Claire Colebrook

Sex After Life: Essays on Extinction, Volume Two

    8. Just Say No to Becoming Woman (and Post-Feminism)

    The topic of post-feminism is neither joyous nor rigorous. The ‘post’ of post-feminism can either signal the redundancy of a feminist movement that has achieved about all it could achieve, implying an acceptance of gender politics. From this point of view, we can celebrate that certain things are no longer acceptable—unequal pay, sexual harassment, the refusal of reproductive rights, discriminatory language or exclusion from the public sphere—and these achievements would render feminism triumphant and redundant. Alternatively, post-feminism would be a critical stance that attends to forces that are far more complex than those that could be explicable via categories of gender (McRobbie 2004). It is obvious that feminism has made gains that ‘we’ (humans and the non-humans who benefited from eco-feminism) are now enjoying; and yet we might also remind ourselves that such hard-won gains are ‘one generation away from extinction.’ [11] It is no less obvious that for all those gains, figures of gender and tired clichés of sexual difference still organize a lot of our thinking (insofar as we are still thinking). Indeed, perhaps there is a third sense we could grant to the term post-feminism: in addition to referring to the completion of feminism, and to the overcoming of the simplicities of feminism, perhaps post-feminism might be more akin to terms such as ‘post-modernism’ or ‘post-structuralism.’ Here, to be post-feminist would be at one and the same time a refusal of the implicit borders of gender politics, while recognizing that any supposed era after feminism will be haunted by the figures of binary sexual difference that were exposed, criticized, deconstructed and parodied.

    It may well be that we live in a time of the post-human, where we recognize the claims of animals, technology, the planet and other unbounded forces; and yet it is precisely here, in the genre of the post-apocalyptic, that the most tiring gender narratives are repeated. One can think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) in which the world after the end of the world (the world after the destruction of capitalism and civility) is nevertheless ordered by a familial narrative: a man journeys with his son through post-human wreckage, mourning the child’s mother. Or, consider any number of post-apocalyptic cinematic events where the disaster narrative is typically entwined with a heterosexual romance: The Book of Eli (2010) is at once a reflection on a world in which the archive of Judeo-Christianity has been destroyed (with one fabled remaining copy of the Bible), and also a terrain in which a heroic Denzel Washington fights the forces of post-human evil. Yet the narrative is still structured (as nearly all Hollywood narratives are) by a male-female encounter. The heroic Eli not only saves the world by preventing the one remaining bible from falling into the wrong hands; he also saves Solara, the young female who signifies the future at the film’s close. One might say that it is easier to imagine the end of the world, and the end of capitalism, than it is to think outside the structuring fantasies of gender. [12] There must always be an active male heroism driven by a feminine fragility that appears to hold the promise of the future. Explicit narratives of this form, such as Children of Men (2006) in which a world that has stopped breeding is given feeble hope in the form of a young pregnant woman to be saved by the male lead, are surrounded by less overt regressions to the romance plot and its variants. The Walking Dead (2010), I am Legend (2011), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), 28 Days Later (2002)—all these imaginings of the end of the world nevertheless remain with a sentimental Oedipal structure of the family. It might make sense to think in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms that ‘becoming-woman’ is the key to all becomings (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 291): gender and sexual binaries seem to be the last archaism in a world that is elsewhere happily post-human. Finance capital has destroyed the notion of a locus of capitalism; the era of the brain and artificial intelligence has put to rest any notion of the exceptionalism of the human; research on non-human languages and cognitive archaeology has meant that we are truly post-structuralist (no longer believing in the linguistic paradigm). We are post-capitalist, post-linguistic, post-political, post-racial and yet not fully post-feminist. We have gone through the performative turn, the affective turn, the non-human turn, the theological turn and the ethical turn, and yet we seem to keep turning back to woman.

    Even so, for all the rigidity of gender and notions of woman, surely the twenty-first century seems to demand that we think beyond woman, rather than beginning with woman as our first step to human freedom. Why, now, would we want to keep talking about a category as tired and flabby as ‘woman’? And why would we want to take a philosophical corpus, such as Deleuze and Guattari’s with all its energy directed at moving beyond human normality and tie it back—again—to the question of becoming woman? If Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 280) had anything to say on the issue it was to insist on becoming-woman as a moment of passage, and so—not surprisingly—they cited Virginia Woolf’s claim that it would be fatal for writing to ‘think of one’s sex. ’ Given this framing of the concept in Deleuze and Guattari’s corpus, why would one ever waste thought and ink on this relatively isolated, and manifestly transient, notion of becoming-woman?

    One way of defending a continued focus on ‘woman’, if not ‘becoming-woman’, would be strategic: even if gender and sexual difference were blunt organizing categories they nevertheless have their persistence and need to be dealt with rather than willed away. Part of the value of psychoanalysis has been in acknowledging the gap between what we may know to be true, and an archaic psychic economy that continues to operate. (Juliet Mitchell [1974] argued for the pertinence of psychoanalysis precisely because despite the women’s movement’s reasoned claims intractable Oedipal structures remained in place.) When Deleuze and Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus they accepted the truth of the Oedipal individual at the level of the historical imaginary: insofar as we demand to be recognized as subjects we must submit to an either/or disjunction of male/female. Yet Deleuze and Guattari also strenuously insisted that subjection was not the sole logic. Instead, they took up a modernist notion that other forms of language, perception and embodiment would be possible, beyond the current logic of Oedipal individualism. If modernism in its literary-aesthetic mode was in part a critique of the West, and in part a critique of the subject, it was also an ambivalent critique of ‘man’ tied to a concept of writing. When Deleuze and Guattari quote Virginia Woolf in their plateau on becoming they are drawing upon an author whose modernism was already in dialogue with centuries of anti-humanist critique, ranging from Friedrich Nietzsche’s tirade against a ‘consciousness’ whose interiority could only be established by severing itself from the intensity of life, to Henri Bergson’s argument that the intellect had reified the life of spirit. At first glance modernist anti-humanism seems to be marked by a neo-Romantic positing of ‘the feminine’ as that which might operate as an exit from the Western subject of judgment. (One can think here of the ‘oceanic’ conclusion of Joyce’s Ulysses with the affirmative repetition of Molly Bloom’s ‘yes,’ and Julia Kristeva’s [1980] appeal to Joyce’s ‘semiotic’ mode pre-Oedipal poetic language.)

    In addition to ostensibly ‘feminist’ modernisms that celebrated a redemptive power of the feminine, there was also a modernism that refused both man and woman. If Deleuze and Guattari’s aesthetic is indebted to modernism it is not surprising that they appealed to Woolf in their description of the transition from becoming-woman to becoming-imperceptible. Just as becoming-woman is a divided concept, looking back to a seemingly redemptive figure of the feminine beyond rigid being, but also forward to a positive annihilation of fixed genders, so modernism was also a doubled movement. Modernism was in part a logic of the subject in its striving to be nothing other than the distanced observer, or nothing other than any of the personae though which one speaks (Ellmann 1987). But modernism was also an anti-subjectivism, or rather a pulverization of ‘the’ subject for the sake of a plural and multiplying point of view. In addition to the arched, refined and urbane distance of impersonality, modernism was also a tactic of positive and positively destructive refusal. Radically anti-humanist modes of modernism would not just be other than any determined subject; one would not just be post-human or post-feminist in the sense of negating of distancing oneself from ‘man.’ Rather, one would take up and decompose the rigidity or stupidity of the figures that had strangled thinking, not imagining that one might simply and too quickly will away the forms, figures or ‘territories’ that had oriented thinking.

    ‘Becoming-woman,’ I would suggest, needs to be read as a defiant and affirmative refusal. It is quite distinct from either the Lacanian notion of imagining that there is no woman (that there is no ‘beyond’ that would exceed subjection, and no ‘thing’ that would guarantee my enjoyment [Copjec 2002]). Becoming-woman is also distinct from attempts to destabilize the ‘heterosexual matrix’ from within by repeating and distorting gender’s already constituted figures (Butler 1993). That is, ‘becoming-woman is not an authentic recognition that gender is some fantasmatic lure whose ‘beyond’ I need to think in the form of a radical negation (as in the Lacanian insistence that ‘woman does not exist.’) Nor does one take up the existing figure of woman to repeat or perform it ironically (Cornell 1991). For both these positions—that we must negate gender or perform it parodically—suffer from simultaneously over-valuing and undervaluing thinking. They overvalue thinking by assuming that one can pass from recognizing the fantasmatic status of thought’s contaminating figures to adopting a distanced and critical attitude; at the same time the future potentiality of thinking is diminished by not creating or writing other modes of perception. The problem with Oedipus is both its negating stranglehold on thought, and its inability to imagine that thought might be jolted from its familial slumbers. For the Oedipal structure is just that, a style or mode of perceiving: one views the world as a subject, as a point of view opening onto a world that is structured and differentiated according to a certain common logic. The broader claim and project of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is to destroy that style of subjectivism by creating a mode of thought that is not that of a world differentiated by ‘a’ system of signification for ‘the’ speaking subject. Becoming-woman is one of the ways in which they imagine a different mode and temporality of perception: not a world that I can only live as always already differentiated, a world to which I am subjected, with only a fantasmatic or negative ‘beyond.’


    I would suggest that the problem of considering the worth of political or tactical concepts such as ‘becoming-woman’ opens onto the broader terrain of human stupidity and the relation between stupidity and time. Is it sufficient for us to look back across the philosophical or literary corpus, spot the moments of racial, gendered, sexual, ethnic or historically embedded bias (where thought has allowed itself to be captured by cliché), and then proceed to separate the dynamism of ideas from the stupidity of unthinking inertia? If this were so then one could see modernism as an attempt to rid thought of its opacities in order to arrive at a moment of renewed vision. One would overcome thought’s limits and all its reified points of inertia to arrive at a pure becoming. (And one would apply the same criteria of pure becoming to Deleuze and Guattari, reading certain aspects of their corpus as suffering from subjection to a form of ‘little Oedipus,’ where they remain too faithful to their Marxist forbears [De Landa 2003].) By contrast, an acknowledgment of something like a transcendental stupidity (Deleuze 2004, 187; Ronell 2002, 20) would require us not to see ‘becoming-woman’ as a local movement, adopted in the late twentieth-century to take us once and for all beyond man. If that were so then becoming-woman would be a majoritarian shift: something ‘we’ need to do once and for all to overcome the figure of man. Rather, becoming-woman is a minoritarian shift, occurring in multiple, frequent, diverging and always shifting incursions. Becoming-woman would be a perpetual act of war, waged against both the upright morality of man and the redemptive otherness of woman. Further, this might relate to the broader project of a counter-organicism: destroying the parochialism in which the thinking body folds the world around its own practical needs, imagining itself as a thing among things. There is another capacity for thinking, which would take thought beyond its own bounded self, and would do so via perception. Becoming-woman might possess some privilege or legitimacy, not just because it was not the perception of man, and not because it would be perception from another point of view, but because it would shift the problem of point of view. Becoming-woman would not be perceiving as a woman, but perceiving in such a way that perception would be a form of becoming.

    ‘It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex." This way of approaching becoming-woman would relate directly to Virginia Woolf’s refusal to think of sex alongside her use of point of view, where sentences move ever closer to intuiting the world of the beings that the narrative voice perceives: the worlds perceived by waves, particles, moths, light and air. To accept a transcendental stupidity is to elevate thinking above the upright image of pure thought and to encounter a swarm of becomings. Becoming-woman would be a strategy that refused both the Lacanian notion that ‘woman does not exist’ (or that woman has served as a lure to cover the fact that we are necessarily subjected to a symbolic order that produces the effect of a lost and mourned originary plenitude) and an easy post-human exit that would escape man and woman altogether in a moment of post-feminist, post-cognitive and post-Cartesian unity. Becoming-woman would be an affirmative rejection of reactive negations—would abandon the idea of stepping outside man once and for all—but it would also be a refusal of active submission, a refusal of the idea that we always already think within a system that we repeat parodically or ironically.

    Becoming-woman, read as a twin refusal (of both purity and subjection), may well not be a flippant or dated (merely timely) remark in the works of Deleuze and Guattari. Becoming-woman might indicate a different mode of the politics of philosophy: the stupidities that populate the philosophical corpus—including the concept of ‘woman’—would be indicative of tendencies that always have two sides. The concept of becoming-woman would be beyond good and evil: neither a sign that we might finally move beyond man to some redemptive outside, nor a mark or stain in Deleuze and Guattari’s work that signals a moment of weak (1960s and hippy) and unthinking feminist sympathizing. Rather, the concept itself—considered as a concept created to do work in reconfiguring the philosophical plane—serves both to reorient the speeds and styles of thinking, and to confront philosophy’s plane of concepts with its own stupidity (Weinstein 2010). To this extent the creation of the concept of becoming-woman might also be aligned with a certain style of modernism: at once recognizing that the canvas is always populated with clichés and that we speak in a waste land of dead phrases (Deleuze 2005, 8, 61), while at the same time insisting that the refusal of cliché and dead letters does not give us some grand present of rebirth, but instead a more profound death. (Later in this chapter I will turn to Woolf’s story on the perception of the death of a moth. It is the witnessing and writing of death, the perception of the waning of the spark of life, that takes writing beyond the expressing subject to the life that gives itself in both annihilation and survival.)

    In the remainder of this chapter I will argue that a certain valorization of becoming-woman is already at play in dominant modes of literary aesthetics and politics, and that it is a refusal of this assumed or moralizing becoming-woman that is enabled by a reconsideration of Deleuze and Guattari’s mobilization of Woolf’s modernism. In brief:

    1. If we read modernism as an anti-humanism of impersonality, in which the artist is nothing other than the voices he adopts (distanced as he is from the panorama of futility that he surveys), then we arrive at a modernism of ironic elevation and negation. This would be a modernism of heightened or hyper-subjectivism that in many ways paves the way for today’s post-humanisms in which man finds himself at one again with a creative life of which he is but one self-aware fragment. [13]
    2. Such a modernism would, therefore, be in line with a long tradition of celebrating literary ‘becoming’ in which writing is pure act, without determining essence, and in which the pure existence of the creative word destroys man as a being within the world, and allows something like a pure subject to emerge. This subject would be godlike in his distance from any of the determinations through which he expresses an infinite productivity: ‘For this is quite the final goal of art: to recover this world by giving it to be seen as it is, but as if it had its source in human freedom’ (Sartre 1988, 63).
    3. A post-modernism that followed such an anti-human and negative modernism would lead to at least one of the modes of post-humanism that is being affirmed today: a posthumanism in which there is, and never has been, anything like ‘man,’ for man is nothing other than all the events, acts and perceptions that bring him into being (Hayles 1999, 3). Man would always be other than any determined ‘man.’ Man would always be pure ‘becoming,’ and whatever was, or has been, determined by the notion of ‘woman’ would always provide man with a playground for his own self-becoming.
    4. Against this, we might consider the Deleuze-Guattari-Woolf concept of becoming-woman in which writing occurs not as a self-unfolding but as an encounter with another becoming—two quantities entering into a differential relation. Becoming-woman would therefore not be a pure becoming in which ‘woman’ would stand for playful self-invention but would be a becoming in which positive traits or tendencies would orient the event of writing (Lawlor 2008). Becoming-woman would necessarily be only one moment in other becomings, and would then open a necessarily sexual (but not gendered) writing: writing would be sexual because it would always be in relation to other relations, and sexuality would always be a form of writing (but not signification) because encounters would produce distinct maps and orientations.
    5. Whereas ‘the signifier’ indicates the dominant system through which the world would be mediated, and would be central to theories of gender that define ‘sex’ as that which seemingly precedes and is presupposed by gender norms (Butler 1990), sexuality is tied to a mode of writing in which differences are inscribed in multiple strata. Sexuality would no longer be what takes place among signified genders, for genders would emerge from sexual processes (processes of inscription, tracing, marking, miming, coupling, distancing, perceiving): ‘Sexual difference is the principle of radical difference, the failure of identity, destination, or finality. It is the eruption of the new, the condition of emergence, evolution or overcoming’ (Grosz 2011, 103).


    Before we decide to consign becoming-woman to the dustbin of high theory (and its crazier, French and affirmatively pseudo-feminist moments), it might be best to consider just once more whether the concept (if it is a concept) has any purchase today. Here are the possibilities:

    1. Becoming-woman as transition that is now no longer required: however we might have articulated and defined feminist projects to date (equality, difference, androgyny, anti-essentialism, strategic essentialism…) we are now in a post-feminist era. We have achieved whatever could be achieved via gender politics and we now need to move on to more complex terrain, acknowledging complexities of class, sexuality, ethnicity and culture. Becoming-woman would be a post-feminist concept, a way of thinking the transition from molar women’s movements to a micro-politics in which both man and woman would be abandoned as basic political units.
    2. Becoming-woman still required because of the centrality of ‘man’: ‘Becoming-woman’ was indeed, as Deleuze and Guattari argued, the ‘key to all becomings.’ If something like the figure of man has been crucial to the ways in which politics has proceeded—assuming a basic social unit of a reasoning individual who acts in order to extend and maximize his interests—then this is both because a certain notion of becoming has been normative, and because the Oedipal figuration of the man of reason is thoroughly tied to this pure becoming.

    The liberal subject, as self-defining, is nothing other than his own becoming. One might define this valorization of the self as pure act as Oedipal (as Deleuze and Guattari do). According to this structure: the world as it is in itself lies beyond the capacities of finite human reason, and man can only know the world through the systems and order that he himself has constituted: ‘The question remains, though, whether the ‘social’ sphere designated by ‘the Name of the Father,’ a symbolic place for the father, which, if lost (the place and not the father), leads to psychosis. What presocial constraint is thereby imposed upon the intelligibility of any social order?' (Butler 2004B, 253). Man is submitted and subjected to a system of his own making, beyond which he can neither think nor live. Without that imposed system of differences ‘he’ would have no being. The Oedipalism of this mode of pure becoming lies in its formalism and proceduralism: man is subject to a general system, and must always speak of the world only in terms that are shared and communicable; beyond that system of communication and ongoing legitimation there is only the chaos or fantasy of some lost origin. The notion of the ‘beyond’ of communicative reason, and politics generally, would be fantasmatic and other, figured Oedipally as that imagined plenitude that is constitutively lost when man accedes to the order of society.

    Man is becoming; he is nothing more than his own self-deciding and legislating actions. It follows, for Deleuze and Guattari, that there is no becoming-man; one cannot take on traits or styles or rhythms of man, because the very notion of ‘man’ is that of a being whose existence is nothing other than that of free self-variation (without determining essence or positive predicates). Becoming-woman challenges this normalizing Oedipalism in a number of ways. First, if there is such a thing as becoming-woman, or entering into variation by taking up those traits and predicates that lie beyond man, then this is because what is other than man is not some dark night of undifferentiated chaos. There are other durations and pulsations of life.

    For Virginia Woolf the task of writing was not—as one dominant definition of modernism would have it—to present the signifier as signifier and to de-naturalize a life that has (ideologically) presented itself as natural when it is indeed thoroughly human and historical (MacCabe 1979). Such a constructivist or mediated notion of reality would not only be Oedipal in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms (presenting reality always as given only through organizing systems), but would be (in Woolf’s terms) fatally destructive because of its location in ‘a’ sex: it would give the world to us only as it is for man. The alternative is not then to write from a specifically woman’s world—for that too would be the world at one remove. ‘Becoming-animal’, also, would not be an imperative to write the world of the animal, as if life were nothing more than multiple mediated and meaningful worlds (although some claims for animal ‘lifeworlds’ today seem to be insisting on just this point [Wheeler 1995]). Beyond the world as it is given there would be the durations and pulsations—the moments—from which worlds emerge: the task would be to write the waves and particles that might yield a pure perception. ‘Man’ would always be the being who—via language, meaning or his own sense of life—gives himself the world. Becoming-woman would be a mode of writing in which the waves and particles that compose the gender of woman might be released.

    Second, ‘man’ as the basic political unit relies on a racial and historical (and, again, Oedipalized) narrative: in the beginning is the individual who enters into social relations for the sake of collective efficiency; from the nuclear family of father-mother-child, sympathies are extended to broader social groupings, with women also—eventually—being granted the right to enter the public sphere. But for Deleuze and Guattari the reverse is the case: in the beginning is the territory, in which human bodies assemble according to various rhythms, durations and sympathies with the earth. From that original grouping, or organization of the ‘intense germinal influx,’ a certain deterritorialization can occur whereby a single body stands above the group, figured as its point of law. That elevated ‘despot’ is able to terrorize the network of bodies, at least in part, through an excess of desire—consuming the surplus of production, and taking over women’s bodies. (There would be some convergence here between Deleuze and Guattari’s account of social machines being constituted through sexual consumption and Gayle Rubin’s [1975] insistence that the token of ‘woman’ is constituted through systems of exchange, with woman established as object of consumption. The difference would lie in Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence that before there is exchange of woman, or before woman is constituted as that which is exchanged, there is theft: not theft in the face of scarcity, but a theft that produces a power of excess—the despot who, in seizing the surplus of all forms of production, including sexual production, becomes a distinct and organizing point of power).

    When ‘man’—in the liberal era—regards himself as the basic social unit, who gives himself law and mediation in order to avoid the chaos and psychosis of bare life, he must do so by repressing the racial and collective history that has passed from the intensive differences of life to the generalizing figure of man. For Deleuze and Guattari it is not the case that life begins with a figure of man who must come to terms with his world (who must become social and extend from the biological family to the social collective); rather it is after a long, complex and inhuman history—in which racial, sexual and organic complex is increasingly reduced to general figures—that the supposedly underlying generality of the human emerges. Becoming-woman would be a way of releasing man from the notion that beyond the sexual binary there is only the primitivism of chaos; by looking at the coming into being of the genders of humanity one would open up a geology. This geology would then open out onto all the racial and historical differentials that have been frozen into the unit of man, and beyond that into all the differentials of life that have been reified into figures of bounded organisms opposed to unorganized matter.

    Finally, becoming-woman would challenge both the linguistic figure of modern man, as well as a series of declared post-linguistic (supposedly post-human) turns. The notion that we become subjects by submitting ourselves to the system of signifiers, and that we then live this subjection as a law that prohibits some maternal beyond, is thoroughly Oedipal. The concept of ‘the’ signifier is despotic, and both ties modern Oedipalism back to a history in which the complex territories of life have been subjected to a body (including language of culture) that has leapt outside the assemblages of relations, and also looks forward to a ‘postmodern’ world in which there is supposedly no reality or world other than that given through signifying systems, or in which the pre-linguistic is always given ex post facto after the event of sex. If, by contrast, language were considered to be one of many systems—including systems of non-linguistic signs, such as all the gestures we read in a lover’s face, or the signs of art in which formed matters can be presented as signs of color or light as such—then it might become possible to liberate writing from ‘the subject.’ Becoming-woman would signal that there are positive modes of difference and articulation. It is not language that differentiates; the differences of language over-code far more complex systems. Becoming-woman opens up a positivity that not only destroys the notion that language differentiates (because there are traits that one can follow, develop, vary and extemporize beyond the man of linguistic communication), the concept of becoming-woman also challenges various supposedly post-human or post-linguistic motifs. It would do so by destroying both the natural kinds of bounded sexes (male or female) and the notion of constructed genders; in its place there would be neither a gender politics nor a sexual politics (in which the polity would be a site for the contesting of variously sexualized interests), but there would be a sexuality of becoming. Every becoming would be sexual because no becoming is a power unto itself: there is no self-present, self-sufficient, self-organizing power. There is no life; there is only ‘a’ life, distinct powers from which an open whole is composed. When we perceive something like an essence (such as what color would be in all of its potential manifestations for any time whatever), we perceive the force of its expression, a power’s capacity to differ in all its events of encounter and actualization.


    There should be something disturbing, destructive and untimely about the concept of becoming-woman. If we were to define becoming-woman as a temporary strategy of the women’s movement then we would be assuming an orthography of thought: it would be as though we might use certain concepts provisionally, achieve the aims of the women’s movement, cleanse thought of its opacities and stupidities, and then move on. But what if man were a persistent transcendence: a tendency of thought or life to be captivated and rendered docile by images of good sense? If man were a tendency of organicism, a tendency to fold the world around the organized body’s view of the world, then becoming-woman would be an ongoing and tireless destruction, a key to becomings.

    One of the notions that lies behind various ‘turns’—the affective turn, the vital turn, the performative turn, the non-human turn—is that the figure of man, and the notion of linguistic construction, was an error or false turn that can be overcome by turning to the true life and vitality that is man’s real milieu. It is as though we might recognize, by an act of reason, that there is no such thing as man and that we are in fact really emotional, embodied, affective and active beings who—following that recognition—can now live interactively, ecologically and dynamically. The Cartesian subject would be an accident or error that we could will away by an act of decision, allowing us to become post-human and at one with a single world of interconnected life. I would suggest that we think otherwise: Cartesianism is neither an unfortunate and external lapse, but a result of a tendency for thought to be captured by its own images (Toscano 2010). That tendency—like all tendencies—has two sides, and it is the task of becoming-woman to deterritorialize those traits from which the ‘man’ of modernity has been composed. According to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of becoming-woman it is not by annihilating one’s being and then taking up a relation of proper knowing towards one’s milieu that one overcomes the miserable normality of ‘man.’ Rather, becoming is always a relation to some other becoming: there would be no post-human world or single ecology that we could arrive at after man. Becoming-woman would be one line of exit, one way of thinking some mode of duration and rhythm that would yield a particular refrain. From there one might discover other differential pulsions. There would not be a single ground of life that could be retrieved or found after man; but there would be multiple ways in which one might encounter ‘a’ life. Each predicate, trait or singularity would open to the infinite in its own way.

    By beginning with woman—and not some general notion of becoming—one would be adopting the truth of the relative (which is quite different from the truth of relativism). And it is here again that we might turn to Woolf and writing: the imperative to write is counter-democratic if by democracy one were to refer to consensus or majority opinion (and it is no surprise that in this respect modernism in general has been accused of having a certain contempt for the masses [Carey 1993]). But there might be a destructive, rather than deliberative, democracy in writing and becoming-woman whereby everything that has stood for good sense and propriety is annihilated by a constant and exacting perception. Rather than begin with a relativism, in which there is no view of the world outside that given by various voices, becoming-woman aims to write from a positive perception of traits, with each intuition opening towards a power’s capacity. There is a truth of the world, but it is given infinitely, from all the powers to perceive that compose the world in their own way. This might help us to think the specifics of Woolf’s style, and the ways in which she writes neither in a strict free-indirect style (in which sentences occupy a certain mode or way of speaking) nor in stream of consciousness.

    One of the key features of Woolf’s mode of writing might be given in the contrast between a deliberative democracy and something like a democracy of powers, or what Deleuze refers to as the ‘swarm’ of the world. Jacques Derrida, for example, has argued that literature is tied to democracy in its capacity to ‘say anything.’ Because the literary text detaches what is said from any ownership of the voice, language circulates freely, as language (Attridge 2004). We see text as text in its own right, producing its relations and differences, performing a relation between inside and outside in its ‘scene of writing.’ Woolf by contrast speaks of her own writing as oriented towards the expression, perception, articulation and life of other powers: waves, moments, particles, predicates, or qualities. If a certain privileging of writing manages to relativize the world, presenting the world as always a world from this or that point of view, then Woolf’s privileging of perception and intuition would always tie writing to the forces that prompt its movement. Becoming-woman is not a writing of, or about, sex—but the writing of becoming-woman is sexual in being drawn towards powers not its own. Such writing would not be a form of relativism, but it would open the truth of the relative, that each perception opens in its own way onto an infinite and dynamic whole (Deleuze 2006, 21).

    There is a truth of the relative that would open towards an ethics of amor fati, or an embrace of the encounters that do violence to thinking (without the prima facie assumption that we know what thinking is). Liberalism is, by contrast, a powerful ethics of relativism: I cannot know the law, cannot know the other’s good, cannot make an exception of my own desires or opinions on the basis of possessing better or higher knowledge; from there it follows that I can only act and speak through deliberation and an ideal of consensus, aware all the while that every achieved consensus must be open to further deliberation. Relativism would not be an acceptance that ‘anything goes,’ for it would require me to decide upon those systems that enabled the maximum plurality of opinions; a liberal might have to intervene in cases where unjustified exceptions were imposed. But relativism would be in line with what Deleuze refers to critically as ‘equivocity’: there is the world as it is on the one hand, and the world as it is known on the other (Deleuze 1994, 410). Deleuze and Guattari’s univocity posits one substance expressing itself in infinite difference, in which all voices sing the truth of being in their own way: ‘Arrive at the magic formula we all seek—PLURALISM = MONISM—via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 23). The truth of the relative, in contrast with liberal formalism, would pose a quite different imperative. There would be no possibility of a ‘veil of ignorance’ that would allow one to act as if one might speak from an ideal position of ‘nowhere.’ But if liberalism insists that one can only speak as if one might be any subject whatever, Deleuze and Guattari offer a counter imperative to speak for ‘any moment whatever’: such an imperative intuits what a force or power would be in all its expressions and actualizations. There would not be ‘a’ world that might be suspended in order to think in a manner that was purely formal or procedural. There would be multiple worlds, each opened from the force of a single becoming. It would be the challenge of perception and thinking to encounter the difference of those worlds, not find some abstract point or field of conciliation.


    If the forgoing is true it follows that becoming-woman is only one possible trait or singularity among others, and that its power lies in moving beyond the historical formation of ‘man.’ If so, with the end of man and the end of liberalism we might also have reached, happily and finally, the end of woman. As already stated, there can be no becoming-man, no orienting oneself towards the styles and motifs of ‘man,’ because man has always been pure becoming. He is nothing other than that which exceeds and precedes any of his given acts; his essence is to have no essence other than that which he gives himself though existing. Once becoming-woman opens ‘us’ (we humans) to the notion that becoming is always singular, always the becoming of this or that singularity and always in responsive relation, then writing would be presented with the tireless and ongoing destruction of genders and proliferation of sexes; it is not that there are beings—women—who become. Rather, what something is is its rhythm of becoming: ‘Children’s, women’s, ethnic, and territorial refrains, refrains of love and desruction: the birth of rhythm’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 330). The refrain that beats time to this rhythm is always in relation to other refrains. Becoming-woman would be an orientation to those traits that had been posed as man’s other, but once this orientation opened up positive and divergent becomings we would need to move beyond genders and dehumanize the predicates through which genders and sexual difference had been contained.

    Such a jettisoning of becoming-woman would seem to be particularly urgent today, precisely because there is no longer any reason to adopt strategies against liberalism and humanism in a twenty-first century when the problems of climate change, terrorism, systemic economic collapse and mass disenfranchisement are no longer suitably countered by tactics of anti-humanism. It would seem that both sides—both rapacious global capital and post-left, post-feminist thinking—accept that there is no such thing as the man of reason. It is no longer the case that the ruthless market forces of capitalism present themselves as outcomes of free and open individual decision making. In the US, where ‘liberal’ has become a pejorative (referring to the destruction of family values and leftist interventionism in free markets) the notion of the freely deciding individual seems to have less political force than the sanctity of the markets and efficiency. This is so much the case that when the 2010 US Supreme court decided that corporations were individuals, it was the left that was forced to defend the human individual, against the notion of free buying power that could operate beyond a bounded human person (Cohen, Colebrook and Miller 2012). Bourgeois liberal humanism is not the ideological enemy it once was. It would seem to make sense to exit this terrain altogether. In the era of global finance—where there is no longer any capital to buoy up capitalism, and where systems operate by hedging, default swaps, futures and derivatives—it makes no sense either to return to the individual against corporations, or to celebrate some post-human end of man in one great ecology of becoming.

    ‘Theory’, too, seems to have long abandoned man, the subject, the system of signifiers and (even strategic) essentialism. After language there was the turn to the body, in which sex could only be known as that which had been belied and reified by gender. If we go beyond the frame of the subject who must recognize herself through the gender system, then we are left with a vital, affective, emotive and nonhuman order that may be sexual (in its proliferating relations, attachments and mutations) but certainly not gendered. If we get over all our feminist and leftist gripes, recognizing that workers and women can no longer offer us some outside lever against a patriarchy that no longer has any men left to hold the fort, then it seems the appropriate direction to move towards what would be beyond human figures tout court.

    To pause and offer a possible conclusion: ‘becoming-woman’ may have had its time, may have once indicated that without some attention to sexual difference there could be no real escape from the rigid logic of man, but after more sustained work on sexual difference beyond gender binaries, we should accept that becoming-woman is, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest, the ‘key’ to all becomings, and that we have moved beyond the ‘key’ moment to more nuanced post-human (perhaps even post-sexual) becomings.

    Here is the problem, or series of problems, with such a consignment of this ‘key’ of becoming-woman to the past: first, do we accept that humans have the capacity to assess their figural and semantic history, locate gender motifs in a blind past, and then move on to the post-human? Do we grant the human species a capacity to see life as it properly is without the intrusion of rigid stupidities, and would life be the type of ‘thing’ we might view once we liberated ourselves from humanist framings? (Here, I would suggest that we read Deleuze and Guattari alongside Paul de Man’s concept of the sublime, where the exit from anthropocentric projection would not be an intuition of nature or the lived world but a brute sense of materiality. [14] ) Second problem: do we accept that within a corpus, such as Deleuze and Guattari’s, where the historical event of capitalism and the discovery of the differential calculus disclose some universal truth of life as such, that sexual difference is an unfortunate dated motif that can be grouped with Deleuze and Guattari’s almost embarrassing references to drugs (as though they were a little too 60s-ish at certain moments)? Here we would assume some practice of critical hygiene, where the real philosophy and theory might be detached from the unthinking regression of dated stupidities. Doing so would rely upon a distinction between free unimpeded thinking on the one hand, and an external milieu of inherited notions. And it is just that notion of thought as pure self-becoming that Deleuze and Guattari sought to question. Third problem: what do we do with what remains of the archive: do we stop reading all the works of fiction and cinema that are structured around gender binaries, do we (we theorists or literary critics) place ourselves in a world other than that of a still present and insistent gender binary? Do we avoid the evidence that it is easier to imagine the end of the world and the end of capitalism than it is to imagine the end of gender? Perhaps the problem with Deleuze and Guattari’s affirmation of becoming-woman as the ‘key to all becomings’ was not its dated 70s radical-feminist hint of sexual politics, but its suggestion that one might and should move from becoming-woman to becoming-imperceptible. It seems that in our post-human, eco-aware, post-liberal, post-capitalist and even post-racial world we still remain firmly gendered. This is not because gender is not just one mode of establishing distinct kinds, a mode that could be abandoned once we take on a ‘process’ notion of being or a vitalist and dynamic conception of creatively evolving life; for gender is the difference that has been deployed to figure difference in general.

    It would follow, then, that if we do not pass through becoming-woman, and if we go straight to becoming-imperceptible without engaging with the logic of man, then all our post-humanisms will remain as ultra-humanisms. And, to return to Woolf, it would not be the case that Woolf added the problem of woman to modernist projects, but rather that whatever modernism would be (whether an apocalyptic vitalism or affirmative refusal of the trajectory of the West), writing would be destroyed by thinking of one’s sex. Writing would need to take place beyond man, which in turn would require a destruction of ‘woman.’ The structure of To the Lighthouse expresses this at the level of content: the first section of familial gender, where Mrs Ramsay appears as the figure of maternal care and other directedness (opposed to the subject/object philosophy of Mr Ramsay) is severed by the middle section of ‘Time Passes.’ The final section—following Mrs Ramsay’s death and the falling of an immense darkness—describes the young artist Lily Briscoe being taken over by the matters that are presented to her. Her ‘vision’ follows what Deleuze and Guattari describe as haptic, as though the eye can feel the paint and canvas, and draw out its tendencies. The canvas presents itself not as a milieu for creation ex nihilo, but as a resistance or force that elicits a certain mode of becoming. The canvas itself bears a perceptive power or ‘cold stare’:

    She saw her canvas as if it had floated up and placed itself white and uncompromising directly before her. It seemed to rebuke her with its cold stare for all this hurry and agitation; this folly and waste of emotion; it drastically recalled her and spread through her mind first a peace, as her disorderly sensations (he had gone and she had been so sorry for him and she had said nothing) trooped off the field; and then, emptiness. She looked blankly at the canvas, with its uncompromising white stare; from the canvas to the garden. There was something (she stood screwing up her little Chinese eyes in her small puckered face), something she remembered in the relations of those lines cutting across, slicing down, and in the mass of the hedge with its green cave of blues and browns, which had stayed in her mind; which had tied a knot in her mind so that at odds and ends of time, involuntarily, as she walked along the Brompton Road, as she brushed her hair, she found herself painting that picture, passing her eye over it, and untying the knot in imagination. But there was all the difference in the world between this planning airily away from the canvas and actually taking her brush and making the first mark. […]

    Lily’s becoming is not one of self-unfolding, but an encounter between a physical sensation of surging forth that achieves ‘an exacting form of intercourse.’ If there is a post-human element to this becoming it does not lie in a return to life so much as a separation or detachment from the lived:

    With a curious physical sensation, as if she were urged forward and at the same time must hold herself back, she made her first quick decisive stroke. The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it—a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the strokes another, and all were related; and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out at her) a space. Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. For what could be more formidable than that space? Here she was again, she thought, stepping back to look at it, drawn out of gossip, out of living, out of community with people into the presence of this formidable ancient enemy of hers—this other thing, this truth, this reality, which suddenly laid hands on her, emerged stark at the back of appearances and commanded reluctant. Why always be drawn out and haled away? […] It was an exacting form of intercourse anyhow[…].

    What emerges is not a figure or scene that expresses the world as it is, but something like difference as such, a line that makes no claim to a physical eternity—for the canvas may lie unviewed in an attic until its destruction—even though it expresses the power of color and difference for all time:

    Quickly, as if she were recalled by something over there, she turned to her canvas. There it was—her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

    But it is not only the young female artist whose perception opens onto a world of other durations. Woolf’s short story, ‘The Death of the Moth,’ begins in standard third-person description, assuming a common shared point of view: ‘Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us.’ This ‘us’ of common accepted perception is disturbed by the passage of perception, which eventually discerns something akin to ‘an energy’:

    The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamor and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.

    The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the windowpane. One could not help watching him.


    Watching him, it seemed as if a fiber, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

    Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvelous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zigzagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it.


    The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange.

    The ‘death’ here is not a death drive in which life is a quantity of energy aiming to return to quiescence; it is a positive and multiple death in which the sparks of life become discernible in their distinction and singularity as they approach some degree zero. Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of becoming-woman, like becoming-animal, is not one of copying or miming, but operates by the perception of traits: and this positive and relational notion of becoming would help to explain why there could be no becoming-man (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 320). It would also require a subtle distinction between becoming-woman and various notions of performativity. It is not the case that one becomes who one is by repeating an already given norm or imperative, and then concluding that there must have been a subject who was the agent of the action. On the contrary, what is repeated when one becomes-woman is not the resulting effect—such as female qualities—but the differential power from which such qualities emerge. In this sense becoming-woman is the reversal of a performative pragmatics or strategic essentialism; one does not adopt a style or norm and then destabilize the figure of woman from within, nor adopt the role of ‘woman’ ironically (Cornell 1991). Rather, one repeats the tendencies, traits or rhythms from which the figure of woman emerged.

    The difference, if you like, is that between Madonna (or Lady Ga Ga) and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. The latter focuses on the end result and may come to that actuality by any possible ends (cosmetic surgery, practice of speech inflections, mirroring of Marilyn’s walk, the creation of certain specific dresses); the former repeat tendencies, seizing the event of performance, style, display and movement, becoming a hyper-feminine and yet singular icon. If woman—as an actual social figure—appears as a general composition of certain styles of dressing, moving, desiring, dissimulating, looking, displaying, speaking and feeling, then becoming-woman begins with exploring different modes of dress, appearance, affect and movement. If Marilyn Monroe was a singular expression of a tendency of body-voice-face-screen stylization then repeating that differential power (rather than copying the result) would approach something like becoming-Marilyn. One of the key features of the notion of the trait is tied to a broader notion of singularities or pure predicates: each actual individual occurs as the differentiation of a potentiality. Each human body comes into being by drawing on a range of virtual potentialities, and continues to do so for her entire life: not only does my ongoing biological and neurological identity occur in my relation to other powers (such as my brain becoming a reading brain after encountering script, my eye becoming more and more readily distracted with the purchase of various portable screen devices, my bones becoming stronger after years of running, or my blood pressure rising after decades of a Western diet), it is also the case that my given capacity to become in these ways has a long racial, cultural, sexual and political history. This is the partial truth of evolutionary psychology and cognitive archaeology, which have sought to trace our current responses and capacities back to a hunter-gatherer and warring tribal past, along with the early human gendered division of labor. But the problem with cognitive archaeology is not its seeming sexism, or its assumption that ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus.’ The problem is that these ‘just so’ stories are not sexist enough, or that they do not discriminate sufficiently or with any attention to the sexuality of discrimination. Man—the hunter-gatherer and hyper-attentive tribal prototype of our past—is already the result of a desiring history: formed by assembling in territories, organizing the body to react first collectively, and then privately, to visual stimuli. As the history of man and social machines continues what counts as ‘man’ in general is the result of a history of reduced racial intensities towards an increasingly general whiteness, and the formation of the notion that there is a man in general, eventually emerging as the reading-thinking-reasoning individual of modernity.

    To begin to think about the ‘traits’ that would compose an event of becoming-woman would require both an attention to manifestly stylistic features from which any woman (or man) is composed—so that acts of drag would emphasize the performance of gender in terms of dress, body grooming, and modes of comportment—but also to broader traits, the geologies of which are traced by Deleuze and Guattari in their universal history of capitalism. The reading eye that judges in accord with the measuring hand, and that in turn feels itself to be a subject of speech submitted to ‘the’ law: this composition of the human animal is, Deleuze and Guattari argue, racial and sexual. The notion that there is some universal underlying humanity, presented in general as ‘man’ (and about whom various neo-Darwinists might theorize) occurs after certain traits have been rendered hegemonic, and after a certain understanding of sexuality as private and familial has reorganized (or reterritorialized) collective qualities onto the individual. It is only if I assume that one becomes human by abandoning one’s pathological and exceptional (racial, sexual, ethnic) particularities, and does so in order to enter into the great enlightened conversation of consensus, that sexuality is deemed to be private, personal and individual. For Deleuze and Guattari politics and history are sexual: social machines are formations of desire—both the despot becoming powerful by hoarding, consuming, and visibly enjoying the violence of public torture, and the later formations of fascism where a series of traits mobilize a body politic (swastikas, jackboots, tanks, anthems, the straight lines of modernist design and so on).


    The concept of becoming-woman—and I would suggest that we think of it as a concept, created to reconfigure a plane of related notions—is tied to a broader history of capitalism. Capitalism, Deleuze and Guattari argue, has always been ‘warded’ off by various social machines that seek to limit and over-code flows and exchanges: this ranges from obvious examples, such as early modes of despotism and feudalism in which there is no open market along with a hoarding of goods by a central power, to early modern laws against usury, sumptuary laws, royal displays of excess, and protective subsidies, as well as broader and more subtle ways of quantifying bodies as units of exchange (such as capitalist democracies where laboring bodies and commodities become the two flows of capitalism). Becoming-woman is not a solely feminist gesture, or if it is, it is only because feminism (for Deleuze and Guattari at least) is a path to a broader critique. Capitalism is the abstract essence of social machines: desiring life is composed of quantities entering into relation, and it is from those dynamic relations that relatively stable points of bodies are composed. Bodies—human bodies, political bodies, economic bodies, corporate bodies—are mixtures of powers. Quantities, entering into relation, become qualities and those qualities in turn become relatively stable bodies. Capitalism tends to liberate quantities from bodies, releasing labor power and commodities into a general system without fixed center or transcendent body, but capitalism also limits the free flow of quantities through an axiomatic. Nowhere is this axiom more evident than in liberalism, both in its economic form of laissez faire exchange (which is always an exchange via the market), and in liberal political theory in which I am nothing other than a capacity to deliberate and communicate, always capable of imagining what it would be to think of justice, in general, regardless of my position in the polity.

    By contrast, becoming-woman would not abstract from concrete individuals to individuals in general—would not operate ironically by imagining that justice or humanity would occur as regulative ideas towards which a process of consensus would tend, but never achieve. Nor would becoming-woman be post-human if post-humanism were taken to be a return of man to a world of living systems of which he would be but one of many instances. Rather, becoming-woman is the beginning of a humor of depths, moving towards the traits, singularities or predicates that have been actualized by differentiation—and then moving towards the intuition of a virtual potentiality that has a full reality beyond the world as it is given. Becoming-woman would be quite distinct from a performative theory of gender, whereby I become who I am by recognizing, and seeking recognition. Rather, becoming-woman enables a creatively destructive theory of sexuality in which genders are decomposed into traits, and then further decomposed into tendencies, moving towards the infinitely small, or ‘a thousand tiny sexes.’

    When Deleuze and Guattari write about capitalism they do not adopt the still current criticism that capital reduces the qualitative complexity and richness of the world to system and quantities, with the implication that if we overthrow capitalism’s reduction of qualities to quantities, we will return to the full dynamic flux of the world (to the praxis from which technological systems emerged). Deleuze and Guattari are not what Protevi and Bonta refer to as ‘flow enthusiasts’ (Protevi and Bonta 2004, 37):

    there is no enabling without constraint. (In Foucualt’s terms, power is not negative but productive.) Constraint here is a reduction in the dimensionality of the connection space of components while emergent effects mean the substance has increased the dimensions of its connection space (it can do more things, relate to more bodies—or at least more powerful bodies—than a heap of lower-level substances can). (Protevi and Bonta 2004, 37)

    The problem, for Deleuze and Guattari, is that capitalism is not systemic enough, not quantifying enough, not sufficiently technical. We allow certain blunt figures—such as the image of the working, desiring man of reason to operate as a limit and lure. It is as though exchange must always serve individuals' interests, and yet we do not ask how it is that something like human interests are constituted historically. How has the commodity-acquiring, property-owning, familial, heterosexual, laboring, reading, judging, and political man of modernity been formed? And has not the figure of gender been crucial here: man is deemed to be defined against a femininity that is caring, nurturing, other-directed, domestically attuned, emotional, empathetic and oriented towards a male who (at least according to evolutionary psychology) is chosen because he will provide suitable genetic material? The current vogue for evolutionary psychology or cognitive archaeology is evidence of a tendency to explain quantities and tendencies from already qualified forces: we argue that the gender system emerges from (say) male interests in spreading as much genetic material as possible, and female interests in investing in quality partners. What we fail to look at are how those bounded forms emerged from intensities: how the human body becomes a gendered, familial and identified laboring individual.

    Life arrives, historically, at capitalism because of a certain potentiality that has been ‘captured’ by capitalist political systems, by relatively open markets. Relations amongst intensive quantities, such as the various forces of a body entering an encounter with—say—the intensive potentialities of another body are organized in capitalism as a relation between labor and capital. The standard political response has been to try to find some point outside of exchange; but Deleuze and Guattari aim to take capitalism beyond itself. What is required is not a step outside exchange and quantities, but more exchange, more quantification, a multiplication of powers and encounters. Capitalism is neither quantifying nor systematizing enough; what is required are far more nuanced, discriminating, systemic (rather than imaginary) systems.

    Here, then, one might begin to see the force of becoming-woman: what if the figure of ‘man’, the supposed basic social unity of life—a unit that today has become entirely rigid in the proliferating pseudo-Darwinian narratives about the emergence of morality, language, art and all other human practices—were to encounter other traits? As already noted, the concept of becoming-woman is not at all similar to strategic essentialism; it is not the tactical adoption of the voice of woman in order to create a political force. On the contrary, becoming-woman acknowledges the reality of traits, intensities and quantities that need to be released from the dull and insufficiently nuanced systems of gender. It is not the case that—as a certain mode of deconstruction would have it—the concept of woman is some imposed abstraction that has no reality, and so one might only speak as a woman parodically or ironically. Nor is it the case that ‘woman’ is some signifier that we are subjected to, which then creates the illusion of the reality of sex. Rather, what has fallen under the concept of woman has more reality than the insufficiently technical and systemic concept of ‘woman’ in its current form allows: what if, historically, what we know as woman were composed from series of complex tendencies? Becoming-woman appears, after all, as a concept in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus where the modern figure of political man covers over a complex, multiple and intensive history of racial and sexual investments. Practices of marriage, kinship, reproduction, pornography, art, fiction, courting rituals, fashion systems, cosmetic surgery, sports, affective rituals, body styles (and so much more): all these are techniques operating in highly complex ways that neither the notions of gender—as two stable kinds—nor sexual difference (as reproductive chromosomal identity) can intuit. It is fatal, when writing, to think of one’s sex.


    1. I quote Ronald Reagan from his first inaugural speech as governor of California, January 5, 1967, for whom freedom was ‘never more than one generation from extinction.’ This Reagan quotation was repeated recently by Julianne Moore (playing Sarah Palin) in the 2012 HBO film Game Change. Such a reminder of generation-paced extinction was timely in 2012 when the constant threat of civil rights reversals seemed to actualize into a fully fledged war, both with a supposed ‘war on women’ and with a resurgence of claims of racial lynching. (Democrats accused Republicans of opening a war on women when certain States legislated for compulsory vaginal probe ultrasounds prior to pregnancy terminations, while Rebublicans countered with an attack advertisement against ‘Obama’s War on Women’ because the Obama campaign accepted donations from a supposedly misogynist comedian Bill Maher. []) The March 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin was not only compared to a lynching, so were the following calls for his alleged killer’s arrest. An article on ‘The Lynching of George Zimmerman’ (Martin’s alleged killer) was posted on immediately following large rallies calling for Zimmerman’s arrest following what declared to be a ‘modern day lynching.’ ( Wars and lynching: none of these seems at all ‘post’ anything, and so we might wonder why we would want to complicate matters at all by turning to ‘becoming-woman’ when the basic ‘molar’ issues of race and gender seem so intractable. On the other hand, maybe the fact that we seem to be still involved in wars and lynching that we might think of other strategies. return to text
    2. The idea that the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism is widely quoted (though the source is vague). See Jameson 2005, 199 and Žižek 2011. return to text
    3. Rosi Braidotti (2012), aware of the various modes, perils, lures and forces of post-humanism usefully distinguishes between anti-humanisms that are set against ‘man,’ anti-humanisms that retain the revolutionary fervor of secular humanism and her (quite distinct) line of affirmative post-humanism, that creates but does not assume a life and perception beyond man and his others. return to text
    4. Paul de Man, Aesthetic Ideology ‘The dynamics of the sublime mark the moment when the infinite is frozen into the materiality of stone, when no pathos, anxiety, or sympathy is conceivable; it is, indeed, the moment of a-pathos, or apathy, as the complete loss of the symbolic.’ 126. return to text