Sunday, July 31, 2016

a day comes

by jane hirshfield from after

a day comes
when the mouth grows tired
of saying 'i.'

yet it is occupied
still by a self which must speak.
which still desires,
is curious.
which believes it has also a right.

what to do?
the tongue consults with the teeth
it knows will survive
both mouth and self,

which grin - it is their natural pose -
and say nothing.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

your ear

by gunter grass from novemberland
translated by michael hamburger

soothingly reassure. blandly tell fortune.
wished to communicate deeply.
for my stupidity wanted your understanding.
between quotation marks only or printed,
set in lead, to lie.

what finds no reason but receives an answer:
logical chains,
confessional whispering,
the interval kept in reserve,
speech-rubble sound-scree.

hoisted into the wind
your ear flutters,
hears itself flutter.

as i thread words they split, spoken off-target.

the relation of abandonment

quotes from giorgio agamben from homo sacer

"the cipher of this capture of life in law is not sanction (which is not at all an exclusive characteristic of the juridical rule) but guilt (not in the technical sense that this concept has in penal law but in the originary sense that indicates a being-in-debt: in culpa esse). . . guilt refers not to transgression, that is, to the determination of the licit and the illicit, but to the pure force of the law, to the law's simple reference to something."

"the sovereign is the point of indistinction between violence and law, the threshold on which violence passes over into law and law passes over into violence."

"language also holds man in its ban insofar as man, as a speaking being, has always already entered into language without noticing it. everything that is presupposed for there to be language (in the forms of something nonlinguistic, something ineffable, etc.) is nothing other than a presupposition of language that is maintained as such in relation to language precisely insofar as it is excluded from language."

"one of the peculiar characteristics of kafka's allegories is that at their very end they offer the possibility of an about-face that completely upsets their meaning. the obstinacy of the man from the country thus suggests a certain analogy with the cleverness that allows ulysses to survive the song of the sirens. just as the law in 'before the law' is insuperable because it prescribes nothing, so the most terrible weapon in kafka's 'the sirens' is not song but silence ('it has never happened, but it might not be altogether unimaginable that someone could save himself from their song, but certainly never from their silence.')"

"the law of this oscillation [between the violence that posits law and the violence that preserves it] rests on the fact that all law-preserving violence, in its duration, indirectly weakens the lawmaking violence represented by it, through the suppression of hostile counterviolence. . . this lasts until either new forces or those earlier suppressed triumph over the violence that had posited law until now and thus found a new law destined to a new decay. in the interruption of this cycle, which is maintained by mythical forms of law, in the deposition of law and all the forces on which it depends (as they depend on it) and, therefore, finally in the deposition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded." -walter benjamin

"sovereign violence opens a zone of indistinction between law and nature, outside and inside, violence and law. and yet the sovereign is precisely the one who maintains the possibility of deciding on the two to the very degree that he renders them indistinguishable from each other. as long as the state of exception is distinguished from the normal case, the dialectic between the violence that posits law and the violence that preserves it is not truly broken, and the sovereign decision even appears simply as the medium in which the passage from the one to the other takes place."

"the sentiments provoked by the one and the other are not identical: disgust and horror are one thing and respect another. nonetheless, for actions to be the same in both cases, the feelings expressed must not be different in kind. in fact, there actually is a certain horror in religious respect, especially when it is very intense; and the fear inspired by malignant powers is not without a certain reverential quality. . . the pure and the impure are therefore not two separate genera, but rather two varieties of the same genus that includes sacred things. there are two kinds of sacred things, the auspicious and the inauspicious. not only is there no clear border between these two opposite kinds, but the same object can pass from one to the other without changing nature. the impure is made from the pure, and vice versa. the ambiguity of the sacred consists in the possibility of this transmutation." -emile durkheim

"once placed in relation with the ethnographic concept of taboo, this ambivalence is then used - with perfect circularity - to explain the figure of homo sacer. there is a moment in the life of concepts when they lose their immediate intelligibility and can then, like all empty terms, be overburdened with contradictory meanings."

"the sovereign sphere is the sphere in which it is permitted to kill without committing homicide and without celebrating a sacrifice, and sacred life - that is, life that may be killed but not sacrificed - is the life that has been captured in this sphere."

"sacred life is in some way tied to a political function. it is as if, by means of a striking symmetry, supreme power - which, as we have seen, is always vitae necisque potestas and always founded on a life that may be killed but not sacrificed - required that the very person of sovereign authority assume within itself the life held in its power. and if, for the surviving devotee, a missing death liberates this sacred life, for the sovereign, death reveals the excess that seems to be as such inherent in supreme power, as if supreme power were, in the last analysis, nothing other than the capacity to constitute oneself and others as life that may be killed but not sacrificed."

". . .ancient germanic law was founded on the concept of peace and the corresponding exclusion from the community of the wrongdoer, who therefore became friedlos, without peace, and whom anyone was permitted to kill without committing homicide. the medieval ban also present analogous traits: the bandit could be killed (. . . 'to ban' someone is to say that anyone can harm him) or was even considered to be already dead."

"we have seen that the state of nature is not a real epoch chronologically prior to the foundation of the city but a principle internal to the city, which appears at the moment the city is considered tanquam dissoluta, 'as if it were dissolved' (in this sense, therefore, the state of nature is something like the state of exception). accordingly, when hobbes founds sovereignty by means of a reference to the state in which 'man is a wolf to men,' homo hominis lupus, in the word 'wolf' (lupus) we ought to hear an echo of the wargus and the caput lupinem of the laws of edward the confessor: at issue is not simply fera bestia and natural life but rather a zone of indistinction between the human and the animal, a werewolf, a man who is transformed into a wolf and a wolf who is transformed into a man - in other words, a bandit, a homo sacer."

hobbes, from leviathan: "this is the foundation of that right of punishing, which is exercised in every common-wealth. for the subjects did not give the soveraign that right; but onely in laying down theirs, strengthened him to use his own, as he should think fit, for the preservation of them all: so that it was not given, but left to him, and to him onely; and (excepting the limits set him by naturall law) as entire, as in the condition of meer nature, and of warre of every one against his neighbour."

"the relation of abandonment is so ambiguous that nothing could be harder than breaking from it. the ban is essentially the power of delivering something over to itself, which is to say, the power of maintaining itself in relation to something presupposed as nonrelational. what has been banned is delivered over to its own separateness and, at the same time, consigned to the mercy of the one who abandons it - at once excluded and included, removed and at the same time captured. the age-old discussion in juridical historiography between those who conceive exile to be a punishment and those who instead understand it to be a right and a refuge. . . has its root in this ambiguity of the sovereign ban."

"we must learn to recognize this structure of the ban in the political relations and public spaces in which we still live. in the city, the banishment of sacred life is more internal than every interiority and more external than every extraneousness. the banishment of sacred life is the sovereign nomos that conditions every rule, the originary spatialization that governs and makes possible every localization and every territorialization."

Friday, July 29, 2016

the middle distance

by lisel mueller (from the need to hold still)

you have retreated behind your eyes
to enter your other life,
the real one, where you are
in charge of the characters

your childhood has been corrected
and you are not going to die
and you keep moving toward a figure
whose arms stretch out to you

it is always the same figure
and the distance remains the same

Thursday, July 28, 2016

playing in the dark

quotes by toni morrison from playing in the dark

"criticism as a form of knowledge is capable of robbing literature not only of its own implicit and explicit ideology but of its ideas as well; it can dismiss the difficult, arduous work writers do to make an art that becomes and remains part of and significant withing a human landscape. . . what africanism became for, and how it functioned in, the literary imagination is of paramount interest because it may be possible to discover, through a close look at literary 'blackness,' the nature - even the cause - of literary 'whiteness.'"

"the ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. the languages they use and the social and historical context in which these languages signify are indirect and direct revelations of that power and its limitations."

"there is no romance free of what herman melville called 'the power of blackness,' especially not in a country in which there was a resident population, already black, upon which the imagination could play; through which historical, moral, metaphysical, and social fears, problems, and dichotomies could be articulated. the slave population, it could be and was assumed, offered itself up as surrogate selves for meditation on problems of human freedom, its lure and its elusiveness. this black population was available for meditations on terror - the terror of european outcasts, their dread of failure, powerlessness, nature without limits, natal loneliness, internal aggression, evil, sin, greed."

"what i wish to examine is how the image of reined-in, bound, suppressed, and repressed darkness became objectified in american literature as an africanist persona. i want to show how the duties of that persona - duties of exorcism and reification and mirroring - are on demand and on display throughout much of the literature of the country."

"eventually individualism fuses with the prototype of americans as solitary, alienated, and malcontent. what, one wants to ask, are americans alienated from? what are americans always so insistently innocent of? different from? as for absolute power, over whom is this power held, from whom withheld, to whom distributed?"

"even, and especially, when american texts are not 'about' africanist presences or characters or narrative or idiom, the shadow hovers in implication, in sign, in line of demarcation. . . for the settlers and for american writers generally, this africanist other became the means of thinking about body, mind, chaos, kindness, and love; provided the occasion for exercises in the absence of restraint, the presence of restraint, the contemplation of freedom and of aggression; permitted opportunities for the exploration of ethics and morality, for meeting the obligations of the social contract, for bearing the cross of religion and following out the ramifications of power."

"in what ways does the imaginative encounter with africanism enable white writers to think about themselves? . . . the technical ways in which an africanist character is used to limn out and enforce the invention and implications of whiteness. we need studies that analyze the strategic use of black characters to define the goals and enhance the qualities of white characters."

"poe meditates on place as a means of containing the fear of borderlessness and trespass, but also as a means of releasing and exploring the desire for a limitless empty frontier. consider the ways that africanism in other american writers (mark twain, melville, hawthorne) serves as a vehicle for regulating love and the imagination as defenses against the psychic costs of guilt and despair. africanism is the vehicle by which the american self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny."

"fetishization. . . this is especially useful in evoking erotic fears or desires and establishing fixed and major difference where difference does not exist or is minimal. blood, for example, is a pervasive fetish: black blood, white blood, the purity of blood; the purity of white female sexuality, the pollution of african blood and sex. fetishization is a strategy often used to assert the categorical absolutism of civilization and savagery."

"eddy is white, and we know he is because nobody says so."

"if we follow through on the self-reflexive nature of these encounters with africanism, it falls clear: images of blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable - all of the self-contradictory features of the self. whiteness, alone, is mute, meaningless, unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained, dreaded, senseless, implacable. or so our writers seem to say."

"individualism is foregrounded (and believed in) when its background is stereotypified, enforced dependency. freedom (to move, to earn, to learn, to be allied with a powerful center, to narrate the world) can be relished more deeply in a cheek-by-jowl existence with the bound and unfree, the economically oppressed, the marginalized, the silenced."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

the harrowing

by jean valentine from little boat

the worn hands
spines        feet
            even he
whose blank hand i held on to
for dear life
        phantom limb

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

the moment of absorption

quotes from event factory by renee gladman

"something had not been right there for a long time now, so the situation must be escalating. but why was it affecting him physically? 'what do you need,' i asked him. i tried to register my own health. the signals from my body were scattered and despondent. i decided to ignore its information entirely. there were too many 'feelings' sounding off in too many parts for me to believe any of them real. first, i was gripping my ankle and then i was grabbing at my sides, and just as i got comfortable attending to these areas, a pain erupted in my head, and my pelvis felt as though it had been ripped in two. ulchi, on the other hand, had just one symptom: he could not breathe."

"architecture again. it always comes to that. i can never get inside it; the singing structure eludes me. all my life, i swear that this has been true: i look at a shape, then look out into the world for the contents to fill it, but the thing i bring back does not fit - it more than not-fits, it destroys the shape altogether. as though putting my hands on things causes their distinctions to blur, as though i am not right to touch."

"i woke up in the green dawn and accepted the converse of my last spoken words. back there on the the grass, some place between pain and pleasure, my mind turned over the question of abandonment. it inserted an illusion, where reality would have destroyed me. the body deserted. standing now i recalled that voice, which at the time seemed as far away as a dream, saying, 'look at what i am writing.' was that she?"

"nothing had happened since dar left. it seemed that nothing ever would. but you say that, then you look around, and everything has changed. the mile i had counted was actually three. and i was already in a conversation."

"suddenly, as i turned the corner, a new idea struck me: in any city, where there is a crisis, one always encounters those who deny the occurrence of that very crisis, and eventually one finds out about the activists, but there is also a group that is equally as persuasive as the two above, just not interviewed as much - this group called 'the artists.'"

"i passed her. it did not feel good. i was stunned. i let a day go by. i could not tell if seeing her really happened. i was moody. i had not eaten. i found a comfortable place and began to read. the book held me; i leaned against it. i was waiting to be absorbed. i wanted to feel its mouth on me, its teeth break the surface of my skin - to witness myself growing smaller, dividing, falling through the tunnel of the book, fully inside it, until i vanished from here and existed there only -"

"so far, what i had gathered in this reading of matlatli doc was the difficulty of matching the moment of absorption (understanding) to the actual event that allowed for it. also, i found that amini was fond of the ravic phrase indicating 'it's not this gate but the one behind you' - often translated as 'your mistake and your other's mistake' - to talk about chamber music. i had forgotten how much waiting had to do with music."

"to move through this city was the only way to depart from it, which is what i had been doing all along. while arrival, if ever achieved, is one of the most minimalist of experiences, departure is long, luxuriating torture. but the name of my torturer was never know; i did not think i had uttered it. i did not think i had ever faced that person."

Monday, July 25, 2016


by rainer maria rilke from the windows

it’s because i saw you
leaning out the ultimate
window and i knew
and drank my whole abyss.

showing me your arms
stretched toward night,
you made what was in
me that escaped you escape
me, since, and run. . .

was your one gesture
proof of a goodbye so grand
that it turned me into wind
and dropped me in the river?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

the sensual world

by louise gluck from the seven ages

i call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.

earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.

i was not prepared: i stood in my grandmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. stewed plums, stewed apricots --

the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
and the water added, patiently, in small increments,

the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition --

aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,

more light passing through it.
delight, then solace. my grandmother waiting,

to see if more was wanted. solace, then deep immersion.
i loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,

the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs

fully exposed, awakened, fully alive --
deep immersion, and with it

mysterious safety. far away, the fruit glowing in its glass bowls.
outside the kitchen, the sun setting.

i was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,

not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
i caution you as i was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
you will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

your body will age, you will continue to need.
you will want the earth, then more of the earth ---

sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
it is encompassing, it will not minister.

meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

heartbroken people with extreme personality flaws

by mira gonzalez from i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together

i want to feel orgasms in the tip of my nose and the back of my ear
in the cartilage between the vertebrae that make up my spinal column
would you stare at my face for two hours without blinking
standing on the splintery wooden porch of the house where i was born
we are craving a certain unachievable density in emotions
subtle gestures that suggest something complex and vague
i will kiss you everywhere and recklessly
under an avocado tree in the hole i dug in my dad’s backyard when i
was seven
here are some things that i would like to touch
clavicle bones, backs of knees, adam’s apples, the spaces between
together we will have this extremely beautiful sensation
of being twice as frail as we once were
and it will feel like the first time you ever had a cold
the last time you tasted grape flavored cough syrup
a light pink fever

Thursday, July 21, 2016


quotes from u & i by nicholson baker

"without some sort of anxiousness writing loses its charm."

"nothing is more impressive than the sight of a complex person suddenly ripping out a laugh over some words in a serious book or periodical."

"and yet after forty-five minutes, the pressure, slight at first but growing, to have at least one extra-dyadic conversation that i could use to imply hours of raucous socializing in later accounts, began to make me glance around with more purpose. i began to feel slightly desperate. we were forced to eat sliced and stuffed things at traypoint: each time the tray came around i felt that the bearer was adding another yes checkmark to his suspicion that we had arrived and talked to nobody but ourselves."

"[hetero] all male friendships outside of work sometimes seem to be impossible: you look at each other at the restaurant at some point in the conversation and you know that each of you is thinking, man, this is futile, why are we here, we're wasting our time, we have nothing to say, we're not involved in some project together that we can bitch about, we can't flirt, we feel like dummies discussing movies or books, we aren't in some moral bind with a woman that we need to confess, we've each said the other is a genius several times already, and the whole thing is depressing and the tone is false and we might as well go home to our wives and children and rent buddy movies."

"i think taste is a social concept and not an artistic one. i'm willing to show good taste, if i can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. since their words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, they should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves." -john updike

"normally, if i read something i think is wrong, i forget it two days later; but with updike, when i disagree with him, there is an element of pain, of emotional rupture, that makes me remember my difference, and as a result i keep returning unhappily to it over the years and checking to see whether the disaccord remains in effect - and because each time i check it i have to find grounds that still satisfy me for my continued refusal to be convinced by what he's said, i am able to refine my opinions in a way i could never do if i did find him universally agreeable."

"after a certain point, the management of one's own past vocabulary, the avoidance of repetition, becomes a major burden. your earlier formulations become contingent influences - and they hunt you down. . . the sheer amount of memory it takes as you're writing and you pause at some nominative juncture and review the options, and one by one reject those that file before your mind because you clearly recall or dimly suspect that you've found an earlier home for them - the sheer mounting strain of this, like the strain of a chess player who has to keep every move of every game they have ever played available for immediate review - must be exhausting."

"the intellectual surface we offer to the dead has undergone a subtle change of texture and chemistry; a thousand particulars of delight and fellow-feeling and forbearance begin reformulating themselves the moment they cross the bar. the living are always potentially thinking about and doing just what we are doing: being pulled through a touchless car wash, watching a pony chew a carrot, noticing that orange scaffolding has gone up around some prominent church. the conclusions they draw we know to be conclusions drawn from how things are now. indeed, for me, as a beginning novelist, all other living writers form a control group for whom the world is a placebo. the dead can be helpful, needless to say, but we can only guess sloppily about how they would react to this emergent particle of time, which is all the time we have. and when we do guess, we are unfair to them. even when, as with barthelme, the dead have died unexpectedly and relatively young, we give them their moment of solemnity and then quickly begin patronizing them biographically, talking about how they 'delighted in' x or 'poked fun at' y - phrases that by their very singsong cuteness betray how alien and childlike the shades now are to us. posthumously their motives become ludicrously simple. . . all their emotions wear stage makeup. we can't really understand them anymore."

"i'm afraid of small pure words like 'sky' or 'water' or 'blue' or 'green': they too quckly induce an auto-suggestive trance of consent and submission, in which (as with 'catchy' above) you say, 'ah, simple, beautiful, beautiful, simple!"; and in less than fifteen seconds that isolated vocable has expanded to blot out everything else - all intelligence, all conscience, all conversation, all libraries--


and it's too much! you lose your bearings! every concrete substantive seems arbitrarily lyrical! you don't need paragraphs or arguments or careful description at all! to protect yourself from this agoraphobic sensation of falling into a bottomless and eventually toxic word, you need a clunkier and uglier and more conspicuously victorian vocabulary around it, full of nearlys and indeeds and evens and himselfs - terms of near but not perfect transparency, that can almost be employed every fifth sentence or so without anyone's noticing, but not quite - so that you can use the language freely, without being transfixed into a mute and foolish nounage by the sacredness of the words you learned first."

"i will now seem to be obsessed with model airplanes and coins, when on my scale of obsessions they are very low. . . i find that i also offer the reader the opportunity to accuse me of being overinterested in scenes in which a person eats and thinks at the same time. . . i don't want my work to have this prominent 'philosophical snack' motif!"

"auden strikingly said that you should not speak ill of any writer, living or dead, to anyone but your closest friends, and absolutely not in print. simply don't talk about, don't give space to, things you don't like. i think i agree with that, except in cases where the writer has invited criticism by being intemperately critical themself."

"we don't want the sum of pain or dissatisfaction to be increased by a writer's printed passage through the world. their task is simply to delight and to instruct as well as they can."

"my 'no's point to the defining quality of a major writer: they exist above the threshold of assent, that faint magenta line over which nothing they can do can possibly be felt as a mistake. anything that causes doubt is either forgotten or is rerouted through some further circuit of forgiveness as more recalcitrant, and hence fresher, evidence of greatness."

"edmund white said that something in the tone of spackman's essays seemed to have the authority of a person like nabokov, 'who knows he's a genius.' . . . i did recognize the tone white meant: yeats had it maybe, writers develop it over the years, an air of rangy assurance, built on the knowledge that there are plenty of people who are interested in what the person has said up till now, and that the hush that has surrounded their past publications is unlikely to be replaced with indifference anytime soon, no matter what they do. this fixed certainty, the feeling of being pretty damned consequential, of tossing a few scraps to the eternally grateful who cluster around the podium, is in some personalities necessary perhaps to the completion of big, complex works."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


by rae armatrout from just saying

since we’ve grown,
it’s reasonable to think
we’re shape-shifters,

that the pink hibiscus
with its protruding stamen
is a french kiss

we might still exchange.

sun laminates
the shallows

and an old woman
is dressed in gold lame.

the sea’s white blurts
do all the talking

lift the weight

i only then
begin to feel.

in my nightmare

the doors all
look alike.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

relation of exception

quotes by giorgio agamben from homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life

"in his final years foucault seemed to orient this analysis according to two distinct directives for research: on the one hand, the study of the political techniques (such as the science of the police) with which the state assumes and integrates the care of the natural life of individuals into its very center; on the other hand, the examination of the technologies of the self by which processes of subjectivization bring the individual to bind himself to his own identity and consciousness and, at the same time, to an external power. . . in one of his last writings, foucault argues that the modern western state has integrated techniques of subjective individualization with procedures of objective totalization to an unprecedented degree, and he speaks of real 'political 'double bind,' constituted by individualization and the simultaneous totalization of structures of modern power.'"

"at once excluding bare life from and capturing it within the political order, the state of exception actually constituted, in its very separateness, the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rested. when its borders begin to be blurred, the bare life that dwelt there frees itself in the city and becomes both subject and object of the conflicts of the political order, the one place for both the organization of state power and emancipation from it. everything happens as if, along with the disciplinary process by which state power makes man as a living being into its own specific object, another process is set in motion that in large measure corresponds to the birth of modern democracy, in which man as a living being presents himself no longer as an object but as the subject of political power. these processes - which in many ways oppose and (at least apparently) bitterly conflict with each other - nevertheless converge insofar as both concern the bare life of the citizen, the new biopolitical body of humanity."

"there is no rule that is applicable to chaos. order must be established for juridical order to make sense. a regular situation must be created, and sovereign is he who definitely decides if this situation is actually effective. all law is 'situational law.' the sovereign creates and guarantees the situation as a whole in its totality. he has the monopoly over the final decision. therein consists the essence of state sovereignty, which must therefore be properly juridically defined not as the monopoly to sanction or to rule but as the monopoly to decide. . . the decision reveals the essence of state authority most clearly. here the decision must be distinguished from the juridical regulation, and (to formulate it paradoxically) authority proves itself not to need law to create law. . . the exception is more interesting than the regular case. the latter proves nothing; the exception proves everything. . .  when one really wants to study the general, one need only look around for a real exception. it brings everything to light more clearly than the general itself. after a while, one becomes disgusted with the endless talk about the general - there are exceptions. if they cannot be explained, then neither can the general be explained. usually the difficulty is not noticed, since the general is thought about not with passion but only with comfortable superficiality. the exception, on the other hand, thinks the general with intense passion." - carl schmitt

"the exception is an element in law that transcends positive law in the form of its suspension. the exception is to positive law what negative theology is to positive theology. while the latter affirms and predicates determinate qualities of god, negative (or mystical) theology, with its 'neither... nor...,' negates and suspends the attribution to god of any predicate whatsoever. yet negative theology is not outside theology and can actually be shown to function as the principle grounding the possibility in general of anything like a theology. only because it has been negatively presupposed as what subsists outside any possible predicate can divinity become the subject of a predication. analagously, only because its validity is suspended in the state of exception can positive law define the normal case as the realm of its own validity."

"it has often been observed that the juridico-political order has the structure of an inclusion of what is simultaneously pushed outside. gilles deleuze and felix guattari were thus able to write, 'sovereignty only rules over what it is capable of interiorizing;' and, concerning the 'great confinement' described by foucault in his madness and civilization, maurice blanchot spoke of society's attempt to 'confine the outside,' that is, to constitute it in an 'interiority of expectation or of exception.' confronted with an excess, the system interiorizes what exceeds it through an interdiction and in this way 'designates itself as exterior to itself.' the exception that defines the structure of sovereignty is, however, even more complex. here what is outside is included not simply by means of the juridical order's validity - by letting the juridical order, that is, withdraw from the exception and abandon it. the exception does not subtract itself from the rule; rather, the rule, suspending itself, gives rise to the exception and, maintaining itself in relation to the exception, first constitutes itself as a rule. the particular 'force' of law consists in this capacity of law to maintain itself in relation to an exteriority. we shall give the name relation of exception to the extreme form of relation by which something is included solely through its exclusion."

"the paradox here is that a single utterance in no way distinguished from others of its kind is isolated from them precisely insofar as it belongs to them. if the syntagm 'i love you' is uttered as an example of a performative speech act, then this syntagm both cannot be understood as in a normal context and yet still must be treated as a real utterance in order for it to be taken as an example. what this example shows is its belonging to a class, but for this very reason the example steps out of its class in the very moment in which it exhibits and delimits it (in the case of a linguistic syntagm, the example thus shows its own signifying and, in this way, suspends its own meaning). if one now asks if the rule applies to the example, the answer is not easy, since the rule applies to the example only as to a normal case and obviously not as to an example. the example is thus excluded from the normal case not because it does not belong to it but, on the contrary, because it exhibits its own belonging to it. the example is truly a paradigm in the etymological sense: it is what is 'shown beside,' and a class can contain everything except its own paradigm.

the mechanism of the exception is different. while the example is excluded from the set insofar as it belongs to it, the exception is included in the normal case precisely because it does not belong to it. and just as belonging to a class can be shown only by an example - that is, outside of the class itself - so non-belonging can be shown only at the center of the class, by an exception. in every case (as is shown by the dispute between anomalists and analogists among the ancient grammarians), exception and example are correlative concepts that are ultimately indistinguishable and that come into play every time the very sense of the belonging and commonality of individuals is to be defined. in every logical system, just as in every social system, the relation between outside and inside, strangeness and intimacy, is this complicated."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

queering heterosexuality

(although i have many critiques of this piece, i want to bookmark this - as it was a formative essay for me to read at one point in time)

queering heterosexuality by sandra jeppesen (from queering anarchism)

in this piece i will be considering the impact that taking on queer politics has had in my life, thinking through ways that queering anarchism might happen in the lives of anarchists and anti-authoritarians who society may identify as heterosexual due to the sex and/ or gender of the object of their desire, but who ourselves disidentify with all things straight, perhaps even with the subject-position of heterosexual. what does this mean? this means that we are working on queering straight-seeming spaces, that we are straight-ish allies of queer struggles, challenging heteronormativity in the anarchist movement, as well as in the mainstream spaces we inhabit, from workplaces to families, from classrooms to cultural productions. this piece itself is one intervention that attempts to queer the space of narrative and theory, through non-capitalization[1], on the one hand, and on the other hand, through mobilizing a personal narrative to think through or theorize the queering of heterosexuality and the de-heteronormativizing of ‘straight-acting’ spaces. through an examination of the queering of hetero-space from an anarchist perspective, a liberatory politics of sexualities and genders emerges that intersects with anarchaqueer liberation[2] in challenging dominant forms of social organization including the state, marriage, capitalism, parenting, love relationships, friendships, families, and other important sites of anarchist politics and struggle. 

through a meeting of anarchist and queer politics, we have found alternative positions, actions and relationships that are more profoundly meaningful to us. this is not to stake a claim in queer theory or queer politics for “straight” people—that would be exactly not the point. rather it is to acknowledge an indebtedness to these spaces, places, people and movements, while at the same time acknowledging that, as people who might have partnerships that appear “straight,” we can pass as heterosexual, and accrue the privilege that our society accords this category. nonetheless as non-straight-identified heteros, we take on anarchaqueer issues by living as queerly as possible. in other words, queer practices and theories are important for the liberation of heterosexuals from normative standards of intimate relationships from friendships to sexualities. moreover, queering heterosexuality reveals that the categories homosexual and heterosexual are wholly inadequate to describing the vast array of sexualities available to us once we start exploring beyond the heteronormative. 

where did this all start for me? i’ve never been “normal” as far as sexuality goes. but thinking of queerness as relevant to my own life started at a particular identifiable moment for me when i was volunteering at who’s emma[3], the anarchist punk infoshop in toronto. a (white gay male) friend took me aside one day and said that, while he admired my anarchafeminist, anti-capitalist politics, could i consider the possibility of including gay or queer issues in my conception of anarchism. of course, was my immediate response. i think i must have blushed as well, as i was a bit embarrassed, to be honest, to have to be asked something so obvious. but he didn’t criticize me for something i wasn’t doing, rather he opened up a space for something new—to move beyond heteronormative conceptions of anarchist politics. this was an incredibly important moment for me, though i did not know it at the time. 

i am relating this as a series of narratives about conversations that i have had with many different people over the years, or experiences that i and my friends have had and talked about. as queer and/ or anti-heteronormative anarchists i think we value personal experience and interpersonal exchanges as an important site of political knowledge production. in other words, we learn a lot about a wide range of political ideas, about the oppressiveness of language, and about our own position in the world we live in through conversations. through sharing narratives and stories. i want to value and give credit to the people, experiences and collective spaces that have helped me to learn about queer politics. i also want to put together some of these stories in a kind of collection of narratives here, to preserve, at least to some extent, the form in which i encountered them. of course they are filtered through my own perspective, and the lessons i’ve learned from them. moreover, the things they made me think about may be very different than the things they might bring up for readers, and i want to acknowledge this. my knowledge and my perspective will of course have their limits. at the same time, i did not want to theorize these experiences, putting a kind of intellectual distance between myself and the ideas because that is not how i encountered them. nonetheless i will be engaging many concepts, ideas and theories. our education system teaches us to understand stories one way and ideas another (for example, we study literature or stories differently than we study philosophy or ideas). it is my hope that these narratives will be understood not as cute little stories about my life, but rather as a source of important ideas about sexualities that might be useful to straight people in becoming antiheterosexist straight allies. and one last hope i have is that many more people will tell their own stories, which will be taken seriously by anarchist and other readers in our struggles toward radical social and political transformation.

friendship, sexuality, polyamory and other intimacies[4]

anarchaqueer theories and practices start with the basics. how do we relate to people emotionally and sexually? how have these types of relationships largely been determined by oppressive systems such as patriarchy, heteronormativity, capitalism, families, culture, and the state, systems that we do not believe in, and which we are constantly rethinking and struggling to dismantle? while i had been a promiscuous feminist who, from a very young age, rejected gendered roles and stereotypes, up to the point when i was volunteering at who’s emma, my personal experience of non-monogamy had been pretty rocky. during my undergraduate degree, i struggled against the sexual double standard where women were not supposed to want sex, engaging in casual sex or short-term serial monogamous relationships, and taking a lot of flak for it. i then had a few nonmonogamous relationships in the punk scene. in one case, when the relationship became long distance, one of us was poly and one was not. we had bad communication in terms of disclosure and trust. eventually we broke up over it. in another, we both had other partners, and we communicated better at times, but not consistently so. we didn’t know anyone else who was having this kind of relationship. eventually we broke up for other reasons. 

when i encountered the anarchist scene in toronto, largely at who’s emma and the free skool, it seemed like everyone was into polyamory, and people did not really distinguish among partners based on sex, gender, age, or anything else. i had many friends who were having non-monogamous (or non-mono as we called it) relationships at the time, so we were all talking about these things. it was a bit of a free-for-all in terms of hook-ups, which was really fun, and there were also many longer term relationships that were both fun and serious. we started to think about how the word nonmonogamy was a reification of the centrality or supposed “normalcy” of monogamy, and we wanted to have a different starting place, a multiplicity of amorous possibilities, so we started to use the word polyamory instead. poly for short. there was an important resource book at the time that we were all reading called The Ethical Slut[5]

also at that time, people said “treat your lovers like friends and your friends like lovers.” we have a lot more expectations of lovers, we do a lot more processing about where the relationship is going, negotiating space, articulating needs, setting boundaries, expressing disappointment, etc. and sometimes we forget to have fun and just really enjoy the time we have together. we can be really harsh toward lovers, perhaps because we feel so vulnerable. that’s where we need to be better friends to our lovers. with friends we’re more likely to cut them some slack, to let things be a little more fluid. no big deal if they’re late, or miss a hang-out once in a while, for example. on the positive side, with lovers, we tend to do lots of special little things for them, like cooking their favorite food, making DIY zines or bringing them some little thing when we meet, something that says, i was thinking of you, something that shows we love them. along these lines, we need to be more loving to our friends, do more special things for them, go out on dates with them, make little heartfelt presents for them expressing how much we care. be more attentive to their needs, be supportive in day-to-day ways. treat them more like lovers. 

i think around this time, to take one example, a friend and i were both not in any sexual relationship, so for valentine’s day, almost satirically, one year she invited me over for a dinner date. she ran me a bath, handed me a glass of wine, and cooked dinner while i relaxed in the tub. the following year i did something similar for her. they were oddly romantic non-romantic, very caring friend-dates.
at this time in toronto there were a few long-term polyamorous “super-couples” who were held up as an example of the potential of polyamory to work. if they can do it, so can we, we all thought. they had good communication, and some interesting strategies that we learned from. one couple, when they were going out to a party, would decide ahead of time if it was a date or not. if not, they were free to hook up with other people. another poly couple i knew lived together, and had the guideline that they couldn’t hook up with someone else at their shared apartment. regardless of what the rules were, what was interesting to me was that any two people could make their own rules. you could say what you wanted, and listen to what the other person wanted, and then try it out, and check in with each other afterward and see how they felt about how it went. this for me was super different than heterosexual monogamy which had a bunch of rules, none of which made any sense to me, like the rule about how if you show how jealous you are, it means you really care about the other person. or if you hook up with one person, and then a second person, it means you don’t like the first person anymore, whereas in my experience, feelings for one person tended to have little bearing on, or perhaps even augmented, my feelings for another person. being able to incorporate this emotional experience into openly negotiated multiple relationships was awesome. 

for me, this openness to building relationships from scratch, not entirely without rules, but negotiating guidelines as needed, makes an appearance in queer theory, in eve sedgwick’s first axiom, “people are all different.”[6] we all have different bodies, different body parts, different desires; we all want different things from relationships, whether they are intimate, sexual or otherwise. so why shouldn’t we negotiate our relationships ourselves instead of following a heteronormative set of scripts. this was also different for me than my previous open relationships in the punk scene where people sometimes practiced dishonesty or coercion and called it non-monogamy. i didn’t learn tools for negotiating toward meeting each other’s needs in the punk scene. it was more like, i can’t be monogamous, so you can either be non-monogamous with me or we can break up. there was no way to say, hey, what you just did hurt me—is there some way we can deal with this by communicating in ways that rebuild trust? 

at some point i was lucky to participate in a class at the toronto anarchist free university[7] about polyamory. one of the best things the facilitator said was that, no matter how often or for what reason you have sex with a person, you still need to be honest and respectful with them. even if their motivations are different than yours (e.g. a party night hook-up or one-night-stand might be one person’s motivation, whereas an active polyamorous practice committed to alternative sexual, intimate, and community-based relationships might be the other’s). honesty and respect, appropriate establishing of consent among all concerned parties (including sometimes those who are not present i.e. the other person’s other partner/s), setting boundaries, and following through on what you’ve said are all critical elements of the encounter. to me this seems so far away from what heterosexual relationships are normally like, that it is actually something else. even if your partnerships are “straight.” 

for me, the polyamory scene and the radical queer scene were connected. we would get all glammed up to go to vazaleen, will munro’s radical queer punk anarchist dance party in toronto. people who hung out at vazaleen included trans people, drag queens and kings, and queers of all kinds. some “straight” people went as well, but we were the kind of straight people who disidentified with being straight. we didn’t identify with our birth sex/gender, we avoided norms or stereotypes of heterosexuality, we were critical of the objectification of women, we denounced predetermined gender scripts and sexuality scripts which we saw as connected to capitalism and patriarchy. perhaps we identified with queerness, for example, being attracted to people of a particular subculture, such as bears or femmie boys or butch dykes or trannies or whatever. it was a place where lots of gender and sex subversion and play happened. a queer space full of queers of course, some of whom were anarchists, some of whom were non-straight-acting heteros. i loved vazaleen because there was no sense, for me at least, of a normative sexuality. certainly it was not heteronormative. but it was not homonormative either. it did not echo mainstream representations of “gay couples” such as we might see on The L Word, or Queer Eye, with assimilationist, consumerist norms. instead it felt like a space of many sexual resistances.

non-normative sexualities

non-normative sexuality means, among other things, that people ditch sexual norms, and just hook up with and have long-term relationships with whoever inspires them, doing whatever they are into sexually. for me, sometimes this is women, sometimes it is men. often it is with people who are not my age. when i was younger i dated older people and now that i’m a bit older i seem to date younger people. these are more or less the people i seem to find myself hanging out with. i don’t really see age as an interesting way of dividing people. my friendships have always been across ages and even generations. my current partner is more than ten years younger than me. when we got together we were polyamorous and, although we communicated well and had great sex, we weren’t taking the relationship too seriously. it was lots of fun. we both had other partners, but soon that kind of went away, and we made more of an explicit commitment to each other, first to be primary partners, and then to be monogamous. i’ve always felt a little ambivalent about this decision. recently i moved to another town, and we decided to be poly, although neither of us have acted on it yet. 

this relationship is really amazing for me. he’s super sexy and we have a red hot sex life in which we do a lot of non-heteronormative things (whatever that means—i’m not telling you). i feel like this is particular to my own sexuality but also to the way i develop trust and caring or intimacy with a partner. he has the kind of emotional intelligence and empathy that is stereotypically not associated with men, and which is very important in keeping our relationship strong, perhaps because i do not, and so i am learning these things from him. today when someone called they said his voice sounds androgynous, and maybe that is part of the attraction, too. he doesn’t fit the gender scripts[8] any more than i do. for both of us, the non-normativity of the relationship is at least one of the things that keeps it alive and interesting. 

on the other hand, i worry that our age difference means that there is a power imbalance, which we have acknowledged, and we work together to try to compensate and make sure it is more equalized. another thing that concerns me is that maybe in being attracted to younger people, i am somehow replicating ageism—both the ageism in the anarchist scene which is really a youth-oriented scene, and a kind of internalized ageism that mainstream society offers where youth is valued and age is something we are supposed to fight or disavow, rather than accept or even respect (as some cultures do). sometimes i think it is unfortunate that there is not a lot of age diversity in the anarchist “scene.” one thing that happens a lot is that when i tell people my age they say i look a lot younger. this is supposed to be a compliment and i don’t find it insulting. but at the same time, it sometimes makes me feel like there is something wrong with me being the age that i am. that somehow i would be better if i were younger. or conversely, that i am doing something age-inappropriate that makes people think i am younger. i wonder if this internalized ageism plays a role in partner choice as well, in terms of who i might find attractive. what is considered attractive in older men in mainstream representations makes me a bit nauseous. i think who i am attracted to is more connected, however, to my punk roots and that particular aesthetic.

queer parenting and community

i think another way that anarchism has allowed me to have a more non-heteronormative life is the acceptance of not reproducing children, in a community in which people’s choices are accepted. when i chose to be polyamorous, it was accepted. i find being monogamous is also generally accepted because there is the notion of radical monogamy, which interrupts gender and sexuality scripts. some people i know have expressed a hesitation to admit that they have chosen to be monogamous, because there is now, ironically perhaps, an expectation of polyamory among anarchists. not having children is also accepted, whereas mainstream society tends to look askance at women who choose not to have children, or who choose politics over children. for example, when ulriche meinhof, who was part of the red army faction in germany, decided to leave her children behind and become an active urban guerrilla, living underground and working to overthrow the german state, there were many newspaper reports that demonized her for this (not for her political actions in and of themselves), and said she was not just a bad mother, but somehow actually insane for leaving her children with their father.[9 ]for anarchists, though, there seems to be no presumption about anyone’s life pattern or direction, in terms of getting married, settling down, having kids, doing political actions, etc. there is a sense that you can do things the way you choose, and people try as much as possible to create new paths for themselves, with the support of other people in our communities. 

instead of following a prescriptive path—marriage, kids, house in the suburbs—a long time ago i decided i would rather follow the path of collective living. this was a conscious decision, because i felt that i was unlikely to find, and did not want to succumb to, a happily married suburban life. in fact, that terrified me. it was such a relief to read a book called soft subversions by felix guattari where he talks about growing up in the suburbs and how alienating that was for him, how it made him feel kind of “schizo around the edges.”[10] i love that book. so i gave up on that whole dream, it was more of a nightmare for me anyway, growing up in the suburbs among the children of bureaucrats, people who were afraid of an active, gritty life in the city, so they moved to an area of carefully coifed lawns and polite conversation. dead time, as the situationists say.[11]
when i first wrote this piece, i was living in a crowded four-bedroom apartment in downtown montreal with three other people, one of whom happens to be my partner. it is a queer space and we tend to have queer room-mates by intention. our broader community includes the st. henri anarchist punks, student and academic anarchists, the radical queer and trans scene, anti-racist activists, and lots of different feminists. these loose groupings extend across canada, into the united states, and to places like korea, france and germany. our community also includes a lot of people who don’t fit into any of these identities, who are nomadic geographically and categorically. 

some people in our community have kids, some don’t. some people think the current geo-eco-political situation is too unstable to have kids, but some are brave enough to do it anyway. eight years ago, i was living in a collective house in toronto with five other people. three of us wanted to have kids at that point, me and two other women. one of them was part of a super-couple who had been together in a polyamorous relationship for several years, about four years i think. in addition to her cis-gender male partner, the woman was starting to see a person who was a “non-bio-boy” (a term no longer used as it is rooted in biological determinism), a gender queer guy or trans man (in fact, all of these labels are fraught with complex histories and uses, and may also, like non-bio-boy, fall out of use as we invent new terms that work better). they all three moved together into a big collective house with several other people, and started planning how they would conceive and raise a child together. in the end, though, she broke up with the cis-gender guy, and conceived a baby with a sperm donation from an ex-partner of her trans partner. they are monogamous now and raising the baby together. we had a funny conversation a few years ago when we both confessed to being in monogamous relationships, like it was a dirty secret. 

the other woman was strictly monogamous. she started dating a woman and they decided to have a baby together and live together as a couple. interestingly both women decided to have babies with sperm donors whom they knew and had long-term friendships with. the larger community living space becomes smaller when you have a baby, and more intensified. community works itself into your life in other ways. 

in my case, on the baby project, i met several times with an expartner who has a current partner and two children, living in new york city. we were considering the possibility of having a baby together, and talked about how the future might be, with his current partner and their children. but then he mentioned that he thought it might be better if she didn’t know about it. i didn’t think that was a very good idea. it seemed like a non-consensual decision, in which all parties’ consent would not be obtained. i didn’t go through with it. i decided not to have a baby after all. 

people make choices about having children in different ways, even people who may be in what appear to be heterosexual relationships. considering the consent of all parties, working around or against the legal sperm donor clinic method of conception (very expensive and medicalized), or even deciding to abstain from breeding. interestingly, for me, this decision has meant that i am trying to make deeper connections to people aside from my partner. i feel the need to have closer friendships, and to be more loving to more people, not in a sexual way, but in an intimate friendship way, developing creative collaborative partnerships, finding mutually supportive ways of interacting with people, and in fact spending more time, as i grow older, with nieces and nephews who are scattered all over the country, who are unrelated to the anarchist scene, but who are nonetheless of course an important part of my community.

liberation, responsibility and intimacy

in this context, liberation becomes a kind of odd concept. i still like spontaneous walks down by the train tracks, dérives, and nomadic urban wanderings as much as the next anarchist. taking off freighthopping across the country, or traveling wherever, no apartment, no money, but always finding places to stay, people who will take you places or take you in. this was always liberating for me, on the fringe of capitalism, against the way middle-class people travel, or live generally speaking, tied to house and job. 

but then a year or two ago i was at an anarchist workshop where the facilitator had a very interesting take on the notion of responsibility. i feel like mainstream society has inculcated in us the value of irresponsibility, and in anarchism we seem to link this to freedom, to nomadology, to spontaneity, and liberation. whereas really it is a kind of trapping capitalist individualism that seems unsustainable.
for example, i had a conversation with a friend once who had broken up with a partner because he was going traveling. i asked if that was a bit selfish, in that he wasn’t really considering her needs or feelings. he countered that he had to put himself first. to me, this is a sentiment that i think a lot of people might agree with, anarchists or not, though by anarchists it might be couched in terms of a liberatory politics. but it seems more like a failure to be responsible to those people with whom we are engaged in intimate relationships. 

at the workshop, the facilitator, who was an older indigenous-identified male, said that responsibility tells us where we belong in our lives. i have always been troubled by this notion of belonging, yearning for it in some ways, and yet unable to find it because i was charmed by the notion of spontaneity, freedom, the nomad life, new friendships and relationships everywhere with everyone who came along. at the same time, i was also perplexed by how i loved people who were always roaming, and that made it impossible to have a long-term relationship because we would break up or not see each other for long periods of time, and re-connections were difficult. i think i dreamed of finding a nomadic partner who would travel with me and we could be spontaneous together, and that this would be a sort of traveling set of roots that i could take with me. 

now i think of responsibility differently, i think of it as a deep connection to another person, related to intimacy. it means that we think of their feelings and needs as equal to our own, and quite often, more important than our own. we can also think of our responsibility to self as, rather than being in conflict with responsibility to others, being profoundly connected with a responsibility to others, in the very anarchist sense that the liberation of one person is predicated upon the liberation of those around them. to take one example of how this works in everyday practice, this means that a person can ask people in their community for help when they have a health need, because there is an implicit understanding that we each need to take care of ourselves and be taken care of, and that when other people have health needs we will in turn be there for them. so taking care of other people is nurturing ourselves, our community, and the reverse is also true—asking for care is in a way nurturing other people, and developing in our community the capacity for nurturance. this feeds the fostering of intimacies in community with others beyond heteronormative coupled partnerships. 

to tie this back to the notion of queering anarchism, what i think queer practices offer to anarchism is a language of intimacy. this language and its concomitant practice of intimacy is crucial for a revolutionary politics. radical queer politics and practices offer to non-normative heterosexual relationships a range of possibilities, including polyamory, intimate friendships, expressive communities, mental and physical and emotional mutual aid health care, and sexualities that are predicated on intimacy, respect and consent. of course it doesn’t always work out as perfectly as this all sounds. but that too is a lesson of queering anarchism. relationships are a lifelong process of negotiation and sharing, of putting mutual aid into practice in layers of more intimate and less intimate relationships. what i think anarchism offers to radical queer spaces, groups, networks and communities, is a way of putting consent, respect, nonhierarchical love, emotional nurturance, and collective living into relationships so that those communities can grow and sustain themselves/ourselves, with an anti-statist and anti-capitalist perspective, and bringing in anti-racism, anti-colonialism and other related or intersectional movements and ideas. so in addition to queering anarchist movements, we are anarchizing queer movements. what emerges is a vision of queer and anarchism not as two separate things that are starting to come together (certainly the history of the anarchist movement is full of queers and the history of the queer movement is full of anarchists!) but rather a mutual aid relationship in which the boundaries between the two bleed into one another and they become inextricable. 

queering heterosexuality from an anarchist perspective takes place in this context, where relationships are no longer heteronormative, where we are also moving away from homonormativity (the capitalist, state-run, white-dominated “gay pride” model, for example), and indeed open up into non-normative sexualities, where the labels homo and hetero are challenged at a basic level. sexuality like gender is thus a narrative, as my room-mate said the other day, a fluid series of experiences that we can write and rewrite as we live through them, things we can invent or get rid of, as we see fit, in a kind of multiplicitous, inter-connected, non-linear, rhizomatic diversity of sexualities and genders that we engage throughout our lifetimes.

non-heteronormative desires

i had a conversation with a friend of mine last week about our nonheteronormative heterosexual relationships. he is dating someone new, and was having an odd experience, or at least he thought it was odd until he started talking to friends about it. and then it turns out that there are many people having a similar experience. among anarchist hetero couples, if i may generalize for a moment, it seems that the guys are doing a really good job of being soft and sensitive, of taking direction from women when it comes to intimacy, to sexuality, and friendship. there is a new kind of language where men have had to find ways of expressing desire without being direct or aggressive. a tentative language, a conditional language, a language of questions rather than demands: would it be okay if? what if i told you? 

for feminists, for women who want to be respected in friendships, in intimate relationships, and in sexualities, this is sweet. it makes relationships wonderful and warm and open and caring and loving. it’s fabulous. so where is the odd experience in all of this, you may be wondering? 

sometimes, as women, we want to feel passionately desired. we might want to be swept away with passion and desire. we might even want things to get a bit rough, you know, a bite on the neck, an uncomfortable position. sex on the floor under a table, or going at it so hard we almost fall off the bed before we even notice. (and this isn’t news to anyone into bdsm or other fetish sex that explores intentional power exchanges in sex). i could go on, but i’ll get to the point, which is this—we seem to be creating new norms, and in those norms, there are built-in things like respect and communication, gentleness and sensitivity, and these are all of course great things, and should be a key component in every relationship, from sexual ones to intimacies to friendships to parenting to teaching to work relationships and family. but, as with any set of norms, including polyamory and other forms of anti-heteronormative relationships, the risk is that we become fixed in a certain set of behaviors, and forget that we have the power and agency to say what we want, to negotiate through active listening and honest disclosure, and to achieve very fluid and lively relationships that do not stagnate or conform to previous expectations, or someone else’s idea of what is right or wrong for us. 

dylan vade is a trans lawyer who has written about the gender galaxy, which is the idea that gender and sex are not configured as a binary (male/female or masculine/feminine) but rather there are thousands of different ways of living out our sex/genders, in a galaxy, where some genders may cluster together into constellations, and sometimes these constellations are perceptible, but sometimes they are not.[12] i’d like to think that sexualities are like this too. rather than the binary homosexual/heterosexual, there are thousands of different ways of living out our sexualities.
this leads me to one last thing that i have recently started having conversations about. we had a houseguest a few weeks ago, a woman who took advantage of the same-sex marriage rights in canada and got married a few years back. as her partner started female-to-male transitioning, their same-sex status became a bit more fluid. she said that now that he has fully transitioned, they are read by others as a heterosexual couple. she enjoys high-femme camp performance in everyday life, particularly when it is queer, and is now unsure how this will be interpreted by others, which is most often as straight. when a queer gender performance is misread as heterosexual, the risk is that the play with signifiers—the feminine dresses, the 1950s style and behavior, etc.—will be misunderstood by both queers and heteros as reinforcing gender role stereotypes rather than subverting them. it is also odd, she said, to suddenly be experiencing heterosexual privilege in her public[13] life, whereas her private relationship is still very queer and does not feel privileged. to put it another way, her narrative of sexuality is not one of privilege, and yet this is how strangers now engage with her and her partner. the narrative thus is becoming uncertain, or what bobby noble calls incoherent.[14 ]this is another way in which queering heterosexuality may take place in radical queer milieus and lives. 

another FTM trans person has told me how he now struggles to be accepted as queer or trans, since people read him as a straight man, though he lived for nearly forty years as a woman and a lesbian. he almost feels like he can no longer be part of the queer community, unless he is among friends who have known him a long time. for example, he told me that he recently went out to a bar that had a reduced cover charge for trans men, and he had to really insist that he was trans. the door person wouldn’t believe him. he repeatedly thanked the person, because they were reaffirming his sex/gender of choice, but in the end, he had to show the dreaded ID that still listed his gender as “F” in order to be accepted as a trans man. oh, the irony. this is not an experience that any trans person wants to go through. it demonstrates how heteronormativity, which causes people to assume everyone is gender-straight and non-queer, seems to permeate even queer scenes that are attempting to privilege trans people. furthermore, it reveals how even in spaces committed to radical queer and trans politics and subjectivities, the notion that someone’s own self-identification should be accepted at face value, without having to provide coherent identification, is not always put into practice very well. 

this is yet another one of the risks of queering heterosexuality. heterosexuality of course needs to be challenged, to be queered, to be wrested from its place of privilege. at the same time, we need to be very careful not to heterosexualize or heteronormativize queer spaces, subjectivities, identities, ideas, theories, and the like. there is a role here for heterosexual queer allies, even those of us who cringe at the word heterosexual and strongly disidentify with it. i believe and hope that we can queer our practices, without claiming queer as our own, or appropriating it. in other words, the idea is to support queer struggles, to integrate queer ideas into our practices, to be as queer as possible, in order to work as allies to end queer oppression. the idea certainly is not—and this is another risk—to perform queer identities when it is convenient and then return to our heterosexual privilege unchanged or unchallenged by the experience. 

liberation means this. it means we keep writing the narrative of our lives, our desires, our genders, our sexualities. it means that, rather than having the kind of freedom janis joplin sang about (you know, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose) when my parents were exploring their open relationship (that is another story in itself!) we have liberatory experiences and relationships that are grounded in communities and long-term commitments to exploring what these relationships mean and how they can best be fulfilling to all involved. for me, to get to this openness, the queer and/or anarchist communities that i have encountered over the years have been crucial. crucial to who i am as a person, but more than that— crucial to revolutionary politics. the entire capitalist patriarchal white supremacy that structures our world unequally, and indeed preys on unequal relations of power, requires heteronormative relationships. break down those kinds of relationships, and we are also starting to break down patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. as jamie heckert argues, breaking down micro-fascisms at the level of identities and intimate relationships is at the root of resistance to macro-fascisms at the level of institutions and structures of power.[15] queer practices, relationships, communities, scenes, and intimacies thus are making important contributions toward profoundly liberatory modes of being, doing, thinking, feeling and acting in the world that are intensely political. even for heteros. 

[1] challenging standard orthography (writing systems) by not using capital letters, by using ‘improper’ grammar such as sentence fragments and the like, has a long history and a complex set of motivations. most importantly, it challenges the phallogocentric domination of textual representation i.e. the presumed superiority of phallic (masculine) logos (use of words, acts of speech) that underlies western traditions of philosophy, theory, literary studies and other logocentric disciplines, and that can lead to semiotic subjugation (Guattari, Felix. Soft Subversions. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996.)—the feeling that we are subjugated to language rather than subjects that can speak through language. second, it challenges the privileging of the written word over oral traditions. third, it challenges pedagogical norms that are imposed upon school children from a young age, norms called into question by anarchist educational approaches such as free skools. fourth, it disrupts the presumed relationship of the author being dominant over the reader, a binary ‘other,’ and instead allows the reader to intervene in the text she reads, to be an equal with the writer. fifth, through this deconstruction of the binary relationships between masculine/feminine, written/oral, correct/incorrect, writer/reader, etc., non-subjugated orthographies that refuse the use of capital letters and traditional grammar make space for the privileging of the collective, and co-operation in the construction of meaning, decentering the primacy of the individual writer, the supposed (rich straight white male) sublime genius who produces texts. this is therefore a radical, feminist, queer and anarchist strategy that disrupts the way texts are produced, valued, legitimated and circulated. bell hooks drew attention to these debates, for example, by changing her name, disavowing her ‘slave name,’ and writing her name without capital letters.
[2] Queerewind. London: self-published, 2004. http://www.queeruption. org
[3] O’Connor, Alan. Who’s Emma? Autonomous Zone and Social Anarchism. Toronto: Confused Editions, 2002.
[4] Berlant, Lauren, ed. Intimacy. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2000.
[5] Easton, Dossie. The Ethical Slut: a Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities. San Francisco: Greenery P, 1997.
[6] Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U California P, 1990.
[7] Toronto Anarchist Free University.
[8] Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990.
[10] Guattari, Felix. Soft Subversions. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996
[11] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. 1967. Detroit: Black and Red, 1983.
[12] Vade, Dylan. “Expanding Gender and Expanding the Law: Toward a Social and Legal Conceptualization of Gender that Is More Inclusive of Transgender People.” Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, V. 11 (2004–2005) 253–316.
[13] Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002.
[15] Heckert, Jamie. “Sexuality/Identity/Politics.” In Changing Anarchism. Ed. Jonathan Purkis and James Bowen. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2004.