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absent labia

Last night I dreamed that I was trying to explain why I dislike the French theorist Jean Baudrillard, and in the dream I gave this example of the kind of thing that irritates me: “Jouissance is a term we use to avoid calling something simply jolie, with the excised letter ‘l’ signifying the absent labia.” When I woke up I got a laugh out of this dream version of theory, and also out of the dream choice of Baudrillard as a mask for Lacan, with whom the term is far more closely associated. So I was contemplating how ‘absent labia’ is an oneiric rewrite of the ‘missing women’ who have driven my Wikipedia writing for the last couple of years and who are at the heart of my Monkey Head project. And I suddenly realized that in one respect at least, I myself have been guilty of absenting women from my own project. In browsing the ICI library for readings to feed my thinking—as well as to feed the ICI’s demand for ‘maxims’—I have mostly pulled out books by men. The two blackboards in my research room, where I have been writing down quotations from these sources, are filled with the thoughts of men. One could argue for this as a kind of unconscious sequestration, since the entire rest of the room is awash in the images and thoughts and lives of women, but that in itself is a problem since artificially corralling any group of thinkers is as indefensible as allowing them the run of the room. And there is also the fact that the blackboards are being used to bring in outside voices as authorizing presences, and those outside voices are male.

I can put part of the dearth of women’s voices down to the fact that I like to pull out books at random, or based solely on an intriguing title—which speaks to the fact that a random choice will likely alight on a male author since there are so many more of them. But mostly I have to cop to the fact that my intellectual training back to year one has been strongly male-identified, and the theorists who remain reflexive touchstones in my field of art are a good example. You are trained to pull out Benjamin-Lacan-Derrida-Foucault-Baudrillard, and only after genuflecting in their direction will you have cleared the space to reach for an Irigaray or a Butler or a Haraway. When I’m on my own intellectual terrain — the history and present of digital media — it’s a different story; here I often reach first for women authorities, Haraway being a good example. But when I’m not — as now, when I’m trying to think about encyclopedias and taxonomies and archives, all subjects to which I’ve never given sustained and focused attention — it appears that I revert to old bad habits. The project of releasing ourselves from the sleeping beauty spell is never done.

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