Gender Abolition and Ecotone War

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We begin with a poem. We are both sometimes poets, so this seems apt. Moreover, poetry has not only a thick precapitalist history (in distinction, famously, to the novel, much less the newer media) but a historically privileged relation to
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  The South Atlantic Quarterly  115:2, April 2016 󰁤󰁯󰁩 10.1215/00382876-3488420 © 2016 Duke University Press Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr  Gender Abolition and Ecotone War  T o the extent that life is understood scientifi-cally, the management of life becomes a science. This is the underlying developmental logic of Michel Foucault’s account of biopolitics, featur-ing the transfer that characterizes his thought: an epistemology becomes a mode of domination. It is within this period of his thought, most notably in the talk later known as “Mesh of Power,” that Fou-cault comes closest to aligning his own approach with that of Marx, decisively associating biopolitics with the power not simply to make live  but to make  productive  (albeit in a more variegated sense of “production” than is found in Marx’s critique of political economy). Never the twain shall meet, however, despite noble efforts to synthesize their models of history. Marx’s so-called primitive accu-mulation, wherein the feudal subject was sepa-rated from means and possibility of subsistence by direct force of the state sovereign, might be under-stood in accordance with Foucault’s biopolitics—the peasant is made productive  through being made  free  of everything but the capacity to sell their labor power. Following this transition, however, capital (subsuming history into its motion) becomes self-moving, in the form of self-valorizing value and impersonal compulsions. The impositions of force South Atlantic Quarterly  Published by Duke University Press  292  The South Atlantic Quarterly   •  April 2016 lose their ordering power. What sovereigns remain are no longer either obli-gated or able to make  anything; they are more or less along for the ride. This set of impersonal compulsions churning forward autonomous of anyone’s will is the mature Marx’s antihumanism, against which Foucault appears less antihumanist than we once thought; his meshes of power are far more expressly vested in persons and groups, and in their human capacities.In the present essay, deriving more from Foucault’s logical structure than the particulars of the biopolitical, we are interested in the imperative to make differential  : how differences that precede the eras either of capital or of biopolitics, existing at both the so-called natural and social levels, are repro-duced as differentials across which value can flow. These differentials are a necessary basis for the imperative to make productive , since productivity within capital requires differential valuations. This assessment provides for us three things. First is a conceptual terrain, that of the ecotone, the meeting point of two ecologies across which value flows. Second is a unification of ecological and other struggles as sharing this logic of ecotone and differen-tial, despite various claims that the logic of the Anthropocene does away with differential thought because it threatens all equally with absolute destruction. And third is a logic of struggle, which is that of abolition. Gen-der is our question here, for the way that it is preserved as a differential as a matter of necessity within capital, and thus becomes itself a lever of capital expansion that is now identical to anthropogenic planetary destruction. But this is differently true of class, race, and property arrangements that spatial-ize differentials. Against the Anthropocene we see the abolition of these dif-ferentials as an immediate and necessary struggle. The Kumulipo We begin with a poem. We are both sometimes poets, so this seems apt. Moreover, poetry has not only a thick precapitalist history (in distinction, famously, to the novel, much less the newer media) but a historically privi-leged relation to representing the Anthropocene: it is at its beginnings often an anthropogenic mode for formalizing and cataloging ecological data such as the sorts of fish, of winds, and so forth. It is such a poem we have chosen: the Hawaiian creation chant of the   Kumulipo.We want the poem to stand as an allegory for the historical develop-ment this essay traces. The allegory is not, however, in the poem’s content or form—even if we linger on these for a moment, even if these are necessary elements in what will happen. The allegory blooms in the poem’s material South Atlantic Quarterly  Published by Duke University Press  Clover and Spahr    •  Gender Abolition and Ecotone War 293 entanglement, its historical fate: how it was taken up and transformed by capital toward certain ends that it could not have foreseen.The particular transformation in which we are interested concerns the remaking of an aggregate arrangement, various and elaborated and tending toward a whole, into a systematic differential purpose-built to accumulate capital. The distinction between difference and differential from which our argument develops identifies the historic internalization of the social into the political-economic, in a manner that preserves and produces difference at the level of lived experience only to homogenize it at the level of value pro-duction where all difference becomes a potential lever for accumulation. We shall return to this analysis; for the moment, we might say that this transfor-mation of difference into differential is one way to describe the character of the Anthropocene.No such historical transformation happens in an instant, even in a given locale. Correspondingly, the dating of the Anthropocene remains open to general debate and to specific inquiries in cases like ours of Hawai‘i. We hope the tracing of this allegory and this history will lead us toward a useful sense of how we date the era, toward a politics adequate to the present, and an idea of where to intervene.The Kumulipo is a good example of what poetry can look like before the Anthropocene. It is written in a social order both precapitalist and pre-West-ern contact. It enacts poetry’s long history of engaging eco-complexes. It is said to be composed around 1700 by Keaulumoku, who like Homer may or may not be an avatar for a collective poet. Like many creation chants, it nar-rates the genesis of the world by listing a series of births. Unlike many cre-ation chants, it tracks an evolutionary course, moving more or less up a phylo-genetic chain. So the list begins with slime, then coral, then the burrowing worm, then the starfish, the sea cucumber, the coral-dwelling sea urchin, the kumimi crab, the whale. Humans do not show up until the eighth section of sixteen. The poem pivots on the following line: “from embryo the infant child has formed until now” (Johnson 2000: 25, l. 649). The chant is enumerative, but not merely enumerative. About sixty lines in, it begins a transition from the ocean to where the ocean and the shore meet, a new contrast or tension: the ‘aki’aki seaweed next to the manienie shore grass; “the fragrant red sea-weed living in the sea / Kept by the succulent mint living on land” (ll. 66–67).Once set forth, the conjoined difference of land and sea becomes an organizing principle for the poem, alongside occasional clusters: a list of fish, a list of birds, a list of seaweeds, a list of taros. The concerns of the Kumulipo are larger than the charismatic megafauna that dominate the South Atlantic Quarterly  Published by Duke University Press  294  The South Atlantic Quarterly   •  April 2016 concerns of mainstream environmentalism. Still, these lists, as many lists in literature of this sort, tend to be anthropocentric; they are the plants and the animals that humans might need to survive. Despite its interest in the food plants and animals, however, the Kumulipo does not distinguish between human and nature. It puts humans, one more list among the lists, in their place on land while pointedly embedding them in the conjoined unity of land and sea that the poem works so hard to convey.The meeting of land and sea is a paradigmatic ecotone , the meeting of two biomes: a transition zone, a contact zone, a space of flows. And those more knowledgeable about things Hawaiian, such as Rubellite Kawena Kin-ney Johnson, point to how the poem notices the dependencies between not only land and sea but also more complicated ecotones: open ocean, reef zone, coastal wetlands, dry and wet forest areas. It is also, and we think this is important, a beautiful poem that is expansive and inclusive.And yet, ironically or inevitably, it becomes not just a poem elaborating the ecotone but itself part of that ecotone and of its transformation. The poem is in circulation at the very moment of Western contact. It is said that the   Kumulipo was chanted to James Cook on his landfall at Hawai‘i: a conse-quential meeting of land and sea, to say the least. Cook, some say, was thought to be Lono-i-ka-makahiki (the Hawaiian deity of fertility, agricul-ture, and rainfall) come to life. This is 1788.Let us make a claim, then, one that we will have to make good on. “The Anthropocene” is not simply a period but a set of forces. It is, among other things, the name for the set of forces that drive toward the meeting of Kumu-lipo and Cook. England’s maritime and global power, of which Cook is an early emissary, will extend itself around the globe. Carl Schmitt’s (1997) brief book, Land and Sea , offers a different sort of creation myth from the Kumu-lipo, but a related reminder. Inevitably, with Schmitt (2003), capital and empire trace the spatial dispensation of the globe, what he later calls “the nomos of the Earth,” in this case the ambiguous undulations of the land-sea relation across centuries. In the era after the Westphalian interstate system is settled, it becomes increasingly the case that land is the place of politics, sea the space of economy. This division corresponds to the rise of imperial capital-ism; as Walter Raleigh said, “Whoever controls the seas controls the world trade; whoever controls world trade holds all the treasures of the world in his possession, and in fact, the whole world” (quoted in Schmitt 1997: n.p.). This is “the world” seen from Europe, the world as it will be organized by the first capitalist world empire. The ur  -ecotone of land and sea, which initially appears as more or less primordial and natural, has becomes historical and social. South Atlantic Quarterly  Published by Duke University Press  Clover and Spahr    •  Gender Abolition and Ecotone War 295 When exactly the Anthropocene began is much debated. Paul Crut-zen and Eugene Stoermer (2010), who proposed the term in 2000, begin by locating it “since the industrial revolution in 1750.” There has been some suggestion that Crutzen now wants to place the beginning of the Anthropo-cene with the first nuclear tests (Voosen 2012). These are two of the three most persuasive datings on offer, basing themselves firmly in stratigraphic data. Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin (2015: 171–80), in a recent and critical revisiting, similarly offer two alternatives: 1610 and 1964. The latter date aligns with Crutzen’s second proposition, concerning changes wrought by nuclear fallout. This   latter dating underscores an initial problem with the periodizing hypothesis: if purely stratigraphic, it suggests, at a practical level, that our largely post-nuclear age has solved its problem and, more-over, that the ongoing climate collapse is extrinsic to the Anthropocene proper. In trying to locate the social existence of the Anthropocene, we are compelled to take more seriously the remaining two dates, designating colonialism at a global scale and the rise of industrial production. An influ-ential essay by Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) uses 1750 as well for its working assumption.We might add here that the 1610 dating shares some logical puzzles with 1945 and 1964. In Lewis and Maslin 2015, the authors’ technical ratio-nale comes from the dip in atmospheric CO 2 : “The impacts of the meeting of Old and New World human populations—including the geologically unprecedented homogenization of Earth’s—may serve to mark the begin-ning of the Anthropocene” (175). The tension between 1610 and the latter eighteenth century is between the colonization’s privative destruction of common life and the coming of capitalist modernity, with its compulsions toward ever-increasing productivity. Here the case of Hawai‘i proves not unique but perhaps uniquely suggestive in the relative unity of these two events: the moments of its contact with empire and of the launch of the industrial revolution that will swiftly bestride the planet are one.As the Anthropocene develops, the Kumulipo is carried along into the contemporary by its role in the complicated history that is the Pacific. A poem of beginnings, it is present no less at the ends of things. It was trans-lated into English in 1897 by Queen Lili‘uokalani while she was under house arrest in ‘Iolani Palace, after a coup d’état by the emissaries of Anglophone capital. Three moments, then: composition , contact  , coup . This alliteration feels easy. If it offered a complete story, it would be another wherein a poem exists both within colonial capture and as struggle through resistive transla-tion, a struggle that has had uneven success. South Atlantic Quarterly  Published by Duke University Press
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