Monday, November 19, 2012

Albert Memmi

In this post I am interested in reading Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized as an example of a nascent post-structuralist text. While The Colonizer and the Colonized does not mention Derrida specifically (in fact, I believe it was penned before Of Grammatology), it none-the-less employs notions of the binary opposition, play, and differance.

The title and structure of Memmi’s text reinforce the notion of the binary opposition. The text is titled to show that opposition between these two terms/groups and the book itself is divided into two major sections, one of which deals with the colonizer and the other with the colonized. Memmi shows that the colonizer is in a privileged position in relationship to the colonized. Even colonizers who claim not to gain from the colonial system still receive benefits (i.e. you may be a poor white French man in Algeria during the occupation, but if you go to the colonial run post office, you will be able to move to the front of the line ahead of the colonized). The privileged position of the colonizer also entails a level of violence. The colonial “master” is able, and encouraged by the colonizer/colonized binary to commit acts of violence because he sees himself as being over the one he punishes.

Asides from the binary opposition and violence found between the colonizer and the colonized, Memmi argues that the colonizer will do everything in his power to repress the colonized and keep the binary opposition in place. For example, Memmi points out that in later colonialism, religion and the church were sought to be marginalized by colonial administrators because, as Memmi argues, if the colonized got religion and shared a similar religion with the colonizers, then it was harder for the colonizers to punish the colonized because they were now somewhat like each other. To use Derrida here: the colonizers feared that the binary colonizer/colonized would collapse because if part of them (their Christian religion) could be found in the lower half of the binary, then the binary and their privileged position would be deconstructed.

Memmi concludes his text by saying that the binary opposition of colonizer/colonized must be completely dismantled for colonialism to come to an end. Since the collapsing of the binary opposition would end colonialism and the perks the colonizers receive from the system, the colonizers strive to keep the binary in place while the colonized must seek to deconstruct it.

Next time...Jessica Benjamin

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Helene Cixous

Cixous is interested in using deconstruction to explore the binary oppositions that exist between the terms male/female, self/other, and subject/object. In her text The Newly Born Woman (co-authored with Catherine Clement) Cixous argues against what she labels the “empire of the self-same.” The empire of the self-same is basically the mono-sexual descriptions of the world that have been passed down through history and have been recapitulated by patriarchal psychoanalysis. Cixous points out that women are not seen as women, per se, rather, they have (and are) viewed as little men with small deformed penises (clitoris). This idea is one that is shared and pointed out by many other feminist theorists (including Luce Irigaray), but a difference extant in Cixous’s work is that she also argues that the empire of the self-same is harmful to men as well as women. Cixous claims that men suffer to fit into the patriarchal roles that have been assigned to them as well.

Cixous believes that Freud and other psychoanalysts are too concerned with physical sex and wants to move the discussion to the idea that humans are bi-sexual. This is not bi-sexuality in terms of physical sexual preference for both male and female partners, rather, it is the notion that men and women both share elements of the opposite sex. Cixous believes that based on this idea, there should be a shift that takes place in the relationship between the self and other. She points out that in traditional patriarchal formulations of society, the other is seen as an enemy and thus something that needs to be murdered (violence is one of the hallmarks of the patriarchal world Cixous wants to challenge). Cixous believes that instead of seeing the other as a threat and killing it, there needs to be an acceptance of the other and a new love relationship needs to be formed that incorporates both sides of the subject/object binary opposition. One way this can be accomplished is through the development of a feminine ecriture, or a writing that seeks to disassociate itself from the power structures of patriarchal Western society. Cixous is careful to point out that feminine ecriture is not mere identification with a feminine point of view (for example, a patriarchal male could write a novel from a female point of view, but is will still encompass patriarchal violence [and many times men write women “better” than real women really are]). Cixous also avers that she cannot provide a concrete definition of what this writing looks like, though many argue that novels such as Carol Maso’s Ava and Kathy Acker’s Pussy, King of the Pirates could provide a picture of what this type of work is like.

Next time...Albert Memmi