1.The term “queer” has been reclaimed as sexualized; for it doesn’t necessarily have sexual connotations. Concrete traces in “deviance”, or “perversion” flesh out an understanding. It is evident that if the State-apparatus, here or there, accepts a gay future alongside a heteronormative future (Schotten 2015), it is only one that isn’t queer in the sense of destabilizing the regular flows of capitalism. In so far as it does disturb, the orbit of queer is anti-social, and this negative position, defined as such by the political apparatus, is perceived as transgressive by conservatives and liberals alike.
This paper will assess the degree to which queer theory in its negative mode; in its mode that affirms an oppressive pejorative, is thereby made to be a threat. Of course, labelling X as danger, is surely in part a mechanism to lure that named kind away from that which is outside and threatening, into that which is inside and acceptable. But there is an opening here, outside of the intended line that draws back into the fold, that is revolutionary for queer theory. And this position permits an opportunity to get clear on what we mean by a just society without exclusion. The argument then is of a species of deliberative rhetoric; I wish to argue what is independent of the Symbolic drive to impose identity, is better than Oedipal configurations.
2. Society is addressed as heteronormative and reproductive by Edelman’s queer theory (2004); and in this gesture, it would seem possible that social theory might conceive of a consistent class critique. The Marxist story of appropriating the means of production for the purposes of the dictatorship of the proletariat was espied by Bakunin to be insufficient with respect to utopic vision because there was no reason that a newly established hierarchy, however temporary, would relinquish command of the new society. In short, anarchists didn’t believe that the state would “simply wither away.” Along these lines it was theorized after the events of May ’68 that our own libidinal desires had to be “desublimated” to use Marcuse’s term, or “deterritorialized” to use the parlance of Deleuze and Guatarri because they were already captured under identity with its predictions and permissibilities. If we spill our desire onto ourselves rather than onto the future, proclaiming no future instead, we rob the bourgeoisie and its doubles of its protection within the Symbolic.
To follow Lee Edelman and affirm the properly homophobic assertion that queers ought to be destructive of the political apparatus, or, more precisely, to affirm its own destructive (death) drive, which the Symbolic continuously occludes through its forward-looking possibilities embodied in the Child (4), is to transvalue the antisocial and shore up the Symbolic as a sham (7-8). The Symbolic calls us to be forward looking, forever deferring our perversions for the sake of a future that we do not know, but which, we are promised, will be glorious; but for Edelman, seizing desire now, on our own terms (jouissance), however meaningless for others, however counter-productive for others, is within our grasp. The vision of queers going wild, in myriad ways, makes it impossible for a state (and its subjects) to be singular in desire, which, to be clear, is the post-structuralist meaning of fascism (Bersani 1995, 171).
If the Symbolic is forward-looking, fetishizing the White Child, there is no place in its imaginary for queers that do not submit their desires for repression. For us, surely somewhat queer heteros, we might say that we refuse to reproduce identities because we refuse to sacrifice our lives to the future and to the creation of a better world for everyone to come, which, even if not a blatant lie, seems to always exclude us (Edelman, 30). On the other hand, we wager that the death drive of the Symbolic, the capitalist nightmare, is in its death throes, which, we insist, cannot, and ought not, be resuscitated by our children. The capitalist class extracts surplus labour from the working class of tomorrow; but if there is no working class of tomorrow, society will be hard pressed to reproduce itself. Rather than deferring the responsibility of “seizing the means of production” to the future child, if it is even still within any imaginary, perhaps we might commit to leaving unborn children out of the capitalist mess, and watch as our appropriation of its meaninglessness demonstrates the catastrophe of the Symbolic.
The beauty of claiming queer as a mask is that in doing so one is not obligated to exist in an identifiable and so, predictable way. Failing to be predictable is the betrayal caught up in the text below. But, importantly, this doesn’t mean that we always “out” our political nihilism; sometimes we play along, wearing a mask; sometimes we play a different game too; our couplings might be very queer because when you are already out of bounds, there is nothing else out of bounds.
3. Jean Genet follows this negative line of thinking. He wishes to reclaim evil, but in a way that doesn’t fall necessarily into the difference of social order. Rather, his position is outside; for it is a betrayal or “dépassement of the field of transgressive possibility itself” (Bersani 1994, 10). According to Leo Bersani’s reading of Genet, in the properly figured act of homosexuality itself, the bodies reject the idea of reproduction because they mythically emphasize “the sterility of a relation from which the woman’s body is excluded” (1994, 10). Inside the anus, positioned from behind, bodies are not in a face to face exchange that produces intimacy; these bodies are “cruising”, pleasure seeking machines. The difference then is doubly transgressive: the betraying act gestures in a pure form as an affront to the human world that defines (sexual) desire as reproductive purpose; and positionally, these bodies, with respect to each other, deny intimacy. It is not impossible to say that for Genet, the inhuman act of pleasure seeking is the betrayal of everyone, and that such a gesture ultimately leads to the possibility of betraying anyone.
For Genet, the value of reclaiming the negative, is to point at a world that may not be oppressive. In the final analysis, for Bersani, this is possible only if we will the death of our desires for ordering other people, to destroy the desire to become new masters for potential slaves. No future! For Genet, profaning the social and betraying it by individual gesture, which we might call radical homosexuality, allows the birth of the new after the destruction of Oedipal desire. Pure stimulation, pure affectuality, with utter disregard for what’s proper and socially reproductive, allows for the possibility of life without prediction (Bersani 1994, 17). And it is unpredictability as a prior category, that turns mere evil within the Oedipal apparatus into a chaos prior to Oedipal politicization. In the best possible light, one might very well support the ultra-left revolution, right up until the moment comes where it no longer serves ones’ interest, say, because the revolutionary moment has been lost and Oppression has reorganized with its variety of compatible reforms (Bottig, 410). And, on the other, one might find pleasure in supporting a fascist cause merely because it undermines social order. And so on. For Genet, only creative unpredictability can save us from repetitions within Oedipus. In the place of unpredictability; in the privacy behind the mask; one has remained a letter, and denied the possibility of being captured and signified by the Symbolic. One is here, perhaps, only for the cause of pleasure, which doesn’t necessarily exclude pleasure in death.
4. One might object here saying: isn’t pleasure always desired? What then of suicide? Metaphorical suicide, of course, seems odd because it denies the self; but we said above that this doesn’t preclude a new birth in a solitary, unpredictable self, behind the mask. On the other hand, if we think that pleasure as a value includes its permanent arrival to sense, we fail to understand that there are degrees. A life of moderate pleasure, or even minimal, might not be worth living; and so, the rush of suicide or an erotic physical death, might be better on the whole. As Epicurus articulated: death means nothing to us; for one would not be around to lament the loss. In general, the choice of pursuing oneself unto death, creates an indifference towards everyone else, that also happens to translate into a rejection of unborn babies, which we can spin as positive and caring.
In the view that has been put forward in this paper so far, Identity is something that we are socialized into; we are nurtured as women and men; and if we are discovered to not fit with the desires of being as such, sexually or otherwise, that is, to fit with the heterosexual future, we are named queer. But rejecting identity and how it constructs us, opens the possibility of forever queering. Being in opposition to the reproductive future for the immediate now of desire is not, then, the explicit privilege of Queers. It seems to me that resistance to Identity is the beginning of an unravelling that queer theory holds for denying class and social investments. But if we are to go all the way, queering everything, we need to be open, too, to betraying the Oppressors on both sides of the political spectrum, which may mean finding ourselves at once in opposition to the left and the right, or fighting alongside either project because such provides the conditions for an immediate jouissance. In the words of the authors of Baeden: “Queerness marks the space which is outside and against political logic” (22).
5. Marxists of many stripes have taken issue with individualism for being petit bourgeoisie, the privilege of white males; and they have not resisted making similar remarks about queers, to find themselves ashamed, at least by those queers willing to play along with their social justice project. The queer that affirms the death drive, however, lusting after jouissance, doesn’t fit into the futuristic thinking of Marxists; and it is from this tension, between being free from responsibility and also wanting to demolish the entire apparatus, that the Marxist doesn’t know what to do with the space of jouissance and whomever might occupy it with masks or genuine intentions. However, it should be unequivocally clear, that the death drive is a problem for social Marxists, specifically because it is the production of the upper class against the poor; and it is from that reason that their scandalous claim fits the queer individualist. But the argument we have followed above notes that fascism requires the organization of classes, which structures by identity, and that the subjects of each class behave according to reproductive futurism. Thus, queers that fall outside of the destiny of the left and its future reproductive drive, queers who reject the claim that their sexuality just isn’t figured into an identity yet, note the fascistic tonality of politics (Identity) and aim to be apolitical or anti-political. Given this telos, if individuals affirm the death drive as their own, if they appropriate the meaningless logic of the Symbolic in their own jouissance, the only question is whether they are individually passive or active in their nihilism. That is: are they decadent, or dangerous? To get the idea here, we ask: have we been, all along, just talking about circuit parties and gay narcissistic cruising? Edelman himself is a gay university professor—hardly the sort that would carry out social war. The articulation, then, in this critique, is that queer negation must be of a different order than a plain gesture at the destruction of society in terms of its ontological decadence. Destruction falls outside of the social order, and remains outside; decadence is perfectly compatible.
The criticism from the authors of Baeden against Edelman is, at least in part, that his jouissance is repetition, and therefore fits too neatly into the Identity of being-gay. Negation as something outside the social order requires more. Following jouissance to our death pulls at our sense of ourselves. It is therefore beyond individual control in the sense that one is given to the drive, one gives, come what may, whatever might come. Thus, it is not conservative; it is not ‘come’ as predicted in the repetition of the same. Thus, simply being gay might have its consequences in Afghanistan; but not in San Francisco. Queer negation means actually being outside the social order, relative to the order.
This is generally the tension between apolitical passivity, and anti-political activity; but problems arise on both sides. Apolitical passivity falls easily into the order, as a kind, however invisible; whereas anti-political activity, too, falls into a kind. The problem is that if you don’t commit to the revolution, at any point, others will affirm that you are passive. But it is not clear how activity doesn’t fit into yet one more identity by which you might invest or divest, and therefore, how this isn’t just one more operation of the potential Symbolic to “suture ones’ empty subjectivity to some abstraction outside of oneself in an attempt to find some meaning” (Baeden, 23). We have implied that Genet’s betrayal cuts across both lines, brokering no commitments. Genet calls for the death of repetition, along with the death of Symbolic order in favor of the unimaginable queerness of appropriating the death drive. And this is why we have suggested a form of straddling; where we pass willingly back and forth between activity and apoliticity, the former only to escape the latter, and vice versa.
6. In the context of prefiguring a new world to live within, after the state has been made to wither away, queer negation posits a world that isn’t well ordered. And yet, if the state is made to stay away because people no longer find it necessary to order other people, because jouissance flourishes, we have the beginning of an ethical vision that resists exclusion. People would simply be people, queer to every imaginable degree, and not valid because of structural permissibility, sublimated according to appropriate desire. Presumably in such a world there would be no centralizing force that sublimates permissible desire. Individuals might take it upon themselves to be unrelational, of course; but the sense of Oedipal, or Symbolic, deviance would be lost.
What I am not saying is that in this world everything is good and permissible. What I am saying is that a world in which desire is desublimated, or unhinged, or no longer repressed, is a queer world that the question of queer forces us upon us, and that this question addresses the question around making sense of “the state withering away”. Without a centralized Phallus administering law, we wouldn’t have the capacity to lock away criminals for failing to fit; we would be forced to live with criminals. It’s a queer proposal, surely; but perhaps we can find room to grow.
From the idea of queer non-identity, it is not impossible for social workers to see that the reformist, leftist, inclusive vision that encodes capitalist survival in the out of control experiment that is civilization, even if given rhetorical appeal by labels such as “radical” and gestures at liberatory Marxism, is liberatory only for a repressed Identity. What gender fluidity, or identity nihilism, permits us to see is that identity is in trouble in this post-structural age of anti-essentialist desire.