The feminist walking tour of Paris had been recommended to me by a friend. She was gifted the experience on the occasion of her thirtieth birthday by her husband, who not only had surprised her with a languorous weekend in Europe’s most romantic city but arranged a host of virtuous activities to pass the time. I did not have a husband, nor was it my birthday, but I did, following a screening of a film I was meant to be reviewing for a journal, have an afternoon to kill in Paris that I did not wish to dedicate to pastries or museums. The tour’s website—where one could also purchase mugs and tote bags printed with the words “Bad Bitch”—promised, for 35 euros, an exhaustive pilgrimage through the tourist-friendly Latin Quarter and Marais district, “unravelling” such “forgotten” women of Parisian history as Simone Weil, Marie Curie, Josephine Baker, Catherine de Medicis, and Gertrude Stein. The title of the walk—“The Essential Women of Paris”—was unfortunately biological, but the promised presence of the tour guide’s sidekick (a wiener dog named Frida Kahlo) too alluring to pass up. Surrendering my agency for a few hours to flânerie, that most Parisian of affectations, before trawling through student essays on a packed train back to Cambridge, also, admittedly, appealed to me. It was maybe an embarrassing desire, but I longed to put away my phone and cleave to the instructions of someone else’s voice.
As the spate of recent books on women walking and, in the process, “reclaiming” various cities has unwittingly foreshadowed, even going for a stroll these days is not immune to the force of the commodity. Empowerment feminism, which repackages the most humble of experiences—walking, masturbating, rehydrating—as conspicuous consumptions, has increasingly encroached on Anglophone feminist struggles since the turn of the last decade. Maybe, as the Add-to-Cart aspirations of the walking tour suggested, it is only natural that it also has contaminated the impossible object of “French feminism,” as humanities departments have quixotically defined the movement since the heady days of the acclaimed Second Wave.
In early November of last year, the multiple César-winning 30-year-old actress Adèle Haenel appeared on the French broadcasting channel Mediapart to testify to repeated harassments and sexual “touching” by the film director Christophe Ruggia, with whom she had briefly worked as a young teenager. Her performance was immediately fêted by the country’s press, who rushed to place her photogenic face on the covers of its varied publications, and heralded as a new chapter in the glacial advancement of the Me Too movement in France, as compared with its more ferocious Anglo-Saxon sister. It was said that Haenel’s testimony, by virtue of its bravery, would finally advance the national conversation beyond the usual toothless grappling preoccupied with questions of “emancipation” and “enjoyment,” and invite reckoning with actual conditions of oppression. Riding the momentum of Haenel’s revelations, on November 23 a reported forty-nine thousand women, mobilized by the feminist collective #NousToutes, marched in Paris to make visible the swelling numbers of conjugal femicides in France (on last count, 145 women were killed at the hands of a current or ex-partner in 2019) and to urge improved legal infrastructure for their retribution. The group, set up by the founder of the preexisting French organization Osez le féminisme and inspired by the Latin American movement Ni Una Menos, is unapologetic about making its explicit, primary priority stopping violence against women.
After years of negligible breakthroughs and advancements, and the lavish, global embarrassment of Le Monde’s “freedom to bother” letter—signed by Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Millet, and other French personalities in 2018 (the letter advocated for the unchecked and continued reign of institutionalized masculine “seduction” and patriarchal sexual sovereignty)—it is hard to blame feminists in France for wanting to conjure up a new women’s movement fairytale and overdue Fourth Wave. But in November, a cursory survey of Parisian bookstores suggested that the desire to project ideas of optimism, agency, and progress were in thrall to capitalist profit as opposed to collective liberation. Odes to a “politics of the clitoris,” to the “elusive” female orgasm, to the “subversive power” of witches, and to adolescent girls repurposing the word slut (in French, vicieuse) as a fitting avatar for their emergent sexualities, were predictably packaged in tones of magenta, coral, fuchsia, and rose, and lushly stacked on centrally staged tables.
In contrast to the exalted formation of a Me Too canon in the US publishing milieu last autumn, I couldn’t register any obvious Francophone equivalents to Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said (2019); to Chanel Miller’s Know My Name (2019); or to Ronan Farrow’s weighty Catch and Kill (2019). The absence of testimonial literature telescoped the disquieting state of affairs in which Sandra Muller, the creator of #MeToo’s adjacent French movement, #balancetonporc, was convicted of defamation charges by French courts in September and ordered to pay 2,000 euros to Eric Brion, the colleague she had accused of sustained abuse and derailing her career. The books on offer—including a new memoir from the Nouvelle Vague cinematic muse and perennial best seller, Jane Birkin, and an autofictional account of a woman’s time spent working in a Berlin brothel—signposted a painful disconnect between the insurgent activist sentiment and the more exportable products of the French cultural imaginary, still perpetuating tired ideas of “French feminism” as primarily invested in eroticism and coquettish jouissance. It suggested the exfoliation of radicality by a feminism for which the recuperation of pleasure remains the highest and most noble project. “By writing her self, Woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her,” Hélène Cixous ambitiously ordained in a seductive essay from 1976. In the bookstores that I visited, this “return” felt like a one-way ticket to the endgame of orgasmic liberation, rapturously checked out from more violent truths.
Five months earlier, in June, I’d booked a Eurostar with money I’d earned teaching undergraduates Proust and Jean-Luc Godard to spend time in the archives and work up a paper on French women film directors in the 2010s. I made barely any progress on it, but I did drink vats of bad espresso and loiter in pharmacies, consulting mystifying creams for “jambes lourdes” (heavy legs). One night, after dinner with another academic, I saw a poster for a reading by the Spanish-born philosopher and writer Paul B. Preciado. The event, to take place in a bookstore near the Pompidou, underscored the launch of Preciado’s new book, Un appartement sur Uranus (in English, An Apartment on Uranus), a collection spanning five years of columns written from 2013–18 for the newspaper Libération, and prefaced by the celebrated “queer punk feminist” French writer Virginie Despentes (with whom Preciado once formed a romantic couple). It was a Tuesday evening, and Paris was enduring a historic heatwave. Everything felt liquid and contingent, which is to say that nowhere had A/C. As Preciado made his way to a table pushed against the back walls of the room, a peerlessly dressed if tangibly sweaty crowd of fans with purposefully awful haircuts fanned themselves with poetry pamphlets recruited from the shelves. The owner of the bookstore, a wiry grande dame type radiating clouds of dense perfume, emerged from a back room and flamboyantly kissed Preciado on both cheeks. We listened to a fawning précis of his work. We shifted on our feet or, if we were lucky to have claimed one of the approximately seven chairs in the whole place, greasily uncrossed our legs. There was no water, but there were several boxes of room-temperature sauvignon blanc, from which Preciado drank indiscriminately.
Preciado has attained iconic status for Testo Junkie (first published in France in 2008, and translated into English in 2013), an itinerant, frenetic work which, via means of a “body-essay,” or record of insidious somatic shifts as the writer took increasing doses of testosterone, radically ventured sex and gender as pharmaceutically mediated as well as linguistically and discursively constructed. Connecting dustier façades of arid academic discourse to a sexier inhabitation of the body in real time, Testo Junkie’s presentation of gender as a practice or incremental experiment in microdosing Testogel exposed essential bodily hormones as malleable and—rather than inherently masculine or feminine—able to be stretched along a moving spectrum of identity and sexual fluidity. While writing the book, Preciado still identified as “Beatriz,” the name he had been christened and brought up with by conservative, Franco-leaning parents (though his preferred pronouns at the time of writing were s/he and her/his). In the work, he dissects his ambivalent attachments to femininity as entrenched cultural performance and celebrates, at the same time, his expansive debts to feminist philosophers Monique Wittig, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway. Hacking the hard-wired codes of gender, in Testo Junkie, Preciado started to elaborate a technology of feminism that could be viscerally incubated in the body as a form of generative self-estrangement and more cerebrally deployed as a lens through which to see and reassess the world.
In the 1970s, it was basically reported nowhere that French feminism’s Holy Trinity—Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray—were technically not French, but Bulgarian, Algerian, and part-German respectively. That Preciado’s mother tongue is also not le français echoes such nonlinear origin stories and spotlights the inherently false strains of so-called French theory, as it has been slickly manicured abroad. A confessed product of such illusions, Preciado moved in his twenties to Paris, a city he cathects throughout his work with near-beatific awe. At the same time, relaying in Testo Junkie his sporadic feelings of dispossession in a language “that is not my own,” Preciado forges a syncopated, zigzagging path through the thicket of post-’68 French intellectual production, echoing his work’s commitment to transition states. Before relocating to France, Preciado first embarked on graduate studies at the New School in the 1990s, where he attended classes both with Agnès Heller and, in the midst of his protracted American sojourn, the inimitable Jacques Derrida. In a double mise-en-abyme of transatlantic displacement, Derrida invited Preciado, while in New York, to lead a seminar on the philosophy of forgiveness in relation to St. Augustine, before sending him to Paris to expand upon such studies.
Preciado’s prose occasionally wears the heavy-handed imprints of the most cryptomystical pretensions of Parisian high theory. It is dense with vatic signifiers like “molecular,” “deterritorializing,” and the testimony to all beings “containing multitudes.” But his backward genealogy through high theory’s seminal materials brands his thinking with unusual hybridity. Inflected by the lateral chassés of the global intellectual star market, his work is both deeply reverent toward the semiotic, psychoanalytic interests of the French poststructuralist philosophies of “différance” (whose investments in the ethical incommensurabilities of assorted Others traditionally segregate French feminism from its more identitarian sororities across the pond) and eager to explore how such ideas might feasibly be transposed into actions in real life. It displays a keen awareness of the simulacral, chimeric nature of French theory but also a commitment to more Anglo-Saxon notions of constructivism, activism, and embodied performance (that such Anglo-Saxon tropes are essentially Foucauldian ideas refracted through the context of US academic syllabi adds another layer of distortion to an already head-spinning game of mirrors).
In the bookstore, Preciado seemed only partially allergic to commercial publishing’s numerous PR stunts, and happy to affect a degree of oratorical authority. In a dark wool suit that must have been unbearable given the weather, he was compelling and magnetic, and the audience were rapt. The primary task for feminism today, he said, summoning the revolutionary style of the Uranus book, was to reject “the binary regime of sexual difference” and instead to radically “disidentify”; or rather, to fight not for the liberation of women exclusively but for liberation in a more expanded, “planetary” sense. A shift in focus from the residues of biocapitalism to a wider remit of “cosmopolitics,” he argued, would produce a more inclusive feminism, one unshackled from essentialism and “anthropomorphic toxicity” and able to encompass trans, queer, intersex, Black, Latinx, Muslim, crip, and even animal subjects. In this register, feminism could include any politics “committed to nonviolence” and connote a pansexual eroticism toward the planet that did not broker sexuality as a “political regime.” Even though the wine was running out and the room was now almost fluorescent with humidity, the crowd hummed in approval of his words. In the line for signings following the reading, I invented a symposium I claimed to want to organize around his writings. Long hair sticking to my viscose blouse, lipstick crumbling owing to the warm wine and the sweat, I had never felt more like a fangirl, which seemed achingly provincial, given everything we’d heard.
In addition to Frida Kahlo and our guide, a blonde millennial expat from London, the walking tour made up eight people: two sets of couples, a mother-daughter duo, a Portuguese choreographer in her fifties who had already completed “dozens of historic rambles,” and myself. Departing from a Catholic church near the Panthéon at 1 PM, where we were instructed in the “revolutionary” life of Marie Curie, we made an awkward crocodile formation through the gilded Tuileries gardens, listening obediently as the guide introduced herself and the rationale behind her project. (Most historical tours of Paris were lamentably male-dominated, and she was sick of talking about Victor Hugo and Napoleon. Plus, she wanted to include the “rad Parisiennes” she’d been reading about, such as Colette and Joan of Arc.) Her favorite woman on the tour, she confided, as we came to a stop before the Tuileries palace, was Catherine de Medicis, whose arduous “fertility journey” with King Henri II of France she proceeded to delineate with a level of detail that surpassed the anatomical. Before she delivered a well-rehearsed dénouement, which involved interior “insertions” of garlic cloves and a very specific sexual position, one of the boyfriends had excused himself to source his trembling girlfriend a cup of tea. When he returned, apologizing for having missed the conclusion of Catherine’s story, the guide winked in his girlfriend’s direction and announced, “There’s your topic of conversation over dinner tonight!” before navigating us toward the streets of St-Germain-des-Prés.
In An Apartment on Uranus, Preciado speaks frequently to the experience of being “traversed” by other beings, animacies, and subjectivities, unsettling, in the process, the premise of most narratives of sexual transition as entirely agential or as propelled solely by the subject’s fiercely honed desire. A similarly geometric language of transversals, receptivity, and being crossed by differing perspectives other than the writer’s own informs the work of septuagenarian French author Annie Ernaux and its overarching project to assemble what she calls a “transpersonal” autobiography: or an account of the self so forensic in its intimacy that it invariably skims the more expansive waters of the universal. While Preciado’s futuristic manifestos want to abstract feminism from the limiting locution, as he sees it, of women, Ernaux’s numerous experiments in self-reportage plumb the viscera of bodies disciplined and culturally encoded as feminine. She offers intimate autopsies of corporeal experiences such as illegal abortion, breast cancer, corrosive sexual obsession and jealousy, and the state of losing one’s virginity. At the same time, her writing I, whittled of personal affect and designed to accommodate as many voices, stances, and readers as possible, is a related exercise in disidentification; in opposing, like Preciado, any presentation of feminism as a project of personal enlightenment or cultural acquisition, and instead inviting it as a collective posture to inhabit.
On France’s winnowing circuit of public intellectuals, Ernaux, a recognizable yet calmly understated presence, is frequently enlisted to dispatch opinions on the economic policies of Macronisme, #balancetonporc, and, recently, the femicide protesters’ debt to second-wave activist institution MLF (Mouvement Libération des Femmes), founded in the 1970s. Consistent with her measured public persona, Ernaux’s feminism stringently shuts down the lyrical frissons of that era’s floridly ubiquitous écriture féminine. In texts so stark and sparingly composed they could almost be transcriptions, her prose owes more to what French people affectionately group together as the “two Simones”—de Beauvoir, formidable author of The Second Sex (1949), and Veil, pioneer of women’s reproductive rights—and their clear-eyed altercations with womanhood’s legal and ontological hangovers. Viewed against the syrupy confections of Cixous and Irigaray et al, or even Marguerite Duras’s solemn odes to the expressed “grandeur” of sexual difference, reading Ernaux feels bracing, like landing on a sorbet course after a particularly stagnant meal.
In A Girl’s Story (forthcoming in 2020), one of several of Ernaux’s chiseled self-ethnographies rendered into English in the past few years, reading de Beauvoir is conceived, retroactively, as the watershed moment dividing Annie Duchesne, the young girl that the author once was, from the woman that she is today. “In order for me to be the girl I am staring at in this photo,” Ernaux writes, in an elegant, ekphrastic illustration of how past selves can appear as remote strangers to us, “I would have to have not yet read Virginia Woolf, Proust, Simone de Beauvoir.” (In another unanticipated point of resonance with Preciado, Ernaux’s work does not sacrifice its purchase in translation.) In an earlier, more explicit essay, “My Debts to Simone de Beauvoir,” Ernaux appointed the experience of reading The Second Sex as “irreversible,” allowing her to “totally re–read” her adolescence and “situate herself as a woman.” In its pages she “found theorised what had always been transmitted to me via education. . . . The traps of housework, of motherhood, of the ‘woman-child,’ and the necessity of financial independence.”
If Ernaux’s early work satirized the “outwards-facing signs of ‘good femininity”’—clothes, the right kitchenware, and other gestures of sanitized comportment—A Girl’s Story is concerned with the interior affects of feminized experience. Mainly, it inscribes the indelible experience of having sex for the first time as a young woman in a relatively public setting, and being subsequently judged by a peer group for it. (At summer camp, days after her eighteenth birthday, Ernaux’s narrator is seduced by an older male camp worker, and proceeds to be ostracized by the other attendees.) In its stark and unadorned account of Ernaux’s “devastation” as her lover brusquely ghosts her, the work telegraphs what, in private and emotional life, recedes from feminist theory; what gets often diagnosed as “bad feminism” (a trope that endures despite what we have read or know to be true). The book’s translated title conveys its desires to dissolve the personal; or its generous account of the mundanity of being in possession of a body schooled as female, which inspired Ernaux not only to become a writer but to identify as feminist more broadly. Its meditative tribute to the messier elements of moving through the world in gendered molds challenges de Beauvoir’s more abstract idea of womanhood, which largely means being philosophically constructed as the oppressed Other to the default male.
For decades, one of the enduring callouts of de Beauvoir’s thinking has been how it inescapably defines the feminine in negative terms. Though her philosophy is ostensibly the birthplace of feminist constructivism, women, in their “subaltern” status, remain subjects to whom things are done. Preciado’s more utopic, astral line of argument seeks to get around this by, albeit controversially, taking women out of the equation and reevaluating feminism as simply any politics that mobilizes against violence. His more cosmic, ecologically attuned feminism possibly reveals more breadth than Ernaux’s, in exposing how the exploitation of women is indissociable from the unremitting exploitation of the planet.
Still, putting the two in conversation with each other points to the frictions within the French feminist movement: between those who protest that reproductive rights and gendered violence still make up its front lines and those who argue that such focus, in adhering to potentially essentializing, biological contours, evicts even more marginalized subjects from its elite halls. Such a conflict is not native or exclusive to the feminism of continental Europe, but it is more contentious, given the historical perception there of heterosexuality as fundamental anchor of the (originally Catholic) state; and the time lag in the reception of certain theoretical breakthroughs (for context, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, from 1990, was only translated and published in French in 2005). When Preciado recently weighed in on the femicide protests in Spain, questioning, in an article written for El Pais, the “dangerous” naturalization of sexual difference and the part it plays in violence against women, his comments were perceived as alien outposts of extremism and lampooned by the wider Spanish press. Though shifts are starting to occur, both France and Spain have proven slow in taking up the baton of trans rights and their seismic changes to the feminist agenda. Typing “TERF” into the engines of the online French-English language dictionary service Linguee.fr currently brings back a greater number of results on truffle fungi than serviceable definitions of trans-exclusionary separatist feminist ideologies.
Despite the efflorescence of “empowering” memoirs, 2019 was underscored by hefty disappointments for feminists in France. Only 360 million euros, in lieu of the demanded one billion, were eventually allotted to the femicides epidemic; proposed nationwide amendments to retirement packages will ensure that women will systemically receive smaller pensions than their masculine equivalents; and desired reforms to grant access to IVF treatment to lesbian and single women outside of heterosexual partnerships have been stymied by delays. Following on these setbacks, on March 8, 2020, #NousToutes will stage a more ambitious nationwide feminist strike than its November antecedent. Organized around the slogan “#OnArrêteToutes,” or “All Women Stop,” its objective is to convince as many women in the country as possible to desist working for twenty-four hours. In a nod toward the extensive labors of social reproduction often effaced behind more culturally venerated channels of employment, the collective insists that this temporary ceasefire should also manifest as a one-day refusal of unpaid domestic, caretaking, or emotional work. In fact, they say, so much the better: the aim being to expose just how much austerity infrastructure splinters when women’s unremunerated efforts are withdrawn.
While in theory #NousToutes endorses one united movement that all corners of the French feminist campaign can get behind, its attempts to brand itself using the discourse of maximum inclusivity has come under fire from race and other minority group activists toiling for the cause of more decolonized feminisms. (In one response, a growing group of afrofeminists in France came up with the counter-hashtag “#UsToo” or “#NousAussi.”) Despite, in other words, well-meaning calls for greater diversity and the need to expand the movement beyond the Lean-In 1 percent, such groups suggest that #NousToutes’ grab-bag approach, which ostensibly has room for everyone, still harbors whiffs of the French Republic’s commitment to universalism—broadly, the idea that the uniting power of the state should sufficiently repel even the most polarizing disparities—and its parallel suspicion of sectarianism or what it disdains as “communautarisme.” In slightly plainer, Anglo-Saxon terms, decolonized feminism’s project of uncompromising intersectionality, despite that word’s increasing prevalence in both French academic and nonspecialist productions, faces a steep climb in a country that notoriously does not keep any statistics on ethnicity or religion (out of fear that doing so might compromise France’s rigorously secular division between church and state) and whose National Assembly, in 2018, voted almost unanimously to abolish the word race from the constitution.
In literary circles, the breakout star of a more au courant brand of internationalized feminism has been the Moroccan-born Leila Slimani, whose slickly commercial takes on women’s lives in the shadow of advanced global capitalism have bewitched the marketing departments of transnational publishing. Of greater innovative purchase is the fiction of Marie NDiaye, whose unsettling, formally dexterous texts perform the structural inhospitalities of being a woman of color in France. In a context, though, in which the micro-aggressions of everyday racialized experience have been deemed practically unworthy of linguistic record, maybe nobody should be surprised that the most compelling work being currently produced by French feminists of color is happening along para–literary, audiovisual axes: in podcasts, documentary and narrative feature films, web series, and TV shows. (To list artists at the vanguard of these creations feels like a queasy act of reduction, but to cite a few: Amandine Gay, Axelle Nah Nijiké, Mati Diop, Léonora Miano, Isabelle Boni-Claverie, Laura Nsafou. Hafsia Herzi.) Such work pushes back against the fatigued image of French feminism as a mainly discursive and symbolic enterprise: as an Oulipian exercice du style trading off the questionable currency of “the signifier” and lukewarm poetry. It asks that a feminism that has been to date largely semiotic and obsessed with reading and interpreting as its primary agendas finally get real; or at least, stop separating language from its correlate in direct action. But given the enduring legal hardware of the activist-hostile “emergency state” famously triggered by François Hollande after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, taking to the streets as women might continue to be easier when couched in the format of a “historical tour.”
Around a certain constellation of Parisian dinner tables, a long–running joke is that the easiest way for a woman to be buried in the Panthéon (and therefore ascend to legendary status in the national psyche) is if she dies within minutes of her famous husband. Such was the happy outcome of Sophie Bertholet, who passed to the other side holding onto the waist of her husband (the esteemed chemist Pierre Marcellin) so adhesively that in order to separate the couple the coroners would have had to break her bones. Since Bertholet’s well-timed expiration in 1907, a grand total of four additional women (Curie, Veil, the Algerian specialist and resistance fighter Germaine Tillion, and Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, niece of Charles de Gaulle) have been afforded the privilege of internment within its hallowed crypts (compared with seventy-six men). The rate of admission to the Academie Française, which exists mainly to police the French language, and whose members can forever cash in on the honor of being considered an “Immortal” by the secular French state, is only fractionally better: after the first woman, the writer Marguerite Yourcenar, was admitted in 1980, some three hundred and fifty years after the institution’s founding, eight others have been since elected (of whom five remain alive and hold their seats, alongside thirty-five men). Annie Ernaux’s response, when asked last December by an interviewer if she cared about the institution, was scalding and immediate. “Not in any way,” she said, briskly changing the subject.
In spite of everything the gatekeepers of the cosseted French language have done to exclude women writers from the inner sanctum, since the turn of the new year glimmers of a shift have started to be seen within French publishing. In January, a sudden rush of gristly abuse memoirs—Vanessa Springora’s Consent, which chronicles in microscopic horror the author’s seduction by the established French writer Gabriel Matzneff, an individual who once wrote a repugnant ode to sleeping with pubescent girls titled Under Sixteen Years Old; and Such a Long Silence, an account written by the ice skater Sarah Abitbol, who was molested continuously as a teenager by her older male coach—momentarily dislodged the rose-tinted sex-positive tomes from the center tables in bookstores. Announcements of related lectures, readings, and performances effervesced from social media, underscored by the female sign emoji and dense parades of purple hearts. Such developments, neatly coinciding with the mass resigning of the entire board of the Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) after they bestowed 117 nominations to male actors and directors (including twelve to the ignoble Roman Polanski) and only twenty-four to women, are timely, and long overdue. At the same time, much like their US counterparts, such luridly tell-all memoirs—conspicuously branded “livres-choc” or “shock books” by the more salacious arm of the French press—risk conscripting writing done by women as the default site of revelation, unburdening, and compulsory disclosure. The publishers behind such provocative accounts, though bristling perhaps with good intentions, don’t transfigure the warped power dynamics at their source, but, in promoting their women authors fundamentally as victims, unwittingly perpetuate the old hierarchies. They don’t, as Preciado might put it, cultivate new ways of learning to “desire horizontally” but reinscribe verticality. They position women, in the old Beauvoirian gridlock, as first and foremost subjects of violence.
Before reaching the final stop on the walking tour, I tried to make up some excuse about needing to check in early for my Eurostar. In some eerie ordonnance of fate, it turned out everyone was let off in advance, owing to extensive road blockades around the charred remains of Notre Dame. As the guide shepherded us back toward the Panthéon so we could reorient ourselves, Frida Kahlo whimpered from within a Jane Birkin–style straw basket, where, owing to the freezing cold, she had earlier been placed. When finally released to frolic on the pristine stones of the Panthéon’s courtyard, she promptly urinated. Our tour guide, with visible maternal pride, was delighted. “Don’t hold back babes,” she called out to her. “Get it all out.”
In an early vignette from An Apartment on Uranus, Preciado sets up an enticing anecdote recounting a cross-country journey that he made in 2014 to visit a beloved. The prose is sensuous, radiantly tender, alive to the loved object’s gait, smell, gaze, and hair. The object of his devotion, Preciado soon reveals, is of the canine variety, a humble “beast.” The author has wielded the conceit in order to present a wider-ranging case against the crumbling Anthropocene’s hard-wired humanism, and the importance, if we have any hope of not killing each other before we indiscriminately expire anyway on a molten ball of greenhouse gases, of relating differently to animals. To paraphrase Preciado, in the decade to come, your feminism might be inoperative if it isn’t planetary and pansexual in scope, but also interspecies. Expand the sensorium. Disidentify or perish. Don’t buy the tote bag, but let them eat dog biscuits.