Thursday, July 28, 2011

the email that needs editing (story of my life?)

Dear XXX and XXX,
Thank you so much for your respective guidance! Unfortunately my computer crashed and I was (literally) disconnected until just recently. Please pardon my regrettably delayed reply!
This paper, in the mean time, has just been stewing in my head!

@XXX: thank you so much for the references! I actually found your deployment of Barthes' very helpful for my own project (i.e., his schematization of an affective, amorous "Image-Repertoire" in _LD_). I was also thinking of Genet--initially I was going to draw on Bersani's _Homos_ (reading his "Gay Daddy" against Genet's _Querelle_), but that is probably better-suited for a larger project. I'm am absolutely tickled that you sent me to Hocquenghem--he was the joint that led me to booting Deleuze/Guattari (as it were)--I'm in the thick of Massumi's _Parables for the Virtual_ (an excellent read!).

Before my computer crashed I'd been pursuing the historical link between Freidkin's film "Cruising" and a collection of interviews Foucault gave in the early 80s--one in particular conducted in concert with an "A. Wilson"--who, to be best of my ability to track this person down, seems to have also written a critical, Marxian-influenced review of Friedkin's "Cruising" (attached). It is in this context, I want to argue, that S/M becomes relevant for Foucault as a politically salient practice of the ethics of the care of the self as a modality of cultivating and "using" pleasure.

(This paper is also a first effort at pushing-back on the general assumption that there is an enigmatic schism between Foucault's 'early, political' work and his 'later, ethical' concerns--such an interpretation, I want to argue, is only sustainable to the extent that these 'gay' interviews are ignored.)

I'm keen on amplifying the role that institutions play for Foucault in these interviews--both the specific spaces of the gay leather/S&M scene (clubs, theaters, parks) as well as broader institutions like the family, the police/law, and even the 'public sphere' as a realm permeated with "sex" (in the way Warner/Berlant cast "sex in public"). I want to ultimately argue that Foucault's "ethical" concerns are misunderstood if not appreciated within the context of a political project that, as it were, is engaged in "queering" institutions rather than eliding their importance.

On a 'textual' level, this concern is dramatized in the film "Cruising": absent meaningful alterations in mass-mediated cultural circulations of 'gay desire' the relays that loop queer to criminal and criminal to (sexually) pathological and sexual perversion back to queer sexuality (etc.), the potential over-ripe in the rhizomatic nodes of S/M pleasure cannot actually constitute an enduring political challenge. These loops produce the killer, police brutality, and ultimately 'pervert' Pacino's 'gay desire' into the paradigm of the Repressive Hypothesis (i.e., prohibition and transgression, a dynamic animated by the affective experience of _punishment_). Crucially, these loops operate "within" the scene of cruising, 'infecting' the flow of (gay) desire by routing it through these nodes of affective intensity, and are not easily 'external' to them--they are, as it were, 'supplemental' (i.e., they 'haunt' but are not determinative of the scene--there is never any one differance).

Of course, Foucault is keen to resist the project of liberal assimilation--he demands the cultivation of new legally forceful protections at the same time he proposes the "inverting" or "queering" of pre-existing institutions (i.e., when he proposes inverted adoption as a recognized form of intimate relationality). That is, he is attentive to the important function hierarchical (sovereign) institutions play in the capillary circuits knitting together a micro-physic of power. Further, he is eager to figure S/M as a practice of pleasure that is _creative_: one does not 'punish' the desire for perverse pleasure in S/M (in which case S/M--to the extent that it is a performance of this desire for punishment and the satisfaction of this desire--is itself a perverse practice); instead one 'cultivates' pleasures--as if outside the rubric of prohibition/transgression. (On this front I'm influenced by Eve Sedgwick's introductory remarks to _Touching/Feeling_, esp. as she inveighs against a Lacanian figuration of desire and jouissance).

On a 'meta' level, then: the protests that, as it were, ''haunted'' the film's production (you can hear the protesters blowing whistles underneath the dialogue track, for instance), are symptomatic of a certain political _failure_ that, today, is couched theoretically as 'homonationalism'--the protests perform the refusal to publicly demand formal (legal) institutional protection of marginal and precarious subjects of desire, demonstrating through an identification with 'normal' (the politics of respectability) the desire to secret away 'shameful' members of the (gay) community. That is: the protesters approach the leather/S&M scene with the same set of I-R resonances as the police and the killer in Friedkin's film (i.e.: the loops that suture queer to criminal to pathological to sexually perverse to queer again).

I want to argue that it is in _this_ context, then, that Foucault's treatment of S/M becomes politically salient: rather than a politics that encourages the proliferation, and 'endurability,' of queer(ed) institutions, the (American) Gay Liberation project falters before the demands of the Law (to be 'acceptable,' 'recognizable,' 'patriotic,' 'non-threatening,' etc.). In other words, S/M is a strategic node of resistance for Foucault in these interviews to the extent that these practices, those who perform and enjoy them, and the spaces that enable them to complicatedly confront _both_ a hetero-normative imperative to "normalize" _and_ the political tendency amongst queers to respond to this demand, rather than to the potential to cultivate novel institutions "outside" the norm immanent to the practice of S/M.

I'm hoping this all holds together. Anyway, thanks again to both of you for your respective leads, advice, and simply for your responsivity--I greatly appreciate it! Perhaps once all is said and done I can send a draft along to you?

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