So I’m trying to put together a blog forum on “The Gay Utopia,” variously defined. I’m still in the planning stages at the moment, but my friend Bert Stabler and I were emailing back and forth about it. My comments were mostly distracted and half-assed (or, less charitably, punk rock.) But Bert put a lot of thought into his side of the debate, so I thought I’d post it for those interested in sexuality, philosophy, or email. (Some of my responses have vanished in cyberspace. And the dialogue starts in media res to protect the innocent and promote Latin.)

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Bert:
Canceling sexuality (sex without sexuality), for example, is neither particularly primal or capitalist. It’s that weird Augustine immersion in original sin. Well, it’s a little reterritorialist, but it can definitely be counter-homophobic. The power and pleasure dynamics in Sade and Masoch barely need sex to operate, ditto Pauline agape universal-incomplete being-for-the-other love.

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Bert:
Right– sexuality as a thing you own and represent and observe, a personal Jesus in your genitals. The genitals are much more mysterious as social objects than mere badges of pleasurable entitlement. Homo and hetero, it’s a sorry substitute for gender as a way to confront the world. Gregg Bordowitz says “All sexuality is queer sexuality” — which is true, insofar as it implies all sexuality is meaningless. It’s a synonym for “lifestyle,” essentially, and thus a stand-in and facade for economic, historical, and gender relations. Like “spirituality” attempts to hide “religion.”

Deterritorialization (a Deleuze term) describes the fundamental disintegrative force of (humanist)modernity, in which depth and centrality and “verticality” are turned into a flattened grid, there is iteration and “play,” boundaries are absent, identity is consumed and consumable, everything is marginal. Reterritorialization, a more murky term,(in my head) refers to an attempt to deal with artifacts instead of rhetoric, establish new boundaries and a new relevance for old discredited forms, re-energize large-scale affiliations. Shulamith Firestone is all about saying gender is essential, and looking at concrete social forms, and inventing weird new arrangements for things. Lewis is attempting a reconception of the human and animal cosmology, magical and divine, abjection and beatification. They both seem like reterritorializers to me, which is why they piss off the humanists.
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Noah:
Okay; sexuality *is* the identity (or refusal to identify, I guess); sex is actually putting the parts together, or discussing the parts in social isolation. Deterritorialization sounds like humanist deconstruction; weird.

If I remember right, Julia Serrano says that everybody has sexuality (who they want to sleep with); gender traits; and a subconscious sex (what they see themselves as, male or female or indeterminate.) All of them vary and none of them are dependent on each other (though I assume they can affect each other in various ways.)
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Bert:
My contention is that deconstruction is an essentially humanist analytical endeavor. A metarhetoric to end-all metarhetorics. Which doesn’t mean I don’t admire it– it’s just that I see it, like humanism generally, as an essentially destructive enterprise. Deterritorialization is not used by Deleuze to refer to humanism– it means taking one mountain and ending up with “A Thousand Plateaus” (the title of a book of his), or taking an arboreal root network and replacing with a rhizome (everything connected to everything).

I find it highly doubtful that “subconscious sex” (A very useful idea) is unconnected to someone’s gender(behavior and perception). Who they want to sleep with seems far less a part of their everyday existence, or anyone’s business.
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Noah:
Ah, I hadn’t realized that deconstructionism was now humanism. I’m not sure I entirely buy it, though — nor necessarily the idea that Lewis isn’t a humanist in some sense (I mean, the first humanists were Christians too…) And seeing Firestone as someone who reconstitutes gender seems bizarre, since she seems to want to abolish gender distinctions altogether. But perhaps I can wait for your argument and all will be explained….

I don’t think Serrano is arguing that they don’t have some connection; maybe more that they’re not determinative of each other and can vary in many ways. For instance, a person could see herself as a woman, be attracted to other women, and have many gender hallmarks of maleness (she could dress like a man, work on cars, be large and hairy, etc.) Or any other variations.
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Bert:
Post-structuralist does not mean anti-structuralist. Thomas Aquinas was certainly among the first humanists, and would probably have been unimpressed with my manhandling of equivocal terminology. Freewill, the pluralistic coexistence of language regimes, and the particularity of individual experiences was big deal for him, as it was for Lyotard.

Derrida argued with Descartes for being insufficiently precise with his terms. Tirelessly tracing back statements to their assumptions and castrating their ideological underpinnings is entirely in the tradition of rational disputation. Feel free to explain to me how that is not the case. “Justice is the undeconstructible condition that makes deconstruction possible.” Sounds like Kantian ethics to me.

Foucault is another matter. For me, he makes reterritorialization possible, by getting away from ideas and individuals and turning toward history and objects.

Reterritorialization is not about forgetting or purging humanism. But the possibilities created by Christianity, all the contradictions Christ embodies, have resulted in a ruthless and rationalized civilizational pride that He and his earlier interlocutors would deplore.

I would never argue that Lewis isn’t a humanist in some capacity. He loved Plato (though more than Aristotle, I think), but he also believed animals had a moral character (which Aquinas did not). The modern individual is not gendered or created, it is instrumental and fabricated, and Lewis stood against that, as have various justice-minded Christians and non-Christians of the modern era.

Isolationism Now!

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Noah:
I don’t even know who Lyotard is, unless you’re referring to the gym attire.

You think Lewis believed that the modern individual is fabricated? In what sense? I think Lewis, like most Kantians, had a fairly universal sense of what an individual is. Nor would he have believed that the modern individual is somehow better or worse than other historical individuals (different, yes; worse, no.)

I’m not sure that humanism and rationalism are quite the same kettle of fish. Are economists humanists? Behavioral scientists? I guess if you’re arguing that a belief in human reason is the same as humanism; I generally take humanism these days to mean a sense that human nature is universal and lovable, though. If human reason is the standard, though, I don’t know how you can argue that Firestone isn’t a humanist — she’s a Marxist and a believer in the ability of science to recreate social truths. She’s Jeremy Bentham, basically.

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Bert:
Jean-Francois Lyotard is the most consumnate of all the postmodern post-structuralists– all universal reified things are false, all particular micro-communities should freely express their individual languages.

Neoclassical economists are clearly humanists. Let individuals make free choices in a market structure reflecting common usefulness. Marx is less clearly a humanist. People act (consciously or unconsciously, it doesn’t matter) in their class roles, sometimes in their class interests, but essentially their production defines them, not their preferences and beliefs.

You could definitely point out that modernity and humanism, in my definitions, are somewhat at odds. Marx is certainly a modernist, as is Freud– but as disciples of scientistic mysticism, neither one really seems to believe in the potential or interiortiy of individuals.

Unlike Jeremy Bentham. If you watch people sometimes, they learn to watch themselves all the time, Shulamith Firestone, on the other hand, despised education and all legalistic forms of social control. What they had in common was a generalized sense of gender semi-equality.

You could compare Lewis and Bentham, since they both believed in animal rights, But there’s not a whole lot more there. Lewis and Freud, ironically enough, share a similar fascination with childhood and the irrational, a belief in essential gender, and a distrust of most people’s ability to comprehend or govern themselves. Lewis also rightly distrusts the professional oligopoly of psychology, and Freudians rightly distrust the mytho-heroic powers Lewis, in his Kantian moments, gives to mankind. But they both react to the excesses and oversights of the Enlightenment by attempting to reinvent transcendence. This is not to say that they don’t have some drastic differences. Or that C.S Lewis wouldn’t prefer talking to Orwell, a rabid humanist, over any feminist who ever lived.

This is really taking up a lot of time. I hope this is something other than racquetball to you.

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Bert:
My contention is that using reason to destroy beliefs, leaving nothing but reason, is humanist. The grid, the perfect box, is the most humanist aspect of modernism. All beliefs are extinguished, but the process of perfecting is the phallus. Derrida believes in the ability of reason to find its limits, and he believes n a priori justice. My revisionist point is that his flattening of history, his ultra-skeptical obsession with the text, vanquishing history, is new New Criticism. His extremity as an example seems to make him an exception, certainly to many more conservative writers he appears thus, but humanism is hardly the property of conservatives.

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Bert:
Another thing… there’s some serious tension between freedom and social engineering within humanism. Horace Mann, “the father of public education,” and Grace Llewelyn don’t necessarily disagree on fundamental values. One of them builds the panopticon, and one of them frees the prisoners once their neuroses are appropriately trained. Unlike Bentham, Firestone sort of dodges both of those. She likes science, but she steers clear of both extolling individual power and social engineering.

Christ is not anti-humanist, mind you. We wouldn’t have individualism without Him. He is the midpoint between the old and new orders, and maybe the best model of what the tension between de- and reterritorialization should strive for.

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Noah:
Does Derrida really believe in a priori justice? I know you’ve got the one quote, but he kind of liked to contradict himself. Seeing him as anti-humanist involves seeing reason pushed to an extreme as unreason, which I think is a fair thing to do.

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Bert:
The whole idea of deconstruction was inspired by Levinas, who was a big believer in morality without absolutism. Derrida was absolutely interested in ethics, he’s way too capital-P of a Philosopher to be some kind of nihilist. He denied such claim over and over.

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Bert:
It depends on what you mean by “where he ended up”– he ended up being even more explicitly political at the end of his life– he protested apartheid and the invasion of Iraq, avoided erasing Heidegger’s Nazi flirtations, etc. etc. Constantly questioning my beliefs doesn’t make you a nihilist, does it?

Derrida didn’t trust authors, just like the New Critics. Intentional fallacy, don’t you know. What does that have to do with being a nihilist?

Derrida is totally pink rick. Destroy your (self-destructive) idols in the name of the freedom to think, create your own reality from all the undigestible shards of history

What the hell is “unreason,” if not an irrational faith? If Derrida had some deeply-held core of faith, I don’t see it. Perhaps you meant that he lapsed into poetry, like Wallace Stevens, or the people writing crank letters to astronomers. But poetry and philosophy have never been terribly distinct to me.

I mean you CAN call Derrida a nihilist. Many people have. It’s a free country. But I beg to “differ.”

I never said Jesus invented humanism, I implied that His influence is central to the form individualism was to take in the West. Freedom and sole property under the law are Greek, but the fusion of soul and free will that we understand as a person is a Christian construction.

Giving birth at home is far more humanist than being tortured by a hospital, but the hospital is clearly a negative effect of the obscenity of humanism.

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Bert:
Sexuality can be annihilated, and then the gay utopia is possible.
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Noah:
I don’t think it’s eliminating sexuality that makes the gay utopia possible. Often instead the gay utopia is about having a particular sexuality (i.e., omnivorous). I guess it would be possible to call that no sexuality, but Julia Serrano is pretty adamant in arguing that that’s a flawed position…so to speak.

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Bert:
I often don’t speak very precisely. What I meant was that the gay utopia is flawed, in its reliance on sexuality, but it seems like not a large step to make it no sexuality. And it doesn’t exist in this post-humanist fantasy world.

How is having no sexuality flawed? The branding of gay people being based on who they have sex with, which straight people never are, is distasteful. Instead finding a safe place in a new moral and gender economy– viewing cathexis as a source of energy rather than sexuality as a source of freedom/resistance– would be an impossible but worthwhile end.

Much like reforming the American nation as a place that uses its resources to restore the livelihoods of its citizenry into the long-term future.
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Noah:
Well, it’s probably more about no gender than no sexuality. But the basic problem for Serano is that there’s a gay/queer radical consensus that argues that you need to get out of the binary of gender and, I think, sexuality — you want to be fluid and free in your identity. This sucks for people like a trans woman like Serano, who actually fits into the gender binary quite easily (she identifies as a woman) but are still discriminated against.

Not sure what you mean by cathexis.
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Bert:
No, damnit! Gender is a concept and therefore fairly stable, gender identity (who you think you are, who you want to boink) is largely chemical, people are imperfect, sexuality (as an representation of sex/gender through identity) is cultural, and has been used oppressively for too long. Says me. I really feel that there are some pretty limited roles for self-representation, and that has a lot to do with the way sex and gender are formed in the brain and the primal scene, and subsequently co-represented in identity.

Cathexis is the redirection of libidinal energy–sublimation, regression, etc.

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