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Laboria Cuboniks – Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation

  • Earlier this year the anonymous collective Laboria Cuboniks released ‘Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation’. The Xenofeminist manifesto has already ignited discussion online and has been the topic of a recent podcast as well as several other articles.

    Xenofeminism culls the DNA of feminisms past and present, splicing them with Prometheanism to form a new monster, one whose feminism wields the discarded armaments of modernism against the insipid neoliberalism of recent identity politics and demands a collective resurgence of the alienated. Rather than forsaking the position of alienation as undesirable, the Xenofeminist manifesto embraces it as a frame for construction, wagering its protean ambition on the transversal and synthetic potential of a groundless universalism.

    The Xenofeminist manifesto discards all forms of foundationalism as inherently theological, and so opposes both those who seek to secure feminism along ontological lines (essentializing identity and allying it with nature) and those who condemn reason based on its patriarchal genealogy. This is not to say that the history of science is not preceded by patriarchal domination, but that any science which continues under those auspices cannot be truly rational. Such chauvinism is at odds with the aspiration to speak the universal. Instead, the manifesto configures the voice of the universal as a “right [to] speak as no one”, (Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 0x04).

    Perhaps this point is better indicated by the manifesto’s polyvalent invocation of the prefix “trans” –“transgender”, “transit”, “transform”, “transect” and even “transtemporal”–the manifesto cross-codes perspectives and positions, seeking nodes of collective agreement rather than aporias of difference. If we are all in a state of alienation–whether it be gender, sexuality, race, or class exclusion–these states are socially constrained, and the boundaries of exclusion provide vantage points from which transits may be built and transformation begun. The Xenofeminist manifesto remarks multiple times upon the Kantian distinction between positive and negative freedom; a “freedom to” and “freedom from”, respectively. While “freedom from” is merely the absence of imposition, “freedom to” requires the realization of an orientation. Under the present standards of neoliberalism the predominant mode of freedom is a “freedom from”; the exercise of choice without constraint, but also without purpose. To orient a transition from where one is, one has to know the constraints of one’s perspective, and construct new vistas beyond them. It is therefore a call to autonomy.

    Xenofeminism is a gleeful chimera whose woven flesh gleams with metal and plastic, hydra-gendered and hopped up on synthetic hormones, gestating its mutant children in artificial wombs to vomit forth in the bright, cold vacuum. The “desire to construct an alien future”, (Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 0x1A) presents a new set of coordinates for further alienations, transcribing the traumas of today into new affordances and catastrophes to be overcome. A manifesto which resolutely denies the “natural” cannot rise from foundations, but must hang by its vertex, for the widening gyre of synthetic reason is borne on the whorls of contingency. The achievement of the Xenofeminist manifesto is to embrace this fallibility and nonetheless demand universal justice: “If nature is unjust, change nature!”, (Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, 01A).

    – would like to thank Laboria Cuboniks for providing their recommended readings along with some notes on several choices. List and commentary on these choices courtesy Laboria Cuboniks.

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One text that has been particularly significant for our efforts to articulate a counter-hegemonic technomaterialst gender politics is Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. First published in 1970, the book claims that humanity’s ‘accumulation of skills for controlling the environment’ is a means of realizing ‘the conceivable in the actual’, and talks about technology’s usefulness for a radical politics in terms that may seem, to a contemporary reader, both disturbing and refreshing. Firestone must be seen as an orienting figure here, not only because of her influence upon the nascent project of xenofeminism, but because of the distinctive and divergent reactions her work provokes more generally. Firestone is a lightening rod for contemporary technofeminism, a challenge to certain strands of ecofeminism, and a vital precursor to the most interesting ideas of left accelerationism.

This short essay condenses some of the chief arguments of Zeros + Ones and lays to rest accusations of essentialism and the rejection of the body typically leveled at cyberfeminism. Those aspects of Plant’s work which were particularly formative for xenofeminism include her attention to process over identity (‘identity is nothing more than a liability’); the rejection of linear accounts of individuation–along with attendant notions of stability and originary authenticity; her mobilisation of the figure of the alien as a means of critiquing European humanism; a nuanced approach to technology, and her insistence on ‘grounding’ the fluidity of online experience in a sophisticated understanding of matter and the body.

The Xenofeminist manifesto can, like Alexandra Pirici and Raluca Voinea’s ‘Manifesto for the Gynecene’, be considered a deliberate retooling of the manifesto form. While both are cognisant and critical of the masculine elitism of the modernist avant garde, and the tyrannical aspects of the modernist grand narrative, we are deploying the form as part of a gesture that seeks to recapture a mode of temporality that ‘the manifesto’ was typically invested in–the notion of a future radically different from current conditions. The recent proliferation of manifestos (Legacy Russell’s ‘Glitch Feminism Manifesto,’ ‘The 3D Additivist Manifesto’ and ‘The Cybertwee Manifesto’, amongst others) is arguably reflective of the fact that this type of output lends itself well to short-form reading on the internet. Thanks to the aphoristic way in which manifestos are structured, they can be easily quoted, tweeted, shared, and so on. So, there are techno-aesthetic reasons underpinning twenty-first century engagement with the form, alongside the equally important (and perhaps more obvious or pervasive) driver of a shared sense of urgency surrounding our current situation.