Autonomedia has just published Fast Feminism, the latest book by the performance philosopher and associate professor in Political Science at York University, Shannon Bell. The book contains 198 pages, including thirty-one plates taken of Bell's genitalia during masturbation/ejaculation performances. It may appear unusual that an academic is involved in public displays with highly charged, erotic content; however, Bell has been conducting workshops on the female phallus and instructing women on the art of female ejaculation for the past two decades.
Bell’s oeuvre follows a long tradition in performance art that includes Vito Acconci's "Seedbed," in which he masturbated underneath a ramp at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York as people walked by above him; Valie Export's film Mann & Frau & Animal (1973) that shows her pleasuring herself in a bathtub; Annie Sprinkles' ritual magic masturbation performances; Elke Krystufek's 1994 masturbation performance at Vienna Kunsthalle; and a public performance in the mid-nineties by transgendered academic and performance artist Allucquere Rosanne Stone, who stimulated the palm of her hand to produce an organism. Moreover, Bell’s performance is "embedded in praxis," and "The 'I' of the text is a post-identity recognized by gait, movement and speed." Fast Feminism is a confessional and articulate text that straddles academic writing and colloquial language; it draws heavily on sexual expletives to stress the subcultural activity in which Bell's performance praxis operates.
Fast Feminism's text is definitely Deleuzian. One idea begins and is shattered, only to be taken up in the next already somewhere else, free-floating and circulating. Rather than "buggering" the texts and producing a bastard offspring, an activity Bell states as her intention throughout the book, Fast Feminism appears at least on the surface as homage to masculine writers. Texts by George Bataille and the Marquis de Sade collide and intersect with Emmanuel Levinas ethics of the other; the latter used in her chapter on the perverse aesthetics of the homosexual, pedophile, child pornographer, and writer, John Robin Sharpe. I must say that although I accept Sharpe's erotic writings are situated within an established and honored literary genre, I was uncomfortable with this section because I have raised a child and believe that children should be protected from those who may hurt or abuse them.
I was less interested in the practice of female ejaculation and Bell’s manual of how to achieve it (which forms much of the basis of chapter two), than the writing itself and the various references to philosophical theory, performance art, and politics of the body. When Fast Feminism is meditating at a wake for Horsey—a dog that died because he could not digest a bone, Bell asked one of the participants at the wake to reach inside her vagina and remove the package of money she'd placed there as a donation. This action evoked Carolee Schneemann's 1975 performance, "Interior Scroll," in which she slowly extracted rolled up paper from inside her vagina, whilst reading from a text that reflected the subject positions of both genders. Moreover, Fast Feminism draws attention to the relationship between currency, the female body, and the way is has been abused by others throughout human history. By branding her body Bell has created a living, breathing commodity.
It is clear from her photographs that Fast Feminism is not an everyday example of an aging female body. Having never borne a child, Bell does not posses drooping breasts, excess fat deposits, stretch marks, scars, sagging stomach muscles, or the like. But she does underscore the fact that in our youth obsessed society, bodies that are old, diseased, or less than "perfect" are generally encouraged to remain hidden from public view. Indeed, a strategy against the aging body and diseased organs is the development within biomedicine of tissue engineered replacement body parts. Riding on the intrigue and possibility for experimentation as well as the resulting rarefied aesthetic that tissue-engineering offer, a number of artists have been motivated to move into the realm of creating bio-artificial artifacts. Bell’s tissue-engineered phallus invites us to think about human evolution in relation to the construction of sexuality and the immense impact that various technologies do and will have on the way we perceive ourselves and others in real and imaginary domains.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fast Feminism and would recommend it to anyone interested in performance art, philosophy and sexuality.