If critique is going to be total – if it is going to be worth doing without falling back into the reified position of self-satisfaction – it must be directed towards ourselves, also. We know this. We fuck up sometimes – a lot actually. I probably fuck up at least 100 times a day, & those are just the thoughts in my head, let alone my interactions with others. And the fucking up – irritating, embarrassing, time-stealing thing that it is – is a necessary part of the process, a necessary condition for continuing to learn how to do what you’re doing, and for discovering that you don’t know how to do what you’re doing until you’re doing it. I feel alienated when theory is used with the aim of ‘being right’ or ‘winning’ an argument, whilst failing to acknowledge that nothing’s been won unless conditions have changed, are changing. I think this can be a problem with identity politics also, as we’ve discussed. We cannot pretend that wielding rhetorical power, even if only in the process of argument, does not risk preventing others from adequately expressing their own opinions – this is structural oppression and the nature of power itself. I am intensely concerned with the idea of ‘having the ‘right’ opinions, especially on the far Left – and that not holding the ‘right’ opinions, even when expressed without antagonism, leads to exclusion anyway – cus it means you’re a liberal, or a hippy, or you haven’t read enough Marxist theory, or you didn’t understand the finer points of x. Which frankly is just imposing another hierarchy. And is often another way of telling the emotional, the sensitive, the weak, the feminine, even the doubting or the sceptic, to FUCK OFF, because those qualities have no place in OUR revolution.
I’m tired of the devaluing of emotional ties in political action, activism, discussion and theory, including left feminist theory. I’m not really talking about this beautiful oasis of community here, but I am talking about potential methodologies. I have to be honest now and say I hated that essay about blowing up your boyfriend in LIES. It’s not because I’m stupid or weak or romantic, [although I’ll admit at variance to be all those things] it’s just that I know the boyfriend is my projection so I’d just be blowing up an aspect of myself which is probably a better idea. I am my own worst boyfriend. Who am I to generalise about the violence of an entire sex by blowing them up?
So, I’m interested in the genius of the space that hovers below identity, solidarity and ego. In reaching for an affective politics, I ask that we make ourselves sociologically weaker – that is, in the terms of Keston’s paper at Militant Poetics, MORE emotional, more supposedly FEMININE – and that everybody does this. I’m interested in intersubjectivity, in what we might mean or do to each other beyond our socially accrued markers, in the weirdness of being humans at this time now, in how we can be kinder to each other. I like to call this form of praxis ‘revolutionary tenderness’.
I want to say NOW that I have no wish to get rid of dissent or internal critique in place of an artificial unity or solidarity: that would be love founded on illusion, see my earlier point. Nor do I want to make this plea imagining that it will fall only to the women in our community to assume some sort of matriarchal, blindly benevolent role. Guys! (& not only guys, all of this applies equally to me!) We have a responsibility to seriously consider a feminist critique of action-based theories, the exclusions and reductions necessitated by programmatic philosophies, and how feminist and queer thought could affect your thoughts, relationships with yourself and others, and poetic work at the most cellular level. (My apologies to the men, women and genderqueers in the room who are already doing this, but Militant Poetics showed me that it still needs to be said.) This means being really attentive. If we want the revolution, we will have to surrender the privileges and comforts offered by gender (among other social markers of power) and accept, as women in any masculine sphere have for centuries, that a creative and balanced perspective is androgynous and perpetually adaptable, fluctuating, unstable.
This means actually changing the way ‘we’ do things – including writing papers, organising conferences, [which this conference, I believe, sets a great example for] socialising, thinking, discussing concepts such as action, environment, nature, revolutionary subjectivity AND collectivity – through self-reflection and awareness, so that this isn’t merely a rehashing of perspectives which correlate to a predetermined agenda about the conditions for revolution. (ie Hegel and Marx and Adorno.) It means slowing down and iterating what constitutes identity, instead of skipping those stages to an immediately dissolved collectivity. It means self-critique and self-acceptance and the willingness to change. It means existing within a perpetual present.
I think it is possible to create absolute awareness of privilege within our communities without blame culture, and with absolute responsibility and care for the unique (& as if it needed saying again, revolutionary) potential that exists within each of us.
Is tenderness passivity? No. It’s passionate action which is also full of care. I don’t want to repeat the violence of our oppressors in order to ‘win’. That would be a hollow victory – no victory at all, merely substituting one tyrannical regime for another of our own making.
Tenderness asks us to meet one another in an atmosphere of welcoming and love. For me it allows mistakes but not exclusion because we might not agree about some things. It asks us to shift our focus from negativity to one of appreciating what exists and admitting that we don’t know everything. Tenderness doesn’t have to be about ‘sex’ although that might be the fear behind the anger we are greeted with by cops: the absolute refusal of interdependence, the shutting us out as a foreign body. Isn’t this moment, in Timothy Thornton’s heart-stopping poem written 10th December 2010, one of revolutionary tenderness – ‘Can someone please put some towels down for the horses now, they’re getting iron dust all over the tarmac, said the street, and little bits of tarmac on their shoes’? He goes on to talk about massaging a cop’s prostate. I’m not suggesting we try such tender methods on our enemies. This is more like a request, largely to myself, to not create enemies of each other. To come to think and act like a collective body, caring for all the parts of itself, rather than trying to impose a homogenised way of thinking or acting on each other.
I don’t think that poetry needs to do anything. I think that the poetry we have written, are writing, will write, is extraordinary and earthshaking and lifechanging as it is. TRULY. And I also think that our political lives need to continue to evolve, to be productive, to be active, and that is already revolutionary practice. I have come to believe that ‘revolutionary tenderness’ signifies ‘the negation of the negation’. That is, the refusal of the shittiness of our present moment and the determined insistence on optimism and in doing so, making the future life we want live in our present selves. I believe that unless we treat each other with tenderness and care now the revolution won’t come. Tenderness isn’t always soft, it isn’t always kind or nonviolent – sometimes it’s a person screaming at someone else because it’s the only way they can be heard – but tenderness can make things clear. I want desperately to see things for what they truly are, and in this room it feels more possible to start building a world which supports the revolution coming into reality, more possible than it has ever seemed in my life before. Thank you.