Antic Greek Statuette of a Hermaphrodite
I have been evoking the work of Beatriz Preciado a few times in the last year, the most notably reference being the wonderful text she wrote for LOG 25 (see past article), entitled Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience in which she was exposing the theoretical bases for a deep analysis of the society of control that she decided to call (and therefore orient) Pharmaco-pornographic society. The latter is implementing its control by the elaboration of apparatuses that modify and normalize sexuality within the context of biopolitics and capitalist strategies. The contraceptive pill is for her, the paradigmatic (designed) object of this society: a product elaborated by the pharmaceutic industry – which, for her, constitute the climax of capitalism – that is voluntarily ingested by millions of women (often in ignorance of their secondary effects) and that, by modifying their internal biology is able to construct a politics of demographic control as well as a normalization of sexuality by the hegemonic heterosexual imaginary that it implements.
Of course, just like Judith Butler (see recent article about this topic), Beatriz Preciado is not interested in merely bringing two more genders (gay and lesbians) to the level of normalization: there is a strong will to absolutely undo gender by subverting it through its very mechanisms of production. This is the topic of her book, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (already exists in Spanish and French, soon to be published in English). In it, B. Preciado articulates a theoretical time cartography of the formation of this pharmacopornographic society with autobiographical experiences including the main object of the book: her daily ingestion of doses of testosterone during eight months and the observation of her body getting modified by it. Along the chapters, she insists on the fact that she does not accomplish this experiment in the goal of changing her sex/gender but rather in order to develop a micropolitics of ambiguity, a zone in which she would be neither man nor woman, nor straight, nor gay, nor a lesbian, an unrecognizable body in a society that bases its control on principles of recognition.
B. Preciado uses Spinozist philosophy (see this past article to understand it well) to invent a concept to define the object that is being controlled by the pharmacopornographic. She calls it potentia gaudendi or organic strength, the power [potentia] (actual or virtual) of (total) excitation of a body (my translation). The right ‘alchemy’ of synthetic hormones and pornography (under whichever form it might take) guarantees the normalization of the sexualized society. The capitalist object that such a potentia represents is fantastic for its industry (the pharmaceutic industry at its head) as it requires a relatively light labor and its applies directly on the bodies: “They want to transform your ass and mine, my desire and yours into abstract profits” (my translation)
For B. Preciado, the surveillance apparatuses are no more external to the bodies as they were in the disciplinary society described by Michel Foucault through its paradigmatic diagram, the panopticon. These apparatuses are now internal to the body, they take the shape of it until they become inseparable of it (my translation). Of course, I am personally convinced that the external apparatuses are still very well here and architecture is still the most common instrument of control of a body but the point developed by Beatriz Preciado is extremely important for its viscerality and the technological context in which it is embedded. For Judith Butler, gender is inscribed in our flesh (see same article referred to above) similarly than Kafka’s Penal Colony machine (see recent article about it) traces the prisoner’s sentence into his flesh. For B. Preciado, however, gender is inscribed directly from within our bodies and the penal colony machine is multiplied by millions at a microscopic level.
To this biopolitics of normalization of the body, she proposes micropolitical strategies that subverts the mechanisms of control: “First motto for a feminism that is worth of the pornopunk modernity: your body, the body of the multitude and the pharmacopornographic matrix that constitute them are political laboratories” (my translation) That is how she undertakes the ingestion of testosterone as well as describes other processes of undoing gender like drag king workshops for example, that allow women to experience society ‘in the body’ of the dominant gender. She goes as far as describing a gender bioterrorism within these same strategies. She does not link it to another piece of text earlier in the book but that made me think of it: the ‘contagiousness’ of her testosterone dose that get applied through the skin and that can therefore potentially pass from body to another when it has been freshly applied: “How can one control the traffic, survey the microdiffusion of small drops of sweat, importation and exportation of steams, counterfeit of exhalation, how can one prevent the contact of crystalline vapors, how can one control the transparent devil that slides from an other’s skin to mine?” (my translation)
Testo Junkie (and what I would call, its updated appendix, the LOG essay) is very important as it insists on a micro-biological scale of design – that we can compare with macro scales – and its place within a global political, social and economic context and strategies. The resistance and subversion to these same strategies have therefore to understand this context as well as elaborate their own tactics at the various scales that capture the bodies. As always, there is no outside and therefore, any of these tactics have to be thought and accomplished from within.