Article

“TOWARD A (QUEER) POLITICS BEYOND THE NATION-STATE”

Samuel R. Galloway

Abstract:

The nation-state is animated by the vacillation between disciplinary normalization and sovereign juridical rule, and as such can only be adequately confronted by activists through the cultivation a political structure wherein the subject is disinvested of both its normative ethical vicissitudes and in such a way that this disinvestment is not experienced as trauma but as pleasure. The article begins by charting the two poles of the nation-state through a reading of Foucault’s lectures on Hobbes. Then, in the second section,Gallowaydraws on the psychoanalytic insights of Leo Bersani’s queer theoretical account of the self-undermining subject of pleasure here termed “queer negationism”. He concludes by politicizing this self-ascetic practice by demonstrating its conviviality to Hannah Arendt’s treatment of revolutionary politics. Leveraging the two strategies together enables a realistic alternative to nation-state politics to emerge, one which avoids the trap of attempting to check disciplinary power by making recourse to sovereign law.

“You see, we must not act hastily….

I quite understand your hesitation. I quite understand it and I share it.…

Our predecessor,” said Van Tricasse gravely,

“our predecessor never said, never would have dared to say, that anything is certain. Every affirmation is subject to awkward qualification.”

-J. Verne, “The Experiment of Dr. Ox”

In late-modernity, in Nation-States like America, it may be the case that the only responsible, actionable politics available is a queer politics. This is not to suggest, however, that queers themselves have always been or promise to be exemplary political actors. Nevertheless, as Michael Warner has suggested, there is something queer about the Nation-State. Yet, ‘queer’ is not simply the negative of the Nation-State, and in potentially revolutionary ways. Warner, however, disagrees, cautioning against “reading[s] of queerness [that] have vaulted over the conditions in which queer politics has made sense.”[1] For him the socio-historical conditions of queer possibility are inextricably bound to the Anglo-American Nation-State, and he sharpens his warning with the specter of cultural imperialism: “In the New World Order, we should be more than usually cautious about global utopianisms that require American slang.”[2] While sympathetic to such intellectual reflexive scruple, I find Warner’s advice circumscribes the radical potential for politicizing some of the fundamental findings of queer theory to the confines of present constellations of Nation-State power. Such an intellectual orientation seems to effectively entrench the Nation-State as the necessary Big Other of queer political subjects, eliding the possibility for a (queer) politics beyond its confines. Further, such an orientation forecloses the politics of bricolage championed by Judith Butler: “There is only a taking up of the tools where they lie, where the very ‘taking up’ is enabled by the tool lying there.”[3]

Still, Anglo-American political subjects find themselves subject to the power dynamics of the Nation-State, and, by extension, the queerness derivatively engendered by its machinations. To trace these machinations I heuristically read Foucault’s critique of Hobbes’s theory of the sovereign State as an exercise in charting the dyadic poles of the Nation-State wherein the Nation = disciplinary power and the State = sovereign juridical rule to argue that, like queerness, the Nation-State exploits a liminal positionality. To amplify and texturize the political potentialities of such liminality I gesture toward the complexity of these mutually antagonistic (and in this way mutually, dependently reinforcing) relations to situate contemporary debates in queer theory over a subversive strategy I term “queer negationist” best represented by Leo Bersani and more recently Lee Edelman. I conclude by arguing it is precisely toward a ‘beyond’ of the presentist Nation-State configurations of juridico-disciplinary power that queer theory points, and which finds supplemental theoretical support in the revolutionary political theory of Hannah Arendt.

 

I. Sovereignty, Life Itself, and Discipline

There is “something queer about the Nation-State,” Michael Warner claims in an essay bearing a similar title.[4] But what, exactly, is so queer about the Nation-State if not that ‘queer’ is a symptom of the Nation-State as it has come to organize political culture? In this section I trace the queer and paradoxical animus of the Nation-State by engaging Foucault’s 1975-1976 lectures, “Society Must Be Defended”. As Foucault contends, it is the interanimation of National disciplinary power and Statist juridical sovereignty that organizes the axes of power in late modernity. As a political concept, sovereignty is a response to an unstable, fluid, indeterminate and unpredictable political field which, nevertheless, folds within it the very conditions of instability, fluidity, and unpredictability that it sought to expel and which now must be disciplined.

Foucault goes on to sharpen this distinction between conceptualizing power as sovereignty and power as antagonistic relations of domination via a reading of Hobbes’s Leviathan. The theory of sovereignty Hobbes is working through, Foucault contends, is one which “assumes the existence of three ‘primitive’ elements: a subject who has to be subjectified, the unity of the power that has to be founded, and the legitimacy [of the law] that has to be respected.”[5] Methodologically, then, Hobbes is Foucault’s arch-nemesis, his agonal opponent: these presuppositions effect a distortion of the stakes of this monstrous game of historical truth. And this is deliberate; Hobbes’s political theory, founded on the establishment of sovereignty, is one that, as Sheldon Wolin argues, stands as “an attempted epitaph to politics.”[6] How so?

Foucault argues that rather than consider war as an historical reality, Hobbes dramatizes relations of force in the course of fancifully fabricating the infamous state of nature:

There are no battles in Hobbes’s primitive war, there is no blood and there are no corpses. There are presentations, manifestations, signs, emphatic expressions, wiles, and deceitful expressions; there are traps, intentions disguised as their opposite, and worries disguised as certainties. We are in a theater where presentations are exchanged, in a relationship of fear in which there are no time limits; we are not really involved in a war…. What does characterize the state of war is a sort of unending diplomacy between rivals who are naturally equal.[7]

This, of course, is a bizarre way of characterizing war, which prompts Foucault to further distinguish between war and Hobbes’s “state of war.” In the state of war the absence of blood and corpses is supplemented with, oddly enough, a contract: in all the three modes of artificial sovereignty Hobbes delineates (institutional, acquisitive, and familial) there is (presaging Hegel’s master-slave dialectic) concession: “For sovereignty to exist, there must be—and this is all there must be—a radical will that makes us want to live, even though we cannot do so unless the other is willing to let us live.”[8] In other words, Hobbes stages, and in so doing rationalizes away, the violence founding the State, erasing the very urgent, historical impetus for the real impulse for sovereign rule: “Hobbes wanted to eliminate the historical reality of war, as though he wanted to eliminate the genesis of sovereignty.”[9] Why? What is gained by such elimination on Hobbes’s part?

On Foucault’s reading the redescription of actual war into the drama of the state of war in Leviathan is something of a mimetic response to the Norman Conquests (which is, as it were, Hobbes’s ‘real’ antagonist), in particular the spectacular coronation of William the Conqueror. The crucial dimension of the coronation is the transformation enabled through its performance:

William, for his part, had sworn an oath and had been crowned by the arch-bishop of York: he had been given the crown, and in the course of that ceremony, he had sworn to protect the laws which the chroniclers described as good and ancient laws that were accepted and approved. William made himself part of the system of the Saxon monarchy that existed before him…. This is a way of showing that William is not really the conqueror he claimed to be, but the legitimate heir, an heir whose sovereignty is restricted by the laws of England, the recognition given him by the church, and the oath he has sworn.[10]

This historical case mirrors the move made in Leviathan from analyzing war to staging a ‘state of war’ that is only alleviated by consensual submission in the form of a contract consolidating the right to violence in the seat of the sovereign State.

But there is another dimension to this transformation that haunts the formation of the State, the specter of which continues to animate contemporary politics. I refer, of course, to the persistent ‘us/them’ or ‘friend/enemy’ binary which Foucault carefully details as following racializing narratives for constituting natural alliances of belonging.[11] Thus, while William seemingly is assimilated into the Saxon monarchical system of rule, this assimilation is simultaneously a corrupting or polluting abuse of Saxon systems of power: Saxon laws are now being used by Normans to dominate Saxons. (By the same token Saxon ‘collaborators’ with Norman, Royalist abuses are fantastically no longer Saxon as their political allegiance to foreign power muddies the purity of their national identity.[12]) The historico-political details of Royalist abuse, Parliamentarian reform, and agitation by Diggers and Levelers are increasingly cast in racialized terms, so much so that by 1647 texts are being published erecting an allegorical equivalence between the Saxons and the “Jewes.”[13] Thus, Foucault contends,

[t]his was the first time that the binary schema that divided society into two was articulated with national phenomena such as language, country of origin, ancestral customs, the density of a common past, the existence of an archaic right, and the rediscovery of old laws. This was a binary schema that also made it possible to interpret a whole number of institutions, and their evolution over a long period of history. It also made it possible to analyze contemporary institutions in terms of confrontation and in terms of a race war which was being waged both knowingly and hypocritically, but also violently.[14]

It is, I maintain, precisely out of this distinctly modern deployment of a biologically rooted ‘us/them’ binary that we witness emergent mélanges of disciplinary power, or “the appearance—one should say the invention—of a new mechanism of power which had very specific procedures, completely new instruments, and very different equipment. It was, I believe, absolutely incompatible with relations of sovereignty.”[15]

Crucially, disciplinary power “is alien to the discourse that makes rule a product of the will of the sovereign. The discourse of disciplines is about a rule: not a juridical rule derived from sovereignty, but a discourse about a natural rule, or in other words a norm.”[16] Further, disciplinary power does not take as given the subject of study, but rather constitutes the subject through the production of knowledges of the subject: the subject is a subject of knowledge. These discourses of disciplinary knowledge emerge, argues Foucault, “as early as the seventeenth-century,” coinciding with “the appearance of state racism: a racism that society will direct against itself, against its own elements and its own products. This is the internal racism of permanent purification, and it will become one of the basic dimensions of social normalization.”[17]

Thus, and to retrace the progression of Foucault’s genealogy before problematizing queer resistance to political oppression in contemporary theory, Hobbes is counter-intuitively figured as a theorist of sovereignty who opposed all dissent from centralized, legitimate authority, and not a theorist of war. Hobbes, as it were, attempts to neutralize political antagonisms insofar as he opposes the view that the law fails to stabilize civil relations because it is itself an active mode of conquest and domination. Further, and historically speaking, discourses of resistance to alien sovereignty coincide with the emergence of racialized, disciplinary power. The effect of this coincidence is to localize within the social body itself an ‘internal contradiction’ organized around two mutually exclusive, yet simultaneously reinforcing poles of power: disciplinary taxonomic normalization and sovereign juridical rule. I argue these two poles are coterminous with the Nation-State dyad that so viciously plays a shuttling game of coercive domination: “having recourse to sovereignty against discipline will not enable us to limit the effects of disciplinary power,” writes Foucault, precisely because in a fundamental sense disciplinary power exercised through a national social body is an effect of the constitution of the modern sovereign State.[18]

This is the frustratingly ‘queer’ position many political activists find themselves mired in: assaults on the institutions of the State place misguided hope in the law to “change hearts and minds” (since in modernity—even contemporary late-modernity—it is precisely not on the register of juridical, sovereign power that hearts and minds are subjectivated in the first place[19]); yet, only mimetically satirizing the compulsory normativity of the Nation is to cede the necessity of even the barest legal protections to serve as the prerequisite backdrop of political interventions—at the very least it presupposes access to privileges not available to all. What is urgently required is a qualified renunciation of precisely the unqualified will-to-life necessary to the animation of sovereignty, a resolute “No” to the future as it is presently proposed, even if not the future itself.[20]

 

II. Quarrelling, Cavorting and Conspiring with Queers

Until recently I’ve struggled to understand the political dimensions of the anti-social strain of queer theory I term queer negationism, especially when brought to the extremes proposed by Lee Edelman in No Future.[21] As a political theorist, and one whose archive includes the future-oriented work of the rather anti-social Hannah Arendt, sentences in No Future like the one to follow strike me as insidiously anti-political, and thus profoundly irresponsible:

But politics (as the social elaboration of reality) and the self (as mere prosthesis maintaining the future for the figural Child), are what queerness, again as figure, necessarily destroys—necessarily insofar as this ‘self’ is the agent of reproductive futurism and this ‘politics’ is the means of its promulgation as the order of social reality.[22]

In other words, politics is merely the means by which the present social elaboration of reality is reproduced. This seems to hand over politics to heteronormative reproductive futurism—a profoundly antihistorical, and thus theoretically suspect assumption.[23] And, perhaps not surprisingly, I locate in this concession the profound failure of Edelman’s argument: queers become the negative of social order, irrespective of the quality of the social order. At the same time, however, this social order is ahistorically hypostatized, doomed to forever and always reproduce itself in the name of the figural Child.[24] Edelman actually, and no doubt unwittingly, diagnoses his own problem: Queerness “only means [i.e., is meaningful] by figuring a threat to meaning, which depends of the promise of coming, in a future continuously deferred, into the presence that reconciles meaning with being in a fantasy of completion—a fantasy on which every subject’s cathexis of the signifying system depends.”[25] Beneath the obfuscating detritus of jargon is a rather straight-forward claim: as a queer, Edelman is meaningful only insofar as he destroys the very system of meaning he relies on as a queer, if queer is to mean anything. What is negated is not only the Symbolic law of the figural Child, but also, and necessarily, the queer. It is hard to see how this is anything but yet another exercise of the queer auto-erasure Bersani pointedly diagnoses:

But what’s troubling is that, in rejecting essentializing identities derived from sexual preference, [such theories] mount a resistance to homophobia in which the agent of resistance has been erased: there is no longer any homosexual subject to oppose the homophobic subject. The desirable social transgressiveness of gayness—its aptitude for contesting oppressive structures—depends not on denying gay identity, but rather on exploring the links between a specific sexuality, psychic mobility, and a potentially radical politics.[26]

However, by figuring queers as figures of negation, Edelman negates the potential participation of queers in creating a future that is not dominated by a politics conducted for the sake of the figural Child.

By contrast, even the most radical moment of queer negationism in Bersani’s Homos sustains the possibility of creating new futures, as when, in the now infamous reading of Genet’s Funeral Rites the Nazi Erik and the French collaborator Riton “fuck the world” on a Paris rooftop:

Because they know they will soon die, this act naturally has some of the desperate and brutal defiance of Genet’s “J’encule le monde”, but it also contains—intriguingly for us—the promise of a new kind of fertilization. They come not with each other but, as it were, to the world, and in so doing they have the strange but empowering impression of looking at the night as one looks at the future. For Genet, this ‘gesture of victory’ toward the world depends on an unqualified will to destroy.[27]

But what if, for instance, the gesture of victory at stake in Berani’s reading of Genet is a welcoming of the world via a dis-placment of the self in ek-static moments of pleasure as much as a defiant ‘fucking of the world’? Wouldn’t this be the jouissance of inviting the world ‘in’? (Though, language gets sticky here since the self whose ‘inside’ the world is being invited into is dissolved during the transaction of invitation. This ‘invitation’ or ‘infestation’ of the world ‘into’ the subject is really more a dissemination of the self amidst the flux of the world than an impregnation of the subject by the world.[28]) In “Is the Rectum a Grave?” Bersani provocatively argued, at the height of the AIDS crisis no less, that the gay male obsession with sex should be celebrated because “it never stops re-presenting the internalized phallic male as an infinitely loved object of sacrifice.”[29] Here, on this model of queer negationism, what is denied under an ascetic regime of jouissance is precisely the self, not some outside, Other social order. The boundary line, the ‘barred subject,’ which may be said to be the phantasy of the sovereign, discrete subject, is dissolved in orgasm. On Bersani’s count “[s]exuality, at least in the mode in which it is constituted, may be a tautology for masochism.”[30] Yet, contra Edelman, such masochistic jouissance is political to the extent that “[t]he self is a practical convenience; promoted to the status of an ethical ideal, it is a sanction for violence.”[31] Denying this perpetually violent self-defensive self, masochistically, is a politically potent act: in accepting the intimate interanimation of self and social order animus is neither projected outward into the world, nor inward against the self. Rather, Bersani’s gay outlaws “come not with each other, but to the world…” Openness to the political world, not its negation, is what ascetic jouissance promises; it is a political posture that neither hypostatizes the present social order, nor disempowers the self as an agent of subversion (even if that agent begins by ‘only’ subverting himself).

To the extent that this displacement of the self is also a displacement of an unqualified will-to-life—where life is understood as, at bare minimum, control over the decision to live or die—queer sexuality[32] is simultaneously a radical disavowal of sovereignty. And, as Bersani somewhat rhetorically ponders, it may be precisely anxiety over losing sovereignty that lies at the heart of “the big secret about sex: most people don’t like it.”[33] It is, then, not ironic that what was once a truism for politics—that the pleasure of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ takes the courage to risk facing loss of life—became potent for a generation not in the glorious public realm, but in the shadows of Times Square tearooms and bathhouses at the dawn of a liberation movement, and at the height of an epidemic.[34] Yet, the imbrication of sexual risk, the loss of self, and political courage succoring current generations of sexually active (queer) citizens is swiftly loosing its potency: queer sexuality suffers from privatization, politics from commercialization, and the self is lost not in pleasure, but debt. In part this is because we are told we have no future, and what is more, we shouldn’t want one.[35] What is more, speaking for a self-displaced subject of pleasure in the realm of politics is extremely difficult, and by design: ‘respectable’ politics, we are told, is about seeking recognition, pursuing rational self-interest, and so on… all the aims and abilities found suspect by a citizenry of queer subjects of pleasure apprehended by contradictory and garbled irruptions of acting-out.

Most profoundly, however, what the Nation-State forecloses is the gaze Erik and Riton train on the night sky: “the strange but empowering impression of looking at the night as one looks at the future.” This foreclosure is mirrored perfectly in Bersani’s own choice of future-oriented texts, as the scene he chooses is already freighted with death: Genet’s Erik and Riton know the jig is up, and so they gaze at the night as if it is their last. That is, they gaze at the future nostalgically. But what would it look like to cruise the world differently, with a commitment to impede implanted and inscribed ideological interdicts, with a qualified will to destroy not others but the conditions of (im)possibility foreclosing the dawn? Or, restated: Is it possible to figure politics as an explicitly sexual, and thus non-sovereign, practice?

III. A Queer Politics of Non-Sovereign Pleasure

Hannah Arendt’s biographer, and political-theorist and psychoanalyst Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, pointedly reminds readers of Arendt’s work that politics is about a “love for the world” and not, as in the power-politics of the bourgeoisie, self-aggrandizement. This commitment to the world animated Arendt’s approach to thinking-through the phenomenology of political experience so much so that, in “[r]ejecting the philosophical tradition of contemptus mundi, Arendt wanted to call her book [The Human Condition] Amor Mundi, love of the world.”[36] Fundamentally, as Bersani suggests, one cannot be amorously open to the world and maintain a posture of sovereignty, and thus Arendt understood politics to be actualized only when and where the concept of the political grounded in sovereignty is dis-invested. Such psychic divestment is not a fantasy on Arendt’s count; quite the contrary: the founding of America, for instance, stands as an exemplary case of the revolutionary power of non-sovereign pleasure politics to open and sustain spaces of freedom.

Perhaps counter-intuitively Arendt’s public realm is thoroughly saturated in eroticized affect. While On Revolution is notoriously the text where Arendt seems to banish compassion from the public realm, faulting the overwhelming intensity of pathos for the failure of the French Revolution,[37] it is also the text where Arendt, inspired by John Adams, gestures toward a theory of political pleasure:

It is precisely because the tyrant has no desire to excel and lacks all passion for distinction that he finds it so pleasant to rise above the company of all men; conversely, it is the desire to excel which makes men love the world and enjoy the company of their peers, and drives them into public business.[38]

As I have argued elsewhere, this desire to excel or to, in Adams’s words, ‘emulate,’ is a political variation on the theme of world-receptive sensual ascesis Bersani discerns in queer (anal) sex.[39] Arendt elaborates on this desire, associating with politics a three-fold pleasure: 1) the tactile sensitivity or sensibility of moving through the world, the activity of being aroused and arousing the world; 2) the dynamic interplay characteristic of the exhibitionist and the voyeur, the thrill of appearing before and watching others; 3) the art of (re-)stylizing public personae, what may be said to be the ethical process of becoming or fashioning oneself as a character of political history.[40] In On Revolution Arendt rather forwardly asserts, quoting John Adams no less than three times, “it is action, not rest, that constitutes our pleasure,” to argue that people engage in political action in no small measure because it feels good.[41] It must strike contemporary readers as strange to encounter the experience of the American revolutionaries, especially Jefferson and Adams, who eagerly and unashamedly affirmed the happiness, the pleasure of politics. This pursuit of happiness, not “nature’s god nor self-evident truth,” is what founds and invigorates political assemblies.[42] That is to say, political pleasure is active, the satisfying sensation of moving through a web of relations, acting in concert with others, creating and cultivating novel modes of relating to others in playgrounds of innovation.[43] If this claim is persuasive, then it is not civic duty nor some other such prosaic delusion, but narcissistic auto-eroticism, a political exhibitionism, which motivates political engagement.

It is for this reason, too, that happiness must be public happiness, and not simply the long enshrined private happiness of European liberalism; the pleasure of action requires a public space where it can appear before voyeuristic spectators. “Tyranny,” writes Arendt, “deprived of public happiness, though not necessarily of private well-being, while a republic granted to every citizen the right to become ‘a participator in the government of affairs’, the right to be seen in action.”[44] Thus, institutionalized spaces of appearance are necessary for politics.[45] Complimenting the sensation of actively engaging others, then, is the scopophilic pleasure of politics, the pleasure of the voyeur and the exhibitionist, the undeniable generosity of narcissistic performative display and gratuitous spectatorial identification. Politics for this reason, says Arendt, is the pleasure of “an ‘elite’ that is chosen by no one but constitutes itself. The joys of public happiness and the responsibilities for public business would then become the share of those few from all walks of life who have a taste for public freedom and cannot be ‘happy’ without it. Politically, they are the best, and it is the task of good government and the sign of a well-ordered republic to assure them of their rightful place in the public realm.”[46] Again, the best political actors are those for whom happiness is meaningless absent publicity.

The appearance or display that accompanies all action is crucial for understanding the revolutionary power of pluralized politics. Public participation in the American Revolution occurred within an organizational structure Arendt terms “revolutionary councils.” The councils were democratic spaces of appearance where public interaction and debate about political issues took place; “The men who sat in the councils…were those who organized themselves[,] those who cared and… took the initiative.”[47] Originating in small townships, the councils formed into a federal structure, where “the council men…chose their deputies for the next higher council” at each level.[48] On each tier of this pyramid-shaped organizational structure each man found himself among equals, speaking with and not for those who elected him to represent them—“their title rested on nothing but the confidence of their equals.”[49] These councils saw themselves as laying the foundation of a republic where “every member of the modern egalitarian society [could] become a ‘participator’ in public affairs.”[50] Their goal was not perpetual revolution but a form of government that would allow those who desired an active role in political life a space for their voices to be heard and actions seen.

Late in his life Jeffersonbegan to reflect on his experience in the Revolution and expressed in private correspondence a fear that the Constitution had “given all the power to the citizens…without giving the citizens the opportunity of being republicans and acting as citizens.”[51] The promise of the Declaration of Independence that all citizens have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had not been kept in the drafting of the Constitution. That is, “all power had been given to the people in their private capacity and there was no space established for them in their capacity of being citizens.”[52] Jefferson articulated a potential remedy: the “‘subdivision of the counties into wards’” namely, “breaking up ‘the many’ into assemblies where everyone could count and be counted upon.” [53] Only then “‘shall we be as republican as a large society can be’.”[54] The wards system was conscientiously modeled after the successful revolutionary councils and Jefferson believed “these ‘little republics’…would be the main strength of the great one.”[55]

Jeffersongives weight to the dissemination of power to multiple, small assemblies because of the responsibility that accompanies proximate interaction: each man can be called upon to undertake a joint enterprise within a space where her answer will be heard. Crucial to this response-ability is the “recognition of the opposition as an institution of the government.”[56] The promise to allow all voices to be heard did not guarantee every opinion would win the day, but it did serve to maintain the council’s continued legitimacy and prevented disenfranchisement. Further, the very fact that the publicity of the councils as a space where each citizen acts and speaks “within its boundaries” minimizes the extent to which corrupting private interests could prevail; within this space a plurality of perspectives and opinions could be brought to bear on any one proposed course of action. This conditioning dynamic of display is replicated on an inter-council level as well, radicalizing the checks and balances offered by both federalism (states/federation) and republicanism (legislative/executive/judicial).[57]

Arendt writes, “if the ultimate end of the revolution was freedom and the constitution of a public space where freedom could appear…then the elementary republics of the wards [were] the only tangible place where everyone could actually be free.”[58] Of course, history shows Jefferson’s ward federalism never became a tangible reality in America. Instead a profound mistrust of the people, most vehemently expressed by Madison, prompted the drafters of the Constitution to prefer representative politics to more democratic methods of governance.[59] The revolutions of the 20th century that saw the emergence of councils—the Russian workers strikes of 1905, the Arbeiter-und-Soldatenräte strikes of 1918, the 1917 February Revolution, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution—also witnessed their forcible displacement and disbandment once the revolution was ‘concluded.’ The tendency to view councils as “the hopelessly romantic yearning of the people, who…did not yet know the true facts of life” is, for Arendt, definitively connected to the modern prejudice of identifying “power with the monopoly of the means of violence.”[60] A successful revolution was understood to be the usurpation of an old regime, replacing one party with another, ostensibly one “for the people.” This was especially true of revolutions that occurred within nation-states, where the “councils challenged the party system as such” as “competitors for public power,” refusing to abdicate political power to party representatives. This competition for public power, and not ‘hopeless romanticism,’ accounts for the terminal life span of the councils, which were “regarded as mere instruments to be dispensed with once the revolution came to an end.”[61]

Concluding Invitations:

Over the course of this essay I have attempted to link the two poles of the Nation-State to the disciplinary-sovereign axes of power Foucault genealogically traces as the convivial operations of domination in late-modernity. In rehashing Foucault’s reading of Hobbes, I have amplified this conviviality to disabuse queer theorists of the temptation to make recourse to the sovereign Law as an unwavering, neutral ally in struggles against oppressively normalizing disciplinary power. Yet, I also sought to disabuse queers from the irresponsible fantasies of antipolitical postures such as Lee Edelman’s, which may be (forgivingly) said to assault not the State but the “background conditions” of the State, the normalizing ideology of compulsory heterosexual reproductive futurity. I drew on Edelman’s genealogical predecessor, Leo Bersani, to argue that what must be resisted is not the future as such, but rather the particular configuration of the present which seeks to incessantly reproduce itself. Drawing on Hannah Arendt I then sought to elaborate a model of political relationality which does not fall back on smooth fantasies of decisive, sovereign boundedness, but rather the self-dipla(y)cing pleasure practices characteristic of revolutionary council assemblies.

And, of course, the objection is still raised, as it is sardonically in the epigram of this paper, that such theoretical optimism is just a cruel delusion, a haughty or naïve voluntarism. When, if ever, will political life be organized in such a manner as to mimic the cruising practices of queer sex? And, more over, heaven help us if political life ever came to resemble the lethal, viral practices of queers. It seems reasonable to anticipate such charges of naïve optimism, and they are easily enough ignored, for ultimately they fail to appreciate the plasticity of both disciplinary and sovereign juridical power. Simply because recourse to the State will not decisively protect against the incursions of normalizing discipline cohering and consolidating the National body politic does not mean it is impregnable to the politics of bricolage. Speaking, again, methodologically, and without any real interest in weighing in on the debate one way or the other, anti-marriage queer theorists like Michael Warner seem to mystify the institution of heterosexed marriage to such an extent that it appears nothing, least of all queers, can alter its incessantly repetitive domination of minority sexualities.[62] The fact is, however, that institutions do change, and the meanings they disseminate, reiterate, innovate, displace, dilute, nullify or amplify alter with such changes. For instance, as Bernard Harcourt has amply documented, while the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas does not really or substantively destigmatize queer sex since it operates on the register of a) consent and b) rights to privacy, it is nevertheless mistaken not to view the changes that Lawrence does effect in extending privacy rights to queers of consensual age.[63] This does not in any way erase the problematic frames proposed by the Court for viewing the intersections of sex and politics inAmerica. What it does demand, however, is attention to such changes. Perhaps, then, rather than view the right to privacy as a means of repressively shutting-away deviant sexuality, one may view, with Foucault, such legal protection as a new launching ground from which to stage new political interventions—privacy enables refuge from the gaze of the State, and this is a benefit that has yet to be fully appreciated, appropriated, and leveraged by queers.

At the same time, however, the State, while capable of succumbing to manipulation in the service of opening space for queer resistance, is not in and of itself capable of altering the disciplining strategies of the National Symbolic[64]: the State is a form of media; the State dispatches—life, knowledge, bodies, technologies, ect. To hijack the medium of the State—a political feat rather successfully accomplished by cynical Reaganite conservatives[65]—requires counter-discourses, unruly, irreverent, unpredictable, even mad acts of resistance performed by agitational groups of (queer) political activists. Insane, but seductive: the posture of (queer) non-sovereign politics is, and must always be, stylized as welcoming. This is because, quite simply, in Arendt’s words, “To expect people, who have not the slightest notion of what the res publica, the public thing, is, to behave nonviolently and argue rationally in matters of interest is neither realistic nor reasonable.”[66] Rather than assume the self-evidence of the public ‘thing,’ it is more fruitful to anticipate having to receive citizens who must be seduced into welcoming ‘it’ into their lives, into opening themselves to an intimate experience with a public world. In this regard intimate publics would be not so much the arena facilitating the privatization of the (public) world of politics through investments of intimacy, but rather those public spaces where the intimate self can be executed through excessive political exposure.[67]

I take this drive for public intimacy to mean the desire for articulations of distinct and attractive alternatives for political organization to the shifty binarism of the Nation-State disciplinary-juridical pole. To the extent that (queer) political actors fail to exploit the ambivalent position of queer liminality, the seamless reproductions of (Nation-) State (normalizing-) rule prevails.[68] Ultimately it may be ambivalence which defines queerness, a definition which through its invocations implodes the concept of queer, and which necessarily throws each (queer) subject back onto a fundamental decision as to how to live and love. It is this throwing-back-upon which captures the queer subject in a state of ambivalence, for this condition is nothing more or less than the meager yet still wildly hopeful affirmation of a future which is not exhausted by the tired repetitions of presentist compulsory heterosexuality.

A political movement, a queer groundswell, may soon erupt from the (queer) bedroom and pour into the streets. Given the privatized nature of queer sexuality, democratic participation, and love-of-the-world generally, it is only reasonable to anticipate a seismically-induced tsunami of publicization.[69] This was, after all, the ‘original’ strategy of queer activism popularized by Harvey Milk, coming out, and it garners political consideration to the extent that the simple, courageous act of refusing to conform opens entirely new modalities of being in the world and relating to others within it.[70] Yet, coming out must mean more than heroic exposure to precarity; it must also mean a cunning, playful engagement of the Nation-State game so as to pervert the integrity of its rules; a defiant refusal to secret away from the social realm desires deemed unseemly, since there is only unmediated desire investing the social realm;[71] a passionate drive to cultivate annular, jocular groups of friends to compete with the orthodoxy of heterosexed kinship; and the ascetic, which is to say, self-overcoming, desire to open the topography of the bodily-ego to the intruding advances of ethical practices of the care of the self. To come out is to come on… to a world, a constituency, even an imaginary which is worthy of the revolutionary passion for emulation. The political challenge for queers today is to think beyond the either/or of the (disciplinary-) Nation-(juridical-) State binary, to imagine actionable regimes of relationality which bring the body back to itself and to its own creative capacities for pursuing happiness, thereby enabling an unprecedented, but not unimaginable, future.


[1]Warner, Michael. “Something Queer About the Nation-State” in Public and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), pp. 209.

[2] Warner, “Something Queer About the Nation-State,” pp. 209.

[3] Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 185. Butler’s parodic politics may be illuminatingly read as a politicized counter-bricolage.

[4] Warner, “Something Queer About the Nation-State,” pp. 209-223.

[5] Foucault, Michel. “Society Must Be Defended” ed. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), pp. 44.

[6] Wolin, Sheldon. Hobbes and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory (Los Angeles: University of California, 1970), pp. 50.

[7] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 92. Foucault cites the well-known passage from Leviathan: “Warre consisteth not in battle onely, or in the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battel is sufficiently known.” (Leviathan, XIII) Importantly, in his critique of Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political Leo Strauss highlights the same passage for its emphasis on theatricality, cf. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 105.

[8] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 96. For an elaboration of this concept in Foucaultdian terms, cf. Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency),” in Critical Inquiry 33 (2007), 754-780.

[9] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 97—emphasis mine.

[10] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp.104-105—emphasis mine.

[11] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp.59-60. Cf, generally, Michel Foucault History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) for an account of the phlembotically grounded ideology of the holy Oedipal family and how this racialized, eugenic programme supported both the exponential growth of Capitalism and disciplinary power by locating in the family the nexus of surplus labor/knowledge. Cf also, Linda Zerilli, Signifying Women: Culture and Chaos in Rousseau, Burke, and Mill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), Ch. 4.

[12] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 108.

[13] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 106.

[14] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 110.

[15] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 35.

[16] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 38.

[17] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 62.

[18] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” pp. 39.

[19] Cf. Arendt, Hannah. “Civil Disobedience” in Crises of the Republic (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972), pp. 81, where Arendt draws on the example of Prohibition as a case that undermines the liberal conceit in the potency of Law.

[20] In a novel deployment of Foucault and Deleuze, Jasbir Puar has persuasively argued in Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007) that simply focusing on biological modes of reproduction ignores the regenerative, or non-strictly biological means by which power circulates and self-perpetuates. I do not wish to succumb to the ploy of taking biological reproductivism as the paradigmatic mode of discursive coercion, but it seems even the phrase “market virility” betrays, albeit by metaphorical derivation, the continuing hegemony of the genre of reproductivity. This genre includes characters as diverse as born-again Christians and Nietzschean übermensch, displaying qualities of, say, market virility in, perhaps, a virtual environment through the mask of their “Second Life” avatar. That is to say, as Puar skillfully demonstrates, the living “body of excess”—the multiply, repeatedly assembled body—remains the interface of power, whether to gather information (as in the rapidly shifting yet continuous mechanisms of biopolitical control or to regulate the actions of subjects through technologies of disciplinary normalization. It may also be precisely the indifference of power to the quality of life which enables the rapidity and multiplicity of its deployments, and which prompted Foucault to politicize modes of disciplinary ascesis as an act of reverse-discourse, making the cultivation of a life ethically rooted in pleasure a political act of subversion. Cf. Foucault, generally, the series of interviews collected in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press, 1997), especially “Friendship as a Way of Life,” pp. 135-140, and Robert Burns Neveldine, Bodies at Risk: Unsafe Limits in Romanticism and Postmodernism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), pp. 82-83 for a Deleuzean influenced defense of Foucault’s valorization of Medieval courtship rituals against Bersani’s allegation that such a move is “quaint.”

[21] Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

[22] Edelman, No Future, pp. 30.

[23] I am drawing on Muñoz’s rather clear-headed suggestion that queers not “hand over futurity to normative white reproductive futurity”  (pp. 95) so as to enable “another modality of doing and being that is in process, unfinished” (pp. 99).

[24] Compare Edelman’s ahistorical approach—a theoretical deficit resultant, I think, from over-reliance on Lacanian psychoanalysis, which itself teeters at times between analytic formalism and ahistorical speculation—to the majesty of Berlant’s The Queen of America Goes to Washington City (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997). In these essays Berlant’s discriminating capacity to read in various cultural texts the ways in which the infantilization of citizens effects the seeming necessity of accepting the “system” as it is in its present tense, as it is now, is inspiringly exemplary. An infantilized citizenry and the elevated political status of the fetus were not an a priori condition of American political life, but rather emerged historically as the result of various contingent, but still idiosyncratically consistent, countersubversive responses typical of the Reaganite Right. That is, by historicizing the nation, which is to say, by exposing the contingency of its political foundation (i.e., it’s temporality), Berlant defies the foreclosure of futurity, bringing to politics ‘live sex acts’ that challenge the deadeningly ‘natural’ reproduction of the National Symbolic Edelman diagnoses as strictly reproductive.

[25] Edelman, No Future, pp. 114.

[26] Cf. Bersani, Homos, pp. 56. Cf. Hannah Arendt, “The Jewish Army—the Beginning of a Jewish Politics?” (1941) in The Jewish Writings ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), pp. 136-139, 137: “One truth that is unfamiliar to the Jewish people, though they are beginning to learn it, is that you can only defend yourself as the person you are attacked as. A person attacked as a Jew cannot defend himself as an Englishman or Frenchman. The world would only conclude that he is not defending himself…. Jews today are obsessed with the fixed idea of their own meaninglessness. Some of them hope this means they can exit the political stage yet once again, and some are in honest despair at belonging to a powerless and evidently completely depoliticized group.” On the (queer) relationship in Arendt’s work between homosexuality and Jewishness, and, in turn, how both pariah positions relate to racialized social norms of biopower, cf. Morris Kaplan, “Refiguring the Jewish Question: Arendt, Proust, and the Politics of Sexuality” in Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt ed. Bonnie Honig (University Park, Penn: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), pp.105-133.

[27] Bersani, Leo. Homos (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 166—final emphasis mine.

[28] Cf. Bersani, Homos, pp. 118-120, 120: When reading Gide’s Immoralist Bersani detects in the convalescence of protagonist Michel a sort of queer re-birthing through pederastic desire, culminating in a scene when Michel experiences his body anew while nude sunbathing: “Now his body, uncovered, can touch everywhere. His…naked flesh…extends itself into the world, abolishing the space between it and the soil, the grass, and the air. He is, briefly, the contact between himself and the world, and he has simultaneously become nothing but a bodily ego and has broken the boundaries of that ego.” This breaking-down which also refigures a corporeal investment may be illuminatingly understood as the schizoid immanence Deleuze and Guattari trace in Anti-Oedipus.

[29] Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in October, Vol. 43, AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism (Winter, 1987), pp. 197-222. Passage from the concluding paragraph, pp. 222.

[30] Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” pp. 217. Tim Dean takes Bersani to task for this figuration, making a petty quip about the centrality of the rectum as a metaphor for the grave of the violence-authorizing ‘self’. Such an objection, as I argued, misses the timeliness of Bersani’s intervention: rather than figure the rectum as a slaughterhouse, he figures it as a site of redemption (ironically): in putting to bed the self a new relation to the world is conceivable. Thus, when Dean continues to argue that the ego remains too central to Bersani’s argument he overlooks the degree to which, as quoted above, Bersani qualifies his assertion regarding sexuality appearing masochistic. By framing the ego-shattering effects of jouissance within the current constitution of the subject (pp. 217), Bersani strategically avoids conflating the ego as it is figured with a transcendental, masterful ego. Thus, since almost all subjects begin from a conceptualization of selfhood intricately bound-up with a notion of the ego, discovering an ascesis to aid in moving through and beyond that limiting figuration of the subject-qua-ego is necessary. Here Bersani honors the late Foucault even in his most querulous engagement with him: gay butt-fucking is an ascetic practice of the care of the self: the self is, as it were, ‘taken care of,’ fucked-over, blown-away such that the subject is subject to new relations. Cf. Beyond Sexuality (Chicago: TheUniversity ofChicago Press, 2000), pp. 130-131.

[31] Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” pp. 222.

[32] A common objection to the necessity of qualifying sexuality as ‘queer’—“doesn’t all sex do what you ascribe to ‘queer’ sexuality?”—fails to adequately account for the troublesome ways in which sex and sexuality is done. The delightfully provocative essay by Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public,” addresses publicly flaunted representations of (hetero)sex(uality) in public, from bus-stop lingerie ads to wedding bands. Cf. Warner, “Sex in Public,” in Publics and Counterpublics, pp. 187-208. One eagerly anticipates reading about the Rambles or the Catacombs, and thwarting this desire is, in part, the pedagogical strategy their essay performs: calling into question the assumed normalcy of the heterosexual media that saturates ordinary public space demands a reconsideration of what constitutes ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’ (just as the concluding consideration of erotic vomiting solicits norms of identitarian pleasure-politics).  The point is: many people execute sex acts, but this says nothing of whether or not they have, in so doing, figuratively executed themselves.

[33] Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?”, pp. 197.

[34] Cf. Hocquenghem, Guy. Homosexual Desire trans. Daniela Dangoor (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993). In this trenchant polemic, published the same year as Anti-Oedipus, Hocquenghem, a French gay man, writes: “‘Practicing’ homosexuals are, in a sense, people who have failed in their sublimation; they are ‘incapable of fully assuming the demands which nature and culture may impose on individuals.’ To fail one’s sublimation is in fact merely to conceive social relations in a different way…. [i]n Turkish baths, for example, where homosexual desires are plugged in anonymously, in spite of ever-present fears that the police may be present.” (111) The anus for Hocquenghem is championed, not because anal sex is inherently ‘homosexual,’ but rather, in two closely related senses: 1) the pleasures of anal sex are available to everyone, whereas 2) phallo-vaginal sex is exclusionary, and as such tainted by the ideology of social desexualization characteristic of sublimation. Thus, “[t]he anus’s group mode is an annular one, a circle which is open to an infinity of directions and possibilities for plugging in, with no set places. The group annular mode (one is tempted to spell it ‘anular’) causes the ‘social’ of phallic hierarchy, the whole house of cards of the ‘imaginary,’ to collapse.” (111)

[35] This is the ironic conviviality of Edelman’s call for queers (and other minoritarians) to adopt an ethics founded on the refusal of futurity, on “no future,” and the very real structural foreclosures the Nation-State hybrid ceaselessly invents to hem in the future possibilities queers and their allies may strategically pursue in the pursuit of happiness, or even in a more conditioned manner, the “art of not being governed quite so much.” Cf. Foucault, Michel. “What is Critique?” in The Essential Foucault ed. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (New York: The New Press, 2003), pp. 265.

[36] Young-Bruehl, Elizabeth. Hannah Arendt, For Love of the World (New Haven:YaleUniversity Press, 2004), pp. 324.

[37] For a brilliantly even-handed and novel approach to Arendt’s relationship to affect see the fine essay by Deborah Nelson, “Suffering and Thinking” in Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, ed. Lauren G. Berlant (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 219-244. In this essay Nelson situates On Revolution within the context of having been interrupted by Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial, which she argues foregrounds and also qualifies the treatment of compassion in the discussion of the French Revolution. For, as Nelson notes, “It is not that Eichmann could not feel for others (though nothing in his testimony suggests that he could) that disabled his conscience and permitted him to transport Jews to their death, Arendt agues, but that he could not imagine their having a perspective other than his own. Therefore, her irony [in reportage style] can be viewed as an attempt at plurality, as mocking as it is. By taking him at his word, Arendt is able to display his self-understanding and it ludicrousness at the same time. That irony is an affectless rhetoric suggests the distance between plurality and empathy. It was a distance, however, that many of her detractors could not perceive, not because they were poor readers necessarily, but because their habits of reading and their preference for an emotional explanation for Nazi evil overrode her intervention.” (pp. 232)

[38] Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1990), pp. 120.

[39] Galloway, Samuel. “The Other Side of the Coin: The Pathos of Non-Sovereign Politics and the Pleasure of Forgiveness,” unpublished manuscript.

[40] Becoming a self capable of becoming-other, in other words, is a task which cannot be undertaken in isolation, but requires the presence of others who arouse admiration, reverence, contempt, revulsion—that is, desire. Cf. generally Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the early yet enduringly formative essay “Schopenhauer as Educator,” in Untimely Meditations ed. Daniel Breazeale, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[41] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 24, 187, and 214.

[42] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 187.

[43] Compare this pathos for self-display with the degenerative, pleasure- and life-sapping ascesis of appearance traced by Christina Ross in The Aesthetics of Engagement: Contemporary Art and Depression (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), Ch. 2: “The Laboratory of Deficiency”. Central to the discrepancy between the experience of the American revolutionaries and Ross’s subjects is the status of the influence exercised by Capital on the ordinary lives of apparent actors. In casting politics as a mode of playfulness I am indebted to the insights of D. W. Winnicott in Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 2005).

[44] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 121—emphasis mine. Compare this ‘right to be seen’ to, for instance, certain preoccupations with the ‘right to have rights’.

[45] It occurs to me now that it is plausible Arendt demands a constitutional amendment protecting public dissent and protest precisely because such a right would literally transform every public space into a freely accessible political space. In this regard, Arendt seeks to radicalize public space itself by democratizing access to a stage of appearance wherever it is encountered. Cf. Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience,” pp.101. Cf. also the appropriative strategy at work in The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 198: “‘Where you go, you will be a polis’: these famous words became not merely the watchword of Greek colonization, they expressed the conviction that action and speech create a space between the participants which can find its proper location almost any time and anywhere.”  Acknowledging the fragility of human affairs, the constitutional amendment proposed by Arendt is a practice of counter-colonization aimed at institutionalizing the generative power of pluralized action to open and sustain spaces for the appearance of freedom.

[46] Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition, 279.

[47] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 278.

[48] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 278.

[49] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 278.

[50] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 264-265.

[51] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 253.

[52] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 253, emphasis mine.

[53] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 253-254. There is, I think, a considerable amount of scholarly work remaining to be done toward mining the affinities between the documented experiences of the American revolutionaries and the theoretical ventures of post-68’ French intellectuals such as Foucault and Deleuze, especially around the issue of the assemblage of political constituencies.

[54] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 253.

[55] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 253.

[56] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 267.

[57] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 254. Cf. also “Civil Disobedience,” pp. 101.

[58] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 255

[59]Cf. The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, ed. David Wootton (Indianapolis andCambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2003), especially Federalist #47-51, and #10.

[60] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 263; 256 respectively.

[61] Arendt, On Revolution, pp. 256.

[62] Warner, Michael. The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 132: “It seems rather much to expect that gay people would transform the institution of marriage by simply marrying.”

[63] Harcourt, Bernard E. “‘You Are Entering a Gay and Lesbian Free Zone”: On the Radical Dissents of Justice Scalia and Other (Post-) Queers [Raising Questions about Lawrence, Sex Wars, and the Criminal Law]” in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 94 (2004), pp. 503-550.

[64] I follow Lauren Berlant’s summary definition of the National Symbolic as that which, precisely because it is engaged in suturing collectivities into a natural whole, is the acting-out of the multiple contradictions rife in any body politic. Crucially, Berlant suggests that such active negotiation does not signal failure, but precisely the insidious efficacy of such narratives to knit together and level pluralities. Cf. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, pp. 277ff.37:

The National Symbolic is defined as ‘the order of discursive practices whose reign within the national space…transforms individuals into subjects of a collectively held history. Its traditional icons, its metaphors, its heroes, its rituals, and its narratives provide an alphabet for a collective consciousness or national subjectivity; through the Nation Symbolic, the historical nation aspires to achieve the inevitability of the status of natural law, a birthright. This pseudo-generic condition not only affects profoundly the citizen’s subjective experience of her/his political rights, but also of civil life, private life, the life of the body itself.’

[65] Cf. Michael Rogin. Ronald Reagan, The Movie: And Other Episodes in Political Demonology (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1988),Ch. 1, 2, & 9 especially.

[66] Arendt, Hannah. “On Violence” in Crises of the Republic (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972), pp. 175.

[67] On the privatizing affects of intimate publics cf. generally Lauren Berlant, Queen of America Goes to Washington City.

[68] On ambivalence as a sustaining rather than foreclosing affect in the ordinary conduct of socio-political life cf. Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), especially  pp. 2.

[69] The metaphor is borrowed from Bernard “Bifo” Berardi, who uses the metaphor heuristically in an interview to figure the return of proletariat politics as a tidal wave “so overwhelming, so frightening, that we don’t even have the guts to think about it, the guts to imagine it.” Cf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eojG4Hom3A accessed Nov. 30, 2010.

[70] For a sense of coming out as coming-out-into a new modality of queer sociality or relationality cf. George Chauncy, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 7-8.

[71] Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia trans. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 29: “We maintain that the social field is immediately invested by desire, that it is the historically determined product of desire, and that libido has no need of any mediation or sublimation, any psychic operation, any transformation, in order to invade ad invest the productive forces and the relations of production. There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.”