October 19, 2010

Today, I am so loving rereading Hirmoi Ito's Killing Kanoko for CWS.

Handout for if discussion fails, these two paragraphs from Judith Halberstam’s “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies”

Lee Edelman’s book, No Future, makes perhaps the most powerful and controversial recent contribution to anti-social queer theory (Edelman, 2005). Edelman’s polemic describes the rejection of futurity as the meaning of queer critique and links queer theory to the death drive in order to propose a relentless form of negativity in place of the forward looking, reproductive and heteronormative politics of hope that animates all too many political projects. The queer subject, he argues, has been bound epistemologically, to negativity, to nonsense, to anti-production, to unintelligibility and, instead of fighting this characterization by dragging queerness into recognition, he proposes that we embrace the negativity that we anyway structurally represent. Edelman’s polemic about futurity ascribes to queerness the function of the limit; while the heteronormative political imagination propels itself forward in time and space through the indisputably positive image of the child, and while it projects itself back on the past through the dignified image of the parent, the queer subject stands between heterosexual optimism and its realization. At this political moment, Edelman’s book constitutes a compelling argument against a US imperialist project of hope, and one of the most powerful statements of queer studies’ contribution to an anti-imperialist, queer counter-hegemonic imaginary and yet, I want to engage critically with Edelman’s project here in order to argue for a more explicitly political framing of the anti-social project.

While Edelman frames his polemic against futurity with epigraphs by Jacques Lacan and Virginia Woolf, he omits the more obvious reference that his title conjures up and that echoes through recent queer anti-social aesthetic production, namely “God Save the Queen” as sung by The Sex Pistols. While The Sex Pistols used the refrain “no future” to reject a formulaic union of nation, monarchy and fantasy, Edelman tends to cast material political concerns as crude and pedestrian, as already a part of the conjuring of futurity that his project must foreclose. Indeed, Edelman turns to the unnervingly tidy and precise theoretical contractions of futurity in Lacan because, like Lacan and Woolf, and unlike the punks, he strives to exert a kind of obsessive control over the reception of his own discourse. Twisting and turning back on itself, reveling in the power of inversion, Edelman’s syntax itself closes down the anarchy of signification. In footnotes and in chiasmic formulations alike he shuts down critique and withholds the future and fantasies of it from the reader. One footnote predicts critiques of his work based upon its “elitism,” “pretension,” whiteness and style and the footnote projects other objections on the grounds of “apolitical formalism” (Edelman, 2005). He professes himself unsympathetic to all such responses and having foreclosed the future, continues on his way in a self-enclosed world of cleverness and chiasmus. Edelman’s polemic opens the door to a ferocious articulation of negativity (“fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we’re collectively terrorized; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Mis; fuck the poor, innocent kid on the Net; fuck Laws both with capital ls and with small; fuck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop” [29]) but, ultimately, he does not fuck the law, big or little L, he succumbs to the law of grammar, the law of logic, the law of abstraction, the law of apolitical formalism, the law of genres.

I think the manarchist manny, the mannyarchist?, still has my copy of No Future.

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