On the We
This we that tells you and takes you into account is not a given, but rather is articulated, plotted, and expanded in successive encounters or forms of recognition that do not go through formal education and that also are not reduced to an essential vision of feminism (“I am a feminist because I am a woman”).
“It’s not depression, it’s capitalism and the patriarchy,” went a phrase repeated over and over again in the context of the Chilean uprising. Surely LASTESIS saw it too. They lay out the matter like this:
Encountering feminism is not obvious or easy, especially given its exclusion from school curricula. Finding feminism begins with a feeling of disquiet, that what you have known as discomforting is not really okay. That which is uncomfortable, that which perturbs, has to do with the existing system, where everything is turned into consumer goods: bodies, animals, nature, experiences. (15–16)
I want to mark the clarity of the language and the simplicity of the style of the passage I just quoted (and those that follow). Because clarity and simplicity are two qualities that LASTESIS privilege in their work, something that manifests itself in the way they put forward the different forms of violence at the beginning of the book. Feminisms teach us that, to confront violence, we must know how to recognize it and how to name it. Reexamining them, giving an account of their development through writing, is an important task, a way of disseminating feminist theory and studying collectively.
We have given birth.
We have raised children alone. Studied and raised children alone. Studied, worked, and raised children alone.
We have had abortions illegally and without dignity.
We have accompanied friends through their abortions.
We have been rejected by our partners for having abortions.
We have been hit by an ex in the street.
We have suffered economic violence.
We have suffered obstetric violence.
We have suffered sexual-affective violence.
We have worked three full days in the space of one.
We have been undocumented immigrants.
We are daughters of political refugees.
We have been born in exile and we have grown up in exile. (xi)
Here, this we evokes and revisits a series of violences, it collects and synthesizes feminist knowledge, learning and building collectively. In other words, despite the violence we have suffered, there is no victimization—on the contrary. The collectivization and enunciation of harm allow us to meet, to know and recognize one another, give each other strength, accompany one another, grow. And also to imagine, conspire, co-create. I see here a clear manifestation of the joyful militancy that feminists like Verónica Gago and Silvia Federici speak of, because LASTESIS make community and family in the same process of creating, organizing, and fighting. And this is constant, day-to-day work.
“Feminists are somber, killjoys, boring, misandrists, idiots, crazy; they have tattoos and short hair.” We are tired of constantly hearing and reading about this stereotype of the feminist, the “feminazi,” as if we wanted to commit genocide or exterminate men.… Oppression, violence, and the fight for power are weapons of the patriarchy, and we’re not interested. You can shove it and stop trying to fit us into your absurd paradigms. (70–71)
I pick this passage because it shows how rage emerges in the writing itself. Of course, rage is present from the beginning.
We are mad. Mad against age-old oppression. Mad against historical impunity. Mad and fearful of being assaulted, murdered, forgotten.… Mad in the face of the constant invisibility of our abuses.… Our testimony is always in question, always doubted, never enough. (2–3)
Yes, the book exudes rage. The call to Set Fear on Fire is written with and from rage. But to Set Fear on Fire makes of anger a creative engine. Because rage can be productive, it can be generative. As another Chilean feminist writer, Alia Trabucco Zerán, says: “Rage is a fundamental political emotion. It is mobilizing like few others and that is why it is censored. The philosopher Marilyn Frye puts it very well: it’s not possible to feel rage at the same because it’s raining. One feels, instead, confronted with an injustice. And it implies saying: this injustice has occurred, it has a cause, and I demand redress.”
Ideas, forms, and movements emerge from anger; it helps in the synthesis of feminist theory. They take everything from us, except our rage.
On What This Book Makes Manifest
I notice that the subtitle of the Spanish version of Set Fear on Fire is A Manifesto. A manifesto is a “published declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political, social or artistic in nature, sometimes revolutionary.” Something manifest is “readily perceived by the senses,” “easily understood or recognized by the mind.” It would seem that, in this case, both meanings of the word make sense. More than one reader will agree with the subtitle, with the identification of Set Fear on Fire as a manifesto, a text that disseminates LASTESIS’s “program of action” as a feminist collective. I say more than one, because I don’t.
The label of manifesto does not fully convince me—and I wasn’t surprised to learn that it doesn’t convince LASTESIS either. At the book launch of the English-language translation, LASTESIS explained that the subtitle had been the editors’ idea, not theirs, and it’s why the translation doesn’t categorize the text as a manifesto. The text as manifesto doesn’t convince me for a variety of reasons, but above all it’s because unlike other manifestos written by political or artistic groups, almost always made up of cis men, Set Fear on Fire doesn’t claim to say anything new, nor does it aspire to be the vanguard of a movement, or anything like that. On the contrary: LASTESIS work with already existing material, with previously formulated ideas, with findings and notions that, for reasons that also have to do with patriarchy—the patriarchy of ideas, the patriarchy of education—have been overshadowed or made invisible, have not circulated as they should:
Our objective was and is to disseminate feminist theory. This desire comes from our lack of access to these ideas through formal education. We fervently believe that the translation of feminist ideas into other languages, approaching them not only theoretically and linguistically but also visually, sonically, and corporeally, contributes to their broader distribution. (69–70)
I once again would like to emphasize the clarity and simplicity of LASTESIS’s style, their preference for saying things upfront, without beating around the bush or mincing words. Examples abound. One quotation that seems very important to me, because it makes manifest the political position of LASTESIS in relation to the woman signifier in feminisms, reads:
We are not born to perpetuate the institution of marriage and the nuclear family. It is time to normalize the infinite ways of loving others and to not normalize intrafamilial violence. We are not born women according to our genitals. Not all women have a uterus.… We are not all born heterosexual. Not all moms are good moms. The maternal instinct does not exist. Not all of us want to be mothers. Not all mothers can give birth. (32)
Sometimes the text shouts even more directly. This occurs above all in passages where rage becomes manifest. In those moments, the shout that is this book becomes poignant. Because sometimes this book hurts. A key moment, it seems to me, is the passage on abortion. I quote it at length because it is heartbreakingly eloquent. The writing embodies the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and violence involved in the act of having a clandestine abortion, the slow speed with which everything unfolds.
While we were writing this book, we aborted. We sighed heavily. Worried. Suddenly we had no energy. We kept working. No one could notice. The lawsuits. The suspicious glances. The ballooning tits. Morning sickness as destiny. The guilt. The empowerment and then, again, the guilt. The insistence. Work. Hoping that the patriarchy wouldn’t win again. The body. The pills. The accompaniment. The PDF. Friends. The doctor. His look. I don’t do abortions. We know. We just want the ultrasound. He calls us mamitas. Said the kid would be a communist because they came out of the left ovary. The patriarchy winning. Again. He said it stopped growing. In two weeks it would happen naturally. We waited. And waited. Nothing. Another doctor. Everything the same. Bigger. Nausea. The first doctor was a secret conscientious objector. Rage. Desperation. And time. The idea that the patriarchy always robs us of something. The underground market. One hundred thousand Chilean pesos (around $120). Two sublingual pills every four hours. Blood. Pain. Friends. Chamomile water. The strainer. A small configuration of cells. The bathroom as witness. The blood to the ground or to the water. The calm. The sensation of recovering sovereignty over one’s own body. (42)
The fragment evokes an abortion experience that is far from unique, rare, or exceptional—quite the opposite. The account repeats and synthesizes the experiences lived by so many, creating a kind of poem-collage that first accelerates and then, at the end, recovers its calm. The passage makes me think, in this sense, about the power of collective writing and the effectiveness of synthesis and collage, ways of doing or tools that LASTESIS uses to disseminate ideas and knowledge of feminist theory in different forms—recitable, danceable, singable.
This way of doing persists. Their 2021 Feminist Anthology combines photos, academic articles, fragments of plays, poems, photos, sculptures. The book itself is a collage, a way of synthesizing that proposes openings, without closings. Because the synthesis work of LASTESIS expands instead of simplifies. When I read the Feminist Anthology, I thought of it as an act of disobedience to the anthology form—what is anthologized, how it is anthologized. Then came Set Fear on Fire—a supposed manifesto that simply ignores the avant-garde pretension of being the first to say something. In Set Fear on Fire, the thoughtful words that evoke experiences or ideas already known, but always made invisible, are combined with song and movement. In LASTESIS’s latest book, the 2022 Feminist Polyphonies, they also include videos and QR codes to transform the reading experience. Though it seems that with each performance and each book LASTESIS explores and formulates different formats, the modus operandi is always the same: work together, accompany each other; study, synthesize, and create; summon and agitate to keep disseminating feminist ideas and knowledge. The goal: for sexist, homophobic, racist, and transphobic violence to end, for the heteropatriarchy to fall, for feminist theory to expand, for feminisms to become part of the common sense.