The Invisible Armada

Radical Togetherness and Non-Binarism for Caring, Sharing and Survival (2/2)

Rada Iveković


Selective political forgetfulness and borders constantly probed and reshuffled. Erasure

There is a general resistance to see violence against women as systemic and constitutive, the flipside of war. Labels are distributed by the patriarchal mainstream. Structural violence to women, such as systemic femicides, is paradoxically met with denial (Verleugnung ; déni) which unconsciously assumes the existence of the removed or the foreclosed (Verdrängt ; refoulé), or with Verwerfung (denegation), which supposes the factual or symbolic annihilation of the other, in the sense of Freudian negation (Verneinung) [1]. This was the case with historic witch-hunts seen by historians, until Silvia Federici’s rereading of that infamous chapter. Gender studies, feminist theory, post- and de-colonial studies, migration studies etc. are new favourite targets of matching assignations or even allegations, displacement and reduction of meaning. Malignant branding that is officially launched, such as the tags of “islamo-gauchiste” or “woke” in France in 2021, stick on. Or, in 1992, the disqualifying label “witches” for women intellectuals in Yugoslavia and Croatia. I was one of the latter, and there are many other “witches” elsewhere – patriarchy is constantly producing them everywhere. In the near past, “feminist” was a stigmatising attribute.

The universalisation of a nationalist paradigm, as in France, is only its over-inflation and provincializing [2]. Everything else is rendered illegitimate, invisible and erased from mainstream and consensus. With regard to women, the "deep state" remains what it has been throughout different socio-economic formations, allowing the maintenance of patriarchy by its adaptations throughout the changes of regime and of economic formations. Historical socialisms and currently dominant capitalisms were all built on the subordinate inclusion of women and the exclusion (or subordinate inclusion) of “outsiders”.


Gender and genre, announcement of a gap

In translation, there is a wide sphere of in-between (two) languages, a sort of intersecting contact zone, possibly of erasure too. The sign of another choice, the unthought-of option, l’impensé, is practically unthinkable. Our chance is with that and with those who have not been thought of as yet as co-citizens. We must traverse and reopen that sphere of erasure and blackout. [3]

In translational distress, when lost in translation, you loose your landmarks and references. The gap between languages, the indeterminacy of gender and of meaning (but not only of them), is the possibility of all possibilities, a point zero (0) where anything can happen, whether good or bad. The gap between languages or understandings is particularly threatening and can be ominous in times of crises. It has been so particularly since 1989 and the “end” of the cold war, which is an important threshold in recent history, where post-colonialism and post-socialism converge in flattening the historical but also temporal dimension which have become the same, especially in the eyes of western post-1989 triumphalism. We were all ushered into the post 1989 era with no new epistemological tools for the new condition of globalisation.

Certain knowledges as much as histories were made clandestine and were removed. We need to disambiguate and rehabilitate the principle of a knowledge that was deliberately made illegitimate by the prevalent knowledge-and-political configuration (rehabilitate the principle, and not any particular alternative knowledge as such). And for that, we need political imagination.

It is very difficult to elaborate alternative imaginaries and scripts opening up a given framework, and alternative connections that can precede or exceed a context, and that uncover complementary perspectives as well as multiple standpoints in interaction. And yet we need to access this enormous field of possibilities. Through a politics of translation, we need to keep all translating tracks open, having implications on contemporary and possible futures but also on alternative pasts.

This will disclose imaginable alternatives, debatable or different pasts. We need to (jointly) work on translational as well as transnational fluidity, on multiple meanings, which in principle include misunderstandings too. It is important to get through and beyond the binaries, beyond the nation, the state-and-the-non-state sphere, beyond identification, identitarianism and sovereign erection of the self-full-of-itself and the political subject (collective or singular alike). I would claim interdependence rather than sovereignty and, like Zsófia Lóránd (after Karl Polanyi) transformation rather than transition. Political transitions have always been catastrophic exterminating generations.

Instead, we can learn from other knowledges, from political experience and other “unusual” sources, as well as with migrants and deterritorialised cross-border relations ; interaction from engagement and resistance to mainstream pressure or conservative trends. In my understanding, all subjectivities are always incomplete, which is why their sovereignty is conceit, and imaginary. When relying on the higher office of the state’s sovereignty, of a religious idea, a social super-ego or a role model, they live individual lives as permanently dispossessed and as eternally indebted (to the higher instance). Their “security” is confiding in the proposed and available pattern, always disappointing. They can mobilise a mechanism by which they veil their incompleteness and insufficiency, including to themselves, in order to absurdly claim sovereignty and eschew interdependence.


Reciprocal incompleteness of subjectivities and knowledges. Bypassing universities ?

There are not only different codes of understanding but also different knowledges and epistemes that are, as Boaventura de Sousa Santos beautifully says, reciprocally incomplete. Languages too are necessarily mutually incomplete, as anyone writing or translating knows. So Hindi and Urdu, Serbian and Croatian are reciprocally incomplete languages, beyond their reciprocal political intolerance and shared basic structure and vocabulary. Female and male are also reciprocally incomplete humans, although not under the binary scheme in which they are stereotypically represented (excluding a « third » possibility), but within a plural scheme, where all are reciprocally uncompleted. (And there are as many genders/sexes as individuals.) So are their knowledges although, within patriarchy, women’s knowledges along with many others produced by – and producing - the subaltern, are often made invisible and “inexistent”. Erasure is the content of reciprocal incompleteness.

I was wondering about softer ways of “translating”. The Asia Research Institute (ARI) of the National University of Singapore (an Institute where i worked for a time) organised a workshop called “Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones : Alternative Imaginaries of China’s Presence in most of Southeast Asia in Contemporary Contexts” [4]. I became interested in the idea of “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, a practical and pragmatic approach with nothing pre-given, nothing or nothing-much purposely made invisible. The Chinese translating tradition has a different and peculiar origin and development. Historically, it rather comes as a genre, than as a strictly accurate transposition and rendering of the contents of a text. It questions authorship in the sense that the translator is inscribed along with the author (and sometimes more) in the resulting piece.


Patriarchy and capitalism, EU Borders. Two-front concepts and useless history

The devastating pandemic of coronavirus covid-19 was taken as an excuse to altogether stop migrants fleeing desperate conditions, from getting into Europe (and likewise, into the USA, Israel, Australia, Singapore, Tunisia etc.). We had always known (and i among others had written) that thinking gender relations takes a massive twist from conventional western knowledge that has so far been patriarchal. I propose we take Europe and the European Union in their transborder dimension with some humility, and learn from extra European “others” too, now that Europe’s failures and crises, as well as that of Modernity, have become obvious. Populist leanings are a time machine heading backwards. They fabricate poisonous and displaced memories. Indeed there has been a lot of dissatisfaction, not only of women, with how the construction of the EU (but also of the utopian image of Europe) has been managed. The space for a European utopia is ever more improbable, while the EU is being built through its heavy historic heritage which includes colonialism, slavery, witch-hunt, the subordination of women, the inquisition, imperialism, fascism and now again – war and the correction of borders on the sub-continent.

I propose to proceed from discontinuities and interruptions, from lost connections, including from mistranslations, because there is an incredibly rewarding mechanism out there opening unexpected horizons. Translation may help reconfiguring established knowledge grids. It displaces, dislocates, replants or reboots a concept on another terrain, in another language or context (time, space and culture-wise), favouring mutation and an excess of imagination or different imaginaries. Starting from discontinuities or from below the abyssal line [5] also provides very dense traffic (including clogging, glitches and breakthroughs) and the co-presence and interference of that which normally can’t appear jointly in the existing dimensions (endimions [6]), in any case not in the same key (i call it the in-com-possibles). Such an impossible co-presence that, although unlikely, nevertheless happens but in an unexpected manner (depending on the scale and the observation point), resembles partage de la raison [7]. The latter is like two sides of a coin, inseparable yet incompossible at the same level, within the same grid or by the same code. Partage de la raison in its aspect of sharing confirms the uncertainty, vulnerability and incompleteness of the subject, any subject. And this is the opportunity for a new political configuration to arise, in which we can act jointly from different transitory positionings on building together something new bottom-up while at the same time becoming (devenir)-together, towards a new shared future but a new past as well (and a new understanding of the past). Ernesto Laclau would call it the making of a new hegemony [8], but i prefer thinking beyond the framework of hegemony and domination. The double-front of “partage”, meaning both dividing (separating) and sharing-with-others as well as partaking of/in reason, obliges us to surrender to the in-com-possibility of the two fronts or meanings in the same breath. The dialectics of their interaction, which pleads for pluralism and plural logics, disqualifies not only the binary, not only the reduction to either “dividing” or “sharing”, but also the co-presence, at the same level of reading, of the concept (partage) and its objectal referent. What is here rejected, is the normativity of the concept, and its pre-givenness in a construct that doesn’t accept exceptions or wayward meanings. Dichotomic logic is repressive and imposes the exclusion of « third » choices. But non western options of plural logics with tertium datur (« there is a third ») amply replace the predominantly western scheme of tertium non datur. According to Athanasiou, “What makes a community compossible,” i.e. present together, “is precisely what diverges from, and is rendered incompossible with, the actualised and established order of commonality. (...) [N]ormative constructions such as (hetero)sexual difference and the nation are indefinitely and infinitely constitutive to the community and its logic/reason” [9]. That logic is repressive and will be challenged by non-sovereign and incomplete subjects that purposely remain undetermined in their dissenting political becoming with their “illogical logics” and their breaking away from pre-set forms.

The two incompossible faces of the coin would then rather translate into something more like Deleuze’s pli, or “fold”. And, i can only be safe if you are safe, if all are safe with me. Likewise, if you fall, i fall too [10]. It takes thinking about others, about society at large and about the community, before even thinking of oneself. Solidarity and commonality. Yet de-complexed capitalism has incited us to think of “ourselves” first, individuals first, “our” nation first etc. (Trump is not original in this, he has only been one of the most vulgar in the vein.)


Free imagination ?

We need to disambiguate contested knowledges and rehabilitate the principle of a knowledge that was deliberately made illegitimate or erased by the prevalent configuration of the politics of knowledge. We need political imagination for that.
We had unlearned the un-sovereign option mainly through the history of capitalism and patriarchal verticality, individualism and inequality. But the germ was there since the earliest times, in individualism and the constitution of the subject itself as the centre of the world. This implies the heavy construction of the subject directing the world, a particular geography with cosmovision, an hierarchical conceptual architecture, as well as (self-)portrait in art in the seventeenth century (Rembrandt), and the invention of perspective. As a result of modern capitalism, everything else than the subject is dispensable or at its service. Other civilizational choices in other parts of the world, however, have developed other historical options. They have refused to elaborate the concept of a subject (which they do not ignore ; they just disregard it as indecent), surreptitiously suspecting where it would lead.


Patriarchy, capitalism and back to borders

Any progress is paid by a very palpable regression, rollback or reversal, it seems. Our countries’ involvement in wars across the planet (now, the middle east, Africa and Europe) and enhanced militarisation is of course co-constitutive with systemic violence against women. While women’s human rights in Europe are advancing in law and for parts of the elite, while women’s movements (which are always resistance movements, where capitalism has been the counter-revolution [11]) such as #Me too and #Ni una menos are giving excellent results, male establishments and hegemonic culture have not considered violent males and systemic violence as socially or politically dangerous. They have not developed systematic methods of protecting women and children. A catastrophic historic collective denial of the importance and universal violence to women (and related) has been in force for ages. It will take a long process from that removal and suppression to the political awakening of the subject(s) on this issue. Little is being done in educating boys and men on the issue. Nothing has been done in reorienting and tempering their excess of will to power.


Political oblivion

Hegemonic countries today dictate selective political oblivion from the perspective of the current post-Cold War and enduring neoliberal triumphalism. The formal European citizenship has become ethno-national, and the great divide in the EU is now between migrants and citizens, while an unsustainable distinction is made between migrants and refugees. Women’s bodies are a major issue here, as well as the intolerable death toll of migrants, with the consent and even fomentation of border changes and outsourcing, at least in the peripheries of Europe [12].

Today feminist theory has conceptually reversed the simplified (marxist) relation between production and the reproduction of life, making the latter - the precondition for production and for survival (Alisa Del Re [13]). But there is yet another historic precondition to that precondition, well known to feminists too, and equally hidden from mainstream knowledge : patriarchy and the historic witch-hunt over several centuries were the prerequisite for historic capitalism itself [14]. Non-paid work (domestic and other) by women produced their servitude by not admitting them to salaried work, reserved for men. Men were exploited in factories, while women were oppressed in their bodies by them. Later, in socialism, interpreting women’s exploitation in terms of a gendered division of labour and unpaid housework showed that it would have been possible to overcome the class and patriarchal dichotomy. Yet in this, state feminism (responding to the Party) failed, confirming the governing historic importance of patriarchy. It helps us understand the similarity in this respect of socialism and capitalism, and the crossed-out radicalism of the former. Socialism was not radical in its cautiously proclaimed feminism as a formal egalitarianism that was to be monitored, since women were not trusted. Witch-hunts however continue, in any system. Sexual hierarchies are always at the service of maintaining some system of domination. Federici showed that in the transition to capitalism, the burning of witches and declassment of women was part of the process together with land-grabbing from farmers and colonialism. That violent process has never been completely discontinued to this day (neither has primitive accumulation), and constant renegotiations between the sequences constantly go on. We have a global backlash today on all these issues.

There is a general resistance to see violence against women as systemic and constitutive, which is one more programmed political erasure. Corresponding politics of translation are then deployed to this effect. Certain politics themselves are translated in a more or less utilitarian manner into ideological declamations, whereby charges and labels are distributed. Allegations are dispensed by the patriarchal mainstream, by society and not necessarily by the state, which they support. Although they have no coherent meaning, assigned labels can be murderous. In France, the sticker “gender ideology” has now (2023) become perilous just like “islamo-gauchisme”, and is the object of furious anti-gender and anti-intellectual campaigns. There are attacks at universities and intellectuals, in a new conservative and far-right turn. This comes against the background of populism, confusionism, encouraged by a sort of new social fascism.

At the same time, the EU (and the USA) is disproportionally lecturing other countries and continents on their insufficiency in ecology, in protecting women’s rights etc. Such boasting about the west’s righteousness is a hypocritical cover-up, since it is clear that defending women is not the actual aim of international action even when it is proffered, as it was in the USA’s and then EU’s intervention in Afghanistan.

The questioning of borders, crucial in any perspective of state sovereignty, is that of western Europe and the west. It is profoundly linked to imaginaries about women. Because migrants and women appear as a troubling, destituting or de-constituting element, neither society nor the (patriarchal) state trust them. Condemning the female sex and gender, and now also migrants, are basic postures of the patriarchal enterprise at the service of capitalism, and are at the heart of the border issue. (Although not only capitalism is patriarchal – all other formations have been so too.) The borders’ question necessarily displays war with patriarchy as its “regulatory” mechanism and as its probability. Feminists and women insist on the solidarity of resistance struggles, on demilitarisation, de-escalation and on peace [15]. The decisive solidarity of women and migrants mean much in activism and political thought.

Not surprisingly, because collective interests (the commons) are kept in mind, solidarity, graciousness to others, care, compassion, empathy, shared social responsibility, civility etc. are seen as complementary elements of female culture in most places, but they do serve the common and social cause, and not a gendered and egoistic one. In women, these elements belong both to tradition but also to new emancipatory models and to work. Reproduction of life, traditionally hidden and separated from the sphere of production and its theorisation, is now further analysed in feminist theory as the precondition for both production and everyone’s survival. In this, it is women who are on the frontline. No calculation. Just practical necessity, and caring for more people than oneself alone.

Today’s epistemological turn and new knowledges are not only the result of the post-industrial real-time or digital computing IT dispensation and cognitive labour enabled by hackers [16]. They are also the effect of sharing knowledges in new ways and through new channels, outside and over universities. Contemporary social sciences and philosophy draw a lot on feminist research in this. But the digital dimension controls much of our knowledge and its transmission in an apparently impersonal, but tricky, way as a mechanism or a deadly and suicidal desiring machine [17] through invisible algorithms of which we don’t even suspect the existence. It has everything to do with the neoliberal organisation of society and politics, for the sake of corresponding economic interests. The condition of women is rearranged in this algorithmic capitalism, remaining subaltern, but at the same time, obliquely and sideways, it gets partly through into the mainstream thanks to a kind of contextual capillary absorption, « pollination » and general atmosphere.


Non-species, non-gender, non-nation, non-identity

It is by now obvious that gradation appears in all unequal relations, from gender, class, race, caste, species and other unequal differences. We now have to think of climate and environment, consider nature (of which we are a part), and consider caring about life on earth. Thinking from gaps and interruptions and mending them, as a non-species, non-nation, non-identity, non-gender, from life and the living, we need to think of others first : only then would we too be safe, inasmuch as others are safe with us [18]. Only then could we be together in becoming and acting in the shared world. On the contrary, androcentrism and anthropocentrism, with racism, xenophobia, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, etc. nurture continuity with the same (origin), birth, species or gender [19]. I would like to see myself as non-binary by choice, in spite of my conventional heterosexual life. I prefer to obfuscate boundaries, baffle definitions, labels, allegations and received identities. But “men” and “women”, as two imaginary extremes, transient “ideo-types” of a complex picture down to individuals, are alleged and constructed to be so in a reductive binary. The gender divide passes through each of us individually.


Social fascism, “leftist fascism” say some

The gradual fascistisation of our societies means to impede the progress of discriminated groups or classes. The Indian hindu ruling class, for ex., obstructs the raising of low castes and classes [20]. Which historic denials and political forgetting does this cost ? The day when the state takes over the judiciary (or “justiciary”) stance, the regime and society may coincide in fascism through a right-populist osmosis process as a fait accompli difficult to debunk [21]. But these things happen also at the hand of international predatory mechanisms through whatever approach, including gender. Due to now prevailing confusionism in the public sphere fed by social networks, some have absorbed fascist inclinations into acceptable politics because the new fascism declares itself apparently social with regard to the domestic population (but not to foreigners or migrants). The paradoxical concept of « left-wing fascism » was so invented, to add to the confusion.

It is now evident that the EU border politics of peace and global security, which includes, beyond Yugoslav countries, Ukraine or other conflicts, also the security of the EU, has sadly failed. In the process, women’s bodies are a regular symbolic stake and effective scapegoats when it comes to violence and arms. Women are « easier » to kill just because they are women, because violence to them is tolerated and, in war, exacerbated. Local civil society associations naively count on the EU, NATO, UN, European governments and external forces to stem off this tendency of correcting borders, but these “others” reproduce the same identitarian politics of political mis-translation, maybe as a reminiscence and repetition of the violence perpetrated by Europe in its past. Other scenarios are now forgotten as inept, unnecessary, arbitrary history, dismissing any possibility of learning from it.



The new migrants’ openness is radical, in the name of common survival. They are radically vulnerable but in that - open. Brutally rejected by hate-driven hegemonic powers, fleeing war, repression or hunger, they offer reciprocity, accept in advance others, and prove tolerant.

Our future is with migrants and theirs with us, but we must make them be accepted. They have, like women, an extraordinary lifesaving transformative power that is our only option if we are going to have a future, and that future cannot but be shared. We need to snatch ourselves away from the programmed political forgetting. This would be the indispensible epistemological revolution for/by a new kind of feminist or trans-feminist “non-alignment”, concretely universal.

Rada Iveković


[1] Freud, Die Verneinung, 1925.

[2] Cécile Canut, Provincialiser la langue : Langage et colonialisme, Paris, Editions Amsterdam/Multitudes, 2021.

[3] The Coronavirus 2019-2022 era was also an epochal epistemological crisis. There was in the virus and also in the relation gender-migrations a sign, something of an announcement, of the possibility of other unthought-of options (departing from patriarchy and the current forms of capitalism), an impensé. It is those intersections among so many other possible junctures within the pluriverse, and with gender issues, that interest us.

[4] From a call for papers dispatched by ARI on december 10, 2019 for a conference on may 27-28, 2020 as “Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones : Alternative Imaginaries of China’s Presence in Southeast Asia in Contemporary Contexts”. Emphasis added by me, R.I.

[5] The two sides of the abyssal line can’t appear at the same level according to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Beyond Abyssal Thinking : From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledges” (first published in Review, XXX-1-2007),

[6] Salman Rushdie, in Grimus, Random House 2003, first edition 1975.

[7] An intentionally ambiguous but fertile term, possible and significant in French, which occurs as an in(com)possibility, i.e., as a simultaneous possibility and impossibility, depending on the perspective. The two sides of a coin could illustrate this relationship : they are always together, but each is inconceivable from the point of view of the other. It would be an example of différend in Jean-François Lyotard’s sense : one meaning makes no sense (or is not the same) in the language of the other.

[8] E. Laclau & Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London, Verso, 1985.

[9] Athena Athanasiou, Agonistic Mourning, p. 187.

[10] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ibid.

[11] A significant link : Didier Billion and Christopher Ventura, in their book Désoccidentalisation. Repenser l’ordre du monde, Marseille, Agone 2023, think that today’s progressive social movements are massively touched by de-occidentalisation, and should try to produce together political forces able to rethink the world order.

[12] Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp, Frontex, Le spectre des disparu.e.s. Nihilisme aux frontières, L’Harmattan 2023 ; Elspeth Guild (ed.), Monitoring Border Violence in the EU : Frontex in Focus, Routledge Studies in Liberty and Security, 2023.

[13] Alisa Del Re, “Il lavoro di riproduzione e il mercato”, in Lo sciopero delle donne. Lavoro trasformazioni del capitale lotte (Libro collettivo), Rome, Manifestolibri 2019 ; “Cura e riproduzione sociale”, in Welfare. Attualità e prospettive, ed. by Chiara Giorgi, Carocci 2022.

[14] Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch : Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Brooklyn, N.Y., Autonomedia 2004.

[15] Merima Omeragić, « Living the Post-Yugoslav Female Humanism », in the journal Shota, Priština),

[16] After Marx, Gramsci and Negri, Griziotti would say, general intellect and collective intelligence : Giorgio Griziotti, Neurocapitalism. Technological Mediation and Vanishing Lines, preface by Tiziana Terranova, transl. by Jason Francis McGimsay, Minor Compositions, Colchester/New York/Port Watson 2019 (on-line : ; See also Jérôme Valluy, HUMANITY AND DIGITAL(S). From the history of information technology in societal expansion... to the capitalism of surveillance and influence (1890-2023),, Collection HNP (Édition multilingue expérimentale), TERRA-HN-éditions, 2023 ; Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism : The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, 2020 ; Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism, Polity, 2012 (French original 2007) ; Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard UP 2000.

[17] Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, Mille plateaux, Paris, Minuit 1980.

[18] Chakravorty Spivak, ibid.

[19] Except that for gender it is even more complicated : R. Iveković, "Women, Nationalism and War : ’Make Love Not War’", Hypatia, Special Cluster on Eastern European Feminism, Vol. 8, no. 4 (Fall 1993), pp. 113-126.

[20] Christophe Jaffrelot on hindutvā, may 6, 2021 in a webinar at the Institut d’études politiques, Paris, within a series of debates on populisms and Hindu nationalism.

[21] Boaventura de Sousa Santos has a nuanced analysis of the difference between a fascist society and a fascist state, in much of his writing. A coincidence of both is frequent, which is the ultimate catastrophe. Like him, i distinguish between a fascist society and a fascist state (or fascism in power). As in the example of post-Yugoslav countries, we now often have divided societies with both.