3. Visualizing Freedom in the Here and Now

[10] One might wonder what sort of freedom is being visualized through curdled subjectivity and process ontology?  What is freedom for this curdled subject?  I see this conception of freedom as expressed in a two-fold manner, in an ontological mode and in a practical mode.  First, at the ontological level, freedom is produced through the activity of cultivating integrity.  I require the concept of integrity because I following Lugones, the curdled subject, not the hierarchally unified subject, is a starting place.  Systems of domination are designed to reduce the subject to a specific and usable form.  This means affecting a fragmentation and exclusion of the outlaw aspects of the subject so as to better extract the subject’s potential utility.  Faced with this challenge, it is productive for one to retain her multiplicity, retain the uneasy curdled identities, in order to avoid being domesticated and regulated for purposes of the oppressors.

[11] Second, the production of freedom requires a simultaneously practical and social activity.  The subject cultivates her multiplicity as she acts with others.  Thus I do not view freedom as a purely private exercise that can result from the cognitive effort of breaking the mind-binds of patriarchy.  Freedom is a possibility for the multiplicitious subject who is socially engaged.

[12] Suppose we consider a subject who is made uncomfortably aware of her own multiplicity, but who also provides a way to view freedom.  Suppose that she has sufficient privilege that she is occasionally caught off guard by her multiplicity.  While she could seek to manage her multiplicity through fragmentation, she does not.  Instead, she seeks to sustain a curdled integration of selves and to invent possibilities from the resources offered by such integration.  Suppose we imagine a white woman who is often quite immersed in one particular world.  She works on a campus and is part of the staff for the university.  She spends hours each day engaged in that particular world with all of its rules, forms of etiquette, and daily rhythms.  She knows that world and how to navigate it.  She knows how to help students solve academic problems. She works at being fair with all the students she sees.

[13] Though she is aware of her skin privilege, she works intentionally and habitually at being antiracist.  Within the scope of her job, this means that she tries to see that academic concerns voiced by students of color are addressed promptly.  To this end she has managed to sort through red tape and help some students of color with various kinds of enrollment problems.  She has connected students with campus resources and advisers that may foster stronger community connections for the student.

[14] For the most part, her work world coaxes her to be focused and diligent about serving students.  She is generally able be antiracist without experiencing disharmony among her various selves.  However, this world is suddenly disrupted.  While going to her car in the parking garage, she finds herself in a dark stairwell with a couple of young black men.  The situation and encounter construct and coax her coalescence as a white woman.  The young black men are aware of her as a woman and white, mark her presence with a nod or murmured greeting.  But she is not simply a white woman, her antiracist self find itself at odds with the unexpected emergence of a contradictory self that is racist and forcefully demanding suspicion of these men.  She is frustrated to find herself altering her body and behavior to appear strong and sour tempered, and get out of the stairwell with all possible speed.  In this moment, she experiences her own subjectivity as multiple.  These selves might argue vigorously.  The antiracist self might argue that the other is paranoid.  She might cite statistics about the rarity of stranger rape, might cite the obvious fact that the two men have noted her presence with but promptly returned to the pressing issue of a group project in their psychology lab.  Nevertheless, the self that remembers years steeped in stories about white women being the targets of black men, the danger of dark stairwells, and the social obsession with stranger rape—this self remains vigorous and demanding.  In this instance we have a moment where this woman might recognize her own multiplicity.  Some of her identities have curdled into a unruly blend.

[15] She could seek to ruthlessly suppress the racist self, seeking to reduce it out of existence, or at least sharply exclude it from her decision making process.  In effect, she can animate a reduced subjectivity.  She might do this and yet also seek to be resistant.  She resists the pull of racism, affects a calm and benign demeanor, and continues to her car.  But notice that she freezes herself in this move to deny contact with her racist self.  She closes a range of possibilities that could be productive for her antiracist self.

[16] How might it be possible for this multiplicitous subject to lay hold of her multiplicity and to be free in this small corner of her life?  I understand freedom to be a social activity.  One works from curdled multiplicity yet towards engagement with others.  She can invent options.  She could find a way to move past being merely caught between racist and antiracist or being in denial about her racism.  She could extend herself towards these men, in brief conversation that might develop into an exchange that complicates their relationship beyond the acknowledgement and passing greeting.  “Psych lab?  I know some faculty there.  Who’s your professor and what’s the project?”  Perhaps this becomes a genuine conversation, perhaps not.  The point is that she acts from a position of curdled multiplicity and calls upon this multiplicity as she seeks to engage with them.  Notice that the same brief remarks to the men may satisfy various selves in different ways.  The same remark has multiple meanings.  The racist self leaps at the opportunity for collecting proactive information—determine their identity!  The antiracist asks about their project in similar ways that she asks about so many students’ lives and worries.  The young men, faced with unexpected conversation from a white woman, engage with her in their own ways, one perhaps offering brief polite remarks because she presents herself as a university official.  The other young man feigns straitening his stack of books to avoid engagement.  It is an uncertain and brief exchange.

[17] Perhaps more fruitful than the brief stairwell exchange are her opportunities to explore multiplicity within networks of friends and colleagues.  She could continue to cultivate this multiplicity and carry it with her as something to discuss with friends.  Over lunch they talk about the problems of whiteness, how it plays out in her life and the lives of her white friends, how it effects their interactions with people of color, especially students, neighbors, and even folks out walking their dogs.  These types of discussions, drawing whiteness forward as a topic of concern, are often helped not merely by being antiracist, but by remembering that one is multiple.  Integrating this multiplicity into ones awareness allows for forms of feminist invention.  One invents possibilities that would not be intelligible to the fragmented, pure, anti-racist subject. 

[18] Suppose, that a subject is like this, multiplicitous, formed of many selves that are often split-separated through the demands of domination.  We have been taught to think such pure fragmentation is good.  Lovers of purity that we are, it is better to have a well ordered self and suppress our racism.  Successfully managing away contradiction has seemed to be a virtue.  In fact, purity and a well-ordered self does not indicate that one is virtuous.  Fragmentation facilitates domination.  When we actively center the multiple, the curdled, the unstable blend, we are able to see subjects engaged in rich production.  When they break towards each other, when the racist and the antiracist self break towards each other, the integration is a rich blend fraught with internal contradictions, frustrations, passionate devotions, roiling differences.  To become integrated, be-ing free, is an ongoing process of cultivating this muddled complexity (in spite of the structures of domination with all their reductions) as one negotiates worlds that are exciting, dangerous, mundane, oppressive, and occasionally non-coercive.

[19] Much contemporary feminism, especially in the radical tradition has largely eschewed the language of liberation and freedom.  Yet it is important that the concept of freedom remain visible in feminist theory, especially when the ongoing work of analyzing oppression and the possibility of resistance occupies much writing and analysis.  To remain focused on oppression and resistance, without addressing the concept of freedom and the requisite forms of subjectivity is a strategic mistake.  It leaves us without conceptual tools that are essential to feminist futures.

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