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Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman, ...

ID IV.1.r1


Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman, Winchester, UK, Zero Books, 2009,
74 pp., $14.95.

- K. Lamač

This is not really a book at all; it is an intervention, even in that de-plorable sense of friends and family taking a problem individual in hand and shaking an ill-sorted mind right again, but with none of the intolerable sanc-timony. The individual in this case is “feminism,” or at least that part of it that has let itself be lured into the cul de sacs prepared for it by contempo-rary ideology. Nina Power candidly takes her inspiration from Herbert Mar-cuse’s One Dimensional Man, extending the latter’s withering analyses of consumerism and manipulation, but also thinking the specifically gendered mutations these have undergone in recent years.
Power warns at the outset that the text contains little cheer. Yet neither does it contain the glumness and depression associated with the Great Re-fusal. The tone instead veers between the icy and the satiric, but mainly tends to the latter; and if the satire is sometimes exasperated, impatient, run-ning the risk of repeating the declamatory style of its object, it never aban-dons its sense of proportion. Power’s writing displays humor, rather than irony, and rescues its baleful observations of disaster from appearing final. This is much harder to do than it may sound.
For Power is struggling with a new world order, one in which it is dif-ficult to keep a grip on the sense of feminism: “Almost everything turns out to be ‘feminist’—shopping, pole-dancing, even eating chocolate.” If this is the “personal” side, which promotes self-realization in harmony with the prevailing order, or in order to give it a hedonist sheen, there is also another and equally political category that bears much more collectively on current events: the enlisting of feminism for the purposes of belligerence in a sup-posed clash of civilizations. Power, who has ably translated and edited some of his writings, cites Badiou approvingly on the contradictions of the “hijab affair”; yet the unintended result of this temporary exposure to shrill indig-nation is to leave the reader much more appreciative of Power’s own tone: another victory for humor over irony.
Covering up and its opposite are a constant concern in an argument that has a tendency to leap from one focus to another with abrupt speed. The short chapter on Sarah Palin keeps all of these aspects in constant play, much like its subject and her various manifestations in the media. Here Power’s satire is at its most consistently successful, targeting not only the uses and abuses of the term “feminism” in the campaign to make a family values advocate the new sex symbol of empowered womanhood, but also in the anxieties and obsessions that this reveals in some men (Power is espe-cially amusing about the Lacanian Jacques-Alain Miller). Exposure be-comes a more nuanced matter as the book examines the “feminization of la-bor,” and its inverse, as now the question combines the philosophical and the sociological: the demand that everything now appear on the surface, leaving no interior for the individual, man or woman, to reserve from the circuit of capitalist living. Here the imperatives of the market entail new transformations of subjectivity and call for new categories in which to think the latter.
A more serious extension of the same notions appears in the treatment of pornography, where Power tries to recover some of the “utopian” poten-tial of pleasure and sensuality in their social dimension. Pornography is not treated in the moral terms of right-wing condemnation, or with the indigna-tion of some feminists who regard it as intimately related with violence to and oppression of women, but as “a paradigmatic mode of work.” This is both the most promising section of Power’s study and the most frustrating; here, brevity seems too brief, and it is almost a pity that someone who has shown herself a literary cinephile should not have dealt with Godard’s Pas-sion and its twin concern with the impossibility of filming love and work and their relation to pornography and the visual as such; or, in a different register, the work of a writer like Houellebecq for whom the “sexual revolu-tion” and feminism itself are among the sources of the present malaise, and who also tries to use pornography as provocation. Yet Power’s treatment of the subject focuses rather on alternative histories of pornography and the transformative potential contained in them—all wittily recaptured in the sloganeering title of one of the last chapters: “Socialism Must Not Exclude Human Sensual Pleasure From Its Program!” It is this indomitable drive to recover the sense of real alternatives in a situation that Power perceptively diagnoses as one of “deflationary acceptance,” that makes this a must-have text for anyone depressed by the ideals of our day.
The book clearly has its genesis in ideas tried out at Nina Power’s blog, Infinite Thought, and the rapid swerves from one point to another, the brief treatment of heterogeneous topics, owe something to the forms of at-tention encouraged by the web; but Power is that rare entity, a blogger who is more interested in the world than in her thoughts about it. If the term did not carry negative connotations, One Dimensional Woman might be called a pamphlet. This kind of writing appears to belong to that genre of topical ar-gumentation, engaged in the questions of the moment, ephemeral to the ex-act degree of its subjects, and taking a stand in an open and embattled public space, such as was practiced in the time of John Milton—or Jonathan Swift.