‘A crisis becomes a crisis when the white male body is affected,’ writes the philosopher Rosi Braidotti, interviewed in this nineteenth print issue of The White Review. Braidotti’s work on the posthuman challenges all forms of supremacy – from humans’ abuse of the environment to deep-rooted racial and gender inequalities – in favour of a more expansive, less hierarchical view of humanity. At a time when accelerating movements in global politics are propounding constricted views of who may be classed as ‘human’ and accordingly entitled to bodily autonomy – those who are white, male, heterosexual, rich, native-born – it feels imperative that we continue to seek out voices and narratives outside this shrinking mainstream. We are wary, however, of providing another platform for agitprop and the conveyor belt of hastily expiring hot takes. Instead we have sought to put together in this issue a collection of writing that is nuanced and reflective, curious and exacting; that will provide solace where required and spur inspiration elsewhere.
Since the US election campaign, where debates turned on whether or not a female candidate was capable of withstanding the strain of a presidency, women’s bodies – coded as weak and frail, somehow imparting irrationality, and requiring subordination to male control – have been at the forefront of Trump’s sickening boasts and discriminatory policy-making. Women who terminate pregnancies must be ‘punished’, Trump said in March 2016, before using one of his very first acts as president to police women’s control over their own bodies by reinstating a 1980s law denying funding to organisations which perform or provide information about abortions. (‘Pro-life’ campaigners might note that during the 1950s and ‘60s, when abortion was legal in only four states, ‘back alley’ terminations accounted for 17 per cent of maternal deaths.) Our protest comes in the form of fictions, essays, poems and works of art which interrogate constructions of the female body. Jacqueline Feldman follows a group of Femen activists who have turned their bodies into vehicles of protest, and explores the way these women have been alternately vilified, patronised and objectified for exposing their bodies in public, in turn lauded as proponents of a tradition of secular freedom or prosecuted as sex criminals. Alice Hattrick examines her own experience of invisible illness, writing back against the feelings of shame and failure caused by a debilitating pain which others assume to be fictional. We feature an interview with Scottish artist Rachel Maclean, whose dizzying videos – in which she plays every character herself – satirise the performative nature of femininity, along with the lurid projection of happiness sold by consumerism and internet culture. Elsewhere, CA Conrad’s exhilarating poems play on the connections, sometimes unexpected, between bodies and politics: ‘One man said it was rude to name a patch of pubic hair after the governor; I said it was rude of the governor to legislate hatred.’
In an event at the London Review Bookshop on the eve of the inauguration, the poet Eileen Myles (who ran for president in the 1992 election as an ‘openly female’ candidate) called for ‘all of us to burst forth with an explosion of art-making’ to ensure that alternative voices continue to be heard in disturbing times – or, in her words, ‘as an appropriate way to absolutely say “fuck you” to it’. Print-run constraints mean we do not expect to be publicly chastised, like the actors of Hamilton or Meryl Streep, nor dismissed as Fake News. But continuing to publish work that interrogates power and privilege, that is diverse in form and in perspective, that encourages not division but empathy, will be The White Review’s small contribution to the resistance.