Discursive Due Process
The impulse for this text came from an aggressive Facebook exchange with a Russian friend over the “We Defend the Freedom to Bother” letter in Le Monde. When my friend posted in support of the letter, which attacks #MeToo as a puritanical witch-hunt and defends the expression of “offensive and savage” desire, I insisted he (immediately!) read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto and correct his pigheaded views about the campaign. He took offense and insinuated that I was assuming the position of a murderous feminazi. The realities of #MeToo are certainly more nuanced than anything the toxic atmosphere of Facebook can support, and I am glad that fora like the Philosophical Salon are encouraging a more level-headed debate.
I am often too hasty to embrace and defend any hint of rising counter-hegemonic power, and I may have been over-optimistically enthralled by #MeToo’s early encroachments on the managerial class and the foundations of patriarchal, phallic authority. Any new, thriving discourse is prone to get drunk on counter-power, and anxieties about that power’s vulnerability can push the discourse towards hysteria. Assuming, of course, that this term can be released from its gendered herstory. What we mean here is not Victorian “womb-sickness” but the hysteria of social cleansing and purgation, a phenomenon that has historically always been led by histerical men.
Indeed, the gendering of all terms in this debate should be weighed carefully. The description of #MeToo as a “witch-hunt” drives me crazy, for example. Is Le Monde really so deaf to the origins of this term in the persecution – torture, rape, murder – of an untold number of women, publicly (slut-)shamed by the Church? Can we really use it to describe the removal of a few powerful men from their jobs (leaving their wealth, freedom, and bodies intact)? Is it a coincidence that Donald Trump so often cries “witch-hunt!” to fend off investigations into the sources of his power?
We live in a world of histerical politics, what Hélène Cixous (in Betsy Wing’s transgressive English translation) might call a politics of cuntsent. The logic of “due process,” like so many other democratic norms, has been completely degraded. Where do we not observe the collapse of our old juridical notions into an endless behind-the-scenes negotiation of who can be violated and fucked, whose body can be used and traded, who controls the means of social and sexual reproduction? Every day the managerial machinery strikes its deals – making lists of targets for economic sanction, coordinating spy purges, and exterminating entire populations by proxy. At all levels of culture, law is being replaced by algorithms for the negotiation and management of cuntsent, determining who will be the recipient of violence, the target of war (death of the biological body), and the victim of rape (death of the social-sexual, herstorical body).
We know from Nietzsche and Benjamin that the core of modern law and justice has been rotten for a long time. It certainly hasn’t been getting any fresher. Do the poor people of color being gunned down in American streets every day get due process? Is it due process that invariably exonerates their “blue-life” murderers? When the vast majority of criminal cases against the American underclass never go to trial because of mandatory minimum sentences and coercive plea bargaining, is this due process? Do the victims of the endless war in the Middle East get due process under the farcical system of international law? Do rape victims – the millions who are shamed and silenced across the bourgeois world every day – do they get due process when they are told they have no “evidence” to support their accusations of abuse? Well, at least they aren’t being circumcised or murdered like in many old-law, phallic societies. Is that the best we can do?
Building on the energy of the Women’s March and following a series of sexual harassment cases coming out of Silicon Valley (most notably at Uber), the #MeToo “flash mob” found its base among first-world, global-north professionals. It began by hitting men from all corners of show business, fashion, and the arts – all herstorical neighbors of sex-work in phallic society. The mob subsequently made significant inroads into politics, journalism, and publishing as well, perhaps laying bare how these fields have become little more than a species of show business as well. But while a number of the accused are high-powered, high-placed managers in their corporations, the business establishment and the broader managerial class have largely remained safe from the purge. And no one has even gotten close to the presidency, despite all we know about Trump’s corporeal practices. Pussy has not grabbed back all the way, and this suggests a need to push the movement further and radicalize it.
The fundamental requirement for such radicalization, I think, is to give the discursive process its due. Give the abused a right to speak, even if they lack evidentiary support for their accusations. Yes, the flip side of the demand to be heard is a new language of silencing. The victim dares to speak and demands to be recognized, to be given the floor and heard. Shut up, mansplainers. Just shut up, shut up, shut up. Listen to me. And me, too. Regardless of the histerical structure of this new language, I think it must be allowed to develop and grow in sophistication. As long as we shame the accusers as money-seeking sex-workers, pay them off with hush money, or crush them with litigation, this new language will continue to weaponize itself as a means of self-defense, fending off unwanted phallic authority and desire by any means necessary. If we allow this language to develop, we can also explore its semantics, investigate its foundational metaphors and, indeed, deconstruct them.
When we speak under the #MeToo or #ItWasMe slogans, it is always in the confessional mode. But these are strange confessions, aren’t they? Who are they addressed to? Certainly not God or, god forbid, a psychoanalyst. Shaped by the algorithmic parameters of social media platforms, the new confessional mode is addressed to a networked public, with its ever-sprouting strands collecting all manner of friends and acquaintances, enemies and lovers, robots and spies. The networked public is a virtual crowd-body, gathered around a single source of confessional speech or, more precisely, writing. A confessional writing that oscillates between a universal address and something more identitarian. On the one hand, we appeal for everyone to join our network, to love us and share in our pain and indignation. On the other hand, we protect our privacy, our individuality, and our various forms of class-belonging, forever guarding our right to speak. And so we silence enemies and gather in “echo chambers,” which, of course, are in fact cauldrons of linguistic energy and emergent meaning.
Might this new confessional writing indicate a path (or dialectical leap) beyond the rotten place at the core of the social? Might its peculiar forms of tyrannical subjectivism serve to dissolve the very distinction between identitarian and universalist struggle? There is no golden moment of consent in sexual experience, just as there is no golden mean between universalist and identitarian politics. Narrative reconstructs this moment, just as the myths of nations imagine a moment of founding political consensus, and so it guards phallic, ego-centered singularity. The discourse of counter-power, by contrast, builds itself around the absence of consent, claiming a right to dissenting, dissensual speech. But, as a practice of non-phallic writing that “goes and goes on infinitely,” #MeToo narratives reflect the collapse of such distinctions. Instead, they are building a new language (not unearthing a static truth), in which to write and rewrite the flows, rapids, cascades of violence that continually traumatize the female sexual body.
Today’s confessional writing traces the negotiation of cuntsent. Every time a woman has to decide if it is in her interest to call out a colleague for harassment, she is engaging in the internal negotiation of cuntsent. Every time she has to decide between a sexist cab driver and a sketchy walk home, she is weighing up different paths of cuntsent. Every time she encounters a sexually pushy man, and she has to decide how much she is willing to endure – say, with famous and funny Aziz, who wants to push his fingers down your throat – these are also negotiations. What are my options? When should I speak up and say no? The narration of cuntsent exposes the collapsed juridical order of phallic society and the cuntsensus that holds it up. Not the rule of law, but the endless negotiation of rape.
When the universalist enunciation of these confessions pushes beyond the orbit of identity, it promotes intersectional thinking, another kind of networked logic. So, again, give the discursive process its due, and allow the feminist movement against sexual violence, along with other recent movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, to tell its story and create its new language. Only in this way can it continue as a front-line in the universal struggle to redeem and repair the earth. If a few men are forced to withdraw from their positions of power and kept from telling “their side of the story,” I think it’s a small price to pay.
But intersectional thinking also means leaving the orbit of America’s incredibly insulated mediasphere. Here it is useful to consider what is happening in the Russian/Post-Soviet Empire, America’s inverted double at the eastern periphery of European modernity. In 2016, a high-profile flash mob under the hashtag “I am not afraid to tell” (#небоюсьсказати) began in Ukraine and quickly spread to Russia and Belarus, invading the Russophone internet with a steady stream of narratives about sexual violence. Like #MeToo, these confessions covered a dizzying array of ways masculine desire assaults the sexual bodies of women. Other, less influential flash mobs have followed. For example, in January, a Moscow university student, Tatiana Strakhova, was brutally raped, murdered, and raped again after death by a roommate whose advances she had spurned. Following a wave of slut-shaming, victim-blaming rhetoric directed at Strakhova, Russian women responded with “This is not a reason to kill” (#этонеповодубить), posting pictures of themselves in sexually “provocative” attire.
These Russian flash mobs differ from their American counterparts, reflecting in every contour of their enunciation the collective trauma of the post-Soviet female body, which endured crushing, often starvation-level poverty and an incredible explosion of violence in the 1990s, a violence that continues today, despite the “stabilization” of the economy under Putin. Rape is almost a universal phenomenon for Russian women who came of age after 1991, especially in the provinces. Innumerable women were raped as children. And Russian patriarchal culture continues to defend rapists, notably decriminalizing domestic violence in 2017. As a result, these narratives naturally make no serious appeal to earthly justice, and this in many ways preserves their discourse from the compromises with power that abound in mainstream American feminism.
Two recent scandals reveal the radical potential of Russophone feminism’s acceptance of total juridical collapse. There has really been only one high-profile accusation, supported by a liberal feminist discourse, that approaches the terrain of #MeToo. And it failed miserably. When a group of journalists accused Leonid Slutsky, a Duma representative from the Liberal Democrat Party, (led by political clown Vladimir Zhironovsky, who is in many ways the prototype for Trump), the patriarchy closed ranks and fended off the accusers by attacking the media outlet that ran the story and shaming the accusers with classic remarks about how dressing a certain way indicates “availability.” By contrast, a woman far removed from the liberal professional class, the Belorussian sex-worker, author, and social media personality, Nastya Rybka (whose adopted surname means “little fish”), chose a different, more punk-rock approach, as if drawing on the actionist tradition of Russian contemporary art (Pussy Riot, Petr Pavlensky, the Voina group, etc.). By spreading wild stories and rumors, but also photographs and facts, which were subsequently picked up by the leading Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, Rybka played a significant part in the destruction of Oleg Deripaska’s aluminum empire. The story is long, fascinating, and filled with conspiratorial energies; suffice it to say, this “whore who dared to speak” helped produce a tremor felt across the Russian economy, from the stock market to the rubles in the pockets of everyday Russians. Rybka is currently rotting in a prison in Thailand. But I say follow Rybka.
Due process is a sham. It’s time for payback, reparations. By any means necessary. Otherwise, let the money burn. This is the only way to make the dialectical leap from rotten cuntsensus to militant cunt-sense.
 “Nous defendons une liberté d’importuner, indispensable à la liberté sexuelle,” Le Monde, January 8, 2018.
 “In the (Hegelian) schema of recognition, there is no place for the other, for an equal other, for a whole and living woman. She must recognize and recuntnize the male partner, and in the time it takes to do this, she must disappear, leaving him to gain Imaginary profit, to win Imaginary victory. […] All women have more or less experienced this cuntditionality of masculine desire. And all its secuntdary effects. The fragility of a desire that must (pretend to) kill its object. Fantasizing rape or making the transition to the act of rape. And plenty of women, sensing what is at stake there, cuntsent to play the part of object…” Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 79-80.
 Cixous and Clément, The Newly Born Woman, 88.