They say class cuts, we say class war
by Meredith Wallis — Stanford
May 04, 2010 – 06:37
I don’t like marriage. I’ve got some fancy language for this dislike acquired later in life from hearty doses of early exposure to old school feminism which has a similar effect to whiskey in reducing the odds that one can, at any moment, prevent oneself from referencing ‘chattel’ without intending hyperbole. I think this lack of desire is key; as my students would phrase it…I don’t relate. So when I’m talking to gays who have wanted more than anything in the world to get married, for whom it means a sort of redemptive validation, an alleviation of real, lived pain, we usually have the awkward moment where I am to partake in the redemption through the limited options of shared enjoyment and come up flat with a sincere (but lacking) thumbs-up and a weak lie about liking weddings (who does?). The inevitable question about my own desire follows, the point where I say the once defiantly comic (90s), now comically defiant: “I’m not the marrying kind”. The disappointment is palpable. It is hard, though not impossible, to make the deviant utterance and to also be heard saying: “your pain is real. Your solution is viable.” There seems to be few recognized phrases that convey an acceptably enthusiastic, anti-pluralist recognition of limited but necessary decisions made in conditions of systemic oppression. Something like: “there is not much we can call choice and less we can call good, but you have to go on as if there were both, in order to secure the possibility that there might be either. And I like open bars.” My friend Erin Paszko, a Barbara Mandrell-style marxist (that is, she was marxist when marxism wasn’t cool), seems to have the only contender for a short-hand, in a better translation of Adorno than usually put forth: a wrong life can’t be rightly lived. Here’s the rub, though: it can be wrongly lived.
I also like this one: real pain, real action. I heard this at NorCal demonstrations recently, picked up, I assume, from UCSD after pre-March 4 actions there, actions apparently in response to what Yudolf calls in a statement “recent events” before condemning though not specifying “acts of racism, intolerance and incivility” (emphasis mine—which one of these is not like the other one?). Over the anxiety of provoking what Racialicious calls, not without qualification, the “oppression olympics” and what other lefty/radicals persist in calling “identity politics” with an accompanied eye-roll, hegemonic critiques often lose the reminder not just that pain merits (or is the only way to bring about) action, or to be more specific, revolution, but that revolution might find some kind of articulation not solely in abstract pain (anomie, object petit a) but in a particular pain, applied sometimes in a shared fashion along predictable axes and sometimes curiously not. What is meant to be avoided by the focus on the abstract (the comparative measuring of pain which reverses the proper subject of authorization for speech by an epistemic privileging of marginalization qua marginalization) is, of course, both a reproduction and technique of the disparate divisions of labour that simultaneously produce and displace a desire to un-hinge authority from speech onto a desire to have authority to speak. And the accompanied solution—investigating and addressing uneven effects—seems always to echo the impoverished rhetorics of pluralism that reinforce privatization in the call for a redistribution of resources along categories of marginalization, a monetary re-enactment of the comparative measurement problem. But what is also avoided in the worry over what we might mean when we say identity politics becomes the political failure of many systemic critiques, that is, a failure to tie action to pain in the case of anti-capitalist critique or in the case of an anti-marriage stance, to give pain a viable action, a failure to address the ways in which a highly formal, rational(ized) focus on strategy and totality begins to seem less like efficacy and more like repression.
But then, how do we do this, what seems to be the precondition of a queer politics: that is, how do we put forth an ethics based on the premise of a future subjunctive possibility of having an ethic at all, a choice that is not between ought and ought not? The necessary verb tense for this ethics—an expression of a necessity that has not occurred but is conditioned on another possibility—brings us to something like grammar trouble in the States since linguists have heralded the extinction (English) or near-extinction (Spanish) in our most spoken languages of the future subjunctive as a mood or tense. There are two Spanish hold-outs against the contemporary condemning of the tense—the eminent domain of practical usage—and they are, perhaps predictably, literature and law. My knowledge of the former is fuzzier, but as for the latter, I can say this seems hopeful, since the continued existence of the tense is in part based on the formal necessity of legal grammar to keep open a complicated, contingent realm of possible eventualities based on interpretative commitments. One of which is always revolution. I give the rest of this post to my friends on the freeway. The state says vehicle infraction. I say uncivil obedience to a queer politics of the public, a revolution in the hermeneutics of freeways, an improper circulation of goods and bodies. No war but—
***Shannon Pufahl has a blog on this which is a little more logically tied to the clip above and queer riots in general (journalistic bias disclaimer: we live together):