[-empyre-] OOO/SR and "queer theory for the queers"

Michael O'Rourke tranquilised_icon at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 1 12:02:38 EST 2012

Dear Danny,
Thanks for your thoughts. I have several far from "slight" interventions (none of which are naively essentialist or have anything to do with the identitarianism or experientialism you erroneously attribute to me) into the OOO/SR/Queer Theory nexus (as well as a book Queering Speculative Realism which will be finished soon). See my essays in Speculations, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Continent and the very long interview in Identities. I'm  more than happy to send any of these along to you (or anyone else who is interested). 
I would also add that Levi's essay on Ranciere and Queer Theory in Identities and Tim Morton's "Queer Ecology" article in PMLA could hardly be called "slight". They do the work and invite those in queer theory to take up from where they have begun. I have tried to do some of that. But much remains to be achieved by anyone (not just "the queers" whoever they might be) who wants to do it. Cheers,Michael.

--- On Fri, 29/6/12, Danny Butt <db at dannybutt.net> wrote:

From: Danny Butt <db at dannybutt.net>
Subject: [-empyre-] OOO/SR and "queer theory for the queers"
To: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Date: Friday, 29 June, 2012, 6:13

As many others have said, this has been a very fruitful month of discussion - as usual empyre has brought a diverse range of people and perspectives into conversation, so important where technocapitalist scientism encourages us to remain within the terms of our own professionalised research platforms in the expanded academic field. Thanks to both Zach and Micha and the empyre community for the dialogue.I have read most of it while on a boat in Aceh away from Internet access and within a whole other sphere of subject-object-relations, but have learned a lot about writing and of some exciting new art projects, whether or not they fit with the discursive agenda.

I wrote something a week or so ago that wasn't able to be wanted to be sent while off grid, but now that I have returned to the internet and the argumentation has predictably taken a turn for the worse, I'd like to give a reading of problematics that I am trying to work through in the discussion, and perhaps come back to Ricardo's inspirational account of *particle group*. I always wish I could write as well as Lauren, but for the moment I am stuck with longer polemical paragraphs, rather than the more provocative and productive figures her and Patricia have generously offered us.

I'll return to a comment that Tim Morton had in his blog post forwarded to the list, as I think it speaks to the overall gap that leads Ian to describe the political flavour of the list as "exclusionary and deprecatory", while others seem less convinced by the relative "openness" of OOO/SR, seeing it instead as a repetition of a model of writing/thinking that has often been the target of queer theory among other politicised agendas. Again, the list discussion is useful here because the rhetorical staging of these debates is where the politics is most obvious (as Jack first noted re; citation), rather than any behind-the-scenes incompatibility between OOO/SR and queer theory. Ian can therefore correctly say that there is no theoretical incompatibility between OOO/SR and a politicised queer agenda, while his means of pronouncing it (we're not doing anything wrong, there is room for everyone to do this work if they read the books) still comes across to me
 as dismissive, as the stakes are all in the capacity for our own practices to extend to each others.

Tim says: "We are not ignoring you. We are going back to the Heidegger U-Boat and debugging it from the inside." 

Outside of the gratuitous military reference, there are two problems I see in this agenda, one philosophical and one politcal/epistemological.

The first has been addressed by a number of writers broadly affiliated with OOO/SR in their diverse orientations, the status of the constitutive role of language as a metapsychological structure of responsibility. I can accept the position advanced by Patricia and others that the speculative developments have perhaps facilitated a certain rethinking of technical questions that seemed less accessible through a linguistic-materialist trajectory after Heidegger. However, I can't really see how a less exclusionary theoretical agenda relevant to queer theory emerges by effacing the oppositions that structure heteronormativity. Gender, Spivak reminds us, is our first instrument of abstraction, structuring the relation between subject and object even before the philosophical moment of 'being' is palpable. As Derrida puts it: 

> "I speak mostly[...] about sexual differences, rather than about one difference only - twofold and oppositional - which is indeed, with phallocentrism, with what I also nickname ‘phallogocentrism,' a structural feature of philosophical discourse that will have prevailed in the tradition. Deconstruction goes down that road in the first place. Everything comes back that way. Before any feminist politicalization [...], it is important to recognize this strong phallogocentric underpinning that conditions just about all of our cultural heritage. As for the properly philosophical tradition of this phallocentric heritage, it is represented, certainly in different but equal ways, in Plato as well as in Freud or Lacan, in Kant as well as in Hegel, Heidegger, or Lévinas."

This position is voiced not only by Derrida of course, and even more urgently by feminist writers - I use Derrida here as a voice from "within the tradition" that Tim outlines. My reading of this intervention is that it is decisive - to turn away from post-Heidegger work on the gendered nature of philosophical language *is* to efface the patriarchal framing of what it is to think (about objects, for example). I would even say it negates that work. What I see as the potential in the program that Patricia outlines for herself is the possibility of returning to work *since* Heidegger (and for this discussion particularly, in queer theory) and revising and reframing it along the insights generated out of OOO/SR. 

When Michael says that "it would be fair to say that all four main figures associated with OOO have engaged with both feminist and queer thinking. Still, there's lots more to do!" I find this engagement slight from the references given, that the attempts seem to be more along the lines of "here is how this framework can be adapted toward queer theory if anyone would like to do it, but not me."  From a political perspective (and I struggle to see why one would adopt queer theory for other reasons, other than professionalisation), to say "X is possible within my ontology" avoids the political issue (on purpose) that ontologies are located within epistemes. Perhaps it does this on purpose, and I wonder if this is part of Davin's question? 

This is where Nanosférica strikes a resonant note in relation to the discussion - the more one isolates an object that is a technoscientific building block of the biopolitical, the more imbricated it seems to be in the racialised transnational circuits of capital. I thank Ricardo for the Ferreira da Silva quote "That cancer cells do not indicate dark brown skin or flat noses can be conceived of as emancipatory only if one forgets, or minimizes, the political context within which lab materials will be collected and the benefits of biotechnological research will be distributed."

Some ontologies can also be diagnosed as underpinning epistemes, then it is a case of either revising/deconstructing/sabotaging those ontologies underpinning a dominant political situation or attempting to politically activate a new ontological approach. Much theory of gender and sexuality has located its project in the former, OOO/SR seems to seek the latter? My question is then: how is the promise of "openness" in OOO toward queer theory any different from the kinds of promises made by vanguardist Marxism - "there is room for everyone after the revolution". If I've learned anything from queer theory myself, it is a constant attention to the sexual dynamics of an situation and how those specific and immediate experiences of power are linked to a broader historical project of reproductive heteronormativity. Queer theory does not strike me as a field that sits politely waiting for the straights to define "when" certain kinds of issues become important.

If I have Spivak's reading of Gramsci right in her new book, intellectual discourse has political ends that are structured through the implied reader's relationship to their dominant episteme and its norms of embodied performance (inc. ability, sexuality, language, etc). Toward political change, the intellectual must be instrumentalised on behalf of the people, through the affective relation, if the Romantic project of reaching the non-human Other is not to remain class-divided. Yet, the structure of this relation is developed outside the constative knowledge of any specific text, through the idiom of gendered language and other forms of para-linguistic timing and spacing (thus, "organic" in the usual translation). 

I would like to be corrected by those who work with queer theory on the list, but as I read that line one cannot think one's way to queerness, because queerness is a meta-psychological function (like a language) of an embodied difference in timing and spacing to heteronormativity, under patriarchy resulting in a lack of agency ("institutionallly validated action", defines Spivak).  What the various theories termed "identity"-related do is ask the world to share the risk embedded in that lack of agency in an ethical relationship, to equalise the agential stakes in an open political future, one technically impossible. To "not forget", the recent past and its political stakes, as Ferreira da Silva might have it.

This is the sense in which I read Jack's injunction to "leave queer theory to the queers", much as one might "leave feminism to women" or leave indigenous development to indigenous people. Not about some outdated version of embodied experientialism in the way Michael framed it. Instead, recognising the differential risk of queerness and working to equalise that risk, knowing that the difference will never be overcome, but knowing that to efface the difference can only inhibit the development of a shared political future. Impossible, of course, yet also necessary for thought. If one is not in the first instance prepared to say "these are my people" in each instance (and thus to attend to the divided claims to personhood, or indeed being, and to the differential aspirations for "the political") then all attempts to a "democratic" future will founder. Therefore, one must both engage queer theory and leave it to the queers at the same time. Is this thinkable
 in a flat ontology?

This is the positioning that seems most difficult for OOO/SR in terms of the debate set up this month: it does not want to say "these are my people" - it would prefer to suppress discourse on the constitution of the political subject in favour of objects, bypassing the contested history of "prioritization of things that seem normatively to be things over things that normatively seem to be human", as Lauren succinctly put it. Galison's arguments on the Romantic history of objectivity are also relevant here. 

Anyway, I've gone on long enough, but I wanted to finish by saying that the dialogue so far has softened my intuition that everyone promoting OOO has no real stake in this contested history, and for that I am very grateful to all and look forward to all the downstream discussions.



Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland
Recent article: "The Art of the Exegesis", Mute Magazine
+64 21 456 379

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empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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