2016 — Resource Essay

Interview with Luciana Parisi

Luciana Parisi interviewed by Stanimir Panayotov

Figure / Ground

SP: I would like to continue on the note of “being a reactionary” in contemporary theory. You were sympathetic to and endorsed Laboria Cuboniks’ “Xenofeminist Manifestо.” The gist of the manifesto is to say that we have to reinstate the role of reason for how we do feminism in the 21st century. (I am also thinking of curbing off the dogma of gendered cultural specificity, which was part of the editorial programme in the recent volume by Katerina Kolozova and Eileen Joy After the “Speculative Turn”: Realism, Philosophy and Feminism, and especially Nina Power’s chapter “Philosophy, Sexism, Emotion, Rationalism.”)

What is proffered, one can say, is the re-abduction (per Peirce) of reason from a feminist perspective. Given this orientation and the feminist turn to biology and materiality, there is an ongoing worry: is not the feminist re-appropriation of reason a reactionary mainstreaming of “thought” within the very feminist tradition (which of course presupposes a “universal” kind of feminism)? As somebody who sympathizes with the “Xenofeminist Manifesto,” how would you respond to people charging Laboria Cuboniks as being unaware, right-wing feminist accelerationists, dangerously associated with the NRx and being a sort of digital maverick kind of steampunk feminism?

LP: I have endorsed them because of their kind of rethinking and re-appropriation of rationality, of truth, of models for feminist politics. It comes at an important time in the crisis of critical thought: whilst it is impossible to erase the history of patriarchy, it is also true that one cannot abandon projects and remain trapped in the polarization of debates, especially disregarding the critical work of re-articulating the meaning of reason and the origination of other Enlightenment histories. This re-articulation is to be located between Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Sadie Plant’s Zeroes and Ones. My concern, however, is more specifically related to techne. The repurposing of technology for the origination of an alien reason. What has not been explored in this context, however, is a logic of techne that cannot just be repurposed for social and political ends, a logic of machines that is doing its own work: how to elaborate this relation of the logic of techne that develops its own reasoning with the idea of reason itself? The idea of reason cannot just be assumed or incorporated without this compulsive confrontation, the contemporary condition of media or technology, where reason is not accorded the same status as it was. Some argue that Kant’s understanding of reason is a general, completely artificial theorization of the relation between function, imaginary and conception. For Kant, reasoning was already artificial: it was constructed through layers and layers of intelligibility, imagination, conceptualization, function, and so on. But what is not accounted for in Kant’s model is how and what is reason once it becomes techne. The instrumentalization or mechanical reproduction of reasoning has forced reason to be more than the domain of human species. The xenofeminist reflection on the relation between gender and technology could perhaps be pushed further since you cannot just re-appropriate reason without looking at the logic of reason that has been challenged and changed from within machines.

And there have been modes of reasoning that originate through and within technology. On the one hand, the view that the xenofeminist argument is easily appropriated by reactionary argument is, for me, a rather weak assumption. It is true that it is not simply a question of inheriting a model of reason from Kant or a certain Kantian argument without doing the work of critique; that is, without unpacking how the Kantian model needs to be reassessed in the context of accelerationism, which is the context of technology and its capitalist use. On the other hand, the political possibilities opened by xenofeminism start from an awareness of a contemporary situation in which reasoning is debunked by its own tools, through theories that challenge and yet still argue against the formal model of reasoning without understanding that it has changed. You can look at the Kantian model and understanding of reason in terms of deduction logic, but looking at other logics, complexity logic, or abduction and other dialogical models, allows another view of logical reason involving dialogue, collectivity, sociality. For pragmatism, for instance, logic is not an abstract schema of ideas, but is something achieved through collective endeavor, that starts from a material reality that is negotiated, articulated, elaborated. So reason cannot be taken as it is; it needs to be worked with. And thus, if the account of reason for feminism does not do this work, then it may look reactionary, because reason will mainly be taken at face value. But one has to unpack, explain, speculate with reason. Some theories affiliated with acceleration, such as Ray Brassier’s, are looking at rethinking reason through Wilfrid Sellars and Robert Brandom, but also by questioning Brandon, who is working on another kind of functional pragmatism; i.e. pragmatic reasoning to undermine and re-write rationalism. In the “Xenofeminist Manifesto” you do not see that. Instead you see more of this kind of critical endeavor in some of their particular projects, but there is a lot of work to be done in order to actually say: we shall be going back to the Enlightenment project of reason so as to claim back alien versions of reasoning. But to claim it back requires taking into account the historical moment in which, in the name of reason, patriarchy and colonialism became enterprises of domination. The legacy of reason and the history of instrumental reason need to be debunked and reconstructed, and not just adopted.