Monthly Archives: March 2012

I say that I am queer, but my saying so doesn’t define me.  My queerness is an always necessary act of unhinging myself from the demand that I be defined.  Neither is my queerness the term which refers to my desire.  My queerness is a (w)hole, but this (w)hole is not an absence.  It is rather a presence – an embodiment – which is filled with absence.  My queerness is a radical relationship between presence and absence.

Three terms (always three) constellate my queerness as a doing and as a becoming: transformation, desire, and embodiment.  That the core absence of my queerness is also a presence shapes a transformative drive: the desire to become embodied.  That queerness is both a doing of my body and something that is done to my body demands transformation and, in demanding it, sometimes violently and unwillingly equips my body and the technologies of my consciousness with desire.  I desire to transform myself through embodiment.

Queerness is conditioned by absence-presence which might be called a constitutive lack, though I would hesitate to put this under the sign of psychoanalysis too readily.  The process of becoming queer is not directed or delimited in any absolute sense.  The self is not a stable position from which I declare that which I Am.  It is rather a non-linear sequence of resistances, lived and known, which position me not in opposition to a stable or ideal figure of normality, but in affirmation of the ability to reconfigure myself for or against – even with utter indifference to – the very normalizing experience of being a body in this world.  This world is full of historically specific configurations which assert themselves as the norms which I affirmatively resist.  My self-contradiction is not abnegation, but a destruction through incorporation in full acknowledgement of my unending transformation.

My queerness is not a primary mover, but a relationship to the dual impositions of the will to live and the drive toward death.  Queerness is neither an oscillating mediating process of life and death, cool and collected, nor a hysterical reconfiguration of my identity in the pursuit of radical destruction, hot and frenetic.  Becoming queer is a moment of recognition that the very terms of my existence are both radically absent and sensually present in my ongoing social contact with the body I call my own and with the bodies of others, human and more-than-human.  The dual transformation of my body in the process of relating to itself and to others consists in the ongoing flux of excess and abandon.

Queerness does not end and it cannot be fixed in space and time.  It is through my body that I relate to the absence of the past and its painful presences in the form of desires unfulfilled, violently circumscribed, or tenderly rejected.  Through this same body (or another) this same desire (or another) is reconfigured in a process of delimitation.  Desire overflows itself, exceeding the boundaries of this temporary self hurtling through the present in a perpetual motion of embodiment.  My death, the social fact of my death at least, might, following Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, be called ‘dropping the body.’  I do my body (as I do the bodies of others) in a sociality whose tendency toward unboundedness is conservatively circumscribed by the limits of law, violence, and capital.  My queerness obtains in my ability to imagine a magnitude of change which exceeds the conditions of my own imagining.

Queerness is what I call my desire to collapse the past and the future into the present.  The excess weight of the past, all its inscriptions, traces, and material legacies, bears down on the present, which is a provisional space held open by the possibility of a future in which that excess weight is abandoned.  This is the desire to be free, from and to.

“The frantic, busy immobility of latency resonates again in [Rimbaud’s] ‘Chanson de la plus haute tour,’ where the prairie, a collective unit that does not consist of men but that is still ‘felt’ to be a swarm, has been consigned to oblivion, and thus freed or liberated for overgrowth, increase, uncultivated or uncontrolled expansion:

Ainsi la prairie
A l’oubli livrée,
Grandie, et fleurie
D’encens et d’ivraies
Au bourdon farouche
De cent sales mouches.

[So the green field
To oblivion freed
Overgrown, flowering
With incense and weeds
And the wild noise
Of a hundred dirty flies.]

The flies preside over a hypertrophic disorder; the words sales and farouche, which describe them, have connotations of savagery, barbarianism.  Linked as it is to a landscape of excessive growth and teeming unproductive life – weeds and incense are not precisely useful – the bourdon farouche suggests a unit of collective, virtual, and similarly disorderly action…The virtuality of the swarm can also be erotic in nature…”

—  Kristin Ross (1988:108-109) The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune

On a first superficial search for ‘insect swarm,’ this appears in my ‘personalized’ youtube-google search.  (I’ve retitled it slightly.)

“It’s very Hitchcock, Janet.”
(Unidentified person, “Insects Swarm Car”)

Try to look past the stodgy colonialisms Britishisms of the patriarch of this presumable family unit whose Mercedes is being overtaken.  The child panics; maybe a sort of pure and terrifying sense of awe.  At least sheer shock at the magnitude of movement, of kinetic energy; of life, but also a closely linked sense of [human] death that always arrives with untold numbers of insects.  The adults are, at first, ‘sensible,’ (in that they do not allow themselves to sense) but then they too are overtaken with awe.

Surely we imagine insects crawling from the ventilation in the car even weeks later.

Let’s take another look at swarms from the BBC – since we’re already within the realm of Anglo representation:

Here the apocalyptic tone is unvarnished.  But it is followed by a sort of mediatized imagination of something totally ‘dreamy.’  Club music [bad house] implies a space in which we lose ourselves; dancing, drugs, bodies, movement, glances, heat.  But we are watching surfeits of creatures.  Mass nouns.  Crawling, flying, winding, crystallizing themselves in constant movement.

A third precedent from an illuminating film, “Death by Design.”

Can we set aside the innuendo regarding cell communication and the market, a kind of biological determinism?  Also, for a moment, we will set aside the maleness and whiteness of our commentators.  Though neither fact is remotely irrelevant.

We are told here that death may not always mean ‘committing suicide,’ at least in the Durkheimian sense.  What does it mean to become aware of the fact that death is happening across and through our bodies even as we live?  La petite mort redux?  Death is not absolute in the swarm, it is what Kristin Ross (1988) might call a radicalization (20) as emancipation:

…emancipation (etymologically, “unhanding”) as the transformation of a servile identity into a free identity…This new “emancipated” subjectivity that takes as its point of departure the radical atomization or isolation of the worker, and proceeds by heightening or exaggerting that atomization rather than masking it in myths of workers’ community, runs the risk of being mistaken as a blueprint for individualist reform rather than for collective emancipation.  But emancipation in Rimbaud is only as collective and political as it is individual and cultural (118-119).

The death is not of the swarm, but in and through it.  The situation is out of hand.  Let’s not get caught in prepositions.  Here positions matter much more clearly.  They are figured relationally, constantly, with a shifting smoothness, but clearly not without incident.  We must know that individuals die; whether under the crushing weight of a car or through chaotic haptic miscommunication.  Some fall out of the sky.  Some are upturned and never righted.  Some are shot by hunters.  And, lest we be lulled into a crude utilitarianism, remember that the swarm is not truly a ‘unit’ for calculation but a ‘unity’ for both contemplation and, more critically, absorption.

I think of the videos as ‘form poems’ – to take a phrase from architect and friend Caleb Crawford ( – so I don’t intend them as a sort of deterministic naturalism.  If anything, they are interesting because they attempt to represent an embodied becoming for both the creatures (or the material) in the swarm and, if we are absorbed, “…a hypersensorial, more-than-human perception.  Grotesque, hyperbolic, extraordinary, superhuman perception…in opposition to what capitalist development is at the moment defining (in the sense of setting limits) as human, as ordinary perception” (102).

I’ll close with an extended quote from Ross, again reading Rimbaud in and through the Paris Commune:

Thus the importance of superlativces, of hyperbole and plurals…Rimbaud writes to Delahaye [we must feel more, experience more].  Or, in the poem of altered perception par excellence, “Matinée d’ivresse”: “rassemblons fervemment cetter promesse faite à notre corps et à notre âme créés: cette promesse, cette démence!” (“Let us re-create ourselves after that superhuman promise/ Made to our souls and our bodies at their creation / That promise, that madness!”)  The violently transformed body of “Matinée d’ivresse,” the more-than-human perception of the Drunken Boat, serve to indict the equally violent enforcement of existing limitations on human perception – and for Rimbaud those limitations are neither biological nor “ontological,” but social, governed first and foremost by a marketing mentality engendered in modern capitalism that violently transforms people and limits them to the role of the commodity…The disequilibrium of the boat, or the disfiguration of the Voyant (“But the problem is to make the soul into a monster…Think o f a man grafting warts onto his face and growing them there”) is only a dialectical response, a fun-house mirror reflection of an initial disfiguration or mutilation inflicted under capitalism: the closure of fields of socially available perception, the reduction not only of the environment of freedom but also of the very desire for and memory of that environment.  Familiarity with capitalist culture persuades us that this limitation – the specific way people, their bodies, and their physical perceptions are organized within capitalism – is not historical but natural and physical.  Yet the scope and manner of the mind’s attention, or of the body’s capacity for sensation, are social facts – and it is precisely the blindness and dullness peculiar to social relations in market society that enable us to deny the social and allow it to be subsumed in the biological.  To that blindness, that dullness that is the “human,” that debasement of the body of the worker into a thing on the market place, Rimbaud responds with more-than-human (“All the forms of love, of suffering, of madness”) the transformed utopian body of infinite sensation and libidinal possibility as figure for the perfected community, for associative or collective life (“For the first time, hurrah for the unheard-of-work, / For the marvelous body!”): the Drunken Boat, the Drunken Morning (120-121).


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