SEPTEMBER 30, 2012
Claire Fontaine, The Weeping Wall Inside Us All, 2009 Neon
“TIQQUN” IS A WORD that references the Jewish messianic tradition. It derives from “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that has been interpreted to mean “reparation,” “restitution,” “healing of the world” and “social justice.” The term was taken up as the name of an anonymous collective of political activists in France in the late 1990s; it is also the name of the otherwise unrelated magazine Tikkun. The French collective published two issues of their eponymous journal Tiqqun before disbanding in 2001. While their writings have been available for free on the Internet for some time, in the original French as well as in English (thanks to the labor of an anonymous translator), some of the pieces collected in the journal are now being individually published in English translation by Semiotext(e), a publisher whose long and colorful history of importing rambunctious French theorists into the United States lends just the right air of notoriety to the new translations of Tiqqun. Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl is the third of Tiqqun’s texts to be translated into English; already available from Semiotext(e) are Introduction to Civil War (2010) and This Is Not a Program (2011).
The Tiqqun collective regarded itself as the successor to the Situationist International, a group of avant-garde European critics of commodity capitalism who sought to redefine urban space with their utopian-minded radicalism. The SI produced a number of influential texts throughout the 1950s and 60s; the group’s undeclared leader, Guy Debord, would go on to achieve fame as an intellectual catalyst in the student movement of 1968. Much of Tiqqun’s writing either quotes or pays implicit homage to Debord’s classic Society of the Spectacle (1967). The group also adopted Debord’s stylistic posture: a beguilingly hip but self-aware prose that is by turns incisive and poetic. Tiqqun is a lazier and messier bunch of revolutionaries, slouching into their analysis with the same ennui they purport, at times, to criticize. But this performativity is deliberate, productive, and rather entertaining — Preliminary Materials is an acid social critique composed as a constellation of observations and quotations, resulting in a rollicking mash-up that cites Marx and Debord alongside women’s magazines, Georg Simmel, Pierre Klossowski, Franz Kafka, and the Polish-Argentine writer Witold Gombrowicz, among others.
Tiqqun’s theoretical perspective is heavily influenced by Michel Foucault, whose late writings on biopower and governmentality have enjoyed considerable attention, especially since the rise of global terrorism, the security state, and the gradual realization that the American war machine is also a perpetual-motion machine. Foucault’s term “biopower” refers to the State’s interest in exercising power over life and human productivity through increased regulation of populations by governments and their demographic apparatuses of surveillance, analysis, and “management.” Tiqqun understood their contemporary moment — the turn of the millennium — as the historical moment in which biopower was in the process of fully integrating itself with Spectacle, Guy Debord’s term for the “social relation among people, mediated by images.” Debord’s writings, widely read by Parisian students in ’68, ring ever-truer today, when online social media are as routinely used in police investigations as they are in market research. This juncture between media and police activity is indeed the union that concerned Tiqqun in the late 1990s as they carried the Situationist project forward: their adaptation of Debord’s theory is a critique of Empire, the name they give to the intertwining of Debordian Spectacle with Foucauldian Biopower (Tiqqun prefers the capitalization) in the current era of decentralized and deregulated capital.
Tiqqun’s use of the term “Empire” follows its popularization by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (Harvard, 2000), a book that was celebrated in academic and activist circles alike. In it, Hardt and Negri describe a new world order in which sovereignty has shifted from the nation-state to an increasingly diffuse and decentralized global network of power, which they call Empire. Under this new world order, the exploited have limited access to juridical recourse available through the organs of the State, as the violence of capitalist exploitation transcends state barriers and the regulatory strictures of any government. We might pause here to recall the fact that some of the first investors Mitt Romney secured for Bain Capital were wealthy Salvadoran families connected with right-wing death squads that massacred tens of thousands of peasants and political dissidents. Or we might simply note that even in countries with less severe conditions of violence, workers’ demands are often silenced simply because production can always move elsewhere. As Apple users were dismayed to learn earlier this year, US corporations export sweatshop labor and environmental pollution to labor pools desperate enough to accept those conditions, far from the purview of American consumers. The hand-wringing over the Apple/Foxconn affair wasn’t convincing, though, because a similar type of exploitation occurs every day right here in America. In California and Texas and across the Sun Belt, state economies larger than those of many European nations depend on a flexible, low-wage labor base that is denied the basic protections of citizenship, excluded from the democratic process, and humiliated by discriminatory and racist law enforcement strategies — all because of a border in which goods, but not people, may freely cross.
For Hardt and Negri, this also means that time is on the side of the dispossessed. The migratory masses, they claim, find themselves in a relative position of power with respect to Empire, which depends on them to grease global circulation. Like Multitude, its 2004 sequel, Empire theorizes about the power of the new subject that the “productive flows of bodies” conjures into existence: they are the “multitude” of migrant and contingent workers able to leverage Empire’s dependency on their diffuse biopower into a confrontation with Empire’s decentralized control in order to contest the abuse of human rights. Hardt and Negri suggest that, especially when coupled with the connectivity of late capitalist networks of circulation and communication, exploited workers’ loss of confidence in the State as the mediator between labor and capital will motivate them to achieve solidarity on a global scale. The multitude, they claim, will arise to dispute repressive and exploitative practices by making appeals for human rights as a unified global subject. This includes workers’ right to universal citizenship, that is, the right to citizenship and its attending protections in the country where they work and live. The multitude will direct these demands not at the nation-state, whose sovereignty is on the wane, but at the new transnational Imperial sovereignty that presides over late capitalist circulation in international trade and translational political apparatuses, like the United Nations, and non-state actors such as NGOs.
Tiqqun admires the activist Negri of the 1970s, the Negri who gained prominence through his involvement with the Italian Autonomia movement, an association of anarchists and communists who advocated and organized “auto-reductions” of prices in housing, electricity, and other necessities as a response to stagnating worker wages during the Italian “years of lead.” In fact, Autonomia was an inspiration for Tiqqun’s This Is Not a Program, which begins with a history of the movement. Tiqqun is not as keen on Negri’s later works, and in this orthodox Marxists join them. While Empire has become one of the darling texts of the so-called alter-globalization movement, it was also subject to critique from the Left for its starry-eyed optimism and, as Gopal Balakrishnan put it in the New Left Review, for “recasting some of the mythologies of American liberalism.” I take this as a critique of Hardt and Negri’s faith in a benevolent form of world sovereignty brought to heel by the multitude, a sovereignty that could guarantee the list of universal human rights that they present in Empire, one which would derive its legitimacy from all-inclusive global democratic processes. It is also a jab at Hardt and Negri’s disavowal of the divisions of race, class, and gender, divisions that might complicate the multitude’s self-realization. After all, Hardt and Negri’s vision for the emancipation of the migrant exploited masses also presupposes the multitude’s capability of realizing itself as a historical subject in order to act in a coordinated fashion and “control its own movement.” Obviously this is more easily said than done, especially, as Balakrishnan observes, because the multitude remains largely unarmed and faces violent reprisal by the ruling classes in much of the world.
For Tiqqun, Hardt and Negri’s Empire represents the apotheosis of a wrong turn in radical politics. They believe that by extolling the revolutionary potential of the same flows of communication and information that make surveillance and population “management” so easy, Hardt and Negri celebrate rather than dispute Imperial strategies of control. Tiqqun refers to this mistake as “Negriism,” and against it posit their own more combative stance toward Empire, one that rejects an all-inclusive world order as a mythic lie and abhors the idea of global Imperial sovereignty. Venomous contempt for Negri’s late work — and pointed effacement of Hardt — is indeed one of the hallmarks of Tiqqun’s writings. The group’s anonymous veil and DIY publishing techniques allow for a full-throated takedown of Negri’s later work, far more aggressive and caustic than the genteel academic critique published in the New Left Review. Negri’s “theoretical con game,” Tiqqun writes in This is Not a Program, “will never be as pathetic as its underlying goal, which is to pass oneself off as the organic intellectual of a new spectacularly unified subject,” the multitude. Ultimately, they view the concept of the multitude as a sham that will eventually expose itself as such. “There is no need to refute Negriism,” they write, “the facts do all the work.” Waiting for the rise of the multitude, Tiqqun believes, would be like waiting for Godot.
While Hardt and Negri believe the masses’ common labor is what will unite and constitute the multitude, Tiqqun advocates for a complete defection from work that is meaningless to the worker. They also argue for a decoupling of life and work, which they believe have become nearly coextensive. They oppose Hardt and Negri’s embrace of connective technologies — which they view as an embrace of the Spectacle — by advancing a strategy they call “internal defection:” absenting oneself in all possible ways from the information grids used to reproduce and maintain a docile and compliant population. Writing at the turn of the millennium, Tiqqun may have been referring to defection from credit card paper trails and multinational banks, primitive Internet surveillance, and voluntary consumption of advertising and corporate media. A decade later, we face far more robustly integrated apparatuses of surveillance, marketing, and leisure in Facebook and Google, as well as the soon-to-be-operative $2 billion Utah Data Center, a vast spying and data storage facility under construction by the National Security Agency. Tiqqun believed that “desubjectification” from these grids will “extend shadowy zones over the maps of Empire” by weakening the massive data-capturing operations that have become as familiar to run-of-the-mill marketing departments as they are to social media networks and the NSA. They refer to these bioinformatic strategies as “Publicity and Police,” the agencies of Spectacle and Biopower “through which the liberal State gives transparency to the fundamental opacity of the population” in order to more efficiently “manage” it. For Tiqqun, Police and Publicity are two sides of the same Imperial coin, and both must be resisted.
After the group disbanded, some of Tiqqun’s members went on to form Claire Fontaine, an art collective who describes “herself” — with a wink at Warhol — as a “readymade artist.” Claire Fontaine has put on shows across Europe and in the United States, published political writings and interviews on her website, and has even thrown a shoulder to the wheel of highly respected academic journals of critical theory — a translation of her 2010 article “Toward an Imageless Political Education” has recently appeared in the eminent journal diacritics. On her website, Fontaine claims she is “now preparing a book around the concepts of ready-made artist and human strike.” The “human strike” is a concept that describes silences, interruptions, and other acts of refusal that short-circuit the flows of commodity fetishism; the concept dates to Fontaine’s involvement with Tiqqun and the call for “internal defection” from the so-called civil-society of consumer capitalism.
While the revolutionary tinge of Fontaine’s language might not raise eyebrows in the art world, such militancy is cause for alarm when it arises in more “serious” venues. The French government, for one, was not amused by similar language used by a group called the Invisible Committee, another faction formed out of Tiqqun’s schism. Far more hostile to metropolitan consumerist lifestyle than its cosmopolitan sibling-group Claire Fontaine, the Invisible Committee called for rising up against the controls of Empire in its combative 2007 tract The Coming Insurrection. The book contains many of the same arguments Naomi Klein has made about what she calls “disaster capitalism” in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine. Both texts assert that natural disasters, urban violence, and fear-mongering over global pandemics and terrorism are part of a cycle in which these instabilities reinforce a world order of increasing seamlessness between government and the private contractors who profit by the “prevention” and “management” of these crises. Written anonymously, The Coming Insurrection is far more radical in its proposed responses to this state of affairs than Klein could be. Whereas Tiqqun had advocated for absenteeism from and refusal of this order, the Invisible Committee urged insurrection: “Jam everything—” they write, “this will be the first reflex of those who rebel against the present order.”
The book led the French Interior Ministry to raid a commune in the small French village of Tarnac in November 2008, in alleged connection with attempts to sabotage nearby train lines. The Ministry claimed the five women and four men arrested in the raid — self-declared anticonsumerists who ran a small grocery store, restaurant, cinema club, and small lending library in the village — were in fact a violent terrorist cell whose leader, Julien Coupat, had written The Coming Insurrection. Most were released within weeks, but Coupat was held for over six months under charges of “directing a terrorist group.”
The Tarnac Nine became a cause célèbre for the Left in France, but remained mostly unpublicized in the US. A notable exception is Glenn Beck, who has described The Coming Insurrection as “quite possibly the most evil thing I’ve ever read.” Beck maintained a charming obsession with The Coming Insurrection on his cable TV show, mentioning the book at least five times in the year following its 2009 US release by Semiotext(e). His attentive hatred of the “violent radicals” that wrote The Coming Insurrection helped the book achieve a measure of infamy in the United States. Beck’s rants yielded surprising claims: they ranged from a paranoid conspiracy theory that tied the book to last year’s uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to the strikingly prescient warnings to his viewers in 2009 that the United States would face uprisings similar to those in Egypt and Greece. At the time, the Occupy movement was still more than a year away, but student occupations at The New School and the University of California, Santa Cruz later that year employed strategies and distributed pamphlets redolent with the rhetoric of Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee. Their tactics, as is well known, became widespread in the fall of 2011.
Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl was first published in 1999 as part of Tiqqun 1, and is the most accessible of the collective’s texts to be released by Semiotext(e) thus far. The translation follows the French text that was revised and republished as a single volume in 2001, the year of the second and final issue of the journal (crucially intervening between the original and the revision is Hardt and Negri’s Empire).
The “theory” of the Young-Girl is of course a critique. A literal reading of Preliminary Materials would render the text one long screed against the vapid language, anxious vacuity, and feigned happiness of adolescent girls and youthful women in the West. But the text is not meant to be read literally as straightforward misogyny. Instead, as it is used throughout Tiqqun’s text and throughout this essay, “Young-Girl” is a figurative term. “She” is both an exponent of and metaphor for the commodification of social life under late capitalism into consumerist “types.” The Young-Girl can also be — and often is — a “man in power”: the two figures “in every way resemble each other when they don’t simply coincide.” The term is meant to refer to the formatted personalities that Empire would prefer us to select and embody, slotting ourselves neatly into prefab lives that pose no threat to the ruling world order of Imperial capitalism.
“Listen,” Tiqqun writes:
The Young-Girl is obviously not a gendered concept […] The resplendent corporate advertising retiree who divides his time between the Côte d’Azur and his Paris office, where he still likes to keep an eye on things, is no less a Young-Girl than the urban single woman too obsessed with her consulting career to notice she’s lost fifteen years of her life to it. And how could we account, if the Young-Girl were a gendered concept, for the secret relationship between ultratrendy musclebound Marais homos and the Americanized petit-bourgeoisie happily settled in the suburbs with their plastic families?
“Young-Girl” instead refers to the idealization of youth and femininity by the apparatuses of consumer capitalism that is encoded into the way these “types” relate to each other: “Hypostasized Youth and Femininity, abstracted and recoded into Youthitude and Feminitude, find themselves raised to the rank of ideal regulators of the integration of the Imperial citizenry,” the drone-like consumerist subjects of Empire. The “contemporary woman” is only “a fairly terrible species of Young-Girl,” particularly deplorable for her ignorance and apathy for the achievements of last century’s feminist movements. No doubt this flirtation with overt sexism will bristle some readers, but the attack on the Young-Girl is meant to be the denunciation of societal surrender to the youth-obsessed misogynist consumerism that creates her by turning back the advances of late twentieth-century feminism. In the contemporary North American moment, the theory of the “Young-Girl” could just as easily have been the Theory of the Fratboy, Theory of the Chelsea-Boy, or Theory of the Hipster — and indeed, Tiqqun does find a moment to get their digs in at the hipster elements of Young-Girldom. The violence of gender normativity inheres in all of these “types.”
As an indictment of our image-mediated consumerist drone culture, Preliminary Materials is satisfyingly biting. But except for “Putting an End to the Young-Girl” — the name of the last chapter — Tiqqun doesn’t provide many suggestions for how to reverse the commodification of daily life and personhood unfolding under Empire. For this, readers must turn to the second section of Introduction to Civil War, titled “How Is It to Be Done?” In this prescriptive, poetic text, they describe the tactics of the human strike in more detail. Alluding to Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” they write that in order to “slip way from the apparatus” of Imperial control, the human strike is a strike that “PREFERS NOT TO.” In these and other texts, they advocate anonymity, invisibility, and other retreats from the surveillance and representational devices of Empire.
As in some of their other writings, Tiqqun favors a fragmentary approach to the “preliminary materials,” which are laid out in haphazard aphorisms and hypotheses, many of them citations of the writers mentioned. These fragments add up to a composite sketch of the Young-Girl: an unflattering stereotype that readers will no doubt recognize as a cliché that flits through most sitcoms, Hollywood comedies, and reality TV. Tiqqun’s fragmentary approach is also meant to evoke the way we communicate and consume media and images today: impressionistic snippets replace sustained engagement and intellectual pursuit. The fragments also mimic the self-fashioning of the “Young-Girl,” whose appearance is little more than a collage made of ads torn from the latest magazines, and whose personality sounds like a remix of her favorite celebrities and TV divas. This tactic extends to the manner in which the book was printed: Tiqqun’s fragments toggle through just about every legible font available in basic Microsoft. Hunks of Arial Rounded Bold followed by couplets in Comic Sans or ALL CAPS recall the early days of the Internet, and are meant to grate the reader’s nerves. The listless drift of the typeface contributes to Tiqqun’s thesis that the Young-Girl’s efforts at originality and authenticity are always limited to the tired-out templates of consumerism: she takes on and takes over these templates as her own, adopting them as original to her, when they are in fact facsimiles adopted and proliferated by all.
The breezy aphoristic approach Tiqqun uses to present its theory of the Young-Girl is likewise an imitation: crucial to the function of the Young-Girl is her hegemonic frivolity, which forecloses all serious discussion and reflection, especially about anything as unpleasant as war or the violence of consumer capitalism. “The Young-Girl is a purifier of negativity” and the “imperialism of the trivial.” Similarly, in one of the many segments set apart in stanza-form, Tiqqun writes:
The Young-Girl knows everything as devoid
of consequences, even her own suffering.
Everything is funny, nothing’s a big deal.
Everything is cool, nothing is serious.
Though capitalism has long since escaped the walls of the factory, it is the rise of the Young-Girl that signals the market’s hegemony over the social. For the Young-Girl, production is the social: she is the “total acculturation” of the self to the “extraneous judgment” of the airbrushed faces that vacantly stare back at us in the grocery checkout line. That is, the Young Girl’s production is self-production: hard-won conformity to the images of desirable femininity that she is force-fed by corporate media. Her body “takes on the form of a commodity that belongs to her,” and in the process she is swindled of her selfhood. The Young-Girl is the “anthropomorphosis of Capital,” a self-producing commodity whose mission is to “re-enchant a devastated world of commodities.” She discards her self in order to replace it with a totally manufactured body and persona. This Young-Girlish labor is the social labor of seduction, which Tiqqun calls “the new opium of the masses.” Her labor-power is thus her “power of seduction,” and she uses it to produce and circulate herself as a commodity. As Marx explained, all commodities contain congealed labor, and the labor crystallized in the Young-Girl is the constant attention she lavishes on herself to maintain appearances: a hyperactive Protestant ethic brought to bear on her very own body. This, Tiqqun warns, is how young women are captured by consumer capitalism and homogenized into Young-Girlish drones.
Anticipating the charges of sexism solicited by this critique of the Young-Girl’s obsession with beauty and image, Tiqqun points out that “women’s magazines breathe new life into a nearly-hundred-year-old wrong by finally offering their equivalent to males.” In the supermarket, Men’s Health and its cognates are nearly as ubiquitous as Cosmo. “The spectre of Man and Woman haunts the streets of the metropolis,” Tiqqun writes, “[His] muscles come from the gym, her breasts are silicone.” Today, Wall Street and Silicon Valley are arguably the natural habitat of a particularly sinister subspecies of Young-Girl, those fast-tracked “young professionals” whose paradoxical blend of frivolity and dead-seriousness with respect to money and career make them the living embodiments of the contradictions of late capitalism. This is not accidental, but has everything to do with increasingly abstract and immaterial forms of labor and capital. As is well known, yesterday’s solid wealth — whether invested as venture capital or in shares of Lehman Brothers and Facebook — can easily melt into tomorrow’s thin air. The Young-Girl’s relationship to her appearance is similar: it is an investment that must reap reward before it vanishes, suddenly finding itself out-of-date, uncool, or simply too old to extract any further advantages in professional and social milieus increasingly formatted to the ageist and sexist representations of the Spectacle, which “remunerates, though indirectly, the conformity of the Young-Girl.”
The question of complicity in Young-Girlification arises throughout the text. The Young-Girl “is the incarnation of the Spectacle, or at least she aspires to be:” she is always fashioning herself after the hollow representations of femininity relentlessly hurled at her by television, magazines, Hollywood, and advertising. Tiqqun’s point is that the Young-Girl is an eager collaborator in the sexist corporate media ecology that has eviscerated feminism by belittling or villainizing feminists (see: Hillary Clinton) in order to better celebrate the uniform and shallow template of femininity described by Young-Girlism. What can easily get lost in the text is that although the “Young-Girl” viewed with loathing by Tiqqun, the “young girl” is certainly not.
Even so, Preliminary Materials deliberately provokes a response from feminists, claiming that “the triumph of the Young-Girl originates in the failure of feminism.” Gender theorist Hilary Malatino has disputed this claim, accusing Tiqqun of “mistaking the ascendancy of liberal feminism over more radical strains of feminist movement with the ostensible failure of feminism full-stop.” Although she agrees with Tiqqun’s critique of the beauty industry, associating it with the argument made by Naomi Wolfe’s 1991 third-wave feminist classic The Beauty Myth, Malatino believes the feminism of the 1990s offered an alternative to cynical proclamations of the “failure of feminism.” She cites Riot Grrrl feminism of the mid-1990s, a movement that originated in the feminist punk scenes of Washington DC and Olympia, WA, as evidence that feminism is alive and well. Or at least it was in the nineties: while Malatino maintains hope for similar new movements to invigorate feminism, her nostalgia for the 1990s — before Riot Grrrl was commodified into “girl power” and legendary feminist punk band Bikini Kill had broken up — suggests a dim assessment for the current state of feminist activity in America.
The thrust of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials, the argument behind their invective against mass conformity, is that Young-Girlification is not a social problem isolated in the sphere of “culture,” but a grave political problem that we cannot afford to ignore. The Young-Girl is not passive, Tiqqun insists, but a “lethal commando” in the war against heterogeneity: she is personality on auto-tune, a homogenized nobody whose life aspirations are supplied to her by mediatized images. Her twin pursuits of happiness and beauty are fueled by desires that “are not even her own,” but rather those of her “market-driven superego.” These pursuits are destined to remain in a constant state of failure — and thus ensure the Young-Girl will always feel a miserable lack, having failed to experience her own personhood in a way that would generate unique desires and emotions — because the images of “happiness” and “beauty” that she chases are nothing more than “socially controlled desire.” Perfection will always be elusive to her. This is why Tiqqun also refers to the Spectacle as “the semiocratic authorities,” and understand it as the regulator of a policing regime based on self-discipline. Tiqqun uses the shorthand “THEY” to refer simultaneously to this interlacing of soft and hard forms of disciplinary control under Empire.
At once self-absorbed and completely lacking selfhood, the Young-Girl (the Fratboy, the Hipster) is the perfect collaborator for what Tiqqun call the “anthropotechnical project of Empire,” a mass formatting of the population into subjects kept so busy with the fulfillment of manufactured desires that they never stop to question consumer capitalism and the violent war-making, environment-trashing global regime that underwrites it. Young-Girls not only offer little resistance to the Imperial project, they are also so predictable that they require little surveillance. Enthralled by the Spectacle (whose concrete practices Tiqqun calls “Publicity”), Young-Girls render the State’s more interventionist management strategies of Biopower (Tiqqun’s “Police”) unnecessary: her willingness to mold herself into one of the representations that Spectacle teaches her to worship makes external discipline unnecessary. Young-Girls are Empire’s desired subjects because they police themselves with their phony desires. The State need not waste its time or data-gathering resources on the Young-Girl, who is the living representation of Empire’s success with generating self-managed “social pacification.” She takes good care of herself.
This makes the Young-Girl a dangerous political apparatus. As one of Empire’s citizen-drones, she is at once the complement and foil of the “terrorist,” insofar as that word is understood to mean someone who opposes the violence of capitalism with more violence. Just as the NYPD and other city governments stop-and-frisk their citizens for wearing “clothes commonly used in a crime,” the suspected terrorist is first a set of demographic data points that are sufficient to identify him as a “risk.” At the global scale, the Obama administration prefers the Imperial Stop-And-Frisk: halting suspected terrorists with sudden death from above. “Drone” becomes a watchword in both contexts: while troublemakers like the “potential criminal” and the “terrorist” are rendered transparent by the data-gathering of the biopolitical police force and disciplined accordingly, the Young-Girl renders herself transparent to the shimmering gaze of publicity. She disciplines herself with total conformity. Unlike the terrorist, who opposes and complicates the Imperial regime of consumer capitalism, the Young-Girl is the “model citizen as redefined by consumer society.” This is because she is not the passive receptor of commodity culture, but actively remakes herself in its image. She is committed to what Tiqqun calls “a lifelong struggle to render oneself compatible with Empire.” The Young-Girl practices terror by other means: her total complicity with Empire. Her violence is ontological. It is the eradication of difference. This diagnosis established, the reader is left to suppose that to resist becoming another drone-like Young-Girl, one must become incompatible with Empire. This begins with the reassertion of our heterogeneity. “The question is not the emancipation of the Young-Girl, but of emancipation in relation to the Young Girl.” In other words: we are all free to opt out of bourgeois urban monoculture. To revive a Riot Grrrl motto first hollered by Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, we must “resist psychic death.”
In an introduction to excerpts of the translation published in Triple Canopy, translator Ariana Reines critiques what she sees as the sexism inherent in making the Young-Girl the whipping-boy of a critique of consumerist capitalism. She complains of “passages rife with heterosexist ressentiment and, occasionally, whiffs of (what seemed to me to be) female intellectual rage against the more vapid and conformist members of our sex.” I can’t contradict her on that account: Tiqqun is merciless with the Young-Girl, and even their throwaway barbs assault the Young-Girl in ways that replicate the violence patriarchal society has always waged on women. “Deep down inside,” Tiqqun writes at one point, “the Young-Girl has the personality of a tampon: She exemplifies all of the appropriate indifference, all of the necessary coldness demanded by the conditions of metropolitan life.”
The inference available to readers is that the Young-Girl is the object of Tiqqun’s vicious critique because young women are the principle victims of consumerism. “The violence with which feminitude is administrated in the world of authoritarian commodities recalls the way the dominant power feels free to manhandle its slaves,” they write. And yet there are occasions where the metaphor is uncomfortably strained and shrill: in the penultimate chapter “The Young-Girl Against Herself,” Tiqqun calls the Young-Girl’s tireless self-production a “neo-Protestant” activity, referring to the German sociologist Max Weber’s characterization of the conscientious Protestant work ethic. Detouring into hyperbole that is difficult to translate into another of the imaginable social “types” that Tiqqun mentions, the industriousness of the Young Girl’s neo-Protestant self-reform is paralleled with the phenomenon of prevalent anorexia among contemporary young women. They call this neo-Protestantism “the first case of asceticism without ideal, of materialist penance.” Here, Tiqqun’s critique takes a savage and ruthless turn that will alienate some readers. The comments on anorexia are presumably what awakened the disgust of translator Ariana Reines, who complained in Triple Canopy that the book “gave me migraines, made me puke.”
We can see why Reines admitted to struggling with certain parts of the book, which also reportedly kept her awake at night. But as English, unlike French, is not a gendered language, Reines suggests that readers of her translation may be relieved of these somatic overreactions. Obliquely crediting herself, the English language, or both, Reines observes that while the French text made her ill, the book is “pleasurable,” “effortless,” and “fun” in translation, although she also suspects this is because its ideology has somehow conquered or colonized her. Or maybe she passed from the horror of recognition into shock and denial? I will admit my own discomfort with how close to home some of Tiqqun’s damnation hits. Their theory of the “Young-Girl” did not sicken or shock me; instead, it forced me to realize just how often I police myself on behalf of the Spectacle. Concern for appearances, career advancement, and time management encroach on my daily life at a rate so regular it would depress me to try to calculate its frequency. But this is precisely Tiqqun’s point: “The Spectacle seeks to awaken the Young-Girl in everyone.” Nobody with a computer or a television — or with significant contact to the hordes of people who do — is immune to her siren-call, which is a “summons to everyone to ensure they are worthy of the images of the Spectacle.” We are all slowly becoming the Young-Girl, and merciless self-critique is all that can save us. “The theory of the Young-Girl participates in the training of a gaze that knows how to hate the Spectacle wherever it hides, that is, wherever it shows itself.”
The Preliminary Materials conclude with a question: “Does the everyday occurrence of the Young-Girl still go without saying?” The answer, one suspects from the militancy of Tiqqun’s other texts, is “no,” provided that the process of becoming “Young-Girl” is met with resistance. Although the problem they identify is societal, the refusal to remain complicit in the commodification of social life must be individual. Desubjectification is the personal responsibility to de-professionalize, “de-silicone,” un-“follow,” and un-“friend:” we must refuse the Young-Girl and the Fratboy. To do so, we must un-drone.