Issue 10.3 | Summer 2012 / Guest edited by Jonathan Beller

Europe: Gender, Class, Race

The present essay has three parts. All three parts present the critique of the spatializations of Europe in the context of global neoliberal discourse on one side and the completely intertwined discourse of postsocialist/post-Cold-War Europe on the other.

The first part conceptualizes a possibility to think socially, politically, and culturally about a space once known as Eastern Europe, which in the 1990s—after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)—transformed into the former Eastern Europe, and since 2004, has been partly integrated into the European Union (to become in the future the United States of Europe or simply to vanish!), and partly waiting at the European Union’s threshold. In this first part, gender is seen as one of the major ways of control, subjugation, and repetition of coloniality.

The second part elaborates a genealogy of contemporary performative practices and political spaces in the former Yugoslavia that dismantles the singular, established contemporary history of art and performative practices (conceptual, body, and performance) that has been imposed by the former (as they like to call themselves now) Western Europe’s historiography. In order to dismantle such a singular history, the concept of politically queer is elaborated.

The third part clearly exposes that the question of race has—and will have—a pertinent political weight in Europe. Europe must critically review its colonial and racial history and present. The contemporary European Union’s hyperbolic, regained whiteness and reiterated ideology of Occidentalism brutally reproduce the regimes of racial and class coding that govern economic, social, and political inequality in Europe.

Therefore the three parts can be seen as a dialectical process that goes from positivization (implying brutal gender policy or genderization) through negation (the politically queer as dismantling the singular history of the former Eastern Europe as only the heterosexual, white, and patriarchal space on the other side of the Iron Curtain), and then to an even more brutal “synthesis” in class racializations. The outcome of the latter also implies a change from biopolitics to necropolitics, or from a mode of life that is based on the management of life (bios) to a mode of life that capitalizes on real, social, and symbolic death (necro). This change became painfully visible on September 11, 2001, and was intensified by the crisis in 2008.

Therefore, I want to expose the ways in which gender, class, and race were and are overdetermined, but without falling into the simplification that they are merely contradictory.

PART ONE: Art and Gender from the Former East of Europe

The culture of resistance in global capitalism has come to an end of the way resistance to capitalist overexploitation was perceived in the past, when it was presumed that it was enough to take a place on the other side of the structures of power. In global capitalism this is no longer the case. Why? Global capitalism functions not by division but by entanglement. It is a specific entanglement of power and capital that can precisely be described as a Christian, white, capitalist world reiterated through a constant humanization. “Becoming human” is a specific process of racialization that works hand-in-hand with class racialization.

This functions in Europe through the manufacturing of the former Eastern Europeans—so to say former “nonsubjects”—into gendered, European, white, bourgeois subjects. It is about us acquiring our capitalistic, conservative, chauvinistic, patriarchal, mostly petit-bourgeois lineage in order to safeguard the heterosexual family and the racialized nation’s “substance.” The European Union aims to transform former “barbarian Communist” Eastern Europeans into “humanized” and “civilized” Europeans.

Of course, this process has its “ghastly underside: the story of the racialized subject’s dehumanization.”[1] In 1998, Brian Carr elaborated on this relation of production of “ humans” that leaves the so-called nonhumans untouched by asking: What is left at the threshold in the process of manufacturing humans? His answer is brief: Race!

Kwame Nimako, the director of NiNsee (the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy) in Amsterdam, bitterly states:

Now that the Berlin wall (in 1989) had fallen, Western Europe had Eastern Europe to go to and they could do away with Africa. Africa was no longer relevant. African migration started to be controlled. This is the major preoccupation of Europe today–how to prevent Africans from coming to Europe. Now Eastern Europe has become the source of full agricultural production. Another factor is the civilization mission of the ‘former’ Western Europe in Eastern Europe. They are going to civilize the Eastern Europeans to teach them democracy, to teach them how to treat the Roma citizens, to teach them about race relations and human rights. Western Europe ‘solved’ all these problems–the problem of education, the problem of development, the problem of freedom–and it is the rest that has to be taught. From the point of view of race relations, it also marginalizes the black community, because once Europe becomes larger, the black community becomes small.[2]

Referring to Angela Mitropoulos,[3] I can argue that Europe today is—in its most basic sense—constituted by “the problem of the legal form of value, of its imposition and perseverance,” and by “origin and lineage.” Europe’s migration/labor, capital, sexual reproduction, and race are nowhere more disputed and uneasy than at the frontier between the spectral former East and “former” (note that I use the quotation marks in this case) Western Europe—at the meeting point of “natural” citizens and migrants, colonizers and descendants of the colonized, and the European Union and the non-E.U. states, etc.

To understand how in Europe the white (petit-) bourgeois subject is made through gender, while others are made through race and class, or by “classtimate”[4] of race representationally, symbolically, and through real exploitation and discrimination “unmade,” it is necessary to proceed with an analysis based on an exemplary case. This is the exhibition, Gender Check–Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe, displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, or MUMOK, in Vienna from November 2009 to February 2010. The exhibition is being toured around Europe and maybe will come to your city soon!

The exhibition provides a platform for a political analysis of the new Europe that was enthroned with the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009. It is a paradigmatic case of the entanglement of feminist positions from the former Eastern Europe and global multinational capital within the European context. Gender Check–Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe was curated by Bojana Pejić;[5] the exhibition was presented in MUMOK, Vienna; and in every respect produced—that means initiated, and even more importantly, financially made possible—by the ERSTE Foundation. The exhibition was one of the most expensive projects in art and culture in contemporary Europe produced by the ERSTE Foundation of Vienna. ERSTE Foundation—as was exposed a few times in the opening speeches of the exhibition, and in its post-opening symposium event as well—is the foundation that manages the ERSTE Bank, and not vice versa, as we had believed until then.

This makes an important difference, because until now, the analysis of projects produced by the ERSTE Foundation—and they are numerous (bearing the brand of ERSTE)—were always, at least, as defined by us theoreticians as, “art and cultural interventions,” made by the multinational bank corporation ERSTE, based in Vienna, to save face, so to speak, for a proper invasive allocation of capital mostly throughout the former Eastern European territory.

The way to understand this—let’s be frank—rhetorically banal shift from bank to foundation was accurately elaborated by Santiago López Petit in his book, Global Mobilization: A Brief Treatise for Attacking Reality,[6] in which he states that global capitalism shows two major characteristics today. One is that capitalism is not an irreversible process but, as stated by López Petit, is a reversible and conflictual event that is nothing more than the repetition of a single event: the “unrestrainment” of capital. The second characteristic is the new condition of relation between capital and power in global capitalism. López Petit names this relation the “co-propriety of capital/power.” This co-propriety of capital/power in global capitalism (in distinction to what López Petit defines as the relation unity of capital/power in the 1970s) signals that: (1) Capital is more (than) capital, (2) Capital that is more than capital is power.

The co-propriety of capital/power that was (unconsciously and therefore proudly) displayed (as well as articulated through the opening speeches) by the ERSTE Foundation means that the bank owns (it does not matter if only temporarily) MUMOK, the main public institution of art in Austria and its institutional (public to critical) machine. The exhibition therefore fits perfectly with the changes in art and culture brought by global capitalism in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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  1. Brian Carr, “At the Thresholds of the ‘Human’: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Replication of Imperial Memory,” Cultural Critique 39 (1998): 120. [Return to text]
  2. Kwame Nimako, address, Workshop on Education, Development, Freedom, Duke University, Durham, 25-27 February 2010. The workshop was organized by Walter Mignolo at the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities, Duke University. See website. [Return to text]
  3. See Angela Mitropoulos, “Legal, Tender,” Reartikulacija 7 (December 2009). [Return to text]
  4. I refer, with “classtimate.” to Brian Carr’s (2004) proposed coinage of “sextimate” in order to register the gap in Nella Larsen’s novel, Passing regarding sex and race. Both terms refer to Lacan’s extimité that was manufactured by applying the prefix, ex, from exterieur, or exterior, to the Freudian term, intimité, or intimacy. The Lacanian extimate defies the inside/outside, self/other boundaries and is thus both exterior and intimate at the same time. For Carr, though, race is the positivization of a gap, the imaginary overcoming of an internal limit. See Brian Carr, “Paranoid Interpretation, Desire’s Nonobject, and Nella Larsen’s Passing,” PMLA 119.2 (2004): 282-295. [Return to text]
  5. Bojana Pejić is one of the representatives of the ex-Yugoslav feminist movement that was strongly conceptualized in Belgrade and Zagreb, and was of the utmost importance for many emancipative struggles in the history of (former) Yugoslavia. [Return to text]
  6. Santiago López Petit, La movilización global. Breve tratado para atacar la realidad [Global Mobilization. Brief Treatise for Attacking Reality], (Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños, 2009). In Spanish. [Return to text]