Saturday, July 2, 2011

Introduction to Transformation: Queer Materialism

“Queerness can never define an identity, 
it can only disturb one”

Lee Edelman


If we are going to attempt to explore a queer materialism we will need to engage the splintered discourses that have thus articulated the linguistic, social and psychoanalytic on one side and the material, the metaphysical and the biological on the other. In a sense, if we are going to bridge this divide, to better understand the "things" that exist between these poles, then we may be forced to apply language/concepts to that which has beforehand been regarded as "inappropriate." But if we are to be queer theorists, this may very well be a sign that we are doing out job. We must become disturbed in our theory, as we disturb theoretically.

On such an issue of queer disturbances, we can turn to the pseudo-object of the body as a kind of identity, seeking/desiring, itself, insofar as it seeks to live its life. Taken at face value, Lee Edelman’s quote and the title of the book it is derived from offers a bleak possibility for those would identify themselves as “queer” and feel driven to more than “death.” And it is exactly here that we see the future, folded together with the present and the past: “driven to more than ‘death.’” The Freudian death-drive, adopted by Jacques Lacan and subsequent psychoanalysts, such as Slavoj Zizek, theorize the “death-drive” as exactly that. The death-drive, and queerness, acts an impetus towards destruction, but with an aim for “beyond.” Zizek says that “un-death” not “death” is what we are carried into, that which is “more” than life, the moments of excess, of jouissance, of ecstasy …Ecstasy. Ec-stasis. Yes. We are driven, so to speak, because we are driven; moved; transformed ceaselessly. Driven by the a desire in our minds, but minds that are in our very matter, bound up in our materiality. Pushed, pulled, divided, assembled; we are transformed ceaselessly.

In my last entry I closed with the meditation that the queer perspective is one of perpetual wonder (both is coming to know and becoming). Post-Colonial studies of Orientalism have brought us into a better understanding of wonder, that which is at the same time familiar and yet strange. We become wonders because as we transform, we perpetually become newly identified with ourselves and alienated as well, as does that which we once regarded as other. If our material networks are to be taken seriously, we must recognize that our “lives” are not only contingent but dependent on this constant death and rebirth, now, between what we are and what we are not. In the Catholic tradition, this motion is named as the “Paschal Mystery”— birth, death and rebirth— and here it is simultaneously seen as states across and the state that defies or somehow constitutes what we experience as time. It is the experience of ecstasy…

and thus it seems as though we escape modern categories of language and even bodily (phenomenological) experience. The ecstatic, outside the logic of cause-effect, cannot be accounted for and thus we locate a sore spot for much of modern philosophy: the whole in their logic of existence.


The Hole in the Logic of Nothing

For the tradition of (Lacanian) Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, and a host of “modern” or “post-modern” philosophies it is here that a divide is drawn. It is in this moment that understanding doubles back on itself. According to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, when logic/being points out at something beyond (not it) we should not see this as an affirmation of an unreached “otherness” as with Emanuel Kant, but of a constitutive impotence in being. Stop looking for what the finger is pointing at, says Hegel, but at the finger itself: that is must point; that it has and must have a point/edge in order to exist; that the point is that being exists because it erupts and returns its own base nothingness. To see things clearest, says Zizek, is to use “the Parallax View” which dialectically see its nothingness and being as separate but constitutive.

That is one way to read becoming: all things are defined by their hole (or lack) which is its defining yet destroying nothingness. Like a the strobe light at a rave, these two polar things create and destroy one another’s presence infinitely and eternally, because they must always be separate, all things must ultimately be separate from each other and themselves. There is no intercourse. There is no mediation. There is no “things.” There is nothing. In the beginning was nothing, an unconscious and “un-god” (Zizek, the Monstrosity of Christ) then there was creation, and then it was over; and over and over and over again.

Dialectics leaves us with a black-hole and tells us to enjoy the ride as we swirl around the drain, the empty center, which is everywhere and in everything. In that way, says Zizek, we are hol(e)y and divine… and yet we are not wholly divided. Where does this presumption of the Genesis in nothingness base itself? Is it necessary that that which is and that which it is not must not co-exist? Need the “field of black holes” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus) be empty?

What if our holes, which mark the edge of what is knowable, identifiable, of finite existence, is also the place which while providing the queering drive of motion, and the place in which the self and the other co-exist, being and not being, object and subject, in which what we see as the steady activity of existence reaches an intensity so that it seems to collapse into paradox?

The hole is not separation but coexistence.The hole is not empty, but overflowing. The hole is not annihilation, but transformation. 


The Whole Idea of Queer Things

And so the investigation of “queer materiality” leads us to an exploration of the paradox of “transforming things”. While modern philosophy and psychoanalysis wish to draw a line in the existential sand (a defining motion of “Modernity” writes Bruno Latour in We Have Never Been Modern) thus claiming an end to metaphysics and classifying things into being and nothingness, “Queer Materiality” qua “Transforming things” elects for “becoming” and thus cross that line. And we chose to articulate quality of things via “transforming” rather than “becoming” because:

"Transforming" better expresses (1) the concept of propelling change in things, (2)the concept of mediation in things (i.e. transmission, transporting, etc), and (3) the concept of being between things**

(**as Deleuze and Guattari articulate: " 'Between things' does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other." A Thousand Plateaus)

Investigating what the “holey paradox of trans-forming things” looks like will require bridging/moving between the discourses of  philosophy of dialectics and mediation theology of dualism and paradox, and literature of difference and metaphor this will be done to better explicate how the paradoxical “queer” or “trans” perspective situates us for a better understanding of ontology than the modern, dialectical, “parallax” view. 

I must emphasize that these three discourses are far from clean divisions, but are themselves necessarily interwoven and at times mutually constitutive; while also conflicting or ambivalent in their claims. Part of the performative aim of combing these modes of expression and questioning, is to play upon expectations, challenge norms in discourse and demonstrate how theoretical postures demonstrate queerness. This queer ontology, as it becomes itself further queers the methodology and identifying qualities of queer ontology.

In short, we must become disturbed, as we seek to disturb.


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