Author Archives: shuang55

Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture

About the Author

            Eric A. Stanley is a President’s Postdoctoral fellow in the department of Communication and Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He works at the intersections of radical trans/queer aesthetics, theories of state violence, and anti-coloniality. He is currently visiting faculty in Critical Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and along with Chris Vargas, directed the films Homotopia (2006) and Criminal Queers (2012). He is a coeditor of the anthology Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. 

 

Main Arguments

  • Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture examines forms of queer non-sociality (near life) as nonexistence.

–The productive discourse that wishes to suggest that queer bodies are no different might miss moments of signification where queer bodies do in fact signify differently. This is not to suggest that there is an always locatable, transhistorical queer body, but the fiercely flexible semiotics of queerness might help us build a way of knowing antiqueer violence that can provisionally withstand the weight of generality (p. 2).

–Queer is forced to embody…the approximation of a terrorizing threat as a symbol of shattering difference, monstrosity, and irreconcilable contradiction. This fetishistic structure allows one to believe that queers are an inescapable threat and at the same time know that they are nothing (p. 12).

–If for Agamben bare life expresses a kind of stripped-down sociality or a liminal space at the cusp of death, then near life names the figuration and feeling of nonexistence, as Fanon suggests, which comes before the question of life might be posed (p. 13).

  • “But what does it mean to do violence to what is nothing?”(p. 1) Through a reading of the brutal murders and disarticulation of a number of trans/queer people, Stanley offers the legal concept of “overkill” (the type of violence against queers which goes beyond death) as a way of apprehending a queer ontology that stands in contrast to the security of an LGBT identity, and the concept of “near life” as death-in-waiting (or “the figuration and feeling of nonexistence”), while queerness means “inescapable violence” (p. 4).

–Overkill is a term used to indicate such excessive violence that it pushes a body beyond death. If queers, along with others, approximate nothing, then the task of ending, of killing, that which is nothing must go beyond normative times of life and death. The legal theory that is offered to nullify the practice of overkill often functions under the name of the trans-or gay-panic defense (p. 9).

— Overkill is what it means, what it must mean, to do violence to what is nothing.(p. 10)

  • Near Life, Queer Death: Overkill and Ontological Capture is an interrogation of how queer ontology and violence against queers can be seen as a constitutive part of liberal democracy. As antiqueer violence is written in the social as an outlaw practice, these forms of violence are not an aberration but are central to the reproduction of liberal democracy in the United States.

–The numbers, degrees, locations, kinds, types, and frequency of attacks, the statistical evidence that is meant to prove that a violation really happened, are the legitimizing measures that dictate the ways we are mandated to understand harm. However, statistics as an epistemological project may be another way in which the enormity of antiqueer is disappeared (p. 5).

–Reported attacks on “out” queer folks, such as these data, can of course only work as a swinging signifier for the incalculable referent of the actualized violence. ..“Reports” on antiqueer violence, such as the “Hate Crime Statistics,” reproduce the same kinds of rhetorical loss along with the actual loss of people that cannot be counted (p. 6).

–The law, and specifically “rights” discourse, which argues to be the safeguard of liberal democracy, is one of the other motors that works to privatize this structural violence (p. 7).

–Thus for the law to uphold the fantasy of justice and disguise its punitive aspirations, antiqueer violence, like all structural violence, must be narrated as an outlaw practice and unrepresentative of culture at large (p. 8).

— The nothing, or those made to live the death of a near life, is a break whose structure is produced by, and not remedied through, legal intervention or state mobilizations (p. 15).

 

Comments

           Stanley begins his article by evoking Frantz Fanon’s “‘Look, A Negro!’” from Black Skin White Masks.  His concept of “near life” of queer is heavily relied on Fanon’s theory of blackness: “Fanon opens up critical ground for understanding a kind of near life that is made through violence to exist as nonexistence. For Fanon, violence is bound to the question of recognition (which is also the im/possibility of subjectivity) that apprehends the relationship between relentless structural violence and instances of personal attacks evidenced by the traumatic afterlives left in their wake (p. 13)… For Fanon, colonization is not a system of recognition but a state of raw force and total war. This space of nonexistence, or near life, forged in the territory of inescapable violence, allows us to understand the murders of queers against the logics of aberration (p. 14).”

Stanley also points out that the murdered queer were largely working class and people of color and/or transgender people, which marks this interpersonal violence as a restaging of larger iterations of necropolitical state violence. Seeing queerness as a deviation from normative white settler sexuality, he fails to adequately theorize its connection to structures of racism and white supremacy. The concept of “antiqueer violence” does not emphasize other differences (especially violence experienced by queer of color and transgender people) and thus makes them invisible and continued to be marginalized in queer politics.

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Massumi: The Autonomy of Affect

From Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Chapter 1)

Affect is equated with intensity.

                Intensity: the strength or duration of effect.  It is embodied in purely automatic reactions most directly manifested in the skin, at its interface with things. It is outside expectation and adaptation, as disconnected from meaningful sequencing, from narration.

Intensity is asocial, but not prescoial- it includes social elements but mixes them with elements belonging to other levels of functioning and combines them according to different logic (p. 30).

Emotion and affect follows different logics and pertain to different orders.

Emotion: the form/content (qualification) level: depth reactions.

An emotion is a subjective content, the sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience which is from that point onward defined as personal. Emotion is qualified intensity, the conventional, consensual point of insertion of intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progression, into narrativizable action-reaction circuits, into function and meaning (p. 28).

The relationship between the levels of intensity and qualification is not one of conformity or correspondence, but rather of resonation or interference, amplification or dampening.

Will and consciousness are subtractive.

Will and consciousness are limitative, derived functions that reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed.

The body is as immediately virtual as it is actual.

Virtual: the excess of incipiencies and tendencies, a realm of potential. It is the autonomy of relation, the condition under which “higher” functions feed back.

The realm of the virtual has a different temporal structure: the past and future brush shoulders with no mediating present; recursive causalality.

The autonomy of affect is its openness.

Affects are virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them. The autonomy of affect is its participation in the virtual: the simultaneous participation of the virtual in the actual and the actual in the virtual, as one arises from and returns to the other.

The power of images is indeterminate; it is a postmodern power after ideology.

Images are conveyors of forces of emergence, vehicles for existential potentialization and transfer.

Induction and transduction: the non-ideological means by which ideology is produced. Induction is the triggering of a qualification, of a containment, an actualization; transduction is the transmission of an impulse of virtuality from one actualization to another and across them all.

Question

In Massumi’s description, affect is asocial. It is an indifferent capacity of human bodies. It seems to me that the body here is generic/universal body without any differences or social markers.  How do we engage Massumi’s theory of affect to critical studies, which stress particularities, difference, history, etc. of human bodies?

Reading Notes on Vinh-Kim Nguyen

About the Author

Vinh-Kim Nguyen is a medical anthropologist and an HIV physician. He is a researcher at the CRCHUM (Centre de recherches du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal) and is an associate professor in the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Montreal where he heads the PhD program in Health Promotion. He is the author of The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS.

Methods

Qualitative methods (Nguyen does not write about methods explicitly, I guess it is critical ethnography , including participant observation or  fieldwork and  interviews).

Arguments

  • “[H]ow the humanitarian / development complex that has emerged around the HIV / AIDS issue has grown to encompass a heterogeneous and uneven congeries of practices and techniques, present and active in everyday life, to produce particular kind of subjects and forms of life – AIDS activists, resistant viruses, and therapeutic citizens “(p. 126).

Therapeutic citizenship

  • Therapeutic citizenship: “a biological citizenship, a system of claims and ethical projects that arises out of the conjugation of techniques used of govern populations and manage individual bodies” (p. 126). It is a form of stateless citizenship “whereby a biological construct –such as being HIV positive – is used to ascribe an essentialized identity, as in earlier forms of eugenics and racial ordering” (p. 126). It is the dialectic between a global therapeutic economy, local tactics for mobilizing resources, and the biopolitical process through which humanitarian interventions particular subjectivities that gives birth to it.
  • [In The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS, therapeutic citizenship refers to the benefits and responsibilities that AIDS treatment programs offer and impose on those enrolled in treatment programs, akin to the functions of a modern state. With their ability to track individual identity and confer access to support systems, ranging from food to credit, AIDS treatment programs provide what the collapsed government could not provide: a social safety net, along with the bureaucratic machinery to run the safety net.]
  • Therapeutic citizenship was available only to the few (Nguyen calls it “triage”: prioritizing some individuals for medical treatment over others). When access to antiretroviral therapy was limited, Western aid agencies favored those willing to speak publicly about their diagnosis: “train” African with HIV to “come out” with their stories of being diagnosed, and living, with HIV were the cornerstone of development organizations’ attempts to foster self-help. The lifesaving potential of antiretroviral treatments was dramatized and became as a matter of life and death. As a result, the key to survival is to be able to “tell a good story.”
  • Others who got access to medicines include: those who enrolled in clinical research trials, and a select few actively involved in NGOs who received donations, both of whom were the production of public health campaigns as biological “vanguard.”
  • In short, a therapeutic economy conjugates confessional technologies, self-help strategies, and access to drugs in novel ways; “Treatment influence biology, and through these embodied effects representations of the disease, and in turn the subjectivity of those who are able to access them” (p. 143).

Humanism industry

  • Humanism industry, which is most sharply expressed as health issues, constructs a logic of invention that displaces local politics and contributes to the fashioning of new identities, a process that has been described as “mobile sovereignty” (p. 125).
  • First generation of efforts to address HIV epidemic in developing countries focused on preventing HIV infection, when condoms served as the key preventive intervention; a second generation of programs stressed the direct involvement of affected communities through the idioms of “self-help” and “empowerment,” a process referred to by some development workers as “resource-capture driven.”
  • NGOs and other “community-based organizations” (CBOs) were considered as representative of preexisting communities, and could be used to target interventions at these communities and mobilize a response to the epidemic.
  • A myth: conducting clinical research in Africa is fraught with “cultural” and economic barriers.  African patients are believed to be notoriously “noncompliant.” In fact, there was a hierarchy that separates patients from physicians, without a culture of explanation at those institutes (it was considered as normal for staff to barely speak to patients); the most important determents of adherence to follow-up were economic.

Question

As Nguyen argues, the idea that public disclosure of HIV status would spontaneously generate solidarity, which is the dominant discourse in many social movements in the West, arose from a radically different context in Africa. In a world of severely limited resources to medical treatment, what does the discourse of public visibility (“coming out”) mean for group solidarity?

Akira Lippit: Introduction: Remembering Animals Remembering Animals

About the author:

Akira Mizuta Lippit is Professor and Chair of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts, and Professor in the Departments of Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Cultures in the USC Dornsife College.  His interests are in world cinemas, critical theory, Japanese film and culture, experimental film and video and visual studies.

Method

Discourse analysis on Western philosophies about animals (such as Heidegger, Derrida, Lyotard, Agamben, and Jung)

Arguments

  • The animal is a crucial figure in the definition of modernity. Lippit begins the introduction with a definition of modernity: “Modernity can be defined by the disappearance of wildlife from humanity’s habitat and by the reappearance of the same in humanity’s reflections on itself: in philosophy, psychoanalysis, and technological media such as the telephone, film, and radio.” (p. 2-3)
  • The notion of animal being changed dramatically during 19th and 20th centuries, “at the very point that animals began to vanish from the empirical world” (p. 2). As most vividly shown in public zoos, modernity sees the disappearance of animals from daily life and the modern animal became, to borrow Jacques Derrida’s expression, “a memory of the present.” (p.3)
  • The distinction between brain and mind rests ultimately in the question of agency (p. 5): corporeality of the brain against ideality of the mind. Animal being is described as unconscious.
  • Dominant understandings define animals in terms of linguistic deprivation:” without language one cannot participate in the world of human beings” (p. 7), and “only human beings convey their subjectivity in speech” (p. 14). Animals are poor in language, therefore, remote from the human world.
  • Two phrases of the invention of humanity: 1) a rhetorical animal sacrifice (exclusion): animals as “natural objects that show people their origin, and therefore their pre-rational, pre-management, pre-cultural essence” (p. 13, citing from Donna Haraway). It serves to both affirms and renounce humanity’s primal identification with animals, and the need to overcome it; 2) melancholia or mourning as a crucial feature of modernity: “The mourning is for the self—a self that had become dehumanized in the very process of humanity’s becoming-human” (p. 18).
  • Conclusion: “Animals once contributed to the constitution of human ontology; now their absence contributes to a dehumanized ontology” (p. 21); “the nature of the animal has shifted in the modern era from a metaphysic to a phantasm; from a body to an image; from a living voice to a technical echo” (p. 21).

Critique / Questions

(1) Lippit exposes the tendency when “animals began to vanish from the empirical world” of everyday life as an effect of modernity, arguing for “remembering animals.” That being said, it seems to me that this introduction is about the notion/figure of animals in Western philosophy, rather than about actual animals. In other words, it is about symbol of animals rather than animals with flesh and breath. I wonder if this is also an exclusion of animals from the empirical world, rendering animals remembered as discourse without a body.

(2)”Neither a regressive nor a primitive figure, animal being founds the site of an excess, a place of being that exceeds the subject” (p. 26). What does “excess” mean here?

Shuzhen’s Reading Notes on “People-of-Color-Blindness”

People-of-Color-Blindness

Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery

Jared Sexton

I. Background

  • Jared Sexton is assistant professor of African American studies and film and media studies at the University of California, Irvine.
  • His earlier work, Amalgamation Schemes(2008), may help us better understand this article:

      Amalgamation Schemes is a critique of multiracialism, arguing that multiracialism stems from the conservative and reactionary forces determined to undo the gains of the modern civil rights movement and dismantle radical black and feminist politics. Sexton contests the rationales of colorblindness and multiracial exceptionalism to demonstrate that the true target of multiracialism is the singularity of blackness as a social identity, a political organizing principle, and an object of desire. In his intersectional analysis of race and sexuality, Sexton argues that multiracialism is not, as it claims, a political antithesis to white supremacy or sexual racism. Rather, multiracialism codifies normative sexuality within and across the color line with disastrous effects, producing a “desexualization of race” and a “deracialization of sex” that reinforces racist sexual pathologies.

II. Some Important Arguments

This article offers a critique of the concept of “people of color,” highlighting a form of blindness to the singularity of racial slavery internal to its articulation. People-of-color-blindness, is “a form of colorblindness inherent to the concept of ‘people of color’ to the precise extent that it misunderstands the specificity of antiblackness and presumes or insists upon the monolithic character of victimization under white supremacy — thinking (the afterlife of) slavery as a form of exploitation or colonization or a species of racial oppression among others” (p. 48). Here, Sexton argues that blackness is the matrix through which racialization is constructed, and that multiracialism engenders a denial of specifically black legitimacy.

The Essential Role of Blackness in Racialization

  • Racial slavery in the Atlantic world was the first instances of biopolitical experimentation, not the camp (So Agamben is wrong). The denationalization of citizens “is predated and prepared by the strict prohibition of nativity under the regime of racial slavery and the state’s management of the biological life of the enslaved throughout the Atlantic world, most pointedly through the sexual regulation of race in the British North American colonies and the United States” (p. 40). Slavery is a “social death” characterized by “natal alienation” and “genealogical isolation” (p. 41).
  • Why blackness (rather than whiteness) is essential in racialization: “It is racial blackness as a necessary condition for enslavement that matters most, rather than whiteness as a sufficient condition for freedom” (p. 36); “Not all free persons are white (nor are they equal or equally free), but slaves are paradigmatically black” (p. 36).
  • The necessity/function of racial blackness for modern states: “the racial circumscription of political life (bios) under slavery predates and prepares the rise of the modern democratic state, providing the central counterpoint and condition of possibility for the symbolic and material articulation of its form and function” (p. 40).

Imperceptivity and Illegibility of Native-born Black Population

  • The imperceptivity and illegibility of slavery as Necropolitics: in slavery, “the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom become blurred” (p. 38); Slave as homo sacer, “is distinguished not by her vulnerability to a specific form or degree of state-sanctioned violence but by her social proscription from the honor of sacrifice” (p. 39). That is, a slave is “banned from the witness-bearing function of martyrdom. Her suffering is therefore imperceptible or illegible as a rule. It is against the law to recognize her sovereignty or self-possession” (p. 39).
  • Racialization of sex, such as forced reproduction in slavery (along with denied kinship entirely by the force of law), produces “biological impurity” (p. 39), which further blurs the genealogy of “the descendants of slaves.” Native-born black population thus “suffers the status of being neither the native nor the foreigner, neither the colonizer nor the colonized” (p. 41).

Critique of the Concept of “People of Color” (Critique of Multiculturalism)

  • In contemporary political culture, the legitimacy of black struggles against racial slavery is dismissed, while black suffering is appropriated “as the template for nonblack grievances” (p. 42).
  • The call for paradigm shift (go beyond“the black-white binary) becomes “the hallmark of the post-civil rights era, in which the initiatives of multiracial coalition politics, immigrant rights, liberal multiculturalism, and conservative colorblindness operate uneasily — and often unwittingly — within a broad-based strategic integration” (p. 43).
  • A common refusal in multiculturalism: a denial to “significant differences of structural position born of discrepant histories between blacks and their political allies, actual or potential” (p. 47-48).
  • “Don’t play Oppression Olympics!” serves as the silencing mechanism in Left political and intellectual circles: it is a leftist version of “playing the race card” (p. 47).
  • Racial Blackness is “the prototypical targets: “Every analysis that attempts to understand the complexities of racial rule and the machinations of the racial state without accounting for black existence within its framework — which does not mean simply listing it among a chain of equivalents or returning to it as an afterthought — is doomed to miss what is essential about the situation” (p. 48).

III. My Question

Conversation and particularity is often a dilemma in critical studies about marginal voices. Sexton criticizes that (non-black) studies on racialization often list racial blackness “among a chain of equivalents,” which has missed the matrix of racial construction. I wonder, however, to what extent can we significantly engage blackness (as “the matrix”) in our study, AND substantially include other “non-matrix”/more marginal voices into critical conversation, AND attend to the particularity of our own social location.

[In my literature review about queer of color critique, I encountered critique of dominant queer of color critiques from Two-Spirit critiques (Driskill, 2010) :  “For Native Two-Spirit/GLBTQ people and our allies, part of imagining our futures is through creating theories and activism that weave together Native and GLBTQ critiques that speak to our present colonial realities…Our disappointment lies in the recognition of an old story within “the new queer studies”: Native people, Native histories, and ongoing colonial projects happening on our lands are included only marginally, when included at all” (p. 70). ]

Shuzhen’s Notes on Capitalism and Gay Identity

 Capitalism and Gay Identity

 John D’ Emilio

Summery

  • Context: A response to the backlash of gay liberation in the 80s
  • The invented mythology of “silence, invisibility, and isolation” and the consequent “overreliance on a strategy of coming out” that limited our political perspective; the importance of “a new, more accurate theory of gay history” (101)
  • Using the Marxist method to root the emergence of a distinctive gay and lesbian identity in capitalism, gay and lesbian identity as a product of the social conditions that capitalism has created (distinguish between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity)
  • 17th century New England, white colonist family was a self-suffice unit of production, within which family members were interdependent.
  • As a result, sex was strictly for procreation to produce enough labor. While homosexual behavior did exist, there was no space for individuals to live outside the family economy
  • With the expansion of capital and the rise of wage labor, sexuality could be released “from the ‘imperative’ to procreate”(104); the family took on new significance as an affective unit, an institution that produced not goods but emotional and happiness” (p. 103)
  • This separation of sexuality from procreation created conditions that allow some men and women to organize a personal life around their erotic/emotional attraction to one’s own sex—make it possible for homosexual desire to coalesce into a personal identity
  • Example: D’Emilio cites World War II as a critical time because it organized people into same-sex living and working conditions. “The war freed millions of men and women from the settings where heterosexuality was normally imposed.” (106-107)

Other Insights of the Author

  • The contradictory relationship of capitalism to the family: On the one hand … capitalism has gradually undermined the material basis of the nuclear family by taking away the economic functions that cemented the ties between family members… On the other hand, the ideology of capitalist society has enshrined the family as the source of love, affection, and emotional security, the place where our need for stable, intimate human relationships is satisfied.” (108) “Thus, while capitalism has knocked the material foundation away from family life, lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual feminists have become the scapegoats for the social instability of the system.” (109)
  • A new, more effective political strategy for LGBTQ Americans that focuses on supporting individual autonomy and strong community, which are the very social conditions of contemporary homosexual identity. Specific things to support are: “issues that broaden the opportunities for living outside traditional heterosexual family units,” “rights of young people,” and “structures and programs that will help to dissolve the boundaries that isolate the family, particularly those that privatize childrearing.” (111)
  • To fight against the ideology of (nuclear) family: “now, our political movements are changing consciousness, creating the ideological conditions that make it easier for people to make that choice” (109): the de-institutionalization of heterosexual marriage as a source of legal and economic privileges (which is a good lens to look at today’s gay marriage campaign).
  • It’s a tactical error to argue against homophobia by saying homosexuality is ahistorical, eternal, or biological: this sets up a situation where being gay is acceptable only if it’s not a choice(In an interview in 2009, LGBT liberation: Build a broad movement, John D’ Emilio argues that the implication of “born gay” is that “we’re certainly not choosing to be oppressed: we just can’t help it, so leave us alone”), and it leaves today’s youth (tomorrow’s gay and lesbian) to internalize heterosexist model.
  • In that same interview, John D’ Emilio also talks about the unequal access to gay identity between different social groups: “The opportunity for that to happen was distributed differently depending on one’s relation to capitalist modes of production. In the U.S., that meant men more than women, whites more than Blacks, the native-born more than immigrants, and the middle class more than the working class.”

My Questions

1. The economic rational in this article suggests that heterosexual family, which excludes homosexual individuals, became the hegemonic social unit, because family functioned as a self-sufficient unit of production, within which family members were interdependent. In other words, marriage and heterosexuality were bound together to produce necessary labor a self-sufficient economic unit needs.  But what about the loss of productivity of a pregnant mother? Also, according to this economic logic, theoretically adults (same sex or not) could form a collective (rather than a nuclear family) to organize production, and thus survive outside the structure of heterosexual family (After all, children are not as productive as adults, and the union of adults makes more sense in terms of economic rational). Thirdly, In China, when labor was in many cases sufficient (if not excessive) within an extended family, heterosexuality was still the norm. Why?  Maybe parents needed their offspring to take care of them when they got old and not “productive”? That is, maybe it was a time strategy of deployment of labor?

2. The author argues that more men than women with predominately homosexual histories,   was a situation caused by the fact that capitalism had drawn more men and women into the labor force and at higher wages (106). I am not so convinced about this argument, given the fact that men usually gained more resources from a heterosexual marriage. So why were not more women abandoning heterosexual marriage and choosing a homosexual relationship, if it was primarily out of economic consideration?