My favorite kind of music is garbage-core. Basically what you do is take a bunch of trash and throw it in a dumpster and then autotune the noise into a song.
—PROFESSOR_MEMES, Battlelog Forum
In artist Alex McQuilkin’s video Magic Moments (Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl) (2013), a series of appropriated clips gives us Bambi-eyed models gazing at the camera, cut to a slow and breathy “Star-Spangled Banner.” Many of the girls simultaneously open their eyes in invitation and withdraw from the viewer by moving backward into screen space. The effect is both revelatory and destabilizing. Eyelashes part. Hair moves forward in slow motion. Body moves backward, through the woods or across a beach or in a field of flowers. We think we know these girls; vulnerable, accessible, they could be one of Margaret Keane’s big-eyed orphans, but with longer strides. Or better yet, the nice girl next door gifting us a pie to apologize in advance for tonight’s kegger. We know their faces. They are white. They really feel us. They are above all open, except for those moments when faux lens flare or Lolita sunglasses obscure their features.
Seriously, these are some basic bitches. But we sort of love them.
The models, most of whom are selling clothes or perfume, are all adept at a kind of soft-focus seduction, and McQuilkin utilizes montage and slow motion to coax out the subliminal rhythms of such sales(wo)manship. More pointedly, the video is carefully crafted to reveal the ways in which advertising produces an image of the girl consumer as the ideal citizen. The magic of these moments is in their use of girls cavorting in nature to conjure up a sense of freedom that can be applied to both citizenship and consumerism, supporting the emancipatory rhetoric of the United States as land of the free, of purchasing products as purchasing power, and of girlhood as the potential for social mobility. The pleasure these girls appear to take in dancing and romancing provides the exclamation point at the end of girlpower!—that conjoining of consumption and empowerment that invests the formerly marginalized figure of the girl with the capacity to bear society’s hopes and dreams for a better future. McQuilkin’s choice and manipulation of her source material demonstrate Sarah Gram’s claim that while the girl as discursively constructed purports to operate in the “liminal space where consumption and emancipation begin to overlap,” consumption is really “an alternative to liberation, rather than its realization.”1
When we attend to the video’s visual rhetoric, we notice that the models meet their sensuous manifest destiny in America’s outdoor spaces. The video’s soundtrack has a different spatial logic: minimally produced, with intimate vocals that include imperfections usually edited out of professional recordings, Mariela Napolitano’s purposefully amateurish version of the national anthem sounds like a demo recorded in a small enclosure, reminding us of the (supposed) autonomy of girls in the private space of the bedroom.2 Girlie bedroom culture developed, in large part, as a response to widespread anxieties about the vulnerability of girls in public spaces; with girls’ behavior tightly regulated outside the home and often monitored by adults in domestic common areas, bedrooms have become places that can afford a certain agency. The free-to-be-meness of the bedroom musical performance and subsequent recording is suggested by Napolitano’s grainy vocal timbre, slack articulation, and extra slow pace. I’ll get there when and how I get there, Napolitano seems to say. However, while her rendition gives an overall impression of looseness that echoes the relaxation of the bodies we see spinning and smiling on screen, she is actually tightly metronomic in her rhythmic delivery, pointing to the contradiction at the heart of girlie bedroom culture: girls are both free and confined. Or perhaps, more negatively, freedom is an effect magicked through rhythmic patterns of control. McQuilkin’s approach to editing the video—she insistently cuts on the beat—draws attention to the song’s rigid triple meter and the unnaturalness of the models’ coy performance of girlhood. “All the freedom of movement the Young-Girl enjoys in no way prevents her from being a prisoner, from manifesting, in every circumstance, the automatisms of the shut-in.”3
Magic Moments is a response to a call, to a provocation (a word etymologically related to the Latin vox, or “voice”).4 This provocation is Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (2012), a work of political philosophy originally published in French thirteen years prior by a group known as Tiqqun.5 The collective retired their moniker eleven years before McQuilkin encountered Ariana Reines’s English translation of Preliminary Materials. Between 1999 and the moment the artist saw a flash of its Revlon Cherries in the Snow cover at a university bookstore, the text was disseminated as an essay in Tiqqun’s journal, also called Tiqqun; a separate book (also in French); an anonymously translated English version titled Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, still circulating as a PDF on the internet; an Italian translation in print; a Spanish translation currently in its second edition and sold on Amazon; and fragments quoted in blog posts, online articles, and YouTube videos. In fact, while Reines’s high-profile print publication may have supercharged interest in Preliminary Materials, the text is most at home on the internet, pinged about by social media applications perhaps unforeseen by Tiqqun when they wrote their pre-Friendster/pre-Myspace “trash theory.”6
It is not surprising that both Reines—a translator and poet whose visceral, acutely observed writing has been labeled girly, or rather, “Gurlesque”—and McQuilkin, whose videos address the emo-sexual dynamics of girl culture, were drawn to Preliminary Materials.7 The text is a manifesto of sorts about the co-option of the figure of the Young-Girl by capitalism and her simultaneous capitulation to market forces. Attempting to expose the collusion of Empire, commodification, consumption, and girliness, Preliminary Materials identifies a problem but is arguably “thin on explaining how or why” the Young-Girl’s “inescapable self-commodification took root,” according to reviewer Cherilyn Parsons.8 Regardless, Preliminary Materials continues to attract a large number of cultural practitioners, both those interested in the figure of the girl as subject matter and those who want to argue about the book’s possible misogyny. McQuilkin, herself, falls in the first camp. Preliminary Materials’s characterization of the Young-Girl as a “model citizen” and a vector of capitalist oppression serves as a source of inspiration for her montage of patriotic girls-in-motion.9
Preliminary Materials combines Tiqqun’s cutting observations with quotations from theory, literature, and women’s fashion magazines to lay bare what they call “the anthropotechnical project of Empire,” that is, Empire’s efforts to transform the feminized, infantilized subject into “the figure of the total and sovereign consumer” and then turn us all into the “non-being” that is the Young-Girl.10 Tiqqun’s explicit goal is to furnish weapons in a war against these forces of “Young-Girlization”—forces of infantilization and feminization that act on adolescents and adults, men and women (or rather, all genders).11 Indeed, “the Young-Girl is obviously not a gendered concept,” they maintain.12 “The resplendent corporate advertising retiree”; “the urban single woman too obsessed with her consulting career to notice she’s lost fifteen years of her life to it”; the “ultratrendy musclebound Marais homos”; the beurette, or Frenchwoman of North African heritage, “tarted up like a pornstar”; and the suburban “Americanized petit-bourgeoisie” all are Young-Girls now, reconfigured by capitalism.13 In other words, Tiqqun’s theory of the Young-Girl identifies a process of “Young-Girlist formatting” in which the skills of the supposedly ideal adolescent and the ideal woman—namely, consumption and seduction—have been instrumentalized and made prerequisites for subjectivity.14 In the most succinct summary of their argument, Tiqqun write, “Hypostasized Youth and Femininity, abstracted and recoded into Youthitude and Femininitude, find themselves raised to the rank of ideal regulators of the integration of the Imperial citizenry. The figure of the Young-Girl combines these two determinations into one immediate, spontaneous, and perfectly desirable whole.”15
Tiqqun’s insistence on attaching attributes of gender and age to their allegedly generic conception of the neoliberal Western subject of late capitalism makes it challenging for many interlocutors to accept all of this argument at face value. Tiqqun are, after all, furthering a lineage of critique that associates femininity, especially youthful femininity, with commodities and consumption (a phenomenon discussed in detail in our book Girlhood and the Plastic Image). Marshall McLuhan, for example, had it out for midcentury Coca-Cola Girls chilling in print ads, and Siegfried Kracauer side-eyed the Tiller Girls, dance troupes whose precisely aligned high kicks inspired Busby Berkeley’s choreography and delighted audiences during their heyday in the first half of the twentieth century.16 Indeed, Tiqqun’s claim that “the Young-Girl is an article of consumption, a device for maintaining order,” could just as well be a quotation from Kracauer’s “The Mass Ornament,” an essay foundational for the fields of visual culture studies and media studies.17 Here Kracauer details his understanding of these “products of American distraction factories” dancing together at the center of his oft-quoted critique of capitalism and modernity.18 The Tiller Girls were British, not American, but that’s a different story.
Tiqqun’s Young-Girl is not only a product that is controlled and rigidly systematic, as Kracauer sees the Tiller Girls; she is also a consumer who is excessive, perverted. “The Young-Girl doesn’t kiss you,” Tiqqun sneer; “she drools over you through her teeth.”19 This “materialism of secretions,” as Tiqqun so evocatively put it, reminds us of those poster children of the pathological consumer: screaming Beatlemaniac girls (allegedly) urinating on the auditorium floor.20 “The Beatles was a case of watching females in excelsis,” recalls musician Bob Geldof. “It’s the old cliché, but you couldn’t hear them for all the screaming. I remember looking down at the cinema floor and seeing these rivulets of piss in the aisles. The girls were literally pissing themselves with excitement. So what I associate most with The Beatles is the smell of girls’ urine.”21 Although the story is hard to believe, it continues to provide a sensuously convincing image of girliness as an emblem of the gross incontinence of the consumer gone berserk. This idea persists despite scholarly efforts to hear the fangirls’ screams as “the first siren calls of a monumental event in twentieth-century culture, in which gender roles and the possibilities available to women were expanded and redefined.”22 Beatlemania, according to this recuperative argument, is an expression of “liberation” and “empowerment.”23 Tiqqun would respond, “The Young-Girl manages only to express the void, the living void, seething and oozing, the humid void—until she vomits” (or, rather, soils herself).24
The question whether collective girlie ejaculation is enabling or instrumentalizing is at play in recent disputes about the Young-Girliness of Femen, a controversial women’s rights activist collective formed in Ukraine but with its current headquarters in Paris. Les Antigones, a French antifeminist group mobilized in opposition to Femen, argues that the latter are “degrading” and “hysterical” Young-Girls.25 For Les Antigones, Femen’s topless demonstrations are exhibitionist, and posters made by monoprinting their breasts and other supposedly perverse activities appeal to capitalist desire. By this argument, Femen’s secretory blobs of paint on poster board, sold to raise money for the group, are no more politically emancipating than rivulets of piss in the aisles of an arena. Directly referencing Tiqqun’s theory in their essay “Femininity, Fuel of Turbo-Capitalism,” Les Antigones insist that the Young-Girl is late capitalism’s “new model citizen,” and Femen, they imply, are not revolutionaries but Young-Girls in excelsis.26 Tensions between Les Antigones and Femen amplified when the designer of a French postage stamp claimed on Twitter that he modeled the face of Marianne, the anthropomorphized symbol of France, on Femen’s Inna Shevchenko. Shevchenko responded to the controversy with “Femen is on French stamp. Now all homophobes, extremists, fascists will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter.”27
In stark contrast to Femen’s cheeky embrace of analingus, Les Antigones tout the reproductive mother as the only proper female revolutionary figure for France. Surprisingly, perhaps, the aesthetic of Les Antigones’ video “manifesto” is like that of McQuilkin’s video critique of girlonationalism: a series of fresh-faced young Frenchwomen dressed in virginal white stand in a park, their hair blowing romantically in the breeze.28 It’s as if McQuilkin’s ad girls tired of spinning on American beaches and emigrated to France, planting their feet in the grass among ornamental trees to defend their new motherland against a materialism of secretions. “The organic Young-Girl would thus become responsible, ecological, ‘in solidarity,’” Tiqqun argue, “maternal, reasonable, ‘natural,’ respectful, more self-controlled than falsely liberated, in a word, fiendishly biopolitical. She would no longer mimic excess, but rather, moderation in all things.”29
Preliminary Materials is a rare text. It serves as inspiration for antifeminists like Les Antigones and feminists like McQuilkin. It is quoted by gender studies scholar Catherine Driscoll as well as Jonny, a commenter on the men’s rights website Return of Kings, which “aims to usher the return of the masculine man” as a challenge to our current “androgynous and politically-correct society that allows women to assert superiority and control over men.”30 Martial, a contributor to French men’s rights website Neo-Masculin, writes a lengthy profile of the Young-Girl for readers taking the red pill.31 Madison Velding-VanDam of the band the Wants claims it was one of two textual muses for their album Container (2020), while Kim Gordon credits it for shaping the lyrics for a collaborative album with Bill Nace.32 In liner notes posted online, French director and writer Judith Cahen claims to have felt an urge somehow both “comical” and “virulent” moving her to create a radio piece in which sections of Preliminary Materials are read aloud by “rageful,” “malicious” Young-Girls.33 Musician and purveyor of “bubblegum hyperreality” Hannah Diamond says the book changed her life.34 Fiona Duncan, in an interview with author Chris Kraus published on the website for a clothing retailer, calls Preliminary Materials “consciousness changing.”35 It attracts anarchists, communists, and Tavi Gevinson, actress and former editor in chief of Rookie Magazine, a now defunct online publication aimed at teen girls. It is used to theorize Britney Spears’s voice and “[Lena] Dunham’s ass (her vagina)”—the latter as a force that “troubles the impotence . . . of empire,” according to Clint Burnham.36 “The Young-Girl, the vagina, the Internet is the ‘inconsistent non-All,’” Burnham proposes, cross-referencing Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Lacan, Tiqqun.37
Our Young-Girls in Echoland: #Theorizing Tiqqun functions as a guide to the wide-ranging online/offline conversations surrounding Tiqqun’s self-proclaimed “trash theory” and proffers an argument to explain the text’s continuing influence on such a wide variety of artists and writers, both professional and amateur. Importantly, our focus for Young-Girls in Echoland is not whether Preliminary Materials furthers an antifeminist or a feminist agenda. We stand by our previous assertion that Tiqqun’s polemic is both remarkably perceptive and “a viciously phobic response to the feminization and infantilization of the (male) subject as a result of consumption and spectacular commodification.”38 We make this case in two previous publications, Girlhood and the Plastic Image and “Gossip Girl Goes to the Gallery: Bernadette Corporation and Digitextuality.”39 But Young-Girls in Echoland does something else entirely. Here we are interested in the role of the text’s literary style—that is, its characteristic voice, tone, and form—in facilitating its own dissemination and appropriation, and the ways in which others have disseminated and appropriated the text in style and content. We argue that Preliminary Materials’s stylistic affordances invite public involvement in a highly active, variable, and noisy performance of political theorizing. This is political theory with a Tumblr fan page and an EDM beat posted to SoundCloud.40
Preliminary Materials has an unusual form for a work of theory. In fact, Tiqqun claim that it is not a work of theory at all. Not really. Instead, it is a “jumble of fragments,” “materials accumulated by chance encounter.”41 “The choice to expose these elements in all their incompleteness, in their contingent original state, in their ordinary excess, knowing that if polished, hollowed out, and given a good trim they might together constitute an altogether presentable doctrine, we have chosen—just this once—trash theory.”42 Trash theory makes visible the disorderly “process of deliberation” concealed by conventional rhetoric.43 Trash theory refuses to front. Trash theory is, according to Jen Kennedy, not exactly critical theory but its “détournement,” a strategy borrowed from Internationale Situationniste, Tiqqun’s primary inspiration.44 But even Situationist Guy Debord’s fragmentary The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Preliminary Materials’s most obvious forebear, seems like the sober companion to the meth binger that is Tiqqun’s text.
Tiqqun do not provide a proper, well-built rhetorical framework for their notion of the Young-Girl. In the context of political theory, Preliminary Materials is a textual riot (or, for some, just a rowdy spring break). Tiqqun’s text has a “collage style,” Catherine Driscoll writes, admitting that she first thought it was a “feminist zine” in light of its use of juxtaposition and its mimicry of “the formal layout of girls’ magazines.”45 Other commentators have instead noted Preliminary Materials’s relationship to a social media that had yet to come into its own. Amazon reviewer Rowland Akinduro describes the book as critiquing “the recycling of useless mantras (#liveauthentically, tumblr quotes, meaningless lyrics, #relatable),” all of which, aside from “meaningless lyrics,” did not exist in 1999.46 “The book alternates short passages, like tweets a decade early,” explains Sasha Frere-Jones.47 This “fragmented form” might make it “good toilet reading,” jibes Toni, a reviewer on Goodreads, who hesitates to call it a book. It’s “more like a peek inside the laboratory of a gang of anarchists experimenting with exotic explosives that sometimes fails and sometimes succeeds in conjuring up great potential.”48 As if hastily MacGyvered out of duct tape and what Reines terms “heterosexist ressentiment,” it includes strings of quotations (printed in different fonts), usually without contextualization; unnecessary italicization, boldface, and indentation; and scatological catchphrases, such as “The Young-Girl’s ass is a global village,” a cringeworthy sound bite riffing off one by McLuhan, who declares that “the new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”49 As Jean-Laurent Cassely, writing for French Slate, imagines Tiqqun’s sloganeering: “One/We/You could have made t-shirts with Tiqqun’s phrases and sell them at [the store] Colette” (“on aurait pu fabriquer des T-shirts avec les phrases de Tiqqun et les vendre chez Colette”).50
Preliminary Materials’s hodgepodge of fonts (“Tiqqun’s fragments toggle through just about every legible font available in basic Microsoft”) serves several functions.51 First, it is a nod to Preliminary Materials’s rhetorical strategies of citation and bricolage, especially Tiqqun’s choice to appropriate text from women’s fashion magazines, which themselves usually combine multiple typefaces, sizes, and weights. Second, as Adam Morris writes in a related point,
the listless drift of the typeface contributes to Tiqqun’s thesis that the Young-Girl’s efforts at originality and authenticity are always limited to the tired-out templates of consumerism: she takes on and takes over these templates as her own, adopting them as original to her, when they are in fact facsimiles adopted and proliferated by all.52
Third, it highlights the text’s pseudonymous authorship by bringing to mind the design of a ransom note made out of differently sized letters cut from magazines, a threat that is both menacing and darkly playful, evasive and in your face.
Such an approach to political philosophy—Is Preliminary Materials a game, or is it war? Is it written for women or against women?—makes Tiqqun’s argument slippery, unstable. Indeed, Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern wager that the book is purposefully “undecidable”: “Its self-ironizing speaker refuses to settle the question of whether the book is in fact sexist or just impersonating someone sexist in order to make its point.”53 This is, for Weigel and Ahern, ultimately a “conservative” and “patriarchal” strategy, for irony is an inadequate catalyst for transforming “hateful language into the basis of a sound critique.”54 Melissa Frost, a reviewer on Goodreads, sees the text as adopting a posture of hypocrisy, a strategy equivalent to saying “‘not to be racist but . . .’ then scan[ning] the room for POC before saying something CRAZY racist,” something she finds “extremely alienating.”55 Blogger and user experience designer Mike Bulajewski characterizes the uncomfortable position of the reader as one of “deadlock”:
Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl is sexist in its effects, but to raise the charge of sexism is to silence the critique, which is a pro-capitalist move in its effects. There’s no solution here, at least none that I can see. No matter how many times we repeat the magic word “raceclassgender,” no synthesis is possible.56
Kennedy, on the other hand, describes the effect of Tiqqun’s theory more positively and in poststructuralist terms: the text productively “doubles back on itself, destabilizing its status as ‘Theory’ and foregrounding the mutability of its own meanings.”57 “A willingness to abandon the authority of interpretation is key to reading this deliberately schizophrenic text,” Kennedy advises.58
But while the text’s true meaning, or whether it has a true meaning, continues to be debated, its affect is almost unmistakable. It vibrates with revulsion. Reading it requires “ovaries of steel,” in the words of one anonymous student blogger.59 Case in point: “Deep down inside, the Young-Girl has the personality of a tampon” and “she’s stupid and she reeks.”60 Evoking body shame and menstrual horror, such insults remind us of particularly brutal battles in an unsupervised middle school locker room—albeit battles fought by tweens who are well-read post-Marxists. A more grown-up but no less troubling characterization of the Young-Girl comes from reviewer Jeff Nagy: “the Young-Girl is less like a subject position than like the air that comes out of an impossibly silent window unit. Brooke Shields as Legionnaire’s Disease on permanent tour.”61 The question for readers is whether such disgust is directed solely at the Spectacle under late capitalism or also at girliness itself. Perhaps the former slides into the latter following a similar path as that of their relationship to class politics, which McKenzie Wark observes across Tiqqun’s oeuvre: “In the writings of Tiqqun, there is a slippage from revulsion against the party of the working class to revulsion at the working class itself.”62 In the case of Preliminary Materials, the pounding revulsion tends to polarize readers; the book is either a hotheaded but astute analysis of misogyny or a misogynistic shitshow.
With Tiqqun’s disgust in mind (and regardless of its target), we might approach the text’s effects slightly differently. We wager that, for some readers of today, the book’s “self-ironizing” speech performs a spectacular rhetorical contortion: whether or not the misogyny is feigned, the presence of such “hateful language” can be heard to signal a kind of sincerity—or, rather, a “hyper-sincerity”—a hallmark of the style of the “hyper-masculin[e]” political personae of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.63 Tatiana Zhurzhenko, drawing on Elizabeth Markovits’s critique of tell-it-like-it-is politics in The Politics of Sincerity (2008), argues that Trump’s and Putin’s offensive speech is often heard as a laudable willingness to say what others are thinking but too afraid to disclose. In this interpretative framework, the very harshness of Tiqqun’s language performs sincerity, a lack of guile, a rejection of rhetoric, that overrides the text’s heightened style and sidesteps the need to scrutinize the book’s argument to determine whether its misogyny is put on or genuine. Whether or not these readers feel equally “girlphobic” (how we have elsewhere described Preliminary Materials), the text’s willingness to articulate girlphobia suggests a hypersincerity appealing to those who might otherwise recoil at its popularity within anarchist and communist circles.64
Hypersincere or ironic, Preliminary Materials made its translator recoil. As Reines writes of her experience translating the work, it “was like being made to vomit up my first two books, eat the vomit, vomit again, etc., then pour the mess into ice trays and freeze it, and then pour liquor over the cubes.” The book “infect[ed] her,” left her “shitting rivers.” She “absorbed the text, and passed it through [her] person.” Reading the final product, though, she concludes that she “feel[s] in effortless agreement with most of it.” “I mean, if we were cowboys,” she clarifies, “me and this book would be on the same side, fighting the sheriff, but totally not besties.”65
Reines’s horse-bound solidarity is not the point of this book. But her nausea might be. “Tiqqun’s writing is viscerally oral,” notes Jennifer Boyd. “Each phrase is spat out, bitten, or said through gritted teeth. . . . This sneer emits from the pages of Theory of the Young-Girl as if a noxious gas.”66 In her feminist reclamation of Preliminary Materials, Kennedy characterizes the “affective, sickening, disruptive dimension of reading this text” as a result of Tiqqun’s weaponizing of the Young-Girl, which allows the girl to be not only a victim but also an irritant, an agent, a provocateur.67
Disgust is a particularly affecting and disruptive mode of bodily participation, and Preliminary Materials, through content and style, is an expertly composed invitation to participate. Our Young-Girls in Echoland is concerned with the participatory aesthetics of the theory of the Young-Girl. More accurately, it is concerned with the participatory aesthetics of theories of the Young-Girl—the one offered by Tiqqun as well as those developed by their many advocates, enemies, and adaptors. The Young-Girl is not only a conceptual persona constructed by Tiqqun but also a dialogue between the French manifesto and various translators, artists, poets, students, scholars, teachers, bloggers, activists, and other interlocutors. Indeed, the Young-Girl who has yet to be thoroughly discussed is this multimodal conversation writ large, theories that both exceed the bounds of Preliminary Materials and respond to a call from within the text’s stylistic parameters. This larger collection of theories has much to say about the Young-Girl as a contested figure of discourse, yes, but also about “trash theory” as a participatory multimedia performance and about the peculiar affordances of text in our age of social networks. Young-Girls in Echoland documents the images, words, and sounds of trash discourse in Anglophone and Francophone contexts, much of which would otherwise disappear as links break, relevant blogs go 404 not found or Erreur 404 page non trouvée, and galleries and theaters close.
Hush! Caution! Echoland!
“Tiqqun’s writing is viscerally oral,” we have already heard. It is also viscerally aural. “Listen,” they demand. “The Young-Girl is obviously not a gendered concept.”68 And later: the Young-Girl embodies “chatter, curiosity, equivocation, hearsay.”69 Theories of the Young-Girl are full of noise—which comes from an Old French word meaning “din, disturbance, uproar, or brawl” and, before that, the Latin word nausea, or “seasickness” (Reines felt like she had to vomit and then consume it, and neomasculine misogynists Ralf and Martial call the Young-Girl “a subhuman vomited by the society of consumption and narcissism” [“Le sous-être vomi par la société de consommation et de narcissisme qui est la nôtre”]).70 Noise can also mean “rumor,” “hearsay.” To noise about is to spread gossip. #Girltalk. Gossip Girl. Materialism of secretions. “Background noise,” Michel Serres reminds us, is “the residue and the cesspool of our messages” as well as “our perennial sustenance.”71 Noise, nausea, uproar, chatter, rumor, hearsay, gossip—“The Young-Girl is idle talk substantiated.”72 Barf. According to Jeff Nagy, in a characteristically colorful and insensitive turn of phrase, “the combination of [Preliminary Materials’s] constant nauseated tone and inverted self-help structure can make it feel like a succession of motivational posters for the use of bulimics.”73
“The Young-Girl’s laughter rings with the desolation of nightclubs.”74 A nightclub or maybe Cabaret Voltaire, girls’ night. “Like a Dada poem,” Kennedy suggests, “this is a performative collage that often begs to be read out loud, variously inflected with Valley Girl syntax, academic stiffness, and activist hubris.”75 Note that, like, Valley Girl slang, or Valspeak, requires some contortions of the mandible. As fourteen-year-old Moon Unit Zappa guides interviewer Mike Douglas in the early 1980s, “you must think severe underbite, OK? And think of the muscles straining and the jaw being like pulled out.”76 Douglas’s face moves awkwardly as he says “barf out! I am sure.” One of the most well-known phrases in the Valspeak lexicon is “gag me with a spoon,” a reference to bulimia. “Valley Girls are lurking everywhere,” Zappa says expertly. “You have to think of slurring the . . . the words . . . the the the Rs and just everything, make it seem as if it’s rolling off your tongue.”77 The French word préliminaires, which is the first section title of Tiqqun’s manifesto (and not in the book’s title, as Reines’s translation of Premiers Matériaux pour une Théorie de la Jeune-Fille might suggest), connotes sexual foreplay, which may indeed include pillow talk, and the French word for “pillow,” l’oreiller, is etymologically related to the word for “ear.” What Mareile Pfannebecker and J. A. Smith call the “mix tape postmodernism” of Preliminary Materials’s rhetorical style—in reference to the text’s strategy of bricolage—can be taken more literally as an indication of the text’s aural address.78
Our approach to writing about Young-Girls is driven not by close reading of texts and images but by close listening: an attention to rhythm, vibration, melody, harmony, refrain, and orality. We want to understand the temporal and timbral patterns that give shape to Preliminary Materials and the pop theory that continues to develop in response. Situating our listening ears amid what has proven to be a voluble debate, our efforts to hear theories of the Young-Girl as contested but participatory phenomena open up new ways of considering feminine adolescence in/as public discourse.
Indeed, theories of the Young-Girl should be considered spaces for collective listening—as auditory spaces (also known as acoustic or audio spaces), as articulated by McLuhan. This is not to say that the texts and works of visual art we discuss can’t be seen. Instead, as McLuhan clarifies,
any pattern in which the components co-exist without direct, lineal hook-up or connection, creating a field of simultaneous relations, is auditory, even though some of its aspects can be seen. The items of news and advertising that exist under a newspaper dateline are interrelated only by that dateline. They have no interconnection of logic or statement. Yet they form a mosaic of corporate image whose parts are interpenetrating. . . . It is a kind of orchestral, resonating unity, not the unity of logical discourse.79
While the various art projects, Tumblr pages, and translations of Preliminary Materials that make up theories of the Young-Girl have stronger interconnections than a collection of articles on the page of a newspaper, they hardly present the lineal logic McLuhan associates with visual space. Instead, they are, collectively, like Tiqqun’s theory: an “orchestral, resonating unity” composed of “materials accumulated by chance encounter.”80 “Orchestral,” or maybe just musical, as the former is an improperly highbrow metaphor for what Goodreads reviewer Hadrian likens to “the deranged manifesto of some ‘red-pilled’ idiot on reddit.”81 More generously, we could say that Preliminary Materials is loopy and invites a mode of collaborative theorizing that echoes its own loopy configuration (“Loops repeat and revise,” Kathleen Gough reminds us).82
The sheer number of definitions of the Young-Girl that Tiqqun provide gives us, as readers, the feeling that she is everything and nothing, as apparently boundaryless as cyberspace, where much of the theory of the Young-Girl so effectively circulates. After all, the internet has, for many, fulfilled the destiny that McLuhan ascribes to television—more immersive, multicentered, and participatory than the electronic medium on which McLuhan focuses much of his scholarly concern. In other words, the internet, and especially social media, has out-global-villaged television, outplayed the “tribal drums” McLuhan hears resounding in the age of electronic media: “The world is now like a continually sounding tribal drum where everybody gets the message all the time. A princess gets married in England and boom boom boom! go the drums. We all hear about it. An earthquake in North Africa, a Hollywood star gets drunk—away go the drums again,” McLuhan proclaims in a CBC television appearance from 1960.83 Although gendered metaphors are not common in his writings after The Mechanical Bride, he does snidely describe the global village as “a sort of Ann Landers column written larger,” inviting a connection between his earlier critique of the mechanical brides of advertising and his later distaste for the feminized chitchat of both the advice column and the electronic global village.84 Indeed, while McLuhan is often believed to be the global village’s unqualified champion, he is actually ambivalent at best, as he clearly does not want to hear tribal drums or news stories about African earthquakes, the goings-on of English princesses, and Hollywood blotto. Quip Tiqqun, “the Young-Girl’s ass is a global village.”85
McLuhan knows little substantive about the villagers whose presumed oral-aural sensory experiences inspire some of his most well-known ideas. Ross Brown explains, writing specifically about an article McLuhan coauthored with Edmund Carpenter, that the concept of acoustic space “propose[s] a theoretical acoustemology that draws casually on exotic tropes of generic non-Western mysticism.”86 More damningly, Ginger Nolan details that McLuhan’s most signature phrase (“the global village”) was written “in reference to various devices of British colonial and neocolonial power”; McLuhan supports his concept by citing scholarship on “Britain’s brutal villagization scheme in Kenya in the 1950s.”87 McLuhan’s media theory has no value in explaining the indigenous worldviews of the Inuit, whom Carpenter and McLuhan reference in their article, or the sensoria of Kenyan people of the early to mid-twentieth century.
The theory of acoustic space, despite (or because of) the concept’s colonialist foundations, can still be a useful framework for listening to Preliminary Materials as it reverberates within the space of Anglophone and Francophone digital communication.88 We are interested in separating McLuhanisme from its primitivist matrix, employing aspects of his acoustemology to describe the stylistic expression of Tiqqun’s theory of the Young-Girl as well as its transmission, appropriation, and adaptation over the internet. “A bell is to audio space what a polished surface is to a visual space—a mirror,” McLuhan and Carpenter proclaim, in a reference to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), central to McLuhan’s thinking on the potential of acoustic space on the printed page. “The bell and/or the belle is/are simultaneously all things. The age of the electronic and the simultaneous is to be an age of bell(es).”89
In swapping out the visual for the audio, the mirror for the bell(e), we swap out Narcissus for Echo (despite the fact that McLuhan gives Narcissus pride of place in his theory of the pathologies of the electronic age). A nymph cursed to repeat the words of others, and only the last few words of an utterance at that, Echo’s tragic lot is to become a technology of sonic reproduction. She is spurned by Narcissus, and her body withers to bone and finally stone; however, her echoing voice continues on. What if such resounding life were not a complete disaster? Understanding her fate more positively, as some kind of power, however compromised, we could say that “Echo can disseminate,” while her notoriously self-obsessed nonlover “Narcissus is fixed.”90 Gayatri Spivak, whose astute analysis of Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus we borrow here, closes her essay with a quotation from Finnegans Wake: “Hush! Caution! Echoland!”91
The idea of acoustic space, as explained through the examples of the newspaper and Finnegans Wake, underscores the insistent multimodality of some kinds of typographic text, an insight necessary for an analysis of Preliminary Materials as both sound and print and of other, net-based theories of the Young-Girl as both oral and textual (claims that will be explained in greater detail later in this book). What is useful in McLuhan’s patriarchal and colonial boom boom boom! is the close relation between the princess (or any girled individual), the rhythmic musicality of the media environment, and the vibrational impact of certain types of textual communication, especially when amplified by artists wishing us to feel, really feel, the resonant affectivity of language. There are no tribal drums in this new scenario. Instead, it’s a more relevant instrument, the gum in Rafaela Lopez and Georgia René-Worms’s performance Bubble Boom, the Jeune-Fille said: a bit of bubble and a little bit of boom (2015):
La Jeune-Fille is a Concept
La Jeune-Fille is a deviation
bubble, bubble gum, pink bubble gum
The whole poem was printed on pink paper, folded and sealed with a gold sticker, and made available on a shelf in the gallery. Like Tiqqun (and McLuhan), the artists play with fonts and the text’s arrangement on the page, giving a sense of rhythm and amplitude to conduct the reader’s inner speech.
Our investigation of theories of the Young-Girl leads us, again and again, to rhythm, a concept more frequently employed in the study of poetry than of political theory. Rhythm is notoriously difficult to define; here we are using the most capacious understanding possible: an arrangement that articulates a changing relationship between pure repetition and variation (or, according to Henri Lefebvre’s more abstract definition, “movements and differences within repetition”).93 This notion of rhythm can be applied across modalities and scales, from the repetitions and variations of an individual text to the coordination of the text’s rhythms with vibrations in mediatized milieux in our age of bell(es). Indeed, in consideration of what Ben Glaser calls “rhythm’s scalar power,” we argue that Preliminary Materials is a successful pop theory phenomenon because its rhythms resonate with those of the digital media environment that sustains much of the critical commentary (whether textual, as in book reviews published in web periodicals, or visual, as in the image-oriented Tumblr “fanpage” dedicated to Tiqqun’s theory).94 While our definition of rhythm may be frustratingly broad, we agree with David Nowell Smith’s insistence that, ultimately, “it is not a question of determining that rhythm ‘is’ x, but rather of formulating what it is that rhythm calls, calls for, and calls to—what it allows us to think, what it demands that we think.”95 The rhythm of Preliminary Materials is, among many things, a meta-commentary on rhythm itself, in that it allows us to think of rhythm as a kind of call, a call that is always already social and mediated. Preliminary Materials also demands that we think of rhythm as political and, in turn, politicizes the rhythms (metered pulses as well as less tractable patterns) that ripple throughout its media networks.
Preliminary Materials seems remarkably ahead of its time in its applicability to social media. Commentators attribute its contemporary relevance either to readers’ extension of Tiqqun’s “analysis to encompass developments in social media that have taken place since the book’s original publication: the direct facial and self-valorizing imperatives of Facebook, the endless memetic re-postings of tumblr, fashion blogs, and so on,” or to the text’s almost psychic perspicacity.96 Importantly, though, the headquarters of the journal Tiqqun, where the text was originally published, is identified on the back of the journal as Paris, and France was once “the most wired country in the world.”97 From the early 1980s to 2012, France had Minitel, a national networked communication service developed prior to the World Wide Web. The French government gave Minitel terminals away for free and required the use of them for certain bureaucratic activities, resulting in mass familiarity with chat rooms, networked games, and other aspects of social media well in advance of other countries. Pornographic chat rooms were advertised on posters in public spaces, broadening the country’s awareness of social media. By the time Preliminary Materials was published in 1999, France had been conducting business and having dirty fun on Minitel for almost twenty years. With this in mind, it is not surprising that Preliminary Materials feels preternaturally linked into the rhythms of social media of the twenty-first century, and that the internet would feel like a natural home for various Young-Girls of the world.
That said, the response to Preliminary Materials is not solely a networked phenomenon, as already indicated by our exegesis of McQuilkin’s Magic Moments, which has been exhibited at Spring/Break art fair in New York City, Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, and Plymouth Rock gallery in Zurich.98 One common form of engagement with the text involves reading it aloud as part of theater pieces, performance art, and radio projects. Examples include Death and the Jeune-Fille (2010), a play by the Québec City–based theater group Le Bureau de L’APA described as “a kind of guided reading”; Lopez and René-Worms’s 2015 performance piece at London’s Bosse and Baum gallery, where participants walked around chewing gum and whispering Tiqqun quotations into the audience’s ears; a radio play written by Judith Cahen and directed by Anne-Pascale Desvignes (2007); Nesrine Khodr’s video-based performance Tahrïk (2018), in which the Lebanese artist reads part of Preliminary Materials translated into Modern Standard Arabic; a reading group organized by Canadian gallery Griffin Art Projects in 2018 to develop “new meanings and nuanced interpretations of artmaking and objecthood through the figure of the ‘Young-Girl’”; and the Young Girl Reading Group (YGRG, 2013–), the moniker for a series of performance events created as “a space for conversation.”99
Theories of the Young-Girl are a conversation. About the Young-Girl, about young girls, about capitalism and advertising, about pop culture and theory and political engagement and technology, about what words mean and how they sound. For our book, we listened to this conversation for its timbres, rhythms, energies, and feelings, treating the discussion as a soundscape of the Young-Girl as post-internet discourse. Post-internet generally refers to a kind of art heavily influenced by the aesthetics of social media and other web-based forms of vernacular cultural production. Unlike internet art, which is disseminated only on the internet, post-internet art can “‘jump’ from screen to gallery wall or space.”100 Similarly, theories of the Young-Girl are excellent jumpers, moving from the internet to the bookstore to the gallery to the stage and back again. As Nicholas Thoburn notes, the “media field” that is the “English language reception of Tiqqun” identifies the collective “as one of the first born-post-digital phenomena in communist publishing, with print, online, and e-pub versions interlaced.”101 Whether Preliminary Materials is framed as communist, anarcho-communist, or simply anticapitalist, theories of the Young-Girl are interlaced and multimodal post-internet phenomena. These theories come into their own through movement, iteration, and transduction. We are not attempting to critique this conversation as much as diagram its waveform.
The movement of theories of the Young-Girl writ large, in both real space and networked environments, has something in common with the “conversational style of written exchange” Charlotte Frost identifies as central to communication through LISTSERVs:
One person presents an idea or argument; others respond, to varying degrees, at different times, and, in so doing, effectively rewrite the original text through their own paraphrasing, insertions and interpretation. As a result, a sort of re-versioning relay occurs where ideas are analysed and extended through the continuous writing and rewriting. There tends to be no winning of an argument or final definitive piece of text (even if some participants might claim otherwise), because this is a system in which value is mainly derived from passing an idea back and forth as opposed to holding it still.102
This “call-and-response model” is referenced frequently throughout Frost’s Art Criticism Online: A History, which investigates the expanded field of writing about art made possible through digitextuality.103 Frost effectively deinstitutionalizes ideas about what counts as art criticism through an examination of social media conversations, LISTSERV dynamics, bulletin board discussions, and “‘critico-contextual’ objects, or, rather, creative projects which expand the contextual and critical field of the arts.”104 Our Young-Girls in Echoland is likewise concerned with popular and sometimes populist formats of “collective criticality,” the “call-and-response model” governing, in our case, theories of the Young-Girl and the function of creative practice as a mode of inquiry.105 Our interest, though, is in diversifying not art criticism and art history but philosophy and theory.
In contradistinction to other academic treatments of Preliminary Materials, including our own Girlhood and the Plastic Image and “Gossip Girl Goes to the Gallery,” we have chosen to explain the content of the text principally through an analysis of its stylistic affordances mimicked and exaggerated by interlocutors. Other than what has been summarized in this introduction, Tiqqun’s theory of the Young-Girl emerges in this book through our analyses of theories created in direct response. In other words, you will hear the voice of Narcissus primarily through Echo’s fragmentary repetitions. Those who want to read about Preliminary Materials in isolation, in relation to Tiqqun’s other work or, more broadly, to avowedly post-Situationist cultural practice, should look elsewhere. Moreover, as you might assume, our aim is not to produce an incisive reading of Tiqqun’s argument but to study that particular text’s ability to compel readers, and their compulsion to respond through visual art, creative writing, theater, performance art, and popular media. Note that like Echo’s reiterative appeals, which convey the rejected nymph’s love for Narcissus even though their source material does not express love for her at all (a disjunct that Ovid cleverly makes known to his readers), even simple repetitions of parts of Preliminary Materials can alter the initial, contextually derived meaning dramatically.106 Or rather, like Narcissus’s generic utterances, Preliminary Materials is semantically unstable. Perhaps the real fucking tragicomedy is not the girl doomed to fragment and repeat. Instead, it’s the boy whose originating speech has no secure meaning at all, whose words are so easily spoken by another in such radically conflicting ways.107
Of course, Preliminary Materials is a written text and thus not speech in the literal sense. But the text is audible nonetheless. While our acoustemological method does not exclusively concern itself with sound as conventionally understood—especially in the following chapter on iteration—it does mark an approach to textual analysis as a kind of listening to a resonating musical unity across time and space. Music’s defining feature, according to scholar of music cognition Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, is repetition. As she explains the astonishing speech-to-sound illusion discovered by psychologist Diana Deutsch, when a section of a recorded utterance is repeated multiple times, the listener henceforth hears that segment in the recording musically, “as if the speaker has broken into song, Disney-style,” cognitive autotuning. Margulis summarizes the importance of the phenomenon:
This illusion demonstrates what it means to hear something musically. The “musicalisation” shifts your attention from the meaning of the words to the contour of the passage (the patterns of high and low pitches) and its rhythms (the patterns of short and long durations), and even invites you to hum or tap along with it. In fact, part of what it means to listen to something musically is to participate imaginatively.108
With this in mind, we consider repetition to be central to an analysis of the musicality of a philosophical conversation and the imaginative bodily participation of other theorists of the Young-Girl.
We have frontloaded this book with a relatively lengthy introductory chapter to perform a more efficient focus on two orienting concepts for navigating the acoustic space of theories of the Young-Girl—iteration and orality. Centering on each of these two concepts, the following body chapters listen to critico-contextual objects and textual critiques that engage with the rhythms of the Young-Girl across platforms and networks. In chapter 1, “Iteration,” we argue that the figure of the Young-Girl is a machine for generating variants across visual art, theater, creative writing, and cultural criticism. We also offer a definition of theory’s political style equally inspired by literary studies and scholarship on political rhetoric. In chapter 2, “Orality,” we focus on relations between orality, literacy, and political power through individual and collective performances of voicing the Young-Girl. The orchestration of speech by gossip, chants, dictées, social media, and the activist practice of the human mic—and the speechlike digitexuality of LISTSERV convos and DMs—provides the conditions for the emergence of the Young-Girl as a highly contested political subject at the boundary between visual and oral language. Chapter 3, “Conclusion, or Fucking Up,” returns to call-and-response as a formal principle of theories of the Young-Girl writ large through a discussion of Nesrine Khodr’s video Tahrïk and its oral performance of iteration.