“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
Samuel R. Galloway and Joseph A. Sannicandro
Towards gender equality in the music industry: Education, practice and strategies for change. Strong, Catherine, and Sarah Raine, eds. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2019.
Thus, we might understand appeals to Rogerson or Westwood as ‘valuable’ because of their either maternal or matrimonial roles in an aggressively male-dominated scene precisely as a way of supplementing this anxiously perceived deficiency of exchange value (e.g. the dearth of ‘authenticating’ recordings or other documentation of their performances). Through Gayle Rubin’s (1975) ‘notes on the “political economy” of sex’, we see how Fistfuck have been rendered the object of exchange, a traffic in women that produces value by bringing together men. It is against this often unreflective heterosexist, patriarchal capitalism that we contend that the queer practice of sounding through s/m-noise performance provoked precisely an intimate, resounding critique of value in its own right.
When heard in this register, what the live record replays as precisely a failure (in terms of capitalist exchange-value) is nevertheless one that also intentionally presents itself as, at the least, recording the potential opportunity to experience the communal amplitude of the body’s sensuous powers. This failure, in other words, succeeded in opening a tenuously reciprocal relation between performer and audience that worked to turn inside-out the terms of bodily exposure and vulnerability by soliciting attention to the historical life of precarity. In this way, we understand Rogerson and Westwood to have been ‘filling a gap’ in the noise scene, as they duly claim to have done, not simply by virtue of representing women with ‘bottle’, but also by acting as its performative, immanent critique.
This was a critique that signaled the need for greater female participation in excess of their own contributions. Further, it was an immanent critique of the masculinist prerogative to violence that sounded out, and thus reattuned sensitivity to, common conditions of exposure and vulnerability. Finally, Fistfuck’s performances worked to invoke, so as to sound, and thereby temporarily suspend, the propulsion of a historical narrative that writes women out of history, that subordinates them to their male peers, and which polices gender presentation, sexuality, and expressions of minoritarian power and community. Taken together, Fistfuck thus suggest one way in which ‘the aesthetic fuels the political imagination’, intrusively dilating spaces of appearance to allow for collaborative expressions of and experiences in dissonance to proliferate on the body, and the body politic (Muñoz 2009: 106).
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.