I take it back. This is what I tell myself, as I answer questions about the relevance of Valerie Solanas’s radical feminism for today’s women (and men) posed to me in an interview by Johan Vardrup, a journalist with the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende. What I take back is my statement made exactly 40 days ago in a post, Dust Cult, about the small chance that I might get some of my research into the popular media. As with my writing, so with my research: it divides waters and opinions into three: there are those who adore it, there are those who detest it, and then there are the few who fall in love with it. This often makes me feel like a prophet whose name shall remain nameless, but whom we all know to have been known for getting ideas while wandering in the desert 40 days. (There are other examples as well of the significance of the number 40, for some.)

I want to be clear so I offer Johan what I think is a coherent narrative. I begin with some tedious background declarative sentences: as we know, when Solanas achieved her moment of fame which culminated with the shooting of Andy Warhol in 1968, her now classic and iconic manifesto SCUM (the acronym refers to the Society for Cutting Up Men) was not exactly considered a work of art or politics in any significant way. Quite the contrary, many feminists at the time, who knew Solanas, were not so keen on identifying with her radical propositions which included the idea of getting rid of men all together.

Then I get to the core of the matter and advance the suggestion that we should certainly keep re-valuing Solanas today precisely because of her spark of genius in recognizing a number of things regarding the general predicament of being a woman in the 60s. She wrapped the problem that had no name in a particularly interesting way: SCUM Manifesto is a work which not only suggests, but also performs the idea that not only politics, but also art should be the prime business of women. Art and politics together, inseparable, and indissociable. We find in Solanas three concerns which support her artsy activism.

First, there is the question of language. As any writer who is really good, Solanas understood that there is something in language that represents men and women differently. For example, the prevalent idea is that men are rational, hence they can write, whereas women are emotional, hence they ruin writing – and Solanas, one has to remember, saw herself primarily as a writer before she saw herself as a representative of the counter-culture movement. Solanas, and for that matter the rest of us, who don’t necessarily need to read Foucault but have enough common-sense, can easily see that language has an institutionalizing power. For example, those in dominant positions, usually men, will always justify their choice to be righteous at the expense of others. From that position it is easy to make a logical inference and say that what will be expected from those in inferior positions in relation to righteousness is some sort of virtue. Just look at the representations of gender in 40s and 50s movies. In her manifesto, one of the first things that becomes apparent and clear is that Solanas hates being virtuous. And a good thing she does, so that we can all be inspired. There’s nothing symmetrical in the relation of men’s (ultimatelly emotional sense of) righteousness to women’s (ultimately rational) virtues, or their so-called lack of it.

Second, while Solanas sees women as being interested in ethics in comparison to men, whom she thinks have no sense of justice, she is not interested in moral issues. Any woman today, in fact, can’t afford to waste her time asking questions that are not political in their thrust. So there is something liberating and challenging about the attempt to occupy the position between art and politics, bypassing moral philosophy that has no real answers for the question of choice and self-interest. Those that have the power are also the ones who set the agenda for who, or what is to serve whose, or what interests.

Third, there is the question of the body. Solanas was a writer who, apart from identifying the discursive power in language, was also good at creating and conjuring good reading experiences. Anyone reading the first line in her manifesto is bound to go, wow! There is a force and passion in her writing that is extrapolated from and used against what is otherwise identified as male linear discourse, and hence devoid of emotion. Basically what she says is this: women need to do 4 things: overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex. A very clear message. A message that makes us tremble (maybe with excitement) at the idea of a full-frontal collision with clichés. It’s the specialty of governments to serve us those in abundance. So Solanas is relevant today because she busts moral and political institutions from the position of the artist who has both, everything and nothing to lose. Neat complexity.

At the end of my tirade, Johan clearly wants me to stick to Solanas’s message as he thinks we find it in the content of her book, but I find myself resisting his insistence that what Solanas proposes is really non-sense, and hence without consequence or import for today’s women’s rights’ activism. I tell Johan that if he persisted in dissociating Solanas’s art from her politics then he obviously would have to draw the conclusion that Solanas’s ideas are utter crap, at least where politics is concerned. He is almost pleased, but I say, 'not so fast.' I tell him downright to stop asking me to corroborate his hypothesis, and instead focus on the value of the nonsensical in Solanas’s otherwise very sensibly written work. I ask him about his own experience of Solanas, and I find that what he gives me already proves my point that there is nothing in Solanas’s writing that invites her readers to settle for a sensible articulation of ideas. As her writing is, above all, performative – every manifesto is, or at least aims to be – today’s readers of her work will have to take their cue from her and start making a gesture towards articulating not the power behind her thought, but the power behind her language as a construct. As it turns out, Solanas is relevant, not only for me, right at this moment, but also for Johan, precisely because she makes a gesture towards considering what it means to be in this world on a premise that is original in its approach to the question of all things essential. What Solanas invites us both to consider is this: rather than saying, ‘this language constitutes me’, we should both prefer saying, or seek to be enabled to say: ‘this language sounds good to me.’ Women as political artists should not be a contradiction in terms.

Here I make an apposition and tell Johan out of the blue that I really think that Heiddeger would have been a better philosopher had he read Solanas. He would have had a different understanding of the notion of dasein. At that point, as Johan is trying to escape being under my scrutiny, I make another gesture: 'Johan, stop writing and think: if I gave you one single word, prophet, what would you say?' He ponders and answers with a question in turn. Fair enough. He is, after all, the journalist. ‘So, you see Solanas as a prophet,’ he advances? I reply, ‘no, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is for you to consider that what makes Solanas really interesting is not the possibility that she might have been a prophet, but the possibility that she was the kind of prophet who was very much aware of the fact that her interpreters were more powerful and, hence, more important than her.’ It is that awareness that turns me on. Johan balks, so I pose his final question to myself: 'why do I read Solanas? Because she makes me laugh. This disturbing laughter is what enables me to visualize Solanas as a Nietzschean Übermensch, ‘a mutant Nietzschean,’ as Avital Ronell suggests in her marvelous introduction to the 2004 edition. I tell Johan that I subscribe to Solanas’s call to have more ‘secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females’ at the top.

I perform a final gesture, and tell him that, as he ponders on what to select from my ranting, if this thought befalls him: ‘this Camelia Elias is something else,' as in 'she is outstanding,' just as Solanas was, I will have achieved not only my own performative aim, but also that of Solanas’s: to construe a narrative that goes against the grain, against the language that makes this society, as Solanas puts it: 'an utter bore.'

Solanas and I, regardless of the games we play, are not in the business of following Boethius: si tacuisses, philosophus manisses.


Bent said…
The (male) politician's view on that last point:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt...
- Abe Lincoln

On the other hand Boethius was known for hypothetical syllogisms:

If it is day, it is light.
It is not light.
Therefore - It is not day.


If Camelia is silent, she is a philosopher
She is not a philosopher.
Therefore - She is not silent
Anonymous said…
Suppose you would also like a (male) poet's view on (female) prophets, what matters and who is right and who is wrong:

Most things don't matter but an old woman of my acquaintance is always predicting doom and gloom and her prophecies matter though they may never be fulfilled. That's one reason I don't worry too much but I like to tell her she is right but also wrong because what she says won't happen. Yet how can I or anyone know this? For the seasons do come round in leisurely fashion and one takes a pinch of something from each, according to one's desires and what it leaves behind. Not long ago I was in a quandary about this but now it's too late. The evening comes on and the aspens leaven its stars. It's all about this observatory a shout fills.
- John Ashbery

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