What strikes me as a weak point of the book is Ahmed's "citational policy" of not quoting white men. It ends up undermining her argument in two key ways that I could identify, one through what it ended up including, and another for what it ended up omitting. First the inclusion problem:
Chapter 9 of the book represents an effort on Ahmed's part to make a case for the importance of a specifically lesbian feminism, which she ends up defining as a feminism in which women relate to one another without the mediation of relationships to men. Let us leave aside, for the moment, the fraught question of whether it is even possible to fully exclude such mediations. There is a more immediate philological challenge in that, historically, manifestations of a specifically lesbian feminism have functioned as fertile soil for the trans-exclusionary ideologies which Ahmed, in this chapter, elsewhere in the book, and elsewhere in her writings, so vociferously and accurately rejects. The result is a performative contradiction that is only evident to a reader with some measure of archival knowledge. This contradiction becomes most evident on page 227, where Ahmed writes,
You have to wrap life around being. I would suggest that it is transfeminism today that most recalls the militant spirit of lesbian feminism in part because of the insistence that crafting a life is political work. Transfeminist manifestos carry the baton of carry the baton of lesbian feminist manifestos such as "Woman Identified Woman": from Sandy Stone's (2006) "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto" to Julia Serano's (2007) "Trans Woman Manifesto" and Susan Stryker's (1994) "My Words to Victor Frankenstein".
It is wonderful that she has cited trans women such as Sandy Stone, Julia Serano, and Susan Stryker, though each of these manifestos has a slightly different perspective on how best to "wrap life around being," how the crafting of a life politicizes. As a transfeminist myself, I find myself most sympathetic to the positions articulated by Stone. But what is strange, and not so wonderful, is that each of these writings is compared to an older (1970) document which Ahmed has already praised, without acknowledging the historical fact that the collective which authored "Woman Identified Woman," Radicalesbians, was explicitly trans-exclusionary.
It is not enough, then, to cite people's writings. When those writings are artefacts of material struggles in which the authors of certain writings opposed, oppressed, and negated the authors of others, then what does it mean to say that the latter carries on the "militant spirit" of the former? Is the militant hovering unseen over the entryway to the feminist bookshop, waiting to see who will gain admittance to a controversial event? Such passivity seems quite the opposite of militancy.
It would have been better, not simply to praise WIW for the things that it says that Ahmed finds congenial, but to recognize which of its formulations were quite compatible with an exclusionary approach to womanhood that Ahmed finds repellent. It is not enough to praise Stone, Serano, and Stryker for their militancy, but to highlight specific points on which they have advanced feminism, by way of transfeminism, beyond what could be achieved by Radicalesbians. As Ahmed herself writes in the "Feminist Killjoy Manifesto" conclusion to the book, "I am not willing to be included if inclusion means being included in a system that is unjust, violent, and unequal." At that point on page 227, the inclusion of transfeminists within lesbian feminism comes across--again, only to those with archival knowledge--as inclusion in something unjust, unequal, and even on occasion, violent.
The second problem I identified is the problem of omission. Again, this depends on archival knowledge. Ahmed is, methodologically, a phenomenologist. Some phenomenologists have been explicitly feminist (e.g. de Beauvoir) or anti-oppression (Fanon), others arguably recuperable (Judith Butler might make the case for Sartre; I would make my case for Merleau-Ponty), and still others appalling (most notably, Heidegger). Because of her previously stated citational policy, only Beauvoir and Fanon are cited, but that does not mean that the concepts developed by the others are wholly absent from the book. In particular, I was struck by how frequently she used the phrase "being thrown". Because I have read Being and Time, I could not help but hear resonances of Heidegger and Geworfenheit. So though I could recognize both similarities and differences in how she uses the phrase, in how she derives it from life. The notion of "wrapping life around being" is a wonderful hint at how distant Ahmed's political vision is from Heidegger's, he who would crush life under the ponderous imponderable Seinsfrage. But because she never cites him, she never makes precise what her differences are.
Resonances occur independently of the will of the speaker. As I modulate my voice through a series of pitch changes, sometimes it will hit a low point, and a listener who is predisposed to perceive me as a man will hear that rumble, the way a particular frequency of air motion makes the material of the ear drum resonate, with a cruel "A-ha!" I want to hear Ahmed's Heideggerian resonances as either accidental or parodic, critical, showing how being thrown--far from being an ineluctable trait of Dasein--is something that certain existences experience more often than others when they encounter forces that negate their lives and being. But because she never makes this explicit, there is too much space, in the blank white spaces of the book, to enable a reader who is differently disposed to attempt to abuse Ahmed's phenomenology in elements of a recuperative reading of Heidegger.
Policy and politics are both derived from the same root, the polis. But they have very different significations. In practice, policy is something that is used by institutions of power to try and avoid politics, to put certain ways of doing things beyond dispute, to depoliticize. "That's just how we do things around here, it's policy." Ahmed acknowledges that her citational policy is a blunt instrument. In both these cases, the blunt instrument ended up, perhaps contrary to Ahmed's intentions, depoliticizing the citations in their presence and absence--including some, excluding others, but not making explicit what is at stake in the inclusions and exclusions, and how the mere fact of inclusion is not necessarily an index of agreement or even agreeability.
By making this the entire topic of the blog post, I fear I may have created the impression that I think this is a bad book. On the contrary, it is a very good and necessary one. With the exception of the awkwardness of Chapter 9, and occasional dissonant resonances involving the word "thrown," I found many more moments of shared killjoy experience. That this is all I have to say in criticism of it stands as high praise.