Author of “Gore Capitalism”, Sayak Valencia proposes resistance through transfeminism

Disclaimer: This is the translated version of the article available here.

Published in 2010, Gore Capitalism was written by the Mexican transfeminist philosopher Sayak Valencia. Transfeminism, in the sense adopted by Valencia, means a transversal, intersectional feminism that embraces all currents of feminism and not only, but also those that deal with transexuality.

Holding a PhD from University of Madrid, Valencia became known for making a critical analysis of capitalism in a combination of feminism and pop culture while using the term “gore” from horror movies where human limbs and gut explode on the screen.

Valencia’s argument, in this sense, is that our political and economic system is not much different from the images of gore movies, since both treat bodies (and thus individuals) as pieces of meat, products that may be destroyed and listed after the same logic of Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics.

But in the case of Valencia, she doesn’t see a difference between the mechanics of a corporation and the narcos. While analyzing the Mexican scenario, the philosopher stresses the idea that “crime pays.” After all, accumulating riches from criminal activities is something “almost instantaneous” and the price to be paid for that is “just” killing or be killed, a not so high price for those who live “a life that is not worth living except in extremely precarious conditions of constant frustration and an irreversible impoverishment,” she writes.

Consumed consumers

It’s based on this idea that Valencia names narcos as “monstrous subjects” (sujetos endriagos), since they accepted to become “active in their relationship with death” — being it their own or someone else’s. It is no coincidence that the Mexican narcos patron saint is a skull-headed version of Virgin Mary. But, additionally, Valencia sees both in the mechanics of narcos and in capitalism a patriarchal and sexist system that is rooted in the construction of Mexican national identity.

Interviewed by TAB, Valencia explains that this violent aspect of the patriarchal culture is something characteristic to a gender binary based on the masculine and it can be found elsewhere in the world, though its presence is more striking in post-colonial spaces. This element appears not only in institutions (narcos, governments, and corporations), but also in the popular imagination — think about the main characters of popular TV series such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul or Narcos.

In other words, Valencia argues that we live in hyperconsumerist feedback loop: in order to be someone in capitalism, one needs to have money and status, two assets that may be achieved through crime, politics, or entrepreneurship. We see in Brazil how entrepreneurship became the solution for unemployment and the economic crisis especially in the case of vulnerable communities such as black and brown citizens (they represent 2/3 of all unemployed people in the country), but, for Valencia, this kind of strategy is nothing more than a symptom of the “triumph of neoliberalism.”

“Entrepreneurship is something that aims to break with historical facts such as the liberation processes of Latin America. This also happens between the monstrous subjects in Mexico,” says the writer. “It breaks the social fabric in order to capture these subjects and keep them reproducing the same values and ideologies of power and consumerism. It also keeps the system working in favor of the State, of the neoliberal, capitalist system, and consequently a more fascist system.

Self-critic Liberalism

In this sense, we also watch how contemporary advertisements already embraced the strategy of including marginalized peoples and political topics in their agenda. If on one hand terms such as pink money and greenwashing hold a negative sense due to the artificiality that ads approach activism, on the other hand, we still have such topics being discussed in mass media.

For Valencia, it is possible to assume a more radical and critical posture while arguing that causes shouldn’t be appropriated by advertisement and turned into a product, but, in her personal opinion, approaching these subjects might be one way to stimulate conversation about these people, provided that they are not turned into “things” and that the community itself may be able to create content and be benefitted from that. With such considerations, the writer sees herself more flexible in this sense, also because she is optimistic about the way that feminist and anti-racist collectives are using social media, for instance, as a means to resist and amplify the conversation.

The same goes for liberal feminism. Hollywood productions such as the movies Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have been adopting a feminist discourse as a sales and engagement strategy. But, for Valencia, this is actually something positive as liberal feminism also brings with it other currents of feminism — that is, it kickstarts a feminist sensibility that allows people who would never consider themselves feminist before to identify with this agenda in some way.

“What worries me is the polarization of the liberal and sexist discourse against the transfeminist or other feminist discourses that include functional diversities such as class struggle and race”, argues the philosopher. “In this sense, liberal feminism has the duty of self criticism, so that it doesn’t become a feminism with an agenda that is limited to achieving the same rights as men in a juridical perspective, but actually include much more complex topics that go beyond binarism.” Valencia thus stresses a terminological difference to be made between the most hegemonic feminisms, that offer a perspective of “feminine neoliberalization” instead of a “feminine liberation,” as it can be seen in the most intersectional currents.

In any case, Valencia makes an alert about criticism against liberal feminism by asking the following questions: “What is the advantage of disarticulating alliances between feminisms? How is liberal feminism being absorbed by institutions and by right wingers in order to disrupt the movement?” For the author, in the case of Latin America, liberal feminism is oftentimes being used as a Trojan horse to disarticulate the movement by becoming something repulsive between feminists, but, for Valencia, feminism shouldn’t be punitivist, but rather self-critical.

Resistance, a feminine word

Consequently, the way Valencia conduces the book Gore Capitalism is exactly in the sense of diagnosing this prevalence of patriarchalism in the mechanics of capitalism which, by its turn, can be rather dismantled through a more propositive and active feminism such as is the case of the queer movement and transfeminism. Here the author chooses to follow a Latin American version by adopting the concept of cyborg proposed by Chéla Sandoval instead of being inspired by xenofeminism.

For Valencia, xenofeminism is nothing more than a current that merges queer and transfeminism, which is mostly based on the concept of cyborg proposed by Donna Haraway, but which has the risk of being elitist and too focused on the northern hemisphere by considering technologies that don’t fit the Latin American reality. “At the end of the day, they are just saying what we already know, but in English and with an European accent,” says the philosopher, who makes the alert about a new kind of colonizing process through technological elegy.

Nothing new with Covid-19

In this sense, Valencia also stresses that the way Covid-19 made the whole world face an actual risk of death is actually something that marginalized populations are already dealing with on a daily basis. However, in this pandemic crisis, such fear intensified even more. The philosopher argues that, in fact, the necropolitics that have been implanted in the first world countries during the pandemic is actually something that persists among post-colonial countries for many years (since the “colonialism pandemic”), and, thus, it’s just a repetition of something that we already know, but this time in English and with an European accent.

When asked if her opinion about the future of the pandemic would be closer to Slavoj Zizek or Byung-Chul Han’s perspectives, Valencia says that she doesn’t agree with either. “Both are talking from an absolute male and also European privileged perspective,” she explains. “In both cases there is no direct criticism against the masculine and necropolitical authoritarianism that characterizes the cartography of international government. This is what we have been experiencing since Trump to Bolsonaro, but also with the Bolivian coup and with many other authoritarian movements that are multiplying in Eastern Europe and the rest of the continent.”

In the end, Valencia is somehow pessimistic about the post-pandemic world. She doesn’t believe the pandemic will unravel the end of capitalism but actually a stronger precarization of work with the end of wage labor, the intensification of platforms and surveillance models that feed authoritarianism in democratic states. “We thus see fascism giving hands to neoliberalism by working fear and terror as a biopolitical and sanitarist argument to keep us confined. So those who dreamt that Covid-19 would be a watershed, they were only living a phantasmagorical privilege,” she concludes.

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Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.