[-empyre-] Zach's Questions

Michael O'Rourke tranquilised_icon at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 14 13:31:57 EST 2012




I would like to thank Zach for his opening
questions which have generated so much of the discussions this week.  In his first question he asks what our
general thoughts are about “the importance of thinking queerness through the
nonhuman?” I will likely have something to say later on about the stress in my
own recent work on object oriented philosophy. But I’d like to go back to an
earlier moment which I think is very important for the history of queering
speculative realism. I’m thinking of the collection Queering the Non/Human,
edited by Noreen Giffney and Myra Hird and published in the Queer Interventions
book series at Ashgate Press (which Noreen and I founded many years ago and I
am now the sole editor of: http://www.ashgate.com/queerinterventions)


That book was published in 2008 and in many
ways anticipates the concerns of Speculative Realism. My own preface to the
collection, “The Open”, was the first time I wrote (indeed the first time
anyone wrote) about the potential connections between queering the non/human
and the work of the speculative realists (Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman,
Reza Negarestani for example). Why I think it is important to mention this book
now is that for one it is published in a non-US based book series. Queer
Interventions is very much alive and well. I don’t have any utopian ideas about
its taking the place of Series Q but it would be nice if the Americans started
to take some notice of the books which have come out in the series (and are
soon to come out). We don’t even get reviewed in GLQ. It is interesting to
think about what Warner’s “Queer and Then?” article would look like if its focus were a very much
active series (Queer Interventions) and not a just terminated one (Series Q). Another
reason to take note of Giffney and Hird’s widely cited book is because many of the essays there have exerted
an influence on queer speculative realisms and the new materialist feminisms. A
quick look at the authors in the volume is instructive: Claire Colebrook, Vicki
Kirby, Jack Halberstam, Karen Barad,Luciana Parisi, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen).  One of the things which ought to be addressed
now as we take stock of the history of Speculative Realism is how a book like
this, which emerges out of queer theoretical debates (especially to do with
Butler’s plasticization of the category of the human), paves the way for later
work (not necessarily confined to queer domains). Zach also mention’s David Ruffalo’s Post-Queer Politics (the title of
which may be a little misleading) which also appeared in the same series and
which, again, I tried (in 2009) to link up to then emerging work in speculative
realism (especially Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia which Zach has written
about in Leper Creativity). I saw a lot more about that book in my "Afterlives of Queer Theory" article. 

 

The next book to be published in the series will be Queer
Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism and the Political edited by Elahe
Haschemi, Eveline Kilian and Beatrice Michaelis. In many ways I think its
concerns answer Zach’s questions about non-human centred speculative thinking. It features essays on fat, crip activism, intersex,
prisons, funerals, the inorganic, barebacking and much besides (readers of this
week’s discussions should look out for Jack Halberstam’s provocative piece on “queer
betrayals”).  Without giving too much
away, let me share a few lines from the editors’ mission statement for the book
(the proceedings of a conference which took place in Germany): “What the
articles in this book offer, then, is not a paradigmatic shift in the direction
of more ‘liberating futures’ contra the destructive turn to negativity. Rather,
queer theory’s ambivalence about itself as Warner calls it [in “Queer and Then?”],
is connected to, what we would like to refer to as, queer’s iterative capacity
which wields the power of self-renewal”. 
This takes us back, I think to what I said about queer’s (a)liveness
earlier. 

 

(My own preface to the book, which is not
yet complete, but which will no doubt be indebted to this week’s conversations, is called “Toward a non-queer theory”. The non-  of my title should not be misunderstood
here as negative or a refusal of queer theory’s future(s). Rather, it is my own
speculative attempt to bring together current queer theorizing with the
non-philosophy and speculative heresies of Francois Laruelle. It just so happens
that he has recently described  “queer”
as the “radical” of gender)


I want to share in advance snippets from two of the essays
because I think they bear on Zach’s questions. The first is Amy Villarejo’s “Queers
in Concrete: Media and Intervention” which discusses several films which, I
must confess, I had never heard of, in terms of their “concrete horizons”.
Villarejo says “this is the new queer cinema of the twenty-first century. The
central challenge this cinema poses has to do, then and simply put, with the
concrete… this is not the new new queer cinema. It is not altogether
progressive. It is not altogether interesting. It is not altogether innovative.
But it is concrete”. I’m really taken with this word “concrete” and it is a
word which, really surprisingly for me, recurs throughout the essays in Queer Futures
(each time I came across it I ringed it). What gets to me about the word is its
queerness and non-humanness. Concrete need not be set and if we take up
Whitehead’s understanding of concresence (as Erin Manning does in her book Relationscapes) it means to “grow together”. What
flowers in this essay on queerness and new media are new relations and new
modes of reading.  The other essay which
speaks to Zach’s concerns, I think, is Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Queering the Inorganic”
which focuses on the sex life of stones. 
Perhaps the most arresting lines are these ones: “Can we have not just a
queer non/human, but a queer in/organic? … Can we imagine a zoe-egalitarian
ethics, where zoe indicates not just bare or animal life but a life force that vivifies
all materiality, without caring whether it’s made from biotic carbon, is
endowed with organs, possesses DNA?”. It is a really special essay.


Lastly, I don’t have anything substantive
to say about Zach’s second question on Turing but, it so happens that I am very
slowly reading Zizek’s latest 1100 page magnum opus, Less Than Nothing: Hegel
and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, which contains an anecdote about
Turing (as an aside this book does have something to say about several of the
issues under discussion here on Empyre this week: correlationism, speculative
materialism, the Real, objects…) In his characteristically provocative
introduction on stupidity and the differences between morons, idiots and
imbeciles, Zizek writes: “Alan Turing was an exemplary idiot: a man of
extraordinary intelligence, but a proto-psychotic unable to process implicit
contextual rules” !!
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