a talk presented to the Center for the Study of Women, Science, & Technology
and the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology,
10 April 2001
Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park
Being explicit about and conscious of the practices of interdisciplinary work has recently become inescapable as my women's studies department has started a new Ph.D. program. All our collective understandings and misunderstandings are brought to the fore as we negotiate the structure of the curriculum including new courses, and the rituals of competency such as exams. Individual meanings around interdisciplinary work and its various trainings sometimes overlap, sometimes seem incommensurate. Our experiences with interdisciplinary work are so various that it is hard to escape the knowledge that the word doesn't refer to something we all agree upon. Many different "interdisciplinarities" are referred to under this one term, which even individually we use multiply, each version jockeying for position as what some call "true interdisciplinarity." This is happening not just within my department, but within the fields of women's studies, as we are by no means the only folks in this position. Other women's studies Ph.D. programs are quite recent, just begun, others just beginning as we are, and still others about to begin, both in the U.S. and internationally. It's all too new for there to be much consensus yet in this classification work; indeed I might argue that these tensions and creativities and their very incommensurabilities are powerfully productive. It is out of such local meanings within political and institutional struggles, always requiring problematic translations across communities of practice, always engaging in new classification work, that we come to recognize new methods coming-into-being under the sign of this word "interdisciplinary." No generation of feminists can claim mastery or ownership of new ways of thinking about thinking, nor can any academic disciplines or political theories, nor can any national academies. Such methods and theoretical productions enable new translations, new visionary reframings of contemporary geopolitical realities.
The interdisciplinary field that I discover, identify and create I have been calling since 1986 "Feminism and Writing Technologies." Feminism and writing technologies situates the history of the book and its archival interests, the study and practices of oral and print cultures, the creation and study of new cybercultures, and the feminist investigations of technosciences, all together as perspectives each upon the other, as practices each producing the others, as modes of critique and as forms of everyday life. In my university workplace--department, college and campus--being able to name your research area is important, even important in a women's studies department for even there researchers have often been trained in disciplinary fields. Something brief, easily identifiable, and locatable in relation to a discipline or recognized interdiscipline is preferred. "Feminism and writing technologies" never fills these requirements.
A field full of questions and questioning, working in feminism and writing technologies requires one to ask: What are the politics of making distinctions between the oral and the written? That is to say, what movements of power are involved? What assumptions are made? That orality is one thing? That such distinctions are self-evident? That there are single pivotal historical divides? That these ideal categories exist in the world? Whose "revolutions" are the alphabet, literacy, printing or the internet? Global conceptual categories are interrogated by local material practices, but what counts as local? What counts as the material? the practical? the global? Assumption after assumption is necessarily excavated in feminism and writing technologies, each such assumption moving power in particular ways. Excavating such assumptions instead points to alternative pasts, alternative materialities, alternative contemporary possibilities, alternative movements of power. How to convey to students, to fellow cultural workers (such as my colleagues in women's studies, and other cultural critics across and through the borders of my workplace, a university)--how to convey the pivotal importance of asking such questions and excavating such assumptions today? The importance of broadening the historical and cultural frameworks of engagement so as to contest for all these deeply political meanings and materialities? How to understand this process as modes of critique, forms of everyday life and what feminist technoscience theorists call "working relations"?
As I conceptualize it the field of feminism and writing technologies includes histories of specific technologies, such as internet, satellite TV and other interpenetrating communications infrastructures; printing, xeroxing and other forms of reproduction; computers, book wheels, codex and other linking devices; alphabets, chirographs, sound and video recording and other forms of inscription; pencils, typewriters and other marking implements; paper, screen and other surfaces of display; epic poetry, telenovelas and other formalized oralities; pictographs, web sites and other artifacts of visual culture. It also includes the methods by which such technologies are studied in the academy and understood in everyday life: the working relations of technologies-in-use, including the formal and popular technologies of knowledge-making, if you will. It is feminism--theory and activism--that offers the ways of thinking about power investigating such methods. "Writing" in this sense comprehends its largest meaning: it participates in oralities, rather than becoming their opposite. It stresses meaning-making in many cultural forms; it stresses social processes that are momentarily stabilized in human devices. And "technologies" here are not just the latest machines for sale, or the instruments and infrastructures of science, but the cultural refinements of skills and tools, extensions of human bodies and minds with which we and the world are continually reshaping in complex interconnecting agencies. (These agencies I call "intra-actions" following feminist physicist Karen Barad.) "Writing technologies" are the objects of study, but "writing" technologies is also the process of engaging these objects.
As a very junior faculty member participating in a women's studies faculty study group in the mid 80's, when I tried to explain that I was investigating the politics of making distinctions between what has been called "the oral" and "the written," a more senior historian impatiently insisted, "Something just is oral or written!" Although each feminist there cared about and taught the importance of denaturalizing cultural categories feminists critiqued, to no one was it obvious that orality and literacy were variations on nature and culture. As a postdoc in another university a friendly feminist colleague laughed when I said that "feminism and writing technologies" was a field I had to both recognize and invent, saying "You can't invent fields!" This from a person in the still relatively recently created field of "Women's Studies." Disciplines and new disciplinary formations depend on the naturalization of pivotal objects and on classification work. (Bowker & Star 1999) Questioning such objects, including categories, and the processes of naturalization within such communities of practice at best makes you look naive, at worst (in a university) makes you appear ignorant. Although I remembered very clearly these same reactions during the creation of the field of women's studies, others had not experienced them or had forgotten them, or simply thought that this analogy was irrelevant.
I've taken this language of objects, classification work, naturalization and communities of practice from a new book by Leigh Star and Geoff Bowker called Sorting Things Out: Classification and its consequences. (1999 MIT) I've found this book and its apparatus very useful for thinking both about technological infrastructures and about intellectual ones. Taken together investigations of these infrastructures constitute that process I call "writing" technologies. Ecologies, narratives and categories are all implicated in this process. I hope today to give you a taste of how this is so, using materials from my research as examples and as points of discussion. For the first half of my time I will speak to the issues raised by thinking of feminism and writing technologies as a field, what kind of work it does. Then in the second half of the talk, I will offer an analysis from one of my research projects as an example of some of this work. Think of the conditions of this talk too as another example, one about the problematic work of translation across many fields of practice. I can't do all the translation work required. You will have to take up a considerable part of it, imaginatively entering into sites you ordinarily wouldn't visit, or generously catching the spirit of a discussion of something you know only too well and in more detail. All of us together will thus be modeling the movement of intellectual objects across communities of practice, engaging in the articulation work that is required to make sense of such movement. I ask you to do the work of noticing what assumptions within your communities of practice become visible as they are violated.
Years ago my friend Sharon Traweek told me a story about a talk she gave early in the course of her interdisciplinary research. Her work uses anthropological methods to look at the histories and practices within various cultures of particle physicists. Many of the folks in her audience were themselves particle physicists and she was nervous about what they would think of her representations of them and their work. After her talk one man got up and said in a puzzled way: "Well, what you've said is all true. The only thing I don't understand is that you talk about It all as if it all could have been some other way." For feminists projects that involve denaturalizing objects and ideas-as-objects are important precisely because then we can explore how things could be some other way. Donna Haraway puts it hauntingly: "...the point is to learn to remember that we might have been otherwise, and might yet be...."
Right now I'm working on the draft of my next book An Introduction to Feminism and Writing Technologies. Years ago I decided that I needed to create some "case studies" in order to demonstrate how the theoretical apparatus I was developing could be useful to folks in various fields. I ended up looking closely at what I now call "writing technology ecologies," focusing on two very specific and deliberately very different ones. (Indeed, to some people they seem so incongruous that they just have to laugh! I often laugh at them myself. Sometimes laughter is a sign that assumptions are being violated.) Let me briefly name them incongruously, and then explain them a little bit more, so that perhaps their sense will be more obvious. One case study is about 17th c. Quaker women's writing on women's public speech. The other is about contemporary fan fiction of the TV shows Xena and Highlander. Let me explain them a little bit.
17th c. Quaker women's "writings"--in that larger sense of writing I mentioned earlier, one that participates in oralities rather than excluding them--include prophetic speech, performing religious dramatic enactments including Quaker silence, and traveling in the ministry as yoke-mates; include materials written out and circulated in manuscript, a particular publishing practice of the time; and also include materials meant to be circulated in print, usually illegally. One pivotal print shop out of which Quaker writings were published was owned and operated by a woman printer. Quakers called all of this "publishing truth" within their own time period's complex writing technology ecology, an ecology in which gender, the politics of religion, class and nationality, and representations of sexuality all figure as movements of power. Since this is a historical case study another writing technology ecology also figures however: that larger one across time, in which a range of re-representations of these Quaker women by interested groups today also figures. Some of these groups are: contemporary Quakers who see these 17th c. women as emblems to heal splits in Quakerism today; academic and amateur historians of sexuality who interrogate their travels in pairs, wondering what possible relations to contemporary lesbianisms are indicated; historians of religion and theology as well as women pastors, who place these women into new gender sensitive mappings of women and religion; and feminist historians and literary and cultural critics who consider how to make these writings intelligible within shifting histories of women and cultural production. Assumptions about print culture and its relation to oralities, cursory namings of past writing technology "revolutions" and their meanings, and relations of technology and cultural and literary production are all questioned in this case study.
The other case study examines the ecologies of global television "writings"--again in that expanded meaning of writing, including a wide range of forms of inscription. Such writings range from female fans writing their own so-called "slash" sexual interventions into international heterosexualities and circulating them in xerox publication and on the Web, to mainstream international tv circulations of sexual and gender images in niche marketing forms and multicultural ambiguities--all within processes of globalization, neoliberal economic policies, new global communications infrastructures, and formal and informal processes of knowledge-making. TV is the global sign for a fascinating set of technologies that complicates a range of assumptions people bring to the phrase "writing technologies." At first glance it may even seem rather silly to call the various TV technologies writing technologies, especially to those who privilege a particular version of inscription as "writing" and for whom writing is the very opposite of the aural and the photographic. But even for those who resist the largest meanings of writing technologies--that is, as particular formalized processes of meaning-making embodied in specific cultural skills and devices--even for them, a second look in this age of WebTV may give them pause. Satellite and cable television are converging with telephone, computer and internet technologies in ways that only this largest meaning of writing can apprehend. These convergences are explicitly commercial, political and technological in ways that are highly visible right now. This makes TV an extremely interesting example for description and analysis, one that calls upon and creates new intuitions about writing technologies. In the second half of this talk, I will draw upon this TV research.
Both of these case studies explore lesbian and gay historiography and art activisms. Both situate us in a position to ask why we should call literary materials and other cultural productions technology. Specific momentary skills and devices--for example, the hand-held e-book today--are conflations of local materialities on the one hand, and global relations protected and connected to other skills and devices under global signs, such as "the Book," on the other. Taking apart these global signs in order to examine local materialities and other global (including historical) relationships is one task of feminism and writing technologies. Literature is one powerful global sign under which writing technologies are conflated, universalized, and decontextualized. Inspecting literary materialities is a method for taking apart literature as such a global sign and understanding its protected relationships to other skills, devices and signs. Thus, understanding literary materials and other cultural productions as technology, as cultural refinements of skills and tools in historical flux, is the first method in feminism and writing technologies.
Thinking about the technologies of literary practice opens up cultural production to new inspections of contemporary uses and meanings. Public alarms about education generally and the status of its culturally hallowed symbol, the Book, are powerful forms of public engagement today. Cultural products understood traditionally as literature or the arts--such as poetry, novel, essay, drama, sermon, letter, memoir, biography, painting, sculpture, dance--are joined by other cultural products, overlappingly understood as popular culture, as high art, and as commodities delivered technologically, such as documentary film, video game, TV series, magazine ad, guerrilla theater, graffiti, environmental installation, public mural, internet discussion group and web site. Contemporary forms of cultural production create interference patterns upon the symbolic resonance field of author-text-reader (or producer-object-consumer; or production-distribution-consumption). Such idealized a priori categories break down with the examination of new cultural products, are revealed as historically and culturally specific forms of protected relationship, and turn out to obscure as well as illuminate usable pasts and presents. Literary and intellectual properties are in unsettling flux. While a future of "content-providers" rather than authors is one bleak vision mobilized by the relentless commodification of every new technology, the very instabilities of productive agencies that multinational capital is attempting to manage and exploit, may be more interesting than it yet appears. That is, may be so if feminism engages with such writing technologies of these possible presents, as well as with altering our shaping of usable pasts.
For example, the field of women's writing has generally focused upon the literary works of the last three centuries, with exceptional authors and texts surfacing only occasionally in earlier periods. This is because literacy has been understood as the limiting horizon of writing by women, and authors to be the necessary originators of visible works, cultural processes, and literary intelligibility. But shift the terms of value and the kinds of cultural productions that count, and far richer worlds of relationship among women and culture become intelligible and important. Feminism and writing technologies is a lens into those richer worlds. As we contemplate useable pasts, we note, for example, that women readers and collectors of books emerge as gatekeepers, facilitators and patrons of literary culture. Ballad hawkers and retellers' acts of sedition and improvisation are recognized, documented in court and prison records. Women printers and preachers participate in political and religious public life. Commonplace books and cookbooks, women as collators and copyists; prayers, visions and songs, women as visionaries and troubadours; manuscript publication and circulation, women as intellectuals and colleagues; signatures and personal marks on public petitions, women as citizens and historical agents; thus multiple objects and multiple agencies characterize how feminism and writing technologies looks to and creates usable pasts. Both in these alternative pasts and today in alternative presents, where authorship is not understood as the only or even the most important productive agency, but one of many in material systems of writing technologies, enlivened realities are made visible. These are writing technology ecologies of interdependent parts, under specific historical regimes of power. Functionality of such ecologies is not the point of understanding their systems, but rather how they reveal materializing social change and cultural forms in flux.
Feminism and Writing Technologies highlights particular threads of interconnection among the natural and social sciences and the humanities. It interrogates and has interests and histories in threads through all of them, through their academic instantiations, objects of knowledge and methods, and also threading through their uses and meanings in everyday life as writing technologies. Caught up in the struggles for resources and authority in academic and state institutions, those in the humanities have been constrained to emphasize their separations and distinctiveness from the natural and social sciences, an ideological tradition shot through historically with meanings of class and privilege, and appeals to character, religion, morality and nation. Feminism and Writing Technologies suggests that the "writings" of the humanities, are always already "technologies." That the competition for resources that current institutional arrangements foster obscures the equally real interconnections among the natural and social sciences and the humanities (or within and between the natural and human "sciences"). It suggests that it is these interconnections that are what matter today in reconfigurations of knowledge and knowledge institutions. Indeed, it suggests that what are needed are new educational institutionalizations and new classifications that foster our apprehension of these interconnections and that limit the kinds of competition for resources that misleadingly overemphasize their separations in the course of urging status hierarchies among them. And finally, Feminism and Writing Technologies requires that such global disciplinary and interdisciplinary categories be interrogated by the kinds of interventions in knowledge construction feminism has undertaken in the academy, interventions that emphasize accountability in the making of knowledge, rather than efficiency in the production of knowledge workers. Writing technologies defined expansively can be the heartening entry way into the technologies / technics of knowledge production in the natural and human sciences. Feminism and Writing Technologies enlivens the understanding and participation in such knowledge production through historical and cultural perspectives that center human and other natural agencies complexly intertwined. Humanism, humanistic inquiry, the humanities and human agency are culturally and historically contextualized, engaged and interrogated. These are the stakes that a reconfiguring humanities has in Feminism and Writing Technologies: for scientists, social scientists and humanists all to be educated to grasp current technological and social change in perspective, to learn comparisons, cultural and historic, that illuminate what sorts of powers are shifting, embodied in the technologies of arts, science and culture altering before us.
Let me turn now to my second case study, and talk to you today a bit about the television show Xena, now in its sixth year of production. Xena, and its twin TV show Hercules, are U.S. shows filmed and produced in New Zealand. Like the clothes we wear in the U.S. today, much of the food we eat, the electronics equipment we love, TV and some other culture industries are "off-shored" to reduce production costs and to increase control over labor--that is to say, people-- elements in global divisions of labor that characterize this moment in history. It is this moment in history that I use the term "postmodern" to describe, and it is not unconnected with another term, "postcolonial," which like it is complexly shot through with terror and possibility. Xena plays to global audiences, which was not at all anticipated by the producers who originated the show for U.S. consumption but during its first year immediately capitalized upon these unanticipated markets. The structural effects of global conditions of production have something to do with the show's appeal to global audiences--for example, some visual and verbal allusions and references to non-U.S. centered jokes and other cultural elements. But the common wisdom in Hollywood is that it is genre, the kind of narrative, that matters the most in TV that travels globally, especially action-adventure stories that are visually stimulating and rely less on subtle verbal interaction. Within the U.S. Xena is less famous for its global range of audiences than for its ambiguities of sexuality, but there are structural similarities in these multiple possibilities of narrative. I'm very interested in TV that is ambi-sexual, ambi-ethnic and ambi-cultural and Xena is one example, and one of the few in which the producers and actors have publicly commented on these qualities and on their intentions and forms of production.
The term "niche markets" is usually used to describe commercial products made for specific local audiences, like rainbow jewelry for gay folks. But what we see in the TV show Xena is something similar but also taken to the next level of complexity in what I call "layers of locals and globals": a single global product intended for a contradictory nest of niche markets, some of whom may derive their cultural pleasures from this very "contradictory nesting." Despite the common wisdom of Hollywood that valorizes the simplicity of genre formula as globally attractive, another element, actually a complexity of address may also be attractive to specific audiences. Indeed such complexity of address and its multiple narratives may be the form of "consciousness" cultivated by such cultural products, a consciousness appropriate in a globalized world not only of world-wide divisions of labor and production, but also of migrating populations, of cultural mixings in a range of media, of newly invented traditionalisms, such as religious fundamentalism and ethnic identities, and of sexual and family arrangements altered by the shape of global capitalism. Individual producers and advertisers are not in control of, indeed barely grasp, the commercial implications of these tastes and forms of consciousness. Nor do cultural critics know what they will come to mean in the future, what their political effects will be however much we might suspect terrors, or however much we might long for possibilities.
As I suggested, some of the effects of global production itself are pleasurable: the backdrops of New Zealand providing settings unlike U.S. venues or Kiwi slang enlivening the other anachronistic postmodernisms of Xena's appropriations of many cultures' mythologies and histories. Global production itself becomes a spectacle bundled with the TV show. Actors as "stars" have always been part of this bundled package sold along with the film or TV product, and "behind the scenes" elements of production that exploit the actors further have long been the stuff of fan interest. But it is more recent that intense interest is also focused on box office sales, the buying and selling of multinational corporations and stories about their owners and CEOs, the quoting of producers and writers about their intentions with the product, speculations about the political effects of the contents of stories, and so on, are also "bundled" with the product as items to be sold, in TV venues like Entertainment Tonight or supermarket magazines like Entertainment Weekly. Such concerns often were narrowly professional ones in the past, of importance mainly to folks in the industry and not also commodified and sold as they are increasingly today. And the fact that multinationals now encompass many forms of media makes for multiple Xena products: tie-in novels and paraphernalia like dolls, calendars, CDs, screensavers, and t-shirts, and alternate venues like web sites and conventions, and coffee table and companion documentary books telling the stories of production, listing episodes and their writers, and offering critical discussions, from fans, from journalists, and from academics. One might call such a proliferation of commercial products, especially those with an emphasis on the pleasures of commercial production itself "commercially exuberant."
For example, one pleasure associated with Xena is not immediately available upon viewing, a kind of semi-private, or perhaps, better, "special-public" element. In Xena the final credits, which flash by more quickly than one can read, and which share the screen with upcoming episode trailers, are followed by disclaimers, one legal, one humorous. In one famous episode "Destiny," the production credits end with the following humorous disclaimer: "Julius Caesar was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, the Producers deny any responsibility for any unfortunate acts of betrayal causing some discomfort." These comic disclaimers are so embedded as to be hidden: I can't read them off the TV myself, and only can barely see them on "pause" or "slow" with my VCR. To get this one I raided the store of such carefully, even compulsively visioned sightings produced by fans at the Logomancy fan site on the Web. What wasn't harmed here was "Julius Caesar," the chronologically specific character in a play of anachronism, the emblem of Western Culture who parodies himself for us as he tells us in the episode that "Gaul is divided into three parts." In first season episodes other such Western authorities mocked but in disclaimer not harmed were "Unrelenting or Severely Punishing Deities," "Fathers, Spiritual or Biological," and "Males, Centaurs or Amazons," each of these poking fun at the kind of feminism displayed both subversively and often commercially in Xena.
It's not just that the producers make fun of possible objections to the violence of this episode of Xena when, after saying Caesar was not harmed, they also "deny any responsibility for any unfortunate acts of betrayal causing some discomfort." Here they also make fun of any fussy concerns about their recycled versions of myths, cultural traditions, and national histories. The humorous disclaimer on Xena includes as production pleasures, the credits and legalities, and the technologies of recovery, inside the spectacle. Indeed the obvious joke of this episode's disclaimer is that Julius Caesar is never hurt in the story--only Xena is hurt. His betrayals of her are both emotional and brutally physical. In the story line Caesar's mode of killing Xena is to crucify her: the Western cultural betrayal by the producers then being to elevate Xena to Christ-like status, and indeed to construct a story in which she too is resurrected, not just once, but twice. Note how the humorous ironies accustom and habituate viewers to casual movements from one level of abstraction to another, to sorting out easily those relative and relational shifts among levels of locals and globals involved in getting all the jokes against religion and tradition, and in playing one's proper market roles in a globalized economy. In TV Guide, in a little descriptive box alerting readers to elements of interest in TV episodes, another episode of Xena was highlighted as having angered Hindu fundamentalists in the similarly parodic use of Indian mythologies and religions. These very political and religious objections were commodified as a parodic element to be bundled with other production pleasures. Such parody of myth, religion and tradition is positioned in the TV show as feminist.
Female friendship is the most valued theme in the TV show, and is visually complicated and narratively explored in most episodes of Xena. Ways of expressing female friendship, love and the possibilities of sexuality among women are parallel threads of imagery, narrative, symbolism and humor, even while both Xena and her female companion Gabrielle have explicit male lovers in various episodes. What one might call audience and narrative polyphony--simultaneous appeals to more than one story line, each one pitched to a different niche market--allows for multiple interpretations of specific moments in pivotal episodes. Fans who explicitly see audience polyphony in production intentions, feel empowered to argue for their audience interests with producers and writers. For example, fans who enjoy sensual and sexual metaphors of female friendship, who are encouraged by the deliberate allusions to lesbian sexuality, refer to this recurrent element as "the subtext." They argue with writers and producers to make this narrative more explicit in the stories, and the producers have publicly both encouraged them and also insisted on ambiguous multiple possibilities. In the episode which follows "Destiny," called "The Quest," Xena and Gabrielle share a much hyped kiss, but one which simultaneously melds both the image of Xena and Gabrielle kissing and the image of Gabrielle and the man in whose body Xena's spirit has been sheltered, kissing. We see both possibilities on the TV screen, in swift parallel.
My favorite episode of Xena is elaborately allusive, even back to this episode internally. Some of the most complexly edited episodes of Xena are what are called "bottle episodes." Bottle episodes are created out of clips of previous shows, and intended to conserve production time and thus costs. Xena is now famous for its bottle episodes and for using this highly allusive episode form even in more expensive production intentions. One of my favorite episodes, similarly densely allusive, but not created out of clips from previous ones, is entitled "The Bitter Suite," that is, "Suite" spelled s-u-i-t-e." The trailer for this episode calls it "the most talked about episode of the season....an all musical adventure." And indeed many musical genres, most with TV versions, are sewn together and parodied in this show. Musically alluded to are both specific productions and generic forms; for example, there are several allusions to the Judy Garland film version of The Wizard of Oz, while there are also allusions to Gilbert and Sullivan, to nursery rhyme songs, to Broadway musicals, to classic films in the Ziegfeld Follies tradition, to old episodes of I Love Lucy making fun of operas, to country music, and so on. There are visual allusions to productions of Wagner's Ring cycle, to Busby Berkeley movies and to Las Vegas show productions.
[clip trailer] then [clip to Callisto's kiss]
Xena's recurrent enemy Callisto is both a figure and narrator in the complex dreamy Tarot game show structure of the episode, which is both very funny and surprisingly poignant and touching. A climax episode in a long story-arc, Xena and Gabrielle, have become enemies in the course of Callisto's manipulations. Each one has had a child, and Callisto has manipulated their children's deaths in such a way that each is in some way responsible for the death of the other's child. In the previous episode Xena and Gabrielle's friendship and love has become murderous hatred, hatred which is reviewed at the beginning of this one when Xena brutally attempts to kill Gabrielle. Both plunge into a waterfall and the swirling visuals suggest naked bodies undulating in the waters. Xena is awakened by Callisto's kiss, which recalls the moment of her climatic kiss with Gabrielle in the past. Callisto's mocking voice-over ironizes both kiss and episode title when she sings, "You taste it, how evil and good coexist; the Bitter and Sweet of it, all on the lips that you kissed." The episode elaborates how Xena and Gabrielle are painfully reconciled, and how important memory, betrayal and forgiveness are in friendship and in understandings of the self. Multiple ironies make it possible to interpret the episode emotionally, pop-psychologically, humorously, politically, mockingly, and in combinations of all of these. The emotional climax fades to a final scene of Xena and Gabrielle lying in each other's arms, engulfed by waves on a beach, in a momentary allusion to the famous erotic cinematic moment in the film From Here to Eternity--an allusion which is immediately defused by Xena and Gabrielle leaning back into the sand in hilarious laughter. Journalistic interviews of actors, writers and producers always emphasize this comic element of the shows and paint a picture of a production company having a great time making fun of it all. This "commercial exuberance" might be understood as the keynote of Xena, bundled together with its varying products, and always creating and coloring its forms of feminism.
[?clip of final scene & laughter?]
So to ambi-sexual, ambi-ethnic and ambi-cultural one can add ambi-feminist to Xena's multiple layers of locals and globals. Should this boil down essentially to cynical manipulation? While I do believe cynical manipulation is a piece of such audience polyphony, I also believe that to point to such manipulations does not exhaust this historical form of all of its meaning. I refer again to the kind of consciousness cultivated by such global products, created out of commercial intentions, but also out of conditions of global production, which create new pleasures and tastes. Indeed, able to engage world historical subjects now properly addressed complexly in a globalized world not only of world-wide divisions of labor and production, but also of migrating populations, cultural mixings, newly invented traditionalisms, and of proliferating forms of sexuality and family arrangements, all altered by the shape of global capitalism. The forms of feminism created in layers of locals and globals are structural as well as intentional, are necessarily extraordinarily various when properly international, and their political futures are yet to be actualized. My reasons for doing this kind of analysis of Xena is to focus on the layers of locals and globals that are the resources and forms of consciousness both created but also made available by what Chela Sandoval has called "the democratization of oppression" that characterizes the shifting powers of multi-capitalism. I believe that any new political movements, among them feminist and lesbian and gay human rights activisms, must be very sophisticated in their understandings of their own commodification within such layered global and local structures, as well as be risk-taking in their appropriations of pleasures, identities and political strategies. Feminism and writing technologies is a lens onto this kind of examination, "writing" technologies, engaging ecologies, narratives, and categories.