Friday, June 1, 2012

Heat: Feminine Products & Queer Objects (Part 1)


"The heat, utterly free from moisture, seemed to knead and stroke the skin like a gigantic masseur: it produced no tendency to drowsiness: rather, intense alacrity"

CS Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet


This summer, I am beginning by closely reading Humoral Theory besides philosophies regarding contemporary Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Again, I am thinking about key terms. Thus I set a challenge to myself: to pick a few key terms and think through their implications for how we look at the production of bodies, particularly gendered bodies, and how this has in term been exploited in one way or another by State and Capitalist Engines. My initial research produced the following terms, which will each be explored in a series of three posts highlighting one of the three inter-penetrating disciplines of contemporary science: Heat (Physics)Estrogen (Biology), and Silicone (Chemistry).


I. That's Hot: Heat as Epistemology

In focusing on HEAT as a way of knowing how gendered materialities have been produced, I set aside questions or criticisms of whether or not certain scientific theories are accurate. Likewise, in tackling humoral theory and contemporary philosophies of physics, I seek not to affirm hard facts about bodies, but to explore methods of knowing, being, and acting. These ways of knowing, I affirm with Michel Foucault, are themselves historically contingent and enact power relations. Furthermore, drawing on the arguments of Bruno Latour, these discourses and epistemes, or ways of knowing, are embodied movements which have material effects on the world.

Thus if we are to "Think through HEAT" we are going to need our first lesson in hand, before we even begin:  HEAT is a way of knowing, it illuminates things are lets their vibrancy stand out to us. We come to know the thing, through the mediation of the HEAT/movement/vibration (by touch and sound) and the light (through sight). This  HEAT  however, like our discourses, are not neutral or perfect angels which transfer without affecting the message. HEAT alters what it illuminates, and may burn it up as well as bring it to life.

Feminist theorists, including Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, and Eve Sedgwick, among others, have astutely described Gender as a way of knowing which cannot be fully divorced from sex. The history of sex, as an act and a term for embodiment, evidences how gender and sexuality both came to be defined simultaneously with definitions of Woman. The definition of these three, Gender/Sex/Woman occur together because for "the knowers," or persons controlling the discourse, Gender/Sex/Woman become relevant to discuss primarily as a passive Servant/Goal of Erotic Desire/Method for producing offspring.

Thus when we consider Gender/Sexuality/Woman and HEAT together, as ways of knowing and illuminating bodies, we should note that this knowing occurs under certain lights which make certain things visible while hiding other things, and which have material affects on the thing being known. HEAT, as an epistemological device, illuminates for us how women have been defined first as passive, later as active, servants/goals/methods for sexual subordination to men.

Women are explained by humoral theory as resulting from a deficiency of  HEAT  in what would have been a male body, according to humoral theorist and surgeon, Ambrose Pare in 1634 “Women have as much hidden within the body as men have exposed outside; leaving aside, only, that women don’t have so much  HEAT , nor the ability to push out what by the coldness of their temperament is held as if bound to the interior. Wherefore if with time, the humidity of childhood which prevented warmth from doing its full duty being exhaled for the most part, the warmth is rendered more robust, vehement and active, then it is not an unbelievable thing if the latter, chiefly aided by some violent movement, should be able to push out what is within.” (Pare 32-33). In this way, the womb is constructed as a space of  HEAT , where the body effectively cooks. Nonetheless it becomes the passive background for the active gestation of the child which either achieves the ultra HEATED status of masculinity or else remaining less energetic and active and becoming a woman. It establishes the feminine energy as a failure of HEAT, while setting the need for the feminine, even the origin of the child as coming from a woman, in the background. Here the female is both the process and the failure of the process for (becoming) man.

Paolo Zacchia, in Questionum medico-legalium (c1653) noted that sexual difference in this way was still more a sociological concern in how to categorize the effects of HEAT on the body, which is understandably as tricky as it is to capture heat in any other form, intellectual or material. He does note that heat generally "drives forward, diffuses, dilates; it does not compress, contact, or retract." It is on this basis that men were imagined to contain more heat than women, and that women could become masculine but men could not become more feminine, as "members that project outwards never recede inwards" (Zacchia 494-495); or as Thomas Laquer notes in his reading of Zacchia, in Making Sex, "male  HEAT , in other words, follows the laws of thermodynamics" (Laquer 140-141). Like many Aristotelian thinkers, women become associated with the cool earthy matter and men with energetic, spiritual forms. Men go outward with heat while women remain passive and inwardly focused. This instrumentality and coolness of the woman becomes over-written, not erased however because it remains paradoxically active, when women are regarded for the sexuality as well as for their sex.

HEAT produces gender in humoral theory, currently by defining women as having a lack of  HEAT . How does, as I will argue, women become seen as a product of having too much  HEAT? The answer may come from sex's partner in definitional crime: sexuality. In humoral theory, Laquer notes, citing Galen, women have an excess of HEAT for use in sex and procreation (cooking the child in the womb) because their HEAT is not otherwise being utilized by being a Man, which as noted requires a higher base-line of HEAT not only to attain but sustain. This HEAT is expressed during sex by the spark of the orgasm, which until the 19th century was regarded as required for life to be created. Laquer notes that by1752, it was believed that conception required the intensity of a female orgasm in order to be effective. By 1836, Laquer notes, this belief had become replaced by the belief that female orgasm was not only not needed, it was not encouraged. Thus, there appears to be no pivot point, but rather a flux between female bodies being defined, primarily in regards to the juncture of sex and sexuality, as being active or passive. Where and when women were merely the receptive environment for male activity of procreation, they seem more tied with a cold wetness. When women are seen as active participants in sex, they are seen as products of heat and passion.

Thus, we might say, along with Elizabeth Grosz's  Volatile Bodies (1994), women are products of intensity, flow, and incontinent excess. This material feminism, Grosz stresses, remains tied however, definitionally and materially to sexuality. She is quick to police to divide between men and women, as products of sexual contact and conflicts over thousands of years of human development, which she traces through Chaos, Territory, Art (2008), calling for women to, in a sense, own their hotness and flow aesthetically in order to take control of their own (means of) production.

Gender as a product and method of  HEAT  continues to be a troubled ground. Certainly in excess, we have heard the word “hot” used to describe bodies sexually. Of course we do hear it applied to men, but in normative media, it is far more likely to hear it attached to women. Feminist theory has made strong arguments of course that “woman” was produced as the second sex, in large part as the product of sexuality. If gender is about alliances and relations between bodies, it is the heteronormative assumption of male as “neutral” subject and the female as “other” and thus the “sexual” object, which has done interesting work to make women akin to “hotness.”

This is further the case in “racial” or “racialized” bodies. Women of color, with all the ambiguity that seems at play in relating bodies to the “neutral” white, very often associates tan, dark,  sweaty bodies in motion as “hot.” Pop culture, movies and music remain full of steamy dark sexualized bodies. Picturing bodies associated with central and southern Americas on the beach, bodies associated with Africa in the jungle, bodies associated with the Middle East as in the desert all invoke the “hotness” of racialization as well as sexuality. This is only compounded when the bodies are also feminine.

If sex sells in today’s identity politics, where identity itself is something bought, not even given, then “ HEAT ” remains a powerful agent to determine our value to society. Tanning booths, vacations in the sun, cosmetics which make the body “glisten,” year round clothing that really only makes sense in hot weather, sunglasses year round, etc, are all ways which “produce” us. The transformative  HEAT  of Humoral Theory which could change gender, race, and attitude may beat out essentialism today because without the technologies of change, what would we buy?

Lesson 1: Heat illuminates, bringing out a body's vibrancy, while altering it.

II. Big Bang(s): Heat as Ontology

"The ontological equivalent of the Big Bang
 rests within every object."
Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, 26

Heat came to me. While I was reading, I kept on making notes and thinking through different arguments, and discovered in the process that words like "HEAT" or "energy," kept on coming up. As I followed these volcanic lines back to what seemed to be the source, I found more and more lines. Humoral theory and contemporary philosophies of physics radiate with fire, from nodes of origin through a rhiztomatic network that may very well touch every extant thing. And yet how does such a permeating force participate in what Graham Harman describes as the retreating essence and what Levi R Bryant describes as the individual or autonomous being of every object?

Here HEAT does seem to offer a second lesson: everything burns, but does so with different qualities. Furthermore, when considered alongside gender, as a way of knowing and becoming, we can trace how bodies are read in humoral theory and modern physics to result from "wombs" which whether we call Mother or Mother Nature, are typically encoded as the feminine thing which produce and are then discarded; that is until we fall to pieces and seek our transition into death in the arms or "tomb" of these mothers. HEAT with gender might remain useful for ontology, by considering how each things in the universe is both the producer and product of such wombs of creation.

Our bodies, from the smallest particle to the universe as an incalculable assemblage is a Promethean flame, dropped from unsearchable heavens, burning as it expands, creating the dimensions of time and space. From the first fractions of a second which we can calculate our genesis from, matter and energy were not only on the same spectrum, but could not yet be separated. Then like light divided from darkness the cooler began to sink into itself and electro-magnetic waves radiated out in a series of splits which allow us to look up at the heavens today and see (with the help of prosthetic eyes, like Hubble) a radiant background of different forms of light ever present above us. Indeed if our eyes were not so weak, we would not walk the night and think of dim, cold space, but would swim through the waves of radiance which flow and flood across our little planet; like CS Lewis's protagonist in the first book of his Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. Peering at calculations on our deep past and projections on our distant future, our universe was born in flames, and we continue to burn with halos of embers; perhaps one day to collapse back into itself with another volatile explosion; a rhythmic universal pulse of expansion and collapse; a burning heart or an orgasmic vagina. 

Considering what it might mean to become bodies of light and  HEAT , I went back through my work from last summer. As explored in the second part of "The Holey Paradox of Transforming Things," Heraclitus concluded for us that:
  • Fire is the Quintessential element
  • All things come into being by rarefaction/condensation
  • "All things come about through opposition"
  • "Strife is Justice"
  • "Everything flows"
There is a sense a paradox opened up by HEAT when we look at our bodies, that a common burning could produce so many different and conflicting forms. Heraclitus, coming in a period of Greek philosophy in which one can find a variety of elements proposed as "the essence" of the universe, proposed HEAT out of what very well might have been a frustration as well as a joy that a kind of paradox, or double motion, seems to function at the foundation of everything. Phenomenological and psychoanalytical thought would likely propose the word "dialectic" but what we are observing here does not seem to be utterly mutually exclusive, only in a state of perpetual tension and conflict. And it is from this constant burning that we might say things are perpetually altered, as fire and time transform all things.

 In the Humoral Theory of Galen, reworking the tradition of Hippocrates, asserted that all humans were essentially identical beings with individuality of gender, race, temperament, even nation or creed being the product of different balances of the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm). As a result, men were more “cooked” than women, and those with dark skin were usually regarded as having more “black bile” and “blood” than whiter skinned peoples. These four humors are produced and tempered however by different degrees of  HEAT  and dryness. Food, Galen writes, On the Natural Faculties, is transformed by the body into one of these four humors depending on the degree of  HEAT which is applied to it.  HEAT  effectively rules all bodies humorally but expresses itself only uniquely.

Galen draws the possibilities of this further by asserting that he is working in a vitalistic as opposed to atomistic philosophy. This invites us to make connections with later vitalists such as Henri Bergon, Gilles Deleuze and Manuel de Landa who react to contemporary physics to propose different philosophies for bodies in a universe tempered by  HEAT. In Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson suggests that all bodies are the result of life rising from dead-matter. Life rises and matter falls. There is a push, a flow, a boiling over in the universe which Bergson calls “spirit” which is very akin to  HEAT . Gilles Deleuze takes up Bergon’s theories in his own work, focusing on terms such as intensities, which bring matter and energy together on the same spectrum so that different bodies are formed as hacceities: the momentary configuration of the flux of things in a theoretically frozen moment of time, “defined by a relation of movement and rest, speed and slowness, by a combination of atoms, an emission of particles” (Deleuze 276). Manuel de Landa in turn takes up this concept and focuses on the term “matter-energy” to describe what “it” is that exists in the monistic flow which makes up all distinct multiplicities. Whether a network of forest fires or a lava flow, there however seems be a constant motion which keeps all things alight, but which at each juncture expresses itself with a unique, however fleeting flame.

Whether in an Object Oriented Realism or in a Marxist Materialism, controlling the means of production and how we treat bodies (which as shown are always already gendered and HEATED) becomes the trade of Capitalism. Whether its control over authorities of knowledge (science), authorities of production (business & technology), or authorities of reproduction (cultural norms, aimed at reining in women and others marked as sex(ual) deviants), we try to contain HEAT so as to force it to enact the same products over and again. No longer simply aiming at being the God, the King, or the (M)other, of all things, capitalism has taught us about the power of being the middle-man, the one who controls the media or the middle management which is unable to totally dominate the chaos of creation, instead settles to monitor and police how these multiplicities of big bangs move through the world. In this way, coming to understand the networks of  HEAT  and Gender, we can better articulate how we move and might resist or transform these networks to become less compulsory and more open to diverse qualities and lives to manifest.

Lesson 2: Heat burns in all things equally but with different qualities.


III. Angels of the Kitchen: Heat as Method

"All things are transformed by fire and time"
Michel Serres, Genesis, 92

One can see  HEAT obliquely, as it illuminates and burns, but  HEAT or light on its own is difficult to see distinctly. In a sense, there is something unseeable about light. In thinking through HEAT with gender, we discover (1) that women and  HEAT  are both seen as  illuminating and vitalizing other bodies which provide ways of knowing and enacting power on the world, (2) women and  HEAT  serve as the womb and tomb of creation which produce each thing, but with unique qualities; we are all our mother's favorite, special child. I now turn us to consider how the (M)other and HEAT has been defined as that which is unknowable excess, the very limits and as means of our knowledge and being.

Likewise, bringing together the ingredients of humoral theory, philosophies of physics, and  HEAT , I discover how impossible this project will be.  HEAT  penetrates nearly every aspect of our being and it represents so many different associations in our language, that following it through any sort of logical route would be a bit over-whelming and raise the temperature in a kitchen to maybe more than this body could swallow. Thus, as a method,  HEAT  has already taught me a lesson: don't fuck with me. For those who read my "Fuck Readers" post or attended my conference talk,you'll know a bit about what I mean by that.  HEAT  does not submit to my purposes, it does not tell me where it goes at night, who it is penetrating behind my back, and that whether I will or not, it will have it's way with me.

In thinking HEAT and Gender, I have to be willing to self-donate and follow lines of thought without assuming to get my energy returned to me. In writing HEAT and the (M)other, I have to be willing to express without expecting that all the power and substance inside me will get translated or that one body can even contain it all without leakage. 

In these lessons on a Method of  HEAT , I am not alone. As scientists studying the universe on the very very micro scale (trying to find the undermining individual being) and the very very marco scale (trying to find the overmining wholeness of being) have begun to share notes, our mechanistic modern secular presumptions about atoms falling through the void increasingly get shot to shit. From anti-matter to dark matter, from the big bang to  HEAT death (or else yet another "bigger bang"), objective reality confronts us with a weirdness that queers the comforts our ontological categories of being. As agents of order break out calculators and theorize new dimensions of existence in order to explain the phenomenon we observe, and yet there remains a chaotic interior which we cannot totally trace.

 Michel Serres in his book Genesis, thinking through many of the foundational origins for the universe, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which situate Chaos at its foundations, proposes  HEAT  as a way to think through the weird, speculative reality we wander and wonder about: "Chaos is open, it gapes wide …it is not a system it is a multiplicity. It is multiple, unexpected. Chaos flows…I say positive chaos…The turba of Lucretius, a stormy mass of diverse elements in disorder, given to shocks, to impacts, to the fray, a chaos given over to jostling, a crowd, it is a mob … Heat is the concept of the scientific era, what it covers none other than the mythical concept of chaos. Heat is our chaos" (Serres 98-103).

Likewise, Bruno Latour, in Reassembling the Social, suggests that what “it” is in the ever moving and reorganizing actor-networks of the universe may be closely tied to the interplay of matter and heat; that at the smallest scale or the largest, we might find a kind of matter-energy which defies orderable qualifications: "Plasma: the missing mass…that which is not yet formed, not yet measured, not yet socialized, not yet engaged in metrological chains and not yet covered surveyed, mobilized, or’s in between..It is not hidden, simply unknown" (Latour 244).

Thus as we move through the world, knowing, being, and acting we are perpetually transformed by HEAT as well as forces of gender which while affecting us, and radiating out from us, remain largely alien and unmappable. We don't fully know where they come from or where they are going. Nor can we express all that they do for us. Graham Harmon and Levi R Bryant likewise affirm that there is an interiority of things, a retreating center and an autonomy which is never fully translated into exteriority. Likewise the (M)other will re-produce but never fully exteriorize herself. Furthermore, HEAT and Women may be useful discourses insofar as they are inscribed as akin to and as teachers of Love (agape), i.e. things which give of the self in a casting off and making separate from the self for the sake of another autonomous life that may take shape, while affirming a bond of  inter-relation. It is a method which is finely articulated in Eileen Joy's entry in Animal,Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, "You are Here: A Manifesto:"

"Self-donation, making ourselves hospitable so that things and events can take place in and with and around us, so that the world can happen to us for a change. The fact of the matter is, we're already occupied, so let's make it official now with a sign posted out front that says, "Hello Everybody!" Related to this: making room, like a broom of the system, for the initial starting conditions of spontanious acts of combustive generosity and impossible unconditionalities. Making space, without liens, for the arrival of strangers whose trajectories are unmappable in advance" (Joy, Cohen ed., 171).

This is a fitting way to close this post, which is only an initial look as I continue my research for the summer, considering  HeatEstrogen, and Silicone, as feminine products which I need to consider not only this summer, but perhaps every summer, as I move through my own heated, hormonal, prosthetic transformations of being and ways of knowing.

Lesson 3: Heat self-donates without reflexivity, but is never fully exhausted.


No comments:

Post a Comment