoxical coin of European deconstruction. The other side, simultaneously true and yet absolutely contradictory, is the danger of recreating a sovereign centre through the new European federation. That the two be simultaneously the case makes European identity into one of the most contested areas of political and social philosophy in our world at the moment. The reactive tendency towards a sovereign sense of the Union is also known as the 'Fortress Europe' syndrome, which has been extensively criticized by feminists and anti-racists such as Helma Lutz, Nira Yuval-Davis, Avtar Brah, Floya Anthias, and Philomena Essed. They warn us against the danger of replacing the former Eurocentrism with a new "Europ-ism", i.e. the belief in an ethnically pure Europe. The question of ethnic purity is crucial and it is, of course, the germ of Euro-fascism. That it would result in the balkanization of the entire region leaves little doubt, especially after the events in former Yugoslavia.

"Fortress Europe" is a problem not only for the many it locks out, but also for those it locks in. The much-celebrated "free circulation" of people hardly covers the ethnic minorities living in Europe. As H. Lutz put it:
the boundaries between Europe and the rest of the world are constantly being fortified. Never before has Europe been concerned so much with legitimizing measures designed to keep out the 'alien flood'. Since measures to exclude 'others' go together with the construction of cultural, religious or 'racial' otherness, racial minorities within the European Union have gradually become the targets of this 'othering' 16 .
The reason why I want to insist on the contradictions and paradoxes of the European case is not only to bring the discussion about post-modernity/coloniality closer to Europe, instead of leaving it conveniently buried under the American multicultural agenda.

It also aims to approach the difficult yet crucial issue of the historical correlation between the crisis of postmodernity, exemplified in the decline of European nation-states and the emergence of situated perspectives, which have to do with the critical deconstruction of whiteness. Let me explain.

I said earlier that, for people who inhabit the European region, 'the post'-condition translates concretely into the end of the myth of cultural homogeneity, which - as Michael Walzer 17 has argued - is the foundational political myth in Europe, much as multi-culturalism is the central myth in the United States. Of course, European history at any point in time provides ample evidence to the contrary: waves of migrations from the East and the South make mockery of any claim to ethnic or cultural homogeneity in Europe, while the persistent presence of Jewish and Muslim citizens challenges the identification of Europe with Christianity. Nonetheless, the myth of cultural homogeneity is crucial to the tale of European nationalism.

In our era, these myths are being exposed and exploded into questions related to entitlement and agency. Thus, the European Union is faced with the issue: can one be European and Black or Muslim? Paul Gilroy's work on being a Black British subject 18 is indicative of the problem of European citizenship and blackness emerging as a contested issue.

But - I would want to add - so does whiteness. One of the radical implications of the project of the European Union is the possibility of giving a specific location, and consequently historical embeddedness or memory - to whites. It can, finally, racialize our location, which is quite a feat because, until recently in Europe, only white supremacists, nazi-skins and other fascists actually had a theory about qualities that are inherent to white people. Like all fascists, they are biological and cultural essentialists.

Apart from this, whiteness was, quite simply, invisible, just not seen, at least, not by whites. Located in the lily-white purity of our universalistic fantasy, dis-embedded and dis-embodied, we actually thought we had no colour. Then Toni Morrison came along and painted us in 19 .

In his analysis of the representation of whiteness as an ethnic category in mainstream films, Richard Dyer 20 defines it as (p. 141) "an emptiness, absence, denial or even a kind of death". Being the norm, it is invisible, as if naturalor inevitable. The source of the representational power of white is the propensity to be everything and nothing, whereas black, of course, is always marked off as a colour.

The effect of this structured invisibility and of the process of naturalization of whiteness is that it masks itself off into a "colourless multi-colouredness". White contains all other colours. Now, the immediate methodological and political consequence of this is that whiteness is very difficult to analyze critically. Dyer states that: "whiteness falls apart in your hands as soon as you begin". It tends to break down into sub-categories of whiteness: Irish-ness, Italian-ness, Jewish-ness, etc. It follows therefore that non-whites have a much clearer perception of whiteness than whites. Just think of bell hook's important work on whiteness as terror and as death-giving force 21 .

The reverse, however, is not the case: black and other ethnic minorities do not need this specular logic in order to have a location of their own. As Deleuze argued, the centre is dead and void; there is no becoming there. The action is at the city gates, where nomadic tribes of world-travelled polyglots are taking a short break.

The experience of white immigrants tends to confirm the unsubstantiality of whiteness. Cultural identity being external and retrospective, it gets defined for Europeans in the confrontation with others - usually black - peoples. This was the experience of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants in countries like the USA, Canada and Australia. Their "whiteness" emerged oppositionally, as a distancing factor from natives and blacks.

Feminist critics like Brodkin Sacks have analyzed this phenomenon 22 of a "whitening" process by which Euro-immigrants were constructed as citizens in the USA.

The extent to which this kind of "whitened" identity is illusory as it is racist, can be seen by how divided the diasporic Euro-immigrant communities actually are, all in their respective ghettos, antagonistic to each other and locked in mutual suspicion. But all are equally "whitened" by the gaze of the colonizer, bent on pitching them against the black population.

Frankenberg calls upon whites for radical embodiment and for accountability: by viewing their subject-position as racialized white people make open spaces to work towards antiracist forms of whiteness, or at least anti-racist strategies to rework whiteness. I would want to argue that this is - as Cohn-Bendit suggest - one of the key issues at stake in the European integration project and the most likely to go wrong.

My own strategy in this regard is to claim European identity as a space of historical contradictions and to stress the political necessity to develop critical resistance to hegemonic identities of all kinds. My own choice to re-work whiteness in the era of postmodernity is firstly to situate it, de-naturalise it and to embody it and embed it. Secondly, to nomadize it, or to de-stabilize it, to undo its hegemonic hold. Being a nomadic European subject means to be in transit but sufficiently anchored to a historical position to accept responsibility for it. This definition of trans-national and rather homeless European is a distinct improvement on claiming any specific brand of European (Italian, Irish, etc.).

But then again, this is a whitened Italo-Australian, Franco-Dutch feminist poststructuralist speaking.
The Politics of Figurations

Not the least of the paradoxes of postmodernity is that it foregrounds the role of the imagination as a social practice and a highly contested social zone. Appadurai speaks of a quest for control over the contemporary social imaginary. Cyber-space is one of the zones where this battle is currently raging. In feminism, the struggle over the imaginary, especially about re-naming and positive re-signification has a long history. In my work, I have analyzed it in terms of figurations.

A figuration is no mere metaphor but a politically informed cognitive map that reads the present in terms of one's embedded situation. Based on Adrienne Rich theory of "the politics of location" 23 , it has been redefined with the insight of poststructuralist notions of discourse - to evolve into Donna Haraway's idea of "situated knowledges" 24 - as embodied genealogies or enfleshed accountability.

The point is really quite simple: as the feminist movement put it, well before Deleuze philosophized it: we need to learn to think differently about our historical condition; we need to re-invent ourselves. This transformative project begins with relinquishing the historically-established, habits of thought which, until now, have provided the 'standard' view of human subjectivity. We'd be better off relinguishing all that, in favour of a decentered and multi-layered vision of the subject as dynamic and changing entity, situated in a shifting context. The nomad expresses my own figurations of a situated, culturally differentiated understanding of the subject. This subject can also be described as post-modern/industrial/colonial, depending on one's locations. Those locations do differ and those differences do matter. In so far as axes of differentiations like class, race, ethnicity, gender, age, and others interact with each other in the constitution of subjectivity, the notion of nomadism refers to the simultaneous occurrence of many of these at once. Nomadic subjectivity is about the simultaneity of complex and multi-layered identities. Speaking as a feminist entails the recognition of the priority of gender in structuring these complex relations.

The nomadic subject is a myth, or a political fiction, that allows me to think through and move across established categories and levels of experience. Implicit in my choice of this figuration is the belief in the potency and relevance of the imagination, of myth-making, as a way to step out of the political and intellectual crisis of these postmodern times. Political fictions may be more effective, here and now, than theoretical systems. The choice of an iconoclastic, mythic figure, such as the nomadic subject is consequently a move against the settled and conventional nature of theoretical and especially philosophical thinking. It reconnects to Nietzsche and a rather controversial counter-tradition in western philosophy.

This figuration has an imaginative pull that I find attuned to the trans-national movement that marks our historical situation.

In my last book, I have made the distinction between nomadic subjectivity and two other figurations to which it is often - unfavourably - compared: firstly the migrant, then the exile. The migrant's classic itinerary is contained within fixed locations: from the "home" to the "host" countries, in a series of consecutive displacements. I have argued that the migrant - as a figure of economic hardship - tends to hold onto the "home" values, while adapting tentatively to those of the host environment (a frozen slab of history).

The exile on the other hand, marks the radical separation from - and the impossibility of a return to - the point of departure. More often than not due to political reasons, the exile knows of no periodical comings and goings back and forth from two comparatively fixed locations.

The nomad on the other hand stands for the relinquishing and the deconstruction of any sense of fixed identity. The nomadic is akin to what Foucault called counter-memory, it is a form of resisting assimilation or homologation into dominant ways of representing the self. The feminists - or other critical intellectuals as nomadic subjects - are those who have a peripheral consciousness; they forgot to forget injustice and symbolic poverty: their memory is activated against the stream; they enact a rebellion of subjugated knowledges. The nomadic style is about transitions and passages without pre-determined destinations or lost homelands.

Thus, nomadism refers to the kind of critical consciousness that resists settling into socially coded modes of thought and behaviour. It is the subversion of set conventions that defines the nomadic state, not the literal act of travelling. But more figurations come to mind, and not only classical ones like gypsies and the wandering jews.

Within the 'ethnoscapes' of postmodernity, we are experiencing at the moment a proliferation of alternative figurations of post-humanist subjectivity. Just think: The itinerant-worker; the illegal alien; the cross-border sex-worker; and various brands of displacement, diasporas and hybridity. The cyborgs of Donna Haraway and Zygmunt Bauman's postmodern duo: the tourist and the vagabond. Homelessness and rootlessness are powerful signifiers of our present situation.

Once again, feminist theory has a head-start in this process, having produced powerful political fictions to re-figure Woman not as the 'Other of the Same' - to quote Luce Irigaray - but rather as the other in her great diversity.

Irigaray 25 herself favours figurations that refer to female morphology, but the array of available alternatives is telling: Monique Wittig 26 chooses to call the (post-woman) feminist subject - 'lesbian'- echoed by Judith Butler's 27 'parodic politics of the masquerade'. Nancy Miller 28 calls her woman - the female feminist subject of another history. De Lauretis 29 calls her "eccentric subject"; Trinh Minh Ha 30 "the inappropriate/d other"; Spivak 31 "the postcolonial subject"; Alice Walker 32 "the womanist"; Gloria Anzaldua 33 , working from the NAFTA zone, calls her "mestiza".

Other figurations have been proposed: from "fellow-commuter" to in-transit traveller. Chantal Mouffe 34 speaks of permanent processes of hybridization and nomadization. But even more historically specific figurations have been offered: the mail-order bride; the illegal prostitute; the rape-in-war victim seeking political asylum in the European Union and failing to obtain it, because rape does not confer the status of political refugee; the live-in domestic from the Philippines who has replaced the more familiar figure of the baby-sitter or the au-pair girl, to the cyber feminists cross-dressing electronically while surfing on internet. The list is open.

These figurations are all materially embedded and thus not metaphorical. Helma Lutz 35 analyzes these new forms of displacement in terms of "female migration careers".

One way of defining the political stakes of the struggle for control of the social imaginary in postmodernity, is therefore to point out the general trans-figuration that is occurring on the horizon of our ever-shifting ethno-scapes.

In this framework, nomadism - with or without Deleuze - has come under criticism. Stuart Hall fears a trendy use of the term, which may dis-embody the nomadic subjects and fail to do justice to their specific historical locations.

Kaplan and Grewal express great resistance to travelling metaphors of all kinds, but especially those of displacement that mark so much poststructuralist philosophy. In their view, this is a form of philosophical orientalism, a way of sentimentalizing the exotic. They are as critical of it as I am of metaphors of the feminine in the same philosophies 36 .

Zygmunt Bauman 37 rejects the nomadic figuration for entirely different reasons: it's just not radical enough. The nomads always return and tend to follow pre-established routes, thus not breaking away sufficiently from a flawed sense of teleological purpose. James Clifford fears undue assimilations of nomadism by Western 'postmodernist neo-primitivists' - which would metaphorize it into a new paradigm for their own specific locations. He defends instead images of travel, which are historically embedded and consequently accountable (agents, frontiers, guides, documents, visa, etc.).

Clifford also favours, like Bauman, the figuration of the pilgrim, in spite of its theosophic over-tones. He also joins Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy in emphasizing forms of creolization, transculturality, diasporas and hybridity. Stressing that all these mobile social subject positions are the effect of trans-national postmodernity, Clifford states that:
in the late twentieth century, all or most communities have diasporic dimensions. Some, however, are more diasporic than others 38 .
I agree entirely. And speaking from the specific geo-political and historical location I have outlined in the first part of this paper I want to re-state my case: figurations of mobile, complex, shifting subjectivity are here to stay. Speaking as a whitened aniracist poststructuralist European female feminist, I favour figurations of nomadic subjectivity to act as a permanent deconstruction of Euro-centric phallo-logocentrism. Nomadic consciousness is the enemy within this logic.

As Nietzsche put it:
We who are homeless - among Europeans today there is no lack of those who are entitled to call themselves homeless in a distinctive and honourable sense. (...) We feel disfavour for all ideals that might lead one to feel at home even in this fragile, broken time of transition. (...) We ourselves who are homeless constitute a force that breaks open ice and other all too thin "realities" 39 .
This call intersects with and is situated in a dialogic exchange with other forms of specifically located rootlessness or diasporas. It lays the foundation for an alliance with them.

The Ghanian poet Abena Busia, quoted by Gloria Wekker, voices it in the mode of the African diaspora, when she says: "we have everywhere to go, but home" 40 .

This is echoed, from a different location within the West, by Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal, who invite us to leave home, because home is often the site of sexism and racism - a site which we need to re-work politically, constructively, and collectively. To which I would add, with Deleuze and others, fixed identities must be left behind as the sedentary site that produces reactive passions like greed, paranoia, Oedipal jealousy and other forms of symbolic constipation.

This is something quite different from the elitist brand of cosmopolitanism which these days is favoured by Martha Nussbaum 41 and earlier on was championed by Virginia Woolf in her famous statement:
As a woman I have no country - as a woman my country is the whole world.
Much as I resist the universalistic sweep of this statement, aware that most women on earth do not get a choice of country but rather have their national origins tattooed or marked ferociously on their bodies - I do think that in the age of trans-national movements and "flexible citizenship", the reality comes closer to a remark by Aihwa Ong, quoted by Clifford:
I can live everywhere in the world, but it must be near an airport 42 .
This is a nomadic statement about travel, but it is linked to homelessness. In order to appreciate it we have to trust to the resourcefulness of nomadic subjects and to their specific forms of embodiment and embeddedness.
(The N.Y.Times)
About a dozen people now live permanently at Kennedy Airport, settling down at night in the cavernous international terminals that never close, sacking out like weary travelers in modular chairs or on the floor. As a group, they are different from the homeless who sleep on the streets or in the subways. They are, in fact, invisible, working each day to blend in with the human traffic. They do not seem dirty or aggressive, and they rarely panhandle. Most are mentally ill, but are not a threat to themselves or others. Some are well educated. They prefer the conditions at the heated, air-conditioned, relatively crime-free airport to those in the street. The problem of homelessness in airports is not unique to New York. (...) In Chicago, the city opened an 80-bed shelter four years ago to draw the homeless form O'Hare airport after things went too far: some people brought plants to decorate their corners 43 .
Spaces of transition require constant negotiations. Although the familiar waiting room at the local railway station has been replaced as a nomadic home base by glossy airport lounges, the urge to decorate them with one's own plants or drawings is just as strong. At times of increasing high-tech electronic security in all public spaces, the airports may be more welcoming to the homeless than the railways or suburb stations. Partly because, paradoxical as it may sound, airports may function at a lower pace than the average commuter train station.

In a display of immense mimetic talent, homeless people living in airports disguise themselves as what they are: luggage-carrying individuals blending in with the passing human traffic. Where they differ from ticketed passengers is in not having the remotest intention - nor the financial means - of departing from the premises of the airport, which they inhabit instead as their homesite. In a sort of "mise-en-abyme" of the travelling situation, they emphasize the importance of location in determining what sense, if any, can be given to the notion of mobility. Homeless people are nomads who do not travel. As bell hooks put it (and I am answering James Clifford):
'Travel' is not a word that can be easily evoked to talk about the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, the landing of the Chinese immigrants, the forced relocation of Japanese Americans, or the plight of the homeless. Theorizing these diverse journeying is crucial to our understanding of any politics of location 44 .
Locations are embodied and embedded histories, whose diversity can be accounted for and must be respected. The nomadic consciousness I have advocated stands for the deconstruction of the phallogocentric and Eurocentric idea of a triumphant consciousness whose task is supposed to be the supervision of human agency in all its aspects. The sleepless eye of Reason brooding over its domains is a good figuration of this obsessional vision of subjectivity. Another classical image is the Biblical Tree of Knowledge allegedly encompassing all possible ramifications. Against this fixity and this universal pretension, which I have related to European self-reflexity and colonialism, I would support instead the vision of whitened subjectivity as shifting, partial, embodied and consequently accountable. It defines the subject as a complex apparatus, endowed with memory and capable of functioning within collectively negotiated structures. Playing this image against the sedentary and monolithic vision of classical subjectivity in the West, I have joined the call for the deconstruction of that hegemonic view in terms of nomadism. There is nothing else to do with that classical vision of the subject but to undo it.

The nomad is literally a "space" traveller, successively constructing and demolishing her/his living spaces before moving on. S/he functions in a pattern of repetitions which is not without order, though it has no ultimate destination. The opposite of the tourist, the antithesis of the migrant, the nomadic traveller is uniquely bent upon the act of going, the passing through.
Nomadism is a form of intransitive becoming: it marks a set of transformations without end product. Nomadic subjects create politically informed maps for their own survival. Nomadic travellers are oral geniuses, relying on memory and knowing places by heart. Hence the importance of "visiting" not in the bourgeois mode, but rather as the attempt at sharing the same embedded location.
This kind of "visiting" is the opposite of the consumeristic mode of apprehension of the "other" in the tourist subject position. The "visit" is an exchange that calls for both accountability and care.

Feminist nomadism marks the specific political itinerary of female feminists who favour multiplicity, complexity, anti-essentialism and anti-racist and ecological coalitions. Nomadic feminists are aiming to undo the power structures that sustain the dialectical oppositions of the sexes, while respecting the diversity of women and the multiplicity within each woman.

As a social imaginary and an expression of contemporary aesthetic as well as political sensibility, nomadism is rampant among the riot girls, the bad girls, the guerilla girls of the postfeminist era. Their political strategy is playful, mimetic repetition. Kathy Acker's infinite capacity for othering herself; visual artists' occupying public spaces like streets or squares with statements issued from women's experience of domination and intimidation.
Nomadic artists like Catherine Richards and Cindy Sherman explore their actual and virtual enfleshment, through art-works which disengage women's carnal experience from the male scopic regime. They cut into their own flesh, like Orlan, but also cut away from the flesh - like Kruger and Holzer. They experiment acoustically with their embodied sound system: voice, resonance, pitch, muscularity.
Nomadic feminists travel the Internet in identities made of digital data yet gendered nonetheless.

They never cease to expose and explode racism, masculinism, male violence, and the soul-destroying dullness of patriarchy, without making concessions to either essentialistic beliefs in female superiority, nor to possible homologation in an allegedly gender-bending postmodern flux of identities. They attempt to combine complexity with commitment to the project of empowering the differences that feminism can make.

End Notes     

1 Arjun Appadurai, "Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy" in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.) Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.

2 Rosi Braidotti "Organs Without Bodies", in Nomadic Subjects, New York, Columbia University Press, 1994, pp. 41-56.

3 To go deeper into the texts of Spivak, you can

    * use passages from "Reading the World: Literary Studies in the Eighties" (1985), In Other Worlds (1987)
    * look through a selected bibliography of works on the relationship between postcolonialism and postmodernism
    * consult a selected biography on colonialism and postcolonialism
    * read a review of one of her earlier works
    * get fully acquainted with her biography and complete bibliography

4 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: "French feminism revisited: ethics and politics", in Judith Butler and Joan Scott (eds) Feminists Theorize the Political, New York, Routledge, 1992, pp. 54-85. Quote from p. 54.

5 Appadurai, op. cit., p. 334.

6 Cornell West Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1994, p. 125.

7 Massimo Cacciari Geo-filosofia dell'Europa, Milano, Adelphi, 1994.

8 Otto Weininger Sex and Character, Vienna, Braumüller, 1904.

9 Oswald Spengler The Decline of the West, Munich, Beck, 1920-22.

10 Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak "French Feminism Revisited: Ethics and Politics", in Judith Butler and Joan Scott (eds.) Feminists Theorize the Political, New York, Routledge, 1992, p. 54.

11 Judith Butler and Joan Scott (eds) Feminists Theorize the Political, New York, Routledge, 1992.

12 Anthony Appiah "Is the post- in postmodernism the post- in postcolonial?", in Critical Inquiry, vol. 17, Winter 1991, pp. 336-57.

13 Frederic Jameson Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, 1991.

14 Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "Transit Discussion", Newsletter of the Institute for Human Sciences, n. 50, June-August 1995, pp. 1-4.

15 Chandra Talpade Mohanty "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses", in P. Williams and L. Chrisman Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994, pp. 196-220.

16 Helma Lutz, Nira Yuval-Davis and Ann Phoenix Crossfires, Pluto Press, London, 1996, p. 5.

17 Michael Walzer What It Means To Be An American, Marsilio, New York, 1992.

18 Paul Gilroy There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, Hutchinson: London, 1987.

19 Toni Morrison Playing in the Dark. Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1992.

20 Richard Dyer "White" in The Matter of Images, Routledge, New York/London, 1993, pp. 141-63.

21 bell hooks "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination", in Killing Rage. Ending Racism, Holt & Company, New York.

22 "How did Jews become white folks?" in Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek (eds) Race, Rutgers University Press, 1994.

23 Adrienne Rich "The Politics of Location" in Blood, Bread and Poetry, London, Virago, 1987.

24 Donna Haraway "Situated Knowledges" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women, London, Free Association Books, 1990.

25 Luce Irigaray Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un, Paris, Minuit, 1977.

26 Monique Wittig The Straight Mind, London, Harvester, 1991.

27 Judith Butler Gender Trouble, London and New York, Routledge, 1991.

28 Nancy Miller "Subject to Change", in Teresa de Lauretis (ed.) Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986.

29 Teresa De Lauretis "Eccentric Subjects: Feminist Theory and Historical Consciousness", in Feminist Studies 16, no. 1, Spring 1990, pp. 115-50.

30 Trinh Minh Ha Woman, Native, Other, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1989.

31 Gayatri Chakravortry Spivak The Postcolonial Critic, New York, Routledge, 1990.

32 Alice Walker In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, London, The Women's Press, 1984.

33 Gloria Anzaldua Borderlands/La Frontera. The New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Books, San Francisco, 1987.

34 Chantal Mouffe: " For a politics of nomadic identity", in George Robertson, Melinda Mash, Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird, Barry Curtis and Tim Putnam (eds.) Travellers' Tales. Narratives of Home and Displacement. London and New York, Routledge, 1994, pp. 105-113.

35 Helma Lutz and Malcolm Cross "Migration and new forms of social exclusion. Women's migration careers in comparative perspective". Research proposal submitted to the European Commission, on behalf of ERCOMER (European Research Centre On Migration and Ethnic Relations), Utrecht University, May 1995.

36 Rosi Braidotti Patterns of Dissonance, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1991.

37 Zygmunt Bauman: Postmodern Ethics, Oxford, Blackwells, 1993.

38 James Clifford "Diasporas" in Cultural Anthropology 9, vol. 3, 1994, pp. 302-38.

39 Quoted in Paul Gilroy The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Verso, London, 1993.

40 Gloria Wekker "After the Last Sky, Where Do the Birds Fly?" in Crossfires, op. cit.

41 Martha Nussbaum "Women and Cultural Universals" paper delivered at the 7th East-West Center Philosophers' Conference: 'Justice and Democracy', University of Hawaii, Honolulu, January 9-23, 1995.

42 quoted in James Clifford "Diasporas", p. 312, in Cultural Anthropology 9:3, pp. 302-38.

43 The New York Times, February 3, 1995, p. 1.

44 bell hooks: "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination", in Killing Rage. Ending Racism, Holt & Company, New York, 1995, p. 43.

Available at: http://www.let.uu.nl/~Rosi.Braidotti/personal/rosilecture.html
« Last Edit: 03 Dec, 2007, 22:03:42 by σα(ρε)μαλι »
I can live everywhere in the world, but it must be near an airport -and a pharmacy, I would add.

Δεν είναι ο ύπνος της λογικής που γεννάει τέρατα, αλλά ο άγρυπνος ορθολογισμός που πάσχει από αϋπνίες.


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