She’s just not that into you

Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, trans. Ariana Reines, Semiotext(e), Intervention series 12, Los Angeles, 2012. 144 pp., £9.95 pb., 978 1 58435 108 5. How best to describe the colonization of the body at this particular juncture of capitalist life? Much recent theorizing has focused on a kind of war of affects where depression, euphoria and other states of being are read not merely as signs or symptoms, but as directly produced by (and productive of) particular economic relations. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s notion of ‘semio-capitalism’ has attempted to track the implica­tions of cyberspace and cybertime for the increas­ingly depressed mind and body of the contemporary subject. Herve Juvin in the recent The Coming of the Body (reviewed in RP 165, January/February 2011) has similarly attempted to describe what it means for contemporary life when the body has become the ‘bearer’ of all meaning, where every aspect of exist­ence is exchangeable and where nothing is hidden or hideable. While the trajectory of this kind of analysis is not exactly new, even where it occasionally remembers the vast feminist literature on embodiment, affect and labour from the 1960s onwards, there is something novel about the peculiar combination of consumerism, despair, visibility and immaturity that characterizes postwar life in its later stages. It is this ‘new physi­ognomy of Capital’, where ‘the generalized credit that rules every exchange … strikes within the image of its uniform emptiness the “heart of darkness” of every “personality” and every “character”‘ that Tiqqun address in this short, wilfully fragmentary text first published in France in 1999. The question of gender is raised here, there and everywhere – from the title of the book, to the extracts from magazines marketed to women that Tiqqun scatter throughout the text, to something much more nebulous and disturbing at the heart of their endeavour. Theory of the Young-Girl is a text that both parodies and mirrors the misogyny that resonates at the heart of a culture that celebrates youth and beauty above all else while simultaneously denigrating the bearers – young women, overwhelmingly – of these purportedly desirable characteristics. The translator of the text, poet Ariana Reines, has written of the visceral reaction the task engendered. The translation, she writes in the online magazine Triple Canopy, ‘gave me migraines, made me puke; I couldn’t sleep at night, regressed into totally out-of-character sexual behaviour’. It is indeed a book that disturbs in its relentless depiction of the fully weaponized, consumerist body of a world in which ‘[although everyone senses that their exist­ence has become a battleground upon which neuroses, phobias, somatizations, depression, and anxiety each sound a retreat, nobody has yet really grasped what is happening or what is at stake.’ The language of colo­nization, immunization, meat and fluids seeps through the abstract framework of image-analysis, economic structure and ruminations on modernity: ‘the Young-Girl doesn’t kiss you, she drools over you through her teeth. Materialism of secretion.’ If parts of the text read like a theoretically inflected revenge manual for male nerds, one assumes that this effect is – on one level – intentional. The quotation from Hamlet that appears at the beginning of the text, ‘I did love you once’, hints at past betrayals, as does the claim that ‘the “male sex” becomes both the victim and the object of its own alienated desire.’ But who is this ‘male sex’ if everyone is required to permanently ‘self-valorise’, that is to say, to be a Young-Girl? What is left of the body, love, personality when all life resembles a cross between a spreadsheet and a horoscope? ‘Unhappiness makes people consume’ reads one aphoristic statement, and yet unhappiness appears to be all there is, even as everything shrieks of fulfilment and perkiness. But why Young-Girl’? Who is she, and what kind of ‘theory’ is presented here? Stylistically, Tiqqun operate in the speculative void-space created by situationist-style and Agambenian portentousness – detournement meets poetic ontologizing. The style is assertoric, even where the claims made are highly evaluative. Hundreds of sen­tences begin ‘The Young-Girl is…’ This grinding repeti­tion is ameliorated only slightly by the use of varied font styles and the insertion of quotations not only from women’s magazines, but also from … Continue reading She’s just not that into you