Freedom’s Poses

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterSymposium: The 2016 Maxwell Lecture
/tmp/tmp-183DLb5dsvgqIl/input 732418PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917732418Political Research QuarterlyMarso
Symposium: The 2016 Maxwell Lecture
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 720 –727
Freedom’s Poses
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917732418
Lori Jo Marso1
Kathy Ferguson’s anarchist women enact walking as freedom’s pose. In my response, I ask how the way we imagine
poses and postures, comporting our bodies this way or that, alone or together, shapes the way we practice freedom.
I worry that the focus on walking, a dominant and frequent metaphor for freedom in many diverse political registers,
occludes our ability to see freedom in other poses, registers, and spaces. I argue that highlighting walking as freedom’s
preferred pose hovers too close to the replication of the posture (and maybe the perspective too?) of the masculine
self. These moves, and this movement, make it harder to discover other sites and kinds of freedom, and to fully
appreciate contingency, non-necessity, and the unexpected possibilities available in every encounter. Drawing on the
work of Adriana Cavarero, Simone de Beauvoir, and Hannah Arendt, I explore postures of inclination—Beauvoir’s
housewives stooped over pots and pans—and consciously chosen inactivity—Arendt lying on her daybed thinking.
These postures and poses open up our ability to see freedom in the encounter, an affective and agonistic freedom
enacted only with others, and too easily hidden or missed.
Beauvoir, Arendt, walking, encounter, freedom, inclination
Are there postures, poses, and activities that best exem-
Noticing this, and following their lead, Ferguson wonders
plify freedom? Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer
whether walking might be in some way related to these
of Facebook and author of the book, Lean In: Women,
anarchist women’s politics, their visions, their practices
Work, and the Will to Lead (2006), contends that to seize
of freedom.
freedom, women have to “lean in.” Young Asian
According to Lauren Elkin (2016, 23), the flâneuse,
American feminist comic Ali Wong rejects that pose. She
the iconic female walker, is a “determined, resourceful
says: “I don’t want to lean in. I want to lie down.” Ali
individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the
Wong’s “stand-up” comedy rejects the verticality of the
city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” Like
stand-up routine. Taping her 2016 Netflix special while
Elkin’s flâneuses, Ferguson’s walkers are keenly attuned
visibly pregnant, Ali Wong riffs on the politically incor-
to the liberating possibilities of a good walk, but they are
rect idea that she has tricked her boyfriend into marrying
not only cosmopolitan. They walk over mountains and in
her so she can stay at home to enjoy the luxury of the pose
valleys, across continents and in the country. Ferguson
she most covets: lying down. Wong provocatively insists
calls this “radical walking” and explores how it combines
that lying down is the pose, and eating bon-bons and
with their anarchist politics. What she concludes is that,
watching daytime television are the activities, that best
for these women, walking is freedom’s pose. Along the
exemplify feminist freedom.
way, Ferguson makes connections between the eschewal
Ali Wong’s tongue-in-cheek call to women to lie down
of analytic or conceptual ways of seeing and doing, walk-
made me think about the way we imagine poses and pos-
ing as a physical activity, and the walking of her two
tures, how comporting our bodies this way or that, alone
anarchist women. She draws our attention to a “triangle
or together, shapes the way we practice freedom. Should
of ideas” between Alfred North Whitehead’s processual
feminists stand like the men, lean in to the corporate
thinking,1 the physical/biological act of walking, and the
table, lie down on the daybed, or walk the mean streets?
demonstration of freedom we see when anarchist women
Seeking to restore the experiences and the writings of
Alexandra David-Néel and Lily Gair Wilkinson to the
historical record, Kathy Ferguson is attracted to the fact
1Union College, Schenectady, NY, USA
that these two mostly unknown but brave and innovative
Corresponding Author:
anarchists walked a lot. They walked exceedingly long
Lori Jo Marso, Union College, Schenectady, NY 12308, USA.
distances on unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous paths.

When Ferguson falls, breaks her ankle, and must
as freedom’s preferred pose hovers too close to the repli-
relearn to walk, the attractions of process thinking and the
cation of the posture (and maybe the perspective too?) of
complexities of the physical act of walking are brought
the masculine self. This is a risk even for walkers as
abruptly into her view. Walking, Ferguson discovers, is a
lively, vibrant, and aware of mind/body connections and
process of constant movement (even while standing) that
encounters with others and objects, as are Ferguson’s
cannot be fully captured when we think conceptually or
walking women. I worry about the certainty that Ferguson
analytically. And so Ferguson turns to the philosopher
sees in the “determined” gait of her walkers, and that the
Alfred North Whitehead to think processually. As physi-
promise of the future keeps them doggedly on their path.
cal therapy gradually restores her ability to walk, Bumps on the road are not reason to stop or even to pause,
Ferguson thinks with Whitehead about movement and its
but are smoothly integrated into a narrative that expects
impairment and limits, the links between the physical and
and predicts obstacles on our path to the beautiful tomor-
existential, the body and experience, and freedom as
row. This kind of teleology that seems to guide Ferguson’s
activity. Suddenly focused on relearning to walk, walking anarchists is in tension with Whitehead’s process
Ferguson wonders whether and how David-Néel and Gair
thinking that would not orient us toward any particular
Wilkinson might have “done their anarchism by path or promise arrival at a destination. Finally, and most
important for my purposes here, the focus on walking, a
My response both appreciates and critiques Ferguson’s
dominant and frequent metaphor for freedom in many
“triangle of ideas” that includes process thinking, anar-
diverse political registers, occludes our ability to see free-
chist women’s freedom, and the physical process of walk-
dom in other poses, registers, and spaces. When we high-
ing. “We make the road by walking,”2 but when we make
light walking as freedom’s pose, we are less able to
walking the exemplary pose for feminist freedom, we
discover other sites and kinds of freedom, and we are less
sideline some things that are centrally important. What
able to fully take in the lessons of contingency, non-
are the plusses and minuses of walking for an anarchist
necessity, and unexpected possibilities available in every
feminist politics? Whitehead’s process thinking helps us
to see movement where we mistakenly see stasis, rela-
So while I am attracted to the swift, bold, public move-
tional flows where we might have assigned cause and
ments of the flâneuse and to Ferguson’s walking anar-
effect, and the assemblage of networks and intertwined
chists, and I am inspired by their courage, their intrepid
agencies where we might have seen individual actors
spirit, and the fresh air that they pump into our tired jux-
seeking to exercise sovereign will. To think this way, with
tapositions of the male flâneur against the female prosti-
Whitehead and with Ferguson, restores multiplicity,
tute (the original streetwalker), I also want to ask whether
movement, becoming, and generativity to our attention.
this should be the favored pose to demonstrate freedom,
As political thinkers and actors, were we to acknowledge
and particularly to demonstrate feminist freedom. I want
and move with complicated ontologies, rather than dis-
to query what happens to other poses, postures, and activ-
avow and simplify them, we might also encourage anar-
ities when we single out walking as freedom’s pose and
chic (democratic, feminist) forms of practicing freedom.
freedom’s path. Drawing attention to other women in dif-
With Ferguson, we see anarchist women walking, having
ferent postures—Simone de Beauvoir’s housewives in
encounters with other people and with nature...

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