Sunday, October 17, 2010
Hypermasculinity, Ageing Bodies and Fast Feminisms: an Interview with Shannon Bell
this is an amazing interview via no more potlucks
KS: This is Kim Sawchuk, sitting in the kitchen with the lovely and charming Shannon Bell of York University, the author of Reading Writing and Rewriting the Prostitute Body and Whore Carnival and who’s got a third book coming out, a single-authored monograph called Fast Feminism.
SB: I have “FF” branded on my arm. The book ends with FF being branded. Branding for me is about power and ownership. ‘FF wanted the actions and the events she’d lived in the now to be always there with her. FF had the letters FF branded onto her right arm, and with this action she owned Fast Feminism.’ Fast Feminism has taken forever to come out. I’ve had more trouble with this book than with any book I’ve ever written. Perhaps because it is authentically perverse.
KS: So what is the main premise of Fast Feminism, and why is the book called Fast Feminism?
SB: I have been working with the concept of fast feminism for some time, since 2000. Feminism has always been lacking one of my favorite characteristics: hypermasculinity. I always think of myself as very hypermasculine, in a muscular femme body. I wanted to bring together unlikely suspects – ground a feminism in previous feminisms, but also in my favorite theorist of all time, Paul Virilio. I wanted to bring feminism together with both speed and his later work, the accident.
I’m claiming that fast feminism really is the accident of Virilio’s speed theory. For Virilio, the accident, although an unintended and disturbing consequence, is inherent in, and created by the very technology or system it comes out of. How is Fast Feminism both the likely and unlikely accident of speed theory? An accident of any system, whether that system be ecological, technological or philosophical, is the unknown quantity inherent in the original substance. Where is fast feminism inherent in Virilio’s speed? Three locations: The fiercely courageous speed style that profoundly critiques the world quickly and breaks intellectual scholarship. The recurrent messianic moment that Virilio never fully hides: “if you save one man, you save the world”. And, in Virilio’s positioning of the body as the basis of his work: “I am a materialist of the body, which means that the body is the basis of all my work”; “when I talk about speed, I am talking about bodies.”
The other hypermasculine work I ground fast feminism in is the pragmatic techno-philosophy of the international cyber-robotics performance artist, Stelarc, who Virilio identifies as a global prophet of posthumanism. There are two aspects of Stelarc’s philosophical reflections that directly impact fast feminism. Stelarc always premises his theoretical claims and philosophical pronouncements on his practice. For Stelarc, “the idea is always in the act.” New thought is grounded in action and physiology. And, of course for Stelarc the carbon body has been obsolete since the early 70’s. If the body is over, gender is outdated, a worn concept that doesn’t match reality.
What happens in the text is an accident of gender in a way, the older female body comes in really strong, because, let’s face it, I’m 54 now and fast feminism was first written in my 40s. It covered everything up till then that I’d done. I just kept adding to it. Finally one of the things I had to address was doing performance – nude performance and sexual performance –in an older female body, which I’m really trying to politicize. I’d like to read from that text.
KS: Why don’t you.
SB: “I’m no novice fast feminist. These days when I do ejaculation demonstrations and nude public performances,” and I just did one last week, “what meets the viewer’s eye is not just a small, muscular femme body, but an older, small, muscular femme body – a body that’s not supposed to be seen. The obscenity is in the showing. Of course, one of my political commitments, having as my modus operandi a politics of affect, is to queer the old female body, to fuck with the signs of aging while presenting them. Gesture, movement, style and body composition meet and meld with age spots, knee wrinkles, and sagging upper arm undercarriage. It doesn't matter how many years one has worked out, or how long and how hard each time, time will get you. Perhaps that is why time is my most worthy and best-endowed seducer. My mother died with my eyes held by her gaze. Time leaves no gender, no flesh, just pure intensity.”
KS: That’s an eloquent reflection on the ageing female body and on witnessing the death of someone you deeply love.
SB: Although I’ve worked really hard to redefine an older female body, ageing still gets you. At a certain point you can say, “Yes, that’s a very interesting older female body,” but it’s still an older female body. I messed around with Botox at one time, but now, I find wrinkles on a female face really interesting. Working with the signs and processes of age is political. I’m doing that in Fast Feminism.
KS: You’re working with yourself as a kind of “figure”?
SB: I’m working with myself as the heroine, and the fast feminist hero. When FF is there, it’s usually all about sex. FF is quite a good sexual adventure. There’s also the philosophy of fast feminism. The intro chapter sets those both up: FF’s escapades and the linkage between pornography, politics and philosophy. So I’m using Virilio, Levinas and Bataille to situate it, and of course Arthur and Marilouise Kroker.
KS: What else does the book address?
SB: The first chapter is on the female phallus and situates it in terms of theoretical work on the phallus, but also the showing of the female phallus. Female ejaculation is linked with the female phallus. I’ve done a number of different performances and workshops on how to ejaculate, what it is, the power it gives you. Chapter 1 is quite a lengthy chapter, and it talks about how female ejaculation has exploded into a sub-genre of pornography and is never going to disappear again.
KS: And you are one of the pioneering – you are the pioneering person…
SB: Well there’s three of us who were female ejaculation pioneers, Deborah Sundahl (editor of On Our Backs), Annie Sprinkle and myself. We’re all still teaching. I just did a workshop at Come As You Are sex store (Toronto). Now I start off with a 40-minute ejaculation demonstration using sex toys and giving precise technical instruction. I am all about the technology of ejaculation, the power and skill; this has always set me apart from the other teachers. For me it is an acquired skill that a female body in control can choose to do or not do. The seminar is for men and women; it works really well. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, the audiences have gotten super-great.
KS: Enthusiastic? Intimate?
SB: Enthusiastic and the experience is very cool. I put the speculum in sideways, so you can see the erect female phallus, while I’m masturbating and ejaculating. Sometimes I accidentally ejaculate on their shoes because they are so close; the people attending are really wonderful. So it’s always exciting for me to do the workshop.
KS: Let’s go back to the philosophy of fast feminism. If I want to be a fast feminist, what do I have to do?
SB: It’s a fairly open and inclusive category. It addresses people who are in control of their actions, as either dominant or submissive – I actually wrote Fast Feminism as something of a submissive. I purposefully wanted to do that, and I’m a pretty good submissive because I’m highly performative. The philosophy then is that the female phallus – and it’s a queer phallus – is that part that has been repressed in the female body and female anatomy, but has now been conclusively identified in dissection. I did dissection on the urogential region of a female body. You can see the erectile tissue in the genital region, it’s really quite amazing.
In the next chapter, “The Perverse Aesthetic of an Infamous Child Pornographer: John Robin Sharpe ,” I covered the one and only artistic merit child pornography trial in the world, which was in Vancouver: the trial of Robin Sharpe. I covered it as a journalist. I also enacted almost everything Sharpe wrote about after hours with Sharpe himself, with me in the position of man and him in the position of little boy. I write about that. Robin actually taught me everything I learned in terms of the techniques of sadism. This is there in the book and that’s what kept killing it.