Judith Butler: A Living Introduction (Part I)

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.

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