“Lauren Berlant’s Legacy in Contemporary Political Theory”
Contemporary Political Theory (2022): 1-25.
It is hard to overstate the impact Berlant’s thinking was beginning to have on political theory, where so many of us have been gnawing on the limits of deliberation, persuasion, and critique with increasingly bitter returns. The political world around us is noisy, chaotic, and contradictory—shot through with fantasy, ambivalent attachment, and the aggressive desire for paralytic institutions to redress our sense of dislocation…. As a political theorist, Berlant appreciated that the sublime object of politics in America is the nation, which ‘‘is not a thing, but a cluster of fantasmic investments in a scene that represents itself as offering some traction, not a solution to the irreparable contradictions of desire’’ (Berlant, 2012, p. 76). Exemplary among these investments, all the more pointedly in our current political moment, is the attachment to the fetus, the ‘‘virtual citizen,’’ whose politics of reproductive futurity creates what Berlant theorizes as the ‘‘intimate public sphere’’ of mass or democratic mediation (Berlant, 1997, p. 6). The politics of infantile citizenship is utopian in casting a vision of the future, even as this future ‘‘stands for a crisis in the present’’ (Berlant, 1997, p. 6).
“Queering Amor Mundi: Love, Loss, and Democratic Politics“
Theory & Event 24, no. 3 (2021): 758-786.
This article approaches Hannah Arendt’s concept, amor mundi, or love of the world, through Jean Genet’s queer desire, expressed in his auto-biographical novel, Funeral Rites: “J’encule le monde!” To develop this interpretation of Arendt’s political theory, I read Funeral Rites as Genet’s literal work of mourning his beloved, a communist résistant, that traces a process of coming again to love the world in the wake of its impoverishment. In the process, I queer the desire of amor mundi as impersonal, ambivalent, and aroused to resistance for the sake of worldly plurality. Thus queered, Arendtian amor mundi sheds new light on the transformation of privative grief into political grievance exemplified by the radical democratic interventions of Black Lives Matter.
Cruising Politics: Affect, Assemblage, Agonism
book manuscript (under review with Columbia University Press)
Patchen Markell (Chair, Cornell), Lauren Berlant (Chicago),
Robert Gooding-Williams (Columbia), Bernard Harcourt (Columbia).
Much contemporary political theory is unified in greeting radical democratic politics with some variation of what I term “the morning after” question, which asks too knowingly: after the thrill of dissent has waned, what has really been accomplished? What has changed the morning after? There are substantial and longstanding answers to this question that have ranged from demonstrating the importance of public events of radical democracy in fomenting broader shifts in public opinion, to the role of the protest as a networking generator that connects otherwise atomized actors to one another, as well as other activist organizations. Yet, despite these and other arguments for pluralizing the horizon of the political, the morning after question persists because what too readily goes unchallenged is the animating conceit that radical democracy, in itself, is merely a means to an end, rather than a distinctive relational political formation that affects assemblages of agonistic concerted action of value in their own right.
In Cruising Politics: Affect, Assemblage, Agonism, I challenge the pejorative treatment of radical democratic politics by proposing that political theorists are well-served by learning from the critiques elaborated by fifty years of queer theory, as it has formed in relation to a culture of queer sexual cruising whose affairs are also said to lack the longe duree, institutional formalism, and normative rituals that cement the strong-tie relationships of “legitimate” public actors. In short, queer sexual cruisers know all too well the complaint of radical democrats confronted with the morning after question. I thus forge a dialogue between queer and political theorists to construct the concept of “cruising politics,” with which I revalue the putative weaknesses of weak-ties in political life as enabling instead freer experimentation with relational forms and tactics of direct democratic action. I demonstrate that the brief, anonymous, and public affairs of cruising politics are not only amenable to, but are today driving, radical democratic politics under conditions of late-modern networked publicity.
To advance this claim, I offer a conceptual pre-history of the 21stcentury radical democratic politics exemplified by Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Structured around critical, interdisciplinary engagements with canonical 20th century political thinkers—Nietzsche, Arendt, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari—Cruising Politics makes conceptual space to explore the dynamics of radical democracy in abeyance of the morning after question. In doing so, my goal is twofold. First, I set out to illuminate four features of cruising politics conducing contemporary radical democracy, namely: that it denotes (1) the adoption of a receptive posture toward the desire of strangers that is (2) responsive to the potential arousal of common interest and which, by (3) exercising a pluralist mode of judgment, (4) enables the agonistic intercourse of concerted action that (5) enables relations of trust. Second, and in the process, I seek to reconstruct a minor genealogy of late-modern political thought attuned to the pleasure of politics as an indispensable (though undervalued) variable when theorizing concerted democratic political action.
The cases considered and methods employed to advance this fourfold exposition are diverse. My objects range from philosophical and poetic texts (Nietzsche’s allegorical, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and René Char’s wartime poetic action-sketches, Leaves of Hypnos), to historical examples of contentious political protest against the pre-AIDS film Cruising (1980), as well as more recent Anonymous hacktivism exemplified by the #AvengeAssange campaign (2011) and Critical Mass bicycle rides (1992-present). Informed by the interdisciplinarity of queer studies and political theory, I use a mixed-methodological approach spanning from philosophical hermeneutics and discourse analysis, to archival and ethnographic research to respond to the specificity of each object and its relevant literatures.
Taken together, these chapters construct and deploy the heuristic of cruising politics, which is able to account for and explicate the novel affective intensities, modes of relationality, and ethical valences that power weak-tie political relations of radical democracy. In so doing, I am able to propose a corrective to current democratic theory that allows more finely theorizing historical radical democratic movements like ACT-UP and Critical Mass, as well as, more recently, Anonymous hacktivism, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter as contentious political action responsive to and conditioned by neoliberal governmentality. It is thus my hope that Cruising Politics will assist in understanding how radical agonistic democrats come together to act in the world politically, and that this will contribute to scholarly debates by nuancing efforts to recruit such energies to more formal structures of world-building democratic politics.
Queer Noise: Sounding the Historical Body of Trauma
Joseph A. Sannicandro and Samuel R. Galloway
Towards gender equality in the music industry: Education, practice and strategies for change. Strong, Catherine, and Sarah Raine, eds. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2019.
“Sannicandro and Galloway uncover a fascinating aspect of the history of industrial and noise music in their case study of the band Fistfuck, composed of Diana Rogerson and Jill Westwood. Contemporaries of Coil and Nurse with Wound, Fistfuck have not been accorded the same respect in histories of these genres despite also doing groundbreaking work. Sannicandro and Galloway argue that there are a number of reasons for this; the very confronting nature of the use of BDSM imagery and practices on stage by the band; the diminution of their contribution because one of the band members, Diane Rogerson, was in a relationship with one of the members of Nurse with Wound; and the lack of recorded material by the band. The authors argue, however, that it is this very lack of material that opens up space for more interesting readings of the band and the potentials of the music industry itself. They consider how both noise and BDSM practices implicate the body in ways that mean capturing a performance for posterity in a meaningful form may not even be possible, and the potentialities hinted at in the tiny fragments of their work available to us may do more to open up queer spaces for thinking about bodies, trauma and gender. This raises questions about how the history of the music industry is written around records that best suit its capitalist form.” -Sarah Raine and Catherine Strong
Common Catastrophes: Despair for Democracy
(book manuscript in progress)
Common Catastrophes: Despair for Democracy begins from an insight of Lauren Berlant’s that what is called for in the midst of the collapse of common relational forms is to de-catastrophize our response to the compounding crises of capital, climate, and racism. Acknowledging that prolonged exposure to the neoliberal governmentality of the “shock doctrine” anesthetizes us to the mundane destruction of our common world, I ask after the utopian resources capable of revisceralizing our political imaginary in ways that open material spaces for exercising freedom in collective practices of contention and care. In the process, Common Catastrophes challenges the compulsion to hope in the face of irreversible devastation and looks instead to the experimental vicissitudes of despair, amplifying thereby the commotion of affective noise for its capacities to dilate the sensorium and move us to action in concert and intramural modes of reparative critique.
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