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M. A. Krul
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Silvia Federici's book "Caliban and the Witch" demonstrates the absolute necessity of women's studies for a thorough and scientific understanding of history. Focusing on the role of women and the body in the process by Marx and Adam Smith described as "original accumulation", i.e. the violent expropriation of the feudal commons in the movement towards a capitalist society, Federici demonstrates that a true war against women was an important part of the ruling class' strategy.
The book assesses various aspects of this development, including witchcraft and the witch-hunts, the "Christianization" (or rather Catholization) of the North and South American native civilizations, the role of philosophical mechanism and the developers of the scientific method (Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Hobbes, etc.), and the early slave trade. In each case Federici masterfully shows how this development came to be, what role it played in the process of 'original accumulation', and why it was favored temporarily by the ruling class. She also gives very strong evidence that things like fear of witchcraft, patriarchy, racism etc., often seen as the inevitable and 'natural' results of ignorance and superstition in those societies, were in reality forced onto the common people as part of a top-down campaign to destroy the backbone of the feudal communities.
What is an additional interesting contribution of this book is Federici's evidence that there was not only widespread peasant resistance against the process of enclosure, capitalization and expropriation, but more particularly that women often played a very major role in these resistance movements, especially after the German Peasant War ended in a massacre. Many of the women who would later be burned and persecuted as witches were likely survivors of these resistance movements and therefore both had strong connections with local farming communities and resentment against authority, a dangerous combination for the ruling classes. To me it was also remarkable new information to learn about how common female wage-labor in the cities was in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, as well as the degree of acceptance of sexuality and magic. Of course we should not in any way try to paint too rosy a picture of the late feudal era, which everyone knows had enough terror and tyranny of its own, but Federici shows that even then there was a strong current of people resisting both (proto-)capitalism and its predecessor.
In her historical panorama, Federici adresses many other writers on women and the body and their subjugation, in particular the feminists, Marx, Foucault and such people as Le Roy Ladurie and Carlo Ginzburg. In my view Federici overstates her case against Marx a bit; she is correct that the role of the subjugation of women in particular was not much addressed by him, but it certainly was by Engels, and I also think that the insights she shows in this work would have been able to count on Marx' full assent. She also seems to miss the fact that "primitive accumulation" is a mistranslation of Marx' term, so that accusations of Marx missing the fact that such expropriatory violence takes place as part of capitalism even today miss the mark.
Stronger is her case against Foucault, where she can show that Foucault not only completely ignores the importance of the witch-hunts and the Plague as turning points for feudal and post-feudal society, but that he also locates his famous instrumentalist subjugation of the body far too late in history (Foucault places it at the late 18th century, Federici rather in the 16th). In any case the scope of her knowledge of writers on these subjects is great, and the way in which she gives a context to the ideas of Descartes and other mechanists on "L'Homme Machine" (the term is 18th C.) is striking.
Overall, this is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in history, original accumulation and women's studies.
49 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Raven Among Crows
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Published the same month, April 2004, that Fallujah first turned back the American onslaught and that the photographs of American tortures in Abu Ghraib prison were displayed to the world, Silvia Federici's book, Caliban and the Witch, although describing a time and place remote from the lawless atrocities in Mesopotamia, being as it is a study of the witch-hunt, of medieval heretical movements, and of European mechanical and materialist philosophy from the 'Age of Reason,' nevertheless, it is essential for understanding either. At the same time, the paradox of the hideous pun of the Structural Adjustment Program and the Special Access Program as the SAP, or the grotesque contradiction found between chapter 39 of Magna Carta and order 39 of the Iraq occupation are explicated.
Nothing can so clearly help us understand the torture and the project of neo-liberalism as this, for Federici describes a foundational process creating the structural conditions for the existence of capitalism. This is the fundamental relationship of capitalist accumulation, or (as it is called in decades of technical literature) 'primitive accumulation.' This mystery perplexed (however coyly) Adam Smith. It was the 'original sin' of the political economists, and for Karl Marx it was written in "letters of blood and fire."
The birth of the proletariat required war against women. This was the witch-hunt when tens of thousands of women in Europe were tortured and burnt at the stake, in massive state-sponsored terror against the European peasantry destroying communal relations and communal property. It was coeval with the enclosures of the land, the destruction of popular culture, the genocide in the New World, and the start of the African slave trade. The 16th century price inflation, the 17th century crisis, the centralized state, the transition to capitalism, the Age of Reason come to life, if the blood-curdling cries at the stake, the crackling of kindling as the faggots suddenly catch fire, the clanging of iron shackles of the imprisoned vagabonds, or the spine-shivering abstractions of the mechanical philosophies can indeed be called "life."
Federici explains why the age of plunder required the patriarchy of the wage. Gender became not only a biological condition or cultural reality but a determining specification of class relations. The devaluation of reproductive labor inevitably devalues its product, labor power. The burning of the witches and the vivisection of the body enforced a new sexual pact, the conjuratio of unpaid labor. It was essential to capitalist work-discipline. This is what Marx called the alienation of the body, what Max Weber called the reform of the body, what Norman O. Brown called the repression of the body, and what Foucault calls the discipline of the body. Yet, these social theorists of deep modernization overlooked the witch-hunt!
The historic demonization of women is on the face of page after page in profuse and magnificent illustration. The book contains many and beautiful illustrations, such as Vegetable Man, the Land of Cockaigne, the Fountain of Youth, and the Witch's Herbary. It contains powerful images, many are woodcuts (one of the first uses of the printing press). One shows witches conjuring a rain shower, others show a 15th century brothel, Dürer's depiction of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the common land, Jacques Callot's Horrors of War, Dürer's woman's bath-house, The Parliament of Women, and the Anabaptist's communistic sharing of goods.
If one image from Abu Ghraib gave us a crucifixion, another as surely gave us a pyramid: these fundamental forms of graphic design, known to every art student. Hans Grien's Witches Sabbath (1510) or the title page of Andreas Vasalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). All its magic has gone: the human body has become a factory, or a mechanism of circulating blood, connecting tissues, little cells, obedient to commands of science. The mechanical body is depicted: to crown all, the hideous gathering in a Corinthian-style rotunda of the Renaissance mob of bourgeois at the anatomical theater where a pregnant woman's corpse lies naked in the middle, on a table, her womb gashed open as the assembly leers, gazes, peers, points, spies, shoves, elbows each other, scrutinizes, assesses.
Product of intense debates within the international women's movement, with a perspective on European history made possible by three years' residence in the mid-80s in Nigeria where a campaign of miscogyny accompanied the attack on communal lands under the direction of the 'structural adjustment plan' enabled her to understand the adjusting structures of European capitalism at its violent beginnings. Drawing on the non-conformity of British social history, on the lucid periodization of French scholarship, on Mediterranean openness to Asia and Africa, on the cultural endurance of indigenous people of the Americas, on the power of the women of west Africa, her scope is authentic and broad, from the Saracens in the east to the Incas in the west, with Europe in the north and the Caribbean in the south. Its zones of interest are west Africa, England, France, Germany, Mediterranean, Yucatan, Oaxaca, eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. The global perspective is one of a multiplicity of locales: not an envisioned totality but a manifold of villages, neighborhoods, common lands.