[-empyre-] MIA to IA

Michael O'Rourke tranquilised_icon at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 15 10:06:33 EST 2012


Hello Jack! I'll respond very briefly to your key points since I don't want to frustrate the possibilities for dialogue (even if I am always for more and not less thought I do realize I tend to go on a bit...)
(1) I'm assuming that you are here setting up an opposition between OOO/SR's perceived attachment to high theory and "grand theoretical narratives" as opposed to your own low theory? I'm not sure this really holds given that much of the work which has happened so far in SR/OOO happens on the blogosphere, on Twitter, on Facebook, in all sorts of places which are para- or non-academic (and a lot of the work is being done by graduate students). And Ian Bogost's work is all about "carpentry" and "making things". Isn't that a kind of "low" practice? 
It may be true that the archive of figures you list are the predominant ones but it is far from exhaustive and it unfortunately repeats some of the way the history of SR has been framed so that many of the female figures who paved the way for it get written out of the narrative. I'm thinking of Katerina Kolozova, Sadie Plant, Juliet Flower MacCannell but there are many others besides.
Levi Bryant has consistently said that the job of OOO and SR's main figures is to create work for others. The constant objections that they don't address race or class lead precisely nowhere because those doing the objecting haven't, as far as I can see, mounted any sort of a critique. The burden is on those who say these facets have been left out of the picture to actually do the work, right? I have much the same response to people who say OOO/SR are "masculinist" domains. I would like to see a carefully worked out critique which actually engages with what is there and takes it off in the directions of critical race theory, feminist theory, queer theory (part of my own work tries to do this), postcolonial theory, Marxist theory and so on. 
That said, there have been plenty of discussions about race and class on Bryant's Larval Subjects blog. And his formulation of "dark objects" might be useful for those working on race and OOO (a grad student from Canada wrote to me the other day asking about a project on racial poetics and OOO and I suggested that he read Sara Ahmed's Queer Orientations which actually anticipates many of the features of OOO) and Bryant has also tried to think with Spivak's theory of subalternity and OOO. A start has been made here and there. But it is really up to others who have expertise in other fields to do the work now.  
(2) I don't think my argument about the reception of Warner's piece has been misleading. For example, in a recent discussion on Bullybloggers (http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/bullybloggers-on-failure-and-the-future-of-queer-studies/) you don't even name him when you refer to the piece ("While some people, no names, have been pronouncing queer studies dead and done, there are meanwhile a whole slew of amazing new books by younger scholars that prove this pronouncement to be premature and even immature!") . Why the refusal to engage with him directly? It doesn't matter to me that he teaches at Yale. My sense of his demonization, largely based on academic gossip (but why would gossip not be a productive critical mode?), arises from the recent neglect of his work from both *before* and *after* the Gay Shame event. Whatever went on there shouldn't lead to a dismissal of his work tout court or a failure to read him carefully. That would, I
 think, be a terrible shame. 
Having said that, I found the discussion of new work emerging in queer studies on Bullybloggers very refreshing and energizing and I know that you think we (in Europe and elsewhere) need to engage more with the queer of color critique debates. I agree and that is already happening. However, it would have been nice if some of the work referred to by you, Duggan, Munoz et al was being produced outside of the US. The latter--however important and vital-- is a really very narrow corpus of texts and ignores, as you say, what is going on in the rest of the world.
(3) I didn't say that the quotation was offensive (and I hope my question didn't offend in turn). I rather found it puzzling and troublingly essentialist (even if I can, in a way, understand where that essentialism comes from). One could counter that my question is just as binaristic but I'm curious as to how straights leaving queer theory to the queers does not delimit. Surely for all that gets included by your "queer" still the straights are left out? Or maybe I'm missing something. I would have thought that queerness (like Bersani's "homoness") included everyone and was a positionality anyone--regardless of their orientation--could take up. Since we are talking about queer theory (in your quote) then I'm really just asking why a *theoretical* orientation which is surely available to anyone gets delimited?  
(4) For all the problems we might have with Zizek (and yes, Ronell is great on stupidity and who could forget her response, in the Differences memorial issue for Barbara Johnson, to Zizek's claim that she was too uncritically close to Derrida: "tough titties Slavoj"!!) I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Less Than Nothing without reading. He has been at pains to tell us that all that comes before this book is shit (a bit unfair to The Ticklish Subject and the under-appreciated The Parallax View) and that the Hegel book is the serious one. There is much of worth in it, I'm inclined to say, for queer theorists (especially the very significant and serious engagement with Karen Barad's "agential realism" in the "Ontology of Quantum Physics" chapter; he also very briefly touches on Edelman's No Future). And isn't Zizek doing "low theory" a lot of the time? 
Cheers,Michael.



--- On Thu, 14/6/12, Judith Halberstam <halberst at usc.edu> wrote:

From: Judith Halberstam <halberst at usc.edu>
Subject: [-empyre-] MIA to IA
To: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Date: Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 15:06

OMG, I guess MIchael went from MIA to IA overnight! Hello Michael! There is just too much in these posts for a 'conversation' so i hope we can just find a few places that permit dialogue and go from there. It is nice to have a summary of your work Michael and I am sure we can all read through some of that material in a more lesurely way but since we are here to have a conversation,  I will engage with a few of your more polemical interventions here.
1) The questions about the politics of OOO and speculative realism, it seems to me, are questions that I might also direct to you in terms of these 5 or 6 lengthy posts - it is not a matter of whether we can find points of political engagement, of course we can find many active arenas of contestation in terms of the environment, the centering of the human and so on but there is an apolitical drift that comes in to the form of a high theoretical commitment to grand narratives and normative modes of theorizing. The theories that count and that get counted in OOO and SR tend to be masculinist most of the time and tend to cluster around enlightenment and post-structuralist theory or a particular, continental stripe: Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, Zizek, Lacan, with a Butler or Braidotti thrown in for good measure but nary a mention of race, class or postcolonial thinking.
2) Your piece on Michael W. being misread is a bit misleading I think. Michael had an opportunity in the Chronicle to point to all the new work on queer theory, to produce more anticipation and less nostalgia, to really engage the project of Series Q as intended by Sedgwick - to open up nor close down conversations. Instead he offered a eulogy of sorts and sang an old song about identity politics. He has hardly been vilified or marginalized, let's face it, the guy is the Head of English at Yale - nice kind of margin if you ask me (not that I consider the English department at Yale to be marginal to much). In many ways, he centers exactly the US, the white guy gay theory and so on that you, Michael O-Rourke remind us, conveniently ignores queer theory as produced by the rest of the world!
3) As for the question of who counts and the definition of "queer" - oh my goodness, we are surely not going back to queer = gay/lesbian are we? When I said the straight people should leave queer theory to the queers, that does not, in any way, delimit queerness to gay/lesbian or even trans people. If you identify with the phrase "straight people" then i would love to hear how and why and in what capacity. If you identify with the marker "queer" and all your posts indicate that you do, then why is this offensive?
4) Finally, in response to this:
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” !!

Only Zizek could squeeze 1100 pages out of "Less than Nothing..." I always wondered who read entire books by Zizek...I am not sure I find Zizek always provocative so much as repetitive but I like the idea of  parsing out the differences between morons, idiots and imbeciles - Avital Ronell is way more interesting on Stupidity than Zizek could ever be but if Alan Turing was an exemplary idiot, then probably Zizek is a professional know it all - the moron and the idiot and the imbecile actually know stuff that is hidden from others who are "smart," the professional knower produces the knowledge structures that render others idiotic. The idiot after all is "one who lacks professional knowledge." Who produces professional knowledge, who knows in different ways? Who wants to know urgently, passionately and thrillingly? Who wants to know in order to be considered "knowing"?
All for now, from A Jetlagged Idiot



On Jun 14, 2012, at 2:35 AM, Michael O'Rourke wrote:

When Zach first sent out the invitations to contribute to a week on computation and the nonhuman I have to confess that I read "computation" as pertaining to counting and that Zach must have meant who or what counts as queer? 
With this misprision in mind I have a question for Jack stemming from my unease about something he said on Bullybloggers recently (http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/friends-with-benefits-the-kids-are-all-right-friends-with-kids/). While I am more than sympathetic to the readings Jack undertakes of the films
 it was the following sentence which gave me significant pause: "And this, ultimately, is why straight people should leave the queer theory to the queers"
If Jack really believes this then I'm wondering where this leaves people like me or Calvin Thomas or, more
 importantly, Eve Sedgwick? Do we or the work that we do count? 




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