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  • Response to Ida Dominijanni
  • Andrea Righi (bio)

One of the most important contributions that Ida Dominijanni has made to our philosophical and political landscape is her long and penetrating reflection on the notions of sexed subjectivity, the unconscious and symbolic elaboration in the context of the conflict between labor and capital. In this, I guess, she represents one of the best responses to a sort of blockage that threatened political activism and theory emerging precisely from the struggles in the 1960s and 1970s.

To summarize its very basic form: building on a new notion of sexual difference, Italian neo-feminism questioned, as Ida says, the "egalitarian (democratic and/or Marxist) paradigm, where [sexual difference] is destined to dissolve into neutralization or assimilation" [140]. Now, as this emphasis on subjectivity and its needs gained the upper hand, what faded out was the role of objectivizing forces overdetermining individual actions. In other words, even if the emphasis on difference always undermined a simplistic reduction of the individual to a centered and controlling self, nonetheless the focusing on a subjective dimension produced a quite obvious consequence: that of a widespread indifference, if not disdain, toward those overdetermining forces (like economy) that still were at work in the mind and the body of the subject.1

The response is, as Ida points out, that sexual difference is not to be conceived of as identity, that is, as an essentialist concept, but as a productive practice that gets resignified in the in-betweenness with other women. The intersubjective dimension thus assesses both the subjective and the objective, becoming the proper realm of the political. Here the key is psychoanalysis, especially the Lacanian (and post-Lacanian) school with its analysis of the agency of capitalism into the unconscious and the symbolic. In this regard I am in total agreement with Ida's thought. There is one point though, that I would like Ida to discuss a little further.

In today's immaterial production the very bios of the humans is put to work and socialized for capitalist use. Here in the United States this biopolitical condition has been effective for the longest time (at least since the Reagan administration). In an unregulated space, laborers now functioning as enterprises need to develop a capacity to produce gain, or to become a hub of "earnings streams" [Foucault 224], and not simply to earn a wage. Andrea Fumagalli notes that this provokes a bizarre form of self-exploitation [autosfruttamento] that has a deep impact in terms of solidarity [142]. Looking at it from the point of view of neo-feminism, this phenomenon is not new at all. For instance, consider that a much-praised virtue for any good girl is abnegation, and isn't abnegation the true self-exploitative drive for the endless day of domestic chores for women? Moreover, the output of this physical, but also emotional activity was the reproduction of social structures (procreation being the most obvious) just as in today's knowledge-based economy production involves immaterial assets such as communicative and social skills. This biopolitical dimension recapitulates women's work of reproduction. Certainly it has been updated through information technology, but constituting a globalized reality it also shows all its burden of physical and emotional exhaustion that it produces. So here are my two questions or provocations, if I may say. [End Page 147]

First: in the history of biopolitics Italian feminism had been at the forefront, and here one can think of Lotta Femminista, a neo-Marxist branch of Italian feminism of the 1970s, that theorized in a particularly innovative way how it is within the private sphere of domesticity and sexuality that power exercises a deep, albeit indirect control over the social exchanges among individuals. Through the study of the work of reproduction (especially procreation) as the production of labor-power, intellectuals like Leopoldina Fortunati and Silvia Federici had already articulated an advanced understanding of those biopolitical mechanisms that only today we see deployed in all their magnitude in the field of immaterial production.2 Yet only in the last fifteen years or so (and thanks to the reinterpretation of Foucault) Italian philosophy has finally come around and talked about it. Why...