Why do we communicate? What is communication to us, and what are the motivations that drive us to do so? You may initially feel that the answers are obvious, as I did. Communication, after all, constructs a major part of all social reality. And you have to live in it with or without your active participation in its construction. So naturally you would usually want your own opinions, perspectives, and experiences integrated into our shared public comprehension as much as possible. This is a straightforwardly political consideration of communication, and with its emphasis on participation, empowerment and inclusion it yields elegant answers. However, I have noticed that the patterns of our own motivations--and those motivations we attribute to others--are not always quite so obvious, nor so easily understood from this particular avenue of approach.
I would suggest that intellectual communication is sometimes best understood as an intimacy process akin to sexuality or being in love, and just as behaviors and motivations in those areas often tend to be more tangled and complicated than you would obtain from simply identifying what is wanted and determining whether or not various behaviors are likely to make those things happen, so it is with intellectual communication as well. It is necessary, in other words, to speak here of desire, not merely of the desired goals and their desirability. Since poststructuralist feminist theory, strongly affected by the legacy of Lacan and psychoanalysis in general, often tends to focus on the content and construction of "desire", it strikes me as appropriate that I follow suit and do likewise.
We may see more readily with other forms of intimacy how incomplete our understanding of desire is if we begin and end with the desirability of the apparent goal. Consider, for example, sexual intimacy: many people might initially identify sexual sensation, and probably orgasm, as the object of sexual desire, but simple observation reveals that such sensations do not even require the presence of another person (at least not for most men, who seldom complain of an inability to masturbate), and, given that having to include another person in the process intrinsically makes one vulnerable to having to address the perhaps conflicting wishes and desires of the other person.
A more sophisticated exploration of sexual desire and its object might yield answers that have more to do with merging, escaping the envelope of the individual self, and experiencing the self as plural, perhaps even as all-encompassing. Intimacy, rather than orgasm, as the goal of sexual communication. Intimacy, in other words, as its own goal.
We may also see more readily in other forms of intimacy how patterns of behavior that are not conducive to attaining the apparent goal can be understood though sympathizing with the desire as a felt present. The behaviors of people motivated by the state of being "in love" are often observed to include jealousies and preemptive rejections in response to the fears of being hurt by the intensity of desire, even though such behaviors tend to be antithetical to the apparent goal of attaining and maintaining a love relationship. Intimacy, perhaps, has the capacity to exist in forms that destroy the self rather than fulfilling the self. Intimacy, in other words, as its own antithesis.
Our understandings of intimacy breed an erotica of vulnerability itself, the condition of wanting what may be given or denied, the circumstance in which you may want something strong enough on one level to be "out of control" and unable to refuse intimacy offered, even when, intellectually, you may conclude that this intimacy is not desirable at all. We state that the intensity of one's passion does not translate into a justification for pursuing intimacy with individuals who do not want it, but it is also widely understood that the desire for such intimacy can lead individuals into consensual activities and relationships with people that they believe, intellectually, they do not want to have anything to do with.
One of the reasons, I think, that intellectual communication is treated differently than these other forms of intimacy is that they are treated as exceptions and intellectual communication is regarded as the larger context, a context in which individuals are thought to be competitive antagonists of each other and the societal collective, at best, a compromising solution, and, at worst, an overwhelmingly antagonistic presence itself. Against this backdrop, love and sexuality stand out as special cases, cases where individuals seem to seek out merging as an end in itself, merging for which the individuals experience an active hunger, desire.
The myth of the single individual intrinsically at odds with the needs
of the collectivity is addressed in part by the badly misused Carol
Gilligan and her theoretical work, as well as by the theories of Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein. The very simultaneity
of self as individual and self as collectivity is the essence of what it
means to be a social being; communication is the end-all and be-all of political
process; and yet all myths to the contrary are necessary if the patriarchal
estrangement of felt experience and collectively shared versions of reality
is to be maintained.
Passion's role in intellectual communication is overshadowed by the attention given to intellectual content. That a person would have a desire to share her own concepts, interpretations, paradigms, ideas, and so on, or that a person would desire to share in another's conceptual world and come to understand how that person sees things, is generally attributed only to the excellence of the content, although the quality of the content would have to be known or intuited beforehand to explain such a passion. If one is observed to have a desire to speak and share intellectual content for reasons aside from it constituting the "right answer", the motivations may be regarded as due to reasons that live beyond and outside of the intellectually legitimate: "ego gratification", "crying out for attention", "sexual acting-out" and so on, emotional reasons which, by their intrusion, cast the content itself into question. Emotional aspects of understanding are to be scoured from the laboratory sink of thought.
Meanwhile, in the shadows, unspoken-of: the lust for understanding, the
desire to share perspectives, the intense craving for a unified comprehension
Schaef (1981) and McMillan (1982) , among others, played a role in developing our understanding of the masculine detachment of feeling from thought that is especially hegemonic in the sciences. Here, I draw attention more specifically to what in children is called curiosity, and in rarefied intellectual and scientific circles is called inquiry--the desire to know--and I say it is time to resocialize it, to understand and acknowledge that the overall desire for intimacy with other people includes the passion for intellectual intimacy, and in turn is included in the broader desire for intimacy with all that is.
There are pernicious masculinist-patriarchal modes of conceptualizing intellectual intimacy for which rape is the ideal paradigm, though. Rape is a parody of intimacy. "Man fucks woman. Subject verb object", writes MacKinnon (1987, p. 158). Subject-object dynamics are linear and the flow is only in one direction; no sharing occurs. The boundaries, and hence the individual identity of She who is Fucked, are erased and there is unity. The boundaries of He who does the Fucking, however, are not erased but merely consume her as a possession, and so, for him, there is still autonomy and individuality. Singularity, separation, distinction, individuation, are revered as "freedom" and "personhood". The complete submergence of the self into the collective whole are established as "belonging".
Intellectually, the establishment of expertise and the denial of passion for intimacy in the artificially created intellectual zone of the academy maintain an ongoing mindfuck, called "education". That the university classroom is meaningfully different from the classroom of the second grade in terms of the extent to which the students are to think for themselves is commonly asserted, but I have not observed very much difference.
The old second-grade image of the blank slate is easily improved upon in the modern technological era with a reference to computer programming: the box of circuits comes equipped only with basic hardware and it is the programmer who makes possible all of the myriad things that it can do as well as providing it with the meaningful data with which to do them. Install the theories and operant belief systems and then give them some data, and their ability to analyze and observe and compile term papers is called "thinking for themselves".
Unity of understanding is strictly functional for purposes of assuring inter-person predictability, but with no bearing on their personal felt experiences, which are dismissed as subjectively volatile, and thus ignorable (the objectivist model) or else socially constructed and thus ignorable (the social determinist model).
Within feminism, if not outside of it, we allowed to say these things, and to disavow them, because this isolation and alienation is not what we are about. Long prior to my enrollment in the feminist theory course for which the original version of this paper was submitted, I had said so and done so in classroom and within term paper, often to the detriment of my academic security, questioning the content of what was taught as axiomatic truths of the discipline on the grounds that I myself thought otherwise, and doing so because I passionately wanted to. By the time I joined the Women's Studies Certificate Program, I was frustrated and tired of these mainstream courses and academic disciplines, with their barriers set up to prevent the introduction of feminist insights, and I wanted to be someplace where others thought as I did, and where communication took place.
Communication is meaning, communication is revolutionary power, communication is identity and community and ultimately an end in itself. Communication feels good, and without it, there is loneliness and despair, the pain of not being known or understood, of not knowing or understanding, of being alien in an alien world.
I did not have the luxury of experiencing what I had come in hopes of experiencing, however. What was listed as Feminist Theory in the course catalog and required by the Women's Studies Certificate Program for certification was different in process as well as content from what I had anticipated would be a feminist theory course. The feminist theory of this theory course was drawn from poststructuralist theory, and as such did not incorporate a vision of individuals with an intellectual desire to merge and share thoughts and experiences in pursuit of a blended understanding that would integrate us all into it. Lacking such a vision, there was no effort to set up a process in which students could speak from the authority of their own felt experience, and instead once again content was king and content came from published books and we were here to learn. Of course, had the content more closely matched the beliefs and perspectives that I hold as my own and think of as "feminist", this would have been less unpleasant, but the process was a more fundamental problem. Having called myself "feminist" and embraced the overall body of thought that went by that name for so long, I was terrified of finding that perhaps something new and different that I could not not embrace was being embraced by everyone else who thought of themselves as feminist, I was fearful of loss of identity, of erasure, and so with passion and vehemence I attempted to share and explore in an attempt to reach some common ground we could all call "ours" as well as "feminist". I continued to do so even when an intellectual assessment of the likelihood of achieving such an outcome would have told me my behaviors were not going to attain anything of the sort.
Is this so surprising, after all?
Now let me tell you more specifically about the content of poststructuralist feminism and what I didn't--and don't--like about it.
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