Wednesday, October 26, 2005

here's to you, shashi

This is meant as a partial answer to your question about the Foucauldian paradox. I recently read and wrote on _The History of Sexuality_, and this is part of what I got. So it's contextualized in terms of queer sexuality, but maybe its applicability also proves that "queer" has less to do with sexuality than it does with a kind of position in relation to power.)
“Resistance,” Foucault writes, “is never in a position of exteriority to power” (95). Hence, finding resistance as a reaction to “renouncing sex” actually takes part in, and reinforces, the deployment of sexuality. “Queering,” if I read Foucault as he intended, is more than the establishment of a sub-altern subject position marginal or exterior to power. Resistances, then, if they are formed in reaction to the power deployed by sexuality, “form with respect to the basic domination an underside that is in the end always passive, doomed to perpetual defeat” (96). What it might mean to actually “queer” this relation, following Foucault, would mean situating resistances to the deployment of sexuality as “the odd term in relations of power… inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite” (96). This passage is crucial to my understanding of queer theory. First, it seems wholly possible that the term “queer” grew out of Foucault’s use of “odd” to describe the locus of resistances within power structures, “odd” by way of being normative sexuality’s “irreducible opposite.” I also take into account here my own experience of “irreducibility studies” as a postmodern theoretical praxis especially useful for examining gender, sexuality, and bodies. “Irreducible” speaks to a relationship between figure and ground that creates the sort of “odd” space where we might find “queer.” We may then relate Foucault’s discursive definition of “queer” to body and gender studies by way of his insistence that, thanks to this “irreducible opposition,” there is no “single locus of refusal” of renouncing the deployment of sexuality. There is, instead, a “plurality of resistances” that correspond to the plurality of bodies, the plurality of loci of gender within these bodies, all of which “exist in the strategic field of power relations” (95-96).
To my mind, this speaks to the kind of postmodern identity politics that inheres in queer theory in a relationship not reducible to cause or effect. Writes Foucault: “one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds” (96, italics mine). The very nature of “queer”’s “queerness” is inseparable from the interplay of bodies and historically located selves. Queer signals a shift in the field of power relations that opens a gap in the figure/ground relationship of bodies to history so that the “grid” of power laid out by the deployment of sexuality can be “dismantled” by a plurality of sites that no longer allow it to obtain (131). In less coy terms, we can think of this in part as Foucault does, by way of the multiplicity of sites of resistance that did not challenge but instead destabilized the traditional “right of sovereignty”; queering introduces the odd middle term of irreducibility, and with it a logic within which sovereignty no longer produces power and which “the classical juridical system was utterly incapable of comprehending”(145). The “life-based” political structure that “queering”’s brand of destabilization led to strikes me as the undeniable inscription of identity politics within queer resistance; in other words, “queer” could be in part defined as the politics of identity – which seems obvious until we dismantle and reexamine the elements of identity and politics and bodies and selves a la Foucault. Hence, queer theory can be read as much more than just “gay people talking about something,” or “ theorizing in terms of gayness.” Instead, we can start to read queer, queerness, and queering in their own terms of creating a position within power, bodies, selves, and identities for the irreducible opposite.

Bodies, folks. Bodies. As Elizabeth Grosz points out, "We need to understand not only how culture inscribes bodies - a preoccupation of much social and cultural theory in the past decade or more - but, more urgently, what these bodies are such that inscription is possible, what it is in the nature of bodies... that opens them up to cultural transcription, social immersion, and production...." (Nick of Time, 2).


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