Identity and narcissism

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So it would seem that Flavia Dzodan — an Amsterdam-based marketing consultant — denounced me last night. All this as part of a highly-public (online) breakdown of staggering proportions. Not just me, of course. Quite a few others were likewise singled out for abuse in Dzodan’s hate-filled tirade, endearingly titled “I hate you all media vultures.” Most of those she called out were well-known feminists: Louise Pennington, Laurie Penny, Michelle Goldberg, Becca Reilly-Cooper, Glosswitch, Helen Lewis, Meghan Murphy, Julie Bindel, and Gia Milinovich. Everyone else who belongs to our “ilk,” as well. This is something I’m particularly proud of, incidentally, long having wanted to be included in an ilk. In a roughly thousand word blogpost, dripping with invective, she accuses everyone of profiting at her expense. We’re “media whores,” according to Dzodan, “the top of a vat of turds floating in our own media shit.” By contrast, she and her supporters are “the bootstraps we pull in the hopes of rising to the top,” since we’ve allegedly co-opted her language, ideas, and freedom.

Clearly, we should all stop what we’re doing immediately and start cutting her royalty checks. Nevermind that Reilly-Cooper isn’t even a journalist, without any media connections to speak of. Still more puzzling are some of Dzodan’s other accusations, bizarre ad hominem attacks and baseless condemnations. Lewis is supposed to have driven one of her gay coworkers to commit suicide. Apparently I’m a supporter of NAMBLA. Who knew? This she cleverly deduces from my former membership in Platypus, or at least what she can tell by reading Richard Seymour’s open letter. Platypus doesn’t really endorse anything, to the best of my knowledge. Its president, Chris Cutrone, said back in 2009 that the Spartacist League’s stance on NAMBLA is one of their better positions (which actually says more about the Sparts than anything else). His opinion doesn’t necessarily represent that of Platypus as an organization, nor that of its individual members. Obviously, it’s even less likely to reflect the opinion of an ex-member such as myself. Either way, though it’s ridiculous that I should even have to disclaim this, allow me to make clear that I have never supported, let alone “promoted,” NAMBLA. If you’d be so good as point out even a single instance where I’ve said anything of the sort, it would be a big help.

My true crime, it should be noted, has nothing to do with any of this. What originally set her off was just a casual remark about a picture someone sent me of Flavia after I said the impression I got from her website photo was that she was “white.” Didn’t mean anything by it. Seemed reasonable to me considering her last name sounded Serbo-Croatian — something Slavic from the Balkan peninsula. Anyway, the photo I received afterward only confirmed my initial impression. One doesn’t have to invoke the old distinction between phenotype and genotype, which is often spurious, in passing such a judgment. If someone asks you to give a physical description of someone, apart from the person’s height and weight, hair or eye color, skin complexion is usually a logical next step. People usually tell me I look white, not that I really give a shit one way or the other. Going from the picture above, I have to say that if I saw her on the street I’d probably just assume she’s white. That doesn’t mean she is white, or that she identifies as white. Just means that she looked white to me. Unfortunately for everyone involved, merely stating my opinion resulted in her throwing an epic tantrum across the Twitterverse. Reilly-Cooper later noted, correctly, that Flavia’s whole reaction was almost “textbook narcissistic rage.”

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Flavia with a cat

(Julie Burchill, a feminist and communist daughter who was rightly criticized for her 2003 support of war in Iraq, was nevertheless correct to point this out last week in her breathless polemic against intersectionality in the British magazine Spectator titled “Don’t you dare tell me to check my privilege.” Although some of it comes across as a bit too personal for my taste, borne of a deep-seated bitterness at what feminism has become, Burchill ought to be commended for deathless lines like “every thought is an ism, every person an ist in the insania of intersectionality.” She acerbically observed: “Intersectionality, like identity politics before it, is pure narcissism.” Christopher Lasch may have been right all along. In his classic study of The Culture of Narcissism (1979), Lasch decried “the banality of pseudo-self-awareness” and the degenerated political forms that typically attend it:

The degeneration of politics into spectacle has…made it more difficult than ever to organize a political opposition. When the images of power overshadow the reality, those without power find themselves fighting phantoms. Particularly in a society where power likes to present itself in the guise of benevolence — where government seldom resorts to the naked use of force — it is hard to identify the oppressor, let alone to personify him, or to sustain a burning sense of grievance in the masses. In the sixties, the New Left attempted to overcome this seeming insubstantiality of the establishment by resorting to politics of confrontation…The attempt to dramatize official repression, however, imprisoned the left in a politics of theater, of dramatic gestures, of style without substance — a mirror-image of the politics of unreality which it should have been the purpose of the left to unmask.

Today’s networked political theater finds a different stage, not in the streets but in the depthless realm of cyberspace. It would be too neat an inversion to take very seriously, but the temptation is there all the same: Could Frantz Fanon’s disquisition on Black Skin, White Masks have finally turned back on itself, so that an emancipatory politics subjectivity can only be articulated from the standpoint of the most oppressed? Perhaps a kind of “white skin, black masks” approach to radicalization? This insight would hardly be limited to Flavia Dzodan, extending to many white radicals for whom the only authentic form of struggle is that of “the Other.” Mike Ely of the Kasama Project comes to mind as the sort of archetypal whiteboy who likes to call other whiteboys “crackers,” in some vain throwback to 1960s black nationalism. Standpoint epistemology, though less popular in politics today, lives on in privilege theory and intersectionality.)

Dzodan is so attached to this sense of identity that she seeks to reinforce it by other means. She lists her various qualia at every turn. Over and above what she does (vocationally a writer and a media maker) and what she believes (ideologically a feminist of the intersectional persuasion), she places a great deal of stress on who she is (biographically a Latina, sudaca, and immigrant). As people probably know by now, I could care less who someone supposedly “is”; all that matters is what kind of transformation one hopes to effect in the world. With Flavia, such personal data appear almost as credentials. Even with the idiotic campaign she led against Laurie Penny’s ill-fated article on short hair in the New Statesman, she made sure to emphasize how dissimilar her own hair is from “White women’s hair.” (Note for those readers who are still uninitiated: all white women have essentially the same hair, just as all “women of color”/non-white women have essentially the same hair. Both spheres are more or less uniform and selfsame, although the two are irreconcilably opposed — in good Manichaean fashion). Thus, as Flavia anecdotally relates:

My only thought upon reading this is that Flavia must not hang out with many Jewish women if she thinks her hair is “nothing like a white woman’s hair.” That is, if you accept the fact that most Ashkenazim are usually considered white these days. For example, me. (I’m really not sure whether Jews still qualify as vermin Untermenschen nowadays; if so, check your privilege at once). Or, even better, take my friend Roxy Moskowitz, whose ultra-vamp pallor leads her to be identified as white most of the time. Roxy’s hair, I’d wager, is every bit as unruly as Flavia’s “Latina mane.” Don’t take my word for it, though:

My friend Roxy

My friend Roxy, much luv to her

You see, though, even the faintest hint that someone thinks she looks white is intolerable to the image she’s cultivated on the internet, both to herself and to others. Flavia is, after all, the self-appointed spokeswoman of “women of color” (abbreviated “WoC”) everywhere. WoC are apparently just one homogeneous, undifferentiated bloc, as it turns out. I bet you didn’t know that. Hence Dzodan’s constant use of the first-person plural in all her articles, the so-called “imperial we.” Personally, this title always struck me as a misnomer, since it implies that one’s “color” is decisive. At least in Flavia’s case, the color is pretty run-of-the-mill whitebread — if not lily-white, as these particular photos suggest. Maybe they’re misleading, not truly representative. It doesn’t really matter, except insofar as it bears upon her brand. Though these things seem to be separable at first glance, closer inspection reveals that “the person behind the brand” is part of the brand itself.

A subsequent post will examine precisely this aspect of Dzodan’s “brand” of social justice liberalism: intersectionality as part of a media marketing strategy.

35 thoughts on “Identity and narcissism

  1. Man, you are NOT HELPING. Publicly tying Becca to Julie Burchill, using DMs without permission… WTF? It’s all fun & games to you, but the women getting abuse here ARE GETTING ABUSE. You know that you have all the penis necessary to make sure they’ll be the ones to catch 90% of the flack for this, yes?

    • I love this piece. I don’t understand the penis comment above for I have witness your receiving flack first hand–penis and all. That you put Burchill in the same sentence as the others is understandable but some will object. I usually don’t like Burchill’s work but this latest piece was on target. Too bad some of the feminists who are trying to distance themselves from her can’t embrace this latest effort!

    • We can’t help the intersectionalistas because we can’t understand their subjugation, their pain, their predicament, their suffering. We can’t help them because to do so, or attempt to do so, would make us paternalistic. We can’t help them because they cannot be helped.

      • Love all the white male antipathy surrounding intersectionality. Always seems to work out that way; so odd, no? Anyhow, intersectionality is complex. It’s tiring. It’s not one homogeneous entity, just like the Left isn’t. But in my experience, it certainly isn’t what Michael is talking about. It’s about listening, communication – about understanding power relations. I work primarily with black and latino (and some LGBT) leftists in New York and being a white female from a middle-class background means I must approach these comrades with respect and open-mindedness. I generally know when my input is valid and when I should shut up and listen, because it’s not my experience that’s under discussion. In the latter cases, I am an ally. Why is this so hard for people to understand? And am I perfect at it? Of course not. But I’ve found a way to communicate and befriend people whose lives have been extremely divergent from my own. These experiences have been edifying and enriching in ways that have been completely life-altering.

  2. I thought the whole point of Platypus, like Fight Club, was to not talk about being a member of Platypus. It’s all about the undermining of others, the game, and your involvement in the spat with Dzodan was classic Platypusilllanimous shit stirring. Hats off to you though, all adds to the gaiety of Twitter.

    • You’ve just demonstrated aptly that you have no idea what Ross is actually saying. So you don’t think Burchill is more “subaltern-than-thou.” That’s exactly Ross’s point, and why she is much maligned. You don’t get it, do you?

      • No, you’ve just demonstrated that you have no idea why Burchill is much maligned. Do you even know who she is? And before you get it wrong again, no I don’t support the concept of intersectionality but my analysis of why it’s a flawed ideology would be vastly at odds with Burchill’s slash and burn bravado.

      • Why is she much maligned then? I would suggest that it has to do with her relative “privilege,” which is exactly what Ross is talking about — she’s not “more-subaltern-than-thou”. She’s maligned because she’s not “radical”– or to put it in context, she’s not “marginal” enough.

      • No she is much maligned (at least by the UK middle class liberals masquerading as leftists) primarily because of her views on Israel and American intervention in the Middle East – both of which she supports vociferously.

        There is also a strong personal element of envy as she was for some years one of the best known and best-paid journalists in Britain despite being working class, never having gone to university and being completely unable to hide her contempt for the shibboleths of the metropolitan bourgeois ‘Left’ and the idols which they worship.

        Although she can write extraordinarily well, so debased is the modern British mass media that she rarely has had to do so and is now rich enough to not need to write anything at all.

        And I’d be the first to admit (as I am sure she herself would, self-satisfaction not being one of her many faults) that at least 95% of her voluminous output is ephemeral – if not utter garbage – and as in the piece Ross cites even when she does have a point she just can’t stop herself from wildly overstating it.

    • As you brought the language of heresiology into it, I’d have to say Iraq was a great schism which can’t be reconciled – as like the filoque controversy that set Rome and Constantinople at each others throats or Luther’s nailing of his theses to door of Wittenberg Cathedral it brought into the open long festering differences which proved far deeper and more fundamental than the question supposedly at issue.

      Re: Burchill she has returned to the fray again in her inimitably rambling way.

      You might like her final paragraph:

      But if you feel loved in your personal life, and sure of your beliefs in your public life — which I do, in spades — it’s hard to be hurt by the abuse of strangers. On the contrary, I find it rather bracing, like a swim in an icy pool on a sleepy morning. Like brass-rubbing and anal sex, online scrapping is not for everyone. But for a few of us articulate, secure types, it has opened up a whole new wonderland of verbalicious viciousness.

      Which however also identifies the fundamental issue with Burchill.

      As a wealthy bourgeois rentier living off her husband’s trust fund and the reputedly huge sum she received from selling the large house she bought with her earnings as a celebrity journalist so that it could be turned into seaside flats, she no longer has anything at stake and writes purely for her own rather childish entertainment.

      And these days it is SO much easier to wind up (as we say in Britain) the humourless myrmidons of the metropolitan pseudo-left than it is to get a satisfyingly splenetic reaction from the real class enemy (amongst whom Burchill now to all intents and purposes has to be numbered).

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  4. Ms Dzodan herself identifies as ‘first and foremost’ Latina, Hispanic and Argentinian.

    http://www.genderacrossborders.com/2012/04/18/the-immigrant-body-is-a-gendered-body-an-interview-with-flavia-dzodan/

    So are Che, Borges, the Perons, Diego Maradonna, our present Pope all suddenly not white?

    Does Argentina itself not have a history of genocide against its native peoples?

    Re her name (which it should be remembered may not be the one she was born with) if wikipedia is to be believed Argentina has the third largest Croat-descended population in the world (after the US and one assumes the Republika Hrvatska itself) including the descendants of a whole wave of Ustasha fascist refugees who turned up there along with fugitive German Nazis like Eichmann after WW2…..

    Re Julie Burchill being an American you may not be aware of her full notoriety in the UK (or rather with that segment of the UK’s liberal would-be intelligentsia who read the Guardian and perhaps the London Review of Books and viscerally loathed her for her enthusiastic support of Israel and of American interventionism in the Middle East well before she stuck her oar into the intersectionality debate) .

    She is basically a professional contrarian and trying to find much political consistency in her approaching 40 years of épatering everyone she can possibly find to offend is largely pointless.

    But there is I would venture one consistent thread you can follow through that sea of words – she was and still is an old fashioned 70s radical feminist and does reflect the views (not often expressed in public for the reasons that Michelle Goldberg described in her piece) of a significant element of that ageing cohort.

    Also good to see that I am not the only person on the Left who still reads Christopher Lasch….

    • I do regret including the Ustasha line – statistically if she is of Croat-Argentinian ancestry she is far more likely to be descended from C19 and early C20 migrants than from the post-1945 refugees (not all of whom were necessarily Ustasha fascists – there being many reasons to flee a warzone and for not wanting to return to a Stalinist state).

      And the whole point is that her ancestry shouldn’t matter.

  5. Dzodan is her family name, and she’s mentioned her father’s eastern European roots, though I don’t know when his family emigrated.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned re: intersectionality is that postmodern liberals like Dzodan assume that opposing any of their positions means rejecting Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory. I have no idea what Crenshaw thinks about the issues radfems and libfems disagree on, but libfems do not own intersectionality. For them to pretend otherwise is disingenous.

  6. Whiteness has nothing to do with biology. Irish people weren’t white in the US when the first families immigrated. Whiteness, like manhood, is the master role in the socially constructed hierarchy, linked to biology to give it legitimacy.

    • To be sure. “Race” is an ideological construct, a byproduct of material social relations. Still, as things stand today I would say that most Argentinians (let alone half-Argentine, half-Croatian individuals) are considered white.

      I watch a lot of basketball, so the sample set is probably skewed, but a number of great NBA players are from Argentina and they’re all white. Manu Ginobili, Pablo Prigioni, and Luis Scola, white dudes.

      • Judging from surnames all Argentinean players in the NBA (and Argentinean popes–Bergoglio) are of Italian ancestry, which I’ve never noticed before. Perhaps your friend Flavia was denied a basketball career (or the papacy) because of unchecked Italian privilege in the Argentine context. She is a Croat of color.

      • Just wow. ‘Are considered white by whom’ by whom? By rancid trolls who set about asserting their role as arbitrators of ethnic identity. I am almost waiting for you to start demanding genetic testing of anyone who dares to identify as persons of colour on their twitter profile.

        The ignorance and callousness across your comments about race and latin@ racial and ethnic relations & identification is quite astounding. Though it is perhaps the remark about your ex that makes me feel sickest too my stomach as I imagine you similarly ridiculing her for having the ‘gall’ to to identify herself as white.

    • If you knew even the first thing about American history you’d be aware that only Irish Catholics were regarded as problematic and that was on the grounds of their religion (with German and Italian Catholics being regarded similarly by Know-Nothing Nativists) and that they were nevertheless still fast-tracked to citizenship and were regarded as so ‘White’ that the Confederacy raised whole volunteer regiments of them.

      As for Irish Protestants (and a great many Irish were and are still Protestant) they were a strong element in the WASP mix from the beginning and their offspring supplied multiple founding fathers and more presidents than you could shake a stick at.

  7. Plus Argentina’s ethnic mix is more similar to that of the US than to the rest of Spanish America thanks to the massive waves of European (and Middle Eastern and more recently east/south Asian) immigration in the C19 and C20.

    Your three NBA players all seem to have Italian surnames for instance and a cursory google indicates that at least one has joint Italian-Argentine citizenship.

    And scratch a famous Argentinian and you will generally find recent European ancestry (Borges was quarter English, Che Guevara’s other surname was Lynch, Evita Peron was descended from Basque immigrants, Galtieri was Italian, Menem was Syrian-Armenian, Nestor Kirchner was Croat/Swiss-German, Pope Francis seems to be 100% Italian on both sides of his family etc).

  8. Burchill is not on the left at all, she’s a reactionary provocateur, a female Rod Liddle basically, something that explains most of her political positions. I’d gladly take her over the intersectionalists, however.

    As for Flavia Dzodan, she’s obviously white. Latina she may be, but so’s Cameron Diaz. It’s not a bad thing.

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