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This book is an attempt to save “the sexual” from the oblivion to which certain strands in queer theory tend to condemn it, and at the same time to limit the risks of anti-politics and solipsism contained in what has been termed antisocial queer theory. It takes a journey from Sigmund Freud to Mario Mieli and Guy Hocquenghem, from Michel Foucault and Judith Butler to Teresa de Lauretis, Leo Bersani, Lee Edelman, and Tim Dean, and from all of these thinkers back to Immanuel Kant and Thomas Hobbes. At the end, through readings of Bruce LaBruce’s movies on gay zombies, the elitism of antisocial queer theory is brought into contact with popular culture. The living dead come to represent a dispossessed form of subjectivity, whose monstrous drives are counterposed to predatory desires of liberal individuals. The reader is thus lead into the interstitial spaces of the Queer Apocalypses, where the past and the future collapse onto the present, and sexual minorities resurrect to the chance of a non-heroic political agency.



Elements of Antisocial Theory


Chapter 1. Genealogical Exercises

From the nineteenth century, in English, “queer” is used as a pejorative epithet against homosexual men. It comes from the German “quer,” which, in turn, is derived from the Latin verb “torquere,” meaning “transverse,” “diagonal” or “slanting.” “Queer” is thus the opposite of “straight” and—since heterosexuality is traditionally associated with moral rectitude—“heterosexual.” It can literally be translated into Italian as “storto” [“crooked”], “strano” [“strange”], “bizzarro” [“bizarre”], but semantically, queer is equivalent to “checca” [“fairy”] or “frocio” [“faggot”]. Different genealogies of queer theories are possible that pass through the histories of slavery, racial violence and critical race studies (Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers), but in the academic sphere, the first one to be generally credited with putting the adjective “queer” next to the noun “theory” is Teresa de Lauretis (1991), who in February of 1990 held a conference at the University of Santa Cruz (California) entitled “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities.” The expression “queer theory” does not appear instead in the two books published that same year which are often considered the inaugural texts of queer philosophy and queer cultural studies, respectively: Gender Trouble by Judith Butler and Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. In order to find the philosophical origins of these American academic queer theories, however, one must go even further back in time, to at least 1976, when The Will to Knowledge, the first volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, was published in France. It served in fact as a fundamental reference for de Lauretis, Butler, Kosofsky Sedgwick and all the scholars that followed and continued to develop critical scholarship about sexuality.
Lorenzo Bernini

Chapter 2. Sicut Palea: It Must Be So Sweet to Die

Along a winding path made even less direct by numerous, necessary digressions, the preceding chapter led us to the origin of so-called antisocial theories. The queer, as I have tried to explain, both in the political practice of activist movements and in academic theories, is born from a dual trauma, which entered the sexual minorities’ imaginary during the eighties: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. In this depressive climate, on campuses in the United States, the constructivist theory of sexuality bequeathed by Foucault represented an instigation to resume a directionless hedonistic activism geared toward the experimentation of new ways of life, and such activism was met with varying responses. In general, the first queer theories, when they did not proceed with Foucault’s genealogical historiography (Halperin 1990), were characterized by a revivification of psychoanalysis from the hasty death Foucault had caused it; but while Butler (1990, 1997), Kosofsky Sedgwick (1990, 2003) and de Lauretis (1999a, 2010) had attempted a mediation between psychoanalytic metapsychology and Foucauldian constructivism, Bersani, instead, used Laplanche’s thought to launch a frontal attack on Foucault’s “liberal activism.” Is the Rectum a Grave? celebrates the value of sex as an act of socially dysfunctional solipsistic enjoyment that isolates the subject from the community: in Bersani’s disquieted ontology, the truly sexual subject, unlike the Foucauldian subject who is subjected to the sexuality apparatus, does not seek social recognition for the self, but instead is aroused by a dissipative drive that leads him or her to humiliation and a devaluation of the self. The celebration of this ascetic homosexuality continues 11 years later in the book Homos, in which Bersani tackles not only Foucault, but the spreading of Foucauldian-inspired queer theories and what he deems the danger of their desexualizing deviations. In his opinion, the upswing of studies on The History of Sexuality during the nineties risks reducing homosexuality to a mere social construct, negating its concrete materiality: as if homosexuals only had in common the homophobia to which they are subjected and there was no homosexual subject to set against the homophobic subject. Queer Nation is not even spared from Bersani’s critiques. He holds Queer Nation guilty of using the term “queer” as a marker of a nonidentity-based political activism, thus depriving the lesbian gay trans movement of its sexual specificity. According to Bersani, queer theories should, instead, interrogate the dysfunctional nature of the sexual (of the death drive) in the process of constructing the individual self, and the queer movement should radically challenge the practices of “liberal” sociality by calling into question the value of sociability itself (Bersani 1996: 73). Knowing himself to be an easy object of critique, Bersani, to protect himself, specifies that his intent is not to preach the return of a stable homosexual identity or carry out a search for gay essence, but to challenge the political correctness of the nineties to show the disturbing character that homosexuality takes on when it does not heroically rise as a champion of tolerance and pluralism, but lies lazily about in an outlawed existence that challenges every social order:
Lorenzo Bernini

Chapter 3. Back to the Future

Unanimously recognized as the founder of antisocial queer theories, Bersani is also the first to attest to their political untenability. Those who would like to more consistently pursue the path he has laid out must thus be willing to risk renouncing politics. Lee Edelman, as I have mentioned, is the one who has expanded on this. In launching a radical attack on the communal sense of LGBTQIA movements, Edelman shields himself by using the criticism against political planning developed by the young Hocquenghem, from whom, in his time, a thankless Foucault also drew.1 The goal of the following pages is to test the resistance of this defensive tool, or, better yet, to investigate whether or not this defense is more of a boomerang than a shield. It is in fact true that in the seventies, Hocquenghem rejected the “futurist” rhetoric of planning and waiting, but his intention was not to abstain from politics: to the contrary, he expressed the “anal” impatience of an action that needed immediate execution. And while he did reject the bourgeois-capitalist society as well as the proletariat-communist one, he did not repudiate every form of sociality. I predict, therefore, that it is a boomerang that not only returns where it once began, but leads us even further back—not in space: in time.
Lorenzo Bernini

Queer Apocalypses


Chapter 4. Resurrections

Several of Edelman’s illustrious interlocutors have had some criticism for him that is similar to mine. De Lauretis (2010: 87), for example, took her distance from the prescriptive meaning of the death drive in No Future. While Dean has maintained that Edelman is conditioned by a restricted and static vision of the symbolic, which impedes him from imagining the kinds of relationality that challenge the Oedipal law of reproductive futurism. In his opinion, Hocquenghem and Bersani have instead shown themselves capable of a larger imaginative force1 and a greater contact with reality. In fact, in the concreteness of gay existences, the breaking of the Oedipal social tie generally follows the construction of a new relationality, of which barebacking is only one example:
Lorenzo Bernini

Chapter 5. Apocalypse Here and Now

The apocalyptic references included in the zombie filmography, and the messianic and Christological references present in LaBruce’s latest films, simultaneously evoke an “end of times” and a new beginning, a fracture in the present that is not a projection of the future but a busting of subjectivity into modernity. Thus they invite a turning toward the past, so as to retrace the origin of those cultural apparatuses that curb the imaginary and render the thought of this temporality exceptional. There are many possible paths that can be taken, but the one that I would particularly like to focus on leads to an investigation into the political ontology upon which the Oedipal “futurist” ideology is founded, the ideology that constitutes the polemic objective of antisocial queer theories. Edelman, as well as Bersani and de Lauretis, contrasts the subject of the drive with a not-well-delineated liberal subject who is devoted to the attainment of social recognition, usefulness and pleasure. Despite the fact that in the United States the adjective “liberal” has an undertone of meaning that distinguishes it from the Italian “liberale,”1 it is undeniable that the subject against whom the three thinkers argue is none other than the current and politically correct version of the individual who is at once a citizen and a subject of the modern state (and of that which is left of it in the postmodern world of globalization). Suspending judgment about what the reality of the human is, I will attempt now to explore that theoretical smithy of the political modern imaginary in which both the individual and the state are shaped: the thought that Thomas Hobbes developed in Elements of Law Natural and Politic (1640),2 in De cive (1642) and above all in Leviathan (1651). I will investigate the temporality in which Hobbes positions individuals, and the one which, instead, he renders inaccessible to them. Finally, I will show how within the temporality of the state, beneath or above it, the opening of another temporal dimension has always been possible. To this end, moving continually in reverse on this journey, I will invite readers to glance at two traditions of thought that historically precede the break enacted by Western modernity in Christianity, but that linger in it like specters: the Hebrew and the classic Greek. After the zombie, before it, we will meet other monstrous figures of the end of times, and other metaphors of the bestiality of the human.
Lorenzo Bernini

Chapter 6. Becoming Animals

The reconstruction of the seventeenth-century text carried out in the previous chapter may seem strange in a work dedicated to contemporary queer theories, but it proves useful not only in clearing up the chrono-biopolitical nature of the liberal subject, but in adding something about the strategic role that the sexual question plays in its production as well. A now established tradition of feminist criticism has denounced how, in the founding narrations of political modernity, heterosexual males, in reality, enter into the state-instituted pact, and the presumed sexual neutrality of individuals is none other than an expedient to leave women’s subordination to men unaltered and unthematized. This is the subordination asserted by Aristotle, which would have no reason to linger in an egalitarian landscape. In the now classic The Sexual Contract, Carole Pateman, using a timely textual analysis, shows how this occurs not only in the absolutist Hobbes, but in Locke, Rousseau and Kant as well, considered the founding fathers of the liberal tradition, the democratic one and juridical pacifism, respectively. It’s as if, in their works, the social contract presupposed a tight sexual contract between men designed to regulate the possession of women, and keep them in a state of submission. The contrast between the false contractualist egalitarianism of sexual differenceunderstood as the only difference between men and womenand the insistence on the dissymmetry of the sexes in the reproductive process has at times, however, led feminist thought to an uncritical adoption of that sexual binarism that is both the prerequisite and the product of the “social contract” (Bernini 2010a).1 Pateman herself (1988; 223, italics mine) shows, for example, a cruel insensitivity in the face of intersex, transsexual and transgender people when she writes that “a human body, except through misfortunes of birth, is not male and female at the same time,” and then adds that “if dissatisfied with their ‘gender orientation’, men can become ‘transsexuals’ and turn themselves into simulacra of women.” Like the sovereign in De cive, the author claims the authority to decide who has the right to be recognized as fully human: not only does she uncritically declare that intersexuality is a misfortune, and that female identity is not accessible to trans women, she also negates the existence of trans men.2
Lorenzo Bernini


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