L(a)ying Down in the Banlieue

By Amy De'Ath, 21 September 2016
Image: Peter Kennard, Who Killed Blair Peach? 1979

Despite commonalities between feminist poetry and Marxist feminism, they have not often crossed paths. How might writing such as Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue be able to explore more viscerally the necessarily hidden often racialised and gendered remainders of the class relation which otherwise useful Marxist feminist categories cannot articulate fully? What, asks Amy De’Ath, can such poetry lay bare?


The large and loose category of feminist poetry – work that might index, describe or otherwise relate a wide array of experiences, affects, representations, labours, economic processes and modalities of thought specific to the lives of feminised people – has for a long time explored ‘the hidden abode of reproduction’. It is possible to frame the work of a poet such as Denise Riley, for example, as a crossover point between socialist feminism, post-structuralism, and feminist poetry. From Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn (1978) and Alice Notley’s Songs for the Unborn Second Baby (1979), to Harryette Mullen’s S*PeRM**K*T (1992) and Cathy Wagner and Rebecca Wolff’s anthology, Not for Mothers Only (2007), reproductive labour, especially child-rearing, has often been a subject – and perhaps more often an object – of critique for feminist poets writing in English in recent decades.


And yet, despite this correlation, feminist poetry has rarely aligned itself with Marxist-feminism. Nor has Marxist-feminism been all that interested in feminist poetry, even less the ‘poetic’. Perhaps this reciprocal aversion is beginning to lift, however, in the midst of a renewed interest in systematic, paradigmatic, or totalising critiques within feminist theory and artistic practice. Along with an expansion of the concept of reproductive labour to account for the ways many previously unwaged reproductive activities have become commodified and made profitable in themselves, Marxist-feminist theory has sought to understand the increasingly unspecific and affect-based character of work in de-industrialised economies in direct relation to the global restructuring of the labour market. Especially pertinent here is a renewed and more theoretically cohesive effort to link these analyses to the production of ‘race’ and its relation to the systematic reproduction of the class relation.


In light of these transformations in the capital-labour relation, and in feminist art and theory, we might look to Bhanu Kapil’s new work, Ban en Banlieue (2015) in order to ask how feminist poetry explores the foggier aspects of that gendered ‘remainder’ of reproduction – those activities produced and shaped by capital which must remain outside of market-relations – in ways that otherwise helpful Marxist-feminist categories of analysis such as the ‘abject’ or the ‘non-social’ do not seem to capture or account for fully. With this ostensibly pragmatic approach to poetry, I am not proposing that the work of feminised and racialised poets should service a gap in Marxist-feminist theory. Rather, my contention – put only briefly, perhaps even speculatively, in this essay – is that feminist poetries focusing on particular aspects of structural violence might provide an aesthetic critique of a dimension of feminised experience that cannot be adequately articulated in ‘theory’, but which, nonetheless, theory could do much better to articulate.


More than a question of what’s missing in a Marxist poetics and literary criticism so often obsessed with the relationship between labour and literature, or production and literature – social reproduction’s relationship to the aesthetic, and poetic language in particular, re-centres the tricky, opaque divide between aesthetic critiques and systematic critiques because it flings several key questions about this latter relation into orbit. What can be documented in feminist/feminised poetry that doesn’t get recorded elsewhere? What kinds of knowledge can be accessed through aesthetic experience? How do resulting aesthetic judgments translate to analysis? How should we conceive of feminist poetry’s bearing on ‘the matter of literary-theoretical “values” and economic “value”’,1 and could this tell us anything useful about the lives and struggles of reproductive workers?


By way of making a suggestion about feminist poetry’s special powers in the sanitised world of political-aesthetic representation and so-called rationality, the main theoretical nodes I’ll turn to include the Marxist-feminist theory of ‘the abject’ as a particular type of denaturalised, indirectly market-mediated activity necessary to capital’s pursuit of value-production; and Marina Vishmidt’s suggestion, drawing on Chris Arthur, of a counter-reproductive negativity. Before moving to those more abstract ideas however, I want first to turn to the poetry itself, which makes ‘negativity’ – understood here as a kind of recalcitrance – more immediately visceral and affectively comprehensible than any abstract theory about reproduction or value.


In Ban en Banlieue, Kapil describes the outskirts of London in the 1970s – ‘les banlieues’, as she calls them, in a pun both on her own name and on the 2005 Paris race riots – as the scene of her childhood, and her person solidifies as a kind of outskirt too: ‘she’s both dead and never living: the part, that is, of life that is never given: an existence’.2 ‘Ban’, for short, whose actions and feelings are often described in the third person, is the book’s protagonist. Ban, who is and is not Bhanu Kapil, is a British-Indian ‘immigrant’ whose daily life is recorded via shifts between verbal registers and associative logical leaps. Often, the speaker’s mode is omniscient and philosophical, observing, for example, that ‘(Ban.)’ is also ‘To be: “banned from the city” and thus: en banlieues: a part of the perimeter’; or making brief remarks on the suburban landscape, noting, ‘A puff of diesel fumes on an orbital road’, or ‘The country outside London, with its old parks and labyrinths of rhododendron or azalea’.3 But this speaker periodically loses their opacity, becoming a more clearly defined, first-person subject: ‘Perhaps I should say that I grew up partly in Ruislip’, ‘I analyze my glimpse on the asphalt’, ‘In April 1979, I was ten years old’,4 Ban tells us, and the appearance of a Lyric ‘I’ seems almost a surprise. Then come more explicit and complex desires and refusals: ‘I wanted to write a book about lying on the floor of England’, or ‘I hate white people. / That is another sentence.’5


For Ban, the Punjabi subject of Ban en Banlieue, never English despite being born in England,6 the life-shaping violence of white supremacy paradoxically resounds as a nebulous yet definitively historical tone, played out on a global and totalising scale; a lived notation of punctuated assaults and droning background noise. This is achieved, in part, through the pragmatic and observational mode Kapil frequently employs, bolstered by factual elements such as dates, childhood ages, and geographical locations; but also through her references to other subjects whose lives are touched (though the poetry doesn’t explicitly note it) by capital’s secular tendencies toward structural unemployment and the production of surplus populations, and by the ascriptive processes that produce race. The book is dedicated, for example, to Blair Peach, an anti-racism campaigner who in 1979 was knocked unconscious and killed by the Metropolitan Police while protesting the white supremacist National Front in Southall, an immigrant suburb of west London. Later, Kapil describes a girl in New Delhi who was raped and left to die one night in December 2012, ‘about 10 minutes from the Indira Ghandi airport—the girl lay dying on the ground’.7


Image: Bhanu Kapil, Ban en Banlieue, New York: Nightboat Books, 2015.


Sometimes, subjects are introduced not as agents but via records of what has been done to them, as ‘our Gujarati and Kenyan neighbors’ appear only as the victims of National Front youth league member Stephen Whitby’s racist morning pranks: ‘with regularity, he’d empty out the milk bottles [ . . . ] filling them with an unrelenting supply of urine before putting them back on the step’.8 It is easy to imagine Stephen Whitby as any one of the white nationalist skinheads from the English Defence League, or the 2006 film This is England. And yet, while the anecdote directs sympathy towards the otherwise invisible recipients of Whitby’s bottled piss, Kapil pre-empts the potential condescension of (white) sympathy for these unknown-but-racialised victims by subsequently providing another painful anecdote:


Once, a man was beating his wife. Stephen Whitby climbed over the wall and banged his head on the window. He spat at the window then thumped it with his hand, screaming ‘You fucking Paki!’ He screamed: ‘Go back home, you bleeding animal!’ The man stopped beating his wife, then resumed.9


In the fragmentary scattering of these people and events, and by complicating the conventional narratives of victimhood, Kapil spells out the ways in which the violence of a system produces – and is experientially absorbed by – the bodies of racialised and feminised individuals, and as Ban of the banlieue reaches across to other non-subjects, she is grammatically and syntactically produced as an opaque thing herself. The unstable removes between author, speaker, and subject mean that Ban frequently refers to herself in the third person, rhetorically separating her present self from what usually appears as her younger self. Often, these moments take on an air of innocent simplicity, as ‘Ban has tickets from the West End, and playbills’, or ‘Ban is lying in the dirt, all sticky from her ice’, or ‘Ban is nine. Ban is seven. Ban is ten. Ban is a girl walking home from school just as a protest starts to escalate’.10 But the speaker increasingly resembles an onlooker re-watching an inevitable tragedy unfold, especially because we learn of the affective frequencies of Ban’s marginalisation before we learn many of the facts of her life. In a pivotal early moment of the book, Ban, ‘a brown [black] girl’ is walking home from school when a race riot breaks out:


She orients to the sound of breaking glass, and understands the coming violence has begun. Is it coming from the far-off street or is it coming from her home? Knowing that either way she’s done for—she lies down to die. A novel is thus an account of a person who has already died, in advance of the death they are powerless. To prevent.11


Contrary to the helplessness suggested by these lines, the recurring motif of the book – the ‘passive’ act of lying down – implies something other than passive victimhood: insofar as the liberal ideal of individual agency is thrown out, so is the lie of meritocratic liberal progressivism, which never accounts for the ways gendered, racial and class violence undermine its bootstraps logic. Kapil’s reminder of this fact seems to surface another register of knowledge and a politicised reserve perhaps close to what Fred Moten – in his black optimist torquing of what Fanon calls the ‘impurity’, ‘flaw’, or deathly dimension of the colonised – characterises as an epistemology shaped by ‘a certain reticence at the ongoing advent of the age of the world picture’.12 ‘I am a mixture of dead and living things’, and ‘Almost but never quite dead’, Ban notes in a later refrain.13


Most often, the speaker mentions that Ban is ‘lying down’, but sometimes – usually in what seems like the present, or recent past – it is ‘I lay down’. The act of lying (passively) or laying (actively) on the ground makes for an antagonism and refusal, especially given its place in the history of political protest and the recent significance of die-ins to protest the Iraq war, or the police killing of black people in the US. But lying down is also a feminised gesture, near-ubiquitous as a sign of feminine sexual passivity.14 In particular, the motif reflects Kapil’s longstanding concern with the normalisation of rape in India; a pervasive problem deeply rooted in India’s national history and exacerbated by colonialism. In 2013, writing of ‘another gang rape, on the outskirts of Gwalior’ on her blog (a poetic work-in-progress in its own right, into which most of Ban en Banlieue was written before it was published in book form), Kapil describes:


An epidemiology of violence.  That I have written about elsewhere.  The incidence of domestic/sexual violence within -- communities -- and not just: from the outside -- as race events -- violence that comes from people you do not know -- for me -- was the thing I wanted to think about for Ban.  Though lately -- the violence that comes -- from nowhere -- from everywhere -- seems like the most frightening thing of all.

I wanted to write about the body -- that perceives -- the coming violence and responds to it -- before it has ever happened -- because it's going to happen -- and nothing can prevent that.

Ban lies down in the opening minutes of a riot.15


The aesthetics of lying or laying down, in their broad overtones of coincident meanings, begin to emerge as an affective counter-position to capital’s equally expansive systems of misogyny and racism; in Kapil’s words, ‘the violence that comes -- from nowhere -- from everywhere’, the type of subjectivising violence that is always-already exerted such that ‘the body -- that perceives -- the coming violence and responds to it -- before it has ever happened’.


At the same time, Ban’s l(a)ying-down, as I will call it, seems to signal a desire to be close to the world, or get to know it, both in the matteral sense of land and landscape – the solid earth and its historicity – and in terms of the real abstractions of global capital that emerge from and determine this physical landscape. Because it can be all these things at once, l(a)ying down is a refusal and more: it is a powerful gesture of solidarity with the horizontal figures of racialised dead women, with Blair Peach, with the child known as Ban, and with all those who bear the weight of (to quote another pointed metaphor) ‘the strength of the British Pound’.16 The gesture is only made more meaningful at the moment it is symbolically inverted, when ‘to lie down’ becomes a euphemism for sex and the speaker asserts, ‘These are notes, so I don’t have to go there. I don’t have to lie down with you. And I don’t’.17 However plural its connotative powers, l(a)ying down is not so much a sit-in, more an emotional blockade.




There is much more to be said about Ban en Banlieue. But in the limited space I have here, I want to point out that because Kapil situates the intimacies of patriarchal violence on a global scale, and because rage in her work is both rooted in a subject and directed at a structure, configured through the act of l(a)ying down and the scene of the banlieue, the aesthetic experience of reading it – in Adornian terms, the mimetic process whereby the subject is drawn into the poem’s internal dynamics, in a ‘“silent internal tracing of the work’s articulations”, assimilating herself to the object’s form’18 – might engender new, de-individualised ways of conceiving of patriarchal violence as intrinsic to the logic or history of capital,19 without losing sight of the very visceral and urgent points at which racialised and feminised people experience this physical and mental violence.


But more to the point: if we accept some version of the aesthetic concept of interpretive understanding that Adorno puts forward, is it possible that this poetry can help to delineate more clearly what it is that Marxist-feminism has recently ventured to describe as ‘the abject’? Before I try to answer that question, it seems relevant to note that Ban en Banlieue (and Kapil’s writing more broadly) does not suggest an immediate affinity with Marxist analysis. On the contrary, among the theorists named and pointedly scattered throughout the book – Henri Bergson, Elizabeth Grosz, and Melanie Klein appear prominently – Adorno is the only Marxist referenced, and then only by allusion to his work at its most abstractly philosophical, where he expounds upon ethical systems, domination, consciousness, and ontology through the trope of animals. As Kapil writes: ‘Adorno substituted people for animals; I feel cautious and sad reading his words in the middle of the night, studying the body for Ban. / Why? / “To reduce the living body.” [E. Grosz].’ Indeed, while Kapil’s citationally-suggestive renderings of ‘matter’ deliberately avoid any fully-formed conceptualisation, her references to Grosz’s Becoming Undone (2011) imply not the matter of historical materialism but of vitalist new materialism: ‘Here a person might BECOME not just through acts of descent or alliance (to read India through Grosz) but through the volume and scope of matter itself’.20 Matter in this sense is a vital, evolutionary, transhistorical force whose agency extends beyond the human subject.


Image: Bhanu Kapil, English Rose, 2015


It’s not necessary to make an argument here about the (ir)relevance of authorial intention, or about the political and theoretical shortcomings of feminist new materialisms, which, in their accounts of the productive capacity of particulate matter, tend to make invisible the gendered subject of reproductive labour, the subject who most literally produces matter.21 But Kapil’s casual inclusion of certain proper names, standing in for decidedly anti-Marxist theoretical approaches, might be placed alongside the Buddhism prevalent across her work to highlight the marked absence of Marxist ideation in a book so concerned with the relations between structural, systemic violence and the experiential intimacies through which it is felt. Nevertheless, while the discursive markers of Ban en Banlieue might seem at odds with the value-theory influenced analysis from which this essay takes its cues, I want to suggest that these new and substantially dialectical developments in Marxist-feminist thought could provide a more satisfying, systematic account of how and why feminised and racialised bodies are regulated, subjugated and subjectivised. The poles of antagonism and passivity, matter and abstraction, victim and aggressor, first- and third-person, spectacular and quotidian violence that Ban en Banlieue conflates so tellingly (and by necessity, un-systematically) in poetry are cloudy but dialectical tensions that Marxist-feminism needs to understand better. Could the analytical category of the abject help?




An essay in the UK and US-based communisation journal Endnotes, ‘The Logic of Gender’, marks an emergent line of thought in Marxist-feminist critique. Influenced by German value-form theory, the analytical framework presented by Endnotes provides a compelling alternative to the inadequate binary of productive and reproductive labour for understanding gender oppression under capital. In place of these categories, ‘The Logic of Gender’ proposes two overlapping spheres – the directly market-mediated (DMM) sphere, and the indirectly market-mediated (IMM) sphere – which prove useful categories of analysis for understanding the types of domination required to quantify and enforce different kinds of productive and reproductive activities. While abstract, value-productive (including reproductive) labour is socially determined by ‘direct market-mediation’ and hence requires ‘no structural necessity toward direct violence’, activities belonging to the indirectly market-mediated sphere of ‘non-labour’ (including paid, non-value-producing work) are compelled by other mechanisms, ‘from direct domination and violence to hierarchical forms of cooperation, or planned allocation at best.’ It is not possible to ‘objectively quantify, enforce or equalize “rationally” the time and energy spent in these activities or to whom they are allocated.’22 Central here is the relation of any activity to the market and to valorisation.


The abject, in this framework, describes a particular type of denaturalised, indirectly market-mediated activity: a set of unpaid tasks that must be performed or executed by ‘someone’ in order for the production of surplus-value to continue in the directly market-mediated sphere. The concept of the abject is linked, in ‘The Logic of Gender’, to the process of previously waged reproductive activities becoming unwaged as a result of neoliberal austerity measures. Abject forms of reproduction differ from other indirectly market-mediated activities because, after becoming waged components of the welfare state, they no longer automatically appear as the natural task of women – though as Endnotes point out, ‘abject reproduction will in the end mainly be foisted upon women’.23


Referring to the abject in this way of course invokes Julia Kristeva’s long essay, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, in which abjection is described as ‘the twisted braid of affects and thoughts’ that has no definable object, and which draws us ‘toward the place where meaning collapses’.24 While Endnotes’ rendering of the abject shares key characteristics with Kristeva’s definition – Endnotes describe the abject as ‘that which is cast off, thrown away, but from something that it is part of25 – Kristeva’s exploration of this category points towards another dimension in which abject social reproduction is performed, often under duress. This gendered abjection is of a kind qualitatively distinct from the definition Endnotes provide, and the most obvious examples of it involve dealing with trauma, mental illness, stress or anxiety related to incidents of rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, sexual harassment, gendered discrimination and domestic violence, including forms of racist, transphobic, homophobic and ableist physical and sexual violence and discrimination. The intellectual and affective responses – the ‘dealing with’ – that these types of structural violence demand are a component of what Silvia Federici calls, ‘the psychological work necessary to reintegrate our physical and emotional balance’.26


This abject component can be viewed as a form of immaterial ‘non-labour’ that must be made doubly invisible in order for the production of value to continue in the waged sphere. The abject is cut off from the social in a double-dissociation: not only is it deprived of social validation as waged labour, but it is also cast off from what is socially validated as non-labour, the mundane going-on of reproductive life – the time supposedly spent cooking, cleaning, washing, exercising etc. – that enables us to turn up at work each day. In proposing that we expand our definition of ‘the abject’ as a Marxist-feminist category, I mean to include that which is not talked about openly: physical and mental activity that is relegated – as Kapil’s poetry suggests – to a feminised and/or racialised realm of secrecy, or otherwise casually framed as an illegitimate or irrational response to a social sphere of official ‘equality’, in a process involving, to borrow Angela McRobbie’s words, ‘a privatisation of grievances’.27 While Endnotes’ discussion of abject reproduction is mainly limited to its existence as a gendered sphere, the category gains a crucial dimension of complexity and relevance when considered in relation to the lives and work of women of colour, and Kapil’s writing indicates exactly why this is so. Consider the following lines:


This is the snow: I think often about low-levels of racism, the very parts of a social system or institution that are hard to address, precisely because they are non-verbal—a greater trigger for schizophrenia in immigrant populations: in women, that is, than larger events, the race riot, for example, with its capacity: to be analyzed.28


This incompatibility with analysis seems a key characteristic of a racialised and gendered abject sphere. The non-verbal, as these lines imply, is a register that goes hand-in-hand not with the event, ‘the race riot, for example’, but with the perennial experiences of those forced to endure the bubbling quotidian mix of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and misogyny emanating from the emasculated poverty of the white dispossessed, deindustrialised social landscape; the very thing Westminster elites underestimated when they called the referendum that led to Brexit. Thus, Ban is repeatedly figured to the side of the race riot; not only because she is feminised (though to be sure, women who riot are often subject to discursive erasure or containment too) but also because she is brown in a world where race is often conceived in oppositional terms of black and white. It is hard to make non-events, the everyday resistances, visible to those who do not have to resist at all times. As Gayatri Spivak has shown, it is hard to make the structural violence of low-level racism visible to those who do not experience it.29 It is hard to make the abject, the ‘dealing with’, visible to those who do not have to do it. It is hard or impossible to make these things visible, let alone understood in representational or economic terms.


In this expanded definition of ‘the abject’, the binary categories of naturalised and denaturalised labour that ‘The Logic of Gender’ relies on don’t quite map the current shape and condition of abjection under capital, even as it is broadly introduced as ‘that which cannot be subsumed or is not worth subsuming’.30 Nor is it easy to theorise the abject within the parameters of economic analysis or according to a critique of the labour theory of value, given the need to be precise about what counts as labour (a need which Endnotes are quick to point out). What kind of work, or activity, is the abject, then, and how does it fit within contemporary versions of Marxist-feminist theories of social reproduction?


Perhaps it is possible, as Marina Vishmidt has suggested, to think about reproduction (and here ‘denaturalised’ and ‘abject’ activities seem particularly important) in terms of the negativity of the value-form as Chris Arthur has outlined it. Arthur points out that we might speak of waged labour not as ‘productive labour’ but as ‘counterproductive labour’, given that workers are ‘actually or potentially recalcritrant to capital’s efforts to compel their labour’.31 In Arthur’s analysis, wage-labour is the only ‘contestable’ factor in production; that is, unlike land, machinery, materials, it does not enter the production process with a given productive potential:


In its endeavour to organise production, and to maximise output, capital finds that it is confronted with a special difficulty: the residual ‘subjectivity’ of the worker poses unique problems because it gives rise to a definite recalcitrance to being ‘exploited’ which the other factors do not possess.32


Thus, for Arthur, value is not simply a positive outcome of the production process, but the result of a process of negation whereby ‘capital can [only] produce value by winning the class struggle at the point of production’, or in other words, defeating workers and any subjective resistance they might have to the subsumption of their labour. This negation (by capital) of a negation (by the worker) turns the labour theory of value into a dialectic of negativity, and renders value contradictory, both positive and negative at once.


‘But what happens’, asks Vishmidt, ‘if we think reproduction with or inside the social character of production which renders value contradictory, put reproduction into the term “counterproductive labour”’?33 In other words, what happens when we conceive of reproductive labour not as an outside or excess to the sphere of value-production (as Federici and Peter Linebaugh have optimistically proposed in terms of the commons, and as Roswitha Scholz’s theory of gendered value-dissociation would hold)34, but as a negative dialectic internal to capital and labour? In this case, would ‘the abject’ constitute a doubly-invisible, non-verbal violence traced in our experience of reading certain feminist poetry? Is it possible to say that Ban en Banlieue, as an anti-representational document that speaks from the ‘non-verbal’ – especially in Ban’s gesture of l(a)ying down – traces a form of activity that, while not labour, nevertheless still operates as counter-reproductive negativity within the value-form itself?


The exact nature of the relation between counter-production and reproduction on the one hand, and activity and labour on the other, remains to be adequately theorised in Marxist-feminism. As Vishmidt – along with Endnotes, Zoe Sutherland, Kumkum Sangari, Delia D. Aguilar and others – has pointed out,35 the commodification of domestic labour under post-Fordism displaces this exploitation to a racialised and illegalised class of low-waged women. Moreover, the complex shifts and recompositions of patriarchal relations along racial lines further complicates any theory of resistance to (or counter-reproductive negativity within) reproductive activities, since as Sangari explains:


The market is not, after all, an unambiguous anti-traditional force that loosens familial patriarchal practices – it can also sustain, alter or resuscitate them; it may dissolve familial patriarchal practices to an extent but maintain or reinstate caste, ethnic and racial hierarchies that in turn depend on gendered subordination. The market and market-led states may not only have a stake in familial patriarchal regimes, but the market emancipation of some women may depend on the continuation of familial regimes elsewhere. Thus the question of location does not rest on an imperious world map of more or less patriarchal regions; rather, it is a material question of differential and shifting patriarchal distributions.36


Moving the conversation to a global scale like this is a reminder that reproduction is inherently an affirmative process; it is the reproduction of the subject to be exploited or cast off by capital, the reproduction of gender, indeed, of the capital-labour relation in all its misery. And this is why Ban’s refusal, situated as it is in the global banlieue, seems such an accurate gesture of dialectical negation; one that parallels the movement of capital itself through reproduction, which is figured by Sangari in the following terms: ‘As the material base of patriarchies is patchily eroded or recomposed by state or market interventions, there is a concurrent mobilization and immobilization of women’s labour, a simultaneous move to defamilialize and refamilialize’.37 Thus, perhaps the symbolic category of the abject – as that which defies subject-object relations – can be put to more challenging dialectical work to examine more closely the forms of affective and intellectual activities that take place in the indirectly market-mediated sphere. In the process, the abject might also help us to address the limiting, historically imprecise, cis-sexist and heteronormative categories of Marxist-feminist analysis in order to think more critically about what kinds of subjects perform these types of activities. Such investigations would surely impact how we conceive of the boundaries and possibilities of dialectical reading and thinking, particularly in relation to processes of racial ascription, in a socially uneven global economy.


Amy De’Ath is a poet and critic. Most recently, she is the author of ON MY LOVE FOR gender abolition (Capricious 2016), and is currently finishing her PhD, Unsociable Poetry: Antagonism and Abstraction in Contemporary Feminist Poetics, at Simon Fraser University. Her criticism has appeared in Women: A Cultural Review, and Anguish Language (Archive Books 2015). With Fred Wah, she is the editor of a poetics anthology, Toward. Some. Air. (Banff Centre Press 2015). Amy lives in Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territories.



Thanks to Jèssica Pujol for publishing a earlier version of this essay in Alba: Culture in Translation.



1 Chris Nealon, ‘The Price of Value’, The Values of Literary Studies: Critical Institutions, Scholarly Agendas, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015, p.92.

2 Bhanu Kapil, Ban en Banlieue, New York: Nightboat Books, 2015, p.30.

3 Ibid., p.41, p.39.

4 Ibid., p.34, pp.36-7.

5 Ibid., p.42, p.66.

6 The speaker asks, for instance: ‘What, for example, is born in England, but is never, not even on a cloudy day, English?’ (Kapil, Banlieue, p.30).

7 Ibid., p.25.

8 Ibid., p.59.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., p.44, p.31.

11 Ibid., p.20.

12 Fred Moten, ‘The Case of Blackness’, Criticism, Spring 2008, 50:2, p.179. But Ban has a complex relationship to blackness: ‘She’s a girl. A black girl in an era when, in solidarity, Caribbean and Asian Brits self-defined as black. A black (brown) girl encountered in the earliest hour of a race riot’ (Kapil, p.30). The distinction of blackness is crucial for Afro-pessimist theorists for whom blackness is ‘a political ontology dividing the Slave from the world of the Human in a constitutive way’ (Sexton, p.23), but also for a number of theorists including José Muñoz, Sara Ahmed and Gayatri Spivak, who write about the specific marginalisations of brownness. See for starters: Muñoz, ‘Feeling Brown, Feeling Down’, Signs, Spring 2006, 31:3, pp.675-688; Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1988; and Ahmed, On Being Included, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012. For some key delineations in Afro-pessimist theory see Frank B Wilderson III, Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010 and Jared Sexton, ‘The Social Life of Social Death’, InTensions 5, Fall 2011.

13 Kapil, Banlieue, p.82.

14 A few examples might include: the passive sexual ‘giving over’ represented by Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Mena Suvari’s American Beauty, or the mise-en-scènes of Dolce and Gabbana advertisements, the attitudes of Tiqqun’s Young Girl, or a million pop songs, a million movies.

15 See Kapil, ‘Kali’s Scream’, 17 March 2013,

16 Kapil, Banlieue, p.63.

17 Ibid., p.62.

18 Shierry Weber Nicholsen, Exact Imagination, Late Work: On Adorno’s Aesthetics, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997, p.149, quoted in Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012, p.99.

19 The question of ‘the possibility of locating gender and race as part of the abstract, logical, or “essential mechanisms” of capitalism, opting instead to incorporate these pervasive relations as aspects of capitalism’s historical and concrete unfolding’ (Manning, n.p.) is a contentious topic of debate in Marxist-feminist theory at present, as some feminists seek to ‘delineate categories [of gender] that are as specific to capitalism as ‘capital’ itself’. See the discussion in Viewpoint, ‘Gender and Capitalism: Debating Cinzia Arruzza’s Remarks on Gender’, 4 May 2015.

20 Kapil, Banlieue, p.72.

21 For critiques of the new materialism of Grosz and others, see Jordana Rosenberg’s argument about the depoliticising temporal horizons of these studies, ‘The Molecularization of Sexuality: On Some Primitivisms of the Present’, Theory and Event, 2014, 17:2, pp.15-30; Sara Ahmed’s response to the charge of ‘biophobia’ in feminism, ‘Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the “New Materialism”’, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 2008, 15:1, pp.23-39; Alberto Toscano’s defence of Marxist materialism as an analysis of social abstractions, ‘Materialism Without Matter: Abstraction, Absence and Social Form’, Textual Practice, 2014, 28:7, pp.1221-1240; and Sean O’Brien’s critique of Grosz’s The Nick of Time, ‘What’s the Matter with Matter? Reproduction in Contemporary Materialist Feminisms’, GUTS Magazine, 11 August 2013,

22 Endnotes, ‘The Logic of Gender’, Endnotes 3, 2013, p.65.

23 Ibid., p.89.

24 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, p.2.

25 ‘The Logic of Gender’, p.86.

26 Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, New York: PM Press, 2012, p.146.

27 Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change, London: SAGE, 2008, p.74.

28 Kapil, Banlieue, p.48.

29 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value’, Diacritics, 1985, 15:4, pp.73-93.

30 ‘The Logic of Gender’, p.86.

31 Christopher Arthur, ‘Value, Labour and Negativity’, Capital & Class 73, 2001, p.30.

32 Ibid.

33 Marina Vishmidt, ‘Counter(Re-)Productive Labour’, available on the Auto Italia South East website (viewed 22 October 2015).

34 See Federici (2012), Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons For All, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009; and Roswitha Scholz, ‘Patriarchy and Commodity Society: Gender Without the Body’, Mediations 27, 2009, pp.1-2.

35 Kumkum Sangari, ‘Patriarchy/patriarchies’, and Delia D Aguilar, ‘Intersectionality’, in Shahrzad Mojab (ed.), Marxism and Feminism, London: Zed Books, 2015.

36 Sangari, p.278.

37 Sangari, p.279.