Notes for Teresa De Lauretis Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction
Key concepts: blind spots, deconstruction, epic theater, gender, gender narratives, interpellation, master narratives, representation, space-off, sexual difference, subject, subjectivity, technology, view from elsewhere.
Challenges notion that ordinary science and scholarship can be neutral to women's issues. Four propositions: gender is a representation; which is its construction; which is ongoing; therefore affected by its deconstruction. Blind spots and space-off as elsewhere of discourse. Obvious connection to software studies and CCS. How can this sensitivity be applied to machine and program studies, beyond programming as cultural activities, portrayal of avatars, game mechanics, etc.? Would Hollway's reconceptualization of power help? Interdependent conception of historical and theatrical text demonstrates new textual practice enjoining subjects in modes of production (writer, reader, performer, audience), emphasizing historical over mythical, and rejecting novel as single narrative form, articulating subject dialectically at personal and social dimensions.
Related theorists: Althusser, Braidotti, Cambria, Castells, Foucault, Hollway.
(ix) The essays here collected, except one, were written between 1983 and 1986. . . . All but the first essay were originally written as lectures, conference papers, or special-issue contributions, and because the context of address is a very important aspect of any piece of critical writing, as short note at the head of each essay will identify the occasion of its writing.
(x) A feminist theory of gender, in other words, points to a conception of the subject as multiple, rather than divided or unified, and as excessive or heteronomous vis-a-vis the state ideological apparati and the sociocultural technologies of gender.
(x) The volume is a collection of distinct, if related, essays. I feel, however, that “The Technology of Gender” is properly placed as the lead essay of the volume because it does lay out the inclusive parameters and the critical frame of reference for the exploration of gender-related questions through the book.
1 THE TECHNOLOGY OF GENDER
(1) But that notion of gender as sexual difference and its derivative notions—women's culture, mothering, feminine writing, femininity, etc.--have now become a limitation, something of a liability to feminist thought.
Action of self reproducing narratives bound to terms of patriarchy traps feminist thinking, as capitalism traps utopian thinking.
(1-2) To continue to pose the question of gender in either of these terms, once the critique of patriarchy has been fully outlined, keeps feminist thinking bound to the terms of Western patriarchy itself, contained within the frame of a conceptual opposition that is “always already” inscribed in what Fredric Jameson would call “the political unconscious” of dominant cultural discourses and their underlying “master narratives”--be they biological, medical, legal, philosophical, or literary—and so will tend to reproduce itself, to retextualize itself, as we shall see, even in feminist rewritings of cultural narratives.
Imagine virtual subjects untroubled by gender: is it possible, or even good to do so, when always divided and contradicted subject seems the norm when built of heterogeneous IT systems, even under the overdetermining sway of media convergence. Do we think in gender even when we program imaginary thinking machines that will not run for fifty to seventy years when all the imagined media to be replayed simulating my past times.
(2) a subject constituted in gender, to be sure, though not by sexual difference alone, but rather across languages and cultural representations; a subject en-gendered in the experiencing of race and class, as well as sexual, relations: a subject, therefore, not unified but rather multiple, and not so much divided as contradicted.
Need to deconstruct bind of subject constituted in gender and sexual differences.
(2) This bind, this mutual containment of gender and sexual differences(s), needs to be unraveled and deconstructed.
Foucault flaw of not accounting for differential solicitation of male and female subjects when considering sexuality could be applied to areas beyond gender, as Manovich does approaching cultural media from non-programmer position.
(3) Like sexuality, we might then say,
gender is not a property of bodies or something originally existent
in human beings, but “the set of effects produced in bodies,
behaviors, and social relations,” in Foucault's words, by the
deployment of “a complex political technology.” But . . . his
critical understanding of the technology of sex did not take into
account its differential solicitation of male and female subjects,
and by ignoring the conflicting investments of men and women in the
discourses and practices of sexuality, Foucault's theory, in fact,
excludes, though it does not preclude, the consideration of
(3) I will proceed by stating a series of four propositions in decreasing order of self-evidence and subsequently will go back to elaborate on each in more detail.
(3) (1) Gender is (a) representation—which is not to say that it does not have concrete or real implications, both social and subjective, for the material life of individuals. On the contrary,
(3) (2) The representation of gender is its construction—and in the simplest sense it can be said that all of Western Art and high culture is the engraving of the history of that construction.
(3) (3) The construction of gender goes on as busily as it did in earlier times.
Good definition of the real and how gender is shaped by its representations: seems like a very specific, culturally nuanced method of argumentation, as if De Lauretis is imitating the putative universal, gender indifferent manner that OGorman and others refers to as the Republic of Scholars.
(3) (4) Paradoxically, therefore, the construction of gender is also effected by its deconstruction; that is to say, by any discourse, feminist or otherwise, that would discard it as ideological misrepresentation. For gender, like the real, is not only the effect of representation but also its excess, what remains outside discourse as a potential trauma which can rupture or destabilize, if not contained, any representation.
(4-5) The term gender is, actually, the representation of a relation, that of belonging to a class, a group, a category. . . . So gender represents not an individual but a relation, and a social relation; in other words, it represents an individual for a class.
Proposition 1 that construction of gender is product and process of representation: can the same methodological approach be applied to study of machines and programs as entities, as per Bogost, there is no logical necessity to deny their existence.
(5) The sex-gender system, in short, is both a sociocultural construct and a semiotic apparatus, a system of representation which assigns meaning (identity, value, prestige, location in kinship, status in the social hierarchy, etc.) to individuals within the society. . . . The construction of gender is both the product and the process of its representation.
(6) The shift from “subjects” to “men and women” marks the conceptual distance between two orders of discourse, the discourse of philosophy or political theory and the discourse of “reality.”
Does it make sense to apply this criticism ungendered subject in Lacan, Marx and Althusser to study of machines and programs?
Although the Althusserian subject of ideology derives more from
Lacan's subject (which is an effect of signification, founded on
misrecognition) than from the unified class subject of Marxist
humanism, it too is ungendered, as neither of these systems considers
the possibility—let alone the process of constitution—of a female
subject. . . . In other words, Althusser's theory of ideology is
itself caught and blind to its own complicity in the ideology of
(6-7) The novelty of Althusser's theses was in his perception that ideology operates not only semi-autonomously from the economic level but also, fundamentally, by means of its engagement of subjectivity.
(7) the work of representation produces differences that cannot be known in advance.
Proposition 2 two that self-representation also affects construction of gender.
construction of gender is the product and the process of both
representation and self-representation.
(9) Nevertheless, there is an outside, a place from where ideology can be seen for what it is—mystification, imaginary relation, wool over one's eyes; and that place is, for Althusser, science, or scientific knowledge.
(11) To what extent this newer or emerging consciousness of complicity acts with or against the consciousness of oppression, is a question central to the understanding of ideology in these postmodern and postcolonial times.
(11) We cannot resolve or dispel the uncomfortable condition of being at once inside and outside gender either by desexualizing it (making gender merely a metaphor, a question of difference, of purely discursive effects) or by androgynizing it (claiming the same experience of material conditions for both genders in a given class, race, or culture).
Interpellation nicely illustrated and defined by checking Male or Female boxes.
This [checking M or F boxes] is, of course, the process described by
Althusser with the word interpellation,
the process whereby a social representation is accepted and absorbed
by an individual as her (or his) own representation, and so becomes,
for the individual, real, even though it is in fact imaginary.
(12) Hence the notion of a “technology of sex,” which he [Foucault] defines as “a set of techniques for maximizing life” that have been developed and deployed by the bourgeoisie since the end of the eighteenth century in order to ensure its class survival and continued hegemony.
(13) The understanding of cinema as a social technology, as a “cinematic apparatus,” was developed in film theory contemporaneously with Foucault's work but independently of it; rather, as the word apparatus suggests, it was directly influenced by the work of Althusser and Lacan. There is little doubt, at any rate, that cinema—the cinematic apparatus—is a technology of gender, as I have argued throughout Alice Doesn't, if not in these very words, I hope convincingly.
(13) For the second part of the question, the crucial notion is the concept of spectatorship, which feminist film theory has established as a gendered concept; that is to say, the ways in which each individual spectator is addressed by the film, the ways in which his/her identification is solicited and structured in the single film, are intimately and intentionally, if not usually explicitly, connected to the spectator's gender.
(14) This critical work is producing a knowledge of cinema and of the technology of sex which Foucault's theory could not lead to, on its own terms, for there, sexuality is not understood as gendered, as having a male form and a female form, but is taken to be one and the same for all—and consequently male.
Can paradox marring radical but male-centered theories denying gender be applied to machine and program studies, beyond programming as cultural activities, does it make sense or slide into silliness, would Hollway reconceptualization of power as motivating investments in discursive positions help?
(15) Hence the paradox that mars Foucault's
theory, as it does other contemporary, radical but male-centered,
theories: in order to combat the social technology that produces
sexuality and sexual oppression, these theories (and their respective
politics) will deny gender. But to deny gender, first of all, is to
deny the social relations of gender that constitute and validate the
sexual oppression of women; and second, to deny gender is to remain
“in ideology,” an ideology which (not coincidentally if, of
course, not intentionally) is manifestly self-serving to the
(16) She [Wendy Hollway] then reformulates, and redistributes, Foucault's notion of power by suggesting that power is what motivates (and not necessarily in a conscious or rational manner) individuals' “investments” in discursive positions.
(16) Hollway's is an interesting attempt to reconceptualize power in such a manner that agency (rather than choice) may be seen to exist for the subject, and especially for those subjects who have been (perceived as) “victims” of social oppression or especially disempowered by the discursive monopoly of power-knowledge.
(17) I believe that to envision gender (men and women) otherwise, and to (re)construct it in terms other than those dictated by the patriarchal contract, we much walk out of the male-centered frame of reference in which gender and sexuality are (re)produced by the discourse of male sexuality—or, as Luce Irigaray has so well written it, of hom(m)osexuality.
Proposition three that construction of gender mediated by technologies of gender and institutional discourses, opening spaces at margins in micropolitical practices for alternate constructions of gender.
The construction of gender goes on today through the
various technologies of gender (e.g., cinema) and institutional
discourses (e.g., theory) with power to control the field of social
meaning and thus produce, promote, and “implant” representations
of gender. But the terms of a different construction of gender must
also exist, in the margins of hegemonic discourses. Posed from
outside the heterosexual social contract, and inscribed in
micropolitical practices, these terms can also have a part in the
construction of gender, and their effects are rather at the “local”
level of resistances, in subjectivity and self-representation.
(19) They are unconcerned with gender . . . and if they do then offer a model of the construction of gender in sexual difference . . . both kinds of theories, and the fictions they inspire, contain and promote some representation of gender, no less than cinema does.
De-centered and de-sexualized subject poor alternative and still hides biases and interests built into subjectivity.
[Rosi] Braidotti then goes on to discuss the various forms that
femininity assumes in the work of Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, and
Derrida, and, concurrently, the consistent refusal by each
philosopher to identify femininity with real women. On the contrary,
it is only by giving up the insistence on sexual specificity (gender)
that women, in their eyes, would be the social group best qualified
(because they are oppressed by sexuality) to foster a radically
“other” subject, de-centered and de-sexualized.
(24) In other words, only by denying sexual difference (and gender) as components of subjectivity in real women, and hence by denying the history of women's political oppression and resistance, as well as the epistemological contribution of feminism to the redefinition of subjectivity and sociality, can the philosophers see in “women” the privileged repository of “the future of mankind.” . . . That this habit is older, and so harder to break than the Cartesian subject, may account for the predominant disregard, when it is not outright contempt, that male intellectuals have for feminist theorizing.
(24-25) If the deconstruction of gender inevitably effects its (re)construction, the question is, in which terms and in whose interest is the de-re-construction being effected? . . . The problem, which is a problem for all feminist scholars and teachers, is one we face almost daily in our work, namely, that most of the available theories of reading, writing, sexuality, ideology, or any other cultural production are built on male narratives of gender, whether oedipal or anti-oedipal, bound by the heterosexual contract; narratives which persistently tend to re-produce themselves in feminist theories. The tend to, and will do so unless one constantly resists, suspicious of their drift. Which is why the critique of all discourses concerning gender, including those produced or promoted as feminist, continues to be as vital a part of feminism as is the ongoing effort to create new spaces of discourse, to rewrite cultural narratives, and to define the terms of another perspective—a view from “elsewhere.”
View from elsewhere, blind spots, space-off: can deconstruction of prior (capitalist) software and computing practices through open standards and free, open source software represent actual reconstruction of subjectivity through machine technology, after the hegemonic interests are teased out? For certainly what has emerged since the prior discourse on the Microsoft monopoly, while partially resubmerging beneath Apple philosophy as the new evil dominating influence, appears as a “view from elsewhere” literally, effectively reterritorializating hardware “designed for Microsoft Windows.” These used to be “spaces in the margins of hegemonic discourses” that today have well entrenched if still periphery percentage of the market of operating environments that embody philosophies of computing and ethical positions. We cannot ignore that our writing machines influence how we think, especially was she nods toward the “micropolitical practices of daily life.” It is a real place to exist in cyberspace, not just for crossing back and forth in and out of. Worth keeping Jensiek in mind, perhaps displacing another item on the third exam reading list.
(25) For that “elsewhere” is not some mythic distant past or some utopian future history; it is the elsewhere of discourse here and now, the blind spots, or the space-off, of its representations. I think of it as spaces in the margins of hegemonic discourses, social spaces carved in the intersticies of institutions and in the chinks and cracks of the power-knowledge apparati. And it is there that the terms of a different construction of gender can be posed—terms that do have effect and take hold at the level of subjectivity and self-representations: in the micropolitical practices of daily life and daily resistances that afford both agency and sources of power or empowering investments; and in the cultural production of women, feminists, which inscribe that movement in and out of ideology, that crossing back and forth of the boundaries—and of the limits—of sexual difference(s).
What are the male narratives of gender in my field?
What I mean, instead, is a movement from the space represented by/in
a representation, by/in a discourse, by/in a sex-gender system, to
the space not represented yet implied (unseen) in them.
(26) These two kinds of spaces are neither in opposition to one another nor strung along a chain of signification, but they coexist concurrently and in contradiction. The movement between them, therefore, is not that of a dialectic, of integration, of a combinatory, or of difference, but is the tension of contradiction, multiplicity, and heteronomy.
GRAMSCI NOTWITHSTANDING, OR, THE LEFT HAND OF HISTORY
(84) What is the place of textuality in feminist criticism? . . . Because women have been a colonized population for so long, I fear that any critical category we may find applicable today is likely to be derived from or imbued with male ideologies. . . . What I am suggesting is that theory is dialectically built on, checked against, modified by, transformed along with, practice—that is to say, with what women do, invent, perform, produce, concretely and not “for all time” but within specific historical and cultural conditions.
(84-85) One of these performances attracted my attention by its title, Nonostante Gramsci (Despite Gramsci or Gramsci Notwithstanding). It was performed by a militant feminist collective, La Maddelena, based in Rome. Antonio Gramsci was founder of the Italian Communist Party and one of the major European Marxist thinkers. He was the most important influence on the Italian left in general and on the politics of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in particular.
(85) Both the text of the theatrical production and the underlying research on original documents were published together the following year under the editorship of Adele Cambria, a feminist writer and one of the editors of the major Italian feminist monthly EFFE. . . . The published volume, entitled Amore come rivoluzione (Love as Revolution), contains, I believe, not two texts—one creative/artistic and one historical/biographical—but rather a single text. It self-consciously attempts to be at once historical and artistic, and deliberately presents itself as tendentious and critical. It is a text with its ideology clearly stated and with a basis of original research behind its fiction.
(86) It was Tatiana who rescued Gramsci's Prison Notebooks after his death. But, history being the history of men, only Gramsci's letters were deemed important historical documents. The letters he received from Giulia and Tatiana were not published, although they existed, lying in a file at the Gramsci Institute in Rome. Official historiography scorned them. They were women's letters, dealing “only with children and marmalade,” banal, insignificant. Little information could be found about these mute women, whose complex relationships to Gramsci and to one another constituted the most intense private aspect of Gramsci's life as a revolutionary.
Cambria may be researching emotional energy women contribute to male thought, but de Lauretis wants to outline new textual pratices for women.
(86-87) Who were these women outside of the
pale, pathetic hagiography constructed by Gramsci's biographers? That
is what Adele Cambria set out to investigate. . . . Cambria's purpose
throughout was to reconstruct an “affective biography” of the
Schuchts and to discover the sources and modes of that “emotional
energy” Shulamith Firestone identifies as the essential female
contribution to male thought. . . . In restoring to Gramsci's
epistolary monologue its real nature as dialogue, Cambria adds depth
to the cultural image of a person whose complex humanity has been
(88) Gramsci became, for all three women, the center of their emotional world, the unwitting protagonist of romantic mystification, the pivot of a patriarchal model they had deeply internalized. They all were in love with Antonio.
(88) Eugenia met him first, but he fell in love with Giulia, the youngest, most beautiful, and most “feminine” of them. . . . Giulia was “sickly and subject to depressions” . . . Eradicating from her life the possibility of a “private” relationship with any man, Eugenia played the male role as political activist and head of the household. While praising and mythicizing Gramsci as a revolutionary leader (she translated his writings for the Soviet workers), Eugenia increased the human distance between him and Giulia.
(88) Tatiana's love for Gramsci, avowed as sisterly love, developed over the twelve years during which she performed for him the duties of the prisoner's wife.
(88-89) Of the three stories, unrecorded by history, Giulia's is the most lonely. . . . In short, Eugenia and Tatiana usurped her roles as mother, housekeeper, and wife and effectively deprived her of meaningful emotional relationships and intensified her sense of powerlessness. At last, Cambria maintains, Giulia's inability to define herself conceptually or through any type of personal power, and the unreality of her existence that could not function within any socially accepted mode of female behavior, pushed Giulia to live her rebellion inwardly, in total passivity. That is precisely what is often diagnosed as madness in women.
The sisters surrounding Gramsci embody the three choices for women in Western cultures: service, mystique, madness.
(89) In a sense, the personalities and social roles assumed by the three Schucht sisters sketch almost to a T the only choices allowed women in most Western cultures: service functions within male structures, adherence to the feminine mystique of charity, sacrifice, and self-denial, and madness.
Would/does knowledge of textual editing practices matter to this construction, is Cambria commenting on male scholarly activity?
Cambria chose to print portions of the original documents in italics
interspersed with passages from Gramsci's letters, quotations,
statements by friends or others involved in the events, while her own
comments link, interpret, and contextualize each passage. The
rigorous separation, by different typefaces, between the women's
letters and her own commentary explicitly manifests the interpretive
nature of the commentary, its tendentiousness, its having a
viewpoint, its being “sectarian” rather than an innocent or
(90) Cambria conveys to the readers how she absorbed Giulia, Tatiana, and Eugenia as fragments of her own self, how their experiences can act as reactor to other women's understanding of themselves; she also conveys her elation in discovering and unearthing a writing which is the testimony of unknown women.
(90) The performance I saw was in an open courtyard and used the Brechtian concept of epic theater.
Interdependent conception of historical and theatrical text demonstrates new textual practice enjoining subjects in modes of production (writer, reader, performer, audience), emphasizing historical over mythical, and rejecting novel as single narrative form, articulating subject dialectically at personal and social dimensions, where women are subjects, not commodities; compare to Boal Theater of the Oppressed.
historical text and the theatrical text were conceived
(92) The characteristic features of Cambria's entire work point to a new practice and vision of the relation between subject and modes of textual production. As for the form of content: historical, not mythical, materials are chosen from a concrete situation and real events. . . . The human sources of these views—writers, performers, and the specific audience addressed (this is a play for women)--are clearly identified to avoid mystification and mythologizing. As for the from of expression: the rejection of the novelistic as the single organizing principle of classical narrative forms such as biography, novelistic romance, or the “realist” novel must be seen in the light of current theories of the plurality of the text, in which the rejection of the novelistic emphasizes the process of reading as a constitutive act of the subject. In this new textual form, where the rational historical inquiry is continually intersected by the lyrical and the personal, the subject is at once writer and reader, performer and audience. . . . The text is produced and meant to be received as the intersecting of the personal and the social, a process articulated dialectically on subjective codes and on objective realities.
(92-93) Working along these lines, we can perhaps develop a feminist theory of textual production which is neither a theory of women's writing nor just a theory of textuality. . . . So it is not a question of what or how women write, but of how women produce (as makers) and reproduce (as receivers) the aesthetic object, the text; in other words, we need a theory of culture with women as subjects—not commodities but social beings producing and reproducing cultural products, transmitting and transforming cultural values.
De Lauretis, Teresa. Technologies of Gender : Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1987. Print.