Slate.com has an interesting write-up on a new technology, you know, the one making it possible to never menstruate again. Like the author, I’ll pass over the debate about the relation between womanhood, nature, and the body – not really my place to make a comment. Except this: I’m wary about the whole “keep technology off our bodies” rhetoric, not because of the politico-economic suspicions underlying the rhetoric (sound enough), but simply because technology is so deeply inside our bodies that we should talk more about boundaries than abolition. Rather, my main interest in this reflection is a familiar name: Jerry Falwell. What would Jerry think?
I think this kind of technology is a kind of pharmakon for Falwell and the moral majority types. By “pharmakon,” I of course mean to evoke Derrida’s evocation of Plato’s term: the pharmakon as what both poisons and cures, as what diseases and remedies. At the same time, the pharmakon makes ill and makes well.
The approval of Lybrel by the Food and Drug Administration cures, for Falwell and friends, one of the most problematic features of the fallen world: women’s open bodies. As I noted in a previous post, it is precisely this feature of the body – women’s bodies, in particular, though also gay male bodies – that causes the religious right’s greatest anxieties. To eliminate menstruation is to eliminate the blood and the penetration of virginal vaginas by tampons. Tampons and hymen? Let’s not forget how prominently anxiety about tampons – both the advertising of them and their effect on the hymen – figured in the rise of Douglas Wildmon, one of Falwell’s real (absurd) pitbulls. The cyclical opening of the young, sexually available female body is now closed. The de-naturalization of women’s bodies … what a nice cure!
The poison, of course, is obvious. It is birth control, or at least is marketed that way, so it also encourages sin, smoking, homosexuality, and buying Ford cars – you know, the bad stuff. Once the body can’t get pregnant, it can be all the more open. And we know from Falwell and friends that, although it is damn fun to talk on and on about it, we can’t have open bodies. Especially women’s bodies.
Then again, it would cure the abortion problem. But that’s just a cliche’, and so always relevant, remark about these religious right kooks.
So, perhaps Lybrel is a religious right pharmakon. Lybrel closes and opens the body, at the same moment.
Then again, and this is the real reason for this short post, the religious right has always been a pharmakon itself, to itself. For sure, it is prominently advertised as a one-leap, one-faith cure to all sorts of ills. (Maybe G-d can actually boost your ability to leg-press?) The auto-affective moments are the best examples, as when Swaggart begged for forgiveness or when we learned that Ted ain’t so gay after all. But these moments are also the sign of its own illness to itself. In the compulsion to demonize, there is also the compulsion to tell all of the details. The orgies, the open bodies, the fluids…every bit as erotic as one might imagine it is supposed to be morally horrifying.
Falwell’s pharmacy, courtesy of Lybrel, which is now available at, well, your nearest pharmacy. The clean that makes dirty. The closing that makes opening. Alas. The religious right, at these moments, is perfectly positioned as postmodernity itself, completely comfortable in this pharmakological space. Pre-modern in its anxieties about open bodies, modern in its needs to close such openness off, and so postmodern in its uncomplicated embrace of impossible commitments.