Essay / 17 November 2020

Patriarchy and the end of liquidity

I had a dream; it is the fall of 2019, I am sitting with my father trying to ask him if he was able to retrieve 300 US dollars in cash from my bank account. He silently looks at me without uttering any words, I insist and ask again, but he doesn’t give me any signs of a yes or a no, suddenly the deceased Prime Minister Rafik Hariri* appears in the dream and I find myself sitting with him in an office. He starts talking about the economical engineering he has worked towards in the 90s since he became Prime Minister and since the initiation of the country’s reconstruction project after the Taif agreement* at the end of the civil war. He makes graphs that show a certain flux of numbers while telling me not to worry even if at some point, I will presume that there is no liquidity in the country anymore, it will come back. “Keep calm”, he says, “Liquidity does not disappear, even when you think it has, it will reappear”. At this point, I find myself in what looks like my bedroom, I pick up an old handy phone, call up a friend of mine and start shouting at him.

Marwa Arsanios, Falling is Not Collapsing, Falling Is Extending, stills from the video, 2016

The silence of my father, the speech of the Prime Minister and my yelling sat very tensely side by side and the dream was rearranged frame by frame with these three scenes playing simultaneously.

My father’s silence sounded as oppressive as the Prime Minister’s speech but I somehow couldn’t yell at either of them directly. Even my dream work prohibited me from unswervingly defying the patriarchal authority they represented. Both of their silence and speech made it sound as if the lack of liquidity was a mere optical illusion, it made it sound as if the whole economic crisis was my own psychotic episode. In the dream, all of them seemed complicit in the act of withholding the money.

Marwa Arsanios, Falling is Not Collapsing, Falling Is Extending, stills from the video, 2016

In a usual everyday life scene in Lebanon these days, we see a woman yelling in the bank, trying to get a small amount of her money to be hospitalised, or to pay for her children’s school or to transfer money to her sister who is studying abroad. These scenes, which were regularly documented a few months ago, have become the norm.

The labour put into these savings, which have been collected through years and years of hardship and work, is exactly the labour that is used to maintain the patriarchal system alive. It is the labour that is used to maintain the system of production. Nurses, caretakers, teachers, social workers, domestic workers, cooks… All of these workers do not have access to liquidity, or only to an extremely devalued one which adds up to nothing. These workers have been dispossessed from the value of their work. They have even been dispossessed from the reproductive work that holds the patriarchal capitalist machine of production. The double humiliation of patriarchy, as it never ceases to exploit and humiliate in order to maintain itself alive. Patriarchy is not only built on the exploitation of reproductive labour, it is also built on the humiliation of the very body that does it after they have finished their work.

Marwa Arsanios, Falling is Not Collapsing, Falling Is Extending, stills from the video, 2016

The screaming inside the bank, is a scream in the face of silence and speech, their fluctuations and control, but it is also conditioned by it…

The complicity and intimacy of patriarchal control over silence and speech in the dream was the shield for the 90s illusion about the solid structure that never collapses and of the endless liquidity. Liquidity that moves freely inside this solid structure. The illusion of solidity is revealed at the very moment when the concrete and liquid disappear or are transformed into air despite the attempts to solidify them again and again, by protecting them and shielding them with metal and steel*. One realises that many of these numbers have always been air. The system will give importance to the ruling elite’s accounts by withholding and dispossessing the small accounts. By humiliating the bodies doing the reproductive work. By shutting down the scream, by talking over it or ignoring it. The solidity of patriarchy relies upon those bodies and the muting of their screams.

We will build a world on the rubbles of capitalism. This is a phrase that we have been hearing again and again in the past decade or more, from friends and comrades who we consider on our side. Leftists, communists and even some left-leaning liberals, despite their differing strategies and ideologies, this is what they have been working towards. We have been trying, despite our often ideological confusion, paralysis, and incapacities to process the pace of the events and their absurdities, to process ongoing dispossessions. The rubbles of capitalism are often dumped on the shore, by the seaside. Lately, in a port explosion and a system’s continuous implosion. From that rubble, this material melt down and those mountains of waste the We will build a world on the rubbles of capitalism is heard. How does it resonate in the middle of the material meltdown? How does it sound when waste is pushed under the shiny reconstructed surfaces? How many times does a system need to implode for the new to start appearing?

Marwa Arsanios, Falling is Not Collapsing, Falling Is Extending, stills from the video, 2016

I had a dream; I am walking in the street where I grew up, it is called Lebanon street, I stop at an ATM to try to get my monthly salary. I press my code in and press enter, suddenly water starts dripping from the machine, I try to save my card but it is too late, the machine has swallowed it and there is a flood of water coming out of the ATM. I am trying to save myself from this flood.
All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”*

And all that is liquid is doomed to evaporate into the hands of patriarchy. The surface of appearances onto which modes of production strive is the shiny bank. It no longer shines.