[-empyre-] The Queer Real

Michael O'Rourke tranquilised_icon at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 14 14:31:17 EST 2012


Thanks to Jack and Micha for their fascinating
thoughts on the queerreal and the transreal. Zach asks me to say a little about
my queer speculative realism and the Real and I will do that moving from Lacan to Derrida and then to Laruelle. In a recent--and very, very
long--interview on queer theory, object oriented philosophy and speculative
realism for the Macedonian gender studies journal Identities, I talked a little
bit about the Real and what I preferred there to call the hyper-real (a term I
borrow from John Caputo). In response to my interviewer Stanimir Panayatov, who
asks me about speculative realism’s “fidelity to the Real” I say this:


I’m very much inclined to agree with you that the appearance of
Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Philosophy do “explicitly indicate an
already (t)here queer-affective onto-political framework for the progress of
thinking in fidelity to the Real.” Levi R. Bryant has, of course, in his
theorization of the “democracy of objects” in relation to Lacan’s graphs of
sexuation, carefully laid out this connection between a queered OOO and the
Lacanian Real. He is, as always, worth quoting at length:


The real, by contrast, is something
entirely different in Lacan. The real, as Lacan repeats endlessly, is not reality (the
correlational system and synthesis of the imaginary and the Symbolic), but
rather is that which is both in excess of all reality and that which evades all
reality. The real is that which is without place in
reality. It is a strange sort of placelessness, for it simultaneously 1) is
invisible from the standpoint of reality, yet nonetheless 2) the “system of
reality” strives to gentrify and eradicate the real (in Television Lacan
will cryptically pronounce that “reality is the grimace of the real”), and 3)
the real, despite being invisible, nonetheless appears but in a way inimical to
the vector body-object system of the Imaginary and the sorting-organizing
system of the symbolic. The real is a placeless appearance. It is for this
reason that Lacan will say, in The Four Fundamental Concepts of
Psychoanalysis, that the real is a “missed encounter.” The
imaginary-symbolic system that constitutes reality is a system
of anticipations in our ongoing dealings with the world. A
missed encounter is precisely a contingent encounter that is
not predelineated in any way by this anticipatory system. It is an appearance
of the impossible (Lacan will also say that the real is the
impossible) within the field of the “possible.” Of course, the possible here is
that system predelineated by the “reality-system” or the synthesis of the
symbolic and the imaginary. The Real is the appearance of the inapparent, of
the anarchic excess beneath the reality-system, of that which has no place. It
is the real, not reality, that OOO aims at. When Harman argues that objects are
radically withdrawn, he is proposing a gap between any and every manifestation
of objects (what he calls “sensual objects”) and their existence proper. Every
object is in excess of its being-for the reality system of entities. Put
differently, all objects are irreducible to their appearing-for. There is
always an excess, an inappearance, that evades the correlational system of
reality. And it is for this reason that objects always harbor, to use Harman’s
language, a volcanic potential to surprise or to constitute a “missed
encounter” or encounter that evades all symbolic-imaginary systems of
anticipation. OOO is a realism of the real, not reality. OOO realism aims at
what Timothy Morton has called the “strange stranger” or that paradoxical
inapparent appearing, that which cannot appear at all, at the heart of all
entities. It is precisely this inapparent appearing that Harman underlines in
his theory of metaphor that marks the paradox at the heart of all objects: their
tension between their qualities or manifestations and their being. All objects
are in excess of their appearingness. (Bryant 2011a)


I would also point out that my deconstructive queer
theory of the event is also in fidelity to the real or to what Caputo calls
hyper-realism, the love of the things themselves. Derrida himself, in a
response to Christopher Norris, who called deconstruction a “transcendental
realism” says that deconstruction “has - always come forward in the name of the
real, of the irreducible reality of the real - not the real as an attribute of
the thing (res), objective, present, sense-able or intelligible, but the
real as coming or event of the other ... In this sense, nothing is more realist
than deconstruction” (Derrida 2005: 96). Caputo himself glosses
this - in a lengthy critique of Martin Hägglund’s
radical atheist reading of Derrida - as a poetics of hyper-realism:


Derrida is certainly dedicated to dealing with what
is real, with what there is (il y a), but he is not satisfied to say
that the real is the simply present, so he always has an eye on what is real
beyond the real, on the real that is not yet real, on what is coming, on the peut-être and
the s’il y en a.  Derrida displaces the simple primacy of
the sensible-real in two ways, first, by seeing to it that the sensible-real
too is the effect of the trace, and secondly, by seeing to it that the real is
always haunted by the specters of the arrivants and the revenants.  That
is why I have described deconstruction as a hyper-realism. (Caputo 2011)


While I am still inclined to think in terms of
queerness and the Lacanian Real (and Bryant's quote has something to say about
"glitches" I reckon) and also in terms of Derridean hyper-realism I
would also look now to Katerina Kolozova’s Laruellian (re)formulation of “the
cut of the real” a revised and expanded version of her book The Real and the
“I” which puts Laruelle’s non-philosophy into dialogue with gender theory
including “early” and “late” Butler (who Jack mentions). Reading Kolozova’s
forthcoming book on Laruelle allows us to put pressure, I wager, on the ideas
of the Real and fiction (“sex” and “gender”).The opening chapter  of The Cut of
The Real takes up the much neglected question of The One and Oneness in
contemporary feminist theory (especially in the work of Rosi Braidotti and
Judith Butler). As someone who holds an uneasy position—geographically,
theoretically, disciplinarily—in feminist philosophy Kolozova aims in this
chapter (and throughout the book as a whole) to question the discourses she is
working with from within. Anglo (mostly US) poststructuralist and
deconstructive feminism (which Kolozova does not dismiss but rather tries to
rehabilitate) is in need of conceptual revitalization and The Cut of
the Real opens up gender and queer theory from the inside in order to
reawaken modes of thinking which have been consigned to the “junkyard” of
contemporary philosophy. This is the radical edge to what her book is trying to
do. Succintly, what Kolozova is upending is the assumption of the essentially
non-unitary nature of the Subject which leads to a privileging of mobility over
stability, the multiple over the One, and Language/Discourse over the Real. In
many ways, as she argues, thinking about Oneness and the Unitary has been
unthinkable, even impossible, in feminist and queer philosophy. And Kolozova’s
challenge to the reader is to wonder how we might think the key questions of
unity, the One and the Real (perhaps the central point of the book is how we
position the concept of the Real in relation to Language). Kolozova is not
arguing here against poststructuralist feminism or Derridean deconstruction
(she is sympathetic throughout to these critiques of the Cartesian, unitary
subject). What she is asserting is that the dichotomy between an exclusively
metaphysical understanding of the Subject and an exclusively non- or post-
metaphysical thinking of the Subject creates a vicious circle or an impassable
aporia. To get us out of this critical situation Kolozova re-reads the seminal
texts of feminist theory (Butler, Braidotti) and the seminal texts of
poststructuralist theory on the Subject (Foucault, Lacan). Given the lack of
conceptual tools currently available for asking the kinds of questions this
book is posing, Kolozova is at her speculative best when she is forcing the
question as to whether we can conceptualize a deconstructive critique of the
Cartesian Subject which could simultaneously “allow us to conceive of the
Subject as residing upon some form or mode of immanent oneness and stability
that would not be a constrictive and exclusive metaphysical formation?”  It
is here that Kolozova calls upon Laruelle’s non-philosophy and his conceptual
lexicon to theorize The-Name-of-the-One, Unity-as-Singularity,
Thinking-in-terms-of-the-One, and Radical Solitude (this latter concept which
reappears throughout the book is a thinking of the One outside of any
philosophical/metaphysical legacy, thinking oneness in terms of its irrevocable
singularity/solitude). All of this I find extremely logical and highly
convincing even when the argument seems utterly contradictory. For example,
Kolozova finds in Butler’s Undoing Gender a possible site of
continuity for the Subject/ the “I”, a speculative realist reading of Butler’s
work which you will not find anywhere else (especially since the silence
imposed upon the name of the one is everywhere apparent in Butlerian
criticism). The reason why Kolozova appeals to Laruelle’s non-philosophy is
that he encourages a stepping out of the discursive auto-referentiality and
self-sufficiency of philosophy and this move allows her to (re)invigorate a
feminist vision of the unitary subject (which does not privilege a feminist
principle of self-sufficiency which would be just as auto-referential as
philosophy’s self-sufficiency).

The central assumption of
the opening chapter “The One and the Multiple”, which paves the way for all
that follows, is that both instances (of unity and non-unity) can be part of
the Subject’s constitution. And this non-philosophical reading of Braidotti and
Butler undermines the all too prevalent dichotomous logic in the reception of
their work (and in feminist theorizing in the US more generally). This line of
argumentation is further developed in chapter two, “The Real and the Fiction”
where Kolozova undermines the dichotomy of sex and gender and the way in which
the metaphysical tradition bequeaths a series of reductive oppositions:
sex/gender, real/fiction. Kolozova asserts that this kind of binarized logic
inhibits philosophy and subtends an even more fundamental opposition, that
between being and non-being.  The central question posed here , “Is
sex to gender, as reality is to fiction?”, is answered via a turn to Laruellian
non-philosophy which offers Kolozova a way out of thinking in terms of duality
(this aspect of Laruelle’s thought has been popularized more recently by
Alexander Galloway’s pamphlet on Laruelle published in the French
Theory Today series). The axiom, borrowed from Laruelle, which
underpins the method of The Cut of the Real is “thinking in
terms of the Real” (this will be most fully worked out in the final pair of
chapters of the book).  In this chapter the central argument is that
non-philosophy makes possible a mode of thinking outside aporetic situations
(which we are most familiar with from (post-)Derridean gender theory).  Kolozova
argues for “thinking the Real and fiction each in its singularity liberated
from interdependence on the other term of the binary pair”. The One and the
Unitary of chapter one are reintroduced here given that what Laruelle calls
“oneness” is a surpassing of the “binary clench”. Another key Laruellian
concept “Vision-in-One” is put to work here as a way of thinking in terms of
the Singular, the Absolute, the (Laruellian rather than Lacanian) Real. Oneness
and radicality are the “defining constituents of non-philosophical and
non-dichotamous thinking” and again this necessitates a re-reading of Butler in
terms of Laruelle’s “Vision-in-One” where reality and fiction are no longer
opposed.  Kolozova is yet again absolutely unique in noticing this
shift in Butler’s writing toward the concept of the “real” and the unreal in Undoing
Gender. The speculative gambit here is that Butler has from her
earliest work to her latest been thinking in terms of singularity and the
unitary. This is a remarkable and wholly convincing argument which goes against
the grain of any reading of Butler I have ever seen. Such a reading of Butler’s
hacks into all previous assumptions about what she means by the Real and
reality. I think that Kolozova’s speculative hypotheses about the Subject,
language and the Real reopen a lot of the questions we are asking here this
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