Edelman and Power both exhibit a desire to ignore time. Both want to craft a society wherein those who do not reproduce are treated in every measure equal to those that do and both want “queer” individuals (marginalized persons) to find a space of renewal and inclusion within (or outside of) a broader societal context. Both also find capitalism to be a stumbling block to this endeavor and contest it at the same time they set forth their visions for a queer enclosure of the future.
Over the long run, the project will always be self-defeating, given that even should their communities be fashioned, they will only be able to propagate themselves (by-and-large) through ideological promulgation (teaching, preaching, argumentation, propaganda, cultural indoctrination and so forth). This is only a portion of the problem that is faced for even if Edelman and Power were able to overcome the problem of reproduction inherent to sexually idiosyncratic movements (such as theirs), they would still come up against the fact that they are diametrically opposed to so many fundamental biologically instantiated norms as to always make them, and those like them, the outsiders. It is one thing to say that homosexual men and women are being mistreated, it is quite another to blame heterosexual men and women for all the serious ills of the world, which, in considerably more words, is really the crux of the idea of heteronormativity.
One should not be led to believe that these ideas are lacking in terms of their real-world effects simply because they are highly academic or crowded round in dense and odd-sounding prose (it would be hard to think of a more confounding term than Edelman’s “sinthomosexuality”). For instance, in a TEDx Copenhagen talk, the queer-political activist Mads Anada Lodahl1 described all sex, gender and sexual practices that are inscribed within the classical notions of “man” and “woman,” The Straight World Order. He describes The Straight World Order as “rotten,” furthering going on to note that it is, “-a hierarchy, that puts the heterosexual, masculine man (who is not transgendered) at the top and gets everyone in trouble who cannot be, be like or be liked by him… it is a place where freedom, safety and self-determination are granted to people according to how well they fit into the norm.” He goes on further to note that this is the necessary, but not sufficient, structure for the so-called Straight World Order, as it also entails hierarchies based upon race, class, age and so on. The rejection of any and all hierarchies and norms, however, instantly demands the creation of new ones; this is a fatal trap which Lodahl can’t circumvent no matter how much he might rail against the prevalence of heteronormativity.
Lodahl seems as if he has some good reasons to rail, for in his previously mentioned talk he makes consistent mention of the way gay, lesbian and trans individuals are abused and derided; he cites several examples, one of which includes himself. Lodahl tells the story of how he was once spat upon for being recognized as a gay man and how alienating and horrible such a affair was. Clearly, spitting upon a fellow citizen simply because of their sexual proclivity (real or assumed) is bad; first and foremost because it doesn’t actually change anything, second, because such bodily fluids could contain some disease or another, and, thirdly, because it is breaking the social norm of civility which is required for large-scale, modern civilizations to function without constant tribal strife. The problem, however, is not so easily reducible; after all, as Edelman noted previously, even a “queer utopia” would require exclusion.
Consider the clash between classically-inclined second-wave feminists and third-wave Muslim feminists, or the clash between homosexual Trump supporters and homosexual Trump detractors. A more homonormative future would obviously continue to have the same kinds of problems that Lodahl and others face, it would merely find its source in different norms and different hierarchies; for example, in a Lodahlesque future, one would likely see something akin to Trudeau’s Canada, wherein the prevailing social hierarchy was constituted by who were perceived as being more marginalized, oppressed and transgressed-upon which would itself turn upon those who were previously considered oppressed and marginalized.
Another problem with queer advocates like Lodahl is that they often do not adequately address the question of legitimacy as pertains to a given social hierarchy. In place of positing a new and better structure for social organization, they simply wish to be rid of all social structures as-such. Just as Edelman attempts to trade the future for freedom, Lodahl attempts to trade personal liberation for social stability (seemingly without realizing it) when what he should be arguing for is civility.
Effectively what all of the aforementioned activists and thinkers posit is a tribe within a tribe of those without a tribe. When this wayward tribe is coupled with future negation it becomes starkly evident that such a grouping cannot help but fail in its goal of attaining total personal liberation for its members, but not only has it failed in this goal (and will continue to fail, of necessity) it also consistently destabilizes those other tribes around and inside of which it operates. The obvious question then arises: what is the solution? That entails another question: the solution to what? To biological impulses? To discrimination and exclusion? To approaching the future with forthright vigor?
A bevy of problems detailed within this text only arise as problems because of the conceptual frameworks utilized by Edelman, Power and their contemporaries; shorn of these fetters, neither would face nearly so many problems. But it would be arrogant and factually false to hand-wave away all of the problems posed by Edelman and Power.
The crucial issues, however, are not the problems posed by the aforementioned, but rather the problems created by Edelman, Power and their contemporaries. In place of seeking to control nature (outside of Man) to a degree requisite to bring about the transformations they so desire. Instead of maximizing anthropogenic changes upon the very fabric of the world, they seek, instead, to enact change only on a social level. This narrow social-fixation will forever limit their endeavor to an ossified jockeying against biology itself. Here the Xenofeminist’s are ahead of the curve as demonstrated by their popular slogan: “If nature is unjust, change nature.” However, even the Xenofeminist’s have things wrong, for nature, as-such, is neither just, nor unjust, it simply is all that is. Neither righteous nor evil, nature is merely chaotic and savage and it is this very chaos and savagery which Mankind must tame, must bring wholly to heel if we are to ensure the survival and improvement of our species.
1See, ‘Ending the straight world order: Mads Anada Lodahl at TEDx Copenhagan,’ Oct 4, 2013.
Another critical theorist with a keen interest in the work of Edelman and the (non?)future of the progressive-feminist project is the social theorist and senior lecturer at Roehampton University, Nina Power. Power’s paper, Motherhood in France: Towards A Queer Maternity?1 Tackles the question of ‘queer motherhood’ that is, critical questioning of the validity and importance and value of motherhood itself, especially if questioned by mother’s themselves. Just like Edelman and Berlant, Power utilizes psychoanalysis rather than more traditional philosophical methodologies to examine both Edelman, society and the concept of “queerness” and contemporary motherhood within various social structures. She begins her task by affirming the obvious fact that, though feminism and queer theory are distinctive philosophical schools, they are “partners” in a wider progressive effort. In Motherhood in France, Power’s wrote, “The relationship between feminism and queer theory has often been remarked upon in recent decades, sometimes with pride, sometimes with resentment. The parallels between anti-essentialist ideas of gender, the exploration of the ways in which oppression and resistance work in theory and in practice [to] make feminism and queer theory close partners, even if feminism sometimes complains that queer theory has stolen the covers and has left it out in the cold.” Oh, the excoriating parturiency of intersectionality! One can already hear the disceptation of the feminists: “You’re not being female-inclusive enough!” and then, the queer theorist’s rebuttal: “Well, you’re not being queer-inclusive enough; queer men require inclusion too!” Ouroborous eats his own tail and Power – to her credit – realizes it.
She then cites Edelman, using his work as a launch-platform for the rest of her article, noting, “A certain strain of queer theory, most notably the work of Lee Edelman, has in recent years pushed hard at reclaiming certain accusations levelled at ‘queers’ in the past, namely that those described as ‘queer’ are guilty of being anti-child, and of not ‘believing’ in the future. Edelman provocatively takes up this image of non-futurity and states defiantly that ‘the queer comes to ﬁgure the bar to every realisation of futurity, the resistance internal to the social, to every social structure or form’. Edelman’s project is an attractive one in many ways, even if his argument about non-futurity depends upon a characterization of both left and right political projects that necessarily neglects those aspects of particularly left-wing movements that are also non-futural.”2 Again, Power’s critique proves incisive as she realizes Edelman’s pitfall, namely, that he is a leftist whose philosophy negates left-wingism as such.
Yet, she is a feminist and as a consequence moves into alignment with Edelman’s deracination of The Child by critiquing what she describes as France’s “fetishized national maternity.”3 To circumvent this fetishization, Power posits a “queer maternity,” which she describes as a project which would be, “less a celebration of non-heterosexual reproduction (that is, a celebration of ‘queer mothers’ or ‘queer motherhood’), than an attempt to think about what it might mean to refuse motherhood from the position of already being a mother,and to ask whether, in a context in which motherhood is increasingly dominating the definition of what it means to be a woman, there is any resource for queer theory (and for its link to feminism) in defending the negativity of the mother who refuses to play her role.”4 We would here pause to note that motherhood is part and parcel of “what it means to be a woman” precisely because it is a biologically mediated function which only women can do. To attempt to deconstruct The Image Of The Woman, along the lines of inherent biological functions is, of necessity, to negate feminimity-as-such (in the very same way dispensing with the Child obliterates all futurity) given that all those norms which subtend the image would, of necessity, require obliteration. Power’s first move, then, is akin to promulgating the notion that the concept of The Man must be denatured of all connection to the male-body’s ability to produce sperm. One cannot move freely in the domain of the conceptual (The Woman) when one roots one’s concepts to objective realities (impregnation, pregnancy, childbirth, child-rearing).
Having laid out her (wayward) blueprint, Power then proceeds to chastise Edelman for focusing upon The Child to the neglect of women generally in his book, No Future. She also seeks to dispense with Edelman’s notion of Sinthomosexuality5 and instead look to the force of the mother herself as the subject who would negate the future. We should pause here to note that there is a significant performative difference between taking the position that a woman should be left unmolested to make the decision to resent her children and remove herself from any future participation in their lives, and, affirming it as a desirable thing for women to do. Power, citing the radical feminist, Corinne Maier6, takes up the latter position, stating, “Maier’s starting point —namely that it is better not to have children (or at least, that it may have been better not to have had children, from the standpoint of someone for whom it is too late), that it is possible to resent one’s own children and, indeed, wish that they had never been born, is an unacceptably queer sentiment that opens the gates to a raft of subsequent questions that question the symbolic order as a whole. When Maier writes, ‘[l]isten, your marvellous babies have no future because every child born in a developed country is an ecological disaster for the whole planet’ (No Kids, 1–2), she is breaking with the fantasy that every child is a positive addition to humanity as a totality —indeed, she hints that it is the most privileged children who are precisely those who bear the weight of the destruction of the future even as it is those same children who are most invoked as those for whom contemporary politics should be ‘working’ for.”
Maier’s critique is emblematic of what we can dub envirocracy, that is: a political theology revolving around the worship of the environment itself, by itself. In other words, a contemporary variation of earth-worship, veneration of the mother goddess; this metaphysical framework is appealing to feminists for several reasons, principally, the long-standing history of the anthropomorphic genderfication of the earth itself. The association between The Feminine and The Earth can be traced to Mari7 (also known as Mariamma, Marimman and Mariaai), a South Indian Mother Goddess usually associated with the Hindu deities, Parvati8 and Durga9. A common strain of thought which runs throughout Hinduism is that all of the female deities are manifestations of a singular but many-faceted female mother goddess who was responsible for the creation of the world. The basques also worshiped a goddess named Mari who was transmogrified into Mary after the rise of Christianity to further the efficacy of pagan conversions. Such beliefs can be traced back even further to the widespread emergence of representational art which occurred around 35,000 years ago; the well known ‘venuses’10 of Dolni Vestonice, Willendorf, Lespugue and Laussel also exemplify such early folk beliefs. We might theorize that the prevalence of association between the concept of The Feminine and the earth, or some portion of it (trees, oceans, land, etc.), occurred as a consequence of the social arrangements of hunter-gather society. Males of ancient tribes would sally forth in search of sustenance and then bring forth both discipline and food; they were thus, ‘seasonal’ insofar as they were more transient and distant than the ‘earthen’ females, who would stay behind to tend to their children and their domiciles. The notion of distance then, likely played into early neolithic gender associations wherein those aspects of each gender which most mirrored some aspect of nature were symbolically externalized. The most obvious examples of this thesis include the archetype of the sky-father, distant, powerful and temperamental and the earth-mother, close, nourishing and protective. Regardless of the reasons for the emergence of such beliefs, they continue to permeate even the most secular and rationalist of creeds, as Maier’s commentary well attests. The obvious problem contained with Maier’s eco-essentialist philosophy is that the earth as such can not care about itself. A philosophy which places the environment of humanity above humanity itself can not but help to develop an anti-human tinge, regardless of the intentions of it’s creators and promulgators. Furthermore, the notion that one’s “marvellous babies have no future because every child born in a developed country is an ecological disaster for the whole planet” is, on it’s face, false. A ecological disaster is, by popular definition, a catastrophic event which occurs to the environment because of human activity (such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster), yet this definition is rather too narrow, given the fact that, though certain forms of human activity can cause massive upsets to ecologic niches, the environment itself naturally generates catastrophes, such as tidal waves, mudslides, volcanoes and forest fires; even something as seemingly innocuous as slightly too much or too little rain for a sufficient period of time can spell the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of living organisms and the complete and utter transformation of a given ecology. Indeed, every single time one washes their hands, the individual is committing a microbial genocide! Every swathe of water and soap about the human hand, an ecological erasure. Where then to draw the line? Naturally, at what, itself, can draw lines: humans.
The curious tendency for earth-mother ideologies to subtend The Image of Man via veneration of all that is outside of it, then, necessitates a conceptual impasse that, when put into practice will always generate performative incontinence. For, when Power takes Maier’s earth-worship as a “useful (non-)partner to Edelman’s sinthomosexualism to combat the reduction of woman to mere reproductive machines she is, whether she realizes it or not, erasing the-woman-as-such. I suspect that Power’s realizes some portion of the truth of this as she chastises Maier for her hyperbolic language and then quotes the French philosopher, Elisabeth Badinter, who, in a interview with Der Spiegel said of the back-to-nature feminist movement, ‘They want women to breastfeed their children, saying this will protect the babies against allergies and asthma and protect the mother herself against breast cancer. . . Two years ago, our environment minister seriously even suggested introducing a tax on disposable diapers. . . This movement is ideologically driven and is leading us back into the 18th century, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his model of the ideal mother. It’s a bit like trying to reawaken the slumbering mammal inside women. But we women aren’t chimpanzees.’
Badinter is quite right and, oddly, given the context of the paper, in stark opposition to Maier’s anti-natal, anti-female, pro-ecology position. However, Power then quotes Badinter again, noting that Badinter believes that to tie motherhood to biological instinct is “profoundly ideological.” It is, rather difficult, to claim that motherhood, something which is inherent to every single society in history “profoundly ideological.” Now, one may well make the case that certain forms of motherhood are directed by ideology but the ties which a mother has to her child, the commitment and sacrifice, seem to be “hardwired.” The North American Killdeer11, for instance, after the hatching of its eggs, will pretend it has a wounded wing to entice predator’s away from its nested young. Female giraffes will regularly sacrifice themselves for their younglings whilst female octopi will defend their eggs, even if that means forgoing food. These are but a few examples of mothering instincts in nature; but if it is instinctual, such behaviors should be accessible before or outside of motherhood and, upon further investigation, this is precisely what one will find. Female voles12, who had never had sex, were dosed in a laboratory experiment (which has also been conducted on various other animals) with oxytocin13, what the researchers found was that the dosed voles, within only half-an-hour, were caring for vole-pups, despite the fact that those pups were not their own. A similar experiment was conducted by Marlin, Mitre, D’amour, Chao and Froemke and published in the science journal, Nature14. Other experiments involving rats dosed with oxytocin antagonists showed the precise opposite results; block the oxytocin, block the maternal instinct. One could go on for quite some time with tomes full of such examples; due this fact, it is clear that Badinter’s assertion is foundationally flawed, moreso when one considers the evolutionary implications of a ‘non-hardwired’ maternity impulse, for those species who have low-birth rates (such as humans) typically invest considerably more resources into the prospective young then species who reproduce rapidly and profligately (such as spiders). If humans had never developed a nurturing and protective maternal instinct our chances of survival and propagation as a species would be considerably lowered, given the fragility such a species-wide change in interrelationality would engender. Human young would have been left to their own devices, barring the intervention of male paternality, but even still, the fathers of such children would have to hunt and would not be able to devote as much time to the care-taking of their children as the mothers would be able to provide. Thus, in such a arrangement, human children would be almost invariably malnourished from lack of breastfeeding and also considerably more vulnerable to predators, such as bears, wolves and so forth, given the lack of social unity and protection from their mothers.
Neither Power nor those she quotes within her paper grapple with these issues to a sufficient degree. Power then jumps, rather suddenly, to Marxism, quoting (yes, she loves quoting people to make her point) Judith Halberstam, who wrote, “We need to craft a queer agenda that works cooperatively with the many other heads of the monstrous entity that opposes global capitalism, and to deﬁne queerness as a mode of crafting alternatives with others, alternatives which are not naively oriented to a liberal notion of progressive entitlement but a queer politics which is also not tied to a nihilism which always lines up against women, domesticity and reproduction. Instead, we turn to a history of alternatives, contemporary moments of alternative political struggle and high and low cultural productions of a funky, nasty, over the top and thoroughly accessible queer negativity.”15
Power then finishes her piece with the following,
“Here queer theory can be a useful ally: if we accept the constructed nature of all sexuality, including the most ‘obvious’ forms, we can go further and remark that there is something similarly constructed about the consequences of sexual behaviour and the positions that follow: ‘childless’ (or ‘childfree’ as the revised, more afﬁrmative version would have it), ‘motherhood’, ‘maternal’ and so on. Clearly there is much that is learned about these positions, much that is down to the cultural reception of this behaviour and whether it is valued or punished in a particular culture. Both Badinter and Maier are responding to what they see is an overwhelming celebration of motherhood in the French context, and the lack of jouissance that results when one is unable to ‘feel’ like a ‘good’ mother, or enjoy one’s children. But maybe there is a deeper jouissance to be found in resentment, and a kind of reawakened feminist rage against the order and the culture that would celebrate the importance of children but not that of those that bear them.”16
It is here that Power really goes off the rails in affirming not just what she calls the “constructed nature” of all sexuality (it is hard to ascertain exactly what that means; if taken literally it is a quite useless concept) but also in positing “reawakened feminist rage” (was it ever even slumbering?) as the solution. If one were convinced that a given set of concepts were wholly socially constructed then the optimal solution would be to begin devising new and more positive social concepts to take their place. As we have already stated, Power and the long litany of authors she cites are simply mistaken about the relationship of motherhood and biology and, as a consequence, can not but help form utterly misbegotten notions because of it. Yet, even if one simply does not care about the biological rootedness of maternal instinct (one should) or of the notion of the feminine, it is quite reasonable to raise the very same objection which we previously raised against Edelman, namely, that affirmation of childlessness leads invariably to social dissolution. Furthermore, the Maier’s negative-motherhood (ie. I must act as a mother but I hate it) is bound, if taken up as a profligate social norm, to lead to the same kinds of problems which Maier, Edelman, Berlant and Power collectively argue against, namely, the exclusion of vulnerable groups as their views either explicitly condone or simply do not condemn the marginalization of The Child; that is, a social paradigm that seeks to emancipate itself from the bonds of the ‘fascism of the baby’s face’ can only do so by literally conflating the baby, The Child, and thus, the future, with jack booted oppression. A project rooted in a negation of all that subtends it’s foundation cannot help but fail, however much it might rage.
1Nina Power, Motherhood in France: Towards A Queer Maternity? Edinburgh University Press, 2012
2Nina Power Motherhood In France: Towards A Queer Maternity? p. 1-2
3Nina Power, Motherhood In France: Towards A Queer Maternity? p. 2
4Nina Power, Motherhood in France, p. 2-3
5Sinthomosexuality is a term deployed by Edelman to describe the child-averse, future negation of his project.
6Corinne Maier is a prominent French psychoanalyst, economist & feminist, well known for her provocative book, No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children (2007).
7See, The Hindu Mother Goddess In Indian Sculpture for further reading concerning Mari.
8Parvati or Uma, is a Hindu deity associated with fertility and romance. She is also the wife of Shiva.
9Durga , also known as Adi Parashakti or Devi, is a Hindu deity associated with protection and combat against evil.
10The ancient ‘Venuses’ were small, carved human figurines featuring exaggerated female features (breasts, hips, etc).
11A small brown bird with a white underbelly, native to North and Middle America; so-named because of it’s cry.
12Diminutive rodent, similar to a mouse. The creatures are sometimes referred to as ‘field mice.’
13Oxytocin is a peptide hormone involved in the control pair bonding, parenting and sexual arousal. It is also crucial to female lactation.
14See: Oxytocin enables maternal behavior by balancing cortical inhibition, Nature, Vol. 502, April 23, 2015.
15Power, Motherhood in France, p. 8-9
16Power, Motherhood in France, p. 10
Nihil Futurum: Lee Eldeman, Nina Power, Sinthomosexuality & Cisheterorepronormative Futurism
If the past were to vanish tomorrow, if every human being on the planet were to forget every single event which took place before their birth, it would assuredly be a tragedy. If the future were to vanish, if all prospects of present-extension were to be terminated, it would be a tragedy still greater. To deny the latter is to affirm dissolution. Annihilation. This is best encapsulated by the pithy Darwinian injunction: “Adapt or die.” Or, to quote H.G. Wells, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” It is because of this axiom that we should begin our endeavors by affirming the speculative and prospective; embracing the future rather than running from it. Affirming the still-to-come and the ability of our ingenious wills to mold it like so much sopping clay. Embracing the future means embracing life and embracing life means embracing sex and all that it entails, pleasure, pain, emotional attachment, reciprocity of labor and, crucially, childbirth; the continuation of the line, the continuation of society, the continuation of civilization.
Yet, not everyone is quite so sanguine about the prospects of “the child” and thus, the future. The staunchest response to the affirmation of continuation stem, invariably, from academics mired in the peculiar iridescence of contemporary “queer theory.” The word queer, originally Scottish, is a storied linguistic signifier with a history dating back to 1508, meaning, “strange,” or, “eccentric.” Queer theory1, broadly and briskly, is a variation of critical theory2 which arose in the 1990s out of the intermingling of feminist activism and queer studies. The term was coined by the author and cultural theorist, Teresa de Lauretis3, who would go on to abandon the term and much of the movement only three years after its founding, citing market capture of queer theorists as the principal reason for her withdrawal. One of the defining characteristics of early queer theory thought which still carries over to it’s present iterations is the belief that gender is crucial to being, but ultimately separate from biological sex; that is to say, it is real and operational only at the level of linguistic inscription, rather than at the level of being-as-such. The problem with this approach to gender is that linguistic notions do not just spring forth from the void, but are, themselves, inexorably constrained by biology. Without a body to generate conceptual structures you simply do not have them. Such is axiomatic.
In the 2007 Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, art history researcher, Ger Zielinski writes of the movement, “-queer theory became an attempt to resituate and perhaps resolve the several conceptual and practical impasses in feminist thought on sex, gender, identity and correlated problems in lesbian and gay studies, which until then were understood within the frame of a biological definition of sex.”4
The endeavor of queer theory is to examine, dissect and deconstruct the social norms, customs and beliefs that maintain what it’s proponents see as privileged, and often oppressive, homo-normative and hetero-normative systems of power. This, however, only defines how queer theory came to be and, what it is, as opposed to, who can be in it; that is, who can be queer. The archaeologist and cultural writer, Thomas Dowson wrote, “Queer theory is very definitely not restricted to homosexual men and women, but to any one who feels their position (sexual, intellectual, or cultural) to be marginalized . . . Queering . . . empowers us to think what is often the unthinkable to produce unthoughtof pasts [presents and futures].”5
The process of “queering” does indeed empower, but it also undermines; indeed, that is almost invariably the explicitly stated goal: to undermine and deconstruct. Deconstruction implies a construction to be taken apart and that construct is usually the societal norms in which instances of queering are slated. However, some theorists go even further and look to deconstruct the meta-linguistic and symbolic underpinnings of humanity itself.
One of the most extreme proponents of this process is the writer, scholar and professor of English at Tufts University, Lee Edelman. The subject of queer theory and queering is judiciously tackled in Edelman’s, No Future: Queer Theory & The Death Drive (2004). In one of Edelman’s polemical, opening salvos he cleanly and concisely lays out his project,
“For politics, however radical the means by which specific constituencies attempt to produce a more desirable social order, remains, at its core, conservative insofar as it works to affirm a structure, to authenticate social order, which it then intends to transmit to the future in the form of its inner Child. That Child remains the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention. Even proponents of abortion rights, while promoting the freedom of women to control their own bodies through reproductive choice, recurrently frame their political struggle, mirroring their anti-abortion foes, as a ‘fight for our children – for our daughters and our sons,’ and thus as a fight for the future. What, in that case, would it signify not to be ‘fighting for the children?’ How could one take the other ‘side,’ when taking any side at all necessarily constrains one to take the side of, by virtue of taking a side within, a political order that returns to the Child as the image of the future it intends? Impossibly, against all reason, my project stakes its claim to the very space that ‘politics’ makes unthinkable: the space outside the framework within which politics as we know it appears and so outside the conflict of visions that share as their presupposition that the body politic must survive. Indeed, at the heart of my polemical engagement with the cultural text of politics and the politics of cultural texts lies a simple provocation: that queerness names the side of those not ‘fighting for the children,’ the side outside the consensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism.”6
Here then we have a reformation of Dowson’s big-tent formulation of underdog queerness; a social project that, instead of embracing the fringes of the body politic, wishes instead to do away with politics-as-such. What gives Edelman’s argument it’s originality (and thus a certain degree of power) is both his understanding of the discontinuity of non-homo-normativity to societal continuation as well as his acknowledgment and fixation upon the centrality of the image of The Child to the totality of the civilizational project. The professor’s summation is correct as the cognitive idealization of The Child is the great filter through which all matters of civilizational import must pass before being enacted and instituted; elseways they’d face invariable dissolution. Novelty has a certain power all its own, it’s force of persuasion sui generis. However, novelty alone cannot constitute a sound political ontology. Edelman runs into trouble immediately when he, of his own accord, notes that his arguments are not rooted in reason (Edelman has noted objection to the western philosophical tradition’s valorization of reason as, in his estimation, it lends itself to systematized violence; such as state sanction warfare and oppression7). He states, quite frankly, that his project is “against all reason,” yet, even if it wasn’t, it would still be in opposition to the idea that the “body politic must survive.” Here then comes the problem; how can Edelman’s project ever come to fruition, baring any of it’s other attributions, if it chooses to utterly turn away, not just from reason, but from the future, that is, from reproduction? How can one win in the contest of societal transformation when one considers reproduction, childbirth and child-rearing a “ponzi scheme?” One cannot. Yet, Edelman goes even further; not only does he dispatch with The Child and The Future (hence the title of his book, No Future), and thus, society itself, he also dispenses with the idea of The Good, noting, “When I argue, then, that we might do well to attempt what is surely impossible – to withdraw our allegiance, however compulsory, from a reality based on the Ponzi scheme of reproductive futurism – I do not intend to propose some ‘good’ that will thereby be assured. To the contrary, I mean to insist that nothing, and certainly not what we call the ‘good,’ can ever have any assurance at all in the order of the Symbolic.”8 This then is a total throwing away of all philosophy for some variant of modified Jungian psychoanalysis (which are methodologically distinctive). The problem with this radical move is that humans clearly cannot operate solely via symbolic injunction alone; symbolism has always been with Man but it has tended to emerged from numinous realms (such as dreams or visions brought about by some extremity of sensation or drug-administration) and can be pragmatically deployed, that is, deployed in a way which actively guides human action, only after one has reasonably ascertained their meaning. If one gives oneself up solely to what we might call The Dream for the purposes of jouissance, then there is no other measure for action outside of enjoyment (particularly, sexual enjoyment or libidinal desire). This then, is a violation of the principals of the very school of thought which informs Edelman’s thought; Horkheimer, for instance notes that a social theory is only sound if it fulfills three criteria: explanatory power, practicability and normativity. That is, (1) the theory must adequately explain something such that the subject(s), (2) have some ability to change the problems which are unearthed via the explanation and, finally, (3) establish clear norms for both continued criticism and correction.9 Edelman fulfills the first criterion, but certainly not the latter two.
Henceforth we have only delved into the first portion of Edelman’s project, one marked wholly by negation and deconstruction. However, Edelman’s projection is not one solely of negation; indeed, the whole reason he wishes to dispense with western philosophy, The Child and The Future is to overturn those symbolic structures which act as a barrier to jouissance.10 Also worthy of mention is that whilst Edelman and his work has frequently been associated with the “anti-social turn”11 in contemporary queer theory, he, himself, never used the term12. Through various dialogues, (such as those with fellow critical theorist, Lauren Berlant13) Edelman seems to offer up implicit repudiations to the rabid anti-social modalities and attitudes which his work frequently espouses (i.e. “Fuck the social order and The Child in whose name we are collectively terrorized-”14). Edelman’s sociability and politesse, then, confuses the more excoriating passages from No Future. For how can one affirm the social yet deny any semblance of a self-perpetuating society? We could suppose that one could affirm immediate socialization but then one would also be affirming The Child, which Edelman resents; thus the whole of the theoretical framework begins to muddy itself in a mire of conceptual and performative contradictions.
Thus, the No Future project is inherently unworkable, Edelman himself notes that “Every attempt to totalize, to construct a universal or closed – idealized – political system will always exclude something and that exclusion will be then the locus of queerness which is why there could be no queer utopia. The queer utopia would, itself, be a space in which queerness was excluded.” Due this performative impotence, all Edelman’s foes have to do is wait him and his queer comrades-in-arms-out; given a sufficient period of time they will simply vanish from the face of the earth and, though their ideas will still persist in hard-copy tomes and flows of digital inscriptions, the animating force which would actually extract and enact the ideas there contained would have passed away unto the great mausoleum of the earth. Without a constructive project, deconstruction is merely impuissant agitation.
1See, Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities.
2Critical-theory is its most specific iteration refers to the emancipatory philosophy of social critique which arose out of the Frankfurt School philosophers, Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno.
3Teresa de Lauretis was a distinguished Italian professor emeritus of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
4Ger Zielinski, “Queer Theory,” Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, Vol IIII, 2007.
5T. A. Dowson, Why Queer Archaeology? An Introduction, World Archaeology, 12 (2): 161-5. 2000.
6L. Edelman, No Future, p. 15-16
7L. Edelman: Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing, Summer School for Sexualities, Culture and Politics; Tufts University lecture, IPAK Centar, 2015.
8L. Edelman, No Future, p. 17
9See, Horkheimer, Between Philosophy and Social Science, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993.
10Jouissance is French word, frequently used by Jacques Lacan, meaning, enjoyment of life beyond the pleasure principal.
11A “turn” connotes a general shift in the direction of some aspect of a given philosophical movement. i.e. “the speculative turn” = a move towards spec. realism in a general capacity within those philosophical spheres from whence it sprang.
12See: Interview with Prof Lee Edelman on the State of Queer Theory Today; video interview, Belgrade, 2015.
13See: Sex, or the unbearable, by Lee Edelman and Lauren Berlant, Duke University Press, 2014.
14Edelman, No Future, p.
Ger Zielinski, “Queer Theory,” Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, Vol IIII, 2007.
T. A. Dowson, ‘Why Queer Archaeology? An Introduction,’ World Archaeology, 12 (2): 161-5. 2000.
Noreen Giffney, Denormatizing Queer Theory, SAGE Publications, 2004.
Nina Power, Motherhood in France, Towards a Queer Maternity?
Nina Power, Non-reproductive Futurism, Boarderlands e-journal,Nov. 9, 2009.
Richard McDonald, Back To No-Future: A Critical Analysis of ‘The Future Is Kid’s Stuff’ by Lee Edelmen & ‘Non-reproductive Futurism’ by Nina Power. 2015.
Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2004.
Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2011.
L. Edelman, L. Berlant, Sex, or, The Unbearable, Duke University Press, 2014.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Critical Theory, Mar. 8, 2005.