Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond 1438454112, 9781438454115

Examines the importance of Leo Bersani’s work for queer theory, psychoanalysis, literary criticism and theory, cultural

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Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond
 1438454112, 9781438454115

Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction: Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond
Notes
Works Cited
Part I: Queer
1 Bersani on Location
Notes
Works Cited
2 Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption
Notes
Works Cited
3 Queer Betrayals
Works Cited
Part II: Psychoanalytic
4 Cinema a tergo: Shooting in Elephant
Works Cited
5 Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan
Imperfect Freuds
Discourse and Sexuality
The Object, Re-Found
The Libido as Flaˆneur
Gay Sociability
Notes
Works Cited
6 Addressing Oneself: Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation
Notes
Works Cited
7 Monadological Psychoanalysis: Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett
Primary Narcissism, Revisited
Becoming-Beckettian
Stop Making Sense
Notes
Works Cited
Part III: Aesthetic
8 Is the Rectangle a Grave?
Notes
Works Cited
9 Proust, Shattering: Aesthetic Subjects and the Metonymies of Desire
Proust’s Way
The Sadean Way
Finding Proust Again
Notes
Works Cited
10 A Future for Henry James
Notes
Works Cited
11 Extreme Style: Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions
Notes
Works Cited
Part IV: Interview
12 Rigorously Speculating: An Interview with Leo Bersani
Contributors
Index

Citation preview

LEO BERSANI

LEO BERSANI Queer Theory and Beyond

Edited by

MIKKO TUHKANEN

Cover image: Wolfgang Tillmans, “Freischwimmer 54” (2004). Used by permission. Published by State University of New York Press, Albany © 2014 State University of New York All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY www.sunypress.edu Production, Eileen Nizer Marketing, Anne M. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Leo Bersani : queer theory and beyond / edited by Mikko Tuhkanen. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4384-5411-5 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4384-5412-2 (ebook) 1. Bersani, Leo—Criticism and interpretation. 2. Homosexuality in literature. 3. Homosexuality and literature. 4. Queer theory. I. Tuhkanen, Mikko, 1967– editor of compilation. PN75.B45L48 2014 801'.95092—dc23

2014002320 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents Acknowledgments

vii

Abbreviations

ix

Introduction Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond Mikko Tuhkanen

1

Part I: Queer 1

Bersani on Location Heather Love

37

2

Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption David Kurnick

55

3

Queer Betrayals Jack Halberstam

69

Part II: Psychoanalytic 4

Cinema a tergo: Shooting in Elephant Ellis Hanson

83

5

Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan James Penney

105

6

Addressing Oneself: Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation Patrick ffrench

123

Contents

VI

7

Monadological Psychoanalysis: Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett Mikko Tuhkanen

141

Part III: Aesthetic 8

Is the Rectangle a Grave? Michael D. Snediker

9

Proust, Shattering: Aesthetic Subjects and the Metonymies of Desire E. L. McCallum

10

A Future for Henry James David McWhirter

11

Extreme Style: Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions Kevin Ohi

169

191

225

249

Part IV: Interview 12

Rigorously Speculating: An Interview with Leo Bersani Mikko Tuhkanen

279

Contributors

297

Index

301

Acknowledgments Thanks to all the volume’s contributors for their engagement; Andrew Kenyon at SUNY Press for his patience; Nicholas Royle for the assignment of “Is the Rectum a Grave?”; Tim Dean and Mary Ann O’Farrell for their comments; and Leo Bersani for his availability. MT. Jack Halberstam’s “Queer Betrayals” has previously appeared in Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism, and the Political, ed. Elahe Haschemi Yekani, Eveline Kilian, and Beatrice Michaelis (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 177–89. © 2013. Reprinted with permission from the publishers. An earlier version of David Kurnick’s “Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption” appears in PMLA 125.2 (Apr. 2010): 398–403. © 2010. Revised and reprinted with permission from the Modern Language Association of America. An earlier version of David McWhirter’s “A Future for Henry James” appears as “Bersani’s James,” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 211–17. © 2011. Revised and reprinted with permission from The Johns Hopkins University Press.

VII

Abbreviations AI

Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993).

BB

Bersani, Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (New York: Oxford UP, 1970).

BF

Bersani, Baudelaire and Freud (Berkeley: U of California P, 1977).

C

Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Caravaggio (London: BFI, 1999).

CR

Bersani, The Culture of Redemption (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990).

CS

Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Caravaggio’s Secrets (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1998).

DSM

Bersani, The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1982).

FA

Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (1976; New York: Columbia UP, 1984).

FoB

Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (London: BFI, 2004).

FrB

Bersani, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (New York: Columbia UP, 1986).

FV

Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modern Culture (New York: Schocken, 1985).

H

Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995).

I

Bersani and Adam Phillips, Intimacies (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008).

IRG

Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010).

MP

Bersani, Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art (New York: Oxford UP, 1965).

IX

Introduction

Leo Bersani Queer Theory and Beyond

MIKKO TUHKANEN

Is Leo Bersani a queer theorist? Although he has become a frequently cited source for queer thinkers of various orientations, the answer to this query is not quite self-evident. The question becomes necessary when we observe not only that Bersani’s work precedes by decades queer theory’s naming, but also that in its range his oeuvre exceeds anything that might reasonably be designated as “queer scholarship.” What is queer about his readings of Beckett, Proust, Baudelaire, Malick, Resnais, Caravaggio, or Assyrian art? How might we connect his thematic concerns—his work on aesthetics, ethics, and ontology—with queer thought’s extant epistemologies? Bersani’s reputation as a queer thinker rests mainly on two texts, the essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987) and Homos (1995). Participating in the field’s self-definition in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they book-end its formative period. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” shares its date of publication with both Judith Butler’s first book, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (1987), and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987); it predates by some years Butler’s influential Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Teresa de Lauretis’s “queer theory” issue of differences (1991), and Diana Fuss’s collection inside/out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories (1991). While “Is the Rectum a Grave?” responds, like many other queer-theoretical texts of the late 1980s, to the urgency of the AIDS crisis—which compelled experimentations, often via the defamiliarizing potential of “high theory,” with praxes not immediately recognizable as politically useful or relevant—Homos addresses what by the mid-1990s had become one of queer thought’s major imperatives: the move, inspired by Foucault, to historicize and, consequently, de-essentialize identity categories, including those organized 1

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around “sexual preference.” Bersani’s insistence that we rethink the implications of antiessentialism is not a merely polemical, and polemically counterintuitive, antithesis to queer theory’s incipiently hegemonic formulations. It is informed by his by-then extensive work on philosophy and art. In the book’s final chapter, “The Gay Outlaw,” Bersani grafts queer thought onto this body of work: he conceptualizes queerness as an aesthetic, ontological, and political mode that he designates with the neologism “homoness.” What remains difficult about “The Gay Outlaw”—and the chapter shares this with Bersani’s larger oeuvre—is that its propositions bear scarcely any relation to other, including antiessentialist, conceptualizations of queerness and queer thought.1 To approach Bersani’s putative queerness, it is useful, then, to consider the larger trajectory of his work, which had accumulated its characteristic emphases long before queer theory’s emergence as a recognizable disciplinary orientation. Bersani begins his career in the 1960s with literary-critical commentaries on modernism: his first book, published in 1965, is a monograph on Marcel Proust, an author who remains a constant reference point and sparring partner in all of his later work. The following study, Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (1970), deals with a number of authors who similarly influence Bersani’s subsequent thinking. The writers in question are not only the luminaries of French modernism—Balzac, Stendahl, Flaubert, Camus, Robbe-Grillet, and, most importantly, Proust and Beckett—but also such philosophers as Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, and Blanchot. In Balzac to Beckett, Bersani arguably becomes the first Anglo-American critic to consider what soon were recognized as the founding texts of French poststructuralist theory. It is this crossillumination of literary texts (and, in later work, and particularly his collaborations with Ulysse Dutoit, painting and film) and philosophy (including, importantly, psychoanalytic theory) that characterizes Bersani’s subsequent thought. After Balzac to Beckett, Bersani’s work in the 1970s is marked by his encounter with psychoanalysis, most notably Jean Laplanche’s reading of Freud. While the final chapter of A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (1976) briefly acknowledges the importance of Laplanche’s work (FA 332n2), it is in Baudelaire and Freud (1977) that Bersani provides the first steps toward the synthesis of art and psychoanalysis that he is to elaborate in all of his subsequent work. In ways that I will detail below, the following study, The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (1982), continues, if implicitly, to work toward an onto-aesthetics, which is also an onto-ethics, inflected through Laplanche’s understanding of desire. Bersani turns to Freud four years later, in The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (1986), a study of the aporetic structure of psychoanalytic thought. In ways that render it original and productive, psychoanalysis is grounded, but also runs aground, in what Bersani calls its “theoretical collapse” (FrB 3). In arguing this, he partially follows Laplanche,

Introduction

3

who points out the failed revolutionary potential in psychoanalytic thought. For Laplanche, Freud initiated a revolution that, like Copernicus’s disruption of the geocentric universe, disenabled Enlightenment thought’s egocentric paradigms; yet no sooner did Freud stumble upon his revolutionary formulation of the human’s emergence—the moment of the little animal’s seduction from need to desire—than he fell back on a prepsychoanalytic understanding of sexuality. This misstep prevented Freud from formulating a “general” theory of seduction, which would have postulated hominization as a process prioritizing otherness and the human subject as a subject of the implacable, undomesticateable other of the unconscious. Instead, Laplanche argues, Freud’s post-1915 work is marked by renewed efforts to reinstate versions of the ego—whether in the form of primary narcissism or, with the arrival of the second topography, the id—as the core of the subject.2 Bersani, too, is unrelievedly ambivalent about psychoanalytic theory; but his primary objection to its formulations centers not, as does Laplanche’s, on Freud’s failure to follow through his original insights. Rather, for Bersani, psychoanalytic theory, Laplanche’s included, is profoundly compromised by its reliance on a concept of desire based on lack. Crucially, preceding his initial encounter with Laplanche at the end of A Future for Astyanax, Bersani spends a considerable portion of the study in working out the ethical ramifications of what are clearly Hegelian formulations of desire and becoming. It is in this context that his early discussion of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, in the penultimate chapter of Balzac to Beckett, gains its significance as formative for his thinking: it is Deleuze’s Nietzschean understanding of desire that orients Bersani’s work, rather than the more familiar, indeed hegemonic, formulations of the self-other dialectic that we have inherited from Hegel. Bersani’s ambivalence about psychoanalysis is grounded on ethical considerations: it is unclear to him whether psychoanalysis can provide an account of the subject’s desiring relation to the world that would revise the violently oppositional and incorporative assumptions and practices through which we posit ourselves and our others. If psychoanalysis is indebted to a theory of desire whose most influential formulation may be Hegelian dialectics, it frames the self and the other in terms of oppositions that can be overcome only in an annihilative synthesis. To formulate another ethics of being, Bersani turns to numerous aesthetic texts: following Nietzsche’s argument for art as a metaphysical practice,3 he calls literature and art our “ontological laboratories” (CS 59, 63), sites for experimentation with life’s becoming. In the turn to these laboratories, he executes a move that he later characterizes as one from “the psychoanalytic subject” to “the aesthetic subject.” Yet this move from psychoanalysis to the aesthetic is always already present in Bersani. Indeed, the preceding account misleadingly prioritizes the philosophical and theoretical sources, including psychoanalysis, that give shape

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to his early work. It is important to note that, without fail, Bersani turns to art to give shape to his thought. He has never written a text in which theoretical questions—time, being, narcissism, otherness, singularity, sexuality, the human—would not be worked out and elaborated through aesthetic texts: literature, sculpture, painting, theater, cinema. In Bersani, theory always emerges in an aesthetic practice; for him, what Arthur Lovejoy, speaking of Plato’s Timaeus, once considered the need “to disengage [a text’s] serious philosophical content from the poetic imagery” (46) is a failing proposition. Conversely, too, analyses of art always theorize: as he and Dutoit put it, “the most detailed discussions of specific works [are] not formalistic exercises, but rather absolutely identical with philosophical reflection” (“Response”). Philosophy and aesthetics are thus coimbricated in all of Bersani’s work, the single-authored literary studies of The Culture of Redemption (1990), Homos (1995), Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays (2010), and Thoughts and Things (2014), as well as the Dutoit collaborations, more focused on the visual arts: Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modern Culture (1985), Arts of Impoverishment (1993), Caravaggio’s Secrets (1998), Caravaggio (1999), and Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (2004). As we noted, Bersani’s work takes an explicitly queer turn in 1987 with the publication of the celebrated essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” Originally conceived as a review article of Simon Watney’s Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media (1987), the essay responds to the homophobic terror and glee elicited by the AIDS crisis, and has since inspired a generation of scholars to pursue crossdisciplinary analyses of contemporary sexual politics and cultures. The subsequent book Homos is Bersani’s most explicit contribution to queer theory: it is a polemical assessment of the field, and a call for its reorientation, from the philosophical and aesthetic perspective that Bersani had developed in the previous decades. It is here that the paradigmatic frame established in his early work becomes relevant to our consideration of his place in the queer-theoretical field. Unlike most, if not all, late 1980s and 1990s thinkers of queerness and desire, he does not proceed from a Hegelian paradigm. Indeed, one’s hesitation to interpellate Bersani as a queer thinker stems from his explicit rejection, beginning with his 1970s work, of many of the philosophical tenets that informed the emergent queer thought in the 1990s, most influentially in Butler’s work. Beginning with Subjects of Desire and Gender Trouble, Butler grounds the theory of “performativity” in what she calls a Foucauldian version of Hegelian dialectics, a process of becoming whose unfolding does not reach a stasis in the absolute. Rather than the telos where history finds its closure, Butler replaces the Hegelian absolute with Foucault’s notion of power’s productivity, a shift that sustains an open future, “constrained by no teleological necessity” (Psychic 15), thereby enabling what she is to call the inaccurate repetitions of performativity. In this, her version of the dialectic continues the

Introduction

5

reconfiguration of Hegelian philosophy in the tradition of French theory that she discusses already in the early essay “Geist ist Zeit: French Interpretations of Hegel’s Absolute” (1985): like Derrida’s and Hyppolite’s, hers is “decapitated” dialectics for the “post-teleological age” (67). Throughout her work, Butler persists in her Hegelian paradigm, making its pull explicit in such later texts as the collection Undoing Gender (2004) and the preface to the tenth anniversary edition of Gender Trouble. As she observes in the latter, her oeuvre has consistently operated “within the orbit of a certain set of Hegelian questions” about “the political limit of the subject” (xiv). Although Bersani never explicitly announces it, in Homos or elsewhere, it is the Hegelian hegemony in Butlerian queer theory that informs his divergence from its assumptions. As I have suggested, the inevitability of the disagreement becomes discernible when one reads his earliest texts: Bersani disidentifies with Hegelianism already in the 1970s. It is in this paradigmatic context that we should read Bersani’s critique of queer theory in Homos, and particularly the new directions for queer thought and politics he offers in “The Gay Outlaw.” Beyond these observations, and their obvious organization as a dialectic between competing paradigms, one needs to note a certain indifference to queer-theoretical formulations that characterizes Bersani’s work. This indifference makes it difficult to recruit him as a queer theorist, but also suggests the idiosyncratic form of what Bersanian queer theory might look like. If, as I will suggest, Bersani’s entire oeuvre unfolds as the mutual implication and complication of three fields—the psychoanalytic, the aesthetic, and the queer—it is particularly the latter designation that is in need of careful definition. To follow the articulation of these modes in Bersani, and to approach his putative queerness, I here focus on The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, a lesser-known text, which not only anticipates the shift, more explicit in his post-1980s work, from psychoanalytic thought to the aesthetic, but also illustrates the queerness of the methodology that allows, indeed necessitates, this move. The move toward the aesthetic—always already at work in Bersani’s texts—is also a queering of Bersani’s readerly method. Bersani prefaces the Mallarmé study by contrasting his method of reading to that of traditional literary scholarship, the form of “critical interpretation” that, according to him, “penetrates and illuminates texts which it thereby rescues from their own enigmatic density” (DSM vii). This school of thought deems the literary text in need of an interpreter, a trained mediator who, adequately transposing the disabled discourse into comprehensible language, relieves the text from its solipsism, its inability to communicate its messages. I say “disabled” rather than “foreign” because, as Bersani continues, interpretation tackles the text’s “enigma” as a pathology: it approaches its object “as if [the literary text] were sick, as if it were deficient in narrativity” (DSM vii); like a body unable to complete its natural range of movements in space and time,

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the text needs to be delivered from its incommunicative silence, compensated for its stunted abilities.4 But its solipsism is also a form of intransigence: the text needs to be not only prosthetically supplemented but, like a difficult customer or willful child, “straightened out” (DSM vii). Orthopedic criticism undoes the text’s “enigmatic density” by “substitut[ing] syntactic and narrative coherence for the syntactic and narrative ‘puzzles’ of a poem or essay” (DSM vii). The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé is squeezed between Bersani’s two early studies on psychoanalysis, namely Baudelaire and Freud and The Freudian Body. Hence, while it does not include a single reference to Laplanche (and only one to Freud),5 it is not an accident that the book’s introduction echoes—repeats and anticipates—the Laplanchean and Freudian idioms elaborated in the adjacent texts.6 Taking the form of an “enigma” and a “puzzle,” the literary text exerts a fascination like that which Laplanche assigns to “the enigmatic signifier,” the communications—mostly vocal and haptic—with which the caretaker unwittingly seduces the infant from the realm of need (“the vital function”) to that of desire, or sexuality proper. For Laplanche, the moment of the infant’s becoming-human is coincident, better yet synonymous, with the emergence of sexuality, understood psychoanalytically, and the constitution of the unconscious. We must concede, that is, that early critics of psychoanalysis were right to grumble that psychoanalysis reduces everything in the human subject to the sexual, but only if we supplement this concession with the observation that Freudian thought renders the terms of the argument unrecognizable. Laplanche speaks of “the extraordinary broadening of the notion of sexuality occasioned by psychoanalysis”: “sexuality would seem to include not only the small sector of genital activity, not only perversions or neuroses, but all of human activity” (Life 25). Sexuality names the “enigma” that compels the uniquely human phenomenon of desire; according to Laplanche, Freud abandoned his early theory of seduction because he mistakenly reverted to a prepsychoanalytic understanding of sexuality. Laplanche’s “general theory of seduction” (where seduction “is no longer restricted to pathology” [New 129]) is premised on the argument that Freud, most fully in the Three Essays, widened human sexuality’s field of operation so radically as to render the concept all but indefinable. In this context, the stories of seduction that Freud heard from his patients bespoke not—or not necessarily—of a scandalous frequency of child molestation in bourgeois Viennese families, but of a human universal: the infant is traumatically awoken from the slumber of satiety by the incomprehensible messages it receives. The “unmetabolized” remainders of these dispatches, issuing from human others (der Andere), are subsequently repressed; this primary repression constitutes, according to Laplanche, the impersonal otherness (das Andere) of the unconscious. As the sedimentation of the unreadable remainders of the messages that stir the infant, the unconscious is radically empty; it presents us with enigmas whose impenetrability is like that of the modernist text: “far

Introduction

7

from hiding any secret meanings,” Bersani writes of Mallarmé in an implicitly Laplanchean mode, “his difficulty is peculiarly empty” (DSM ix). Bersani thus suggests that art’s appeal rests on its ability to echo the calls constitutive of the human subject, calls that “are seductive because they are opaque, because they convey something enigmatic” (Laplanche, New 128). The mode of criticism he targets in The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé is a response to literature’s alluring interpretability, an effort to trace the secret genealogies of meaning dissimulated by the text’s aesthetic surfaces. The critic’s vocation recapitulates the infant’s seduction by otherness; Mallarmé’s “seductive unreadability” (DSM ix) lures us like enigmatic signifiers. The interpretive desire thus initiated is moved by a “nostalgia” for the wholeness of transparent meaning: seeking to domesticate the otherness of art,7 literary criticism repeats desire’s frenzied efforts to repair the desiring self’s lack by undoing and assimilating the other’s riddles.8 Criticism, like desire, ultimately seeks its own obsolescence, the kind of stasis that, according to Freud, is the aim of Todestrieb. Bersani frequently calls this momentum, which wants to “rescue” its objects from the disability of their otherness, “redemptive”: a “pastoral” mode of seeking lost being that is inseparable from a “suicidal violence,” from an effort to disarticulate beings’ individuated forms in a climactic denouement. For Bersani, this form of narrativity organizes our culture’s representations, the stories with which we render ourselves and the world meaningful. Particularly in his 1970s work, he suggests that the “desirous” mode of literary criticism is eminently suitable for reading—or the academic counterpart to—realist fiction, whose narratives frequently climax in the elimination of inassimilable otherness, usually in the form of the tales’ unhappy protagonists. If Bersani’s conceptualization of the literary text as an “enigma” and a “puzzle” echoes Laplanchean theory, The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé also anticipates his subsequent study, devoted to Freud. In The Freudian Body, Bersani, like a number of his contemporaries, finds in psychoanalytic theories of sexuality a narrative drive that domesticates Freud’s most radical insights. The most prominent example of this is the way that, in the Three Essays, Freud considers sexuality a “component instinct” only to reassemble its disparate elements into a temporally organized story with adult heterosexual genitality as its narrative telos, the Aufhebung in which the “components” discover the higher unity toward which they will always have aspired.9 In this frame, Bersani writes, the “perversions of adults . . . become intelligible as the sickness of uncompleted narratives” (FrB 32), the unsublated remainders of a dialectically organized progress. The criticism that, as he puts it in the Mallarmé study, seeks to “rescue” texts form their “deficient . . . narrativity” (DSM vii) functions analogously to the teleological thrust that we find in psychoanalysis; critics’ normative efforts to “straighten out” (DSM vii) enigmatic texts resemble the reparative practices of institutional psychoanalysis. Art’s enigmas are symptomized in “deficient”

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narratives that, with enough rehabilitative attention, can be “rescued” from their tortured otherness; works of art are like queer adults, who, according to psychoanalysis, haven’t quite got their stories straight. Mallarmé scholarship has amounted to “an amazingly successful deradicalization of the Mallarméan text” (DSM vii) in the same way that institutionalized practices of psychoanalytic theory have deradicalized the Freudian text: “the move from theory to practice,” Bersani writes, “can . . . be thought of as a flight from a specifically psychoanalytic type of thought” (FrB 4). Even when critics provide “straightened” accounts of literature’s queer designs, interpretation is concluded only to be found, like desire itself, lacking. The riddles of literature, and art in general, have the capacity to reinitiate the audience’s attention, and a new round of reading unfolds further the text’s “enigmatic density,” with the renewed hope of untangling its knots and reaching the stasis of complete transparency. Criticism thus functions as an analogue to the dialectic of desire that psychoanalysis arguably inherits from Western philosophies stretching to Aristophanes’ tale in The Symposium (see Grosz 176). This dialectic gives us a movement that aims to appease the subject’s hunger for lost being. The enigmatic other captures the subject—for example, the critic— with the promise of total legibility, a moment that would both vindicate and render obsolete his paranoid vigilance. If Hegel’s is the most influential version of this paradigm, from his earliest texts Bersani works toward alternatives to its commanding formulations. When he writes, in The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, that reparative criticism aims at “an annihilating elucidation” of the literary text (DSM vii), we are returned to his initial encounter with psychoanalytic theory in A Future for Astyanax. In this early text, he begins to disentangle desire from the chokehold of Hegelian dialectics. “Desire is an activity within a lack,” he comments in the book’s introduction; “it is an appetite stimulated by an absence” (FA 10). This entails an ethical problem concerning otherness, a question of central importance for Laplanche too.10 Here, as in The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, the operative term is “annihilation”: “the logic of our desiring fantasies leads ultimately to the annihilation of all otherness. . . . Desire is intrinsically violent both because it spontaneously assumes this annihilation of everything alien to it, and because its fantasies include a rageful recognition of the world’s capacity to resist and survive our desires” (FA 13). Bersani continues later: “desire is always a potential suppression of all otherness. The uninhibited play of desire has a logic which leads, ultimately, to the annihilation of the world” (FA 286). Desire-as-lack, seeking to unriddle the other, proceeds along a trajectory that aims to annihilate, via negation, difference: “Desire imprisoned in lack,” Bersani and Dutoit later write, “avenges itself by a furious incorporation of objects, an attempt literally to stuff the hole of desiring being” (C 71). In this model, difference itself comes into being via lack, a primal separation or privation. The mode of literary criticism Bersani addresses

Introduction

9

in the Mallarmé study reenacts desire’s organization in human experience: if desire aims at the negation and assimilation of otherness, criticism similarly seeks to solve the text’s riddles and, hence, to extinguish its fascinating appeal. Yet the move to absorb and annihilate the other also entails the self’s disappearance, or death, as a bounded entity. This is why, for Lacan, all drives are death drives: they aim at the extinction of the very desire that is synonymous with the self’s differentiation. As Bersani and Dutoit write thirty years after A Future for Astyanax: “The death drive can be satisfied only by the violence that annihilates it” (FoB 115). In all of his subsequent texts, Bersani pursues a set of questions with which he seeks to think desire beyond its Hegelian circuits. Can we imagine a nonappropriative, nonsuicidal approach to the world? Can there be a form of desire that does not aim at the “annihilating elucidation” of the object, the straightening-out of the other’s tortuous puzzles? This amounts to asking, as Bersani frequently does, whether it is possible to conceptualize “a nonsadistic type of movement” (AI 147), “a nonsadistic relation to external reality” (CS 69; see also AI 6, Bersani, “Father” 92). In Caravaggio’s Secrets, Bersani and Dutoit exemplify the “sadistic” imagination with Proust’s narrator, whose “most characteristic relation to the external world . . . is a devouring one; his metaphors generally function as sublimated incorporations. They ‘solve’ the mystery of otherness by digesting it” (CS 68).11 Writing in 1998, Bersani and Dutoit thus find in Proust’s Marcel an example of the epistemological orientation that Bersani, in his 1982 study on Mallarmé, observes subtending literary criticism and later identifies with the psychoanalytic subject. Marcel’s is a consciousness seduced by the secret meanings it intuits behind sundry phenomena; like the mallarmistes Bersani speaks of, Marcel seeks to “ ‘solve’ the mystery of otherness,” to unriddle the other. This appropriative dynamic is evident in the narrator’s aesthetic theory: Marcel declares that “we do not possess a picture because it hangs in our dining-room if we are incapable of understanding it [le comprendre]” (Proust, Remembrance 2: 899; À la Recherche 4: 132). Bersani calls this form of aesthetics “critical imperialism” (DSM vii); as the phrase suggest, it shares its epistemological orientation with other familiar modes of power-knowledge. Noting the incorporative ambitions of knowledge-production has become commonplace, for example, in postcolonial theory. Echoing a number of other critics, Gayatri Spivak speaks of “the knowledge venture of imperialism, which was absolutely spectacular,” entailing “the establishment of anthropology, comparative literature, comparative philology, comparative religion, world history, etcetera” (160). Alluding to what Spivak calls the “epistemic violence of imperialism” (163), Édouard Glissant similarly proposes that “the verb to understand in the sense of ‘to grasp’ [comprendre] has a fearsome repressive meaning” in the context of twentieth-century globalization: he situates in the early century a shift in the practices of Western colonization

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after which “[u]nderstanding cultures . . . became more gratifying than discovering new lands” (Poetics 26, brackets in trans.).12 It is in this context that we should read Bersani’s critique of “textual imperialism” that aims at art’s “mystifyingly intricate surfaces beyond which lie graspable meanings” (DSM 60): literary criticism shares with (neo)imperialist discourses and practices “the illusion that the ego can incorporate its environment. This illusion is ennobled and sublimated as the desire to understand, and we call the fruits of invasive appropriation ‘knowledge’ ” (CS 70).13 Beginning with Baudelaire and Freud and The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, Bersani is attracted to Laplanchean psychoanalysis because it seems to offer an alternative to annihilating desire, our culture’s hegemonic form of negotiating otherness. Enigmatic solicitations initiate a process of becoming different from Hegelian Werden. This alternative, and its relation to annihilating desire, is at stake in the distinction Laplanche makes between an enigma and a riddle, both of which are translations of das Rätsel in Freud. He observes that Freud uses Rätsel—which James Stratchey renders alternately as “puzzle” or “riddle”14—to refer to the force with which sexuality enthralls the child. As Freud’s subheading in the Three Essays puts it, sexuality presents the child with “The Riddle of the Sphinx [Das Rätsel der Sphinx]” (Three 113; Drei 100); elsewhere Freud speaks of “the facts and riddles [Rätsel] of sexual life” (“Sexual” 174; “Zur sexuelle” 161). But “riddle” may not adequately indicate the otherness Freud encounters: “An enigma, like a riddle, is proposed to the subject by another subject,” Laplanche writes. “But the solution of a riddle in theory is completely in the conscious possession of the one who poses it, and thus it is entirely resolved by the answer. An enigma, on the contrary, can only be proposed by someone who does not master the answer, because his message is a compromise-formation in which his unconscious takes part” (“Time” 254–55n46; see also “Interview” [with Stanton] 10–11). Whereas a “riddle” denotes mysteries that can be unraveled—whose keys, albeit perhaps difficult to locate, lie somewhere—an “enigma” remains opaque, or undurchschaubar: transmitted in primary seduction, it confounds not only the message’s recipient but also its sender. An enigma can be issued only by a subject of the unconscious; unlike that of a riddle, its answer is possessed by no one.15 The riddle and the enigma thus entail different forms of opacity. These modes are analogous to what Bersani in The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé designates as “two types of difficulty in modern writing” (DSM 60). First, there is the complexity of texts like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, which compel us to unravel their intricate webs of allusions, a labor that promises to reward the reader with the coherent sense plotted by a literary genius. Joyce is Bersani’s primary example of the density of solvable riddles, the critical focus on which “result[s] in the interpretive centering of highly valued texts, a centering which reinforces traditional cultural hierarchies and privileges” (DSM 60). As Bersani

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continues in The Culture of Redemption, Ulysses demands to be read “with an excruciatingly close attention and a nearly superhuman memory. It asks that we be nothing but the exegetical machine necessary to complete its sense.” This form of difficulty aims at “the final elucidation of [the text’s] sense, the day when all the connections will have been discovered” (CR 175). The “will have been” couches reading in the future perfect (or, to use the French-inflected translation prevalent in poststructuralist theory, the future anterior) tense: it orients the story’s disjointed materials into a narrative whose denouement, as in a good murder mystery, reveals the function of the seemingly random clues—including the red herrings—that have puzzled the reader. Naming the moment when things fall into place, the future perfect is also the tense in which forewords, prefaces, and introductions operate: they are framing devices that precede the texts after which they have been written. They cohere the narrative. They, one might say, bind the book.16 If Ulysses lures us with riddles, the opacity of the enigma is exemplified, on the other hand, by the Mallarméan text, which “offer[s] a model of a very different type of interpretive activity” (DSM 58). Unlike the Joycean variant, Mallarmé’s obscurity does not impel the reader to excavate laboriously the text’s genealogies of meaning; rather, his work unfolds with, and his reader needs, “an extreme mobility of attention” (DSM 60)—not the “nearly superhuman memory” required to put together the Joycean puzzle, but a susceptibility to being distracted. For Bersani, the author himself exemplifies this mode. Moving forgetfully from poetry to fashion pieces to the Easter egg inscriptions he presented his friends, Mallarmé’s oeuvre, if it can be called such,17 consists of an “extraordinary diversity of literary projects”: “No single compositional activity seems to have occupied or held Mallarmé as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake held and centered Joyce” (DSM 46). The Mallarméan text is too flighty, too easily sidetracked, to yield to the imperialist “occupation” that holds sway over the author (and, consequently, the reader) of Ulysses. Joycean difficulty is the difficulty of the unconscious whose relentlessly guarded, censored, and dissimulated contents can, with enough therapeutic attention, be discovered, while Mallarmé’s enigmas are, as Bersani writes, oddly contentless. Consequently, the productivity of the Joycean unconscious takes the form of what Deleuze calls realization; the forces of the enigmatic unconscious, on the other hand, should be elaborated in terms of Deleuzean virtuality and actualization. Without explicitly referring to Deleuze, Bersani suggests as much when he writes that, in its purely enigmatic, empty form, “[t]he unconscious never is; it is perhaps an essentially unthinkable, unrealizable reserve of human being—a dimension of virtuality rather than of psychic depth” (IRG 149).18 Published five years after Baudelaire and Freud, Bersani’s first full-fledged encounter with psychoanalysis, the opuscular Mallarmé study thus implicitly argues for Laplanche’s usefulness in disentangling ourselves from the “critical

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imperialism” that mistakes art’s “enigmas” for “riddles” that call out to be solved. The dialectic of annihilating desire Bersani addresses in A Future for Astyanax drives literary scholarship that aims to coerce the text to yielding its secrets. This criticism is also the scholarly counterpart to the “adaptive” therapy that, by revealing the individual traumas codified in the analysand’s unconscious, hopes to eliminate their crippling effects. Here we find what John Forrester calls psychoanalysis’s “breathtakingly imperialistic requirement to reveal all” (4). Laplanche breaks from this model, arguably the most efficiently institutionalized form of psychoanalytic practice, in suggesting that the enigmatic, and enigmatically empty, signifier requires that one relinquish his exclusive attention on the other’s secrets and address the otherness within oneself: what appears as the other’s enthralling and threatening alterity is but a repetition of the subject’s own unfamiliarity, his uncanny strangeness to himself. In thus rethinking otherness, Laplanche’s work may disallow the use of psychoanalysis as an instrument of power-knowledge that would share its modes of operation not only with what Foucault calls “confessional” psychology but also with what Glissant and others have identified as the epistemological dynamics of (neo)imperialism. If we are able to grant the enigmas of the other (the unconscious, the work of art, the human other) their radically irresolvable or opaque status, we will move toward a desire that does not suicidally drive toward the possession of otherness: “in esthetic terms the parallel to uncharted sexual desire would, I think, be a mobilizing of forms which makes them radically, permanently unreadable” (DSM 60). But especially when read from the perspective of later Bersani, it soon becomes obvious that this move—the reconceptualization, via Laplanche, of the dialectical mode of psychoanalysis—proves an ambivalent solution. In an extremely dense couple of pages—pages that insistently, and silently, evoke Laplanche—Bersani takes up Mallarmé’s and Henry James’s texts as laboratories for experimentation with desire, both annihilating and enigmatic. He identifies in The Golden Bowl’s Maggie Verver an embodiment of the enigmatic signifier, whose emptiness seduces the observer-reader into desiring interpretation. Her “silent, statue-like presence” solicits in the novel’s other characters an “interpretative scramble” for the meaning of her unreadable stillness; “her enigmatic, withheld sense” renders her “an unpenetrable work of art” (DSM 59). But while, in her unreadability, she is an enigma, and not a riddle, her presence has effects that are not readily distinguishable from those of annihilating desire. If “everyone around her is reduced to frantic conjectures” about her meaning (DSM 59), her appeal is the kind that also impels dialectical formulations of otherness. She commands a fascinated attention: “Her imperialistic control over the other figures in the novel is, most directly, the result of their mistaken belief that they can possess her sense; they are victimized by their own yearnings for settled interpretations” (DSM 59, emphasis added). Like “annihilation,”

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the term “fascination” (which occurs, let us note, twice in the immediately preceding discussion of Mallarmé [DSM 58]—and whose repetitions throughout Bersani’s oeuvre would warrant their own study)19 suggests the suicidally aggressive nature of desire: the subject not only seeks to assimilate the other but, like a bird paralyzed by the serpent’s gaze, will itself be devoured. One of the sources for Bersani’s recurring use of this term is Proust: as he writes, fascinating magic leaves one “fe[eling] transfixed, as a small bird might do on catching a sight of a snake” (“Contre” 56); it immobilizes one with “the strange and unexpected forms of an approaching death” (Remembrance 2: 87). As Bersani notes in his subsequent commentary on The Golden Bowl in The Freudian Body, this is also true of Maggie: as “an unreadable text,” “[s]he fascinates the other characters” (FrB 84, emphases in original). There is a totalization of violence in fascination: while Maggie is the object of their devouring desire, her enigma exerts an “imperialistic control” over Amerigo, Charlotte, Mr. Verver, and the Assinghams. For Bersani, enigmatic desire, like its annihilating counterpart, captures the subject with the force of fascination: if the dialectic entails “the ‘desiring’ destruction of objects in order to possess them internally” (FrB 87), the completion of desire’s movement will also undo the desiring entity itself in the apocalypse of its completion: “death is the happy condition for a total possession” (FA 287). Bersani finds two crucially different aesthetic modes embodied in Maggie: “She (and, through her, James) vacillates between a view of art best represented in the novel by her father (a view in which forms are collected, centralized and immobilized in museums)”—a description in which we should recognize the Joycean aesthetic effect that, as Bersani writes in the following paragraph, “result[s] in the interpretive centering of highly valued texts”—“and a notion of art as improvised, even aleatory ‘mobile syntheses’ ” (DSM 59). The “vacillat[ion]” is no less Bersani’s, who cannot quite settle on an assessment of enigmatic desire’s ethical status: does the enigma allow, as Laplanchean theory suggests, the reconfiguration of otherness such that the narrative violence of the dialectic is obviated, or is the enigma too readily transformed into the kinds of puzzles that exert on the subject a fascinating pull toward catastrophic syntheses? His literary sources—Mallarmé and James—indicate to Bersani that the distinction between the enigma and the riddle is not as tenable as Laplanche needs it to be. The impenetrable enigma readily collapses into—may finally be indistinguishable in its effects from—the riddle (one of whose manifestations Laplanche sees in the id of Freud’s second topography). This entails an ethical problem: the subject is conceptualized as knowable, and psychoanalysis begins its service as one of the discourses of modern disciplinary society. Having indicated this ambiguity, Bersani nevertheless concludes this crucial section in The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé by announcing the distinction between two forms of modernist difficulty, one of which—the Joycean

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mode—“is consistent with the metaphysical seriousness of a Book which would ‘explain’ the universe,” while the other, exemplified by Mallarmé, “may be the product not only of a continuous relinquishing of tentative formal arrangements but also of a playfully promiscuous attention always ready to swerve to the side of its objects and to wander in a variety of sensually appealing digressive activities” (DSM 60, emphases added). This characterization of Mallarméan difficulty is a near-paraphrase of an earlier depiction of Flaubert in “The Other Freud” (1978), an essay that constitutes, with Baudelaire and Freud, Bersani’s first substantial consideration of psychoanalysis: Bersani finds in Flaubert an “essentially promiscuous attention, that is, an attention always ready to swerve to the sides of its objects and linger over insignificant, irrelevant, and yet sensually appealing digressive activities” (36, emphases added). Recurrent in Bersani (albeit less so in his post-1980s work), “swerving” constitutes one of his keywords.20 It is a name he gives to the possibility of a nonsadistic, nonannihilative relation to otherness, the possibility that our fascinations remain with the purely enigmatic, that they not turn into paranoid investigations of the other’s secret jouissance. In The Culture of Redemption, Bersani, describing his methodology, similarly prioritizes what he calls “a lateral mobility,” a movement “to the side of objects” (CR 26, emphasis in original), later decreeing this as an ethical orientation: “Our attention can and should be mobile” (CR 204). Echoing Deleuze’s argument that what needs to be explained are not lines of flight but their disabling by processes of territorialization, he suggests that we are educated out of our “natural” attention deficit disorder: what should be accounted for is not our flightiness but our cultivation into serious Joyceans. We have, as he writes in “The Other Freud,” a “natural tendency to swerve” (48); when we unlearn the attentiveness with which we are taught to appreciate art, we are merely giving in to our “nature.” As Bersani and Dutoit continue in Forms of Violence, “[w]e have . . . been educated to feel uneasy about our perceptual and affective mobility” (FV 125), a statement whose queer-theoretical ramifications should be carefully unpacked. In another moment of inaccurate selfreplication, Bersani repeats the phrase “our natural tendency to swerve” (FV 125) to characterize the spectatorial attention he and Dutoit find solicited by Assyrian palace reliefs, which they consider counterexamples to the ways in which our culture tends to organize representation such that, obeying the logic of annihilating desire, the spectator is hooked on the pleasures (and hence seeks the repetition) of violently climaxing narratives.21 Despite their subject matter—celebrations of war and power—the Assyrian palace reliefs (like, as Bersani and Dutoit subsequently argue, Caravaggio’s later work [see CS]) illustrate “the surprisingly austere sensuality of art: a sensuality which gratifies our appetites by moving us away from the objects which might have satisfied” our desire. We are trained to dwell on significance, encouraged to detect meaningfulness

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in the other’s enigmatic solicitations. Yet, rather than promoting “a fanatically organized interest in any part of the world,” these works of art persuade us to “swerv[e] away from scenes of violence.” This is an ethical question: “in a sense the very restlessness of desire is a guarantee of its curiously mild and pacific nature” (FV 125). Rather than dismantling its objects to find out what makes them tick (so as to find the key to its own ontological riddle),22 promiscuous desire is content to sample sundry objects in whose figurations it recognizes—as Freud says, refinds—familiar arrangements. The sources for the Bersanian ethics of swerving include not only Proust’s “digressive” onto-aesthetics—“the mind,” Proust writes, “following its habitual course . . . advances by digression, inclining first in one direction, then in the other” (Remembrance 2: 191)—or Charles Baudelaire’s modernist opposition to “the tyrannical system of straight lines” in painting (Baudelaire 59), but also Laplanche, who locates in Freud a theory of becoming-human as a process of fourvoiement, of “going-astray”: digression forms the constitutive step in the perverse career of the human being. Bersani proposes that becoming-human begins not, as Lacan would have it, in “aggressivity” but in “diggressivity.” He implies that the Proustian text, in its “gargantuan digressions” (Goodkin 5), reenacts our digressive bent, the easiness with which the allure of new objects convinces us to abandon our extant attachments. This form of attention is also theorized by psychoanalysis. Bersani observes in one of his more recent texts: “Unlike others before him who had merely noted that desire can swerve from the object to which, presumably, it is ‘naturally’ attached, Freud insisted on the intrinsically free-floating nature of desire: it is available to any object and must be trained to focus on the ‘proper’ object” (IRG 159, emphases added). Indeed, the early breakthrough in Freud’s analytic practice that marked the emergence of psychoanalytic thought proper provides us a paradigmatic model of promiscuous attention. After all, in “free association” Freud discovered a mode of communication that is perennially distracted, that, to quote Bersani, “is ready to swerve on the side of its object.” Freud characterizes this form of listening as “drifting” (Interpretation 673), and Laplanche calls it “free-floating” (Life 1; “Interpreting” 174) and, later, “hovering” attention (“Closing” 180, 182).23 Laplanche proposes that this mode not only constitutes the analytic method but should also inform one’s approach to Freud. He derives, that is, from Freudian theory a method of reading Freud, suggesting that we read psychoanalysis with the attention that it gives the patient: “this kind of approach to Freud is a necessarily tentative and imperfect effort to transpose mutatis mutandis what can be assimilated from the art of listening and interpreting in psychoanalytic therapy. Thus the dual and complementary rule of free association and free-floating attention would find its equivalent in an ‘analytic’ reading perpetually prepared to treat at the same level sequences of varying length: of words (even if they make no sense), of sentences, and of texts” (Life 4; see

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also “Interpreting”). From his earliest work onward, Bersani’s own methodology exemplifies this form of digressive, disinterested, or promiscuous reading. Rather than the orthopedic-assimilative criticism that wants to “straighten out” the world’s enigmas by tackling them head-on, Bersani puts forward his own critical method as an experimentation with what he calls “circular mobility” (DSM ix). His method of reading cuts a swerving path: as much as, in the second part of A Future for Astyanax, he describes his thought as “rather ambivalently moving toward (and moving around)” its objects (FA 310), in the foreword to The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé he wishes that his own critical discourse proceed with a “non-exegetical mobility around, toward, and away from Mallarmé’s writing” (DSM viii). Apart from psychoanalysis’s, we can again detect Proust’s influence: Bersani’s reading follows the Proustian method of elaboration that “speak[s] around the point rather than to the point” (Goodkin 5). Such digressions need to be distinguished from the double talk we are often told politicians excel in: Bersanian digressiveness is not a process of dissimulation but of pure errancy. Indeed, the method of distracted attention becomes the counterpoint to what Bersani, referring to post-9/11 imperial politics, calls the Bush administration’s “unswerving repetition of lies” (I 62). If you haven’t already guessed it, it is this method of “swerving” that I propose characterizes Bersani’s “queerness.” As opposed to criticism aiming at the “annihilating elucidation” of the object, what we have here is the kind of tortuous movement that the term’s etymology—from the Latin torquere—suggests: a digressive, transversal dance of desire that is not impelled by the need to assimilate an established choreography but moves for the mere pleasure of soliciting company, of crossing a line. The ethics of swerving gives us a readerly method of both ready distraction and inappropriately intense concentration; it also becomes for Bersani an ontological description. It borrows from Freud his insight about the digressive movement of the uneducated, perhaps uneducable, drive, while advocating a critical practice that shares a considerable deal with what Foucault calls, in his effort to reframe historiography via Nietzsche instead of Hegel, “genealogy.” The swerving movement of nonannihilative desire reformulates the subject’s relation to otherness in terms of what Bersani frequently calls “sociability,” a mode of connectedness among whose practitioners he counts Mallarmé, James, Almódovar, Socrates, Foucault, Beckett, and cruisy gay men. When Bersani writes that sociability is “a form of relationality uncontamined by desire” (IRG 45), the term “desire” indexes the annihilative, totalizing movement of Hegelian becoming and its attempted reformulation by Laplanche as the enigmatic signifier. Sociability is nondesiring insofar as it is not a response, or a corrective, to a perceived lack as (a) being’s essence. For Bersani, Mallarmé’s lesson is that of unlearning the Joycean mode of artistic intrication. Rather than compel the reader’s single-minded devotion with literary puzzles,

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Mallarmé’s “obscurity,” he writes, “is frequently a mode of his sociability,” “the special way in which he makes himself available to circumstances” (DSM 60, emphasis added). Unlike Joyce’s, Mallarmé’s difficulty does not promise meaningfulness or promote exclusiveness; rather, it renders the text, in its emptiness, promiscuously susceptible to varied forms of attention and appropriation. “Mallarmé’s restless availability to various sorts of projects” and “the ease with which he move[s] among diverse modes of writing” (DSM 46–47, emphasis added) make him a practitioner of swerving attention, the ethical mode of desire that emerges as an alternative to Hegelian annihilation. The Mallarméan text is a laboratory for our own practices of desire: we can glean from his work “the critical terms in which to describe our own encounter with an intense, even voracious, and yet disarmingly light sociability” (DSM 47). Desire’s intensiveness—the heedless violence with which it approaches the world—is supplemented by its readiness to be distracted by the appeal of other objects. This is the centrifugal movement that, in relinquishing established foci of attention, Bersani and Dutoit find exemplified in Assyrian reliefs, Caravaggio’s later work, as well as Alain Resnais’s and Jean-Luc Godard’s cinema.24 Pedro Almodóvar’s cinema yields another example of such “disarming lightness.” In Forms of Being, Bersani and Dutoit quote from an interview in which the director identifies an Ur-scene of the forms of female sociability we find in films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and All About My Mother: a childhood memory of “women in his provincial village sitting together and talking” (FoB 93).25 This form of sharing contrasts to the mode of attention that one finds in Proust: “Almodóvar has a very non-Proustian reaction to the spectacle of people speaking together,” Bersani and Dutoit note. As the exemplar of the psychoanalytic subject, Marcel is haunted by “paranoid mistrust” about secrets whispered beyond his earshot; an unheard conversation is always potentially about him, possibly containing a crucial clue to the missing piece of his being. While Proust’s narrator approaches the world with an epistemological hunger, for Almódovar the sight of women “sitting together and talking” suggests the proliferation of various and sundry “stories” whose function is the momentary binding-together of speaking subjects in a pleasurable exchange, rather than the secrets they may convey (FoB 93)—they share what Bersani calls Henry James’s “immensely sophisticated talent for talk” (FA 128). In observing a conversation, Marcel, with his “hunger for profundity” (AI 28), becomes Joycean as he endows the scene with hidden significance; for Almódovar, the women he sees are characterized by their being “exceptionally available” (qtd. in FoB 93) to nothing more than “talk.” The crucial term here, as in the Mallarmé study, is “availability”: the women’s chatting, like Mallarmé’s “obscurity,” renders one “available” for unplanned, promiscuous connections. Almódovar’s women engage what Bersani in Homos calls in “intimacies devoid of intimacy,” which demand from their

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participants “nothing more than that they be . . . available to contact” (H 128).26 The notion of “talk” also connects Almódovar’s work to Beckett’s, where we find exemplified a form of sociability not unlike the one that binds Almódovar’s women. Detailing Vladimir and Estragon’s “blathering about nothing in particular” (Beckett 73), Waiting for Godot “demonstrates the inevitability of conversation at a cultural juncture when there may be nothing left to talk about; and the strategies of continuing talk survive the absence of psychological subjects” (CR 168–69). Similarly, the later text Company “performs a solipsistic sociability inherent in the grammar of language itself” (CR 169); as Bersani and Dutoit put it, “in Company the injunction to speak . . . exists for the sake of the relations it establishes” (AI 65). If we want to observe, beyond the frequent appeals to ébranlement, resonances between Bersanian ethics and contemporary queer thought, we may note that “talk” brings Almódovar’s or Beckett’s characters together in a movement of “chance and propinquity” (Delany 128). Bersani’s thinking about sociability, that is, squares with the ethics of cross-class contact that Samuel Delany proposes in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999). Discussing the zoning laws that have changed the demographics of New York’s Times Square over the past decades, Delany distinguishes between “networking”—the planned, aimoriented engagement between subjects that is characteristic of the workplace and commercial establishments—and “contact,” a sociability between more or less anonymous strangers brought together in public spaces by chance and desire. As Delany shows, urban planning in places like New York City has consistently eradicated spaces where contact might occur, in favor of establishing more regulated venues of commerce and networking; his is a polemic for the benefit of public sex, as a form of contact, in a democratic, egalitarian society (Delany 123–42).27 It is at the question of sociability that Bersani’s ontological analysis—what he frequently calls his “speculations”—meets with the ethics of sexual subcultures that queer theory has produced. Apart from, but not in contradiction to, the swerve away from the object, Bersani’s tortuous ethics of sociability—which doubles as his ethics of reading—may also entail an inordinate attention to seemingly minor details. The Bersanian critic becomes a bad reader who cannot see the forest for the trees, who neglects the larger picture for the pleasure of dwelling on the insignificant or the accidental. She doesn’t quite get the point, or get to the point, because, operating on a mistaken scale, she is too susceptible to seduction by random detail. She gets carried away by idiosyncratic pleasures that stymie the larger narrative. It is not difficult to recognize in this readerly method the danger that, according to Freud, the human organism faces when it is dominated by what he calls uneducated or undomesticated—ungezähmte—drives. Uneducated drives haven’t been harnessed by the reality principle but look for immediate satisfaction, frequently positing fantasy objects, in ways that endanger survival.

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The “immature” sexual drive attaches on inappropriate objects, such as random body parts or their fetish stand-ins; it fails to sublate such fixations by yielding to the more comprehensive and sustainable attachments that for Freud are necessary for the synthesis of adult heterosexual genitality. Like the uneducated drive, the Bersanian reader invests unwisely: she puts her energies in objects and pleasures that go nowhere, that guarantee nothing beyond the benefit of immediate pleasures. To paraphrase Peter Brooks, she fails to read for the plot. Bersani frequently suggests that the processes of education Freud assigns to the secondary processes, and their resistance by the futureless intensities of the pleasure principle, find cultural counterparts in art, for example in realist fiction’s mapping of the world. If the secondary processes—and, we may add, realist fiction—“teach us how to center objects on which we wish to focus our attentions” (AI 89), other artistic experimentations instruct us on how “to savor associations with no future” (AI 35). If this description resonates with recent queer theories of desire’s heedlessness to futural promises (see Edelman), we should note that Bersani’s persistent critique of annihilative desire, first articulated in A Future for Astyanax, not only anticipates but, in ways that are yet to be teased out, constitute the baroque complication of our work on “queer temporalities.” Bersani develops his reading largely through Beckettian aesthetics. In Beckett, dwelling on the intensity of the moment dedialecticizes narrative; instead of the chronological unfolding of narrative, and the narrative ordering of time, in the Beckettian text we encounter “the anguishing nature of time that has been de-narrativized. It is as if narrative time were bearable because it doesn’t really have to be lived; it is time always rushing ahead of itself, anticipating—and seeing in each instant the promise and design of—the end of time” (AI 30). Beckett’s texts proffer a mode of attention that does not orient us messianically toward the Hegelian denouement of “the end of time”; instead of the dialectically ordered Werden, where each moment not only arises as a reaction to the preceding one but will also have been but a stopover in the progression toward annihilative synthesis, Beckettian ethics emphasizes the now as a unit of monadic intensity. Beckett’s texts are, as Bersani repeats, experimentations in unrelatedness, in singularity. The thought of singularity—which Bersani often, taking his cues from Proust, Deleuze, Laplanche, and Beckett, articulates in the terms of Leibnizian monadology—insists on “essences” whose intensities have not been domesticated by their subsumption under dialectical logic, have not been encased in the teleological certainties of the future perfect. In this model, “[t]ime is not a narrative line leading somewhere, but a mere piling up of instances” (AI 44). The Beckettian monad offers Bersani a way to think about the potentiality of the singular, or the intensive, that escapes the kind of harnessing by goaloriented narratives that frame Freud’s theory of sexuality. Bersani, that is, claims Beckett as a practitioner of unsublated desire.

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In terms of philosophical paradigms, the futurelessness of intensive pleasures—their promise of “no future”—necessitates a turn from Hegel to Nietzsche, from dialectical history, where the sublated past is retained in, and given its meaning by, the higher synthetic order, to the wasteful practices of forgetting, involution, and events. Bersani shares his ambition to think singularity as that which escapes—perhaps undoes—the dialectic with Foucault. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” (1971), Foucault famously posits a historiographical methodology that refuses to couch events in sense-making narratives whose aim is to “dissolv[e] the singular event into an ideal continuity” (380). His critique finds its target in histories that, consciously or not, take their philosophical cues from Hegel. While in a contemporaneous essay he playfully doubts the very possibility of an “escape” from Hegel (“Discourse” 235), in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” he nevertheless insists on thinking history other than through the totalizing narrative of the dialectic: “we should avoid,” he writes, “accounting for emergence by appeal to its final term” (376). What “emerges” in history, that is, should not be written in the future perfect case of what it will have been once its proper place in accounts of historical development has been established. Rather, we must, Foucault proposes, think events in terms of singularities: Nietzschean genealogy seeks to actualize “the singularity of events outside any monotonous finality” (369). In this, its paradigm abandons historiography “whose perspective on all that precedes it implies the end of time, a completed development” (379, emphasis added). This is what Bersani and Dutoit in their commentary on Beckett call the mode of “anticipation” that organizes narratives, precisely the future perfect that, rather than the now, trains its eye on “the end of time.” Instead of such teleologically structured narratives (familiar, for example, from Francis Fukuyama’s neoliberal triumphalism), history in its genealogical mode should extract from its archives discontinuous, solipsistic singularities whose capacity for becoming has not been exhausted—but has perhaps been stalled—by their integration as sequences in developmental accounts. This is precisely what Beckett is doing, according to Bersani and Dutoit: his experimentations disrupt narrative and logical continuities by “the disproportionate intensity of . . . individual units” (AI 23). Beckett gives us a method of attention that obfuscates the larger map by getting immersed in minor details. Foucault calls these details “the subtle, singular, and subindividual marks” (“Nietzsche” 373) whose “event-ness” genealogy and Bersani’s method of swerving seek to activate. It is thus not only at the question of homosexual askesis28 but also the issue of the archive that Bersani’s project meets and draws from Foucault’s: both aim to activate “the events of history, its jolts, its surprises” (Foucault, “Nietzsche” 373). They share their trajectory, moreover, with recent queer thought that has seen history as an archive of the “undetonated energy” of forgotten, unrecognized, or dismissed events (Freeman xvi). In the same way

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that Bersani and Foucault want to pry us loose from the hegemonic grip of dialecticized history, this work challenges what Elizabeth Freeman calls historiographical “chrononormativity.” Some practitioners of queer temporalities share Bersani’s readerly method both of passionate attachment to detail and of heedless forgetting of the important, the essential, and the life-saving. We recognize the first in Freeman’s description of “close reading” as a queer methodology: “To close read is to linger, to dally, to take pleasure in tarrying, and to hold out that these activities can allow us to look both hard and askance at the norm” (xvi–xvii; see also Pratt). Judith Halberstam exemplifies the second in her argument that an insistence on experiences of failure and forgetting may let one slip the yoke of neoliberal assimilationism: “We may want to forget family and forget lineage and forget tradition in order to start from a new place, not the place where the old engenders the new, where the old makes a place for the new, but where the new begins afresh, unfettered by memory, tradition, and usable pasts” (70). Forgetting not only “blocks” but also “enables” (190n6)—a lesson that Bersani repeatedly draws from Beckett;29 “amnesia,” as Freeman writes, “also offers an escape from the burden of family” (50). Recent critics have similarly turned to Bersani to break habits of thought in queer of color critique and disability studies. Examples of the former are Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Imagination (2010) and Robert Reid-Pharr’s “Clean: Death and Desire in Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand” (2011). Both Scott’s effort to reimagine “black power”—and black empowerment—beyond the concept’s formulation in the masculinist politics of 1960s Black Power movement and the critique of the contemporary politics of gay respectability that Reid-Pharr develops from Delany’s science fiction latch onto the counterintuitive force of Bersanian thought. Scott suggests that, rather than countering diasporic histories of abjection with accounts of those who survived them with an integrity recognized, and then lauded, by the offending system, we might seek to identify “powers in the midst of debility” (64). The project of Extravagant Abjection draws its energies from the same kind of discomfort that Bersani calls “the pain of embracing, at least provisionally, a homophobic representation of homosexuality” (IRG 15). Like Scott, Reid-Pharr turns to “Is the Rectum a Grave?” to critique the ethical ideal of proud, “clean” subjecthood that organizes much of queer and black politics. Anna Mollow similarly suggests that Bersani’s 1987 essay may prove a crucial text for disability theory. She echoes Scott’s call to reevaluate “debilitated” forms of embodied subjectivity in her “Is Sex Disability: Queer Theory and the Disability Drive” (2012): “Might we consider, analogously, embracing a representation of disability that some would consider ableist?” (301), she ventriloquizes Bersani. Repeating Scott’s strategy, she suggests we not critique and reject images of abjectly crip bodies but mine them for their compelling logic. Following Robert McRuer’s

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work, she considers disability a force that ableist consciousness expels in order to constitute itself as the norm. Consequently, we may locate in disability something like the “counterintuitive power” that for Scott accompanies “abject blackness” (Scott 177, 196). As much as Bersani anticipates these strands in contemporary queer theory, we must avoid speaking of his thought in the future perfect tense, as that which queer theory will have echoed. Rather, his own methodology would insist that we look at his work in terms of the singular, the unexpected, and, as Deleuze might put it, the unactualized. (Bersani might, one suspects, have something to say about this introduction’s arguably streamlined account of his supply meandering critical oeuvre.) Consequently, the wager of the present volume is that Bersani’s work constitutes an archive whose potentiality has not been exhausted for queer thought. The contributors bring to bear on his oeuvre precisely the kind of attention that I have outlined above. It is with a kind of intense focus on certain aspects of Bersani’s work, or with a swerve that connects his thinking to texts that have not been associated with him, that the contributors address three major areas in Bersanian thought: the queer, the psychoanalytic, and the aesthetic. Heather Love proposes that, to read Bersani as a queer thinker, we displace the psychoanalytic and aesthetic frames and turn to—or supplement them with—the question of the social, which she claims to run through his thinking. We can approach Bersani in two ways in this context. First, situating his work in postwar scholarship on psychiatry and sociology, Love suggests that the urgency in early Bersani comes from his effort to interrogate the hegemony of postwar medical and juridical discourses, the very discourses of pathologization and normalization that Foucault, following Georges Canguilhem, similarly tackles in his 1960s work. Second, if Bersani’s attention to “the negative” or “the antisocial”—terms with which commentators allude to his seeming prioritization of the social self’s undoing—has made him attractive to queer thinkers, the emphasis on “the social” allows us to conceptualize Bersanian aesthetics as an effort to rethink relationality. As Love writes, “To characterize his thought as antisocial—at once destructively negative and detached from the shared conditions of being—is to ignore his engagement with collectivity and social space and his critique of the renunciation of experience.” Love also suggests that what render Bersani a queer thinker are the ostentatious inconsistencies that his oeuvre indulges. David Kurnick similarly locates Bersani’s queer appeal in his argumentative style: his is “a thought that privileges movement above logical consistency.” Particularly in his later work, Bersani’s style replicates the formal movements of the texts he explores, movements that I have called those of “swerving.” Kurnick in effect proposes that, like Freud’s work, the Bersanian text obeys what Laplanche calls the law of “theoretico-genesis”: formulated on the basis of Ernst Haeckel’s law of

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recapitulation, “Laplanche’s law” postulates that Freud’s texts cannot but repeat the developmental trajectory of their “object”—that is, the constitution of the human subject—in all its errancy and aporias.30 In psychoanalytic theory, the subject emerges in the intensive moment of ébranlement, where “egoconstitution [is] identical to egoshattering” (CR 98); similarly, Bersani writes, what is most appealing in the Freudian text is the way in which “arguments are at once elaborated and disformulated” (CR 3). Kurnick extends this description to Bersani’s texts. Like a number of our contributors, he also notes the unlikeliness of the objects Bersani gravitates toward: in reading Godard’s heterocouples or Malick’s war scenes, Bersani insists that we “look to the side of their thematizations”; it is here that “the depressing lesson the artwork at first appears to impart gives way to a therapeutic vision of nondestructive relationality.” If, as Bersani and Dutoit write, “a straight line . . . promote[s] a visual mobility at once controlling and nonproductive” (FV 80), Kurnick suggests the ways in which Bersanian aesthetics—the swerve “to the side of thing”—is linked to futurities whose avatars we find, for example, in Astyanax. Jack Halberstam is one of our contributors to delve into unsafe archives to think queer ethics. The dangerously appropriable historical connections between National-Socialist and homosexual ideals of masculinity allow Halberstam to test the limits of Bersani’s insistence on betrayal as “an ethical necessity” (H 151). Halberstam suggests the necessity of establishing a dialogue between Bersani’s onto-ethics of failed subjecthood and the recent work done in queer of color critique and women of color feminisms. Without heeding what scholars aligned with the latter fields have noted about the specificity of the “failed subjects” inhabiting realms of illegibility and unlivability—that these tend to be in contemporary social formations racialized minority subjects—we miss a crucial opportunity to ethically betray Bersanian ethics of betrayal. Halberstam writes that Bersani’s work “ignores the material reality of how otherness is endlessly represented in the U.S. imaginary—and not in the form of the gay man who gives up mastery but in the form of the racial alien.” As much as Butler has insisted we discern in the Lacanian real the figures of the queer, the transgender, and the unmournable subject, Halberstam deploys queer of color critiques of neoliberalism to fill in the place of the unrepresentable, thereby rethinking the revolutionary ethics that Homos, mistakenly for Halberstam, locates in Jean Genet’s work (an assessment that, as it turns out in our interview, Bersani agrees with). Combining the queer, the aesthetic, and the psychoanalytic in his essay, Ellis Hanson adds Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) to Bersani’s gallery of unlikely sources for ethical pedagogy. Loosely based on the events around the Columbine High School shooting, the film couches its narrative in oddly disinterested aesthetics. In this, it resembles many of the works of art that compel Bersani’s attention throughout the years: like the Assyrian palace reliefs

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Bersani and Dutoit discuss in Forms of Violence, or the paintings they explore in Caravaggio’s Secrets, Elephant dilutes its narrative drive by formalizing it in spectatorial pleasures that distract us from the story’s content and telos. As much as Assyrian artists celebrate wars and conquests in details that seduce the viewer with diegetically redundant aesthetic repetitions, and as much as Caravaggio, especially in his later work, “betrays” the appeal of his models’ enigmatic sexuality with the “centrifugal” pleasures of the paintings’ formal arrangement, the story of the school shootings unfolds with what Hanson calls an “amoral erotic formalism.” This formalism is figured in the cinematic long shots “a tergo”—the camera’s lingering behind the characters—that perform receptiveness rather than narration: Hanson suggests that in Elephant we find a more explicitly queer counterpart to the ethics of passive spectatorship that Bersani and Dutoit, in Forms of Being, locate in Jim Caviezel’s character in Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Van Sant’s camera seeks, or moves with, “impersonal intimacy”: pleasures of contact that arise not from the promise of knowledge about the other but from fragmented recognitions of repeated forms. But Hanson, like Kurnick, also notes the volatility of the sources for Bersanian ethics/aesthetics: Elephant’s aesthetics renders it “one of the most challengingly queer films ever made” precisely because its ethical experimentations are embedded in a narrative no less politically ambivalent than those we find in Assyrian art, Sade’s fiction, or Pasolini’s cinema. Like Halberstam, James Penney provides a diacritical commentary on Bersani’s thought. As he notes in “Reading Freud: Bersani and Lacan,” the relative absence of Lacanian references in Bersani is not surprising, for the two thinkers approach the Freudian text in crucially divergent ways. Not only does Bersani refuse the kind of formalization for which Lacan turns to mathematics and topology; while the latter insists on the truth of, or in, Freud, Bersani finds Freud’s importance in the repeated, compulsive way in which the Freudian text undermines its own authority. At stake, Penney writes, is “the fundamental question of how the truth of Freud’s discovery is to be framed.” Penney argues that particularly Bersani’s reading of primary narcissism—which I will revisit in my own chapter—“comprises the most original and consequential twist that Bersani brings to the interpretation of Freud’s text.” For Penney, the solipsistic ego of primary narcissism we find in Bersani surreptitiously imports the redemptive ethos whose refusal constitutes the grounding gesture of Bersanian ethics. In this, Penney’s critique structurally agrees with Laplanche’s argument about the Ptolemaic turn of post-1915 Freud: the reconfigured primary narcissism constitutes a betrayal of the revolution, reinstating the deposed regime (in Bersani, that of redemption; in Freud, ipsocentrism). Penney closes his essay by noting some of the queer-political ramifications of this redemptive turn. Patrick ffrench continues from Penney in drawing out the potential queerness of Bersanian psychoanalysis. Focusing largely on The Freudian Body,

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ffrench shows that Bersani’s reading of psychoanalysis aims at the kind of reconfiguration of self-relation that we also find in Foucault’s later work (and on which Bersani elaborates in the interview that concludes our volume). Bersani and Foucault, he suggests, move in parallel trajectories whose divergent formulations may help us think about the forms of relation we cultivate to ourselves and other others. Such training would constitute an ethics since it seeks to undo the “paranoid fascination” with which other(ness)—Freud’s der Andere—compels the ego’s attention. As Laplanche too argues, psychoanalytic theory transforms the external, easily personified otherness into the depthless, impersonal das Andere of the unconscious. While ffrench suggests the resonances between Bersani’s ethics and those of Foucault and Deleuze,31 he also insists that the formative influence of the psychoanalytic understanding of desire—“the tortuously conflicted nature of the relation between sexuality and the self”—never leaves his work. “Tortuously” is, of course, right: if Freud’s theory of sexuality has seemed to many a commentator comically twisted, its tangled drama is that of queerness, torquere. Closing the section on psychoanalysis, my contribution shares some of Penney’s (the question of primary narcissism) and ffrench’s (Deleuzean influence) foci. “Monadological Psychoanalysis” argues that Bersani’s engagement with Beckett’s work—an oeuvre that looms large here—constitutes an implicit critique of the ethics of otherness one finds in psychoanalysis. I draw out the importance of Bersani’s encounter, in A Future for Astyanax and Baudelaire and Freud, with Laplanche’s reading of Freud. In his subsequent texts, Bersani repeatedly returns to Laplanche, and especially his understanding of hominization as the process of seduction-translation elicited by the enigmatic signifier. Yet from the very start, Bersani is ambivalent about psychoanalysis’s ethical ramifications. The psychoanalytic subject, whose paradigmatic embodiment in art he finds in Proust’s Marcel, is driven by an epistemic hunger for the other’s enigma, the paranoid fascination that, as ffrench too notes, captivates the subject. As I have suggested above, it is this enigma that Bersani finds organizing not only Proust’s but also Joyce’s epics. In Beckett’s work, on the other hand, Bersani identifies a principle of “impoverishment”—the drive to “shrivel and shrivel” (Beckett, Malone 235)—which provides a useful counterpoint to the modernist dilations of Proust, Joyce, and Thomas Mann. Executed over decades, the shift from Laplanche to Beckett constitutes in Bersani the reformulation of the psychoanalytic subject, a shift that I suggest we trace by noting Bersani’s insistent references to Leibnizian metaphysics. The final section on “the aesthetic” moves us from Bersani’s theoretical experimentations to his experiments in art’s ontological laboratories—even if the two realms are never entirely separable. As much as Heather Love explores the queer-theoretical dimensions of Bersani’s work by attending to his consistent concern with space/location, Snediker follows Bersani’s move

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from psychoanalysis to the aesthetic by tracing the spatial configurations that several of his studies observe. Snediker begins by considering the cover images of Intimacies (2008) and Forms of Being as part of this shift. The nearly unreadable expanses that open in Barnett Newman’s Queen of the Night II, which we find on Intimacies’s dust jacket, and the still from Godard’s Contempt chosen for the cover of Forms of Being evoke Mark Rothko’s art, which Bersani and Dutoit discuss in the second chapter of Arts of Impoverishment. To trace Bersani’s shift, never completely executed, from the psychoanalytics of ébranlement to the formal correspondences in art, Snediker triangulates “Is the Rectum a Grave?” with Bersani and Dutoit’s readings of Rothko in Arts of Impoverishment and their commentary on Malick in Forms of Being. The title of Malick’s film, Snediker notes, uncannily conjures up the shimmering lines we find in Rothko’s paintings. The Thin Red Line also returns us to the ethical argument for subjective destitution in the 1987 essay: if, as Snediker notes, Bersani considers “war” an inevitable result of fortified subjectivities (IRG 25)—a war fed by the relentless paranoia that ffrench discusses—it is in Malick’s war film that we find an example of the pacifying effects of the loss of self. In his inventive reading, Snediker draws out from the interplay of these texts what we might call Bersani’s “ethics of rectangular spatiality.” The remaining three chapters in the “Aesthetic” section tackle two of Bersani’s key writers—Proust and James—and propose two authors absent from the oeuvre (Ronald Firbank and William Faulkner) as points of resonance for Bersanian thought.32 Taking on Proust in Bersani might be the most daunting of tasks, given the generous scattering of Proustian references across Bersani’s work over the past 50 years. Bersani frequently instructs us to turn away from the recherche—which proceeds, we are told, under the auspices of lack and paranoia—but, like Freud, Proust keeps reemerging as something of an unresolved question. If Bersani on several occasions asserts Proust’s failure to provide us an adequately ethical and aesthetic subjectivity, why, asks E. L. McCallum, does he still return to the search for lost time? What persists of the recherche that is not nostalgia or redemption? How is the Proustian imagination different from, say, Walter Benjamin’s redemptive ontology, to which Bersani, having judged it irrecuperably theological in The Culture of Redemption, never again appeals? McCallum considers Proust’s role in Bersani by linking À la Recherche to another famously expansive and problematic narrative of desire: Marquis de Sade’s. Even though Bersani develops the concept of ébranlement by noting the coincidence of the French term in Laplanche and Sade, he leaves the latter behind after considering 120 Days of Sodom, and privileging Pasolini’s Saló to the original narrative, in “Merde Alors” and The Freudian Body. McCallum nevertheless suggests that Bersani’s divorces from Proust and Sade are too swiftly declared: both authors provide ways for thinking about the move from a psychoanalytic ontology to an aesthetic one

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in ways that Bersani may not have made explicit. Proust might indeed be “the linchpin in Bersani’s oeuvre,” she writes, “the one who articulates the sexual or psychoanalytic subject with the aesthetic subject.” Similarly, Bersani and Dutoit’s discussion in “Merde Alors” invites us not so much to turn away from Sade as to “turn Sade,” that is, “redirect his effects and paradigms toward a new thinking of relationality.” Henry James, on the other hand, is an author whom Bersani never explicitly leaves behind. Yet his presence is also more submerged than Proust’s. David McWhirter unearths Bersani’s persistent engagement with James, a engagement that opens with one of Bersani’s first publications, the 1960 essay “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of a Dove,’ ” and remains ongoing in Intimacies and Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays. From the early texts onwards, James provides for Bersani not the oeuvre of the modernist Master that we find canonized in Leon Edel and elsewhere. Rather, Bersani shares James’s “distrust . . . for all forms of direct pursuit” (FA 139); his returns to James remain, as McWhirter writes, “consistently, deliberately tangential.” His flirtations—the term is McWhirter’s—with the Jamesian text perform the ethics of relationality that emerge especially in Bersani’s later, post-1980s work. It is with the question of relationality that James contributes to Bersani’s queer thought: McWhirter notes the prescience of Bersani’s seemingly odd coupling of James and Foucault in his 1977 review article of Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality (“Subject”): both thinkers have since become useful in queer theory’s project to exploit “gayness [as] an opportunity, even an imperative, not only to think beyond the conventional plots and demands of heterosexual coupling, but also to redraw our maps and mappings of relations at large.” Kevin Ohi invites us to expand our onto-aesthetic laboratories by turning to Firbank and Faulkner. Making a case for Firbank as a Bersanian writer, Ohi gives as his first exhibit the author’s “difficult” yet “nonserious” style, a sensibility that Bersani locates in a number of his major writers, including Beckett, James, and Mallarmé. What may surprise is the addition of Faulkner to the list—Faulkner whose depth and significance have been bolstered by the recent contextualization of his oeuvre in the global South by Glissant (Faulkner) and others. Yet it is their perspectival play that, according to Ohi, links the two writers. Having located the humor of Firbank’s style in the impersonal drift of his narrative voices, Ohi finds a parallel to Firbankian campiness in Faulkner’s famous experimentations with perspective. Taking As I Lay Dying as his case study, he suggests some of the ways in which the two authors’ explorations in narrative organization may be useful in thinking about “impersonality, potentiality, virtuality, sameness, and the ‘aesthetic subject,’ ” especially as these have been explored in Bersani’s more recent work. Ohi’s essay also illustrates Bersani’s methodology of distraction: it comments on, and elaborates, Bersanian thought by mostly refusing a direct engagement with its object.

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The concluding interview with Bersani opens with the query with which we started this introduction: Is he a queer theorist? No, he is not; we may have failed. From this betrayal of our project’s conceptual framing, the interview—like the essays themselves—digresses to address various themes from Bersani’s past and current work. Touching upon Foucault, Deleuze, Dutoit, psychoanalysis, pedagogy, sociability, and the virtual, the exchange confirms what a number of our contributors indicate about Bersani’s oeuvre: it becomes readable as queer theory only when we understand the latter in terms of a continual undermining of its own articulations. Described in this way, queer thought begins to resemble the discourses that have most compelled Bersani’s attention over the past half a century; in its digressivity, it approximates, for example, the arguments’ elaboration and dissolution in the Freudian text. Such stylistic self-disfiguration characterizes Bersani’s own writing: Malcolm Bowie writes that we find in Bersani “provocatively self-referring sentence[s]” that “make patterns” and “shatter them,” “impose discipline” and “subvert it” (28). If this introduction has suggested a cohering form to Bersani’s oeuvre, the ethical task of queer thinkers such as those writing the following essays would be to defigure, shatter, betray, misread this particular, and any other possible, genealogy of the Bersanian text.

Notes 1. The inassimilability of Bersani’s work to the field as it was conceptualized in the early 1990s is also suggested by the fact that, despite all impact factors, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” was not included in Routledge’s hefty state-of-the-field collection Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (1993, eds. Abelove, Barale, and Halperin). Anzaldúa’s absence from the anthology similarly suggests that not only Bersani’s but also her work operates outside the hegemonic paradigms of 1990s queer theory. (On Anzaldúa and queer paradigms, see Tuhkanen.) Bersani and Anzaldúa are similarly missing from Routledge’s updated collection: see Hall and Jagose. 2. Laplanche’s Essays on Otherness, coupled with the interviews with Caruth and Stanton, provide good introductions to Laplanchean psychoanalysis. On Laplanche’s early work, particularly in relation to Lacan’s, see Fletcher, “Letter.” For an overview of Laplanche’s later, post-1985 work, see Fletcher, “Seduction.” 3. For Bersani’s discussion of Nietzsche, see CR ch. 3; AI 140–41. 4. From the claim, in The Freudian Body, that psychoanalysis and art experiment with “disabled consciousness” (FrB 6) to the suggestion, in the back cover of Arts of Impoverishment, that works of art “train us in a new mode of mobility” by “crippling” our perception, Bersani’s work calls out for commentary from disability studies and crip theory. In his contribution to our collection, Michael Snediker begins this work; see also Mollow. 5. Although the study closes with a discussion of narcissism and sublimation (DSM 80–83), psychoanalytic theory is hardly named. Freud and Lacan get one references each: see, respectively, DSM 84 and 27.

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6. I’m here concerned with Bersani’s single-authored books. Bersani and Dutoit’s Forms of Violence (1985) precedes the publication of The Freudian Body by a year; psychoanalysis figures centrally in the Dutoit collaboration too. 7. I borrow this phrase from Dean, “Art.” 8. I am here betraying Laplanche’s distinction between an “enigma” and a “riddle,” which I discuss below; this betrayal is informed by Bersani’s divergence from the Laplanchean model—see, again, below. 9. Peter Brooks’s work provides one of the best-known examples. In LGBT and queer studies, this argument has been elaborated by Teresa de Lauretis, Paul Morrison, and Judith Roof. 10. “The theory of seduction,” as Laplanche writes, “affirms the priority of the other in the constitution of the human being and of its sexuality” (“Masochism” 212)—a priority that, as he continues in an interview with Martin Stanton, is repeated in his own theory (5). 11. On Proustian desire as appetition, see also MP 35–37; CR 22–23; and H 133–34. 12. Apart from sharing Bersani’s epistemocritique, Glissant’s speculative theory of creolization, where the monistic being of tout-monde weaves out in creolized forms of expression, overlaps in important ways with Bersanian ontology. Such overlaps can be traced to the Deleuzean influences in both thinkers. For some commentary on Bersani’s Deleuzeanism, see my chapter in this volume; for a critical look at the Deleuzean shape of Glissant’s work, see Hallward ch. 2. Bersani’s 1970s critique of realist fiction should be understood in this context too. In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said identifies in the European realist novel precisely the kind of incorporative, annihilative impulse that, for Bersani, operates in narratives of appetitive desire, whether philosophical, psychoanalytic, or literary. According to Said, the empire’s hunger for its others has found its most efficient literary articulation in realism: “The colonial territories are realms of possibility, and they have always been associated with the realistic novel” (64). Insisting on “[t]he far from accidental convergence between patterns of narrative authority constitutive of the novel on the one hand, and, on the other, a complex ideological configuration underlying the tendency to imperialism,” he writes: “Without empire . . . there is no European novel as we know it” (69–70). 13. See also Bersani’s psychoanalytically inflected discussion of the imperialist politics of contemporary United States: I ch. 3. 14. For “riddle,” see Freud, “Sexual” 176 (“Zur sexuelle” 163); for “puzzle,” see Three 123 (Drei 108). 15. Thus Laplanche speaks of “the enigma of the Sphinx: you cannot think that she already knew the answer to her enigma, because the enigma was such a problem for her that when it was solved by Oedipus she killed herself as it was something unbearable to her, revealing to her something of her unconscious” (“Kent” 23; see also “Freud” 57–58). Translating Laplanche before the consolidation of his English terms, Richard Miller renders “énigme” as “puzzle”: see Laplanche, “To Situate” 19; Problématiques III 106–07. 16. For Bersani’s commentary on prefaces, see the preface to Thoughts and Things. 17. See Bersani’s comments on the term oeuvre in IRG 190–91. 18. In a later text, Bersani similarly suggests we think of the unconscious as “a kind of storehouse of psychic virtualities” (Thoughts ch. 4).

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19. See the brief commentary on the fascinated gaze in Bataille in Partick ffrench’s chapter in this volume. 20. Other Bersanian keywords range from the frequently noted examples of “intimacy,” “redemption,” “correspondences,” and, of course, “shattering” to the less explicitly evoked “ecstasy,” “centrifugal/centripetal,” “virtuality,” “floating,” “friction,” “cradling,” “speculation,” “transversality,” as well as, as I have suggested, “annihilation” and “fascination.” 21. James provides another counterexample: Bersani finds in The Golden Bowl “an extreme mobility of attention, a continuous moving away from what might be called the narrative ordering of thought” (DSM 60). 22. Bersani writes: “th[e] invasive secret can, in the final analysis, only be about me: the enigmatic signifier seduces me because it ‘knows’ me, because it contains in me that which can be seduced, the very formula of a desire of which I myself am ignorant” (IRG 108). He identifies in Dennis Cooper’s fiction—with its depictions of the “cold and brutal ripping open of bodies as a means of knowing the other” (IRG 34)—something like the culmination of this mode of desiring; such fate may be Maggie Verver’s, whose doll-like muteness fascinates: “she was passed about, all tenderly and expertly, like a dressed doll held, in the right manner, by its firmly-stuffed middle, for the account she could give” (James 766). Conceptualizing the self and the world in terms of enigmatic signifiers compels a “murderous fascination” (Bersani, “Father” 99) with the other. 23. For an early description of the method, see Freud, Interpretation 673–79. On free association and the emergence of psychoanalysis, see Laplanche and Pontalis 169– 70, 178–79; Laplanche, “Psychoanalysis.” See also Christopher Bollas’s discussion of the psychoanalytic method, especially his emphasis on the associative method’s adaptability to the analysand’s singular style—his or her “form in being” or “being-as-form” (Free 63–64)—and its links to creativity (67ff.; see also Evocative; Infinite). Bersani discusses his interest in Bollas in the interview that concludes this volume. 24. See, respectively, FV 98; CS 81, 88; AI 190, 191, 197, 199, 204; and FoB 61–63, 65. 25. See also the discussion of Almódovar in IRG 71–82. 26. See also the “disinterested availability” that Bersani and Dutoit discern in the object of the fortune-teller’s attention in Caravaggio’s painting (CS 18). 27. For similar analyses, see Berlant and Warner; Dean, Unlimited ch. 4; and Warner ch. 4. 28. For a recent queer-theoretical work on Foucault’s and Bersani’s queer ascetics, see Roach. 29. Halberstam, too, briefly refers to Beckett: 24, 185–86. 30. On the law of theoretico-genesis, see Laplanche, “Unfinished” 81–82. 31. On Bersani and Deleuze, see also ffrench’s insightful commentary in “Potential Not to Be,” as well as Bersani and Dutoit’s appreciative “Response.” 32. Bersani does comment very briefly on Faulkner: see BB 6, 305.

Works Cited Abelove, Henry, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, eds. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.

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Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Lute, 1987. Print. Baudelaire, Charles. “The Salon of 1846.” The Mirror of Art: Critical Studies. Ed. and trans. Jonathan Mayne. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1956. 38–130. Print. Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. 1953. Trans. Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove P, 1982. Print. Berlant, Lauren, and Michael Warner. “Sex in Public.” Critical Inquiry 24.2 (Winter 1998): 547–66. Print. Bersani, Leo. “Father Knows Best.” Raritan 29.4 (Spring 2010): 92–104. Print. ———. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” 1987. AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism. Ed. Douglas Crimp. Cambridge: MIT P, 1988. 197–222. Print. ———. “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of a Dove.’ ” Modern Fiction Studies 6.2. (Summer 1960): 131–44. Print. ———. “The Other Freud.” Humanities in Society 1.1 (Winter 1978): 35–49. Print. ———. “The Subject of Power.” Rev. of Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir and La Volonté de savoir. diacritics 7.3 (Fall 1977): 2–21. Print. ———. Thoughts and Things. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2014. Print. Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. “Merde Alors.” October 13 (Summer 1980): 22–35. Print. ———. “A Response to Patrick ffrench and Peter Caws.” Film-Philosophy 9.5 (Jan. 2005). Web. 13 Nov. 2006. Bollas, Christopher. The Evocative Object World. London: Routledge, 2009. Print. ———. Free Association. Cambridge, UK: Totem, 2002. Print. ———. The Infinite Question. London: Routledge, 2009. Print. Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. Print. Butler, Judith. “Geist ist Zeit: French Interpretations of Hegel’s Absolute.” Berkshire Review (Sep. 1985): 66–80. Print. ———. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print. ———. Preface (1999). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 1990. New York: Routledge, 1999. vii–xxvi. Print. ———. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print. ———. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. 1987. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Print. ———. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print. Dean, Tim. “Art as Symptom: Žižek and the Ethics of Psychoanalytic Criticism.” diacritics 32.2 (Summer 2002): 21–41. Print. ———. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Print. Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York UP, 1999. Print. De Lauretis, Teresa, ed. “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities.” Spec. issue of differences 3 (1991). Print. ffrench, Patrick. “Potential Not to Be: Bersani and Dutoit’s Forms of Being.” FilmPhilosophy 9.3 (Jan. 2005). Web. 13 Nov. 2006.

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Fletcher, John. “The Letter in the Unconscious: The Enigmatic Signifier in the Work of Jean Laplanche.” Fletcher and Stanton 93–120. ———. “Seduction and the Vicissitudes of Translation: The Work of Jean Laplanche.” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 76.4 (2007): 1241–91. Print. Fletcher, John, and Martin Stanton, eds. Jean Laplanche: Seduction, Translation, Drives: A Dossier. Trans. Martin Stanton. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992. Print. Forrester, John. Truth Games: Lies, Money, and Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997. Print. Foucault, Michel. “The Discourse on Language.” 1971. Trans. Rupert Sawyer. The Archaeology of Knowledge. 1969. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972. 215–37. Print. ———. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” 1971. Trans. Donald F. Brouchard and Sherry Simon. Essential Works, Vol. 2: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: New P, 1998. 369–91. Print. Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print. Freud, Sigmund. Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie. 1905. Studienausgabe 5: 37–145. ———. The Interpretation of Dreams. 1900. Pelican Freud Library 4. ———. The Pelican Freud Library. Ed. and trans. James Strachey, Angela Richards, et al. 15 vols. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974–86. Print. ———. “The Sexual Enlightenment of Children (An Open Letter to Dr M. Fürst).” 1907. Pelican Freud Library 7: 171–81. ———. Studienausgabe. Ed. Alexander Mitscherlich, Angela Richards, and James Strachey. 10 vols. Tübingen: S. Fischer, 1969. Print. ———. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. 1905. Pelican Freud Library 7: 31–169. ———. “Zur sexuellen Aufklärung der Kinder.” 1906 (1905). Studienausgabe 5: 159–68. Fuss, Diana, ed. inside/out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print. Glissant, Édouard. Faulkner, Mississippi. 1996. Trans. Barbara Lewis and Thomas C. Spear. 1999. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000. Print. ———. Poetics of Relation. 1990. Trans. Betsy Wing. 1997. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print. Goodkin, Richard E. Around Proust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1991. Print. Grosz, Elizabeth. Space, Time, and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print. Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print. Hall, Donald E., and Annamarie Jagose, eds. The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 2012. Print. Hallward, Peter. Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing between the Singular and the Specific. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2001. Print. James, Henry. The Golden Bowl. 1904. Novels 1903–1911. New York: Library of America, 2010. 431–982. Print. Laplanche, Jean. “Closing and Opening of the Dream: Must Chapter VII Be Rewritten?” 2000. Trans. Mira Reinberg and Thomas Pepper. Dreams of Interpretation: A Century Down the Royal Road. Ed. Catherine Liu, John Mowitt, and Thomas Pepper. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007. 177–96. Print.

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———. Essays on Otherness. Ed. John Fletcher. Oxon, UK: Routledge, 1999. Print. ———. “The Freud Museum Seminar: 3 May 1990.” Fletcher and Stanton 41–63. ———. “Interpreting (with) Freud.” 1968. Trans. Nicholas Ray. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 11 (2006): 171–84. Print. ———. “Interview: Jean Laplanche talks to Martin Stanton.” Fletcher and Stanton 3–18. ———. “An Interview with Jean Laplanche.” By Cathy Caruth. Postmodern Culture 11.2 (Jan. 2001): n. p. Web. 1 Mar. 2012. ———. “Kent Seminar: 1 May 1990.” Fletcher and Stanton 21–40. ———. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. 1970. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Print. ———. “Masochism and the General Theory of Seduction.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Essays 197–213. ———. New Foundations for Psychoanalysis. 1987. Trans. David Macey. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. Print. ———. Problématiques III: La sublimation. 1980. Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 1998. Print. ———. “Psychoanalysis as Anti-Hermeneutics.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Radical Philosophy 79 (Sep./Oct. 1996): 7–12. Print. ———. “Time and the Other.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Essays 234–59. ———. “To Situate Sublimation.” 1980. Trans. Richard Miller. October 28 (1984): 7–26. Print. ———. “The Unfinished Copernican Revolution.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Essays 52–83. Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, J.-B. [Jean-Bertrand]. The Language of Psychoanalysis. 1967. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973. Print. Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. 1936. New York: Harper, 1960. Print. McCallum, E. L., and Mikko Tuhkanen, eds. Queer Times, Queer Becomings. Albany: State U of New York P, 2011. Print. McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print. Mollow, Anna. “Is Sex Disability? Queer Theory and the Death Drive.” Sex and Disability. Ed. Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. 285–312. Print. Morrison, Paul. “End Pleasure.” GLQ 1.1 (1993): 53–78. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. 1882/1887. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974. Print. Pratt, Lloyd. “Close Reading the Present: Eudora Welty’s Queer Politics.” McCallum and Tuhkanen 183–204. Proust, Marcel. “Contre Sainte-Beuve.” On Art and Literature, 1896–1919. Trans. Sylvia Townsend Warner. New York: Meridian, 1958. 17–276. Print. ———. À la Recherche du temps perdu. 1913–27. Ed. Jean-Yves Tadié. 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1987–89. Print. ———. Remembrance of Things Past. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Stephen Hudson. 2 vols. London: Wordsworth, 2006. Print. Reid-Pharr, Robert F. “Clean: Death and Desire in Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.” American Literature 83.2 (June 2011): 389–411. Print.

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Roach, Tom. Friendship as a Way of Life: Foucault, AIDS, and the Politics of Shared Estrangement. Albany: State U of New York P, 2012. Print. Roof, Judith. A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Print. Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Print. Scott, Darieck. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New York: New York UP, 2010. Print. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “In a Word: Interview.” By Ellen Rooney. The Essential Difference. Ed. Naomi Schor and Elizabeth Weed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994. 150–84. Print. Tuhkanen, Mikko. “Mestiza Metaphysics.” McCallum and Tuhkanen 259–94. Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. Print. Watney, Simon. Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. Print.

I

Queer

1

Bersani on Location HEATHER LOVE

To desymbolize reality may be the precondition for reeroticizing reality. —Leo Bersani, The Culture of Redemption The call to which Bersani awakens every day comes from the phenomenal world. —Kaja Silverman, “Looking with Leo”

In his 2011 article, “Ardent Masturbation,” Leo Bersani contemplates the “heroically impossible project of psychoanalysis”: the attempt “to theorize an untheorizable psyche” led to a form of writing that “allowed unreadable pressures to infiltrate the readable” (13).1 Bersani considers the outright contradictions, moments of textual collapse and opacity, and logical gaps of psychoanalytic writing, noting the fact that “[t]he Freudian text frequently performs the demolishing of its own arguments” (12). At the heart of the project, he notes “a certain incoherent connectedness that has always seemed to me central to Freud’s genius” (12). Bersani expresses admiration for heroic questing after inaccessible knowledge and for the production of a text that incorporated rather than vanquished ignorance and impossibility. This disruption at the scene of writing has sustained Bersani’s interest in Freud; it also Bersani’s own critical project. Over the last several decades, in rigorously analyzing inaccessible or unlikely states of being, Bersani has produced effects of opacity and contradiction; as in the case of Freud, a “certain incoherent connectedness” constitutes the lure of his work. The productive contradictions of Bersani’s writing have received insufficient attention from critics; despite the visible fractures across his work, he

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is often identified with a single approach or position. Such a reduction is evident in Bersani’s identification as a psychoanalytic critic; this description ignores his stringent critique of psychoanalysis as an interpretive framework, the phenomenological aspects of his work,2 and his attention to the social as well as the psychic determinants of personhood. Although theorizing concrete sexual practice has been crucial to Bersani’s writing, sex also seems, at times, to be beside the point in the face of his thinking about intimacy, sociability, and other less corporeally intensive ways of being together. In the context of contemporary queer theory, Bersani has come to be identified with what is known as the “antisocial thesis,” where even his name is sufficient to conjure extremes of negativity and the refusal of relationality.3 As Tim Dean has argued, however, attention to “the anti-relational moment in Bersani’s thinking” has obscured the significance of his attempts to imagine new forms of sociality (“Sex” 389).4 Taking Bersani as an exemplar of negativity does not capture what David Kurnick points to as “the defining tension between the tragic and the utopian” in his work (“Carnal” 123). The contradictions can be explained to some extent as a matter of intellectual biography: the early period focuses on sex, self-shattering, betrayal, the critique of redemption; late Bersani shifts to concerns of ontology, intimacy, self-extension, and being together. And yet, as Brian Glavey observes, such periodizing rubrics can only partially account for the tensions that structure Bersani’s writing throughout his career.5 These responses to Bersani’s work demonstrate the desire to claim Bersani as an authorizing figure for a variety of critical projects. Opacity and inconsistency are not necessarily the qualities that one looks for in an intellectual precursor, although that is often what one finds there; fields are generated and shaped by contradiction, not certainty. The temptation to read past such contradictions has been particularly strong in queer studies, a field that—despite a high-voltage intellectual heritage and some prominent (but uneven) institutionalization—remains chronically unauthorized. The orphaned condition of queer scholarship has led second- and third-generation critics to respond to founding figures with a mix of idealization and aggression.6 Ambivalence and overinvestment have made it difficult to come to terms with the tensions that structure the work of queer precursors. How to make sense of Michel Foucault as the relentless critic of the ideology of liberation and as the utopian thinker of “bodies and pleasures”?7 How to reconcile the sublime paranoia of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet with her call to reparative reading in her late essays on Klein? What to make of early Butler’s stringent antifoundationalism in light of the humanism of her work on recognition, ethics, and politics? More broadly, it remains difficult to bring together the corrosive refusals of queer with the field’s investments in worldmaking and the thriving of queer subjects.

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Although he has not been directly involved in the antisocial debates, Bersani is implicated in them; as a result, his reception has been marked by a stark separation of the utopian and tragic strains in his work. The lack of a mediating position in the confrontation between utopia and antisocial thought is striking in these debates, as is the difficulty of staking out a position in queer affect studies that emphasizes the centrality of ambivalence, rather than wholly good or bad feeling. Ambivalence, and the foundational role it has played in both the formation of gay and lesbian identity and in the constitution of the field of queer studies, is an odd blind spot in these disputes about optimism and cynicism, utopia and antiutopia, and the political value of positive and negative affect. Bersani is regularly identified with the antisocial, despite his deep investment in cultivating new forms of sociality. I follow Kurnick in suggesting that this tension between utopia and tragedy is central to “the homosexuality of Bersani’s work” (“Embarrassment” 403). As Kurnick argues, homosexuality has a double presence in Bersani’s work, identified with both formal transcendence and social abjection. It is this paradoxical quality of homosexuality—at once highly specific and elusive—that helps to explain the fact that although “no critic has been more dubious about identity categories . . . there is no critic writing today whose work seems so inescapably gay” (“Carnal” 121).8 I draw on this insight in order to put pressure on an important but underspecified term in Bersani’s work: the social. Even in work that is primarily concerned with aesthetics, Bersani is concerned with social relations, and particularly with how structured, hierarchical relations unfold in social space. Because he is understood primarily as a psychoanalytic critic; because his treatment of world and experience are routed through phenomenology; and because his primary investment in the category of the aesthetic has been misread as antisocial, Bersani’s investments in social life have been largely ignored. To characterize his thought as antisocial—at once destructively negative and detached from the shared conditions of being—is to ignore his engagement with collectivity and social space and his critique of the renunciation of experience. At the end of the first chapter of The Culture of Redemption, Bersani imagines an aesthetic practice that would offer an alternative to Proust’s poetics of desire, his attempt to redeem damaged experience by transforming it into a “higher” symbolic form. “No longer a corrective replay of anxious fantasy,” he writes, “such an art may even reinstate a curiously disinterested mode of desire for objects, a mode of excitement that, far from investing objects with symbolic significance, would enhance their specificity and thereby fortify their resistance to the violence of symbolic intent” (CR 28). Bersani imagines an aesthetic that invests in the world—in its concreteness, its specificity, its sensually perceptible forms. In the following readings, I suggest that Bersani attempts to render his

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objects of analysis specific enough to resist “the violence of symbolic intent.” That is to say, he situates his critical objects in space, as concrete, sensuously realized entities that are in and of the social world, not set apart from it or “above” it. Bersani’s destruction of the subject—his contention that, in Kaja Silverman’s words, there “is no such thing as an individual” (410)—is crucial to his project of imagining new forms of intimacy. This refusal to recognize the boundaries, self-sufficiency, and even the reality of the isolated ego has been understood in his work as an effect of his engagements with psychoanalysis and phenomenology. However, we might also understand this radical displacement of the self in social—or even sociological—terms. Such a reading might appear perverse in sidestepping Bersani’s commitments to psychoanalysis and to the aesthetic, which function in his work to escape the trap of identity and to frustrate a reductive empiricism. Yet the aesthetic is bound up with the concept of social space: the aesthetic functions to displace the subject by dispersing it into a social landscape that is concretely rendered. The spatial analyses that characterize Bersani’s readings of both literature and visual are oddly literal, informed by his concern with physical proximities and contact, relational configurations, and social location. Bersani’s adamant refusal, throughout his work, of “the monotony of thematic depth” (BB 20) is effected through a spatialization of the subject, a mapping of social spaces, and a drive to the margins. Bersani claims that relatedness is deduced from “our perceptions of physical space,” but instead of reading space in purely phenomenological terms, I want to insist that space is social for Bersani. Space is not merely an arena for the unfolding of being; rather, it is shaped by institutions, interactions, and inequalities, which, though they might not always explicitly be discussed, nonetheless leave their traces. In his career-long interest with center and peripheries, Bersani attended to the distribution of power between the norm and the margin. Because of the literal quality of his account of marginality, his work resonates with postwar research on social deviance, which turned its attention to human practice on the margins of the city. Also, in his attention to pattern, distribution, spacing, and system, Bersani registers the concerns of another key movement in postwar social science: microsociological and symbolic interactionist research into group dynamics and communication. Placing Bersani’s work in this somewhat unexpected context makes visible the full spectrum of his commitments to the social. While acknowledging the contributions of postwar social scientific research would expand the canon and methodological range of queer studies, it would also shift our understanding of the work of foundational literary, cultural, and philosophical figures such as Bersani.9 Deviance studies and symbolic interactionism were crucial in shifting the understanding of homosexuality from individual pathology to social phenomenon in the postwar period. To the extent that Bersani also sought to

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socialize desire, I suggest that we understand his rethinking of the subject in relation not as a destruction of the individual but rather as the individual’s dispersal and absorption into collective forms and concrete social spaces. In this sense, the destruction of the individual is not antisocial for Bersani; it is a precondition of sociality.

Bersani’s argument in The Culture of Redemption—that art should not be understood as compensating for the life’s failures—is easy to recapitulate but hard to think. In a discussion of sublimation in the introduction, he rolls out the key elements of the argument. Emphasizing, he writes, the restitutive or redemptive power of cultural forms and activities . . . give[s] us extraordinarily diminished views of both our sexuality and our cultural imagination. The forms of culture become transparent and—at least from an interpretive point of view—dismissible: they are, ultimately, regressive attempts to make up for failed experience. And the fragmenting and destructive aspects of sexuality gain the ambiguous dignity of haunting the invisible depths of all human activity. A fundamentally meaningless culture thus ennobles gravely damaged experience. Or, to put this in other terms, art redeems the catastrophe of history. . . . Claims for the high morality of art may conceal a deep horror of life. And yet nothing perhaps is more frivolous than that horror, since it carries within it the conviction that, because of the achievements of culture, the disasters of history somehow do not matter. Everything can be made up, can be made over again, and the absolute singularity of human experience—the source of both its tragedy and its beauty—is thus dissipated in the trivializing nobility of a redemption through art. (CR 22) As in the case of Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis, Bersani’s refusal of art as compensation for damaged experience has been difficult to incorporate into our thinking. The possibility of refusing the compensation of art and symbolization persists but as a subterranean possibility, or in distorted form. Bersani attacks the moral monumentality of art, a consequence of understanding it as a consolation for what is lacking in life; refusing to assent to this redemptive view of art would allow us to come to terms with “modern works that have more or less violently rejected any such edifying and petrifying functions” (CR 22). In addition to serving as a manifesto for a new kind of aesthetic, The Culture of Redemption is also a call to a fuller encounter with history and to a socially responsive criticism; Bersani suggests that the key to acknowledging both the singularity and the damage of experience is

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the recognition that the world is. Art is in the world and of the world, but it cannot transform the world, which is not to be “made up.” By virtue of its sheer existence the world is out of reach; it is already happening, and there are no do-overs. To suggest Bersani is concerned with the world out there (rather than on the aesthetic forms that mediate it) and that this world is social (rather than an abstract projection of individual experience) may seem like a willful misreading. However, framing Bersani as a psychoanalytic or phenomenological critic does not reckon with the force of his argument, here, on behalf of “all human activity” against the “invisible depths” said to lurk beneath. If Bersani is, on occasion, recognized as an antipsychological thinker, that resistance is understood in light of a familiar distinction between psychoanalytic and psychological modes of thought, which pitches the radical insight of psychoanalysis against the reductions of psychology.10 However, both psychoanalysis and psychology are indicted by Bersani’s insistence on the primacy of experience and history in this passage. Bersani’s concerns about the privatization of experience and the refusal to come to terms with the social world can be understood as a critique of modernism, with melancholic horror of experience. But we might also see it in the context of the postwar antipsychiatry movement, and in particular to queer resistance to both psychoanalysis and psychology that developed in response to a widely shared experience of therapy as a treatment for homosexuality. Psychology was, as Jeffrey Escoffier has argued, “the dominant intellectual and therapeutic discipline in the public discourses on homosexuality” (125). Critiques of the normalizing function of postwar psychology often put pressure on it from the perspective of a radical psychoanalysis. However, one may also displace the psychological view of the subject by shifting the frame to a concretely realized social world. Bersani did both, attacking the intact, isolated subject both from the inside and the outside. The emergence of sexuality studies as an account of something other than an individual pathology—as the domain of social and cultural studies rather than psychology—is one of the key developments of the postwar period. This shift in focus was accomplished, as several scholars have argued, primarily by anthropologists, sociologists, and historians.11 Escoffier, in American Homo, considers two ways in which social scientists “refashioned homosexuality as a social phenomenon, rather than a purely psychological or individual one. First, they defined homosexuality as a social problem, ambiguously framing it either as an issue of homosexuals’ social adjustment or as a matter of eliminating prejudice against homosexuals. Second, these writers publicly recognized the existence of a homosexual social world” (82–83). Although it may not seem self-evident that redefining homosexuality as a social problem is a political advance, Escoffier makes a persuasive case that focusing on social deviance

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rather than individual pathology constituted an important step in acknowledging the existence of homosexuality as a social form and in taking the epistemological and institutional pressure off of individuals. The development of gay and lesbian studies out of social scientific studies of homosexual behavior and communities may seem quite distant from Bersani’s research as a professor of French literature during this period. However, beginning with his attention in his first book, Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art (1965), to Proust’s dream of forging an objective portrait of the world as he nonetheless “covers” it with a “continuously dense reflection,” Bersani’s account of the aesthetic was deeply engaged its relation to the existence of the world beyond narration, beyond imagination (MP 231). Bersani’s focus on literary texts, psychoanalytic thought, and aesthetic objects is at some distance from the empirical social science that launched sexuality studies; nonetheless, his treatment of aesthetics traced a parallel movement from the individual to the group, from pathology to social deviance, and from psychic interiority to social practice. The question of Bersani’s relation to the empirical emerges in a critique of The Freudian Body written by Jonathan Dollimore in Sexual Dissidence (1991). Through his readings of Freud, Bersani argues that the normalizing project of psychoanalysis does not hold up because of its incoherence. Perversion does not maintain its position at the margins of normal sexuality: it simply is sexuality, and as a result the conceptual distinctions between the normal and the perverse collapse. Dollimore largely agrees with Bersani’s reading, and yet he cautions against dismissing the empirical basis of Freud’s conclusions too quickly. The incoherence of Freud’s work is related, Dollimore writes, “to Freud’s rational and, historically speaking, progressive commitment to the empirical” (194). Dollimore acknowledges the troubled history of empiricism within organizations such as the American Psychoanalytic Association, which includes the history of “curing” homosexuality. Yet he argues that, “in the face of the manifest limitations of the empirical as conceived within such institutions, there has been a tendency to rest everything on theoretical speculation. But theory alone does not rescue the subordinate from the repressive and exploitative representations of the dominant” (194). Dollimore insists on the limits of pure theory in countering domination. He suggests that rational argument is not only a tool of domination, but that it can also serve to “dismantle the ideological (mis) representation of the subordinate by the powerful” (194). Bersani’s work might be considered fair game for what is clearly a broader critique on Dollimore’s part of pure “theoretical speculation.” Writing in the early years of queer theory, Dollimore echoes the concerns of many social scientists about the spectacular success of this new mode of thinking about sexuality and desire. In an argument that is at once political and methodological, Dollimore suggests that the valence of the empirical is shifting and

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historically contingent; while “a rigorous concern for evidence” (194) may serve reactionary ends, it can also be—and in the case of Freud, it was—progressive. In a related moment, he critiques Judith Butler’s account of gender performativity and subversive repetition by suggesting that many contemporary challenges to the sexual system reinscribe the privatizing and pathologizing of deviant sexuality. The point of arguing that gender is part of culture is to show that “gender is implicated in all aspects of culture” but, he argues, “in practice the argument never gets off the bed” (321). Dollimore targets a version of gender and sexuality studies that he sees as too focused on what goes on in the bedroom, but he also implicates the psychoanalyst’s couch and the philosopher’s armchair. Across his career, Bersani has lavished speculative attention on individual desires, acts, and fantasies, but his thinking on these issues is hardly confined to the bed. This fact is a result of his refusal of the individual as the focal point for his discussion of sexuality; in the desexualizing impulse across his work; and also in the diffuse and public forms of intimacy that he considers. The scenes of intimacy that Bersani considers do not all take place in bed. The most indelible of these is the account of the scene on the Paris rooftop in Genet’s Funeral Rites, in which Bersani turns the concept of sex as a private moment of exchange inside out. Contemplating the image of the two men seen “in figurehead” (qtd. in H 165), Bersani suggests that the physical relation of their bodies (both facing the city as the German soldier Erik fucks the traitor Riton from behind) and the public setting of this episode wrench away from the idea of the intimate, idealized couple. He writes: Our culture tells us to think of sex as the ultimate privacy, as that intimate knowledge of the other on which the familial cell is built. Enjoy the rapture that will never be made public, that will also (though this is not said) keep you safely, docilely out of the public realm, that will make you content to allow others to make history while you perfect the oval of a merely copulative or familial intimacy. The sodomist, the public enemy, the traitor, the murderer (Erik and Riton answer to all those titles) are ideally unsuited for such intimacies. Excluded from all triumphant communities (from the heterosexual family to the victorious Allies entering Paris), they are reduced, or elevated, to a kind of objectless or generalized ejaculation, a fucking of the world rather than each other. (H 165–66) Bersani imagines a transfer of energies from the closed “oval” of bodies to the social world. This movement is at once carnal and abstract; fucking the world is at once about the bodily contact, the transfer of fluids and force, and about a “break or seismic shift in a culture’s episteme” (H 165). The revolt

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against culture and against the fiction of the discrete individual that supports it is effected not only through violation but also through a move elsewhere, a repurposing and remapping of social space. To Bersani, the promise of this scene inheres less in the identity of the two figures and in the practice that they engage in than it does in their setting. It is not who they are nor what they are but where they are that matters most for Bersani. Here we might trace a link to Laud Humphreys’s foundational text, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, which draws on the work of Erving Goffman and others in order to offer a space-based microsociological view of sexual interactions in public restrooms. People are backgrounded in this account; what matters is the shared social space and the unfolding events that it facilitates. This ecological understanding of the space is reflected in the participants’ own account of their experience: “I have noted more than once,” Humphreys writes, “that these men seem to acquire stronger sentimental attachments to the buildings in which they meet for sex than to the persons with whom they engage in it” (14).12 Dean has addressed the question of spatiality in relation to intimacy in making the case that, for Bersani, “the shattering of the civilized ego betokens not the end of sociality but rather its inception” (“Antisocial” 827). In his contribution to the roundtable on the antisocial thesis, Dean emphasizes Bersani’s ties to Gilles Deleuze and Guy Hocquenghem, suggesting that attention to what Hocquenghem calls “ ‘plugging in’ ” and what we might now call “hooking up” offers “a visceral dramatization of the promiscuous sociability of unconscious desire when unconstrained by Oedipus” (827). He goes on to argue that a more expansive view of the unconscious will make it clear that “nothing is more promiscuously sociable, more intent on hooking up, than that part of our being separate from selfhood” (827). For Dean, the promiscuous sociability that emerges in Bersani’s work is an effect of the unconscious—that part of “our being” that is not identified with our selves. However, I would suggest that, for Bersani, the destruction of the self is determined by two forces. The unconscious ruptures the contours of the self, but being with others disperses and spatializes it. Sociability comes from the world and transforms our being from the outside in. One might also say that, if it is possible to fuck the world, it is because one has already been fucked by the world. In this image of fucking the world there seems to be a missing order of magnitude. The critical account of that translation has been mostly focused on the mediation of the body: the shattering experience of jouissance, through the correspondence of bodily forms, through reaching toward replications of self in the visible world. From the level of the body, Bersani sometimes moves to a discussion of the whole world, or the universe, effectively jumping several levels of scale. This move is what Glavey refers to as the quality of “cosmic hominess” in Bersani’s theorizations of homoness. What is missing from such an account are the concrete social spaces in which sociability takes place—

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places such as the bar, the bathhouse, and the rooftop. Shifting our frame of reference to consider such spaces in Bersani can help to address this question of scalar disjunction. Instead of seeing the subject, that is, as a private core at the center of an expanding universe, Bersani renders complex, dynamic spaces of interaction, inhabited by multiple individuals relating in time. Attending to Bersani’s focus on social relations makes visible a form of homoness that is neither cosmic nor homey, but which rather unfolds in concrete social spaces, at a human scale. Bersani’s reading of a statue by George Segal representing the expulsion of Ishmael and his mother Hagar by Sarah and Abraham in the epilogue of The Culture of Redemption relies on a concrete rendering of social space—in this case, the concrete space of its reception. After her son Isaac is born, Sarah sends the servant woman and her child into the wilderness. In his reading of the biblical story, Bersani addresses the relationship between dominant forms of reproduction, kinship, nation, and belonging, considering the costs of holding onto power, and who and what must be excluded along the way. Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael represents this narrative as a spatialized drama, an interactional tableau. Abraham embraces Ishmael, Hagar is already departing in the foreground, and Sarah looks on in the background, a hooded figure partly concealed by a stone wall. Bersani carefully maps the relations between these figures, tracing a geometry of social power: Sarah, the guardian of the bloodline watches the scene of exile, patient as death, while the “deceptively centered” (205) Hagar is already stepping off into the wilderness. Bersani dynamizes these relations by invoking the specificity of the sculptural medium. He writes: Like all sculpture, Segal’s work shares our space, the space outside the work of art, and in walking around Segal’s group we can of course alter the relations between the figures. . . . There is, in other words, no necessary foreground or background. Certain angles of vision emphasize the two presences ignored by the work’s title, and we can move behind that slab of stone and not even see Abraham and Ishmael; but we can also eliminate Sarah from our field of vision. Our attention can and should be mobile, and in moving around and within this group, we try out various subjects: the grief of the father and son, Hagar’s abandonment and isolation, Sarah’s surveillance of the scene. . . . (CR 204) Evoking a concrete sense of space is fundamental to Bersani’s reading practice, since he understands the critic’s look as a social look. Moving around in the scene, looking at it from multiple angles, dedramatizes it, opening it out to a range of reconfigured relations. By proliferating possible scenarios, all of which include the viewer, Bersani displaces the centrality of Abraham’s farewell and animates a concrete scene of social interaction that is no longer contained

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within the family. His imaginary walk around this grouping of figures suggests how the aesthetic shifts our attention from the tragic drama of interiority to the social geometry of power. Emphasizing the contingency of this scene virtualizes it but at the same time underlines its material existence in time as well as the living participation of the critic. Bersani’s attention to social spaces and to the way attention is distributed within and across them is crucial. He pays the most sustained attention to literal space in his work on the visual arts, a great deal of it undertaken in collaboration Ulysse Dutoit. Such an understanding informs, for instance, his reading of what he and Dutoit call the “ontological laboratory of Caravaggio’s work” (CS 63). Considering the modes of relationality imagined in Caravaggio’s paintings, they write: From them we may return to history with a new sense of our options in space. Put that way, the profit to be drawn from his work undoubtedly sounds austere and unattractively abstract. But our imagination of other types of options that we might consider more humanly significant— affective, ethical, and political options—is probably at least initiated by our physical experience of space. All behavior could be described in terms of connectedness, and the first connectedness that we know is physical. Modes of relationality in human life are “deduced from” our perceptions of spatial relations. More exactly, they are imitations of our body’s experience of space. (CS 63) Bersani and Dutoit counter a reading of their analysis as punishingly abstract, considering instead the primary and ineluctable materiality of relationality—as physical connectedness in space. Early infancy lays down the prototype for the experience of sociability as a concrete practice and a way of being in space, but it does not exhaust it. For as Bersani argues, too much focus on “the narrow environment that first called us into the world” can lead us to miss (to overlook, and to miss out on) the “pleasurable and diversified extensibility of the body in space” (CS 64)—and, I might add, into diverse social spaces. Space for Bersani is both aesthetic and social. His conception of the relation between dominant and subordinate figures is mediated through a literal analysis of space. The margin is, in his work, a concrete place, there to be looked at around the edges of painting, or in the empty space surrounding sculptural figures. That space is not only a wilderness to which history’s losers are exiled, it is also an elsewhere which they seek. The life-sustaining possibilities of exile are evident in Bersani’s concern with questions of circulation, peripheries, mobility, and the centripetal and centrifugal forces that at time define, and at times destroy, personhood. These acts of spatialization suggest two goals for Bersani: they aim to evacuate and relativize the center by making

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it seem merely another location on a grid; and they offers an illuminated image of the edges of the social, what Bersani in Balzac to Beckett calls “the margin of freedom” (BB 22). Bersani’s account of Segal’s sculpture offers an example of his attention to concrete social space as well as to more abstract techniques of spatialization. Reading Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael is, on the one hand, to focus on it with a mobile and meticulous visual attention, but also to virtualize and attenuate its psychological intensity by recasting the moment of exile as a matrix of power and social recognition. Bersani writes that Hagar, despite her “human appeal,” is “doomed to insignificance,” and moves on to make a more general claim about those excluded from generational succession: “Everything else but Sarah is mere anecdote, anecdotes of past sexual desires, of family feelings, of anxious isolation. Sarah, like God, knows that all that will become mere footnotes in the authorized narrative of history. The unthreatened transmission of power from generation to generation depends on keeping such footnotes in their place” (CR 205).13 Bersani returns throughout his work to such marginal, minor, and incidental characters, attending to the meagerness and uncertainty of their fates. This attention to minor characters constitutes an alternative to his account of the destruction of personhood through shattering or the “explosion of being.” These minor characters do not figure the impossibility of personhood; rather, they signal the social fates of those who are left out of the mainstream of history. This treatment of minor characters focuses neither on the psyche nor on the universe. When taking up the question of how these social exiles find a place to dwell in the world, Bersani reflects at a scale that is neither individual nor cosmic, but is in fact the scale addresses by the social sciences: the social scene, the family, institutions, and the nation. We might understand Bersani’s interest in minor characters in the context of what Alex Woloch has theorized in The One vs. the Many as the “character space.” Woloch’s concern is with the distribution of narrative attention in realist novels between major and minor characters. His concept of the character space is useful in addressing Bersani’s account of the fate of minor characters. Woloch defines what he calls the “distributional matrix” in the novel: “how the discrete representation of any specific individual is intertwined with the narrative’s continual apportioning of attention to different characters who jostle for limited space within the same fictive universe” (13). Woloch sees the distribution of attention in the novel as an eminently social process, as is indicated by his comment that “minor characters are the proletariat of the novel” (27). But as Bersani’s account of familial exclusion and social exile makes clear, there are other forms of subordination in the matrix of recognition that are as salient as class. Bersani’s human footnotes ask to be read not psychoanalytically but socially; they can be best understood in relation to the social problem of homosexuality.

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Kurnick makes a related argument about the figure of Astyanax in “Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption.” In A Future for Astyanax, Bersani moves this marginal figure from Racine’s Andromaque to the center, lavishing attention on one of history’s footnotes. As in the story of Ishmael, what is at stake is the possible sacrifice and the unknown future of a son. After the Trojan War, Pyrrhus promises not to murder Hector’s son if his mother, Andromaque, agrees to marry him. The sparing of Astyanax augurs both an end to bloodshed and the possibility of a new social order, one that would ideally dissolve the opposition between Greek and Trojan. As Kurnick notes, Astyanax is for Bersani merely a “formal container,” “a placeholder for an idea of unfettered potentiality” (“Embarrassment” 399). However, this reading contains what Kurnick describes as a betrayal of Bersani’s intention, and one that further risks the embarrassment of figural reading. Kurnick floats the question of whether Astyanax could be “a homo,” and as he gestures toward a more socially specific trajectory for this minor character, he suggests that “Bersani’s refusal to specify what shape a life might take echo[es] every queer person’s fantasies and fears about what exactly we are supposed to do with our unapologetically claimed freedoms” (399). Kurnick further concretizes this still abstract image of freedom by reading a footnote in Bersani’s text connecting the figure of Astyanax to a range of loosely queer aesthetic practices as a “plan for a hypothetical queer bildungsroman: lushly self-poeticizing Proustian childhood, glamorous Stendhalian arrival in the big city, tickets to experimental theater, the promise of scary, mindaltering sex. Could there be any doubt that the ‘new mode of desire’ for which Bersani wanted to save little Astyanax was a fantasy of metropolitan gay life circa, say, 1976?” (400). Kurnick points to Astyanax’s double status as purely abstract and as socially legible in order to demonstrate the volatility of queer representation and homosexual figuration in Bersani’s work. Kurnick underlines his personal embarrassment in this spectacular performance of identification and projection (as well as historical fantasy). However, this act of concretion helps us to see not only, as Kurnick argues, the homosexual specificity of Bersani’s writing, but also what is inextricably social about his understanding of sexuality, personhood, and the aesthetic. What this fantasy bildungsroman shows up is Bersani’s concern with the question not only of whether Astyanax will live, but also how he will live, where he will live, and who will live there with him. I want to emphasize the spatial dimension to these social questions. In this context, Bersani’s footnote to the story of Ishmael seems particularly significant: “Modern biblical scholarship tends to maintain that Sodom was destroyed not for anything having to do with homosexuality, but rather for its inhospitable treatment of visitors sent by God” (CR 230n3). Not only does this addendum capture the ambivalence that Kurnick notes regarding

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the relation between the particular and the universal in Bersani’s treatment of homosexuality, but it also raises the question of Sodom as a real social space that might be visited. Hospitality as a concrete practice of welcoming others is crucial to Bersani’s spatially grounded social ethics. Also essential to that ethics is his attention to life at the margins. Moving out to the margins is a way of evading detection, and it is also a place for cultivating concrete forms of human freedom, of inventing new modes of existence. And this is in fact what happened: one can read in Bersani’s work the imprint of the historical emergence of gay and lesbian communities after WWII. Locating that margin can prove to be much more of a challenge in 2012 than in 1976, when, as Kurnick points out, queers have ever-increasing access to legitimate forms of kinship and citizenship. How to define freedom that is not articulated in relation to a dead and deadening center? Where are center and circumference to be found now? Is there still a queer margin of freedom out there? And, if so, can the centrifugal forces key to Bersani’s political vision possibly counteract the drive to the center?

The socializing of desire and interiority that I have traced in Bersani’s work was part of a more widely shared project in the decades before Stonewall. A convergence of sociological and aesthetic discourse in the 1960s and 1970s found sociologists, literary critics, and artists all in a search for alternatives to depth subjectivity and the fictions of personhood. We find this position articulated by figures as disparate as Erving Goffman and Susan Sontag, and in social domains as distant as behaviorist psychology and pop art. We can see its evidence in the work of postwar social scientists, in the work of ethnographically oriented scholars in deviance studies and in the displacement of the individual in cybernetic and interactional research on group dynamics. Freedom could be found in the margins, in the liberating flatness of surfaces without depth, and in the sensuous enactments of ordinary behavior. The idea that the world is not about anything, but that it is made up of social doings—or, as Michael Lucey writes in relation to Bersani, that experience should have priority over significance (404)—can be understood as a sociological insight as well as an aesthetic and a philosophical one. Roland Barthes is of particular interest in both of these frameworks. He is also a key figure in our attempts to sketch out an alternative context for Bersani’s work. We might compare Bersani’s interest in the material world as a refusal of the stabilizations of psychology to Barthes’s early essays. Like Bersani, Barthes is a critic associated primarily with aesthetics and with attention to psychic experience; yet he was also drawn, in Mythologies and elsewhere, to sociological modes of inquiry and representation. In his early essay “Objective Literature” (1954), Barthes considers the phenomenon of the nouveau

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roman as an attempt to “establish the novel on the surface” (23). Like Bersani, Barthes invests in the fantasy of an art practice that would endow the world with enough specificity and concreteness to resist “the violence of symbolic intent.” According to Barthes, Robbe-Grillet’s technique turns the novel into “a direct experience of man’s surroundings, without this man being able to fall back on a psychology, a metaphysic, or a psychoanalysis in order to approach the objective milieu he discovers. The novel, here, . . . is terrestrial: it teaches us to look at the world no longer with the eyes of a confessor, of a doctor, or of God—all significant hypostases of the classical novelist—but with the eyes of a man walking in his city with no other horizon than the spectacle before him, no other power than that of his own eyes” (23–24). This dream of pure exteriority and of the ascendance of being over significance was widely shared in the postwar period. But it can also be understood as part of a longer queer history. The queer concern with surface and the displacement of the subject is evident from Wilde to Foucault. But the dominance of a philosophical and psychoanalytic mode of queer studies has obscured the history of this queer urge to disappear not merely as a triumph of unreason or of the fragmentation of the self by the unconscious. Rather, we can understand the refusal of selfhood as bound up with an investment in the social world and with the concrete spaces where social life might unfold. Exploring the pre-Stonewall connections of figures such as Bersani and Barthes can show us how—and where—their accounts of subjectivity were situated. The evacuation of the center was not only an evacuation of personhood, it was also a search for concrete forms of human freedom in objective milieus, concrete places, real cities. It implied a world.

Notes 1. Bersani also mentions Jacques Lacan parenthetically in this connection. 2. Kaja Silverman has been primarily responsible for making visible the phenomenological aspect of Bersani’s work, and for articulating it in relation to psychoanalysis. In this essay, I hope to emphasize Bersani’s engagement with the social world and with the concept of social space. 3. The term emerged from a roundtable, “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory,” that took place December 27, 2005, in Washington, DC, at the MLA Convention. It was organized by Robert L. Caserio, and included as speakers Tim Dean, Lee Edelman, Judith Halberstam, and José Esteban Muñoz. See Caserio et al. 4. Dean suggests that the “antisocial” debates have been misnamed and that the controversy that they generated has detracted attention from the full range of Bersani’s work. He also suggests that the critical refusal to acknowledge Bersani’s work on new forms of social relations can be understood as a traumatic reaction to the shattering experience of reading Bersani’s 1987 essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (389).

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5. Reviewing Is the Rectum a Grave?and Other Essays, a collection that includes essays and interviews dating from the from the title essay (1987) to the present, Glavey notes that reading the book as a whole makes it impossible “to think of Bersani as a prophet of negativity.” He goes on to argue that both the relational and the antiredemptive tendencies recur across the body of Bersani’s work, despite some major shifts in focus and subject matter (319). Dean has written persuasively about the difficulty of assimilating Bersani to the field of queer studies and on the complexities of periodizing his work. In “Sex and the Aesthetics of Existence,” he argues that Bersani’s “contributions to queer theory have been essentially traumatic” because they reliably “disrupt the conceptual coordinates” of the field (387). He also argues, as I do, for the close ties between antisociality and sociality in Bersani’s work; although he draws a rough divide between early and late Bersani, with Homos as a transitional text, he suggests that self-shattering and the cultivation of alternate social relations are inextricable. 6. On the “foundling” tradition in queer representation and thought, see Nealon. 7. Lynne Huffer offers what is arguably the most sustained and ambitious attempt to reconcile these aspects of Foucault’s work through her reading of The History of Madness as an elaboration of a queer ethics of experience. 8. For a particularly illuminating example, see Kurnick’s reading of “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in which he emphasizes the tension between the essay’s “aggressively abstract claims about gayness (his insistence that sex between men ‘dangerously represents jouissance as a mode of ascesis’ . . .)” and its “aggressively particular ones (his deflationary description of the gay bathhouse as a place where ‘your looks, muscles, hair distribution, size of cock, and shape of ass determined exactly how happy you were going to be during those few hours’ . . .)” (“Embarrassment” 400). 9. In his recent book Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar Culture, Michael Trask pursues this work, tracing the links between dramaturgical sociology and postwar U.S. queer culture and criticism. In “Reading the Social: Erving Goffman and Sexuality Studies,” I similarly explore these connections. 10. Dean makes the case forcefully and economically when he identifies psychoanalysis as an antipsychology (“Sex” 388). 11. The case has been made by scholars including Escoffier, John D’Emilio, Arlene Stein, Jeffrey Weeks, Kenneth Plummer, John Gagnon, William Simon, Kath Weston, Steven Epstein, Peter M. Nardi, Beth E. Schneider, and Gayle Rubin. 12. For a fuller discussion of Humphreys, see Love. 13. For a reading of the significance of Bersani’s footnotes, see Gallop.

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. “Objective Literature.” Critical Essays. Trans. Richard Howard. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1972. 13–24. Print. Bersani, Leo. “Ardent Masturbation.” Critical Inquiry 38.1 (Autumn 2011): 1–16. Print. Caserio, Robert L., et al. “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory.” PMLA 121.3 (May 2006): 819–28. Print. Dean, Tim. “The Antisocial Homosexual.” PMLA 121.3 (May 2006): 826–28. Print.

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———. “Sex and the Aesthetics of Existence.” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 387–92. Print. Dollimore, Jonathan. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991. Print. Escoffier, Jeffrey. American Homo: Community and Perversity. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998. Print. Gallop, Jane. “Bersani’s Freudian Body.” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 393–97. Print. Glavey, Brian. “Leo Bersani and the Universe.” Rev. of Leo Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays. Criticism 52.2 (Spring 2010): 317–23. Print. Huffer, Lynne. Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print. Humphreys, Laud. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. New Brunswick: AldineTransaction, 1970. Print. Kurnick, David. “Carnal Ironies.” Rev. of Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips, Intimacies. Raritan 29.4 (Spring 2010): 109–23. Print. ———. “Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption.” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 398–403. Print. Love, Heather. “Reading the Social: Erving Goffman and Sexuality Studies.” Theory Aside. Ed. Jason Potts and Daniel Stout. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2014. 237–60. Print. Lucey, Michael. “Aesthetic and Apprehension in the Novel.” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 404–09. Print. Nealon, Christopher. Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion Before Stonewall. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2001. Print. Silverman, Kaja. “Looking with Leo.” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 410–13. Print. Trask, Michael. Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013. Print. Woloch, Alex. The One vs. The Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003. Print.

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Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption DAVID KURNICK

Homosexuality is the truth of love. —Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs No one wants to be called a homosexual. —Leo Bersani, Homos

The tension between my epigraphs might be taken as the animating paradox of queer theory. If the first provides queers with a vision of our sexuality as flatteringly significant, the second reminds us with punishing concision that this significance resists translation into social equality. More precisely, the two statements could be seen as mutually constitutive: it is the social abjection of the sexually deviant that makes our sexuality interesting, as it is the excessive symbolic interest of our difference that has made us socially volatile. Or at least this has been one guiding assumption of queer theory, which has leveraged some of its most imaginative work by arrogating to queerness a symbolic centrality out of all proportion to queers’ acknowledged numbers or to our social power.1 It is no accident that Leo Bersani articulates the unpleasant reality principle in this epigraphic debate. His writing is justly famous for its suspicion of the rhetoric of identitarian dignity and for its refusal of conceptual consolations of all kinds. And yet, for all Bersani’s insistence on exposing the fantasies of transcendence undergirding our culture and our criticism, his writing is perhaps even more remarkable for the way it has managed to combine that scouring sensibility with a sense of ethical and political promise. Refusing the culture

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of redemption won’t, of course, quite save you. But Bersani’s work has always suggested that it could be beneficent (a favorite word of his). An intuition that in Bersani’s work something resembling redemption lies close to non-redemption—and that both have something to do with homosexuality—animated my first reading, as a graduate student in the late 1990s, of the opening pages of his 1976 book, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature. I knew Bersani as the author of “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987) and Homos (1995), and didn’t recognize the minor character from the Trojan War legend that gave the earlier book its name, let alone Racine’s retelling of the story in Andromaque—the version that served as Bersani’s inspiration. But there was something familiar about Bersani’s account of Racine’s play. The Greek hero Pyrrhus, having helped pillage Troy, makes an offer to Hector’s widow, Andromaque: if she agrees to marry him, he will disobey his orders to deliver her son Astyanax to the Greeks, who plan to kill him because they fear that Hector’s child may one day want to avenge Troy’s destruction. Andromaque’s response to Pyrrhus makes clear that the unthinkability of his proposal is part of its appeal; in a feverish passage she recalls her first glimpse of Pyrrhus, blood-spattered and raving with genocidal fury on the night he led the charge on Troy. While most interpreters of the play see this speech as its moral knot—an expression of what makes Andromaque’s dilemma count as tragic—Bersani’s interpretation of Pyrrhus’s come-on and Andromaque’s transfixed reaction to it is marvelously perverse. He sees the agreement between the Greek warrior and the Trojan princess as a “liberating betrayal of the past” (FA 49), a declaration of independence from the routines of desire and vengeance that structure Racinian theater. Born of warfare and sexual obsession, the decision to save Astyanax becomes the herald of a “psychological and social order” that would escape those pathologies (FA 4). In asking Andromaque to forsake her home, her family and her nation, Bersani writes, “this murderous lover implicitly asks Andromaque to help him invent a future for Astyanax” (FA 12). It is important that Racine never hints at what this future might look like. Bersani insists on Astyanax’s blankness, his status as pure form: “the play brings us only to the threshold of a new order for which no content is imagined,” he writes; Astyanax “is himself no one,” a placeholder for an idea of unfettered potentiality (FA 49). Why then, reading A Future for Astyanax, did I find it irresistible to fill in this formal container with a quite specific content: couldn’t Astyanax be—how could he not be—a homo? When Bersani insisted that Astyanax’s survival presupposed “a history of great destructions,” wasn’t this a figure for the psychic and sometimes physical violence one provokes in identifying oneself as queer? When Bersani claimed that Astyanax will be “responsible to and for nothing,” that he will be “neither Greek nor Trojan” and will “have no father to imitate” (FA 49), wasn’t he describing the exhilarating promise of

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erotic and social self-fashioning that makes that violence worth risking? Didn’t Bersani’s refusal to specify what shape such a life might take echo every queer person’s fantasies and fears about what exactly we are supposed to do with our unapologetically claimed freedoms? A concluding footnote to Bersani’s opening chapter seemed to clinch the deal: Appropriately, this will be the last time I mention Astyanax. His indeterminate “presence” is scattered throughout this book, disseminated in forms as various as Proust’s metaphorical imagination, the Stendhalian hero’s improvised monologues, a Robert Wilson tableau, and, in Histoire d’O, Sir Stephen’s ghastly pale face just after his initials are burned into O’s buttocks . . . (I suppose I should add that the Astyanax I’ve referred to is definitely not the child in the ancient version of the story who is hurled by the Greeks from the walls of Troy. Racine’s Astyanax will live.) (FA 321n8, ellipsis in original) The parenthetical interpolation sounds an unexpected note of quasi-parental concern, a desire to rescue the defenseless child for the delights obscurely but potently conveyed in the previous paragraph. Indeed, the footnote reads like a plan for a hypothetical queer bildungsroman: lushly self-poeticizing Proustian childhood, glamorous Stendhalian arrival in the big city, tickets to experimental theater, the promise of scary, mind-altering sex. Could there be any doubt that the “new mode for desire” (FA 49) for which Bersani clearly wanted to save little Astyanax was a fantasy of metropolitan gay life circa, say, 1976? Compelling as I found this question, it also embarrassed me; it still does. The whole point of Astyanax’s future was its fragmented, dispersed, unrepresentable quality. To assemble these shards into any coherent future was clearly a mistake, and to go on to label that future “gay” was to compound the mistake with identitarian bathos. In a sense, my desire to read homosexuality into Bersani’s austerely nonspecific text was only an affectively charged-up instance of a hermeneutic maneuver perhaps inevitable in any reading: that of identification with what we read, or the more elemental move of thematization—the assemblage of linguistic signs into a topic—on which identification depends. Bersani’s writing frequently makes such necessities feel like mistakes, in which the reader is pulled in conflicting directions by the intellectual commitments of the argument and by its emotional undertow. On the one hand, Bersani’s modernist aesthetics seem to insist on abstraction as the ultimate intellectual and ethical desideratum: in a recent discussion of Jean-Luc Godard’s Passion, he first describes it as “a finished film about, apparently, an unfinished film”—before hastening to clarify, “I say ‘apparently’ because the word ‘about’ immediately commits us to the kind of narrative statement that

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Godard’s film . . . relentlessly mocks” (IRG 163). It seems clear that Bersani admires Godard’s insistence on erecting such forbidding formal warning signs around his work’s content. And yet: in confessing his own desire to tell us even in the face of these warnings what this film is “about,” Bersani offers his own interpretive practice as an inevitable model for ours: reading for content is acknowledged as at once inevitable and inevitably embarrassing. So too does Bersani’s writing seem designed to tempt any reading into an over-reading. His Astyanax is an emblem of pure formalism, almost a figure of figuration. But every figure is also a lure, an invitation to literalism of the crudest kind, and Bersani’s intense formalism has always been combined with an equally intense awareness of the impossibility of sustaining pure formalism. It is that alertness to the double game of figuration that has made his work (even the work that precedes the advent of queer theory, even the work that has “nothing to do” with homosexuality) representative of what remains most exciting and moving in queer studies. The project of queer theory, after all, has had a productively weird relation to identitarian thematizations. On the one hand, queer critique is founded on a refusal of identity. As Michael Warner writes in one of the field’s betterknown moments of self-articulation, the term queer distances itself from the specificity of gay and lesbian identities in the service of a broader emphasis on sexual norms. “The preference for ‘queer’ represents, among other things, an aggressive impulse of generalization; it rejects a minoritizing logic of toleration or simple political interest-representation in favor of a more thorough resistance to regimes of the normal” (xxvi). Although Warner doesn’t put it this way, it is not hard to understand the inaugural move of queer theory as a formalizing gesture, a refusal of the limitation of any particular identitarian content. Queer theory’s formalism, its refusal to know beforehand to what concrete constituency its structural insights might apply, has been one sign of its conceptual ambition. And yet there are limits on such formalizing impulses, and Warner understood that queer theory’s intellectual and political success would also depend on how well it accounted for the intransigent facts of the body, identity, gender, and desire that resist such abstraction. No critic has been more imaginative than Bersani in finding ways simultaneously to recognize and to resist the thematizations inherent in sexual life. The unresolved, perhaps irresolvable, tension between identity’s contents and its formal patterning has been central to his most important work overtly concerned with homosexuality. It is difficult to say, for example, which is the most arresting aspect of “Is the Rectum a Grave?”—Bersani’s aggressively abstract claims about gayness (his insistence that sex between men “dangerously represents jouissance as a mode of ascesis”) or his aggressively particular ones (his deflationary description of the gay bathhouse as a place where “your looks, muscles, hair distribution, size of cock, and shape of ass determined

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exactly how happy you were going to be during those few hours”) (IRG 30, 12). It is probably most accurate to say that the essay’s power depends on this balancing act, this vision of homosexuality as a stubbornly real identity nonetheless capable of sustaining the most ambitious theoretical significance. You can, of course, quarrel with the content of Bersani’s assertions. But it’s impossible to dispute the appeal of his ferociously oscillating argumentative style and its implication that homosexuality has both a social location and a metaphysical prestige—both a content we can recognize and a form that makes it philosophically resonant. (That he managed this tour de force at the nadir of a pandemic that audibly scores his sentences with grief, anger, and disbelief only makes the essay more remarkable.) Homos is similarly driven, on the one hand, by an insistence on certain irreducibles of gay existence—as Bersani puts it, “there is a ‘we’ ”—and, on the other, by the claim that sexual identity is a “merely formal arrangement” (H 42, 61). “Homo-ness,” he claims in the most succinct formulation of this tension, “is an anti-identitarian identity” (H 101). The book’s title thus performs a kind of bait-and-switch. Readers lured by Bersani’s audacious use of the schoolyard taunt find the term redefined over the course of the book from social identity to pure pattern; by the time we reach Bersani’s conclusion, the word denotes less an identifiable group of people than the formal correspondences by which the world discloses its essential unity; “homos” are the patterns in existence that might help us learn to see otherness as “a seductive sameness” (H 150). But the colloquial meaning of the title also lingers in this formalist paradise, an inexpungeable reminder of how violently the world enforces bounded and untranscendable identities. No awareness of the replicating patterns structuring existence will save the garden-variety homo from a bloody nose on the playground, or worse. Homosexuality, in other words, has operated in Bersani’s work as a double sign: it both holds out the promise of formalist transcendence and insists on its remoteness. As a performative effect, this doubled function of homosexuality is immune even to Bersani’s explicit disavowals. When asked about the role of homosexuality in his thought in a 1997 conversation with Tim Dean, Hal Foster, and Kaja Silverman, Bersani claimed that “the homosexual as a category does have a privileged position heuristically, but not as a social priority” (IRG 180). And yet even when the category of the homosexual in his work exists at the apparently furthest distance from social denotation, it seems freighted with referential density. Bersani writes, for example, in “Against Monogamy” (1998) that “the other, the one disrupting the erotic Oedipal couple, is the parent of the same sex as the child. An alien world best exercises its seduction when it appears with the familiar aspect of sameness” (IRG 96). The claim employs homosexuality as a purely positional category, an abstract emblem of “sameness” that seems miles from any lived identity; but is it possible to

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insulate this theoretical homosexuality’s seductiveness and alienness from the seductiveness and alienness real-life homosexuality enjoys by virtue of its social marginality? Or when he argues that “homosexuality finds its specificity when it is dissolved as an identity” (IRG 70), is it possible not to infer, beyond the abstract claim, an impatience with contemporary gay assimilationist politics? Or to hear in this theoretical story an allegory of a social one, in which a particular abjected identity is marked out for a singular destiny? Elsewhere in his work the ambivalent emotional tonalities are more overt: [B]y simultaneously proclaiming pride in a gay and lesbian community and making that community essentially unidentifiable, queer thinkers have brought into sharper focus than ever before the problematic nature of what we nevertheless continue to take for granted: the very notion and value of community itself. And it is in doing that that queers should command the attention of straights—that is, not because we have anything to tell them about the value of relationships or community (something that might help to rescue them from what we glibly talk about as the hell of “compulsory” heterosexuality), but rather because of our exemplary confusion. (IRG 38) The rhetorical movement of the passage is complex: if the swipe at Adrienne Rich’s notion of “compulsory heterosexuality” evinces exhaustion with the pieties of progressive politics, one may still feel that the final clause recuperates a Rich-like homosupremacism on a more conceptually refined level. Gays and lesbians in Bersani’s formulation may not be defectors from some totalitarian system of affective and corporeal discipline—but we still “should command the attention of straights” because of our emblematic position visà-vis central issues of community and relation. In the ameliorative imagination just audible in that “should,” queers’ theoretical privilege becomes the ground for a fantasized redress of social wrongs: in a world where they in fact did command such attention, wouldn’t queer disenfranchisement be essentially canceled? The line between the heuristic and the social, in such moments, can seem exceedingly thin. If in this passage the relation to gay denotation is animated by an ambivalent intimacy with another nonheterosexual writer, such flirtations with reference are in play all the more powerfully when Bersani’s interlocutor is another gay man. Here is Bersani’s own recent comment about his writing on Foucault: “There are moments when language embraces a certain rhythm in ourselves, a rhythm at once mental and physical. For example, at the beginning of chapter 3 (‘The Gay Daddy’) in Homos, I feel I’ve made almost palpable in the writing a movement toward Foucault (toward the things he talked about in an interview—gay love and gay sex) and away from him (from his desexualizing of the

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gay threat). It’s a fluctuation, a sort of respiration almost, that’s fast, then slow, changing its pace and its spacing, coercing language into embracing its undulations” (“Broken” 416–7). The passage itself reproduces the eroticized movement Bersani is describing in Homos—although this time not exactly toward and away from Foucault but toward and away from the idea of gay reference itself. Note, for example, how perfectly equivocal the line between the physical and the mental, the literal and the figural, remains throughout: If “a movement toward Foucault” sounds suspiciously physical, Bersani immediately qualifies the phrase to specify that he means a move not toward Foucault’s person but toward his ideas, “toward the things he talked about in an interview.” But this move to abstraction lasts only as long as the phrase itself, since it turns out that what Foucault was talking about in that interview was “gay love and gay sex.” Similarly, the movement “away from him” sounds definitive enough— taken physically or intellectually, to move away is to move away—until we read that what Bersani is retreating from is Foucault’s habit of desexualizing gay existence; this intellectual withdrawal from Foucault takes the form, then, of an implicit sexualization. The result is an intellectual movement that inevitably reads as a kind of flirtation—a flirtation not only with the body of Foucault but with the idea of gay thematization for which his body here more or less explicitly stands.2 If passages like these seem exquisitely aware of the moment when abstraction runs aground on reference, it is when Bersani is not talking specifically about homosexuality that he can sound most utopian; at times he can appear to downplay the friction any particular content will exert on the formalizing projects he favors. In the chapter of The Culture of Redemption (1990) focusing on Marcel Proust, for example, Bersani explores with characteristic incisiveness the tragic vision of psychic life in À la Recherche du temps perdu as defined by a “willful and anguished pursuit of the truth of desire” (CR 25). But the emotional arc of Bersani’s chapter is, oddly enough, upward: he goes on to show that even as the plot of À la Recherche argues for the seeming inevitability of such violent desiring games, the texture of Proust’s writing gestures beyond them: “If consciousness in Proust seeks most frequently to go behind objects, there is also a move—wholly different in its consequences—to the side of objects” (CR 26). This lateral move (which Bersani associates with Proust’s “syntactic resources”—that is, with his style) points the epistemologically terrorized and terrorizing Marcel not toward the mirage of the other’s truth but toward an awareness of “phenomena liberated from the obsession with truth” (CR 26–27). The obsessed thematizations of Proust’s novel, in other words, are almost dissolved by their formal containers. The copresence of tragically fixated content and lushly mobile form is characteristic of the privileged objects of Bersani’s analytic attention, especially in the work on the visual arts he has coauthored with Ulysse Dutoit. In

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Forms of Being (2004), for example, Bersani and Dutoit show that the central couple in Godard’s Contempt are playing out a deadening psychodrama to which Godard’s editing and scenography are indifferent, so that just when the film’s characters are at their most mutually corrosive, Godard’s style is teaching us how we might “lose our fascinating and crippling expressiveness” (FoB 70). And in the beautiful essay in that same book on Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, Bersani and Dutoit argue that Malick’s camera appears uninterested in the battles between characters, and indeed between armies, the film records; Malick’s visual vocabulary, replete with near-rhymes between the most disparate objects, intimates “an ontology of universal immanence” that makes those battles seem irrelevant (FoB 169). A similar pattern occurs in Bersani’s readings of James’s “The Beast in the Jungle,” Caravaggio’s paintings, the films of Alain Resnais, Claire Denis, and Derek Jarman.3 The formal ingenuity of these works, Bersani has shown, asks us to look to the side of their thematizations. The formal inventiveness of these aesthetic objects provides a model for Bersani’s criticism, which similarly directs us to look at the surface of an artifact we have been attempting to look right through. Bersani has given us plenty of show-stopping pronouncements, but his most representative sentence might be a simple qualification embedded in the chapter on Thomas Pynchon in The Culture of Redemption: “There may, however, be another way to think about this” (CR 189). Like the works he analyzes, Bersani models a recursive habit for his readers; he asks us to look again. Looking is central here. Bersani’s work has tended in recent years to concentrate on film and painting, and although he has never made the claim explicit, there is a strong suggestion that the visual arts are particularly conducive to the project of remaking relationality he has tended to attribute to the aesthetic in general. In the recent essay “Sociality and Sexuality” (2000), Bersani defines art as “the principle site/sight (both place and view) of being as emergence into connectedness” (IRG 104), and the phrase usefully clarifies that it is not strictly the visual arts that interest him but art that models a certain kind of inhabitation of space. This preference, increasingly manifest over the stretch of his career, is in fact anticipated in the argumentative structure of some of his earlier books, which often begin with analyses of narrative forms and end with a turn to the plastic or performing arts—arts, in other words, that take place. Thus, where the early sections of A Future for Astyanax catalogue realist fiction’s depressingly repetitive containment of desire in the carapace of character, the later chapters are centered on an enthusiastic discussion of the theater of Artaud, Joe Chaiken, Robert Wilson, and Peter Brook; and where The Culture of Redemption identifies the supremely bookish Ulysses as the redemptive text par excellence, it ends with an analysis of George Segal’s enigmatic sculpture Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael that applauds the piece for the way it “eliminates the possibility of centering” the viewer’s gaze; crucially,

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the sculpture’s dramatically staged scene is said to be derealized and decentered by “something as aleatory as where we happen to be standing as we ourselves move within this scene” (CR 205). It is as if the very fact of the sculpture’s existing in space tempered the fixity of its represented content. Bersani’s predilection for the plastic or visual arts is thus a predilection for a kind of fantasmatic spatialization; and these implied spaces are themselves valued because of the way they invite or suggest a specific form of nonpurposive movement. His recent essay on Claire Denis’s film Beau Travail (1999) makes this explicit in claiming that “the film’s fundamental structure is a juxtaposition of two contrasting types of mobility” (“Father” 97). Bersani specifies that he associates the first type with “the narrative movement of the plot” and the second with a “choreography”—of the film’s syntactic elements as well as of its represented bodies—that exists at an oblique angle to that plot (97, 101). In the case of Denis’s film, which borrows its plot outlines from Melville’s Billy Budd, the narrative movement takes the form of a homosexualized Oedipal plot, in which two French Legionnaires stationed in Djibouti murderously compete for the love of their commander-father. But this plot takes shape only disjointedly, across a fractured sequence of scenes that reshuffle its elements. More importantly, it is played out through the bodies of a cast literally in constant and mysterious movement: Bersani emphasizes several scenes set in a dance club and the sequences in which the soldiers conduct what at first look like war exercises but soon become a series of poses that “prepare the Legionnaires for nothing except the sociality being improvised by their bodies in their choreographed movements.” This “demilitariz[ing]” mobility allows the soldiers to “dance into the surfaces of their bodies” (101–02), and thus offers a model of nonsadistic movement from within the brutal reductions of the film’s Oedipal plot. Bersani’s discussion is prefaced by the claim that “certain films have reflected cinematically” on the possibility of a nondestructive relationality “at least as persuasively as most philosophical arguments” (“Father” 96). However obliquely, these words comment on Bersani’s own critical practice, which precisely as critical practice must remain at least in the neighborhood of “philosophical argument.” One senses here a hope that Bersani’s own essay might abandon argument to attain the spatialized sensuality of Denis’s film. This sense is confirmed by the arresting closing paragraph, where Bersani claims that Denis “multiplies witnesses to the collective psychic rebirth her film implicitly calls for”; among these witnesses are not only the film’s implied audience and the diegetically represented local spectators whom Denis depicts simply watching the Legionnaires’ activities, but, “in a grander dimension,” the multiple shots of the natural world—mountains, sea, desert plateau—that come to represent a kind of indifferent witnessing to the human theater of destruction and rebirth (104). And then, in a concluding sentence that makes his own rhetorical ambi-

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tion startlingly explicit, Bersani aligns his writing with the various forms of permissive spectatorship modeled in Denis’s film: “I would like my own exercise in witnessing,” he writes, “to be taken as an admittedly exalted collaboration” with the film’s anti-Oedipal program (104). It is as if Bersani desired to leave off commenting on Denis’s film in order to take up residence in it—or, better, to move around in its desemanticized and despsychologized landscapes. This interest in art’s self-spatializations, this preference for the freedom of the eye and the body over against the fatedness of the narrative drive, thus also provides a clue to the internal logics of Besani’s own writing. This fact is the more striking when we recall the narrativity of Bersani’s prose, its palpable argumentative momentum. What I have characterized as the recursivity of Bersani’s thought might be taken as a strategy to defeat his own penchant for narratively driven argument, a means from within the critical essay to engage in a movement of thought that would not be teleologically organized. This paradoxical project is perhaps best exemplified in his well-known opening sentences. Impossible to ignore, their argumentative status is more ambiguous than is usually acknowledged: “There is a big secret about sex: most people don’t like it,” from “Is the Rectum a Grave? (IRG 3); “Psychoanalytically speaking, monogamy is cognitively inconceivable and morally indefensible,” from “Against Monogamy” (IRG 85); most alarmingly, “The vagina is a logical defect in nature,” from “Merde Alors” (Bersani and Dutoit 23). About this last example, Bersani has commented in an interview that he resisted an editor’s suggestion to hedge the sentence with an opening phrase—“According to the Marquis de Sade . . .”— because he thought it was clear that the opinion voiced therein did not belong to him and his coauthor, Dutoit (IRG 193). Bersani doesn’t say—he doesn’t need to—that he also wanted to preserve the shock and outrage attendant on the absence of that qualifier. He also doesn’t need to say that this most extreme instance of his style is a booby-trapped invitation to gay denotation: we are uncomfortably obliged to choose between indulging the stereotype of gay male misogyny or overlooking what looks like the equally unpleasant evidence of that misogyny. The choice—which hinges on whether we feel licensed to locate the person Bersani behind Bersani the writer, and on whether we designate the understood sexuality of Bersani-the-person as germane to our interpretation— brings us right up against the “aboutness” of the essayistic word. Among its other functions, the sentence makes clear that Bersani’s openings are not the first steps in logical arguments. Like a caption accompanying an image, they hover outside argumentative temporality, setting a conceptual mood for the essay that follows; they fly over the pieces like a kind of banner that they thereby organize or designate as a territory. We might understand them as achieving a spatializing of essayistic form, inhabiting the tone of argument while insinuating a countercurrent into the linear narrativity of argument.4 If it remains, of course, unclear whether critical essays can wholly escape

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the pull of teleological argument, it is also hard to know precisely how to read the contradictions Bersani unearths in the aesthetic objects he analyzes. Certainly the paradoxical relations of form and content in those objects makes one wonder: Is it just a coincidence that the texts Bersani likes do the thing he likes even as they also show us the thing he doesn’t? What does it mean that these texts rehearse at the level of theme precisely the epistemo-psychological scripts their form seems bent on destroying? As we’ve seen, the sequencing of Bersani’s essays often narrativizes this paradox in a surprisingly comic mode, so that the depressing lesson the artwork at first appears to impart gives way to a therapeutic vision of nondestructive relationality. But surely we could also read this story in the other direction, approaching form and content in the reverse order: rather than seeing the formal elements of his favored works as dematerializing or dedramatizing their thematic elements, we could instead see those contents as responding to the fantasy represented by their form. If we understood the subjects of these works—murderous incomprehension, paranoid desire, warfare, empire, racial fetishism, militarism, genocide—as reacting to the propositions implicitly made by their form, we might have to understand that content as allegorizing the unhappy fate of these formal experiments. This in turn might make these texts look less than optimistic about the intoxicating possibility of remaking relationality that Bersani locates in them. Once we note how powerless even Proust’s and Denis’s and James’s formalisms are to prevent their destructive scripts from careening forward, we may ask whether these texts model a departure from the sadisms of epistemology and identity or whether they argue instead for their inescapability. The prominence of negative formulations in Bersani’s work (depsychologizing, designifying, demilitarizing) suggests that the formal inventions of the texts he values may be parasitic on certain ineradicable contents. If this is true, those resolutely unredeemed contents deserve as much attention as their formal transubstantiations. It seems significant in this context that homosexuality is at once the topic that most tempts Bersani to what can look like a redemptive formalism and the topic that keeps his work resolutely in touch with what remains untranscendable in psychic and social life. If Bersani’s double insistence on the experience of social damage and on the fantasy of achieving distance from that damage sometimes verges on self-contradiction, it is just this fact that makes his work germane to the contradictions of contemporary queer existence. The current press around male homosexuality, in particular, could scarcely be more schizophrenic. Scanning the pages of the New York Times, for example, it would be tough to determine whether gay men are now primarily seen as married, suburban adoptive parents or as drug-addled (and often “down-low”) hedonists busy casting off the lessons of safer sex; whether almost two decades of largely effective treatments for HIV infection has released North American gay men

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from the shadow of morbidity or rendered our lives more quietly and permanently medicalized; in short, whether gay life is on the verge of being redeemed from its embarrassments or has been condemned to a different version of them. The Manichaenism of these images doesn’t render them any less ideologically potent.5 Any queer criticism that cares about the vicissitudes of gay male life will have to deal with the effect such incoherent phantasms have on real subjectivities and real communities. And the peculiarly tense compromise between redemptive and antiredemptive energies in Bersani’s writing make it perhaps uniquely suited to bear witness to this schizophrenic moment in queer history: in the vicinity of this particular subject, Bersani’s most hopeful positions are haunted by skepticism born of long intimacy, just as his most scouring skepticism is animated by an intense sense of communitarian hope. Bersani is so relevant now precisely because homosexuality in his work—I am tempted to risk embarrassment and call it the homosexuality of his work—has never let us lose sight of those incoherencies.

Notes 1. For one well-known instance, see the audacious opening claim of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet: “many of the major nodes of thought and knowledge in twentieth-century Western culture as a whole are structured—indeed fractured—by a chronic, now endemic crisis of homo/heterosexual definition. . . . [A]n understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition” (1). Bersani comments skeptically on the rhetoric of these sentences in Homos (H 68–69). 2. Some of the most sophisticated treatments of the inscription of gay reference similarly turn on a fantasized meeting with the literalized body suggested by the text. In D. A. Miller’s Bringing Out Roland Barthes, the suggestions of sexualized contact inherent when one gay writer attempts to discern homosexuality in the text of another is overtly embraced: “What I most seek now in the evidence of Roland Barthes’s gayness is the opportunity it affords for staging this imaginary relation between us, between those lines on which we each in writing them may be thought to have put our bodies—for fashioning thus an intimacy with the writer whom (above all when it comes to writing) I otherwise can’t touch” (7). Kevin Ohi’s Henry James and the Queerness of Style, conversely, rejects the notion that the queerness of Jamesian style should be understood in terms of gay reference; but the book reaches a kind of rhetorical climax when Ohi writes that “for gay readers, The Ambassadors might be especially powerful because of the way the novel’s discontinuities of consciousness resonate with the experience of the closet,” just before Ohi moves on to an ironically confessional statement: “I may, in short, say all: I like to think that life is like The Ambassadors”—because the novel’s staging of “cognitive discontinuity” reveals the closet’s before/after disjunction as something like a model for consciousness in general (166–67). Even in this severely qualified form—where the closet is of interest not for its sexual content but for its

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formal contours, and where the fantasized movement is not toward the author’s body but toward the world of his novels—argument takes the form of a confession (“I may, in short, say all”) that mimics the form of coming-out and hence feels freighted with an implied sexualized content. For an excellent discussion of how queer writers in the present repeatedly produce such scenes of fantasized contact with precursor texts, see Dinshaw 1–54. 3. On James, see I 1–31; on Caravaggio, see CS; on Resnais, see AI 147–208; on Denis, see Bersani, “Father”; on Jarman, see C. 4. Bersani has said that his writing process begins when an idea hits him with the force of “shock”: “I tend to find that moment [of shock] is accompanied or followed for me by a sense that I have my first sentence. And then I get this terrible feeling of fidelity to that sentence. . . . I feel the first sentence is extremely important in almost getting a high. . . . [I]t gives me a high and I hope it gives the reader a high. But at the same time I don’t really want the essay to be entirely faithful to its first sentence” (IRG 192–93). The combination here of “a terrible feeling of fidelity” to the sentence and a desire that the essay not “be entirely faithful” to that sentence is characteristic of a thought that privileges movement above logical consistency; among other things it indicates that the function of Bersani’s openings is not at all straightforwardly argumentative. 5. For a diverse set of arguments about the resurgence of unprotected anal sex among gay men, see Halperin; Dean; and I. None of these books fully addresses the impact of antiretroviral combination therapies on gay sex in communities where the drugs are available.

Works Cited Bersani, Leo. “Broken Connections,” PMLA 125.2 (Mar. 2010): 414–17. Print. ———. “Father Knows Best.” Raritan 29.4 (Spring 2010): 92–104. Print. Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. “Merde Alors.” October 13 (Summer 1980): 23–35. Print. Dean, Tim. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Trans. Richard Howard. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print. Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1999. Print. Halperin, David. What Do Gay Men Want?: An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2007. Print. Miller, D. A. Bringing Out Roland Barthes. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992. Print. Ohi, Kevin. Henry James and the Queerness of Style. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011. Print. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. Print. Warner, Michael. Introduction. Fear of a Queer Planet. Ed. Warner. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. vii–xxi. Print.

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Queer Betrayals JACK HALBERSTAM

Recent work in queer theory under the influence of Leo Bersani’s definition of sex as anti-communitarian, self-shattering, and anti-identitarian produces a counterintuitive but crucial shift in thinking away from projects of redemption, reconstruction, restoration, and reclamation and toward what can only be called an antisocial, negative, and antirelational theory of sexuality. I call this shift “counterintuitive” because it upends our understanding of the interconnectedness of intimacy, romance, and sexual contact, replacing it with a harsh but radically realistic recognition of both the selfishness of sex and its destructive power. The sexual instinct then, within this formulation, nestles up against the death drive and constitutes an oppositional force to what Bersani terms “the tyranny of the self” (CR 4). Rather than a life-force connecting pleasure to life, survival and futurity, sex, and particularly homosex and receptive sex, is a death drive that undoes the self, releases it from the drive for mastery and coherence and resolution; “the value of sexuality itself,” writes Bersani, “is to demean the seriousness of efforts to redeem it” (IRG 29). Bersani’s work, while it clearly situates itself in relation to a very well-defined canon of gay male aesthetic production by Jean Genet, Marcel Proust, and others, has also been useful for the theorization of femme receptivities (see Cvetkovich) and butch abjection and lesbian loneliness (see Love; Halberstam). And the politics of Bersani’s project, to the extent that one can identify a political trajectory within a radically nonteleological project, resides in its brutal rejection of the comforting platitudes that we use to cushion our fall into mortality, incoherence, and nonmastery. My own recent work has been profoundly influenced by this particular strand of queer theory. In The Queer Art of Failure (2011), I try to capitalize on counterintuitive and patently negative forms of queer knowing. In chapters

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on stupidity, forgetting, failure, and radical passivity, I try to expose the logic of the binary formulation that damns certain modes of knowing to the realms of negation, absence, and emptiness while elevating others to the status of common sense. Stupidity, of course, forms a backdrop for the heroic enterprise of wisdom, and failure provides an abject realm that success must counter. Similarly, forgetfulness is constituted as a kind of entropic force that must be halted by rigorous memory practices. But in each case, the underprivileged category actually sustains purposive and intricate modes of oppositional knowledge, many of which can be associated with and linked to forms of activity that we have come to call “queer.” The book works through a series of exemplary texts drawn from popular culture, dyke avant-garde culture, and subcultures and links queer critique to negativity and to an oppositional politics which has both antiracist and anticapitalist dimensions. My work, like Bersani’s, seeks to counteract scholarly endeavors committed to the excavation of the gay or lesbian subject from the burial grounds of history. Such projects, worthy as they are, center the LGBT subject within globalized rights-based projects and reimagine all kinds of social contracts via the agency of such subjects. But in more recent queer theory, the positivist projects committed to restoring the gay subject to history and redeeming the gay self from its pathologization have been recognized as part of a process of homonormalization. Consequently, some theorists have sought to complicate these efforts by emphasizing the negative potential of the queer, thus rethinking the meaning of the political through queerness precisely by embracing the incoherent, the lonely, the defeated, the traitorous, as well as the disloyal and the formulations of selfhood that these negative modes set in motion. But many of these negative formulations of queerness proceed through psychoanalytic models and operate without any particular reference to materiality or lived reality. Queer of color critique, by contrast, a form of critique that is too often cordoned off from antisocial queer theory, has offered damning accounts of homonormativity and homonationalism for some time now and often with reference to all-too-material contexts and examples. Pioneer of queer of color critique, Roderick Ferguson, for example, describes in sociological detail precisely when, where, and how blackness became associated so firmly with pathology, disorder, and aberration. Finding canonical sociology a major player in the production of black aberration, Ferguson writes: “American sociology, like historical materialism, has proffered heteronormativity as the scene of order and rationality and nonheteronormativity as the scene of abandonment and dysfunction.” He continues: “As it has done so, formations like the dragqueen prostitute have been a constant preoccupation that canonical sociology has constructed as pathologies emblematic of African American culture” (18). Ferguson’s critique of canonical sociology, and his account of the ways in which

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both sociology and historical materialism construct themselves in opposition to racialized and sexualized figures of disorder, almost never appear alongside antisocial queer theory despite the fact that he provides very concrete examples of the ways in which negativity works to both marginalize groups and become part of their resistance to the status quo. Like Ferguson, Chandan Reddy offers an alternative grounded in negation to the rights-oriented queer activisms. He proposes that we think about freedom as something that always works in tandem with forms of state-sanctioned violence. In Freedom with Violence (2011), Reddy refuses liberal notions of modernity as freedom from violence and, using the work of Frantz Fanon, rejects a companion notion of a decolonizing freedom through violence, instead regarding modernity “as itself a structure for and structuring of legitimate violence.” For Reddy, contemporary neoliberal societies link freedom to the notion of legitimate (state-issued) violence and produce epistemologies of liberty that necessarily bind rights to institutionalized violence, tether individual liberty to a curtailment of civil liberty, and make citizenship dependent upon stateauthorized violence. To counter these formulations that are actually embedded in notions of individuality, emancipation, and transformation, Reddy proposes an alternative politics of knowledge that operates on the materialist epistemology developed by queer of color critique, third world feminists, women of color, antiprison movement, and diaspora and empire studies. Sexuality is a potent vector for the governing structures of “freedom with violence,” and all too many mainstream LGBT folks embrace models of political emancipation that depend on extending the reach of state power, failing to recognize that state power folds violence and the legal protection from violence back upon each other. And so, those against whom marriage has violently been defined (gays and lesbians but also interracial couples) must ask the institution to include them too. Subjects who have defined the very limit of the binary gender system—transsexuals and transgenders, but also gender-variant gays and lesbians as well as intersexuals—must find zones of legibility within a system that has used them to figure illegibility itself. Like Reddy, I believe we need an alternative politics of knowledge to unlock these knotted systems that continue to tie liberation to the orders of knowing and being that produced oppression in the first place. And like Bersani, I believe that the road to such oppositional forms of being and knowing passes through the vexed territories of betrayal, disloyalty, and what Bersani might call anticommunitarianism. In order to illustrate what might be at stake in thinking through a concept like “queer betrayals,” let me take in this short essay the example of homophobic characterizations of fascism as somehow perverse and specifically as homoerotic and homosexual. While it may seem like a betrayal to move with rather than against the logic that binds fascism to homosexuality (most

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famously, for example, in Susan Sontag’s essay “Fascinating Fascism”), sometimes, as Ann Stoler argues in a brilliant book on the colonial archives, you have to think along rather than against the grain. In a Bersani-like move, Stoler argues that, while we tend to tidy the archive in our efforts to master it, and while we try to make archives spin clear narratives of rule and conquest, the disorder of historical archives and indeed of history itself, prevents the easy confirmation of such stories. In the last chapter of The Queer Art of Failure, I turned my discussions of queer negativity to this fabled and often homophobic link between homosexuality and fascism. I refused the easy route of denial— denying that any such connections exist—in favor of the more difficult path of entertaining such connections and thinking about them. Here, I want to return to the connections between fascism and homosexuality to think with Bersani about spaces beyond good and evil, beyond relationality, spaces that he defines in terms of betrayal. For me, Bersani does not go far enough in his explorations of betrayal precisely because he limits them to the territory of male masochism, gay sexual self-shattering, and unraveling. I want to draw out the stakes of a politics of negativity and betrayal, for better or for worse, and refuse the equation of queer negativity, in Bersani as much as Lee Edelman, with either apolitical refusal or with a structuralist notion of the futility of transformative efforts. I elaborate on Bersani’s own sense that gay sex—cruising, sodomy, promiscuity—is in no way linked to anticapitalist or antipatriarchal politics, and take this insight further in order to delve into the possibility that some forms of gay eroticism and homonormativity (as Jasbir Puar, Heidi Nast, and others have argued) rhyme nicely with right-wing ideologies dependent upon highly charged homoerotic virilities. Gay betrayal here, then, constitutes an enactment of Bersani’s refusal of a gay/lesbian “we” and acknowledges that the fissures between some forms of gay political commitments and other queer radical stances might lead one position into active opposition to the other. We might note that national socialism was not at all at odds with erotically invested relations between men and, as George L. Mosse notes in a chapter of The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (1999) devoted to homosexuality and French fascism, the nature of the actual and discursive relations between fascism and homosexuality were complex to say the least: homosexuals were persecuted under fascism in order to maintain the normativity of fascist masculinism; but at the same time, fascists continued to be accused of being homosexual, and homosexuals were regularly accused in France and elsewhere of collaborating with the Nazis. Mosse, like others, suggests that a Nazi preoccupation with manliness and virility, and a preference for distance from women and domesticity, pulls Nazism strongly into the vexed area, documented so well by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, within which political and sexual bonds between men become confused and entwined. Mosse ends his chapter “On Homosexuality and French Fascism” calling for “further

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investigation” (181) into the relations between and among male friendship, homoeroticism, and nationalism. Queer history has to be able to both grapple with the meaning of these overlapping strands of homoerotic politics and offer an alternative to fascist virility. Bersani’s work, which has recently been taken up by Heather Love, Edelman, and others for new queer work on loss and lack, is marked by its rigorous attempt to refuse the moral high ground; indeed, the rigor of its disavowal as much as the content of what it disavows may be the real force of the critical legacy Bersani has bequeathed to queer thought. Bersani is willing to go where other gay men tend to fear to tread—he is dismissive of the notion that gay sex is a form of political transgression. As he famously writes: “to want sex with another man is not exactly a credential for political radicalism” (IRG 10). Bersani is also quick to discount claims about the always “subversive” potential of the gay macho style, the butch-femme couple, gay cruising, and lesbian sadomasochism. He notes wickedly: “Men whose behavior at night at the San Francisco Cauldron or the New York Mineshaft could win 5-star approval from the theoreticians of polysexuality had no problem being gay slumlords during the day in SF for example, evicting from the Western Addition Black families unable to pay the rents necessary to gentrify that neighborhood” (IRG 11). Bersani also comments on white gay male sexism and does not shy away from the homosexual fascism thesis. Indeed, for Bersani, to the extent that it denotes sexual identity, homosexuality is of little interest. To the extent that homosexuality represents a potential critique of sexual identity, social stability, and community bonds, it has potential; it is this potential that my notion of “queer betrayal” builds upon. Bersani uses Genet as his primary example of a life and an aesthetic built around betrayal. For him, Genet occupies the position of an “outlaw subject,” someone, in other words, intent upon retaining the disruptive potential of homosexuality rather than finding a way to eradicate the threat that homosexuality might represent. In Homos, Bersani analyzes the appearance of Nazi characters in Funeral Rites (1953): In its celebration of pure destructiveness, Funeral Rites seeks to detach evil from its oppositional relation to good, from its dependence on a transgressive mode of address. The work in its most profound and original resonances, actually makes the very word “evil” obsolete. It would replace the rich social discursiveness of good-and-evil with what might be called the empty value of solitude, a value that literature, always circulating within a symbolic network, can only name. Solitude is evil because it is betrayal, but not a betrayal defined by any opposition to loyalty. It is a betrayal of that opposition, a betrayal opposed to nothing because it consists merely in a movement out of everything. (H 168)

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Having detached good from evil, betrayal from loyalty, Bersani suggests that Genet is using Nazism as a kind of name for a destructive force that seeks the obliteration of history itself. While within National Socialism, destruction has an aim (the elimination of the Jews, the glorification of racial purity, the bolstering of patriarchal orders), for Genet destruction works on behalf of nothing and against the social in order to clear the ground for a new homofuture which cannot as yet be imagined. Bersani emphasizes the problems with Genet’s antirelational project: “This is not a political program.” He is appropriately troubled by Genet’s use of Nazism as “a mythic metaphor for a revolutionary destructiveness.” He concludes: “Genet’s political radicalism is congruent with a proclaimed indifference to human life as well as a willingness to betray every tie and every trust between human beings.” And this indifference, Bersani emphasizes, enlists homosexuality “as the prototype of human relations that break with humanity” (H 172). And so, while Genet, with his sympathies for the Black Panthers and Palestinian causes during his lifetime, seems to fit the bill of “outlaw subject” well, Genet also embodies some of the problems with a queer betrayal that is identified only as the form rather than the content of protest: Genet’s selfidentification as a traitor, a criminal, and a thief allows for some very potent associations between homosexuality and political protest, but his willingness to eroticize everything from Nazi soldiers to drag queens dilutes some of the force of that protest by reducing it to a reactive understanding of transgression within which all boundaries must be crossed, all rules broken. I am as much in favor of anarchistic mayhem as the next guy, but there are differences between anarchistic mayhem and the chaos created by the contrarian. While the contrarian never found a “no” that could not be turned into a “yes,” the anarchist actually has a plan. Bersani’s method, borrowed from Genet and shared by Edelman and others, is to read betrayal as “a turning away from the entire theater of the good” and its transgressions (H 163); while this definition appeals to me, I also want to remind us of the political stakes of such a project—namely, that this “turning away from the theater of the good” should reveal the structures that produce the good only by constructing simultaneously a traitorous other who is forever foreign and at odds with national bonds; this other, despite philosophical claims to the contrary, does not remain unrepresentable and often takes the form of the racialized minority subject. To the extent that Bersani characterizes queerness itself as the site of betrayal and constitutes the encounter with the Other as always an encounter with the unrepresentable, his work also ignores the material reality of how otherness is endlessly represented in the U.S. imaginary—and not in the form of the gay man who gives up mastery but in the form of the racial alien. Bersani’s emphasis on gay betrayal reaches a limit when he finds the thin line between the masochistic male and becoming-woman. He quickly

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draws back from the void of femininity and resists the fatal identification with femininity. He emphasizes that the jouissance of self-shattering is about loss but not castration, and draws a hard line between unbecoming a man and becoming-woman. Of course, a true betrayal of self would lead directly into these forms of identification that thoroughly undo us. And this is a point that has been made by a new groundswell of work in queer Asian American studies, for example by Joon Oluchi Lee, in his essay on “The Joy of the Castrated Boy,” and more recently in Hoang Nguyen’s work on racialized male masochism and bottoming. The Deleuzean notion of “becoming-woman” seems to be sexy as a rhizomatic theoretical move but almost no one, it seems, actually wants to become a woman; instead, in a betrayal of gay betrayal, the white gay man ultimately pulls himself back from the brink of castration by embracing loss, self-shattering, and masochism but only by detaching it from contaminated and racialized femininity. So, how might we understand the tangled relations between fascism and homosexuality in terms of a queer betrayal that invests in a political program beyond “destruction for the sake of destruction,” a program that, moreover, would avoid the complicity with fascinating fascism that Bersani locates in Genet’s work? Looking at the tradition of male friendship that fed into Nazism in Germany and investigating the protofascist sympathies of an early group of gay emancipationists called “the masculinists,” I have argued, along with other theorists like Andrew Hewitt, that we cannot look back on this period of history and only find gays and lesbians among the victims of the Third Reich (see Hewitt; Halberstam ch. 5). There is enough evidence of frequent overlaps between homosexuality and fascism to warrant sustained consideration of the links between the two, particularly when one also considers a long and sustained interest within gay male eroticism in images of Nazi masculinity via Tom of Finland and others. The connections I am making here between fascism and homosexuality are sometimes seen as homophobic: they have been characterized as a kind of betrayal of a project of gay solidarity. When I presented this material as a talk in Berlin at a queer studies conference, for example, an American gay white man stood up and denounced the talk as “not sufficiently academic,” as a kind of willful misreading of Bersani, histories of homosexuality, and contemporary gay politics of masculinity. German gay men at the talk were more sanguine about the connections I was making: they did not necessarily hear anything new in what I was saying, but they were interested in why one would return to this connection now. A German archivist at the Schwules Museum in Berlin wrote to me after the talk and told me that, cataloguing the papers and photographs held there from the 1940s, she and other archivists had had to make difficult distinctions between authors who might have supported the Nazi cause and others who might have just given the appearance of support in order to avoid persecution:

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I am currently sorting the private materials and especially photographs of some gays in the archive of Schwules Museum Berlin that partly could be understood as the evidence of your thesis (partly because we have to differentiate between the materials of the exile Richard Plant for example and the ones who served in the army). Nevertheless we have to wonder what the function of some fascist symbols in the private photo albums of gays during the Second World War for example could have been. If we consider that they could have functioned as kinds of camouflage just in case the albums could have been found during a SS-raid of course we also have to wonder what the responsibility of these men had been during the Nazi-Regime but also have to reflect their intersectional positioning as potentially endangered and potentially dangerous. So I totally agree that the thesis that says that connecting homosexuality and fascism is homophobic has to be reconceptionalized—because it also means to deal with the privileges of white German gays. As this archivist says, when we enter into a complex historical archive, we cannot easily decipher the meaning of symbols like the swastika. Presumably it would be as presumptuous to disregard the possibility that a swastika indicates the fascist commitments of a homosexual man as it would be facile to simply reduce the presence of the symbol to the status of absolute proof of that commitment. Nonetheless, the clear overlap between fascist and homosexual masculinities requires that we flirt with and risk engaging homophobic logics in order to grapple with the complexity of political histories. Bersani makes a very similar point in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” when he talks about the porous line between heterosexual and homosexual identity. Rather than repudiate all connections between the two, rather than argue that homosexuality cancels out heterosexual identification, Bersani claims that homosexuality, in part, can be defined in terms of a lingering heterosexual identification that causes the gay man to experience a continuous sense of violation. Recognizing that such a formulation flirts with homophobia, Bersani comments: “To understand this, it is perhaps necessary to accept the pain of embracing, at least provisionally, a homophobic representation of homosexuality” (IRG 15). I am also willing to risk a “homophobic representation of homosexuality” that will in some circles be characterized as a form of betrayal of a gay identity project. But the risk that we take through such forms of betrayal may pay off in the form of less triumphal and more nuanced accounts of the intersecting histories of sexuality and politics. It may well be that any and all connections between homosexuality and fascism are traitorous and, hence, so risky in terms of bolstering homophobic project that already relies upon such associations that they are not worth pursu-

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ing. Yet, both Bersani’s and my own work on failure suggests that we take the notion of betrayal very seriously and attempt to think about homosexuality as a site of complicity, complicity in everything that is rotten about love, life, and politics as much as we want it to be complicity in the good, the true, and the righteous. A related point is made by Crystal Parikh, who has recently articulated an “ethics of betrayal” within what she calls “emergent U.S. literatures and cultures.” Parikh defines betrayal as a critical perspective on the conditions of “belonging, assimilation and exclusion” within the racial state (2). Betrayal, she continues, “can perform a cultural critique of the social conditions by which the minority subject comes into being and of the possibilities for agency and transformation once that subject has come into being” (1–2). She situates betrayal in this way as a mode of reckoning with an Other, an other who is not merely an extension of the self but who forces the self to reckon with the violence of being and to confront questions of justice and political difference. Building on Derrida’s formulation of future justice as dependent upon a sense of injustice in the present, Parikh reminds us that the deconstructive project of justice is not reparative but always seeks to reorganize the structure that first creates an injustice in order to imagine a juridical solution. If we apply this logic to what I am calling queer betrayal, we have to see that the construction of the homosexual as everywhere and always a victim of homophobia allows for a very limited horizon of justice within which the homosexual’s pain and exclusion is recognized and resolved through inclusion and within the embrace of the national project. Using Parikh’s theory of an ethics of betrayal, we can point to a queer betrayal as a refusal of the logic of self/other, us/them, in/out and a reaching for a logic that lies outside of the parameters of loyalty, coherence, stability, and truthfulness; or, as Parikh puts it: “betrayals can open a future that is unimaginable and unintelligible from within the bonds of fidelity and identification” (12). This amplifies Bersani’s reading of betrayal as beyond the logic of good-and-evil, reminding us that good-and-evil, fidelity, and betrayal play out between people in racially charged environments and therefore can never be purified and distilled into abstract “breaks with humanity” in the way that Bersani would like. So, my investigation of the often homophobic charge of fascist homosexualities can be located within a framework of queer betrayal in a few different ways: first, it lays bare the dangers of gay investments in untrammeled virility then and now; second, it argues for a traitorous history of homosexuality, one less committed to finding good and heroic individuals who have been “hidden from history” and more committed to a project that unravels the logic of such a search in the first place; third, it reveals the stakes of a loyal research project within which one sovereign self seeks out virtuous histories of other selves like her/him because he or she too has a narcissistic investment in basking in the

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glow of a past shiny with good deeds and good but persecuted people. Finally, my investigation takes at face value the important arguments about betrayal in gay male criticism by Bersani and practices a form of betrayal that breaks with complicity, complacency, and self-congratulation by investigating the politics of self-shattering, unraveling, unmastering. While Bersani is largely credited with the investigation of gay betrayal, as I commented earlier in relation to the work of Ferguson and Reddy, queer of color critique and the women of color feminisms upon which it draws have long been interested in antiheroic models of queerness and in the negative productions of racialized sexualities. And within this vein of work, a really effective and startling example of a traitorous gay history appears in Licia Fiol-Matta’s brave book on Gabriela Mistral. In Queer Mother for the Nation (2002), FiolMatta narrates the homophobic rejection in Chile of the masculine woman, a Nobel prize-winning author, teacher, and diplomat, and tackles the thorny questions of Mistral’s legacy, her reception and her own complex life story which includes her lesbianism, failed relationships, and the suicide of her son. Mistral was claimed as both radical and conservative in her lifetime; she never came out publically as a lesbian, and while she was embraced after her death, many Chileans roundly rejected her while she was alive. Her own politics were scrambled and misaligned, and her personal life was a mess. Because Mistral was unmistakably masculine, Fiol-Matta suggests that she seems available for queer canonization. But Fiol-Matta warns, in a move that constitutes what I am calling a “queer betrayal”: “This book in particular belongs with recent scholarship that takes queerness to task for its normalizing actions. This is not to say that all queerness has a normalizing effect, but merely that queerness is as susceptible to normalization as any other sexual or gender experience and that queerness can abet certain forms of heteronormativity” (xxix). Fiol-Matta looks at Mistral’s legacy, then, not to pull forward a heroic and martyred figure of repressed lesbianism and dynamic female masculinity, but to seize upon the contradictions of desire, rejection, cruelty, and melancholy as they coalesce in one queer figure. The politics of betrayal here, where the betrayal is of a LGBT project committed to finding heroic figures around whom to build a response to violent homophobia, leads us into the complex territory of ethical disloyalty and strategic denunciation. To embrace the negative affect of queer betrayal is, as the very best work in antisocial queer theory shows us, to pull back from the easy narratives about sociality, community, and selfhood, to resist the comfy notions of togetherness and loyalty, and to find that ultimately the real meaning of a shared humanity lies not in the capacity of humans for kindness and empathy but in their potential for violence and betrayal. While Bersani’s work can be limited by its studious avoidance of the kind of work on race that now appears under the heading of “queer of color critique,” I do believe that there is much to

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be learned from Bersani’s wicked rejections of the comforting narratives of sexuality that animated so much of the queer theory produced in the time of the AIDS epidemic. While others were fighting homophobic characterizations of gay promiscuity on the grounds of respectability, Bersani was telling people that “there is a big secret about sex: most people don’t like it” (IRG 3). While some gay men were arguing for political solidarity and new forms of intimacy, Bersani was campaigning on the anticommunitarianism ticket and reminding us that sex is less about intimacy than “self-shattering.” The lasting impact of Bersani’s work for me, and I am sure for others, lies in his ability to turn the tables on normative logics of self, love, and identification, and to find in this way a route out of the stultifying logics of for or against, with or without, positive and negative. Betrayal in Bersani’s work—like failure in my work, like “aberration” in Ferguson’s work, and like violence in Reddy’s—does much more than just offer a perverse reading of the human; instead, Bersani’s version of betrayal unmakes the queer project itself and demands that we let it collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Thanks to Mikko Tuhkanen for his tireless efforts to make this essay better. No one could ask for a better editor! JH

Works Cited Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Print. Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005. Print. Ferguson, Roderick. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005. Print. Fiol-Matta, Licia. Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002. Print. Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print. Hewitt, Andrew. Political Inversions:Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1996. Print. Lee, Joon. “The Joy of the Castrated Boy.” Social Text 23 (2005): 35–56. Print. Love, Heather. Feeling Backwards: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. Print. Mosse, George L. The Fascist Revolution: Toward A General Theory of Fascism. New York: Howard Fertig, 1999. Print. Nast, Heidi. “Queer Patriarchies, Queer Racisms.” Antipodes 34.5 (2002): 874–909. Print. Nguyen, Hoang Tan. A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. Print.

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Parikh, Crystal. An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture. New York: Fordham UP, 2009. Print. Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2007. Print. Reddy, Chandan. Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the U.S. State. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print. Sedgwick, Eve K. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 1985. Print. Sontag, Susan. “Fascinating Fascism.” 1975. Under the Sign of Saturn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 73–105. Print. Stoler, Ann Laura. Along The Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxiety and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2010. Print.

II

Psychoanalytic

4

Cinema a tergo Shooting in Elephant

ELLIS HANSON

Is it always cruel to shoot a guy from behind? With a camera, I mean. The easy equivalence between phallus, gun, and camera is as serviceable a cliché in much film theory on gender and sexuality as it is in American Westerns. Should every discussion of the libidinal charge of such shooting, with its inevitable evocation of anal penetration, of shooting in the behind, necessarily exhaust itself in the rhetoric of sadism, sexual assault, paranoia, and the death drive, such that we should only ever have one terrifying reason to watch our backs? Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film Elephant, with its long and elegant tracking and panning shots that scrutinize the students involved in a school shooting, confirms what we already know about the sadism of cinematic voyeurism, but also poses some timely and reparative challenges to our rather paranoid tradition of interrogating it in feminist and queer theory. I mean reparative in the sense that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick deployed in her criticism of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” in much theory and certainly in much queer theory: that stark tendency to emphasize exposure, conspiracy, and negative affect in critical practice at the expense of that intellectual work that might offer succor, sustenance, or rich affective bonds to oppressed communities for whom the latest conspiracy theory comes as no surprise. Van Sant’s insistent use of what is generally thought to be a most impersonal, most depersonalizing angle amounts to a cinema a tergo exemplary of the way movies of the current generation might question certain critical shibboleths regarding the Freudianism of classic cinema in the age of Hitchcock. At times, Van Sant renders the distinction between a camera and a gun distressingly, sadistically slight, even cultivating a sympathetic identification with a pair of adolescent mass murderers modeled closely on

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the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre, and yet for most of the film the camera stalks the students of the school with very different intentions, a very different ethics and erotics of shooting a tergo, that make the murders seem more like a somber and surreal afterthought than a sadistic climax for the film. Leo Bersani’s theory of “impersonal intimacy” offers us a method to rethink the sadism and voyeurism of tracking and panning shots, not to mention the sheer virtuosity of these shots in the work of a current generation of cruisy auteurs like Van Sant or Gaspar Noé. Bersani has developed this concept throughout the latter half of his career, most rigorously in Homos (1995) and Intimacies (2008), though its impetus, a belief in the revolutionary, shattering, disruptive power of jouissance, is recognizable from his earliest books. With the perverse and mindless homicidal jouissance of its two gunmen, Alex and his sidekick Eric, this film reminds us once again, as if we needed reminding, of the way homoeroticism serves as a queer figuration of the essential asociality of the death drive, but its many shootings from behind also suggest a queer sensuality that is not brutal or fatal but is, quite the contrary, profoundly and paradoxically humane, ethical, and generative in a context of heteronormative alienation. Elephant is Van Sant’s fictionalization of the Columbine massacre, in which two male students, for reasons which were far from clear at the time, gunned down several of their classmates in a high school in Colorado. The event lent itself well to popular psychological and moral speculation, much of it dubious, about the causes of this extreme violence: Satan was evoked, as were violent video games, neo-Nazism, easy access to assault weapons, poor parenting, poor self-esteem, teasing and bullying, adolescent boredom, racism, repressed homosexuality run amok, and a general, vague, nagging suspicion that capitalism might not be good for everyone. All of these possibilities are put into play in Elephant, but anyone seeking affirmation of a pet theory about mass murder, or repressed homosexuality for that matter, is likely to be disappointed by the film, perhaps even offended by its undermotivated and affectless sadism, as many of its American reviewers were. All of these social problems named above are significant, as Van Sant is no doubt aware, but none of the them is particularly compelling, in the case of the Columbine massacre or its fictionalization in Elephant, as a reason for a student to murder his classmates. The current wisdom on the motivation for the Columbine massacre claims that Eric Harris, the mastermind of the event, was simply a born psychopath who would inevitably kill, but this argument was not a notable concern for the film or for the media at the time. Now that more is known about Harris, Van Sant’s lack of interest in a narrative of character motivation or a theory of social pathology seems all the more curious. For example, Eric Harris was given to antisocial ranting online and in his journal and was fascinated by Hitler (also by Nietzsche and Freud, for that matter), and as Dave Cullen, a historian of Columbine, points out, “Sometimes he’d punctuate his high fives with ‘Sieg

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Heil’ or ‘Heil Hitler’ ” (18). The gunmen in Elephant, however, seem ordinary and relatively harmless until they start planning the massacre, and they are comically ignorant about Hitler, whom they watch with only vague interest in a documentary on television. Before he picks up a gun, Alex (the character based on Harris) is mostly seen drawing mundane pictures in a sketchbook or practicing his Beethoven on the piano. If this were a biopic or a documentary, Van Sant would be rightly accused of an ethical lapse in not taking psychological motivations or historical facts seriously enough, but Elephant is not that kind of film, as its jarring contrast to Michael Moore’s documentary of the previous year, Bowling for Columbine, makes abundantly clear. Elephant looks to adolescent anomie to disrupt ethics as usual. The movie is extraordinary for the way it cites all the narrative pieties by which mass murder, especially on the part of teenagers, is understood, and then refuses to pursue them. It is extraordinary, in other words, for the stories it refuses to tell, the psychosexual perspective it declines to enforce, and the traumatic violence it fails to obsess over properly or even explain. As one critic astutely noted, Van Sant eschews both individual agency and social determinism in favor of an almost mathematical formalism of human movement: “In this way, Elephant suggests a series of particular explanations for violence and then drains them of significance” (Sofair 12). Amid these refusals are the non-stories Van Sant does tell, strangely fascinating as they are banal, scenes of adolescent absorption, moments of being and movement, unpreoccupied with any psychological or moral etiology. Adults are banished to the sidelines of consideration so that Van Sant can bring what he deems a distinctly queer and adolescent sensibility to the fore, not only as a thematics but also as a formal method. Instead of adhering to the narratological demands of earnest psychological or sociological imperatives, the film instead meditates on its own formal procedures, its own eroticized gaze at adolescent bodies with its attendant evocation of adolescent states of mind. In a classic trope from documentary filmmaking, we sometimes get multiple versions of the same event from different points of view; however, it is not the traumatic event or even a defining moment of insight, but rather a seemingly trivial scene whose mystery is only deepened by the elaborate refocalization of our attention to its detail. In the most striking of these brief scenes repeated from different angles, one student photographs another as a third rushes to class, and the moment is recaptured from three different points of view by refocalizing a shot through each of the students. The repetition of this scene of photography makes a meta-cinematic statement about perspective and highlights the most frequently cited point of reference for the film’s title: the story of the three blind men who each give a different account of an elephant because they have touched different parts of its anatomy. One might assume from this elephant allegory that Van Sant intended to tell us

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an essential truth about the Columbine massacre through the assemblage of partial observations from different perspectives, after the fashion of Rashomon or, for that matter, Bowling for Columbine, thereby making us the knowing reader of an allegory rather than its blind explorer of an elephant. But that is evidently not the format Van Sant had in mind. His Elephant seeks rather to emphasize the limited readability of a traumatic event, even for the privileged spectator, whose absorption in individual characters and seemingly random moments never develops into a story about anything but its own sensuous engagement. The students also serve as the elephants in this allegory: we feel we know them intimately, yet we know little about them, little about their motivations, beyond their immediate context onscreen. In the repeated shots of the snapshot in the hallway, we learn nothing about the motives for a school shooting, but we do learn about Van Sant’s languorous erotic sensibility, the pleasures and ethics of looking at people randomly and impersonally, but also carefully and intimately. In its amoral erotic formalism, it is one of the most challengingly queer films ever made. Van Sant’s signature technique in this film is the long, contemplative, mostly unbroken tracking shot or pan of a student or small clique of students who are filmed mostly from an unconventional angle, often from behind, either too closely or too distantly or too obliquely, as he, sometimes she, sometimes they, walk through a playing field, a schoolroom, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, or a maze of school hallways. At times, the camera is intently, unsettlingly still as characters move elegantly in and out of the frame, seemingly at random, or the camera focuses on the nape of a student’s neck or peers over his shoulder as he plays a piano or drives a car or develops photographs. There are also other self-conscious point-of-view shots about self-consciousness itself that make us feel that we are either too intimate with a character in a moment of intense privacy or self-absorption, or that we are too far away, peeking from behind a tree or through a doorway at a character who should be focal, who is even explicitly introduced as focal by an intertitle with his or her first name, but who is not adequately available for our scrutiny. The aesthetic power of these shots, which comprise most of the film, lies in their sheer strangeness, their refusal of the expected framing, narrative sequence, and shot-countershot editing of conventional cinema. In their peculiar blend of intimacy and impersonality, these shots stylize an odd sensibility of quiet, morally detached absorption, a willingness to accept confusion or obscurity, a patient but sensual appreciation of the banal details of life in the school, all of which reproduces in the spectator what appears to be the same sensibility as the students: that paradoxical juxtaposition of anomie with emotional intensity, of quiet desperation with cool detachment, of self-absorption with distraction. The question of what it means to shoot someone from behind, to commit that most cold-blooded and cowardly act of violation, gives way to a more nuanced and humane exploration

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of sympathy and impersonality in the cinema’s customary invasion of privacy and interiority. Van Sant offers us a less fatal erotics, a less paranoid aesthetics, for that intrusive camera that stands behind the characters and watches them without their appearing to know it or control it, that voyeuristically tracks them through intimate spaces that seem at once too public and too private, that sees what they see but also precisely what they cannot see: their own backside and our own inquisitive and self-conscious gaze at it. In the scene that introduces Alex and Eric, the two students who are planning the massacre, the camera gives Alex’s bedroom a good long look, but the most striking spectacle on evidence is not a key to his motivation, but rather the virtuosity of the camerawork itself and the impersonal intimacy of its stare. The camera gazes at Alex from behind at the piano practicing his Beethoven sonatas (which we have already been hearing on the soundtrack in other scenes), then pans to Eric, who is knocking at the window overhead, then turns on its heel to take a 360-degree ogle around the bedroom. What we see in the bedroom is banal, apart from an image of the eponymous elephant on Alex’s bedspread and then what appears to be his drawing of it on paper attached to the wall. These are the only references to an elephant, but they do little to announce themselves or explain the famously elusive title, apart from anchoring it in the intimate space of Alex’s bed, his creativity, and his vaguely erotic relationship with Eric. The elephant on the wall fades off one side of the screen as the back of Alex’s head reenters the other, and then the camera continues on its circuit to visit the door again and take in Eric, who now strikes a seductive, bare-armed pose in the doorway before spreading himself on Alex’s bed, on his very elephant bedspread, to play an oddly pedestrian and unchallenging videogame that invites one simply to shoot a series of strolling men in the back with a selection of guns. The camera cuts to a long, stationary shot at the back of Alex’s head, a shot that strangely blocks our view of the keyboard and the expressions on his face, yet just as strangely this perspective engages us in his presence as if gratifying our improbable wish to hover silently over his shoulder as he plays; meanwhile, Eric lies on the bed behind us, with much the same view, should he care to look up from his game to admire his friend again. Alex makes errors at the keyboard and then quits with an angry bang on the keys and a flip of his middle fingers at the sheet music. Eric behind the camera is shooting at video men, the camera behind Alex is shooting the back of his head, and Alex behind the piano is shooting at Beethoven in the back, as punningly captured by the reversed figure in one of Alex’s drawings pinned over the piano. The pattern of the shot as cruise: a slowly measured circuit and a sudden thrust from behind, formalized by the camera’s movement. With these odd and lingering point-of-view shots, we are invited to feel like a voyeuristic, even cruisy third party in this bedroom and also to feel like both a victim and a perpetrator of a sodomitical intrusion

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already blatantly thematized by the videogame as a deadly assault but also as a form of play. The camera stands in the only part of the bedroom it cannot see, the point that it has spiraled around in its pan of the room and that happens to be directly behind Alex, whose hood gaping open under his nape renders him all the more invitingly penetrable from the back. Through its technique of circuiting pan and stationary thrust, a pattern repeated in the playing fields at the school, on the chalkboard in the science classroom, in the cafeteria and the girls’ bathroom, the film is exposing its own asshole and inviting us to occupy it as a point of view. This queer aporia the camera inhabits is the film’s invisible, structuring jouissance. In other words, there is a gap in the text that is the formal equivalent of the various holes, whether natural or manmade, in the characters’ backsides, and the movement of the camera positions us as both anus and phallus, penetrated and penetrating a tergo. The video game gives us an emotionally and morally disengaged taste of what it feels like to pick up a gun and shoot someone from behind, and indeed when Alex first raises a gun to shoot one of his schoolmates, Michelle, the camera reproduces the point of view of the video game—the gun with the hand of the murderer—as if we as spectators had once again taken the place of the murderer, first in the game at home, then in the fatal game at the school. He is at that moment himself unexpectedly shot by Eli, who snaps a photo of him and then is himself apparently shot in return by Alex with his gun (so casually and quickly is Eli dispatched, we cannot even be certain that the falling blur is he). The camera gives us both Eli’s and Alex’s perspective as they shoot, to emphasize both the comparison and the contrast of camera with gun. In fact, Van Sant’s formal structure is a troubling stylistic allusion to the camerawork of the principle Columbine murderer himself. Eric Harris made videos in which the camera follows him and his friends from behind, tracking them through the school hallways as they converse and joke together (at the time of this writing, you can still see one of these eerie videos on YouTube, and you will notice that Eric Harris looks uncannily like Eli, who is the character with the camera, rather than like Alex or Eric, who are the characters with the guns). Van Sant also modeled these scenes on the videogame Tomb Raider, which he played while filming and which also connects him to the homicidal videogame that his character Eric plays. At this moment, the film heavy-handedly demands an identification with a murderer, even with a murderer’s cinematic creativity, but it also demands an identification with victims and the harmless, artistic shooting of Eli’s camera or even Eric’s videogame. The tension between these two modes of voyeuristic intrusion is especially intense here: sadistic violation on the one hand and a sympathetic and even polite fascination on the other. Most of the time the camera’s identifications and cathexes are as diffuse as those of the characters themselves, unblinking absorption punctuated by jarring cuts and impersonal pans from one character to the next, as it

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tries to grasp through its form a sensibility for which alienated teenagers have often served as emblematic figures. The question remains, why this emphasis on seeing someone from behind? Why this jarring movement from sadism to sympathy and back again? What does it have to do with the explicit queer thematics to which the film repeatedly returns? This focus from behind, this cinema a tergo, presents us with an occasion to reconsider twentieth-century theories of cinematic desire, especially the influential erotics of the cinematic apparatus by which feminist and psychoanalytic theorists pondered Freudian and Lacanian conceptions of the gaze. In Laura Mulvey’s seminal formulation, women are represented in classic cinema as a masochistic, fetishized erotic spectacle of lack, a “to-be-looked-at-ness,” for the appreciation of an essentially sadistic, voyeuristic male spectator (19). Although she helped bring into focus a powerful partiarchal tradition in the structure of cinematic perspective, Mulvey’s theory is obviously reductive since, even in classic cinema, women gaze and men are gazed at, and their pleasures do not always adhere to such a stark division of gendered labor, either in the film or in the audience. It also never accounts for the particular pleasures of being looked at or being fucked, for men and women both, except as a masochistic compensation for submission to masculine control. Given the terms of the theory, especially its gendered connection between voyeurism and aggression, it would be difficult to say how the cinema could ever fail to be a masculine and sadistic enterprise, even for movies that are produced by, for, and about women; therefore, its critical enterprise is paranoid from the start, intent on exposing endless instances of an erotic structure rendered inevitable by the limits of its own hermeneutic. One response of queer theory has been to revise the paradigm with regard to a lesbian or gay male look, one that is not restricted to the heteronormative formulations about castration anxiety of male phallic plenitude gazing on fetishized female lack. Where gay male spectatorship has been taken as a paradigm, anal eroticism has become a privileged trope, albeit with a paranoid and pathologizing theoretical structure of its own. As the emblem of male erotic penetrability, the anus complicates the view of male spectacle and spectatorship as essentially phallic; nevertheless, it is the site of a pleasure most fiercely repressed and a part of one’s own body relatively unavailable for inspection, especially one’s own inspection, and in its overdetermined obscurity it becomes the figure for a barred positionality, a disallowed pleasure, that is always before us precisely because it is always behind us, behind the camera, behind our line of vision, behind the logic of the narrative, behind us in our narrative of psychosexual development from childhood on—an organizing erotic principle that must remain behind, unnamed and unshown, yet at all times operative undercover, if not in the content of the film, then in its very form. Lee Edelman, in a reading of Freud’s psychoanalysis of the Wolf Man and the primal scene of “coitus a tergo,” has called this

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paranoid phenomenon “(be)hindsight” (Homographesis 178). As a spectacle for panic and disidentification, the queer man is defined by what I have called his essential should-not-be-looked-at-ness (Hanson 18). In a series of classic queer theory studies of Hollywood cinema, most notably Edelman on Laura and Rear Window and D. A. Miller on Rope and Suddenly, Last Summer, anal eroticism and its attendant nimbus of vague homoerotic suggestion were revealed as not merely an anxious thematics but also a subtle formal principle of the narrative. It is what we might call the theory of “Visual Pleasure in 1959,” to take one of Miller’s titles as a shorthand for the genre (see Edelman, Homographesis ch. 5 and “Rear”; and Miller, “Anal” and “Visual”). And yet it is no longer 1959. How do we theorize coitus a tergo as a pleasure with intensities and significance beyond the paranoid return of the repressed? Especially since the rise of digital production and distribution in the 1990s, we have seen the mainstreaming of anal eroticism, queer and straight, in precisely the sort of cinematic and televisual venues where it was forbidden for earlier generations. Furthermore, its more pornographic and avant garde representation, for which there is a decades-long tradition in the cinema, is more readily available to a broader audience through digital distribution. Elephant certainly invites a paranoid reading of repressed male homosexuality and anal eroticism in the staging of the final scenes of murder, but only to subvert it in favor of pleasures a tergo far less violent. The film seems to bait and switch: we know we will be treated to the meat of murder with the possible sauce of gay scandal, and yet most of the time the film is not much interested in either the crime or its motivations. Violence gives a final punctuation to the narrative, even occasions it, without otherwise structuring it. The Columbine massacre, with its attendant media myths about a homoerotic gang in black trench coats, would be tailor-made for an illustration of Edelman’s theory of “sinthomosexuality,” of queer sexuality deemed to be in abject thrall to the death drive, a paranoid fantasy of homoeroticism as the quintessential libido indifferent to heteronormativity, sexual reproduction, children, and even futurity itself. The murderer serves well enough as an allegorical figure for this fatal jouissance, so single-minded, affectless, and inexplicable is his sadism. With his courting and betrayal of his accomplice, his homosexuality, tenuous though it is, gives way to a thoroughgoing eroticization of the death drive. We know from the outset that some of these kids, if not all of them, have no future, to borrow the title of Edelman’s book, and the impersonality of the film’s style resonates with the calculated sadism of the kids who kill. What Edelman wrote of The Birds, especially the scene in which the avian menace swoop down on a schoolyard of children, is even more explicitly and chillingly exemplified by Elephant, where movie and murderer alike seem at times to thrill to their own nihilism: “Insofar as the birds bear the burden of sinthomosexuality, which aims to dissociate heteronormativity from its own implication in the drive, it would,

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in fact, be more accurate to say that the meaning of homosexuality is determined by what the film represents in them: the violent undoing of meaning, the loss of identity and coherence, the unnatural access to jouissance” (132). The characters in The Birds keep asking why the birds attack, and its critics have been no less puzzled by the apparent meaninglessness of the violence. Elephant inspired a similar puzzlement and disgust in its surviving characters and its critics, such that we could say, as Edelman wrote of The Birds, it “seems to brood—dispassionately, inhumanly—on the gap opened up within nature by something inherently contra naturam: the death drive that haunts the Symbolic with its excess of jouissance and finds its figural expression in sinthomosexuality” (119). Needless to say, this embodiment of the death drive is hardly cause for celebration or even a sign of political agency for anyone, since the “excess of jouissance,” however delectable it may sound, is fatal, whether queer or not. “My polemic thus stakes its fortunes on a truly hopeless wager,” Edelman offers: “that turning the force of queerness against all subjects, however queer, can afford an access to the jouissance that at once defines and negates us” (5). With queerness like this, mere quotidian homophobia appears a relative comfort. He offers a rigorous analysis of the queerness of Lacan’s “sinthome,” but one whose melodrama of eternal battle between the symbolic and its disruptive jouissance can never translate into any political, aesthetic, or even erotic agenda, except to admit that, like everyone else, we bear within our psyches and in our discourse this nihilistic instinct for resistance to the normative cultural imperatives he describes as “reproductive futurism.” His logic leaves us in a bleak and unnecessary dilemma, presented as if it were a choice that someone could actually make: categorical commitment to the death drive or categorical commitment to the symbolic, both of which are uninhabitable positions. On a more practical level, the argument is a more trenchant version of the dilemma between assimilation and radical separatism, or between the rejection of a negative stereotype and the revolutionary embodiment of its disruptive potential. What is missing is some more neutral position as reformist or noncombatant, which is I suspect the position of most sexual minorities: seeking a certain contentment, a livable life, to one side of mainstream fears and expectations, if possible—a position in which queerness is neither fatal nor foresworn. In his arguments about the radical asociality inherent in “homo-ness,” Bersani finds himself in a similar dilemma, caught between a fatal queer jouissance and a repressive heteronormative symbolic order. The dilemma leads him to embrace a romance of the sexual outlaw that remains abstract and impracticable. As he wrote for the cover text of No Future (the back cover appropriately enough), “Edelman’s extraordinary text is so powerful that we could perhaps reproach him only for not spelling out the mode in which we might survive our necessary assent to his argument.” He has in fact addressed

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a similar reproach to his own work, as when he recognizes that the required “withdrawal from relationality” can only ever be “provisional” (H 7). What comes after that provisional withdrawal is essential to the argument, but as in Edelman’s No Future, the answer is vague and improbable. “This is not a political program” (H 171), he writes, just as Edelman claims, “I am proposing no platform or position from which queer sexuality or any queer subject might finally and truly become itself, as if it could somehow manage thereby to achieve an essential queerness” (No 17–18). That last part is key, since Edelman does suppose there is some deconstructive or psychoanalytic politics that is “strategic” in its distinctively queer challenge to the symbolic denial of the death drive. Somehow, we could aspire to a pure figuration of opposition grounded vaguely in sexual difference (but not identity or community), a queer outlaw who would, as Edelman writes, “figure the undoing of civil society” without “investing ourselves in it, clinging to its governing fictions, its persistent sublimations, as reality itself” (18). Bersani shares with Edelman a sense that gay men “figure” or “advertise” an erotics of the death drive and asociality that is a reliable source of scandal and disruption. As both Bersani and Edelman understand, the unconscious and jouissance as concepts permit us to theorize about a psychic and symbolic force that is an immanent disruption to any cultural order. It allows us to speak of a sexuality that is never fully reducible to a dominant logic. The question remains, however, what queer ethics, politics, or pleasures does that provisional disruption enable, once we acknowledge that nihilism, pure asociality, and rampant jouissance are never an option? The answer for Bersani lies, I would argue, not in the polemical bravura of his remarks on jouissance or revolution, but in what Sedgwick would call the more “reparative” moments of nonce theorization, one might even say sentimentality, about the typically queer erotics of what he calls “impersonal intimacy.” I can think of no better term to describe the paradox of Gus Van Sant’s technique in Elephant, the powerful mixture of sympathy and detachment by which he invades and preserves the privacy and interiority of his seemingly random cast of adolescent characters. I want to set my sights on two somewhat anomalous and sentimental moments in Bersani’s book Homos as a way to make a reparative rather than a paranoid argument about queerness a tergo. These scenes seem to me to have very little to do with the abjection, jouissance, or revolutionary potential of the gay outlaw; instead, they evoke certain ordinary pleasures of anal eroticism between men. Amid Bersani’s celebration of the gay outlaw in Jean Genet’s novel Funeral Rites, we find a pair of gay sexual idylls about rimming and fucking that are essential to his understanding of a new queer ethics of “impersonal intimacy.” Genet writes: “a dizziness shook my prick harder, my tongue grew soft, forgetting to dig harder, my head sank deeper into the damp hairs, and I saw the eye of Gabés [the anus] become adorned with flowers, with foliage,

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become a cool bower which I crawled to and entered with my entire body, to sleep on the moss there, in the shade, to die there” (Genet 253, qtd. also in H 178). Bersani goes into raptures about this passage, though it has very little to do with some revolutionary jouissance. The violence has receded into a regressive fantasy of returning to the womb through the anus of the male beloved. The jouissance of the phrase “to die there” is hopelessly French, a soft and swooning bliss more fecund than fatal. Bersani wisely sees in it a paradoxical sublimation, a perverse and explicit sexual act that nevertheless stimulates artistry, the foliage and flowers typical of Genet’s queer aesthetic, not to mention metaphors of fertility that would ironically harken to an ideal of sexual and cultural reproduction rather than defying it. Bersani writes, “The fertility of rimming depends on its being immediately productive. The hallucinatory excitement induced in Genet by his foraging tongue gives birth at once to the luxuriant bouquets and bowers of his writing” (H 179). Genet is blissfully sufficient to himself, like a fantasy of the prehistoric mother with a phallus, complete in her oceanic contentment with her son and oblivious to the symbolic interruptions of the father. Sublimation becomes here, as in Freud’s case study of Leonardo da Vinci, a rechanneling of homosexual jouissance, and yet the homosexuality, far from disappearing into its lush metaphors, remains on the page with striking pornographic explicitness. This passage from Genet points to a fundamental problem in Freud’s theory of sublimation: How do we know it when we see it, and how is it different from repression? We might reasonably ask, what if sublimation coexists with sexual expression and even with explicitly perverse pleasure? The homophobic and misogynistic reviling of anal eroticism would still be understandable as repression, but if sublimation could not coexist with the scandalous sexuality that inspires it, erotic art would be a contradiction in terms. Much modern art, much ancient art, indeed any art that has overcome the will to sexual prudery and censorship would be a contradiction if the standard Freudian reading of sublimation were coherent. Rather, sublimation, far from repressing or reviling perverse desire, curls up in its bower, protects it and idealizes it, expands and extends it so as to upstage the merely procreative instincts, to hear its resonance in every endeavor of the mind and culture, to complicate its simple structures into a more sophisticated architecture that retains the primordial line and curve of the erotic inspiration on which it draws. In a word, it makes perversion less disappointing by rendering it sublime. The revolutionary potential that Bersani and Edelman attribute to queerness or homo-ness are in fact about a commitment more to sublimation than to the death drive: queerness not merely as a perverse disruption, but also as a creative endeavor, a will to new forms of art and connectedness. Bersani’s other great queer idyll of impersonal intimacy is also drawn from Genet’s Funeral Rites. In this scene, the German soldier Erik “buggers” the

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French collaborator Riton from behind while standing and facing outward in the same direction, looking “into the darkness, as one looks into the future.” Had they been facing each other, Genet explains, they “would have been entwined in a rapture that would have confined them.” Like the couple or even the family, their intimacy would be turned inward into a very personal circle of privacy. Instead, they “were projecting the frightful ray of their love to infinity” and “escaping from themselves over the world” (Genet 249, qtd. also in H 164–65). They do not engage with each other personally, nor do they seem to have a self that longs for acknowlegment by the other. They are traitors, then, not only to a political cause, but also to each other and to sociality itself. Bersani writes, “But this is exactly Genet’s revolutionary strength. Both his abhorrent glorification of Nazism and his in some ways equally abhorrent failure to take that glorification seriously express his fundamental project of declining to participate in any sociality at all” (H 168). The qualifications hang heavily over his italics in this claim, since obviously their erotic solitude does not allow them simply to opt out of the ethical disaster that has made their union, such as it is, possible in the first place. Does this asociality disrupt social violence or just aggravate its power of alienation? If we read Bersani against his own grain here, read him as offering an alternative sociality, rather than an alternative to sociality, we might salvage those moments of sentiment and diffuse eroticism for a more reparative queer erotics. In a more sentimental moment in an earlier chapter, Bersani offers another iconic scenario of one man buggering another that would suggest a very different reading of Genet’s coitus a tergo, reading it this time through Freud’s theorization of the primal scene in his case study of the Wolf Man, the same passages that occupied Edelman in his theorization of “(be)hindsight.” In the standard reading of the primal scene, a boy witnesses his parents having sex a tergo with their genitals in plain view, and the child assumes that his father has violently castrated his mother and may do the same to him if the boy does not relinquish his primary bond with her. I have drawn my own title from Freud and his quaintly latinate phrase “coitus a tergo, more ferarum” (57), or sexual penetration from behind in the manner of beasts, since one of the many elephants in the room in Elephant would seem to be just such a primal scene, an intrusive erotic approach from behind that could be castratingly sadistic or a deeply gratifying expression of pleasure and love, depending on the conclusions of the spectator, that puzzled child-detective at the end of the cinematic bed. The stakes for these conclusions are high in this film, since one is never certain whether one will be approached from behind with a gun or a kiss, and Freud makes that ambiguity between pleasure and castration constitutive of an entire erotics of visuality with profound consequences for psychic life. Bersani gives us an intriguingly queer twist on this question: Why would the boy also feel “compassion” for his father, as Freud claims? Upon seeing his

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father’s penis disappear into his mother, he feels compassion for the father’s loss and rejoices at the reappearance of the penis. He also “passes a stool,” which Bersani interprets in Freudian style as a fecal-phallic gift to “compensate the father for his loss.” The classic story of sadism a tergo in Freud becomes for Bersani an occasion to theorize a certain compensatory generosity between men. What if a man is fucking a man in the primal scene? Or what if this child-detective had two daddies? The climax of Bersani’s chapter, “The Gay Daddy,” comes with his description of another gay couple: “We might imagine that a man being fucked is generously offering the sight of his own penis as a gift or even a replacement for what is temporarily being ‘lost’ inside him—an offering not made in order to calm his partner’s fears of castration but rather as the gratuitous and therefore even lovelier protectiveness that all human beings need when they take the risk of merging with another, of risking their own boundaries for the sake of self-dissolving extensions” (H 112). Bersani’s qualification about calming fears of castration makes little sense here—given Freud, what other motive could there be? What else would justify that “lovelier protectiveness”? According to Freud, a man fetishizes a woman to allay his own castration anxiety, to convince himself despite evidence to the contrary that women do still have some sort of penis, however fantasmatic, and will not therefore seize the opportunity of coitus to steal one from a man. With a male partner, this man seems to have sought solace in homosexuality rather than fetishism, and Freud did claim that homosexuality can console a man when his fetishism and masochism fail sufficiently to phallicize the beloved. In reading Genet’s description of Erik and Riton through this scene, we might see more clearly the ethics of care and support that grounds this impersonal coitus a tergo. Support and protection comes from behind—and it is masculine and hard. Bersani overlooks the lines about support in the passage he quotes: “The group was strengthened by leaning against the wall, by being backed up, protected by it.” For Riton, Erik serves as another wall, “the weak sheltered by the stronger.” Femininity in this scene is projected onto the weaker, penetrated man, but more importantly it is displaced still farther in front of them, as if they were the suitably phallic and symbolic “figurehead” of a ship plowing into some vast marine vacuity conceived vaguely and metaphorically as “the darkness,” “the future,” “infinity,” or “the world.” They are each other’s compensatory phallic gift, a masculinity redoubled in the face of lack now rendered cosmic and no longer anchored in the body of a woman or even a man. The paradigm would work the same, its homo-ness intact, no matter what the genders of the couple were, and would have the salutary effect of displacing lack and otherness off the gendered body and onto a void beyond that they both face. The threat of castration has not been eliminated, but rather just configured differently. For the couple face to face, lack adheres in the body of the beloved and its threat is assuaged, or not, in the act of bug-

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gery. For a coitus a tergo, however, lack has been displaced outward, whether the beloved is a woman or a man, and what is still stranger in Genet’s description, the phallus is also depersonalized, no longer anchored in a man or a penis, since it is backed up by a wall on which the couple leans, backed up in other words by some world of plenitude and support still farther behind that assures the couple that the void before them is not the only infinity they confront. Both the agency and the object of the sexual act between Erik and Riton are oddly, poetically displaced. What then is the significance for a theory of spectatorship in this compensatory gift presented a tergo? We know all too well how Freud’s conception of the primal scene may leave us with a theory of the essential sadism of the phallic camera, which is inevitably behind the scenes even when it approaches us head on—and doubly so, it would seem, when it stalks us from behind the behind. To say the camera is behind you may mean that it is stalking you, but it may also mean that it is somehow covering your back and protecting you; or backing you up, in the sense of supporting your extension into the world by redoubling and reinforcing your perspective. The camera can reassuringly see what is before you in both senses of the word—what you see (what is in front you) and what you cannot see (your behind, your very act of seeing, a wider field of vision). Could we see a certain psychosexual compensation in this cinema a tergo whose penetration is impersonal, supportive, reorienting us outward not just at the character onscreen but at the world that confronts the camera and the character alike? Elephant is that cinema. The homicidal and vaguely homoerotic jouissance of the murderers finds its counterpoint in a scene that is equally impersonal, intimate, and queer and that is also the film’s most sustained and explicit discussion of gayness: the appearance of the female character Acadia and the meeting of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. In an impressive tracking shot, one of the more alienated boys, John, is seen retreating to an empty lounge in the school so that he can be alone to cry after a depressing morning with his irresponsible father and a reasonably understanding school principal. Randomly, mysteriously, he is approached from behind by Acadia, whom we have not yet seen and who has not yet been named for her own sequence, in which she plays a very small role. She approaches him from behind, just as the camera has done so often, and she is increasingly curious about the distress she slowly recognizes in him. She peers around him, he peers back at her to admit that he is crying, as she supposed. In a bold and unexpected gesture, she kisses him in a touching, unexplained expression of sympathy, even though she has no idea why he is crying. She then retreats behind him, as if to make no further claim. She then informs him of the Gay-Straight Alliance meeting that she is about to attend, as if to say this might cheer him up or distract him or support him, though we are never given any other reason to think this might be just the

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antidote he needs. She has no other purpose in the film but to serve as this enigmatic allegorical figure of sympathy who is also grounded in an ethics of queerness. Her kiss is unconditional and unreciprocated, and John never does go to the meeting. It seems the perfect gesture of impersonal intimacy, since it assumes an ethical and erotic connectedness unjustified by any reference to a conventional sense of an identity, self, sexuality, social obligation, or personal relationship. Is this scene gay or straight? Is this intrusion or rescue? Is this understanding or obliviousness? This kiss, mysterious though it may be in context, has been abstracted rather misleadingly for use in advertising for the film, as if Elephant were a standard heterosexual teen romance, as if the girl were the usual ingénue and not a minor character emblematic of queer possibility, queer (be)hindsight, and queer connection. She approaches from behind, she intrudes on a private moment, she happens upon a secret the content of which she may or may never understand—and her instinct is not to kill, but to kiss and then let be. Her queer kiss, even the queer shower kiss of the gunmen, approaches from behind to connect but not to claim, and it serves as a more compelling metaphor for Van Sant’s camera than would an assault rifle. The gesture is elaborated during the shooting by way of another enigmatic character filmed from behind: Benny, who wordlessly points the dazed Acadia to safety before getting shot himself. He is a black masculine variation of the same erotic motif, a character who appears very briefly, is dubbed with a name in an intertitle anyway, performs a mysterious act of love, then disappears abruptly from the narrative. To see Benny as merely a racist stereotype, a black man briefly evoked only to be cruelly dispatched, is to miss his interpretive challenge, the enigmatic courage and uncanny charisma of his dreamlike mission of rescue amid seemingly surreal violence. Acadia, her very name evoking a refuge and an idyll, is afterward announced by the film in an intertitle as she enters the Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. The topic for discussion at the meeting is how to know a gay person when you see one. As Van Sant pointed out in an interview, it is not clear whether his gunmen are gay; equally unclear is the sexual orientation of anyone at this meeting, but gayness seems to be everywhere and nowhere in this film where unreadability itself seems to be an erotic preference. The kids talk about pink clothing, rainbow paraphernalia, and other signs that may not be signs at all. No one comes out as gay, though the vibe is friendly and accepting enough to assume they would, if they were so inclined. We do, however, get a glimpse of the high stakes of coming out, of being recognizable to others and caught in the sights of a heteronormative society. The students talk about a newspaper article about gay rams and the problem they cause for livestock breeding when the farmers cannot recognize them as gay. The gay rams turn the conversation into a fable of sexual visibility, complete with animals construed as vaguely human. Can society tell what kind of animal you

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are—a gay ram, an elephant, a bull, a dog, a tiger, to name a few animals in this movie’s crowded menagerie—and if society can tell, will it then be able to assault you? Maybe slaughter you? Van Sant makes this fable all the more visceral in the final lines of the film, in which the gunman is trying to decide whom to kill first, Nathan or Carrie, by reciting the familiar children’s game about catching a tiger by the toe, as a side of meat hangs behind in the cafeteria freezer. There is a good political reason why gay rams and gay elephants prefer to remain unidentifiable as such: they might get served up as meat in the school lunchroom, though the logic of the assault is much more random. The discussion at the meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance makes this fear and alienation an occasion for frank and civilized connection, all the while respecting privacy and interiority. It is difficult to imagine a homophobia so fatal in a school where a meeting about gay students could excite such pleasant and energetic banter. The laughter of this group of students and their faculty mentor, their openness, their respect for one another, even the silent attendance and engagement of those who do not speak, all stand in radical contrast to the general atmosphere of emotional alienation that pervades the school and its students’ lives, rendering homosexuality and even homophobia the most potent occasion for communal discussion, not alienation, in the film. The Gay-Straight Alliance represents an “impersonal intimacy” at its cruisy best in that, like Acadia, it demonstrates a connectedness ungrounded in assertions of sexual identity and selfhood, which the students gleefully deconstruct. Instead of sexual orientation, the camera gives us a sexual disorientation. It emphasizes the gaps between students as well as the gaps in its own knowingness or ability to see the whole elephant from a single point of view. It moves from one student face to the next around the table, sometimes looking at the blank space between faces and usually not looking at the student who is actually talking (the student who is presumably somewhere mysteriously behind the camera). The camerawork is part of the general scheme of tracking or panning, this time in a circuit from face to face as if we were seated, once again, in an invisible hole in the middle of the table and turning slowly on an axis as the talk progresses. We face the students head-on as they face one another, but the gaze is organized around an empty center and empty gaps between students, not to mention the mysterious gap behind the camera from which certain students speak. As in the scene with Alex at the piano, the film is rimming around its own aporia by tracing a circuit around precisely what it cannot see, what would not make sense, the very hole in the text that the gaze inhabits—even as it is staring its putative subject, the students, in the face. The rotation of the camera on an axis creates its own blind spot as a tight circle from which it sees unseen, an elided eyehole through which can pass any image except the spectacle of its own seeing. Blind spot: the blank point of

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entry of the optic nerve on the retina by which the hardwiring of vision defies vision, the gaze as camera as unrepresentable glasshole, to borrow a pun from Edelman. Figuratively speaking, a blind spot is also an area in which one lacks knowledge, impartiality, or grounds for judgment. In other words, we can stare all we want, but inherent in the structure of vision is its own vanishing point. The steady, panning, impersonal stare of Van Sant’s camera leaves us feeling that even an approach dead-on from the front feels paradoxically like a stalking from behind, formally most striking in its frustrating evocations of gaps. First, there are the long gaps that emerge between each face and the next face, a blurry blank that for an instant fills the entire screen even as we are aware that, off-screen, someone we should attend to is speaking. Second, there is the gap of the camera’s own positioning at the center of the classroom circle. The steady movement invites a cruising intersubjectivity, threading one face to the next, and yet Van Sant risks a stylized representation of a fundamental gap between self and other: the abyss between one consciousness and the next, between the spectacle of speaking and the spectacle of attending, between the consciousness that sees and the consciousness it ultimately fails to recognize, between what we see and the place from which we see it. Is the camera following the discussion, following the students’ following of the discussion, or just following the students with a cruising, impersonal, even mechanical desire of its own? This impersonal stare, intrusive as it may seem, has a startling power to appreciate otherness as genuinely and inaccessibly other, to contemplate without commanding, to pursue without possessing. Van Sant’s long sequences focused on girls are especially interesting for the tension between intrusion and sympathy, which is thematized in the dialogue but also enacted formally by the camerawork. The girls on whom Van Sant focuses most are different from Acadia in both their affect and their presentation by the camera. I refer here to the long, analytic gaze at the awkward girl, Michelle, and at the girls who would appear at first to be her counterpoint, the clique who are attractive and popular but are nevertheless struggling with similar insecurities about body image, relationships with peers, and adult authority. In a single shot of consummate virtuosity, Van Sant follows the clique of three girls—Brittany, Jordan, and Nicole—as they flirt in the hallway, discuss another girl’s resentment of that kind of flirtation, discuss a mother’s intrusive searching through their personal belongings, discuss the food on offer in the cafeteria, discuss the feelings of betrayal when a girlfriend finds a boyfriend, and finally head for the lavatory where their bulimia is revealed to us as they retreat into adjoining toilet stalls to vomit (they are later shot to death while still in the lavatory). The tone is a flawless blend of camp humor and grim social commentary. The running theme is unwanted intrusion and judgment, especially girl on boy, girl on girl, and mother on girl, all of it call-

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ing into question the unblinking voyeurism of this single sustained shot of the camera, sometimes focused, as in other shots, on their nubile backsides. Here, the camera is indeed satirical and sensational, but we learn something of the girls’ frustration and discomfort at being the objects of harsh social scrutiny. The sequences on Michelle are equally impersonal and intimate. It is significant that she is the first student to be murdered, turning to the camera to address the gunmen, only to be brutally shot, her blood splattering the books behind her as she drops to the floor. The scene of her murder focuses us not on her face, but rather on the horror emerging behind us (the unseen menace of the arriving gunmen) and behind her (the interiority that we have been straining to see and that is now rendered all too literally and disturbingly as her blood on the shelf of library books). The murder serves as an ironic commentary on the camera that has followed her through the school, usually face front but nevertheless in an intrusive way that this fiercely private girl would dread, given her abundantly demonstrated distaste for personal display. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, we watch her trying to expose as little of her skin as possible as she changes clothes in the locker room. We sense her social discomfort so keenly that even the steady gaze of the camera makes us uncomfortable. She even avoids looking at her own body. As she removes her top, she awkwardly keeps her glasses on, though they serve more as a mask to hide her face than as an aid to her vision. Other girls nearby hover as a palpable threat, and a floating comment of disdain (“Loser!”) reveals not the sadism of the camera, but the sadism of other girls in a context of gendered and sexualized social judgment. The intrusive camera is rather generous and sympathetic. The scrutiny is intensified by the female coach, who is trying to be considerate but is strict in her insistence that Michelle wear the sort of revealing gym shorts that she clearly dreads. Oddly, the locker room sequence is also the only place we see an exposed buttocks. This is not a boy’s ass, not even the asses of the gunmen in the shower, but the ass of a girl in the locker room shower, framed by four other girls, clothed but viewed from behind—and too mundane and impersonal to pass as a pornographic thrill. The anxious and vulnerable sphere of Michelle’s all-too-public privacy is both violated and supported by the guilty and sympathetic intrusion of the camera. We wish there were a support group specifically for nerdy students, not just gay ones, so that some ambulatory Acadia could distribute random kisses in support of every student in distress. Paradoxically, our intrusion makes us feel more protective. The tracking shot of Nathan is an even more sensual and enigmatic instance of this balance between stalking and protectiveness that Van Sant accomplishes primarily through languorous tracking shots. He spends six long minutes of screen time on an extended tracking shot that follows Nathan as he merely walks through the playing fields into the school. The scene is itself an unconventional act of penetration in that it is inserted jarringly in

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the midst of a repeated moment in another tracking sequence in which John is scrutinized with a disciplinary but sympathetic look of silent communication from the school principal. It is also penetrated in turn by the repeated beginning point of a later tracking sequence that focuses on Brittany, Jordan, and Nicole. We learn a little about his uneasy relationship with his girlfriend, Carrie, before they are both cornered in the back freezer of the meat locker by the gunman Alex; Nathan’s backstory, however, is not nearly as absorbing as his backside—for Van Sant at least. The aggressive overtones are evident in the hint of cruising and stalking as we follow Nathan. The extradiegetic Beethoven sonata on the soundtrack will later be anchored in Alex’s piano practice, and Nathan even has a red-and-white cross printed on the back of his sweatshirt that looks oddly like a target or a stylized anus, as if the film were inviting us to take aim with camera, gun, and phallus all at once. His handsomeness and the girls’ flirting with him in slow motion also underscore the erotic, ogling feel of this sequence, which is uncomfortably long enough to feel obsessive and intrusive. It also opens Van Sant to a well-justified accusation of, once again, cruising doomed youth, taking a fetishistic interest in some handsome, vulnerable teenager who will not outlive the director’s sexual fascination. The pattern is evident in the necrology of beautiful young men throughout Van Sant’s work, especially films such as Gerry, Last Days, and Paranoid Park, which share Elephant’s cruisy, fatal, homoerotic tracking aesthetic. Those whom the gods and the director love most die young. Nevertheless, this mysterious surge of an eroticized death drive in Van Sant’s films creates its own riptides of tragic dignity and eddies of existential pathos. This tracking of Nathan is an excellent case in point, since its languorous and wistful tone undermines any identification with the position of the gunmen who will hunt him down in the same hallways. The somber piano sonata (played by his murderer?), the autumnal setting, the slow pace of his walk lend an emotional tenderness to the scene even though we are permitted to know little or nothing of the character’s affect or emotional state, as if this shooting of him before he gets shot were serving to idealize him in advance of losing him, to fetishize and admire him in order to make his brutal end all the more distressing. The camera even hangs back for a while to let Nathan walk into the distance, as if acknowledging the limits of its own reach, the distance that will never be closed, even at gunpoint, when he will be oddly hidden from our view in the freezer. The pattern on his sweatshirt, however targetlike, is a lifeguard insignia that lends a further pathos to his failed attempt to save himself and his girlfriend in the final scene. The lifeguard’s cross further excites a pity and protectiveness that this scene seems to foster precisely by its perspective from behind: the spectator not as stalker but as failed rescuer, trailing behind and idealizing a vulnerable figure neither we nor the film could otherwise preserve or even grasp.

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As a photographer, Elias, or Eli as he is familiarly addressed, plays a meta-cinematic role in the proceedings as the figure through whom Van Sant can comment indirectly on his own procedures as a filmmaker. In the opening scene where he wanders through a park in search of subjects to shoot, he seems at first a descendent of David Hemmings’s swinging fashion photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, a character who cruises a park with vaguely erotic intent, shoots pictures seemingly at random in search of inspiration, and accidentally films what appears to be the traces of a murder. If Eli’s intentions are voyeuristic and sexual, however, they are either repressed or sublimated, and when he does find a punky, attractive couple to shoot, it is they and not he who inquire about a nude pose. He surprises us by disavowing any such intention to see them naked. In the course of the film, we might even take him at his word, so absorbed does he seem to be in the aesthetic process and formal dimension of the image, even when talking with another student in a darkroom scene that is ripe for a flirtation that does not quite happen. His solitary absorption is, we discover, his most seductive quality, and what should be a spectacle of sublimation as he scrutinizes his prints in the darkroom turns out to be one of the film’s most voluptuous moments. He seems awkward and geeky as we follow him through the park and through the hallways of the school, but once he enters the darkroom, we stand closer and closer to him, behind him or to his left, and wonder whether his own photos, which we never actually see except blankly from behind, are as well lit as he. As we stand over his shoulder and watch his movements, the camera is transfixed by the ring and bracelet that touch off speculations of his queerness, as his hand gently and skillfully rocks back and forth with the can of film and chemicals in a movement rivetingly masturbatory. Then he is ready for his glamorous close-up, and we are suddenly made aware of the smoothness of his skin, the texture of his hair, the blueness of his eyes—at precisely the moment when he unfurls rolls of film, foregrounding the cinematic gaze as a passionately impersonal and aesthetic engagement that draws out the boy’s erotic appeal at the most intense moment of his self-absorption in his art. He becomes literally the guy behind the film, and the director’s identification with him is palpable. It is this shot that is most closely duplicated in the shots of Van Sant himself as he does the editing for Elephant in the documentary that is included in the extra features on the DVD. Van Sant clearly has no qualms about having the camera turned on himself for a similar cinematic treatment a tergo, another portrait of the artist not as stalker but as stalked, yet undisturbed, in the midst of his own artistic absorption. Eli comes to allegorize the intrusive and yet pleasurable and unthreatening sensitivity of the very camera that he wields and the camera that is framing him. At any rate, he is the allegorical figure for this gaze up until the moment he snaps a picture of a gunman and is promptly shot dead, if indeed it is he, blown off his feet in a blur and never seen again for the rest of

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the film, a shooting as coolly impersonal as his own aesthetic formalism. Once again the punctuation of the death drive, the “no future” of jouissance, comes late in the game and only puts into stark relief the contrast between the gun and camera that supposedly function by the same violent logic. Sadism or its reparation? Van Sant’s camera uncannily evokes both at once, using a stalking camera to capitalize on our dread of the massacre we know is coming but then undermining our expectations with his respectful, contemplative, and sympathetic gaze. As Genet writes, and Bersani quotes, “I would like to be an out-and-out bastard and kill those I love—handsome adolescents—so that I may know by my greatest pain my deepest love for them” (H 157). Here Genet sounds as if he were writing an epigraph for Elephant. Both Bersani and Genet are indulging an arty and romantic embrace of betrayal that they consistently undermine with redemptive appeals to impersonal intimacy. In reference to the pederasty in Gide’s novel The Immoralist, Bersani writes that this queer impersonal intimacy “proposes that we move irresponsibly among other bodies, somewhat indifferent to them, demanding nothing more than that they be as available to contact as we are, and that, no longer owned by others, they also renounce self-ownership and agree to that loss of boundaries which will allow them to be, with us, shifting points of rest in a universal and mobile communication of being” (H 128). This passage would serve well also to describe Van Sant’s tracking shots, which are closer to cruising than to stalking, punctuated though they are with abject violence. They feel motivated by an oddly casual yet intense curiosity, an eagerness to join in their absorption, whether it is pleasurable or painful. This ambient attention is like adolescent coolness, intense but strangely somnolent, at ease with confusion, content to enjoy what is made available to the eye without panic or insistent demand. To hang out, follow people, look around, take in the scene, maybe stare a bit too much. Perhaps better than any other film, Van Sant’s Elephant captures this tension between death drive and a new erotics of impersonal intimacy, between asocial aggression that disrupts a cultural norm and this more mobile and unselfconscious connectedness that remains so utopian that perhaps it is best represented by a gathering of high school students with no future.

Works Cited Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print. Edelman, Lee. Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. ———. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004. Print. ———. “Rear Window’s Glasshole.” Hanson ed. 72–96.

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Freud, Sigmund. “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis.” 1918. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and trans. James Strachey. Vol. 17. London: Hogarth P, 1955. 1–222. Print. Genet, Jean. Funeral Rites. 1947. Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: Grove P, 1969. Print. Hanson, Ellis. “Out Takes.” Hanson ed. 1–19. Hanson, Ellis, ed. Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film. Ed. Hanson. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1999. Print. Miller, D. A. “Anal Rope.” Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. Ed. Diana Fuss. New York: Routledge, 1991. 119–41. Print. ———. “Visual Pleasure in 1959.” Hanson ed. 97–125. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” 1975. Visual and Other Pleasures. New York: Macmillan, 1989. 14–26. Print. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.” Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. 123–51. Print. Sofair, Michael. “Elephant: The Physics of Violence.” CineAction 68 (2006): 12–17. Print.

5

Reading Freud Bersani and Lacan

JAMES PENNEY

Despite the fact that I’ve never met its author, I’ve often expressed gratitude, to whom I couldn’t say, for the existence of Leo Bersani’s work. Regrettably, until recently I had never taken the occasion to immerse myself in it with the thoroughness it deserves. Even so, by the time I earned my doctorate at the millennium’s turn, I had read enough Bersani to know not only that we shared common interests—modern French literature and psychoanalysis, in particular—but also that I wasn’t entirely alone in my precociously firm conviction that neither identity politics and its putative subversion nor Michel Foucault’s paranoid history of sexuality is the most promising way forward for a theoretical project interested in the complex intersections of aesthetics, sexuality, history, and politics. Deeper engagement was no doubt hindered by the uncanny sense that the most penetrating insight I would ever gain about the authors we both study had already been formulated by Bersani with as much, perhaps more, elegance than I would ever be capable of. Reading Bersani on Benjamin, for instance, made me discover, bravely formed, my own inchoate reservations about the irritatingly nostalgic and theological conservatism I had sensed in this ever-looming and overrated author about whom I’ve never written. I once held the view that one point of contrast between my approach to art and literature and Bersani’s lay in my willingness to place the cultural and philosophical traditions on equal footing, enabling a mutual illumination that also, in its very gesture, subverts philosophy’s arrogant assumption that, in order to conceptualize itself, art must engage in thought of an inherently philosophical kind. Further reading had me realize, however, that Bersani’s text can accurately

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be described as a philosophical interrogation of literature and art by other than philosophical means. But the most deep-seated obstacle that blocked a more thoroughgoing encounter with Bersani’s writing was the stealth bomb that Lacan’s teaching planted among fellow travelers of French intellectual life, a teaching so brazen and breathtaking that agnosticism made one look simply out of touch. When I first engaged with Lacan in the early 90s, it appeared that Bersani had already come to the conclusion later reconfirmed and elaborated by eventual Berkeley colleague Judith Butler and the queer theorists: an underlying Lacanian “structuralism,” for Butler indebted to the Lévi-Straussian notion of kinship as symbolic system, legislates a badly normative heterosexism subsumed under the patriarchal sign of the phallus. I suspect that the nefarious party anonymously singled out in 1986’s The Freudian Body, the one guilty of “neutralizing” sexuality “through a discourse inspired by structuralist linguistics” (FrB 64), was indeed Lacan. Later, Bersani would more explicitly describe “psychoanalytic therapy” from “Freud to Lacan,” accurately, but also overgenerally, as more conservative than “psychoanalytic theory” (IRG 92). No doubt I would have deemed Lacan still worth reading had I agreed that things were so simple. Along with a select few pioneering contrarians— Christopher Lane and Tim Dean were for me the most important—I persevered in the seemingly ill-advised project of enlisting Lacan’s reading of Freud for the antihomophobic project in the field of theory. For alternative analytic inspiration, Bersani had already turned to the work of Jean Laplanche, another major figure of French Freudianism and early attendee of Lacan’s seminar. Laplanche’s discussion of the libidinal body’s excessive reach over the psyche’s capacity to organize sexual stimulation has remained after Freud perhaps the most constant and impactful theoretical reference in Bersani’s work as a whole, mediating in a most significant way his approach to the Freudian text.1

Imperfect Freuds For opening generalities this will no doubt suffice. In the remainder of this essay I will focus in on the element of Bersani’s writing that I’ve found at once most fascinating or inspirational and most problematic: his reading of Freud, gist and detail. Let me state at the outset that I can’t think of a more informed or careful reader of Freud. Rarely does an exegesis of Freud’s text keep more suggestively and productively tensile the struggle between the radical and recuperative tendencies of a body of writing that, no one would deny, expresses deep ambivalence about its own unsettling discoveries. Rarely, either, do we encounter the speculative audacity and closely argued support of Bersani’s main thesis on Freud’s writing: through its notoriously dense and self-undermining

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complexity, it performs the idea of the unconscious it rather wishes to bring to the level of the concept. Bersani’s Freud demonstrates that the unconscious opens an aporia for thought by bravely allowing the coherence of his thought to break down before this aporia. Although, for Bersani, this performance carries tremendous intellectual value, strong revisionist and recuperative tendencies in the text attenuate its full subversive force by imposing an unfortunate normative moralism, thereby conservatively redeeming the revolutionary and amoral theory of sexuality the text also puts into play. This is where my thinking parts ways with Bersani’s. I don’t disagree that these conservative tendencies in Freud’s writing exist and do much to weaken both its coherence and impact. But I adopt from Lacan’s work the premise that the Freudian text as a whole is neither aporetic nor incoherent. The value of Freud, for Bersani, rests in the text’s subversion of its own conceptual logic. This subversion demonstrates a fundamental truth about the ruin of knowledge at the hands of sex. In my own alternative view inspired by Lacan’s teaching, Freud’s text offers the tools we need to bring knowledge’s ruin to thought; to conceptualize, one could also say, the inevitable ruination of the concept. That this conceptualization benefits from an exercise in formalization different from so-called ordinary language (diagram or “matheme,” for example) is no doubt a Lacanian premise that Bersani would reject as complicit with a renewed effort to domesticate, desexualize, normalize, and perhaps even redeem the unsettling, radical Freud whose latent theory of an irrational sexuality undermines the self’s very foundations. While, like Lacan’s, Bersani’s Freud theorizes not the interpretation of the unconscious but rather the necessary impasse of interpretation, Bersani’s reading method implicitly rejects the Lacanian corollary that mathematization enables a cleaner severing of language from meaning, from the metaphysics of the signified. The aesthetic impetus to formal abstraction in the analysis of Assyrian art is perhaps the closest antihermeneutic analogue of the Lacanian matheme in the Bersani corpus.2 Hardly atypically, however, nowhere does Bersani consider mathematical or logical languages as alternative means of conveying ideas in a way (more) immune to language’s ambiguous participation in the communication of meaning. My point might seem abstract, a mere quibble of minor consequence. At stake, however, is the fundamental question of how the truth of Freud’s discovery is to be framed. It is certainly true that many details of Bersani’s readings of the Freudian text will resonate, perhaps unwittingly, with Lacan’s teaching. Nonetheless, the two figures enunciate their commentary in starkly contrasting ways. Simply put, Lacan gives Freud’s text the benefit of the doubt that Bersani sceptically withholds. Over and above the lapses and regressions, Lacan makes a claim for the coherence of an underlying Freudian desire. No doubt by necessity, this desire is never articulated in the texts themselves: that is, on the level of their ambivalent content. Yet, for Lacan, it can be gleaned

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from the texts when we read them in a spirit of faith, in a way that takes Freud’s analytic desire as their sovereign object. In contrast to the sceptical distance that characterizes not only Bersani’s but also “poststructuralist” Freudianism as a whole, Lacan’s teaching offers the alternative of what we might call a militant orthodoxy, one which shares elements of the other current’s revisionism (there is as much criticism of Freud, implicit and explicit, in Lacan as there is in Bersani), but which fails to view the text’s imperfections as problematic in themselves. Lacan’s Freud is simply the Freud that would have been had Freud been better intellectually equipped, for example with the tools of post-Saussurean linguistics and (for the later Lacan) the “secularized” mathematics of Cantor and Gödel. Simply put, Lacan’s approach is based on the premise that Freud’s text already contains in potential form its own future course, a course which nonetheless could not have been charted by Freud himself. One could even go as far as to say that Lacan assumes that Freud’s text already “knows” Saussure or Cantor without actually knowing them; that these figures, in a nonchronological retrospective way, bring to Freud a conceptual precision that is already present in latent form. When I write that my difficulty relates to Bersani’s enunciation of his approach to Freud, I mean to take issue with the framing assumption that informs not so much the textual engagements in all their finely honed nuance and detail, but rather the structuring signposts that index the main summary theses. The readings that Bersani so carefully performs on Freud’s text are rich examples of the anticonceptualism with which deconstruction has come to be associated. I refer here to the notion that the development of a concept in language is subject to rhetorical phenomena, such as the paradigmatic catachresis, that undermine the concept’s coherence and therefore its use value and very legitimacy.3 It is more than coincidental that Bersani endorses the argument of Derrida’s essay “Spéculer—sur ‘Freud’ ” and that its author’s glowing blurb adorns The Freudian Body’s back cover. The importance of the link to deconstruction is that Bersani shares Derrida’s view that the difficulties of the Freudian text—its self-undoing elaboration of its central concepts—prove the text’s claim to elaborate concepts false.4 The result, for Bersani, is that Freud’s text can go no further than dramatize the impotence of thought when thought is confronted, as it inevitably will be, by a force of jouissance which shatters the very forms of consciousness. Further, the theoretical value of this performative impotence is brought to ruin by the text’s symptomatic attempt at compensation: the “phallic” reconstitution of an intelligible logic. Bersani is certainly correct to decry what he calls a “history of desire” (FrB 102) in Freud’s text. The purpose of this history is to soften sexuality’s subversive blow by encasing the vulnerable ego within a protective narrative shell. Yet I would go so far as to say that one has not yet read Freud to the extent that one posits this history as the Freudian text’s main contribution or ultimate point.

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Summarily if counterintuitively put, my difficulty with Bersani’s reading of Freud is that it is just too good. An excessive exegetical sophistication blends with an overfocalization on textual detail to lead the Bersani of The Freudian Body, for example, to the conclusion that “the Freudian text and Freud’s career as a man of medicine” finally “replace” the unsettlingly antihermeneutic insights of psychoanalysis with “the interpretive field” in which one finds the normative and adaptive current of ego psychology (FrB 101). This is the so-called general psychology founded by Heinz Hartmann in the United States after the rise of Nazism forced a great many second-generation Viennese Freudians out of central Europe and into inauspicious exile. Though Hartmann first presented the work that would lay the ego tendency’s foundations in the late 1930s in Vienna, it wasn’t until he joined forces with Ernst Kris and Rudolph Loewenstein at the New York Psychoanalytic Society in the 1940s that ego psychology would become a dominant force in the International Psychoanalytic Association. The contrast between Bersani’s approach to Freud and the premise of Lacan’s teaching is perhaps nowhere as clear as it is here. The ego-psychological current amounted for Lacan to nothing less than a glaring misreading, an obtuse betrayal, of the Freudian legacy, one deserving of a full-on, take-no-prisoners assault. For Bersani, in contrast, ego psychology is a legitimate outgrowth of Freud’s pioneering texts, though one which no doubt accentuates the recuperative tendency while remaining wilfully blind to all signs of the radical one. Bersani’s connection of a particular manifest Freud to ego psychology’s perniciously adaptive norms is closely related to the fact that his scepticism extends to the value and very legitimacy of psychoanalytic clinical work. Despite their noisy but inward fractiousness, all Lacanian clinical groups share an unqualified dismissive view of “therapy”; that is, the kind of normative and psychological clinical orientation that in Bersani’s view is a virtually necessary practical consequence of the case history’s form and content. Freudian clinical work, for Bersani, has a narrative and teleological aim, one which it was Lacan’s signal early achievement to subvert. Yet Bersani’s reading also posits that Freud’s case histories betray a consistent effort to domesticate the libido’s disruptive power. Harnessing sexuality’s nonsensical and dysfunctional force, their narrative form contains the libido within the meaning-giving form of a story with a happy (or indeed unhappy) ending. With not infrequent success, the case history for Bersani aims to reconcile the libido’s unruly passion with the practical demands of a reality Freud notoriously construes as familial and bourgeois. I’ve already conceded the impossibility of denying the existence of such currents in Freud’s clinical and technical work.5 For example, there is little doubt that Dora bolts (in part) because Freud tells her she can cure herself by marrying a suitor he finds eminently eligible (see Freud, “Fragment”). Yet, however belatedly, Freud also acknowledges Dora’s lesbian libido. Moreover, he is entirely justified in pointing out to Dora that she does herself no favors

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by aiding and abetting her father’s infidelities with Frau K., the object of her own homosexual affections. In light of this evidence of how Dora thwarts the realization of her own unconscious queer fantasy, Freud is in one sense, though certainly not the best, correct to offer up Herr K. as a practical sexual alternative. In making this recommendation, however, Freud also breaks his own cardinal rule forbidding any such suggestion in the clinic. As far as Lacan is concerned, few of his teaching’s refrains are as constant as the invective against therapeutic reductionism, the same tendency towards normative suggestion, that is, at which Bersani justifiably takes aim. This reductionism transforms analytic work into a search for a meaning or signification authorized by the therapist that would make possible the capturing of a legitimate social identity or the securing of an appropriate object: comfortable accommodation, in other words, to the social and sexual status quo. These commonalities reveal how further investigation into clinical currents in French psychoanalysis might have led Bersani to a more nuanced view of not only Freud’s own problematic clinical practice, but of sympathetic post-Freudian traditions, including not least Lacan’s, that conspicuously share Bersani’s worries about the ethical and political dangers of therapeutic normalization.

Discourse and Sexuality Now, I would certainly be remiss were I to fail to address at this juncture the link between Bersani’s dark view of the clinic in the wake of the Freudian case history and the generally sympathetic, though not uncritical, tone of his extensive commentary on Foucault’s work. Recall that for the illustrious French historian and philosopher the Freudian clinic is a relatively recent modern apparatus for the disciplinary production of subjectivity.6 One tendency of Bersani’s writing considers Foucault’s genealogical method in a critical light. Published shortly after Foucault’s death from AIDS-related illness and in fact dedicated to Foucault, The Freudian Body agrees that psychoanalysis is firmly situated in the long Western tradition of power’s increasingly disciplinary construction of selfhood (FrB 29–30). Here Bersani is in accord with Foucault’s view that the analytic chamber, alongside all the other medicalized listening technologies that grew to prominence beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, is simply late modernity’s updated and guilt-inducing version of the Christian confessional. Bersani accepts Foucault’s premise that Freudian psychoanalysis is a product of this disciplinary genealogy. But, this time against Foucault, his work also argues that Freud’s text undermines, if rather against itself, this genealogy’s epistemological ambitions. If the good Freud subverts the premise of the possibility of a knowledge properly sexual in nature—that is, if sex for psychoanalysis is

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what thwarts the Western epistemological project as it has taken shape since the Greeks—then knowledge in the form of discourse can hardly be said in Foucault’s vein to produce sexuality. If sex is what evades or subverts knowledge, simply put, one fails to see how knowledge would be capable of producing it. Though, to my knowledge, there is no explicit argument against Foucault along these lines in Bersani’s work, such an argument is certainly implied, I would suggest, by Bersani’s antiepistemological understanding of sexuality, an understanding which, on my reading, remains remarkably consistent throughout the various stages of his writing career. Indeed, the theory of sexuality that Bersani elaborates in tremendous detail and in a variety of literary and artistic contexts is patently psychoanalytic in that it remains at odds with Foucault’s restriction of sexuality to discourse. With this term, the later Foucault encapsulates his view that a diffuse and indescribable network of linguistic and nonlinguistic forces disciplines and normalizes the desiring subject through its very production. No longer exercised by identifiable sovereign agencies (monarch or government, for example), power disciplines the subject through its own self-construction, its necessary (self-) mediation in and through a complex web of language and meaning. Sexuality, for Bersani, is decidedly not a discourse in this sense. It remains instead something very close to what it was originally for Freud: a dense and constant, literally psychosomatic (mental and bodily), excitation which overwhelms the powers of consciousness to organize it into a stable network of forms that this consciousness could represent to itself, could effectively know. Bersani would perhaps agree with my assessment that we can understand Foucault’s oblique criticism of psychoanalysis as a doomed attempt to eliminate the “psycho-” from psychosexuality. The concluding pages of The History of Sexuality’s introductory volume see Foucault desperately try to envision a “different economy of bodies and pleasures,” one presumably immunized against contamination by inherently disciplinary and ultimately illusory psychical forms (Foucault 159). How can this gesture fail to qualify as recuperative, as redemptive, in Bersani’s own sense of this term? Still, Bersani’s hypothetical agreement with my critical assessment of Foucault’s later work is difficult to anticipate with any degree of certainty. This is so because his argument also appears to see no contradiction between the premise that “psychoanalysis can play an innovative role in a Foucauldian genealogy of the human subject in Western societies” and the notion that this same psychoanalysis “defines the sexual itself as that which profoundly disorients any effort whatsoever to constitute a human subject” (FrB 101). If, as is surely the case, Foucault’s genealogical project as it relates to sexuality depends on an understanding of sexuality as discourse in Foucault’s own sense of the term, then it cannot at the same time be possible to define sexuality as the agency that effectively undoes discourse’s work of subject

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production. Never properly articulated in Bersani’s text, the conclusion to be drawn is that sexuality as psychoanalysis understands it effectively dismantles Foucault’s genealogical project before it can even begin. Psychoanalysis does this by insisting on the immanent subversion of the discursive and political subject whose production genealogy aims to describe.

The Object, Re-Found So far, my assessment of Bersani’s reading of Freud has focused on its overarching approach to Freud’s writing corpus. To gain a sense of how exactly Bersani reads Freud, it will be helpful to look more closely at a specific example of this practice. I’ve chosen to examine the extensive commentary on primary narcissism because, on my reading, it comprises the most original and consequential twist that Bersani brings to the interpretation of Freud’s text. I should also say that the other reason I chose this example is because I think the analysis is misguided. Bersani’s rearticulation of Freud’s primary narcissism concept is the pivot point around which the subversive Freud for which he wants to argue takes shape. Further, Freud’s putative harnessing of the concept’s antinormative force in the guise of the ego ideal or superego is the gesture by which psychoanalysis participates, according to Bersani, in what he famously calls the culture of redemption. Seasoned Bersani readers will already be familiar with the argument of the book bearing that title: the force of a redemptive ideal domesticates the unsettling impact of European modernism from Nietzsche and Mallarmé to Proust and Benjamin by tacking on to its liberatory impetus the heavy weight of meaning and purpose, morality and norm. Bersani reads Freud’s forbiddingly complex speculative description of the formation and vicissitudes of the ego as both a discovery and repression of the truth that the libido is finally devoid of any object whatsoever. Dissimulated by the recuperative or redemptive element in Freud’s writing on primary narcissism, the argument goes, is the possibility of a sexuality independent of the disciplinary moralism and normativity that result from the ego’s identification with objects. In Bersani’s rendering of the developmental side of Freudian thought, the libidinal solipsism of an originary ego is enlisted for the guilty self-reproaches of melancholia once the subject is forced to deal with the loss of its first parental objects by interiorizing their representations. More simply put, the inevitable frustration of unconscious Oedipal wishes sets the stage in Freud for desexualizing idealizations that allow the subject to maintain a relation with the parental objects, but at the cost of damming up libido, of blocking a satisfaction to which a different, objectless ego would have easy access. In my assessment, this aspect of Bersani’s reading is not especially controversial and in accordance with my own.

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According to Bersani, however, Freud’s text offers no alternative object for the libido than the one that substitutes repression for satisfaction. Repression disguises under the alluring but normative cloak of idealization what in thruth is the inherently polymorphous and autoerotic nature of human sexuality. Repression also places the ego under the command of an oppressively disciplinary regime of morality: the self can only conceive of its desires as transgressive, guilty. Satisfaction is transformed into painful self-beratement as the ego effectively eroticizes its own disgust with itself. Sexuality learns to saturate with libido the experience of nonsatisfaction as the price paid for a putatively healthy ego, one that meets with the approval of interiorized moral agencies imbued with the power to issue a sanction that never seems to come. Here readers of Lacan will hear echoes of his definition of desire as inherently self-subverting. To the extent that it remains bound to the negating force of repression, desire is finally the wish for the perpetuation of dissatisfaction. Every possible object is judged unworthy, unsatisfying. Desire’s satisfaction becomes impossible, dependent on an object that remains forever unattainable, always elsewhere in what seem to be the unknowable depths of the unconscious. Finding in Freud no alternative object that might serve up better prospects for satisfaction, Bersani turns instead to primary narcissism to develop his theory of an inherently masochistic and ego-focused sexuality unmarked by the normative developmentalism characteristic of Freud’s Oedipal world of parental objects. For Bersani, Freudian primary narcissism gives evidence of an amoral libido altogether different from the one that suffers the guilty effects of repression. This alternative sexuality succeeds in gaining satisfaction without the mediation of an object, or more precisely without an object other than the ego, since Freud with great consequence will also describe the ego in this way, defining it as constructed from the series of abandoned libidinal objects that it works to incorporate into itself (Freud, Ego 29–30). As a veteran Freud reader, Bersani is well aware that the ego is complicit with the repressive and guilt-inducing effects of idealization. Indeed, Freud’s terms “ego ideal” and “ideal ego” bring the link between selfhood and ideality plainly to the fore. The onus is therefore on Bersani to explain exactly how an experience of sexual excitation which, he acknowledges, Freud defines as fully capable of overwhelming the ego, might be construed as in synchrony with this same ego’s structuring or formalizing mandate, the “binding” (Bindung)7 of libidinal excitation that Freud qualifies as the ego’s very raison d’être. Bersani explains himself when he asserts that primary narcissism “allows the infantile ego to be masochistically shattered without being destroyed” (FrB 40–41). Whereas other (indeed most) readers of Freud pit sexuality’s excessive stimulations against the ego’s limited capacity to assemble their mental representations, Bersani reformulates this antagonistic or dialectical relation as an

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endlessly repeated and surely paradoxical reconstitution through obliteration. Primary narcissism for Bersani is the mechanism that allows the ego to parry the threatening excitations of both the internal and external environments without renouncing pleasure. That is, the ego has the power to buttress itself against alien dangers by in essence rehearsing its own destruction, a destruction it instigates of its own volition and therefore can effect on its own terms. No doubt the argument is striking in its originality. Yet it’s difficult to see how it fails to qualify as an example of precisely the sort of compensatory accommodation that Bersani’s own antiredemptive thesis is meant to undermine. The problem as I see it is that Bersani effectively idealizes the ego’s autoerotic masochism. What is more, he does this against important tendencies in Freud’s text, albeit not the most obvious ones. Since the object in the guise of the ego ideal implies moral normativity and desexualization, the only way to rescue Freud’s theory in Bersani’s view is to valorize narcissistic sexuality over the object relation, indeed to qualify the object relation as superfluous to the libido’s requirements. This move, however, comes at a cost: why should the subject bother to address itself to prospective sexual partners, or even to the world in general, if it is entirely capable of getting off on its own, without having to find an object different from its own ego? Initiates will know that this was also a nagging question for Freud. Why does sexuality need to bother with external (non-autoerotic) objects, with “relationships”? Far from obvious, the answer for Freud boils down to that bedrock concept of his theory, the castration complex. The subject of sexuality must ultimately seek satisfaction in an outside object because castration forces it to encounter lack, thereby renouncing its position as the phallus: the object that satisfies the mother’s desire. To be fair, Bersani’s discourse openly acknowledges the central importance in Freud’s writing of a loss that propels the subject from the sanctum of the (fantasized) family out toward the uncertainties of the wider social world.8 Instead of making the subject depend on an object that can never be reconciled with self or ego, however, this loss for Bersani effects a limitless dispersal of the subject in the world, what he calls a “natural extensibility of all being” that sees “the world entirely reformulated as the self” (IRG 100). On my alternative reading, Freud’s insistence on the centrality of castration in human psychic life is rather designed to stress the ineradicable limit that puts a violent stop to this movement of egoic extension, and that imposes an irreparable disjunction between self and world. In Lacanian terms, the subject is split by the impossible choice it faces between an idealized but precarious world from which it must remain absent (desire) and the disorientingly immersive world of the drive. Unlike the world constructed by desire, this world is one into which the subject is thrust, but without the means of locating itself there, without the power to represent to itself its own experience of this world.

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Bersani’s notion of an infinite subjective dispersal effectively glosses over this predicament. Its closest psychoanalytic equivalent is the content of the Freudian Oedipal fantasies to which the law of castration puts paid. Freud argues in no uncertain terms that, in their incompatibility with “reality,” these fantasies must be repressed. Instead of delivering the uninterrupted ontological extensions of which Bersani speaks, however, repression creates Lacan’s manqueà-être: that is, the chronic aversion exhibited by the neurotic subject to the traumatic and dislocating experience of its own being in the world. In this sense, Bersani’s elision of the object amounts to a revisionist redemption of Freud’s unswerving refusal to resolve his notorious dualisms, to reconcile desire with the world’s refusal to conform to its latent demand. As I’ve already suggested, Bersani’s musings on an objectless sexuality become unnecessary if we adopt the key distinction Lacan makes in his teaching between the ego-linked and identificatory objects of desire and the altogether different objects of the drive. In contrast to desire’s incessant deferrals of satisfaction, its substitution of satisfaction for the promise of an ideal identity that can never properly be secured, the drive offers an excessive pleasure that shatters the ego, delivering a satisfaction about which it does not wish to know. Whereas Bersani associates sexuality with the absence of an object other than the ego, Lacan instead draws on Freud’s writings on the drive’s vicissitudes to theorize a very different sort of object, the partial object or objet petit a. The objects of identification associated with the ego furnish the subject with the prospect of representing itself to itself as a perfected whole. Freud makes very clear, by contrast, that the drive’s object can only ever be partial, affixed to specific body parts (mouth, anus, eye, ear) that open out onto the external world. I should add here in Bersani’s own antiredemptive spirit that Freud’s discourse on the drive introduces an explicitly teleological horizon when it evokes die ganze Sexualstrebung, the whole or completed drive that would assemble these disparate parts into a final, and indeed normative, genitality. Notoriously, Freud’s text remains ambivalent on the question of whether this norm is an achievable goal or merely a logical corollary or theoretical possibility. In contrast, Lacan decisively resolves the ambiguity, choosing to characterize the drive’s object as only and inherently partial, as defined in its essence by its inability to integrate with any possible whole. Freud’s partial object and Lacan’s objet petit a hold in common many of the desirable attributes that Bersani finds in his objectless narcissism: they are impersonal, nonpsychological, and polymorphous. Indeed, Bersani’s reading fails to acknowledge that in Freud’s text the partial object is already irreducible to individual persons, supplementary to describable elements of behavior and personality, and attached to three specific biological limit-zones (Lacan adds the ear, organ of the invocatory drive), none of which have any biological

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involvement with reproduction. Pace Bersani, Freud says in the Three Essays that the drive is indifferent to the object’s attractions, that these attractions do not form “the origin” of the drive (148). That the object itself is indifferent or unnecessary is an altogether different claim. Because Freud never makes this claim, it cannot be construed as Freudian. For me, the bottom line is that for Freud sexuality (libido or drive) is not only autoerotic. Even when turned back on the subject itself, the object is still present: in autoeroticism the subject takes itself as a (partial) object. Whereas the ego in its putatively affirmative cycle of dissolution and regeneration is at the center of Bersani’s description of a shattering sexuality, in Freud’s evocations of the drive’s partial objects, or in Lacan’s discussions of objet petit a, this same ego is that against which these alternative objects are defined. Indeed, the momentary collapse of the ego structure is the condition of possibility of drive satisfaction in both Freud and Lacan. For Bersani, satisfaction is rather obtained in and by this collapse, a collapse that confirms rather than subverts the ego’s libidinal vocation. The distinction I am trying to draw between the Freudian view and Bersani’s is subtle but crucial. The best way I can think of to render Bersani’s deviation from Freud’s text is with the statement that his reading performs an illegitimate resolution of the fundamental antinomy of ego and object libido, desire and satisfaction. In Bersani, this antinomy’s two contradictory laws are reconciled in such a way that “the self [can] become its own source and object of pleasure” by effectively dying to itself (CR 43). Again, on my (orthodox) reading of Freud, this death pulls out from under the self its very foundations. Bersani claims instead that, in dying, the ego-self effectively re-founds or sustains itself. For Bersani, in other words, the libidinal satisfaction that shatters the ego and the libido that patrols the ego’s vulnerable boundaries obey the same noncontradictory law. In Freud, in contrast, these two forces work against each other, comprising a dynamic antinomy that offers up no prospect of reconciliation. This is the sense in which, for Freud, life is inextricably bound up with death.

The Libido as Flaˆ neur These theoretical elaborations will no doubt benefit from some nontheoretical, in this case literary, contextualization. For me, Bersani provides the most memorable illustration of his idea of an objectless libido in his analysis of Baudelaire’s archetypal and much-commented upon figure of the flâneur. A glimpse at Bersani’s reading of this figure’s mobile eroticism will add some literary flesh to what has been thus far a somewhat esoteric consideration of Bersani’s engagement with Freud. In his work, Baudelaire celebrates the

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flâneur’s aimless wanderings through the stimulating and rapidly modernizing mid-nineteenth-century urban environment of Paris. These wanderings, for Baudelaire, catalyze in the aesthetically inclined a convulsive nervous shock that dissolves the boundaries of the body through an enveloping projection of the self. This projection incorporates into itself the vast spectacle of the city in all its pulsating and abundantly vital intensity. Bersani rightly acknowledges that, well before Lacan developed his mirror stage idea, Freud had already linked the ego with the corporeal form. More precisely, the ego for Freud is a mental figuration of the body’s sensate limits; that is, the surface on which environmental stimulations make themselves felt. The flâneur’s inspirational bodily flashes exemplify the ego’s propensity for self-shattering. Yet, for Bersani, the attraction of Baudelaire’s figure lies more specifically in how the flâneur’s experience implies no contradiction between the shattering and apotheosis of the self. It is as if, in Baudelaire, the ego meets its destiny in its own destruction or, more, that it confirms itself as ego through this very destruction. In this way, Baudelaire anticipates for Bersani Freud’s putative postulate of an “identity of self-shattering and self-constitution.” This identity then sets the stage for a (re-)definition of primary narcissism as “the experience of pleasurably shattered consciousness which has become aware of itself as the object of its desire” (CR 72). Exactly this notion of a self-conscious ruination of consciousness, of a psychical destruction that remains present to itself in and through this destruction, betrays to my mind a redemptive element in Bersani’s reading of Freud. In this precise sense, my criticism of Bersani claims to be more Bersanian than Bersani himself. The “boundless self-interest” (CR 100) that Bersani seeks to valorize in primary narcissism ultimately dilutes, redemptively, the psychoanalytic insistence on sexuality’s uncanniness, on the impossibility ethically of ever accommodating any notion of selfhood whatsoever, even Bersani’s de/reconstructive one, to the always self-subverting force of the drive. In Lacan’s alternative view, the object in its very extraneous intimacy—what Jacques-Alain Miller calls extimité—ultimately is the self, the subject in its denuded truth. But we can no longer use the term “self” here because, as Lacan never tired of reminding us, the Freudian subject is not the ego; not a subject that can in any way whatsoever be put into relation with constructions of selfhood. In fact, for Lacan it is precisely the ego, in its dependence on the idealized objects of Oedipal identification, which imposes the guilty normativity that Bersani so admirably aims to disrupt. The failure of Bersani’s discussion to distinguish in Freud’s text between the ego’s idealizations and the drive’s object is what motivates the ill-advised dismissal of the object as such. For Bersani, the truth of selfhood lies in its awesome capacity for an expansive projection, which can absorb even the most unintelligible experience of its own explosive destruction. In short, sexuality for Bersani is devoid of objectivity. For Lacan,

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in contrast, the truth of subjectivity is rather objective in the most proper sense, defined in its essence by its externality to, and irreconcilability with, self-consciousness, self-affection, and self-experience.

Gay Sociability Given his view that the libido’s relation to objects imposes the guilty normativity with which Freud qualifies the ego’s enlistment of the ideal, it comes as little surprise that Bersani promulgates an ethics of promiscuity and a sociability of nonattachment. For Bersani, a reconsideration and revalorization of promiscuity are desirable because promiscuity runs agreeably against the grain of the reaction of considerable sections of the various nonheterosexual communities to the social and political gains of the past half-century: a rush to the altar and an embrace of bourgeois respectability. Similarly, the timeless male practice of cruising suggests an alternative model of impersonal intimacy, one which resists the tendency toward proprietary control and intolerance of difference to which psychologically conceived coupledom can so patently lead. To conclude this essay, I wish briefly to explain why I think these values are as un-Freudian as Bersani’s reading of primary narcissism. Though I share the views that lead Bersani onto this alternative social-theoretical terrain—an abhorrence of the bourgeois virtue of respectability and a distaste for the inward psychology of “relationships”—I take issue with the interpretation of psychoanalytic theory on the basis of which his argument takes shape. As an academic intellectual of a generation that came of age in the 1980s and 90s, I have no direct experience of the lifestyle experiments that defined the social tumult of the two previous decades. Nonetheless, I happily recognize the tremendous importance of the alternative, antibourgeois ethos that nurtured a new social vitality in the moribund wake of the postwar family values consensus. Yet it is impossible for me to view the substitution of antimonogamous for bourgeois conventions as an emancipation from normativity or moralism. If, as is surely the case, the ideal of promiscuity is preferable to patriarchal familialism, promiscuity is still an ideal, and as such it imposes a norm. I’m also made uncomfortable by the gay self-privileging, hardly uncommon in the wider context of sexuality studies and queer theory, that buttresses the ideal of promiscuous normativity in Bersani’s writing on sociability. In the same way that invective against monogamy replaces the oppressive ideals of nuclear familialism, a reductive connection of male heterosexuality with aggressiveness sets the stage for the proliferation of what I can only call a gay ideology. This ideology posits a “homosexual privilege” which affords that the gay man is “a stranger to [the straight male’s] murderous passions” and perhaps even “to passion itself” (IRG 58, 50). Indeed, for Bersani, Freud’s discourse

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on male homosexuality presents an alternative to “the destructive sociality of straight desire” (IRG 55). I wonder if the decades of antihomophobic activism should rightly find their fruition in an ethics that, first, responds to homophobic stereotyping with a heterosexual essentialism and, second, continues to impose differential value judgments on lifestyles. Though certainly not apolitical, the political salience of lifestyle choices has been vastly overestimated, in my view, by the historical gay and lesbian movements, and even more so by the more recent queer formations. Further, the determination of these choices by material and socioeconomic forces has been left largely unrecognized and unexamined. As I have argued elsewhere, dominant cultures often have an easier time dismissively tolerating marginal “transgressive” sexual practices and identities than they do accepting “normal” homosexual relationships that call into question, and radically redefine, both the idea of the couple and the institutions of marriage and the family.9 The more important point I want to make here, however, is that psychoanalysis cannot be enlisted for a project that makes claims for the inherent superiority of specific sociosexual styles and practices. Such claims cannot properly be distinguished from the issuance of prescriptive lifestyle recommendations. This is so even when the prescription takes the form of the (normative) subversion of oppressive social norms or the theoretical description of an ideal of sociability, however general or restricted to a particular subculture or group this ideal might be. Freud himself repeatedly succumbed to this sort of temptation. Eventually, he was led to the conclusion that what he called suggestion is both clinically disastrous and contrary to analytic ethics. The analyst instigates and manages the transference by withholding any and every judgment concerning how the patient’s desire is made manifest is his personal life choices. The discovery of psychoanalysis is that in our unconscious we want to be told what to do, how properly to desire. The realization that no authority is capable of doing so is both terrifying and liberatory. Further, Bersani’s discourse against monogamy suffers from its confusion of the libidinal object with personified partners. For example, his discussion of Freud’s Oedipal dramas slides misleadingly between the psychic realm of “object choices and identifications” and the social world of “monogamy” and “the heterosexual couple.” Bersani’s discussion goes so far as to posit a causality that runs from the former to the latter, concluding that, for psychoanalysis, “monogamy is inconceivable except as something that blocks circuits of desire” (IRG 92). Freud well knew that the psyches of the most committed and “vanilla” couple can be promiscuous and perverse, the fantasy of the wildest and most unrepentant Don Juan defined by a stubbornly unchanging object relation. Psychically, the body you touch in the sauna or massage parlor—my examples à la Bersani are meant to convey the encounter’s impersonality or anonym-

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ity—can be most classically Oedipal, intimately inseparable from the most archaic of parental representations.10 There is no guarantee that in your mind’s eye you are making love to the same person as the one you find with you in bed. The complexities of psychic life do not even begin to divulge themselves through the study of a person’s sexual behaviour or lifestyle choices. In short, Bersani is right to say that “psychoanalytically speaking, monogamy is cognitively inconceivable” (IRG 85) only if we restrict the claim (Bersani clearly does not) to the realm of unconscious fantasy. This is another reason why any attempt to translate the analysis of psychic life into prescriptive recipes for social and sexual life will always be fraught with difficulty, always problematic. I read Bersani’s experimental forays into the elaboration of an alternative ethics of relationality or sociability as a laudable project to emancipate our human need to connect with others from the codes of morality and legitimacy that breed social violence. Cruising, for instance, is so appealing to Bersani because it offers gay men not an alternative means of feeling as socially worthy as the more sexually conventional, but instead “the possibility of dismissing moral worthiness itself, of constructing human subjects whom moral categories would fail to ‘cover’ ” (IRG 60). The Genetian ambition to dismiss moral worthiness outright would do much to diminish the oppressive forms of social violence that Bersani’s ethics seeks to eliminate. My problem is that I don’t think offering up a practice like cruising—or any other form of (non)relationality or (im)personal intimacy for that matter— as an emblem for a new, emancipatory model of social life is the best way to effect this project. I reject the claim that opposition to moral worthiness implies in a priori fashion any specific sexual-affective bond because the promulgation of such a bond will always invite a new (anti)moralism in through the back door. I’m afraid the solutions are more complex, more context-dependent, less legible from the phenomenal realm of behaviors and practices, and certainly more inextricably linked with the unexperienced intricacies of psychic life. Bersani’s text, like any other no doubt, is marked on occasion by the same recuperative force that waylaid Freud as he so bravely but imperfectly developed the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. To read Bersani, to remain faithful to the desire to which Bersani’s project gives such eloquent voice, we must separate out the “totally nonnegotiable” (IRG 60) alterity at which he psychoanalytically takes aim from the quasi-mystical and objectless extensibility of being with which he seeks, redemptively, to reconcile desire with the world.

Notes 1. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (1970) is the text by Laplanche that Bersani most frequently cites.

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2. Bersani engages in a fascinating analysis of Assyrian art that traces the tension between the impetus to narrative meaning and an alternative tendency towards nonexpressive abstraction (see FrB 67–79). 3. Lacan also recognizes the gap between the concept as such and its articulation in language. For him, however, this gap does not have the effect of delegitimizing the concept, of rendering the concept ineffectual or uninstructive. 4. I won’t pretend that I can summarize Derrida’s long and complex intervention in a footnote. Suffice it to say, for my purposes here, that Bersani’s approach to the reading of Freud resembles Derrida’s in its “selective, sifting [criblant], discriminating” quality; its desire not to extract from the difficulties a coherent thesis (even if this thesis takes the form of a paradox or antinomy), but rather to replicate what it considers (specifically in Beyond the Pleasure Principle) Freud’s “a-thetic” method, the text’s “non-positional structure.” For both thinkers, Freud’s text on some level deliberately fails to go off “in search of a last instance, indeed of any instance at all” (Derrida 279). In sum, Bersani and Derrida agree that the speculative mode Freud ambivalently adopts in the so-called metapsychological works is not intended to formulate concepts through which psychoanalytic knowledge might be transmitted. Rather, Freudian speculation is designed to inquire into “the operation of writing, the scene (of what) Freud makes in writing what he writes” (304). It is worthwhile remarking, finally, that Derrida in his essay acknowledges a debt to Jean Laplanche, whose influence on Bersani I’ve already noted. 5. I explore these currents in a reading of Freud’s technical papers in The Structures of Love ch. 1. 6. Though Foucault never explicitly identifies the psychoanalytic clinic as an example of how the “old juridico-religious model of confession” transforms itself by conforming to the “rules of scientific discourse,” particular turns of phrase, for example the “obscure speech (parole)” of sexuality, show that “structuralist” French psychoanalysis, and more specifically Lacan, are quite present between the lines. In any case, Foucault is less coy when he plainly blames psychoanalysis for the soldering of sexuality to “the law of alliance, the involved workings of marriage and kinship” (Foucault 64, 68, 113). 7. The term can be found already in 1895’s “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” in which Freud writes that “the ego is a mass of neurones which hold fast to their cathexis—are, that is, in a bound state” (368). 8. See, for example, the essay “Against Monogamy” (IRG 85–101). 9. See my “(Queer) Theory”; I develop my argument against queer theory, from Marxist and psychoanalytic perspectives, in After Queer Theory, which includes an expanded and updated version of that article. 10. In passing, I note Bersani’s claim that the “uniform” of the gay bathhouse— the towel—allows its patrons to shed “much of the personality that individuates them psychologically” by communicating very little about their social personality (economic privilege, class status, taste). I take this comment, I have to say, as indicative of the general political naivety of Bersani’s discourse on sociability. For, on the contrary, the partially nude body, perhaps especially in the context of gay male erotic subcultures, discloses much about a person’s access to health care services as well as the various and proliferating physical, cosmetic, and dietary techniques of body culture, techniques that have a tremendous impact on physical appearance. It costs money and requires a

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very bourgeois kind of knowledge, in short, to maximize one’s genetic inheritance in the view of conforming to ambient standards of sexual attractiveness. The electrolysis alone, if you can afford it, will seriously set your budget back.

Works Cited Derrida, Jacques. “Spéculer—sur ‘Freud.’ ” La carte postale. De socrate à Freud. Paris: Flammarion, 1980. 275–437. Print. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. 1976. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1978. Print. Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. 1923. Standard 19: 1–66. ———. “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’).” 1905 (1901). Standard 7: 3–124. ———. “Project for a Scientific Psychology.” 1950 (1895). Standard 1: 281–397. ———. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and trans. James Strachey, et al. 24 vols. London: Hogarth P, 1953–74. Print. ———. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. 1905. Standard 7: 123–245. Laplanche, Jean. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. 1970. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Print. Miller, Jacques-Alain. “Extimité.” Prose Studies 11.3 (Dec. 1988): 121–31. Print. Penney, James. After Queer Theory: The Limits of Sexual Politics. London: Pluto Press, 2013. Print. ———. “(Queer) Theory and the Universal Alternative.” diacritics 32.2 (Summer 2002): 3–19. Print. ———. The Structures of Love: Art and Politics beyond the Transference. Albany: State U of New York P, 2012. Print.

6

Addressing Oneself Bersani and the Form/Fold of Self-Relation

PATRICK FFRENCH

Across the multiple objects to which they have been devoted, across which a subtle, mobile, and provocative focus has ranged, the writings of Leo Bersani, including those he has coauthored with Ulysse Dutoit, can be considered a coherent body of thought if we think of them as driven by a relatively straightforward impulse: to transform the relations we entertain with ourselves. Questions of politics, sexuality, and questions of aesthetics, explicitly political, sexual, and aesthetic questions, would be from this point of view subordinate to this project, which is philosophical but also broadly ethical and, therefore, perhaps political in a wider sense. The objects themselves, as Freud postulated about the object of the drive, would be “merely soldered” (Freud, Three 59) onto the transformative impulse which gives Bersani’s project consistency, acuity, and purpose. This, at least, is my hypothesis. What does it mean, then, to transform the relation we have to ourselves? The project is so all-embracing, and so troubled at its heart by the reflexivity which it proposes demands transformation, that it threatens to slip away from any secure conceptual grasp. It is, no doubt, a question of changing the way we think about that relation, to know it differently, thus a philosophical question and a psychological one, an epistemological issue which calls upon us to do a certain work of thought, to reconfigure the structure of our knowing. One might say that it calls for a kind of cognitive therapy. But this epistemological solution is bound up with the agency of the will; it is driven by a will to know, albeit to know differently and to think differently, and these terms— driven, will—are already included in the object we are called upon to know and to rethink. The relation to ourselves that it is a question of transforming is precisely that form of relation that binds together knowledge and desire 123

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in a certain way, such that as long as we continue to consider knowledge as something willed and desired, as an object to be produced and appropriated, and as long as we consider desire as something that can be unproblematically known and manipulated as an appropriative strategy of willful action in the real, our procedures will constantly miss the very question which they are intended to answer. Perhaps it is this décalage between theory and practice that can teach us, as it were, how to know and to desire differently, or teach us, at the least, that our epistemological and libidinal strategies are not necessarily in step either with each other or with what there is to know. The process of error, or, to put it differently, of experimental hypothesis, which incorporates a critical awareness of the inevitable mismatch between project and realization, might be an adequate description of the practice of theory, of the kind of writing that Bersani offers us. If the relation to oneself remains, nevertheless, the consistent focal point of his writing, it is, despite the observations just made, worth asking why there is this implied demand to transform it. A significant point of reference for Bersani’s attention to the form of the relation to oneself that he in effect seeks to deconstruct is, of course, Michel Foucault’s project of the history of sexuality. The well-known shift in Foucault’s project from the first, 1976 volume, focused on the albeit vaguely defined period from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, to the second and third volumes, in which he “returns” via readings of Greek and Roman discourses from Antiquity to the technologies of the self, is implied in Bersani’s summative proposal that “[t]he ‘first’ or fundamental exercise of power over individuals is their own confessional interpretation of themselves” (FrB 30). The question of the relation of oneself to oneself, which dominates the later part of Foucault’s oeuvre, is a question of power, which has another nodal point in its theoretical trajectory: Althusser’s theory of interpellation, outlined in the essay “Ideology and State Ideological Apparatuses” (1970). The relation of the interpellating agent to the interpellated subject is, in Foucault, folded into the self, becoming a relation of oneself to oneself. Power must thus be considered not (only) an external agency of repression and discipline housed in institutions, but an internalized form of governmentality. The relation of the self to the social and political is, evidently, not straightforward. It is not Foucault’s argument, nor of such post-Foucauldian thinkers as Judith Butler, and, I would suggest, Bersani himself, that social and political forms of power are a unilateral expression of the psychic form of power internal to the psyche. Rather, power is to be understood, after Foucault, as the form of relation as such, and the relation between psychic and political forms of power as fluid and contingent materializations of such relational bonds. Indeed, a significant step in the argumentative strategies I am grouping together here is the proposition that the subject comes into being as a retrospective effect of its own turn upon itself, that the subject is in effect nothing

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other than the form of the bond it makes with itself, a retroactive reflectivity that is performatively repeated and may as such be performed otherwise. This is a crude summary of a strand of the argument in The Psychic Life of Power (1997), where, among other things, Butler addresses the tensions that arise when one tries to push a Foucauldian account of power into the terrain of the “psychic,” and the conceptual framework that has dominated thinking about it: psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a contested framework in this context, however. Foucault, of course, is extremely critical of the Freudian schema and in particular of the emphasis on sexuality and desire, construed as premised on lack. He problematizes psychoanalytic theory and practice as one institutional form among others, and targets it as a discourse that not only fixes and fetishizes in its theory a model of psychic and social (familial) relationality, but also commands and polices this model through confessional practice. I referred earlier to Bersani as a post-Foucauldian, and I want to hold on to this albeit clumsy label insofar as it identifies the strategic imperative in Bersani’s work to affirm what he refers to as “radical psychic mobility” (FA x). This involves an unfixing of the psyche from the hold it exerts upon itself, from the hold on itself it in effect is, these bonds being both theoretical and psychic, and a thinking differently about other possible forms that this relation might take, other forms of subjectivation, to use a Deleuzean term. The distinctive character of Bersani’s contribution to this project, or part of its distinctiveness, is the retention of the reference to psychoanalysis. Why retain the reference? Bersani’s argument, articulated in A Future for Astynax (1976) among other places, involves a digression into intellectual history. A critical account of psychoanalysis, as a form of discourse and practice complicit with institutionalized forms of power and oppression was an element of the post-1968 contestatory movements present both before and after the appearance of the first volume of The History of Sexuality. Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972) was perhaps the key text in this regard, but it also fed off other influences such as the antipsychiatry movement. While Bersani’s work might be supposed to be broadly resonant with the thrust of Deleuzean thought, and with the lines Deleuze draws out of Foucault, the focus, for example, on modes of subjectivation that are not folded back onto the representation of the subject, but operate as modes of potentially different becomings, Bersani’s route is nevertheless different, and he is critical of the implicitly Deleuzean conception of desire as a kind of free-floating energy that can be straightforwardly liberated for this purpose. Bersani holds onto Freud partly because he finds there an extraordinarily rich interrogation of the ways in which the knot that the self makes with itself through desire is tied, and cannot straightforwardly be cut, the ways in which desire already includes or preempts its own undoing, its own dissolution. The knot of sexuality is such that any attempt at loosening it tightens it further.

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It is also significant, however, that it is through detailed readings of Freud’s texts that Bersani makes this argument, and here again it might be necessary to situate Bersani in the context of broad tendencies in literary and critical theory, as it is known, of his time and ours. In Bersani’s writing we find a commitment to the reading of Freud that one does not find in Foucault, nor in Deleuze, or even, to the same extent, in Derrida, nor, with the same degree of attention to rhetoric, in Lacan. Reading here needs to be understood, I would suggest, in the sense that Paul de Man gives to the word in Allegories of Reading (1979), when he proposes that the rhetorical reading of a text creates in the relation to its literal reading a situation of undecideability which results in a mood of “negative assurance” (16). Put differently, Bersani retains Freud because he finds there a collapse of the theoretical frameworks proposed for the understanding, and therefore the policing, of sex and desire, a collapse that is effected through reading the rhetorical complexity of Freud’s writing. The failure of Freud’s texts to articulate the epistemological structures they are intended to support is extremely productive for the project of a rethinking of subjectivity and desire. Rather than abandoning Freud for a concept of desire as a pure force of connection pitted against social structure (Deleuze and Guattari write: “There is only desire and the social” [31]), it is in the very failure of Freud’s texts that one can look for starting points for radically different ways of thinking about the forms of relation the subject may entertain with himself. This is to say that if something like an ethics can be drawn from Bersani’s writings, it has its basis in strategies of reading, and in the performative enactment of analytic engagements with literary and visual texts, or with texts, like Freud’s, the rhetorical richness of which offers them to deconstructive reading. The distinctive character of Bersani’s writing, here in the context of deconstructive practices such as those of de Man, is that Bersani makes explicit the consequences for the desiring self of textual aporia and undecideability. For if the reading of texts illuminates the ways in which the epistemological claims of the texts themselves, or the claims that criticism has made on them, are shown to be undone by the very rhetorical movement of the text, this knowledge and this undoing are also of the subject. The effort toward epistemological certainty that moves us toward texts as their readers is frustrated by our reading of those texts. On the one hand, this is a parallel for which we could propose a structural correspondence: the claims of the text to epistemological mastery are undone by the rhetorical performance of the text elicited through reading, just as self-knowledge, and epistemological mastery over oneself or perhaps even as self, is undone in the performance of desire. But there is perhaps more than this at stake, more, in other words, than the proposition of the internal collapse of literal meaning as a parable for the “deconstruction of the self” (FA 9). For the performance of desire itself may be inherently linked to such effects of collapse and dispersal.

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One of the fundamental tenets of the framework Bersani draws from psychoanalysis is the notion that the appropriative violence of desire, or, to put it differently, the sexual impetus toward mastery over the other is also a movement toward the dissolution of the desiring self. The movement of desire is double; the pleasure and violence of appropriative mastery over the other involves the shattering of the self into the field in which the objects of desire appear. This is a paradox inherent in desire and in sexual pleasure, which presupposes at once mobility and immobility; any desiring movement toward the other, while it may be fundamentally narcissistic or autoerotic, is also a movement toward the sexual shattering of the self. The positive thrust of Bersani’s work is a strategic argument for a reorientation of the experience of such events of self-shattering and of the way it is thought. A first step, however, in this argument is the making visible of what he calls the “suicidal urge” (IRG 173) or “suicidal melancholy” (FA 6) in cultural and political formations alike. At one moment this is formulated as the “culture of redemption,” a culture which “helps to repress the destructive impulses for which it is also meant to compensate” (IRG 178). In subsequent work, generated by an important engagement with French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche in The Freudian Body (1986), Bersani explores the potential of what he calls “productive masochism” (FrB 63; IRG 174), retaining the term masochism to indicate the pleasure of the loss of the self, but seeking to reorient it as productive insofar as that loss is not “folded back” or recuperated as melancholic, but directed externally as the continued pleasure of “losing the self and finding it elsewhere” in a “communication of forms” (IRG 175). Through extensive and close reading of Freud, a significant element of Bersani’s work has been the postulation that sexuality is in us as something that binds the ego to its own eclipse. The always narcissistic ego is libidinally tied to its own self-shattering and is driven to repeat the experience of its dissolution. This primary masochism is, however, expressed in sadistically appropriative engagements with objects; though the ego appears to seek mastery in its destructive desire, the vicissitudes of the drive dictate that this is but an expression of the “suicidal urge” wherein the ego seeks its sexualized death in the jouissance of the other. Sadism, as the infliction of jouissance on the other “merely sets off the self-shattering mechanisms of masochistic jouissance” (FrB xi). This “setting off” depends upon the identification of the sadistic subject with the suffering partner, framed in a representation; it involves a staging of the other’s jouissance. The ethical thrust of Bersani’s writing seems in part to involve the hypothesis that forms of aesthetic engagement have the capacity to provoke a profound alteration of the destructive and death-driven nature of masochistic desire. This relies upon a view of art as enabling “psychic mobility” through a “play of representations” or a “variation of forms,” the “supplemental movement of thought” (FrB 48). The fixity and immobility of representation and of structures of meaning constrain masochistic desire and condemn it to the “suicidal pleasure of mere self-annulment” (FrB

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46), while representational mobility or play dissipates or can dissipate desire in the aesthetic field. Thus the consistent mode of Bersani’s thought has been interpretative critical engagements with literature, film, sculpture, and painting, engagements which deconstruct immutable structures of representation and mobilize the play of forms and readings. The rhetorical complexity of Freud’s texts, and their theoretical inconsistency, are also bound up with an insight which I take to be fundamental to Bersani’s thought: the tortuously conflicted nature of the relation between sexuality and the self. The failure of Freud’s texts to propose a coherent theory of sexuality is a symptom of the incoherence that characterizes sexuality as such. Or, to put it another way, Freud brings to light, through the hesitancy and epistemological uncertainty of his writing about sexuality, the inconsistency of sexuality as such. A series of points from The Freudian Body can elucidate this proposition. On the one hand, Bersani emphasizes in Freud the hypothesis that sexuality is predominantly narcissistic. He refers to Laplanche’s book Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (1970), in which the relation of the subject to the apparently primary object of the mother’s breast appears as but a mediation of an earlier autoerotic relation (a relation which is almost a nonrelation, since it exists prior to the constitution of subjectivity as such). What the child seeks to (re)find in the breast is the “discovery of his lips as an erotogenic zone” (FrB 35). For Laplanche, and for Bersani, the breast is thus diminished in significance as a real or fantasmatic object. But the repercussions of this move are extensive, for if the breast is the prototype of the object of desire, what is suggested here is that the object is always, from the start, of secondary importance in comparison to the autoerotic relation of the subject with his own body or more specifically, with the pleasurable stimuli that occur at certain zones of the body. The object, Freud wrote in the first of the three essays on sexuality, is “merely soldered” onto the drive, as we have mentioned, and Freud would also wonder why the ego would ever venture beyond itself to seek objects in the world (Freud, “On Narcissism” 78). As Bersani notes, “the whole dispositif de sexualité nearly collapses in an unprecedented self-reflexive movement” (FrB 30). The move which saves it from this collapse, which obliges the ego to move out into the world and engage in relations outside itself (even as mediations of this reflexive turn), is connected to the dynamic of sexuality, the trajectory of sexual pleasure itself. Bersani pays close attention to the difficulty Freud confesses to in his account of sexual pleasure, and here again he refers to Laplanche, to point to the suspicion that the movement of sexual pleasure is incompatible with “psychic organization” (FrB 38). The conclusion to be drawn is that “sexuality would be that which is intolerable to the structured self” (FrB 38). It is a “shattering tension” (FrB 38), in which the intensity of stimuli exceeds the limits and capacities of the ego, that is, the self as an organized system. The key element of sexuality, then, is not to

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be found in object-relations, nor solely in the mechanism of pleasure, but in the décalage between sexual pleasure and the ego, and the fact that in sexual desire “we desire that which nearly shatters us” (FrB 39). Sexuality binds us to our own subjective dissolution. It has the effect that the reflexivity that characterizes the subject, narcissism, is from the outset interrupted and unbound through the excessive and (provisionally) destructive effects of sexual pleasure on the psyche. The sexual relation we have with ourselves is therefore such that we are bound to our own (provisional and intermittent) destruction, to an excessive overwhelming of the self and of the capacity to relate. This key insight, which looks something like an ontology, in Bersani’s thought has decisive implications that ripple through his work as a whole, and invite us to reconsider the Foucauldian principles elaborated above. If the relation we have with ourselves binds us to our undoing, as it were, this relation cannot be reinvented or thought differently without engaging with the “suicidal impulse” inherent in this relation. It is as if narcissistic reflexivity preempts its own critical reconfiguration through logical inclusion of the threat of its dissolution. The transgression of the self is preempted by the pact the self makes with its own undoing. To think differently about the relation we have with ourselves cannot take the route of the kind of disconnection from oneself that Foucault hypothesized in the introduction to The Use of Pleasure (1984), since the relation already involves a dissolution that annuls connection as such in an experience of shattering intensity, which we seek to find again.1 We might try to work through this logic with reference to some moments in the thought and writing of the French writer and heretical philosopher Georges Bataille. Bataille (writing under various pseudonyms) is the author of such canonically transgressive texts as Story of the Eye, Madame Edwarda, and My Mother, as well as of such radically incomplete and generically unclassifiable works as Inner Experience and The Accursed Share. He was a profound influence on Foucault, who devoted an important essay, “Preface to Transgression,” to Bataille. A significant orientation in Bataille’s writing is a stress on moments in which, through experiences of erotic intensity, the subject is shattered, in a way which would seem to favor comparison with Bersani’s motif of sexual shattering, drawn from Laplanche. With regard to the question of the relation to oneself with which we began, Bataillean thought seems oriented toward an ecstatic loss of self, precisely an unbinding of the narcissistic knot that binds the subject to itself, and an opening of the self to otherness, to an otherness construed as an objectless negativity, as death, as silence, or as night. In Madame Edwarda, for example, the narrator is driven toward experiences of a kind of sexualized loss of self. Wandering through Paris at night, the sight of two “furtive girls” in a doorway leads him to a brothel where the prostitute Edwarda spreads her legs in front of his fascinated gaze and orders him to kiss her there. Their coupling in a room upstairs is reflected in multiple mirrors, fragmenting the image of their

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bodies. The narrator subsequently follows Edwarda through the city at night, on a route that seems to lead both of them further away from the “civilized” reference points of fixed identity and psychology. The somewhat hysterical desire of the narrator seems calculated to emphasize the loss of identity, the fragmentation and dissolution of the self, and indeed the narration consistently draws attention to such instances of subjective dissolution, both of himself and of Edwarda. Yet the sacrificial heroism of this movement toward erotic loss of self never fully succeeds in loosening the hold of the narcissistic subject. The self always returns and persists as the site of reflection and of spectatorship (at the end of the text the narrator is positioned as the spectator as he witnesses Edwarda having sex with their taxi driver). Sexual shattering and the ego are mutually self-supporting; the logic of transgression is such that the structure is affirmed by its excess. The rhetoric of self-sacrifice in Bataille is accompanied by the recurrence of motifs of fascination, and of the transfixed gaze which immobilize the subject, especially in relation to the spectacle of female jouissance, as if the more extreme forms of self-dissolution demanded more extreme forms of psychic immobility. What disturbs this dynamic are the moments where the text simply tails off, or is interrupted, but these again suggest an excess of experience which cannot be articulated within the limits of language; the text frames as a silence the shattering of the self, and this is a silence filled with meaning. The loss of self here only serves to reaffirm the ego with greater insistence. If it is the heroic virility of the logic of transgression that seems most seductive about Bataille’s writing, I would propose that this seduction leads the reader into a kind of trap, wherein transgression does not deliver the jouissance it seems to promise. The mood that dominates in Bataille’s fiction is the anxiety of the subject who is precisely conscious of the failure of his attempts to get out of himself, so to speak. Bataille’s fictions stage the failure of the logic of transgression, and underline the mutual dependence of the ego and its sexual shattering; the subjective position they seem to end up adopting is that of a persistent state of anguish occasioned by the frustration and impotence of the will to self-loss. The structure of the self seems to be both a psychic and a theoretical limit here. If what is at stake is a relation to oneself in which some kind of relation to the other is to be entertained, then it may be that the aim is thwarted by the very terms in which the self is initially conceived. What if this relation were to be thought as initially installed by an intervention coming from the other? In the later movements of his thought, and especially in the texts on literature and visual art cowritten with Ulysse Dutoit, Bersani has drawn on a second concept elaborated by Laplanche: the enigmatic signifier, a move that occasions what I think is a major shift in the orientation of Bersani’s thought, the potential of which is far from having been exhausted. Particularly in the volumes of his Problématiques, the texts of lectures given in the

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1970s, Laplanche has developed a rich and persuasive theoretical exploration of the question of seduction, developing a Lacanian emphasis on language as the field of the unconscious, and moving toward an account of the modes of relationality in early infancy. The relation to oneself, here, moves away from questions of reflexivity and toward questions of interrelationality. The mother, in Laplanche’s theory, is the agent of a first seduction of the child, by virtue of her position as nurturer and primary carer. Seduction, however, is given a less than benevolent character, since through this proximity to the mother the child is “invaded” by messages from the mother which s/he is as yet unable to decipher, far less understand. Significantly, Laplanche construes this situation as somewhat “Kafkaesque”: “In the beginning there is a sort of enigmatic message, a judgement or communication which is hidden behind some behaviour, a judgement which we can understand in the most Kafkesque sense—because, concerning what is ‘communicated to the subject,’ the subject knows neither what is expected of him nor even what the true meaning is” (Laplanche 106). The subject is thus constituted in an endemically paranoid mode reminiscent of Kafka’s figures held in thrall or expectation of an apparently promised meaning that never arrives. We will have occasion to return to the constitutive paranoia of the subject further on. Here, the mother is thus constituted as the enigmatic signifier, the sender of messages whose meaning the child feels to be withheld by her. These messages are, moreover, “about” the child; the theory of the enigmatic signifier thus proposes that the child is invaded by the “otherness” of secrets about him or her known and withheld by those beings closest to him. The unmediatizable enigmatic signifiers, whose signification is withheld, instigate, for Laplanche, the first constitution of the unconscious, as a repository of “other” signifiers. These messages also and perhaps essentially concern sex; the meaning of the parents’ discourse is, deliberately or not, inevitably erotic and sexualized. The mother’s breast, for example, is inevitably both a nurturing object and a sexual object, an erotogenic zone for the mother (see Fletcher and Stanton 22). The signification of sexuality, however, is indecipherable for the child, and withheld by the mother. The enigmatic messages received by the child seem to relate specifically to the sexual, and point to sex precisely as withheld meaning, supposed in the other. The structure of the family, the triangle made by the couple and the child, is a structure that produces the child specifically as the result of a sexual exchange, from which the child is constitutively excluded. Sexuality and desire are here construed as bound to an epistemological failure and the supposition of desire or jouissance in the other. The “absence of sexual relation” promoted to the status of a principle in Lacanian and post-Lacanian analysis becomes, in Laplanche, tied in to the question of withheld knowledge; desire is a secret in the other. Laplanche’s theory of the enigmatic signifier is rich in potential for Bersani for (at least) two reasons: it brings the question of sexuality and the

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question of sociality together in such a way as to focus attention on the manner in which as subjects we are “called” into community, into a social formation (CS 40). This is a decisive and extremely significant shift away from the arguably “ipsocentrist” account of the subject proposed by Freudian psychoanalysis, and moves Bersani closer to Lacan insofar as the question of language as a socially constituted symbolic code assumes greater importance. If the subject is in some way called into sociality via a kind of erotic solicitation by the other, the meaning of which is withheld, this suggests, on the one hand, the necessarily social dimension of subjectivity as a kind of shared subjection to what Lacan would formulate as the primacy of the signifier; meaning—the signified—is always withheld. On the other hand, the psychologization of this subjection, whereby the subject “supposes” the secret or the withheld meaning in the other, focuses attention on the ways in which this shared subjection can function in terms of intersubjective relations. In other words, the question of the relation to oneself is now posed in terms of forms of interlocution. What Bersani and Dutoit refer to as “erotic address” (CS 9) in Caravaggio’s Secrets (1998), the book that perhaps most explicitly develops the notion of the enigmatic signifier, thus bears comparison with Althusser’s interpellation, referred to earlier. Interpellation, as Althusser conceives of it, calls the subject if not into sociality then into ideological position through a disciplinary form of address, a command received as an accusation. What it may be seen to have in common with erotic address as conceived by Bersani and Dutoit is that it also constitutes the subject as paranoid. The response to interpellation and erotic address alike may be imagined to be something like the Lacanian “Che vuoi?”: what do you want of me? (Lacan 312). The enigmatic signifier and the constitution of the subject—held to ransom by the other’s supposed withholding of the secret of his being—lock the subject into sociality in a specific relation of force that invites further exploration and potential transformation, if change to the social and political frameworks that govern us are to be envisaged. In the terms with which I began—the question of our relation to ourselves and its transformation—we can see here a move in Bersani’s work toward a consideration of subjection to others, one that is of an epistemological character. The relation to ourselves is mediated via the knowledge we imagine the other to have of us. Two consequences, at least, follow from this, and they indicate the second reason why Laplanche is so useful for Bersani: relations to others, and the relation to ourselves, are thus construed as relying on problems of supposition, interpretation, decipherment, and reading. The critical reading of the enigmatic signifiers that are literary texts, paintings, and films are thus not only oriented toward the yielding of knowledge about the world, about ourselves, and about others, if indeed such readings do perform that function; they may also function as modes of interpretation that are either in continuity with subjection to the enigmatic signifier,

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or formulate our relation to knowledge differently. If relationality depends on a mode of reading, in this case “reading the other,” reading differently can suggest other forms of relation, other ways of reading the other’s address, or of reading the “address” as coming not from the other but from the world, in which case the address would not subject(ify) the subject, but bear witness to a shared sense of being addressed by the world, visually and otherwise. We can delve further into the logic of solicitation as a form of relation to oneself through consideration of one of Bersani’s recurrent examples, Proust’s À la Recherche du temps perdu. The enigmatic signifier can be “resurrected” in the object of desire, which is to say that the experience of the initial “invasion” by the unwittingly sexualized messages of the mother may be sought again from the desired other. The other is desired insofar as he or she is construed by the subject as owning an indecipherable secret that holds the subject to ransom. Desire is thus formulated on the basis of a kind of epistemological blackmail. Failure to know or to read the other construes him or her as withholding the secret that instigates my desire. Or: we only engage epistemologically with others, discursively or visually, because we project onto them and into them, so to speak, the withheld knowledge about ourselves which we lack. Thus Proust’s Swann, Bersani proposes, and this could be extended to the narrator of Proust’s novel, is bound in desire to Odette (Marcel to Albertine) only when she is transformed into an “être de fuite,” when she disappears from what he knows and where he is, causing him also to disappear from where he is, since he is now held as a secret in her. The mechanism of this process of involuted invasion (the subject is “invaded” by the otherness of a meaning construed to be outside him) is evident in the scene, at the end of The Guermantes Way, in which the narrator decides to break off his relationship with Albertine. Through a contingent conversational gambit she mentions her friendship with Mlle Vinteuil (hoping to impress Marcel with her connection to the composer he admires), resurrecting Marcel’s childhood memory of his own voyeuristic witnessing of a scene of lesbian sex and Sadean desecration. The resurrection of the enigmatic signifier of sex in the object of desire, here Albertine, or as the object of desire, depends here on the constitution of Albertine’s desire as other, as something outside the narrator’s grasp. Albertine becomes an object of desire when her desire becomes other, exemplifying the notion of desire of or for the other’s desire in the Lacanian sense: “Le désir de l’homme c’est le désir de l’autre.” Proust’s text emphasizes the epistemophilic nature of desire, the disastrous conflation of a failure of knowledge with a sexual relation. It also emphasizes a conflict of sexualities; the drama of Marcel’s relation to Albertine, and much of that surrounding the figure of Charlus, is the constitution of the other’s desire as homosexual. What Marcel projects as unknowable is Albertine’s sexual desire for women, a resurrection of the enigmatic signifier of the act witnessed from the hill outside Vinteuil’s house. Homosexual desire

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is promoted to the status of an unknowable object, constituting its subject as a desirable and desired object for a subject who may not be constructed as heterosexual so much as lacking in sexuality as such, since (knowledge of) sex is a secret supposed in the other. Sexual relations in Proust seem destined to the kind of sadistic and masochistic epistemophilia that characterizes Swann’s relation to Odette or Marcel’s relation to Albertine. But it is worth emphasizing that these affairs are included in the wider frame of a novel which features other modes of reading the other and other routes for desire. À la Recherche du temps perdu relativizes sexual relations in the context of an extensive meditation on other forms of relation to the world and to the other. Marcel’s fraught desire for Albertine may be compared, for example, with his first encounter with her, in which she is as yet not individualized, but is but one of the “petite bande” of girls moving along the walkway at Balbec, their movement compared to that of a flock of birds. The narrator’s description of this “flock” movement, distinct from the individualized and competitive (paranoid) stumbling of the other walkers, emphasizes a radical sociality of movement, in which the mobile interrelations of bodies predominate. His later relation to Albertine, in whom the enigmatic signifier has been resurrected, narrows the gaze that earlier had taken in this sculptural and protocinematic, almost zoological spectacle, the becoming-flock which the narrator’s open gaze accepts. It should be evident from the above, then, that the constitution of the object of desire as enigmatic signifier—more crudely, the mechanism whereby the other is imagined to hold and withhold the secret of my being—proposes the subject as in a state of paranoid fascination, perhaps even constitutes the subject as necessarily paranoid and fascinated. The antagonism and the mode of paranoid mistrust that Bersani and Dutoit emphasize here in Laplanche’s account of the infant’s coming to being connects with the motif of sexual shattering Bersani had drawn from Laplanche in his earlier work, specifically in The Freudian Body. Sexual shattering is here constituted not in the pure sense of the overwhelming of the structured self by sexual stimuli, but in the context of the infant’s solicitation by the touch, words, gestures—and so on— of the other, thus in the context of a kind of seduction into sociality. That this is construed at least partially as a threat occasions the paranoia and the aggressivity that in Bersani’s earlier work was allied with sadism; aggressivity is a response to the initial “exciting pain” of being overwhelmed by the other’s solicitation. Bersani and Dutoit offer dense and rich formulations of this logic in Caravaggio’s Secrets: “However peculiar it may seem to speak of desire as an epistemological category, we propose that desire as lack is constituted originally as the exciting pain of a certain ignorance: the failure to penetrate the sense of the other’s soliciting, through touch, gesture, voice or look, of our body. This failure is itself dependent on a more fundamental reading: the reading of the soliciting as a secret. The secrets of the unconscious may be nothing more than

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the introjection of the secrets the other involuntarily persuades us to believe he or she holds without allowing us to read them” (CS 40, second emphasis added). The fundamental point here concerns a mode of reading, the reception or interpretation (using this term loosely) of soliciting as a secret. We are concerned with the question of the reception of a certain mode of address. It is important to stress that the other need not or perhaps does not actively solicit the child, that the seduction at stake is not “factual.”2 The message “implanted” in the subject is hidden, therefore, not because the other actively withholds the meaning, but because they are unaware of the meaning themselves, because, in other words, they have an unconscious. The adult cannot help but transmit in every gesture, linguistic or otherwise, a message of which she herself is unaware, simply by virtue of the fact that there is an unconscious and it is sexual. The soliciting of the subject is not driven by the intention of an agent. The other who seduces or solicits is not the other person, in an intersubjective relation, the other to whom, as Laplanche points out, Freud customarily referred to as der Andere, but the other in that other, das Andere, a distinction which we may also see at work in Lacan. The effect of Laplanche’s theory is to decenter the intersubjective relation, render it asymmetrical. What I think Bersani brings to Laplanche, how he inflects the notion of the enigmatic signifier, is to personalize the terms, to insist on the way in which the subject may herself personalize the structure. So what in Laplanche is expressed as the transmission of a message becomes in Bersani the soliciting of the subject by the other. It is not only, then, that an unconscious sexual meaning is implanted in the subject, unintentionally, by the other (das Andere); we should also, heeding Bersani, think about the way this structure is personalized and psychologized by the subject: the other solicits me, captures me, invades me, and withholds the secret of my being. It is this psychologization of what is essentially a structure of the signifier that Bersani’s work aims to unlock and render mobile through the reading of texts in which such psychological suppositions are relativized or framed (in both senses of this word). The relation to oneself, here, construed on the basis of an initial address, is relativized in the context of forms of address that exceed the limits of intersubjective relations. We might consider in this light one of the most persuasive uses of Laplanche’s notion of the enigmatic signifier by Bersani and Dutoit in their reading of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt, where they attend to the dynamic of the couple formed by Paul (Michel Piccoli) and Camille (Brigitte Bardot) (see FoB ch. 1). Contempt, they argue, is not to be aligned with hatred, but is rather to be seen as a strategy on the part of Camille to make herself more desirable in Paul’s eyes. Camille’s contempt is precisely enigmatic; its rationale escapes Paul, obliging him to focus his attention on Camille in a search for signifiers either of her love or disaffection. Contempt narrows the gaze, and

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this is what makes the narrative such rich material for Godard, who uses this in order to propose a sustained meditation on the manner in which cinema may “narrow the gaze,” both in directly visual and historical terms. The film explores competing visual strategies, ultimately framing the spectator’s putative identification with Paul in his desperate inquisition of the enigma of contempt within the wider temporal frame of history, on the one hand, and the open aesthetic field, on the other. Godard’s film, read through Bersani and Dutoit, enables us to see how the supposition of a secret in the other, the psychology of paranoid fascination, may be enveloped, or perhaps diverted, into a jouissance of aesthetic variation. The secret is part of an erotic strategy. For Caravaggio’s enigmatic bodies, “the secret is inherent in their erotic appeal, though there may be nothing to know about them” (CS 13). The secret is decoupled from epistemology. However, while the secret both proffered and withdrawn seems to invite the viewer of Caravaggio’s paintings into a kind of “intimate connectedness,” Bersani and Dutoit propose that the paintings also relativize such intersubjective relationality alongside other modes of relation. The notion of the secret appears then not as an obstacle to relation or erotic communication, but as part of a code for erotic exchange premised on the knowing supposition of a secrecy that hides nothing. This then opens the possibility of forms of visual solicitation that displace the code of erotic secrecy. Like Contempt, Caravaggio’s paintings stage intersubjective relations around the erotics of secrecy, only to displace the fascinated gaze (the gaze that is narrowed to a precise epistemological aperture) into a wider visual and physical space. In their discussion of Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller, for example, Bersani and Dutoit argue that the inquisitive gaze of the fortune-teller is somewhat frustrated by the apparent blankness of her subject’s look, but that this blankness is more aptly interpreted as a “disinterested availability,” which invites consideration of other forms of connectedness (CS 18). The psychological and epistemological enigma of erotic address is deflected into questions of physical connectedness and ontological proximity in space. We can conclude from this that the relation to oneself, first configured in Bersani’s work on the basis of close engagement with the Freudian subject and with the concepts of narcissism, masochism, and sadism, then socialized via reference to Laplanche’s notion of the enigmatic subject, may potentially be transformed through the deflection of the psychologizing and epistemophilic impulse toward a disinterested form of contemplation and an awareness of physical presence and spatial proximity. Bersani and Dutoit hypothesize about this deflection: “Perhaps the exploration of this possibility requires a suspension of strictly human interests, a removal from these existential contexts in which paranoid fascination is the human subject’s spontaneous response to the other’s soliciting (or even interested) gaze” (CS 42). Whence, in Bersani and Dutoit, the seeming orientation toward the spectacle of nature or of the

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aesthetic field as a defusing of our “fascinating and crippling expressiveness” (FoB 70). However, given my earlier focus on the “flock movement” of the “petite bande” in Proust’s Balbec, and the opening question of the relation to oneself, I would like to end with a brief consideration of the question of spatial proximity and physical connectedness that Bersani and Dutoit approach in their reading of Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller. For if the relation to oneself passes by way of the other’s address and the reception of such an address, these interlocutionary events can be deflected toward issues of proximity and the nearness in space of other bodies. A kind of sociality of proximate bodies may be entertained here, neutralizing the epistemological disaster of psychological supposition and paranoia. As a kind of coda here I would like to return briefly to Bataille and to Deleuze as two figures in relation to whom the orientation of Bersani’s thought may usefully be (re)situated. I have suggested that, while Bataille’s thought seemed to offer a trajectory whereby the relation to oneself was dispersed in the ecstasy of self-loss, akin to Bersani’s self-shattering, Madame Edwarda framed its narrative subject as trapped in the anxiety induced by the failure of this compulsion toward self-abandonment. Bersani himself seems recurrently to appeal to Bataille as a point of reference for the kind of communication beyond the subjective “personal” dimension he brings out of and even argues for in the texts he considers. On two occasions in Caravaggio’s Secrets, he and Dutoit refer to Bataille’s notion of communication, suggesting “the sense of a continuity of being in which individuality dies” (CS 77). Indeed, the “correspondence of forms” with which Bersani seeks to deflect the paranoid structures of the spectator’s position vis-à-vis the enigmatic signifier of the other’s desire seems very much to echo and perhaps even derive from the kind of formal, textual strategies practiced by Bataille in such texts as Story of the Eye, especially as read by Roland Barthes. It also resonates with the collapse of boundaries and distinctions that Bataille finds in eroticism, a collapse that is both psychic and rhetorical, as Bataille’s metaphors cause distinct domains to bleed or seep into one another. Bataillean communication also informs the notion of community that has recently been explored, often under Bataille’s name (by Jean-Luc Nancy, Maurice Blanchot, and Giorgio Agamben, among others), in which each individual is open to the next, “incomplete” through his or her finitude and vulnerability to anxiety and death. One could see Bersani as pursuing a very Bataillean project—the refusal of individual closure and the opening of the self to the incomplete other and to a play of forms—were it not for the fact that Bataille seems very much to perceive this opening and this play from the perspective of a psychology of interiority, from which alterity is construed as subjective death and nothingness. Thus Nancy’s critique of Bataille, in The Inoperative Community, that, postwar, he limited his pursuit of community by positing it uniquely within the framework of lovers, abandoning the politics of

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community and the community of politics. I would tend to agree with Nancy that Bataille’s terms, though certainly very resonant with those of Bersani, are too fraught with interiority to function with Bersani’s altogether more impersonal aesthetics and ethics of impersonality. We might instead reconsider Deleuze’s account of Foucault in the book which bears that title, which proposes the “relation to oneself” as a folding or doubling of the relation of power. The relation to oneself, here, is a creative and nonregulatory (facultative) “self-fashioning” (to use Stephen Greenblatt’s term, referenced by Foucault) through which the self is regulated according to aesthetic criteria. According to Foucault, the problem is that such “selfgovernmentality” became, through manipulation and stratification of Christian pastoral care, a rule and a necessity rather than an aesthetic and existential choice. The Freudian narcissistic model thus becomes a variant of a postChristian psychology, which casts its psyche in the mold of guilt. It is possible on this basis to consider an unfolding, and the relating of the self now to the positive ontological richness of the world and its forms. According to this version of how things are, subjects are not so much addressed, solicited, or interpellated by the other into paranoid desire, as situated in shared receptivity and potential absorption in the address of nature.

Notes 1. In the second volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault proposed famously that the aim of his work was to “think differently,” and that this required an effort to “get free of oneself” (8). 2. See the discussion of this point in Fletcher and Stanton.

Works Cited Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community. Trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. Print. Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and State Ideological Apparatuses.” Essays on Ideology. Trans. Ben Brewster with Graham Lock. London: Verso, 1984. 1–60. Print. Barthes, Roland. “The Metaphor of the Eye.” Critical Essays. Trans. Richard Howard. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP. 1972. 239–48. Print. Bataille, Georges. Madame Edwarda. My Mother, Madame Edwarda and The Dead Man. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse. London: Marion Boyars, 2000. 137–59. Print. ———. Story of the Eye. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001. Print. Blanchot, Maurice. The Unavowable Community. Trans. Pierre Joris. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill P, 1998. Print.

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Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Essays in Subjection. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Foucault. Trans. Seán Hand. London: Continuum, 1999. Print. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, with Mark Seem and Helen Lane. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983. Print. de Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust. Boston: Yale UP, 1979. Print. Fletcher, John, and Martin Stanton, eds. Jean Laplanche: Seduction, Translation, Drives: A Dossier. Trans. Martin Stanton. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992. Print. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. 1976. Trans. Robert Hurley. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1998. Print. ———. The History of Sexuality, Volume. 2: The Use of Pleasure. 1984. Trans. Robert Hurley. London: Vintage, 1990. Print. ———. “Preface to Transgression.” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ithaca. NY: Cornell UP, 1977. 29–52. Print. Freud, Sigmund. “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” The Pelican Freud Library. Ed. Angela Richards. Trans. James Strachey. Vol. 11. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1984. 65–97. Print. ———. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The Pelican Freud Library. Ed. Angela Richards. Trans. James Strachey. Vol. 7. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1977. 31–169. Print. Lacan, Jacques. “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious.” Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock, 1977. 292–324. Print. Laplanche, Jean. The Unconscious and the Id. 1981. Trans. Luke Thurston with Lindsay Watson. Rebus P, 1999. Print. Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Trans. Peter Connor with Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991. Print.

7

Monadological Psychoanalysis Bersani, Laplanche, Beckett

MIKKO TUHKANEN

For Jean Laplanche, Freudian theory constitutes the most momentous of modernity’s revolutionary discourses. He endorses Freud’s own retrospective assessment that psychoanalysis compounded Copernicus’s displacement of the geocentric Weltanschauung with the disruption of the egocentric comforts of Enlightenment reason. As Freud avers, after the Copernican and Darwinian breakthroughs, psychoanalysis insulted “human megalomania” by showing that “the ego . . . is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind” (Introductory 326). It is the radical otherness of the unconscious—what Laplanche calls its étrangèreté (Laplanche, “Unfinished” 62n21; see also Fletcher, “Psychoanalysis” 47)—that precipitates the revolutionary decentering of the subject. For Laplanche, the subject is seduced into individuated existence through the enigmatic messages whose unmetabolizable “waste-matter” constitutes, through repression, the unconscious, the inassimilable and foreign (non)center of the subject (Laplanche, “So-Called” 464; see also “Psychoanalysis” 11). But no sooner does the Freudian event take place than its energies are thwarted by internal counterrevolutionary forces: as Laplanche repeats in numerous texts, the tendency toward what he considers a monadological conceptualization of the subject in psychoanalysis amounts to a “narcissistic closure” (“Unfinished” 81) of the revolutionary potential, a suturing of the “narcissistic wound” (53) inflicted on the ego, and a resurgence of what Freud, in the Introductory Lectures, calls “the naïve self-love of men” (326). A result of the rejection of the general theory of seduction, monadic thinking, according to Laplanche, redeems the human subject from the series of mortifications—

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“the cosmological humiliation due to Copernicus,” “the biological humiliation brought by Darwin,” and “the psychological humiliation due to Freud himself” (“Implantation” 135)—to which it has been subjected in modernity. The decentering of the subject stalls in the postulations of the second topography and primary narcissism in Freud’s texts of 1915–1924. Because of this monadicnarcissistic recuperation, Laplanche insists that the Freudian revolution remains “unfinished.” It is through the encounter with Laplanche’s work—initial contact occurs in an endnote appended to the last chapter of A Future for Astyanax (1976)— that psychoanalysis emerges as one of the most important resources for Leo Bersani’s thought; its implications are elaborated in practically all of his subsequent texts.1 But although Laplanche’s theory of seduction and the enigmatic signifier informs Bersani’s engagement with psychoanalysis, Laplanche also functions as a frequent point of contrast for his formulations of onto-ethics. It is on the question of monadic solitude that Bersani departs from Laplanche’s company and gravitates toward the onto-aesthetic experimentations that he finds in Samuel Beckett’s work. Like Laplanche, Beckett frequently alludes to Leibnizian metaphysics in describing his narrators’ and characters’ noncommunicative isolation. Their condition is that of monadic “windowlessness” (Murphy 109; Watt 292; Unnamable 399; Company 44–45); such self-enclosed worlds partake in “the pre-established harmony” (Molloy 62) or, in Watt’s famous reformulation, “a pre-established arbitrary” (276).2 Yet Beckett’s artistic experimentations yield an entirely different assessment of monadic ethics from Laplanche’s; in his work, Bersani develops an onto-ethics—which is always also an onto-aesthetics—whose site of becoming one finds between Laplanche’s and Beckett’s bodies of work. This essay follows what might be called the becoming-Beckettian of psychoanalysis in Bersani, a process that turns on the question of “the monad.” Although Bersani mentions Leibniz’s name only twice in his entire oeuvre—on both occasions in reference to Gilles Deleuze’s invitation, in Proust and Signs, to understand Proustian essences as monads (BB 235; CR 13)—monadology, insistently present, constitutes the Querverbindung, the crossing-point where the trajectories of theoretical and literary texts queerly meet. While the monad has a clearly demarcated function for Laplanche—it names, consistently and repeatedly, the reassertion of theoretical egocentrism and, hence, the failure of the psychoanalytic revolution in thinking otherness—Bersani turns to Beckett, whose work offers an alternative form of monadic thought. Indeed, Bersani engages such texts as The Unnamable several years before his encounter with psychoanalysis; his reading of Laplanche is always already inflected through the ontological, ethical, and aesthetic concerns whose first significant formulations emerge in his second book, Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (1970).

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Over the years, Bersani’s repetitive returns to monadology take place more or less stealthily, to the extent that, as far as I know, the relevance of Leibnizian metaphysics, and its mobilizations by subsequent thinkers, to Bersani has gone entirely unnoted. It is precisely this neglect that renders the monadological emphasis peculiarly helpful in drawing out the idiosyncrasy of Bersani’s thought in the contemporary critical field, and particularly queer theory. Some fragments of his evolving ontology—most familiarly, the psychoanalytically inflected notion of self-shattering (ébranlement)—have figured in, sometimes directed, queer thought from the late 1980s onward. Yet one of the crucial, and crucially underplayed, aspects of Bersani’s work is the consistency with which it focuses on the thought of becoming. In queer theory in particular, Bersani has been read—not incorrectly—as a theorist of failure and violence: the failure of relationality in sexuality’s self-involved pleasures; the violently masochistic deracination of structured selves. His various commentaries on Beckett, Genet, Artaud, Sade, Pasolini, the AIDS crisis, barebacking, redemptive modernisms of various kinds, and queer theory itself have promoted the understanding of his project as a radical critique of all futural orientations. The Gay Daddy wants us to have No Future. While such readings find plenty of textual evidence in Bersani’s oeuvre, they miss the peculiar potential of his project, one that seeks what he, speaking of Flaubert in Balzac to Beckett, calls “the possible” and “the new” (BB 272). By observing Deleuze’s early influence on Bersani’s work, we should be able to attune to the thought of becoming as one of its less remarked frequencies. The present essay suggests that the monad functions as a pivot of sorts, an exceptionally expressive concept that allows us to elaborate the mutual complication of Laplanche, Beckett, Deleuze, and Proust, among others, in Bersani. Having traced Bersani’s encounter with and divergence from Laplanche to their respective understandings of primary narcissism—of which both theorists speak in Leibnizian terms—I turn to Bersani’s three texts on Beckett: the early essay “No Exit for Beckett” (1966), the last chapter of Balzac to Beckett, and “Inhibited Reading,” the opening chapter of the Dutoit collaboration Arts of Impoverishment (1993), whose analysis proceeds as an account of Beckett’s trialand-error experimentations with monadology. In “Inhibited Reading,” Bersani and Dutoit’s reading implicitly, and critically, engages Laplanchean theory of desire’s hominizing function for the infant, an engagement in which the varied mobilizations of the monad by Laplanche and (Bersani and Dutoit’s) Beckett play a crucial role. Bersani and Dutoit write that, particularly in his post-1950s texts, Beckett illustrates what they term “sociability,” which Bersani, in one of his later texts, calls a “movement from which desire is absent” (“Father” 100). It is here that, apart from their incompatible reading of monadology, Laplanchean and Beckettian onto-ethics also entail divergent conceptualizations of what might be called queer becomings.

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Primary Narcissism, Revisited According to Laplanche, the implosion of the Freudian revolution gains momentum after 1915, with the introduction of the second topography (in The Ego and the Id [1923]) and, more importantly for our purposes, Freud’s reassessment of primary narcissism (in, for example, the Introductory Lectures of 1916–1917). Laplanche posits that the radical form of otherness that psychoanalysis originally postulated is domesticated with Freud’s shift to the argument according to which “primary narcissism” constitutes the subject’s originary stage of existence. In The Language of Psychoanalysis (1967), he and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis write that in the texts of 1910–15 (particularly “On Narcissism” and “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes”), Freud considers primary narcissism emerging in conjunction with the ego, that is, between the stages of autoerotism and object-love; despite its name, it is not the organism’s primal stage but follows the earlier phase of autoerotism (Language 337). As they argue in the entry devoted to the subject, autoerotism itself should not be understood as the infant’s originary condition: “although it is possible to describe auto-erotism as objectless, this is by no means because this state occurs prior to any relationship with an object, nor yet because with its advent all objects cease to be present in the search for satisfaction. The sexual instinct now detaches itself from the non-sexual functions (e.g. nutrition) upon which it has theretofore depended anaclitically and which have laid down its aim and object” (Language 46). For Laplanche and Pontalis, autoerotism does not describe the organism’s original nonrelatedness to the surrounding world. Rather, human sexuality is autoerotic because it is marked by its divergence, its going astray (fourvoiement), from a chronologically earlier condition, that of instinctual life: “the drive becomes auto-erotic, only after the loss of the object” (“Fantasy” 16).3 In this earlier (and earliest) stage, the organism is, as Laplanche writes three years later, “directly plugged into external reality” (Laplanche, Life 59). Thus, while the organism becomes human at the moment of its perversion—the moment “when sexuality draws away from its natural object, finds itself delivered over to phantasy and this very process is constituted qua sexuality” (Laplanche and Pontalis, Language 46)—at no stage does it constitute “a biological monad” (Laplanche, Life 70). Laplanche rejects the proposition that “the evolution of the human psyche start[s] from a kind of hypothetical initial state in which the organism would form a closed unit in relation to its surroundings” (70). After 1915, and especially 1920, however, Freud readjusts this schema to allow the possibility of an originary monadism in the guise of a reconceptualized primary narcissism: “with the elaboration of the second topography, Freud uses the term ‘primary narcissism’ to mean rather a first state of life, prior even to the formation of the ego” (Laplanche and Pontalis, Language 337–38). By the time of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), “Freud has come

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to maintain an absolute opposition between a first (objectless) narcissistic state and object-relations,” that is, between “primary narcissism” and “secondary narcissism” (“the formation of the ego through identification with other person”) (Language 256). “Primary narcissism,” Laplanche later pronounces, “is one of Freud’s most deceptive notions” (Life 70) because, with it, Freud posits the beginnings of the subject in terms of a monadic isolate. This shift to the monad as an originary state of being marks the return from the decentered world to the Ptolemaic universe, the restoration of His Majesty the Ego to its throne.4 In rejecting monadological psychoanalysis, Laplanche participates in the rethinking, or deconstruction, of classical metaphysics, which prioritizes essence as a self-same, bounded entity that needs to be given before the thought of relation can proceed. In such metaphysics, any being worthy of the name must be defined only in itself, not through its relations: the essence, as the subject of predication, is in no need of any particular attributes. Monadology offers us a particularly strong version of this argument: “the nature of an individual substance or of a complete being,” Leibniz writes, “is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to contain and to allow us to deduce from it all the predicates of the subject to which this notion is attributed” (“Discourse” §8 [41]). Not only does substance need no other for its self-definition; for Leibniz, no substance ever acts upon, or is acted upon by, any other, “if we consider that what happens to each is solely a consequence of its complete idea or notion alone, since this idea already contains all its predicates or events and expresses the whole universe” (“Discourse” §14 [47]). Leibniz’s solipsistic substances are Aristotelian categories pushed to their “delirious” extreme: nothing occurs in the monad that its concept does not already entail; each substance becomes a concept. Leibniz radicalizes Aristotelian predication in “push[ing] the concept to the level of the individual itself: in Leibniz, ‘Adam’ and ‘Caesar’ are concepts, and not simply proper names”; monadology, as Daniel Smith writes, gives us “an almost hallucinatory conceptual creation” (46). This speculative excess is behind Bertrand Russell’s influential critique of the “arbitrary” and “fantastic” nature of Leibnizian metaphysics, which Russell traces to Leibniz’s adherence to the logic of predication (Critical xvii; History 588, 590, 596). Ian Hacking similarly calls the Leibnizian system “the most absurd theory of truth that has ever been advanced” (qtd. in Smith 75). Laplanche reasonably considers the Leibnizian nonextended monad— the complete substance that contains all its predicates—the apotheosis of the metaphysical prioritization of the individual. For him, Freud breaks from this when he locates, in his early work, in seduction a generalizable theory of hominization: the infant is solicited into desire—seduced to becoming-human—by the fascinatingly enigmatic messages that issue from the other. In the general theory of seduction, hominization becomes a process where “[t]he other is prior to the subject”: the subject is “at the very beginning Copernican, that is,

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circulating around the other’s message” (“Interview” par. 124, 30). Laplanche celebrates this as Freud’s revolutionary insight, his break from metaphysical ipsocentrism. But soon things go awry: Freud’s post-1915 theory of primary narcissism becomes a vehicle for the return of the entity whose previous avatars in the history of philosophy have included cogito and the transcendental ego. While the early Freud is Copernican in postulating “the original gravitation of man around the other” (“Theory” 654), the concept of primary narcissism—and its inescapable addendum, the monad—indicates for Laplanche the internal subversion of the psychoanalytic revolution in thinking otherness. As otherness is, once again, externalized, the ego-monad of primary narcissism becomes a Freudian version of the Robinsonade: “This is the last word in Crusoesque enterprises,” Laplanche writes, “by which I mean the attempt to reconstruct the world of culture on the basis of the endogenous resources of the solitary baby Robinson” (“Drive” 128–29). He follows numerous other commentators in locating in the monad the apotheosis of entrepreneurial individualism, “the bourgeois ego” (Jameson 15), in all the sociohistorical implications that this term carries.5 Calling the ego of primary narcissism both a monad and a Robinson Crusoe, he synthesizes commentators like Russell, who criticizes Leibnizian metaphysics for its “individualistic tendencies” (Critical 123), and Ian Watt, who describes Defoe’s hero, with his “inordinate egocentricity,” as the prototype of “economic individualism” (86, 62). Freud’s monadology thus betrays not only his own insights but also those of Marx, whose name Louis Althusser, in an essay on psychoanalysis, appends to the list of modernity’s revolutionaries (218). Having indicated the importance of Laplanche’s “brilliant” work in the 1976 endnote (FA 332n2), already in 1977—in Baudelaire and Freud—Bersani carefully pinpoints the moment of his divergence from Laplanchean psychoanalysis (which he nevertheless continues to engage). As he observes—again in a note6—the difference in his reading of Freud concerns, precisely, the question of primary narcissism, more particularly the relation and chronology of primary masochism and nonsexual sadism (BF 79n10). I won’t detail the shape of this argument, from which emerges Bersani’s theory of ébranlement. What is important for us to note is that, for both Laplanche and Bersani, the early 1920s marks an important turning point in Freudian theory. The second topography (whose ruinous effects Laplanche emphasizes) and the death drive (whose ramifications occupy Bersani’s attention) entail shifts in Freud from which the two theorists draw radically divergent inferences. Whereas Laplanche considers the modifications of the early 1920s the final nail in the coffin of étrangèreté, for Bersani they move us toward a useful, indeed imperative rethinking of sameness and otherness. Both agree, however, that the adjustments allow the articulation of monadological psychoanalysis: while Laplanche sees in the “monadological character” (“Unfinished” 81) of post-1915 psychoanalysis the ruination of any

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ethically viable conceptualization of otherness, Bersani proceeds to formulate an ethics based on the singularity of the nonrelated monad. The difference in the roles that they assign to the monadic potential of psychoanalysis is dependent on their diametrically opposed assessments of the import of the shifts in the Freudian theory of primary narcissism. In contrast to Laplanche, who considers monadism a vehicle for the imperial ego’s return, Bersani sees in the theory of object relations, as it develops in Freud, an escape from the implications of death-driven solipsism. He summarizes his views in 1990: “Fearful of an intrinsic indifference to others in human sexuality, Freud managed to reinterpret his theory of primary narcissism as he formulated it so that narcissistic pleasure itself would appear as a derivative of object relations” (CR 45). Whereas Laplanche sees Freud fleeing the implications of his ethical revolution—his prioritization of the other in the early theory of seduction—into the revised concept of primary narcissism, Bersani suggests, on the contrary, that the later Freud becomes something of an object-relations theorist to escape thinking the radical unrelatedness that he discovers in narcissism. Speaking of “the inherently solipsistic nature of sexuality” (CR 37), Bersani defines sexuality in terms of monadic solitariness, a nonrelation that, according to him, Freud at once articulates and represses. He indicates the ethical implications of monadism’s rejection in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987), declaring that “it is perhaps primarily the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power” (IRG 25). Such onto-ethical considerations persuade Bersani to dwell on the narcissistic monad rather than reject it as Laplanche does.

Becoming-Beckettian Like Laplanche’s, Bersani’s reading of Freud is famously ambivalent: both theorists argue that the Freudian text seems committed to undoing or delegitimating its own insights. In A Future for Astyanax, Bersani suggests that the problem with psychoanalysis—more precisely, the thought of what he comes to designate as “the narrative Freud” (“Other”)—is its predictability; his critique echoes Deleuze’s exasperation at what the latter deems the boring repetitiveness of psychoanalytic schemas.7 “The prejudice of continuity in psychoanalysis works in two directions,” Bersani writes: “present desires are interpreted back to their ‘source desires’ in the past, and our earliest desires are seen as destined for a certain ‘natural’ development” (FA 32, emphasis added). In its “narrative” formation, psychoanalysis registers no behavior that has not already been witnessed, or could not have been predicted, had we had access to the full record of the past. In the terms of Henri Bergson’s turn-of-the-century critique of mechanism,

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psychoanalytic thought—Bersani takes Melanie Klein as an example—assumes a closed system, all of whose future combinations are in principle calculable: “The diversity of present experience makes for a frequently muddled accumulation of signs which have to be reorganized and deciphered in order for their real significance to emerge. [Bersani inserts here an endnote to Klein’s child analysis.] Present behavior is significant but ultimately superfluous; it points back to those origins or causes which already contain the fundamental meanings of subsequent behavior” (FA 42–43). In this way, “discontinuous acts find their way into a historically continuous structure” (FA 44); psychoanalysis subsumes such singular, discontinuous moments into “an organized history of desire” (FA 41).8 Having framed the problematic thus, Bersani proceeds to rethink psychoanalysis by tracking artistic and theoretical experimentations with “discontinuity.” In A Future for Astyanax, he enlists Rimbaud, Artaud, and Lawrence, among others, as its theorists; Baudelaire and Mallarmé join the forces, respectively, in Baudelaire and Freud and The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (1982); and The Culture of Redemption adds Nietzsche, Bataille, Malraux, Melville, and Pynchon to the list. But it is Beckett who, particularly in Arts of Impoverishment, becomes an experimenter in discontinuity par excellence: Bersani and Dutoit write that Beckett “is arguing for nothing less than a total break with the past,” producing “work[s] of art cut off from all cultural inheritance” (AI 18, 19). His texts enact “a contagious destruction of relations,” aiming at “creating solipsistic chaos” (AI 24). Here we have, as Bersani asserts in The Culture of Redemption, “Beckett’s extraordinary effort to stop remembering, to begin again, to protect writing from cultural inheritance” (CR 170). Evoking the synonymity of monadic and nonrelational (see Van Cleve 234), he and Dutoit describe Beckett’s texts as “monadic[ally] self-contain[ed]” and (ergo) “wholly unrelated” (AI 90); the monad names “an identity wholly independent of relational definitions” (AI 51). For Bersani, Beckett’s work necessitates a reassessment of monadic solitude as something other than the failure of ethics that it unequivocally signals for Laplanche. Beckettian oeuvre becomes a literary laboratory in which Bersani experiments with the ethical valences of radical solipsism, the kind of originary nonrelatedness that Laplanche, in his critique of post-1915 primary narcissism in Freud, collapses with classical metaphysics’ ipsocentrism. For Bersani, the monad does not return us to the imperial ego; rather, Beckett’s literary monadologies invite us to explore the thought of nonrelatedness and singularity. Bersani’s refusal to accept Laplanche’s estimation of monadism—his immediate divergence from the latter on the question of primary narcissism— stems from the fact that the encounter with psychoanalysis in A Future for Astyanax, and its subsequent elaboration in Baudelaire and Freud and The Freudian Body, took place well after Bersani had already begun to formulate a Beckettian onto-ethics in his earlier work. Bersani’s first discussion of Beckett occurs

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in “No Exit for Beckett,” a 1966 review essay of Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays (1965), edited by Martin Esslin. This brief text makes the point to which Bersani and Dutoit return in the opening of the Beckett chapter in Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett scholarship paradoxically assigns endless significance to an oeuvre whose ambition is to refuse the reader’s neediness for meaning. “It is . . . somewhat disconcerting to read so many admiring, undaunted analyses of a significance for which Beckett implicitly expressed only boredom and disgust,” Bersani writes, objecting to “the often repeated claim that Beckett is speaking for all us, hitting dead center in his picture of Modern Man” (262).9 This contradicts the movement that Beckett, distinguishing his own work from James Joyce’s, calls that of “impoverishment” (qtd. in Tóibín xiv).10 Bersani makes the point that these Beckettian experimentations with impoverishing expression entail an ontological dimension: he notes “the anguished need of the Beckett hero to get rid of all the things ‘that stick out’ from some mysterious core of being—everything from bodily protuberances to fictional characters and anecdotes and, finally, verbal inventiveness itself” (“No Exit” 266). In Beckett, he suggests, we find the figuration of being in beings, driven by the force of individuation that, while an irresistible solicitation, constitutes an ethical failure to remain untraceable, that is, still with being, with what Beckett, in his first published short story, calls its “terrifying silent immobility” (“Assumption” 5). If the drawing of individuating boundaries constitutes “a metaphysical error or crime” (AI 140), “a criminal separation” (DSM 81), Beckettian ethics continues the philosophical tradition of antinatalism. In this tradition, individuation marks, as Nietzsche writes in an early commentary on Greek philosophy, “insolent apostasy from the primeval one-ness of all things” (Philosophy 48); its thinkers conceptualize “coming-to-be as though it were an illegitimate emancipation from eternal being, a wrong for which destruction is the only penance” (46). When Bersani writes in The Culture of Redemption that “individuation is an original Fall, the fall into creation itself,” “a crime against being” (CR 93), he is ventriloquizing the early Nietzsche, who, in The Birth of Tragedy, cites the dictum of Silenius, Dionysus’s drunken companion: “ ‘What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon’ ” (42). Arguably, the antinatalist position— whose most important predecessor in early Nietzsche is Schopenhauer—forms the philosophical counterpart to Beckett’s onto-ethics/aesthetics of impoverishment, whose voice we listen to in the “feeble murmur seeming to apologize for not being dead,” “this long sin against the silence that enfolds us” (Unnamable 308, 376).11 As Bersani writes in his early essay, “Beckett’s bums and the bareness of their lives are metaphors for a kind of stinginess the perception of which is perhaps simply heightened by anality, a temptation to withhold” (“No Exit” 264). Rather than the endlessly generous God of emanationism—whose

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history Arthur Lovejoy traces in his classic history-of-ideas study The Great Chain of Being (1936)—in Beckett we find a constipated, niggardly, hoarding being. Such onto-ethics is exemplified—as Bersani continues with Dutoit—by “the Unnamable’s heroic determination not to be” (AI 12). In Balzac to Beckett, Bersani begins to suggest that we think Beckett’s onto-ethics of impoverishment as a form of monadism. He partially picks up Beckett’s own references to monads; but, importantly, the concept filters to Bersani’s work also through Deleuze’s reading of Proust. This takes place in the study’s last two chapters, whose commentary on Proust and Beckett engages, respectively, Deleuze’s and Maurice Blanchot’s philosophical mobilizations of the two writers. Bersani adopts Deleuze’s proposition, in Proust and Signs (1964), that we consider Proustian “essences” Leibnizian monads. “Proust is Leibnizian,” Deleuze writes: “the essences are veritable monads, each defined by the viewpoint itself referring to an ultimate quality at the heart of the monad” (41; qtd. also in BB 235–36).12 Deleuze calls for a “distinction between essence and subject” (Proust 43), where the former should be thought in terms of “a sublime and individual essence, distinct from everything else” (Proust 1: 890), while the latter, the “subject,” names a relational being whom Deleuze considers the actualization, or territorialized embodiment, of the singular essence. For Deleuze, essences are expressed but, as he repeats, only “half sheathed” in any embodiment (Proust 36, 39, 40, 90): “Essence does not exist outside the subject expressing it, but it is expressed as the essence not of the subject but of Being, or of the region of Being that is revealed to the subject” (43). The monadic essence constitutes a singular viewpoint that individuates but neither preexists nor is reducible to the subject; the latter is, in the terms Deleuze uses elsewhere, the (always incomplete) actualization of the virtual. Adopting Deleuze’s reading, Bersani proposes that the Proustian text demands we differentiate “between individuality and what we ordinarily think of as subjectivity”: the Proustian-Deleuzean monad forms an “individuality of a point of view embodied in but not dependent on the existence of an individual person” (BB 235). This line of thought remains operative in all of his subsequent thinking. For example, six years after Balzac to Beckett, Bersani repeats his earlier phrase verbatim in his discussion of Rimbaud, whose work, like Proust’s, experiments with singularity in giving us “the individuality of a point of view embodied in but not dependent on the existence of an individual person” (FA 256). Similarly, the commentaries on Benjamin, Baudelaire, and Nietzsche in the third chapter of The Culture of Redemption, and on Plato in the third chapter of Intimacies (2008), are guided by the argument that first emerges from Bersani’s 1970 encounter with Deleuze’s Proust and Signs. In his recent work, Bersani directly reinvokes Deleuze, citing again the latter’s assessment of the Proustian essence as an expression “of the region of Being that is revealed to the subject” (qtd. in IRG 161). The Proustian-Deleuzean schema

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is here evoked in terms of the distinction that, as Bersani tells us on several occasions, the French language makes between “individu (a particular person)” and “individuel (a type of individuated being more general than a personal psychology or individuality)” (IRG 160–61).13 But the readerly ethics of digression—Bersani’s “cruisy” methodology, which one also sees in his simultaneous adoption of, and departure from, Laplanche—immediately bends the emergent theoretical trajectory in Balzac to Beckett; no sooner does Bersani begin to follow Deleuze on À la Recherche than the proposition of Proustian monadism is inflected, in the closing pages of Balzac to Beckett, via Beckett, in whose literary laboratories the proposition of monadic essences is rearticulated in terms of the aporetics that, according to Blanchot’s influential reading, characterizes the ontology of literature. Significantly, in “No Exit for Beckett” Bersani notes Esslin’s failure to include Blanchot’s work on Beckett in his collection of essays. It is in Blanchot that we find a thinker whose commentary most approximates what Bersani finds most radical and interesting in Beckett. He cites Blanchot’s description of literature’s ontology in the early essay: reading Beckett we may find ourselves “in the presence not of a book but rather something much more than a book: the pure approach of the impulse from which all books come, of that original point where the work is lost, which always ruins the work, which restores the endless pointlessness in it, but with which it must also maintain a relationship that is always beginning again, under the risk of being nothing” (Blanchot, Book 213, partially qtd., in Bersani’s translation, in “No Exit” 267). For Blanchot, the occasioning of literature in “books” or “work” constitutes a betrayal of literary specificity, while the literary impulse dissipates in expression. The book unravels in its faithfulness to its literary specificity; Beckett suggests that the repetitions of literature and being aim at better betrayals of their essence. In Blanchot’s ontology, one’s efforts to speak of or approach literature constitute “a quest that must not be preoccupied with literature, with what it ‘essentially’ is, but which on the contrary is preoccupied with reducing it, neutralizing it, or more precisely, with descending, through a movement that finally escapes it and neglects it, to a point where only impersonal neutrality seems to speak” (Book 200). Blanchot’s proposition of the artistic ascesis as “reductive,” “neutralizing,” and “descending” borrows from Beckett, who, importantly, articulates it for the first time in his early study of Proust. Commenting on Proust’s “centripetal” literary practice, Beckett writes: “The only fertile research is excavatory, immersive, a contraction of the spirit, a descent. The artist is active, but negatively, shrinking from the nullity of extracircumferential phenomena, drawn in to the core of the eddy” (Proust 65–66). It is this descent—the continual reduction of expression—that characterizes Beckett’s work all the way to Worstward Ho’s “leastening” of language (Worstward 106). With the shift from Proust-Deleuze to Beckett-Blanchot, Bersani emphasizes

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what he already in “No Exit for Beckett” calls the “spiritual retentiveness” (267) of the monadic essence. It is clear that Proust and Beckett remain Bersani’s constant travel companions. Given that their names all but disappear from Bersani’s texts after Balzac to Beckett, Deleuze’s and Blanchot’s continuing influence is less obvious; yet, as it unfolds in subsequent decades, Bersanian onto-ethics/aesthetics never ceases to resonate with Deleuzean and Blanchotian philosophies. In the context of contemporary critical theory, perhaps the most idiosyncratic characteristic that Bersani adopts from Deleuze’s project is the latter’s prioritization of ontology. Alain Badiou recalls Deleuze’s indifference to the incipiently hegemonic deconstructive approach to speculative metaphysics: “He liked to say that he had no problem with metaphysics” (114); “philosophy, if it means anything,” writes Deleuze in one of his earliest texts, “can only be ontology” (“Jean” 18). If Deleuze bucks “the anti-ontological trend of much of twentieth-century philosophy” (May 16), Bersanian ethics and aesthetics always entail the thought of being. Blanchot’s influence on Bersani’s ontology is similarly persistent: the latter’s concepts of “monadic solitude” and “impersonal intimacy” can be traced to Blanchot’s reading of Beckett. For Blanchot, “The Unnamable is precisely experience lived under the threat of the impersonal, the approach of a neutral speech that speaks itself alone, that goes through the one who hears it, that is without intimacy, that excludes any intimacy, one that cannot be silenced, for it is the incessant, the interminable” (Book 213, emphases added). Blanchot’s “intimacy [without] intimacy” returns in what Bersani in Homos designates as “intimacies devoid of intimacy” (H 128);14 Blanchotian philosophy provides the background for the more explicitly psychoanalytic concept of “impersonal narcissism.” Similarly, paraphrasing Blanchot, Bersani writes in Balzac to Beckett that “Beckett’s work . . . moves toward a self without personality and a literature without books” (BB 325). In his later work, the “self without personality” develops into the singularity of l’individuel, while the Blanchotian “impersonal neutrality” (Book 200), characteristic of literature, becomes the “impersonal narcissism” of the Bersanian monad. It is this early encounter with literary experimentations with monadology that inflects Bersani’s reading of psychoanalysis: the engagement with Proust-Deleuze and Beckett-Blanchot pushes Bersani to complicate, at the very moment of the encounter, Laplanche’s assessment of primary narcissism and monadism. While Laplanche equates monadic thinking with the familiar tales of Crusoesque ego-triumphalism, Bersani, his trajectory inflected by the synthesis of Proustian-Deleuzean and Beckettian-Blanchotian ontologies, insists on tarrying with “individuality.” We may have subsumed several concepts under this term, he suggests. Importantly, Leibniz identifies the monad with Duns Scotus’s “haecceity” (“Discourse” §8 [41]), a term Deleuze and Guattari

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pick up to elaborate nondialectical singularity (260–65). Bersani carves out an analogous trajectory: further defining the problematic, he distinguishes between the individuality of the essence and that of the subject; these are the entities that he later calls l’individuel and l’individu, “metaphysical” and “psychological” individuality. Pausing at a cluster of concepts whose potential we may have thought exhausted at least since the advent of poststructuralism, he extracts from Proust-Deleuze the idea of the monad as “the absolutely individual” (BB 235; CR 96, 99). This individuality, however, is not characterized, as it is for Laplanche, by the instrumental relation to the world, the clear separation of the subject and his Umwelt, which critics since Marx have come to attach to Defoe’s hero.15 Rather, Bersani finds in Beckett the most concentrated experimentation with the monadic singularity of what he, unheeding the antiessentialist hegemony of the past thirty years in the Anglo American academia, proposes we call “essence.”

Stop Making Sense Bersani returns to the Beckettian text in the first chapter of Arts of Impoverishment. The repeated references to monads in “Inhibited Reading” constitute an implicit link that transversally knots Proust, Laplanche, and Beckett, three thinkers whose texts comprise his primary fields of experimentation in the ethics and aesthetics of being. Having indicated the shared ground of monadology, Bersani also makes a great deal out of the incompatibilities of the fields thus soldered together. Beckett’s engagement with monadology has very little to do with Laplanche’s unequivocal reading, where the monad always names the betrayal of Freud’s original ethics by the counterrevolutionary forces of the Crusoesque ego. Bersani cannot go along with Laplanche’s gloss on the Leibnizian concept because of his earlier encounter with Proustian-Beckettian monadology in Balzac to Beckett; instead, monadism precipitates his rethinking of such ontological notions as “essence” and “individuality.” “Perhaps the most serious reproach we can make against Samuel Beckett,” Bersani and Dutoit open their discussion in Arts of Impoverishment, “is that he has failed to fail” (AI 11). To speak of Beckett is to account for the “the forms [failure] takes throughout his work” (AI 11), forms that, they indicate, constitute Beckett’s monadology. Beckettian “forms of failure” are strictly synonymous with what Bersani and Dutoit in the title of a more recent book call “forms of being.” Like antinatalists, Beckett, in his drive to fail, experiments with “[t]he prospect of an essential being prior to, and removed from, the conditions of all realized being” (AI 49). This formulation again evinces Bersani’s early engagement with Deleuze and Blanchot: “essential being” names the synthesis of, on the one hand, the monadic expression that Deleuze finds

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in Proust and, on the other, Blanchot’s “essential solitude,” the solitude that, as “the pre-conceptual singularity of being” (Hill 112), is not the result of a withdrawal from relations but, “prelinguistic[ally],” precedes “the relational status of grammatical identities” (AI 51). While Blanchot develops the concept of “essential solitude” most extensively in The Space of Literature (esp. 19–34), its early formulations take place already in his engagement with The Unnamable in The Book to Come (210–17). Like Beckett’s “retentive” or “miserly” being (Bersani, “No Exit” 267), Blanchot’s onto-ethics—indebted to Beckett’s 1950s narratives—is marked by being’s “refusal to come into the world” (Bruns 86). In this, it repeats the Unnamable’s quest for “some inner essence completely divorced from the life of personality in time” (“No Exit” 267), “a self that has somehow succeeded in failing to live and has thus saved itself from being dissipated and betrayed by expression” (AI 50). Yet the model of antinatalist expression, Bersani and Dutoit continue, is plagued by a paradox: the Unnamable’s attempts to resist figuration are marked by “the anomaly of that resistance taking place in a language whose very use signifies the defeat of any such resistance” (AI 50). The blankness or muteness of being can be indexed only in the ink that blights the page, the words that break the silence. If Beckett’s texts constitute a catalogue of repeated bids at reaching the stillness or silence of a perfectly failed being, the work itself amounts to a record of failed attempts to complete the movement to fail. The drive to fail—to reach “the peace of a sameness from which the individuating event has all but disappeared, the peace of the undifferentiated” (AI 139)—leaves in its wake figures that comprise both the crime and its evidence. However swift the annihilation, it always comes too late to undo the mistakenly individuated being. As the Unnamable puts it, “The search for the means to put an end to things, an end to speech, is what enables the discourse to continue” (Unnamable 299). The paradox, Bersani and Dutoit suggest, is symptomatic. The trilogy culminating in The Unnamable constitutes something of a dead end, or a badly conceptualized experiment: in seeking being beyond language, the 1950s narratives, despite “their magnificent originality and complexity, are perhaps somewhat naïve in their assumptions about the sympathy that literature can provide to a straightforward defense of prelinguistic essential being” (AI 51). Regarding The Unnamable as “the most poignant example of Beckett’s failing to fail” (AI 51), Bersani and Dutoit complicate Blanchot’s reading of Beckettian ontology by turning to Beckett’s subsequent work. It is here that “a crucial shift takes place” (AI 51): the narrative consciousness abandons the efforts to figure the monadic perspective and moves to “the point of view of those who would make the Unnamable speak” (AI 52). Henceforth, Beckett’s narratives unfold as the record of solicitations—“exhortations” or “extortions”—by which the monadic being is “tortured into speaking” (AI 56): “the self-contained

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monad becomes the object of [the torturer’s] persecutorial attention” (AI 52). The Unnamable’s metaphysical paradoxes are neutralized with this shift in perspective. The “torturing” of the self-enclosed monad into expression, as it takes place in post-1950s Beckett, differs from the “obligation” that pulls the Unnamable into speech. The Unnamable evokes the term in alluding to the sourceless demand by which he finds himself “obliged to speak,” “ha[ving] to speak of things of which [he] cannot speak” (291, see also 301, 311). The term’s importance for Beckett’s 1950s work is suggested by its occurrence in one of his rare philosophical statements, the onto-aesthetic speculations he offers in a 1949 conversation with Georges Duthuit. In the dialogue, Beckett speaks of the impossible call to expression—to initiate the figurative movement that betrays being—under whose “obligation,” according to him, painters labor. Painters, he posits, experiment with the nonexpressiveness of being—“there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express”—by heeding the simultaneous “obligation to express” (“Three” 103, qtd. also in AI 14). For Bersani and Dutoit, this familiar mode of Beckettian ethics—of going on when one cannot do so—requires further thought; we witness, they suggest, its elaboration in Beckett’s subsequent work. Their ambivalence about the onto-ethics that orients most famously The Unnamable is analogous, I suggest, to Bersani’s unease with Laplanchean psychoanalysis. The onto-ethical paradoxes that Bersani and Dutoit find in early Beckett, that is, haunt psychoanalysis too. The psychoanalytic name for “the inexpressible” is “the unconscious,” and the Beckettian “obligation to express” finds its Laplanchean analogue in “the drive to translate.” According to Laplanche, the other’s seductive call initiates a process of translation, one that is repeated in analysis. The enigma of the other is at its core unsolvable; translation is driven by the message’s constitutive untranslatability, what always remains unmetabolizable in it. Thus, as much as the Unnamable speaks the unspeakable, as much as artists paint the inexpressible, the psychoanalytic subject responds—or emerges as the response—to the enigmatic call through the work of translating the untranslatable. “The obligation to translate [emphasis added], its inevitable Trieb (drive), doesn’t come from meaning,” Laplanche writes, echoing Beckett; “the drive to translate . . . comes more from the untranslatable. Once more, it’s an obligation that does not come from the receiver. It’s an imperative which is brought to him by the work itself” (“Wall” 204). The other’s call issues as an ethical obligation, demanding a response: the enigmatic call, Laplanche and Pontalis write, “puts the subject in the position of having to answer to something” (“Fantasy” 10–11). In this way, the ethical dimension, as Laplanche insists, is at the very center of the theory of seduction that initiates the Freudian revolution: the enigmatic call solicits the recipient into becoming as a response-ability to the other’s address: enigmatic signifiers are “messages . . . which ask the child questions it cannot

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yet understand. The child has to make sense of them and give an answer, which amounts to the same thing” (Laplanche, New 124–25, emphasis added). In Laplanchean ethics, then, responsibility coincides with “making sense” of the other’s enigmatic solicitations. These unreadable messages fascinate the subject into becoming; they awaken the infant to desire. Hominization proceeds as the work of translation. But the subject can never obtain the complete script of these foreign dispatches: as enigmas, they always yield an untranslatable remainder that prevents the closure of the process into a fully legible world. This interminability characterizes the ethics of Laplanchean psychoanalysis: the process is an ungrounded movement, one that cannot be resolved into anything like an Aufhebung. The other remains elusive—étrangèreté—because the subject is ultimately fascinated not by der Andere but by das Andere, the empty, impersonal entity of its own unconscious. Bersani suggests that, despite the brilliance of his readings, Laplanche draws out from Freud a less than revolutionary model of the subject’s becoming. He finds two related problems in Laplanche’s argument that psychoanalysis reject monadic conceptualizations of the subject in favor of the interminable translation of otherness. First, becoming-human is driven in this model by a quest for that which remains obfuscated, missing, and incomplete; hominization operates as the Proustian recherche, a search for lost being that the other seems to possess. Here psychoanalysis retells the story of desire one of whose earliest instances we find in Aristophanes’s tale in The Symposium: that of an originary trauma whose separations give rise to desire and compel the search for the primordially shattered wholeness. Bersani calls such narrative structures pastoral; he finds the pastoral imagination operative not only in Laplanche and Proust, but also, in varied ways, in Tennessee Williams, Walter Benjamin, Melanie Klein, and much of realist fiction. Second, it is the emphasis on the subject’s sense-making—that is, epistemological—relation to otherness in the theory of hominizing translation that forces Bersani’s divergence from Laplanche and gravitation to Beckettian monadism. Our culture has persistently conceptualized otherness in terms of epistemological alterity, Bersani suggests; psychoanalysis has become one of our most influential discourses to give “primacy to the quest of knowledge” (Bersani, “Father” 95). However inscrutable, the Laplanchean other is constituted as the target of the subject’s epistemophilic passions, the keeper of secret knowledge about the subject’s being. This conceptualization privileges a certain mise-en-scène of the subject and the world: as Bersani writes in a recent essay, this model is likely to yield a “paranoid relationality” (94), where the world compels us with “murderous fascination” (99). The object of desire, he repeats elsewhere, is here cast as “an object of fascination; he or she reactivates a world in which the subject is nowhere to be found, one of pure otherness. The world has become, again, what Laplanche has called the enigmatic signifier who sent

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us, who appears to be sending us once again, messages we can’t process, or ‘metabolize’ ” (IRG 57). Consisting of the obligations to translate the messages received from the enigmatic other, desire binds together subjects passionately eavesdropping on each other’s secrets. As he does on numerous other occasions, Bersani exemplifies the Laplanchean subject with Proustian characters, this time discussing “Swann’s sexual fascination” with Odette (IRG 58). For Laplanche, seduction, as the opening to the work of translation, is the moment at which the infant becomes-human, where the subject is constituted in its fourvoiement, its going-astray or swerving, from the path of need to the tortuous road of desire. The human subject in psychoanalysis is by definition a perverted being; hominization is synonymous with the emergence of sexuality in the infant’s seduction to desire—a conceptualization that explains the ambivalent but consistent appeal that Freud has exerted on queer theorists. In Arts of Impoverishment, I propose, Bersani and Dutoit suggests that the Beckettian subject, especially in the post-1950s texts, emerges as an equally—but in crucial ways differently—queered being. I venture this for two reasons, the first of which relies on a literal reading of Bersani and Dutoit’s suggestion that the Beckettian subject of the later narratives is “tortured” into becoming. “To be tortured is the precondition for being humanized,” they write. “. . . The torture consists in the fact that as soon as we begin to listen to voices we can’t help hearing an injunction to speak” (AI 62). Even if Bersani and Dutoit don’t have Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in mind,16 they are teasing us, I think, with an etymological pun. As Sedgwick notes in the foreword to Tendencies—her collection of queer-theoretical essays published, like Arts of Impoverishment, in 1993—the term “queer” emerges, like “athwart” and the German quer (transverse), from the Latin torquere, to twist (xii). It is from this root that we also get, of course, “torture,” or the German quälen and Quälerei. Like the perverse, errant subject of psychoanalysis or queer theory, the Beckettian being is tortured into expressiveness. My second reason for queering the Beckettian subject of Arts of Impoverishment rests on Bersani and Dutoit’s suggestion that the move from “obligation” to “torture” in the post-1950s texts coincides with a shift from “sociality” to “sociability” (AI 65), the latter of which they identify in particular with the 1980s Nohow On trilogy. In a later text, “Sociability and Cruising” (2002), Bersani glosses the term as follows: “Sociability is a form of relationality uncontaminated by desire” (IRG 45). In this formulation, “desire” designates the fascination exerted by the enigmas of otherness, which according to Laplanche compel the subject to look for the obfuscated secret of his being in the outside world, from which he is constitutively missing. Unmarked by such fascinations, “sociability,” as we find it in Beckett’s Company (1980) for example, gives us a form of communication, of speaking and listening, that doesn’t seek to solve the other’s enigma but, rather, “exists for the sake of the relations it establishes”

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(AI 65). This communication proceeds without identifiable subjects; as Bersani, commenting on Waiting for Godot three years earlier, writes: “the strategies of continuing talk survive the absence of psychological subjects” (CR 169). The curiously appealing emptiness of talk comprises the comedy of Beckett’s texts: in the absence of psychological individuals we have the likes of Estragon and Vladimir, “blathering about nothing in particular” (Beckett, Waiting 73). Theirs is a rapport that doesn’t seek to “make sense” of, or “translate,” whatever messages circulate between the self and the other. As Bersani and Dutoit continue in a recent essay, the intimacy that we find in sociability “is not hiding anything” (“Rohmer’s” 29). Unlike the intimacies of the Laplanchean subject, sociability is not driven by the attractions of the inscrutable, the desire for translating the other’s messages. Instead, there is a “happy lack of depth” (29) in sociability. Elsewhere, Bersani locates modes of sociability in the texts of Henry James and Stephané Mallarmé, and the cinema of Pedro Almódovar, Patrice Leconte, and Éric Rohmer.17 He further identifies gay bathhouses as possible sites for experimentation with a desireless movement in a nonenigmatic world: “Cruising is sexual sociability,” he writes in “Sociability and Cruising” (IRG 57); it may yield “a training in impersonal intimacy” (IRG 60).18 What for many signal the off-putting pathologies expressed in anonymous sex—a disinterestedness in persons, the use of others as props in the mise-en-scène of idiosyncratic fantasies—can “train” one in contact with a world without signifying absences. The tortured souls of How It Is, Company, and Ill Seen Ill Said, Bersani oddly suggests, may find themselves on familiar ground in gay bathhouses. I have suggested that the differences Bersani discerns in Laplanche’s and Beckett’s onto-ethics can be articulated in terms of their respective conceptualizations of monadism. For Laplanche, the monad represents the being of classical metaphysics from which Freud breaks: a Robinson Crusoe, the imperial subject at the center of his island, preceding and presiding over its others. This is the reading that Laplanche, echoing many other commentators, gives to Leibniz’s argument that the monad entails or involves the entire world, that there are no external causes, only the unfolding of the monad’s internal logic. When Freud, especially with the advent of the second topography, falls back on monadic conceptualizations of the subject, his theory begins to approximate “the most delusional systems of the great idealists, Berkeley, Fichte, or even Hegel” (Laplanche, “Seduction” 173). Monadism amounts to idealism: it eradicates all mind-independent objects in “ridiculous efforts to reconstruct the outside, objectivity, on the basis of the inside” (173). Laplanche calls this “the centrifugal illusion”: “I create the object, reality, from my fantasy” (194).19 Bersani, taking his cues from Deleuze and Beckett, reads monadism in a crucially different way: for him, the fact that monads have no external relations suggests that Leibniz offers us a world without lack. The monad cannot be

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fascinated by anything that it would not already involve in its being. Rather, each monad constitutes a perspective expressing the entire universe or, to cite Leibniz’s other favorite formulation, “a living mirror . . . , which represents the universe from its own point of view and is as ordered as the universe itself” (Leibniz, “Principles” 207). If Laplanche considers primary narcissism the wrongheaded, idealist postulation of monadic being in post-1915 Freud, it is in the Leibnizian mirror that Bersani’s homo-narcissist finds a world of correspondences and inaccurate replications.20 For Laplanche, the primary narcissism of later Freud reanimates Western philosophy’s ipsocentric delusions, whose idealism Leibniz at once pushes to its “delirious” limits and reveals as ethically bankrupt. For Bersani, on the other hand, the issue is not quite as straightforward: the solitude of the Leibnizian monad coincides with oneness or sameness with the world. Bersani identifies an alternate mode of desire in Deleuze’s and Beckett’s experimentations with Leibniz’s radicalization of philosophy’s postulations about essence and the subject. What Bersani calls sociability—and sometimes homo-narcissism—is the monadic subject’s mode of being in the world, a practice of cultivating, as he puts it in Thoughts and Things, “epistemologically useless connections” (ch. 5). It is in Beckett that we find a privileged example of such potentiality. The labor of this potential’s actualization begins already in Balzac to Beckett, where Bersani engages Proustian and Beckettian monadologies. From A Future for Astyanax onward, the latter emerges as an alternative to the ontology of privation that grounds the understanding of desire from Plato to Hegel to Freud to Laplanche. Bersani sees in the monad a being for nonlacking singularity, an entity whose solitude constitutes a totalized relation to the world—a mode that, in Homos, he proposes we call “homo-ness.” Hence, monadology suggests to Bersani a way to think about the world where desiring movement is not determined by constitutive wants.

Notes 1. Briefly alluding to Laplanche’s “brilliant discussion” of Freud’s “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” Bersani suggests at the end of A Future for Astyanax that he will “return [to Laplanche] in another work” (FA 332n2), a promise fulfilled in Baudelaire and Freud (1977). For Bersani’s subsequent discussions of Laplanche, see FV 33–39, 117–18; FrB passim; CS ch. 4; and FoB 37–39. 2. On Beckett and Leibniz, see Ackerley; Dowd esp. ch. 3; Fletcher, “Samuel” 54–55; Mori, “Beckett’s,” “Becoming,” and “ ‘No Body’ ”; and the entry on Leibniz in Ackerley and Gontarski. Without naming Leibniz, Bersani and Dutoit point to monadology’s importance for Beckett in mentioning the term and its derivatives no less than twelve times in the first chapter of Arts of Impoverishment: 27, 30, 31, 52 (twice), 54, 63, 68, 75, 76, 84, and 90.

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3. Laplanche continues: “narcissism is situated, chronologically or dialectically, after autoerotism, but we should recall that autoerotism . . . was itself not ‘first’: if it was indeed the first state of sexuality, that did not mean that it was necessarily the first biological state. Autoerotism was described [in the Three Essays] as the phase in which human sexuality as such emerged. And was constitutive, in that sense, of the domain explored by psychoanalysis” (Life 73). 4. Some twenty years later, Laplanche reasserts this reading of the shifting meaning of narcissism in Freud: see New 68–81. As he again insists, the sequence “autoerotism–narcissism–object-choice . . . is a chronological line, a line of descent”; “the line does not start with narcissism” (69); neither is autoerotism “primary,” it having been preceded by the organism’s access to the object of need (70). It is particularly with The Ego and the Id that we enter into “the gross confusion brought about by the notions of narcissism and primary narcissism” (68, 76–77; see also Life 52–53). 5. See Marx’s famous allusion to Robinsonades in Grundrisse 83. 6. For some commentary on Bersani’s end- and footnotes, see Gallop. 7. According to Deleuze, says Elizabeth Grosz, “psychoanalysis is fundamentally boring: it is the same story all the time, Oedipus everywhere. It means, for example, and to be reductionistic, that we’re all going around wanting to sleep with our mothers and kill our fathers, which, frankly, is boring. It doesn’t have any explanatory value in the long run” (“Interview”). 8. In their assessment of the self-cancellations of psychoanalytic discourse, Laplanche and Bersani are not alone. Arnold Davidson and Teresa de Lauretis, for example, have similarly traced the twists and turns of Freud’s theory of sexuality. However, in ways that the previous paragraph’s synthesis of A Future for Astyanax may fail to indicate, Laplanche’s and Bersani’s readings are distinguished from the majority of other assessments in the fact that, for them, the stutterings constitute the very radicalness of the Freudian text. Bersani moves toward this reading in Baudelaire and Freud, and establishes it in The Freudian Body. Although, particularly in his later work, Laplanche increasingly posits the failure of the psychoanalytic revolution as part and parcel of the very movement of Freud’s thought, his assessment is more ambivalent than Bersani’s, for whom the “collapse” of the psychoanalytic revolution is the result of an intrinsic failure or drift, not a recuperable wrong turn or misinvestment; for Bersani, that which renders the theory singular, and singularly useful, is also what necessitates its self-betrayal. Even though Laplanche at times implies that Freud’s mistake should be regarded as a repetition of the originary, supplementary movement of going-astray in hominization, he sees in such counterrevolutionary moments “an almost inevitable recoiling, which is not to be held against Freud, before the consequences of the priority of the other” (“Exigency” 188, emphasis added). The fact that Freud’s abandonment of the seduction hypothesis, as well as his failure to articulate it as a general theory, may have been prevented—it was only “almost inevitable”—suggests that it does not constitute a strict analogue to the moment of perversion that is primal in becoming-human. 9. “Whatever the need to fail may mean for Beckett and his characters,” Bersani and Dutoit similarly write in Arts of Impoverishment, “it has been almost universally ignored by his admirers. . . . Everyone recognizes that Beckett has sent us messages of highest importance” (AI 12–13). Esslin’s existentialist reading of Beckett as part of “the

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theater of the absurd” constitutes perhaps the most influential example of the scholarship that Bersani and Dutoit target. 10. For Beckett’s distinction between his work and Joyce’s, see also the interview briefly excerpted in AI 211n5. For Bersani’s commentary on Joyce, see CR ch. 7. 11. For commentators who have connected Beckett to (Nietzsche’s) Silenus, see Branigan 148; and the entry for “birth” in Ackerley and Gontarski. On Beckett and Schopenhauer, see Pothast. 12. Proust’s narrator offers us a recognizably monadological self-description: “my intelligence,” Marcel proposes, “must be a uniform thing, perhaps indeed there exists but a single intelligence, in which everyone in the world participates, towards which each of us from the position of his own separate body turns his eyes, as in a theatre where, if everyone has his own separate seat, there in on the other hand but a single stage” (1: 523–24). Proust’s familiarity with Leibniz is further corroborated not only by the several occasions on which the philosopher is mentioned in À la Recherche (1: 1076, 1260; 2: 278), but also the book’s allusions to Leibniz’s dictums of the existing universe’s necessary status as “the best of all possible worlds” (1: 619) and of “the universal and pre-established gravitation” or “harmony” that unites beings (1: 897). 13. For Bersani’s elaboration of l’individu/l’individuel via Baudelaire, see CR 63–86. Most recent references to this conceptual pairing can be found in Thoughts ch. 5 and the preface to Marcel Proust’s second edition (xiv). 14. Moreover, in the final chapter of Homos, Bersani replaces Beckett with Jean Genet as Proust’s interlocutor, recapitulating Blanchot’s move, in The Book to Come, from Beckett to Genet (214–15). 15. We should also remember that Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense (301–21), reconsiders (via Michel Tournier) the onto-ethics of Defoe’s solitary island dweller; see also his short text on the question of “desert islands” (“Desert”). 16. But see Bersani’s brief acknowledgment, two years later, of Sedgwick’s Tendencies: H 193n49. 17. See, respectively, FA ch. 5 (James); DSM (Mallarmé); FoB ch. 2 and IRG 71–82 (Almodóvar); I 5–11 (Leconte); and Bersani and Dutoit, “Rohmer’s.” 18. For a reading of gay subcultures that arguably elaborates this Bersanian argument, see Dean. 19. On the centrifugal and the centripetal in Bersani, see Tuhkanen. 20. For the term “homo-narcissism,” see IRG 33; but the concept can be discerned in an incipient formulation already in the final chapter of A Future for Astyanax, where Bersani rethinks homosexual narcissism’s “passion for sameness” (FA 306) through readings of Freud and literary texts.

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———. “Psychoanalysis as Anti-Hermeneutics.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Radical Philosophy 79 (Sep./Oct. 1996): 7–12. Print. ———. “Seduction, Persecution, Revelation.” Trans. Philip Slotkin, rev. Jean Laplanche. Essays 166–96. ———. “The So-Called ‘Death Drive’: A Sexual Drive.” 1996. Trans. Luke Thurston. British Journal of Psychotherapy 20.4 (2004): 455–71. Print. ———. “The Theory of Seduction and the Problem of the Other.” Trans. Luke Thurston. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 78.4 (1997): 653–66. Print. ———. “The Unfinished Copernican Revolution.” Trans. Luke Thurston. Essays 52–83. ———. “The Wall and the Arcade.” Jean Laplanche: Seduction, Translation, Drives: A Dossier. Ed. John Fletcher and Martin Stanton. Trans. Martin Stanton. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992. 197–216. Print. Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, J.-B. [Jean-Bertrand]. “Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality.” 1964. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 49 (1968): 1–18. Print. ———. The Language of Psychoanalysis. 1967. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973. Print. Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “Discourse on Metaphysics.” 1686. Philosophical 35–68. ———. Philosophical Essays. Ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989. Print. ———. “Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason.” 1714. Philosophical 206–13. Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. 1936. New York: Harper, 1960. Print. Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). 1939. Trans. Martin Nicolaus. London: Penguin, 1993. Print. May, Todd. Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print. Mori, Naoya. “Beckett’s Windows and the Windowless Self.” After Beckett/D’après Beckett. Ed. Anthony Uhlmann, Sjef Houppermans, and Bruno Clément. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 357–70. Print. ———. “Becoming Stone: A Leibnizian Reading of Beckett’s Fiction.” Samuel Beckett Today 19 (2008): 201–10. Print. ———. “ ‘No Body Is at Rest’: The Legacy of Leibniz’s Force in Beckett’s Oeuvre.” Beckett at 100: Revolving It All. Ed. Linda Ben-Zvi and Angela Moorjani. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. 107–20. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. 1872/1886. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 2000. 1–144. Print. ———. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. 1873. Trans. Marianne Cowan. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1962. Print. Pothast, Ulrich. The Metaphysical Vision: Arthur Schopenhauer’s Philosophy of Art and Life and Samuel Beckett’s Own Way to Make Use of It. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. Print. Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Stephen Hudson. 2 vols. London: Wordsworth, 2006. Print. Russell, Bertrand. A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. 1900. London: Routledge, 1992. Print. ———. A History of Western Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945. Print.

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Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993. Print. Smith, Daniel W. Essays on Deleuze. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2012. Print. Tóibín, Colm. Introduction. Beckett, Grove ix–xvi. Tuhkanen, Mikko. “Homomonadology: Leo Bersani’s Essentialism.” differences 25.2 (Summer 2014): 62–100. Print. Van Cleve, James. “Inner States and Outer Relations: Kant and the Case for Monadism.” Doing Philosophy Historically. Ed. Peter H. Hare. New York: Prometheus, 1988. 231–47. Print. Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. 1957. Berkeley: U of California P, 1959. Print.

III

Aesthetic

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Is the Rectangle a Grave? MICHAEL D. SNEDIKER

There is an alternate beginning to queer theory in Bersani’s recognition that literary characters sometimes are most compelling in their not seeming ontologically compelling at all. I remember feeling thunderstruck upon first encountering Bersani’s claim in The Culture of Redemption (1990) that Moby-Dick’s homoerotic coupling of Ishmael and Queequeg was unpersuasive to the extent that Melville’s characters seemed unpersuasive as people (CR 146). Bersani makes such observations throughout his career. I think of his brilliant remark in A Future for Astyanax (1974) that “it’s irrelevant in The Golden Bowl that Amerigo and Charlotte were in love before the story began. Their past is a concession on James’s part to an order of psychological probability which the novel in fact dismisses. . . . It’s as if the geometry of human relations implied what we call human feelings into existence” (FA 148). Such moments in his oeuvre help me understand my fascination with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s exhortation that we “treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are” (479). Bersani suggests that if we treat persons well even when they don’t seem like persons, it might be because of the geometry out of which human feelings retroactively come into being; such a geometry would ostensibly become a composition “of human relations” only after the fact. Bersani’s insights have been useful for my thinking about queer theory alongside disability in so often configuring characterological noncredulity or vacancy in terms of an “aesthetics of failure” (AI 1) variously imagined as “immobilizing,” “blinding” (AI 140), or “crippling” (I 7; AI 118–19). Far more interesting than the convergence of critical theory and hackneyed disability tropes is the possibility in Bersani’s readings of disability having perhaps been aesthetic all along. Bersani’s most sustained theorization of our geometric bearings occurs in “Blocked Vision,” his reading of Mark Rothko (AI 93–145). One’s experience

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in front of a Rothko canvas, Bersani suggests, involves a catechism in selfdiminishment predicated on the erasures of form staged (or perhaps decreatingly unstaged) by the mergers of Rothko’s rectangles into each other, the canvas, and in a mutual disappearing, the world. “What is being imitated,” Bersani writes, “is within our visual field as we look at the painting; it is the rectangular shape of the canvas itself, as well as of the room in which the painting is hung” (AI 134). In this concentrically Emersonian dilation of rectangles mimesis is involved in absorbingly abdicating what it replicates. The formal attentiveness of Bersani’s aesthetic vocabulary suspends the sorts of erotic aggression that his writing elsewhere engages. If Bersani admires Rothko’s work for its resistance to personification, however, it is not because the emergence of persons cannot happen but because the resistance helps us less take for granted how and why it does. Even if aesthetics is not a break, per se, from the problems posed by bodies-in-relation, it’s not clear if aesthetics is a rethinking of sex’s vantage and vocabulary; if aesthetics and sex are figuratively or literally configured in relation to each other (even as literal and figurative as terms for discussing Rothko seem almost immediately insufficient); if our ability to imagine sex as aesthetic means the former is becoming something it was not or returning to something it was. These questions drastically energize the closing lines of “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987). “Male homosexuality,” Bersani writes, “advertises the risk of the sexual itself as the risk of self-dismissal, of losing sight of the self, and in so doing it proposes and dangerously represents jouissance as a mode of ascesis” (IRG 30). Aesthetics, here, is a trope to which the literalism of sex gives way. We approach the lure of an aestheticization of sex in advertisement’s exploitation of desire, even as Bersani’s later work will suggest that there is in sex something so fundamentally aesthetic that a formulation like the “aestheticization of sex” is gratuitous. In the emphasis beyond idiom of “losing sight of the self,” Bersani seems to urge an erotic acuity conceived as pictures at an exhibition whose reframing of sex and ocular vulnerability culminates in male homosexuality rewritten as “dangerous representation.” That the rectangles of a Rothko canvas overdeterminedly reiterate or haunt the by-now notorious rectum of Bersani’s gay bottom is suggested at the conclusion of “Blocked Vision” in a verb—twice repeated, flagged in scare quotes—whose interpellation of us as tops prescribes our relation to the art at hand: “It is then, these risks of disappearance and of appearance—the risk of a dying at once more insignificant and infinitely more consequential than our personal death—which we accept when we ‘enter’ Rothko’s art, when, perhaps, we enter art” (AI 145). “Is the Rectangle a Grave?” is an attempt to do justice to the aesthetic implications raised in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” I’m guided by what at this point feels like the necessary tenuousness of imagining disability theory as the theorization of duress out of which Bersani’s aesthetic and queer-theoretical insights come together.

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Elsewhere in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” Bersani writes that “Freud keeps returning to a line of speculation in which the sexual emerges as the jouissance of exploded limits, as the ecstatic suffering into which the human organism momentarily plunges when it is ‘pressed’ beyond a certain threshold of endurance” (IRG 24). The “line of speculation,” for Bersani, describes the object of Freud’s interest as much as it does the accumulated force of his insights. The human organism capable of being “pressed” is intelligible as a play of limits, lines, and thresholds, the terms in which Bersani will go on to describe Rothko’s paintings. Of Rothko’s 1961 painting, Number 207 (Red over Dark Blue), Bersani observes “that when one of two rectangles almost merges into the background color, the effect can be just the opposite of what we have been describing. Instead of diminishing the readability of sharply marked contrasts, the blurring boundaries between one rectangle and the background space can make the entire painting seem like a background space to the other rectangle” (AI 108). Almost merging into the background, the rectangle likewise almost merges (spatially if not chromatically) with the other rectangle. The ascesis of this style of looking conduces the surprise of “just the opposite of what we have been describing.” The unpredictable pulsing of Rothko’s shapes resets our sense of how power, aesthetically coded, moves. We watch and wait. The discerning humility of the descriptive voice in “Blocked Vision” recalls the speaker’s curiosity in Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map,” which, like Bersani’s essay, articulates with breathtaking calmness the contingency of relational feeling. Bersani’s contemplation of Rothko’s shifting depths of field echoes the opening equivocation of Bishop’s poem’s: “Land lies in water; it is shadowed green. / Shadows, or are they shallows” (3). Both Bersani and Bishop are experimenting with what we might call a poetics of “or.” Or as Bersani similarly notes, “the foreground-background relation . . . is disturbed by questions the painting raises about which color is above or below the other” (AI 107). Like “The Map,” “Blocked Vision” asks its readers to imagine how seeing looks or feels, as extrapolated through the minute and circumstantial evidence of vision struck by Rothko’s paintings. What this seeing itself looks like is so eminently Jamesian a question that it’s perhaps inevitable that Bersani’s depiction of it, in Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (2004), sounds less like Bishop than like lines from “The Beast in the Jungle”: “The perplexing allusion to a soul that the speaking subject seeks to enter but that is also invited to look at the world it has made through that same subject’s eyes—as if the ‘I’ could be both internal and external to its soul, and as if this spirit that is his were indistinguishable from that which is external to them both—all this becomes intelligible in terms of an ontology that treats as merely incidental, as a by-product of the illusion of individuality, the opposition between the outside and the inside” (FoB 170).1 That Forms of Being is in many ways an “inaccurate replication” of Arts of Impoverishment (1993) in turn reflects

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the extent to which inaccurate replication—a formulation that Christopher Lane rightly suggests is “central to Bersani and Dutoit’s ethico-political view of human relations” (118)—so accurately describes the internal logic of Rothko’s mercurial symmetries. Beyond what threshold of endurance is either rectangle pressed? If the dark blue bottom rectangle “nearly disappears” into the dark gray canvas, into what does it disappear? Furthermore, if it is the gay bottom who most saliently “advertises the risk of the sexual itself as the risk of self-dismissal, of losing sight of the self” (IRG 30), then might we imagine some resonance not only between the bottom rectangle and the gay bottom, but across Bersani’s investment in each? “Rothko,” Bersani writes, “paints the resistance and surrender of forms to form-defeating forms” (AI 100), which is to say that Rothko’s rectangles redistribute Bersani’s aspirations for queer relationality from dim bathhouse to dark canvas. In translating the temporality of the bathhouse into the pulsing of only somewhat static shapes, Bersani’s Rothko illuminates, in Lauren Berlant’s words, the extent to which “structure is a process, not an imprint, of the reproduction of life” (Berlant and Edelman 12). Rothko will further suggest that “process” and the nearly psychical aesthetics of imprinting are not mutually exclusive. Bersani invites us to meditate on the ecology of the representation of this transaction as constitutively aesthetic: that this transaction is ontologically representational informs Rothko’s practice of painterly mimesis as an experiment in realism. The fidelity of this exchange, recalling Christopher Bollas’s description of Winnicott’s good-enough mother as an infant’s first aesthetic event (58), rephrases beauty as an unanswerable question of what Cary Howie calls “hermeneutic propriety” (15). The relative expressive vacancy of Rothko’s art makes it over-susceptible to this sort of co-opting, even as susceptibility and co-opting are the very narratives that its ironically mimetic compositions imply. It is in part the suggestion in Rothko’s rectangles of the forms to which simultaneously they give rise and from which they emerge that attracts Bersani to them in Arts of Impoverishment. Rothko’s experiment in an art without subjects resonates with Bersani’s theorization if not quite of sex without subjects then sex as the means by which we’re impressed with an idea of de-subjectivation. At the same time, Bersani’s writing on Rothko brings into focus a continuity between Bersani’s meditations on aesthetic being and his earlier accounts of ascesis and selfshattering. The former’s receptiveness to formal contingency illuminates aspects of relationality that risk being occluded by the more glaringly melodramatic elements of erotic management. What follows traces Bersani’s fascination with both Rothko’s rectangles and the interstice that mediates two rectangles as they approach each other. The interstice becomes a way to visualize the nearliness that underwrites investment. I am interested less in the extent to which the language of erotic adventure informs a rectangle’s contemplation of another

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rectangle than in the possibility of relations between persons taking on the fastidious spirit of interstitiality and rectangular being. The particular shape of this interstitial predilection is evident in Bersani’s book-length collaborations with Dutoit and Adam Phillips. The various forms taken by coauthorship speak to Bersani’s longstanding inquiry into where one person ends and another begins, a hypostasis of epistemological and erotic porousness resonant with Rothko’s compulsions. In Intimacies (2008), Bersani’s writing is clearly demarcated from Phillips’s, whereas the singularity of discrete authorial positions in Forms of Being is impossible to parse. In the preface to Intimacies, Phillips tells us that “Leo Bersani wrote the first three chapters, and I then responded immediately to what he had written. . . . Bersani then wrote a conclusion prompted, more or less, by my response. . . . The reader can read the book as it was written” (I viii). By contrast, Forms of Being treats the mystification of “how one reads as it was written” as though it were coextensive with the book’s argument for what Bersani and Dutoit call “the implausibility of individuality” (FoB 153). Intimacies, published four years after Forms of Being, enacts the plausibility (rather than fact) of authorial individuality. Read alongside the theories of relation they differently raise, the collaborative dynamics of these books suggest in their complication of formal discreteness a fidelity to the inconsistency of feeling singular in the first place. The fine variations between these collaborations inform the books’ respective cover images, whose similarities and differences alike point to the perceptual subtlety made possible when proximity is rendered graphic. The cover of Forms of Being is composed of two film stills between which hovers the book’s title in a white space so nearly equivalent to the rectangles on either side of it that it’s hard to say if we are looking at a diptych or triptych. The bottom third of the cover is a production still from Godard’s Contempt. As Bersani and Dutoit write of this Godard image, “All subjects—human and narrative—are left behind. Nearly everything that would allow us to measure and to distinguish is gone. The horizon line separating sea from sky is less sharply delineated than in the [earlier] Capri shot; we have nothing—which is to say almost everything—but the nearly uniform spectacle of blue water and sky” (FoB 69). Bersani’s observation that “human and narrative” have been jettisoned is importantly not the same as their being absent; his account of the image treats it like a still to the extent that the diachrony of persons left behind participates in the extended time of a film in which “human and narrative” would have factored. By contrast, his (which is to say their) invoking of the “uniform spectacle of blue water and sky” treats the image as it synchronically looks, which is to say on some level as it asks to be seen: as an abstract seascape whose bifurcating of color fields might well remind us of a Rothko canvas. The image’s flickering between genres and interpretation is internally repeated in the “less sharply delineated” horizon line, whose trick of

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pervious distinction renders it as vivacious as the rectangular sea and sky that it inscribes. The difficulty of saying where the sky meets sea shifts the burden of delineation from the inscribed rectangles to us. Our difficulty—what Bersani invokes as the impossibility of measurement—repeats the hazy generic resemblance between film still and painting, anticipation and repeating. Godard’s hazy horizon is our first context for the more severely drawn interpersonality announced in the first line of Bersani and Dutoit’s chapter on the film: “Contempt cements the couple” (FoB 19). The Barnett Newman painting (Queen of the Night II) on the cover of Intimacies reads as an elongated, perpendicular version of Godard’s seascape. Its periwinkle zip asymmetrically bisects the violet “like a hinge or spine” (Gardner 53), leaving us to ponder the book’s titular intimacy as an idea of ligature between asymmetrical but otherwise indistinguishable abstractions. The zip and the horizon convert Bersani’s “nothing” into “almost everything,” the evacuation of human or otherwise narrative subjects leaving us with a linearity whose intensity at best just approaches subjectivity. Bersani’s accounts of desire and subjectivity as aesthetic gambles are unthinkable apart from this asymptotic, interstitial flicker. In the interplay between this flicker and the chromatic saturation of forms against which it appears, the interest of Rothko’s particular geometry migrates to the rectangle’s edges. I imagine Bersani’s gravitation to these shapes alongside Emerson’s interest in circles or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s interest in Girardian triangles. For present purposes, preference for the rectangle over the triangle speaks to a turn from the sharpness of narrative crisis. If the triangle, for Sedgwick, “is useful as a figure by which the ‘commonsense’ of our intellectual tradition schematizes erotic relations” (Between Men 21), the rectangle is useful because it is erotically counterintuitive. The rectangle effects a diffusing and slowing (in the manner of Bill Viola) of identification and attraction to the point of unfamiliarity. The triangle is a shape of melodrama to the extent that we are trained to think of its geometry in terms of competing vertices and angles; the rectangle’s corners, by contrast, ask us to think not of rivalry but of parallel surfaces and line. Whereas triangular desire, for Girard, is “the basis of the theory of the novelistic novel” (52), the rectangle seems to open onto a theory unmoored from genre. A triangle graphically corresponds to imagined hostilities whereas a rectangle waits to be filled.2 Rothko’s canvases imply mutually regarding rectangles as repetitions of the parallel lines by which rectangles are themselves construed. Bersani imagines the inexhaustibility less of our reception of this art than its reception of us in terms of blocked vision; latent in this interception is a rectangularly infinite regress returning vision to the spaciousness of these blocks.3 The interstice offers a ground, so to speak, between that which more conventionally arises as subjects. Already we’ve encountered one version of the interstice’s affective

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induration as the concretization of contempt. What would it mean to imagine an affect so foregrounded that the couple it joins recedes from (sinks into, is crowded out of) it? What are the phenomenological implications of attaching to affect without persons, or of subordinating attention to what ought be subject (for instance, seascape, or some foreboding of shipwreck, whale-spout, et cetera) for the sylph hovering within it or beyond?4 My account of Bersani’s investment in interstitial forms complicates what strikes me as Queer Optimism’s somewhat one-sided critique of his characterization of aggressive intractability. The interstice—whether viewed in terms of affective spaciousness, psychical potentiality, or some equilibrial grace—makes it difficult to trust the intractability of anything so legible as aggression. Further, if Queer Optimism wondered about the absence of Winnicott in Bersani’s account of psychical violence, Bersani sounds nearly Winnicottian in his curious discovery and rediscovery of the line that holds Rothko’s rectangles together and apart. A good-enough mother enters and withdraws from the infant’s space (psychical and physical are not yet discernible distinctions) with a subtlety so finessed that the infant misperceives her efforts as inertia, as the pleasantness of needs being met in advance of their being understood as no need at all. The interstice serves as a structural analogy for this nonstructuring structure in which space not only is shared between subjects but in which it quite movingly happens. This space and the rectangles it mediates demarcate a set of possible relations between subjects and objects not yet understood as disappointing, rewarding, desirable, repellant. In lieu of evaluation, we encounter chromatic value, as though the structure of relation preexisted the affects with which it eventually is inflected. Structure without inflection: Bersani imagines this expectant sliver of moving spaciousness in terms of a shimmer. The vibration between rectangles, as Bersani notes in the context of Ellsworth Kelly but no less pertinent to Rothko, “is not a completed movement, and in a sense it is a pseudo-movement. . . . It is as if the color were stretching itself out in order to relate to itself” (AI 117). Exemplary of Bersani’s perceptual delicacy is the following description of Green and Maroon, from the Phillips Collection: “a whitish shimmering line between the two rectangles reminds us of the nearly smothering closeness in value of the two rectangles, at the same time that it appears to operate as a kind of barrier of light somehow preventing the somber green mass from descending into and crushing the smaller and more fragile form below it” (AI 112). The line’s shimmer recalls Antigone’s “violent illumination, the glow of beauty” (281) through which Jacques Lacan understands ethics. The ethical, for Lacan, encounters an aesthetic astonishment itself predicated on geometric predicament: “The articulation of the tragic action is illuminating on the subject. . . . It has to do with Antigone’s beauty and with the place it occupies as intermediary between two fields that are symbolically differentiated.

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It is doubtless from this place that her splendor derives” (284). We are a little freed from the constraints of personification if we imagine rhetorical transformation in reverse: not that each interstice—Newman, Godard, Rothko—corresponds to Antigone, but that Antigone herself assumes eloquence in her de-subjectivization as shimmering intermediary “between two fields.” Lacan is transfixed by Antigone’s symbolic crossing of fate, which Sophocles calls até. That até sometimes is translated as blind fate, however, confuses the fact that at the center of the tragedy is Antigone’s “unbearable splendor” in the face of whose radiance we are nearly blinded. Does Antigone cross até, or is she até? “The line of sight,” Lacan writes, “focuses on an image that possesses a mystery which up till now has never been articulated, since it forces you to close your eyes at the very moment you look at it. Yet that image is at the center of tragedy, since it is the fascinating image of Antigone herself” (247). Placed next to “Blocked Vision,” Lacan’s reading of Sophocles has less to do with what a given figure represents than with the spatial composition itself: this makes sense, insofar as the play’s tragedy, for Lacan, consists of the afterlife of structure over and against the pulsing fictions of replaceable and irreplaceable signifiers. That the composition mobilizes and is interceded by a light source both blind and blinding signals one of several correspondences between Lacan’s Antigone and Bersani’s Rothko. As Bersani writes of the Houston chapel, the paintings “blind us by visibly working to destroy their own visibility, and they do this by performing an unprecedented act of self-concentration, self-reference, and self-reflection. The religious nature of Rothko’s work here, and its confirmation of the Beckettian claim that the artist has nothing to express or communicate, are inseparable from what might be called a suicidal narcissism” (AI 128). Like Narcissus blinded by and lost to his reflection, Antigone embodies an expressly compositional myth that assumes the plangence of personification only after the fact. More interesting than viewing Rothko’s work as the personification of one rectangle narcissistically ravished by its reflection is the possibility of Narcissus and Antigone as expressions of rectangular fascination. The reflecting pool’s aestheticization of the fictive line between subject and image disturbs the narcissism out of which a narcissism of shapes arises. I think of the Barnett Newman obelisk at the edge of the reflecting pool outside the Houston chapel, the interior of which most recalls the tragedy of Antigone in that being surrounded by these rectangles can sometimes feel like being buried alive. Bersani returns to this mediating line in spite of himself. The inexorability with which it appears in his writing suggests the intransigence of something other than the drive or pleasure principle. If the interstice does not answer to the drive’s will toward volatility and dissolution, it likewise does not seem to answer to the pleasure principle’s wish for homeostasis. Neither moving, per se, nor exactly inert, the interstice tautologically inscribes the fields of stasis and

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motion as a shimmering (what Bersani elsewhere calls “vibrating”) interstitial to the two. Even as the degree to which the interstice happens operates at a provocatively slight ontological remove from that of the rectangles, that it seems capable of holding its own affects our sense of the rectangles’ correspondingly ambient maneuvers. “This,” Bersani writes, “is the virtuality of art which, even when it designates or portrays specific human figures or particular places and acts, has already removed them from the field of actual designation” (I 26). This “this” describes the thinness of meaning in the characterology of late James, although it may well refer to the virtual virtues of abstract expressionism. James’s congruence with Rothko can be heard in Leon Edel’s account of James’s 1901 The Sacred Fount. “What occurred in the writing, as we see in [James’s] second notebook entry, was the introduction of . . . the narrator’s ‘angle of vision’— ‘I see two couples . . . I watch their process’ ” (4). The abstraction of James’s project exceeds the mimetic fidelity of realism. Like the literalism of Rothko’s representation of the event of exchange, perhaps it responds to a deeper logic of what in the language of James criticism is understood as an aesthetics of psychological realism. From a novel as early as Roderick Hudson, the stunningly abstract interjection of the following gesture into emphatically vacated space anticipates the impersonal ethical framework underlying “Blocked Vision.” “Roderick raised his head, but he said nothing; he seemed to be exchanging a long glance with his companion. The result of it was to make him fling himself back with an inarticulate murmur. Rowland, admonished by the silence, was on the point of turning away, but he was arrested by a gesture of the young girl. She pointed for a moment into the blue air. Roderick followed the direction of her gesture” (217).

The experience of figurative blinding to which in viewing a Rothko one is vulnerable is heuristically remarkable insofar as its blocked vision is experienced as no less active than seeing itself. Bersani and Dutoit’s study of ancient Assyrian palace reliefs offers a way of thinking about this distorting spectatorship as it weathers structural investment in and disappointment by the shifting aesthetic scene. In The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modern Culture (1985), Bersani and Dutoit write that “the eye is not passive; it actively fails to dominate its field of vision” (FV 81). Their exploration of the Assyrian reliefs further refines their sense of Rothko’s distillations insofar as the reliefs, at best, approximate the latter’s already distilled forms leached of further content. By content, here, I mean the chromatic saturation that sometimes seems to express our own feelings in relation to Rothko’s paintings, that suggests, like blood turning red from blue upon contact with air, that this is what it’s like to watch feelings, such slow-moving, deep-sea creatures under glass.5 Whereas

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Rothko’s work suggests on some level that content (as color) and form (as rectangularity) are inseparable, the Assyrian reliefs give us an endless series of forms absorbing and emptying out the content of their carvings. Or rather, the unavoidable narrative content of the reliefs assails us less in terms of the violence it represents than in the violence to which it is subjected on the level of form. The “obvious relish with which the defeat, the humiliation, and slaughter of Assyrian enemies are portrayed” (FV 3) recircuits through itself the relish taken in the stone carvings’ compulsive negative shapes; as though the myriad penetrations recounted in relief spoke to the entrancingly inaccurate replication between the depiction of martial weapons and the chisels that hewed them. The reliefs’ gravitation to geometry constantly lures us from our ostensibly primary attention to their rendering of person and scene. Geometric attention atavistically shapes our engagement with these chiseled subjects, whose structural decisiveness only sometimes lines up with our sense of where and how action normatively occurs: There are certain curves which produce difference only to reinforce the power of sameness. We are thinking especially of the curves traced by cradling movements back and forth between the same terminal points. To be cradled or to watch a cradling movement is to experience a continual repetition of the same differences. Cradling simultaneously gives us the pleasure of movement and the security of returning to these positions where we would still be had we not moved at all. Significantly, the arc produced by cradling hides multiple straight lines. The cradling movement itself is a detour which, without traveling along these straight lines, does nothing but reach, over and over again, their terminal points as half circles on these virtual straight lines. (FV 81) Bersani’s meditation doesn’t describe the relief carving so much as the geometric skeleton that subtends it. Cradling operates for both relief and viewer at the same time as our recognition of “scenes of men and animals lying under the stretched bodies of moving horses and camels” (FV 81). This ballet of curvature makes possible what Bersani calls a “tender violence” (FV 81). Held in the nonnarrativized ebb and flow of “terminal points,” “the defeated bodies are enveloped rather than trampled on by the racing horses above them” (FV 81). The same may be said of Rothko’s rectangles, which feel (that is to say look) less trampled by either upper rectangle or canvas than enveloped.6 Narrative mimesis obsolesces in the formality that governs the Assyrian reliefs at hand. While mimesis minimally insists upon some phenomenological distinction between our being in or of the art, the above passage suggests that “to be cradled” and “to watch a cradling movement” participate in the same shared experience of “continual repetition.” Being melts into watching in the

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reduction of narrative to shape; this conjunction of ontology and ocularity will grow ominous in Rothko, “a painter who may not wish to be seen” (AI 4), producer of an art that “destroys its own visibility through its own selfabsorption” (AI 141). The hydraulic by which a painter’s troubling of vision becomes our own visual jeopardy is one of many sites at which these pages are attuned to what I elsewhere call an aesthetics of disability (Snediker, “Queer”). In an artwork’s resistance to the hermeneutics we bring to it, we don’t encounter blindness so much as a phenomenology of frustration that softens and shifts into a growing feel for abstraction without horizon, horizon inhabited as immanent. If in his reading of the Assyrian reliefs, Bersani finds insidious the cradle’s analogous holding into which we are lulled, in Rothko, however, the expanse of geometric drift has more to do with what we are lulled out of. The complex passiveness of rectangles sustains the aesthesis by which saturating approach comes to describe not only what we are viewing but what we seem in the absorption to become. The equivocal generosity of geometry as only potentially insidious establishes a space for imagining personal interaction as it flickers on the compositional apparatus that precedes it. Geometry—the rectangle, the curve, the arc—precedes syntax: in the place of the syntactical we find arrangement. If narrativity cozens us into mimetic identification, then geometry recalibrates identification as an experience of inspiring exclusion along the lines of Emerson’s transparent eyeball. As consolation for our felt isolation, we discover in this compositional scene an identification with the fractures left in narrative’s wake. “In the tranquil landscape,” Emerson writes, “and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature” (10). The beauty of the horizon’s distant interstitial line in turn inaccurately replicates the beholding implied by Winnicottian nearliness. Bersani writes of Rothko that “[a]rt imitates that for which there is no model outside art, since nowhere else can we see the ambiguity of boundaries as the noncontingent truth of boundaries” (AI 100): even as we have seen that art—even nonmimetic art—catechizingly intuits our understanding of a nonmimetic inhabiting of bodies. There may be no model outside of art, there may be nowhere else where those boundaries are so visible, but in Bersani’s contemplation of “aesthetic subjects,”7 the distance between rectum and rectangle blurs as its own “noncontingent truth.” Rothko’s rectangles, read through Bersani’s more recent writings, suggest a relationality that survives ascesis and lives to tell the tale. Ascesis glimmers here as an inhabitable horizon. In “Blocked Vision,” Bersani’s meditation on ascesis as interstice anticipates his speculation in Forms of Being of “a ‘beyond jouissance.’ . . . [J]ust as the death drive does not eliminate the pleasure principle in Freud, what we have in mind would not erase jouissance but might play to the side of it, supplement it with a pleasure at once less intense and more seductive” (FoB 127). In this sense, Forms of

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Being and “Blocked Vision” crack an opening into the conclusion of “Is the Rectum a Grave?” If male homosexuality “dangerously represents jouissance as a mode of ascesis,” ascesis in this reading shifts to the side like Newman’s zip, coming to look less like ultimatum than point of departure. The longer one spends with Rothko’s rectangles, the more it feels like watching life forms. In the following passage, that “there is usually a differently colored space . . . between the two principle rectangles” not only implies that sometimes the colored space isn’t apparent, but that sometimes it is unapparent within the very same canvas: indeed, given the sensitivity of most Rothko canvases to external conditions (including sunlight and our own shifting vantage), such speculation of internal variations is not so far-fetched. To the extent that the contingencies of where and how two rectangles appear to meet recalls the titillating overtures of cruising, I can’t help imagining Bersani’s watching of the rectangles watching each other in terms of the quiet excitement of a birdwatcher or voyeur. There are significant differences in the proximity of the rectangles both to each other and to the canvas edges; there is usually a differently colored space, however minimal, between the two principal rectangles and separating them from the canvas, although in the late 1960s, Rothko did several works in which two rectangles appear both to meet with no space between them and to extend to the very edges of the canvas all around the painting. (Even here, however, a thin white stripe is detectable as an almost perceptible frame of the entire painting and as an interstitial horizon preventing, so it seems, the dark upper rectangle from invading the lower one). (AI 98–99) The rectangles watch each other, maybe contemplate meeting without quite meeting, and it’s exhilarating for us to witness what may or may not be their own witnessing not in spite of but because there seems so very little to see. The voyeurism of our contemplation of Bersani contemplating rectangles in contemplation of each other is of a piece with the knowing delicacy with which Sedgwick communicates her interest in Proust’s narrator’s interest in the queer coupling of Charlus and Jupien: “What the narrator has witnessed, however, in the interval is not at all a conquest of this female-gendered self by another self contrastively figured as male. Instead, the intervening pickup between Charlus and Jupien has been presented in two other guises. Primarily it is seen as a mirror-dance of two counterparts in perfect symmetry” (Epistemology 218). If, as Sedgwick writes, it takes one to know one, we might speculate that she is responsive to Proust’s interest in this Rothko-like mirror-dance between queer characters because she (like Bersani, Rothko, Proust) is on some register attuned to the queerness of geometry.

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Bersani speaks in the context of Rothko of the experience of seeing as an induced blindness, which in light of Sedgwick’s and Bersani’s own perspicuity comes to describe not the impossibility of seeing so much as a deepening awareness of the possibility of watching abstractions watch other abstractions. The fantasy of blindness, that is, is inseparable from Bersani’s ravishing description of form, as though the ultimate object taken by an aesthetics of failure were itself. If, that is, Rothko’s art were more successful at being an aesthetics of failure, the blindness it induces in Bersani would ultimately look more like the “all work and no play” repetitions of Stephen King’s The Shining. This reservation with the terms of failure informs my preference for thinking less about the queer art of failure (see Halberstam) than an aesthetics of duress. In the above passage, the tenacity and interest of duress as opposed to failure can be felt in the resemblance between the parenthetical, as pulsing blindspot or anamorphosis, and the thin white stripe it describes. Earlier in the same passage, Bersani writes that “[t]here are . . . many paintings with three or even more rectangles. Frequently, one of the three is much smaller, vertically, than the other two; it can even be reduced to a horizontal strip above, between, or below the other two figures. There is great variety in the placing of these meager elements. Not only does the positioning of the horizontal strip change from painting to painting; the relative sizes of the two main rectangles vary, and we find the larger one sometimes at the top, sometimes at the bottom of the painting” (AI 98). The strip’s glimmer visualizes the space between persons, the way we approach each other, the radioisotope between interactions otherwise only “almost perceptible.”

Rothko’s canvas renders the “question of physical position” three-dimensional by mobilizing formal relation in terms not only of top and bottom, but foreground and background: There are more subtle effects: the showing through of the blue background in the other two rectangles, and, as a crucial element in the partial undoing of the extended blue surface as a background surface, the whitening of some of that blue. The foreground-background distinction is then subverted in both directions: the background advances toward us through the rectangles that the blue at first appeared merely to support, and the rectangle colors spill over into, or recede toward, the background blue. But the very effects of receding and advancing are themselves reduced by interpenetrations that counter our impressions of depth, thereby emphasizing the painting’s two-dimensionality. The reduction of differences in hues subverts the fundamental structural difference between foreground and background. (AI 106)

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We are invited here to think about the geometrical elements of sex in terms not only of “advancing” and “interpenetration” but receding, supporting, and the enigmatic background on which this “spill[ing] over” transpires. An analogous scene in Homos (1995) speaks to the “subtle effects” of sex rendered thus as abstract expressionism: “Appropriation has been transformed into communication, a non-dialogic communication in which the subject is so obscenely ‘rubbed’ by the object it anticipates mastering that the very boundaries separating subject from object, boundaries necessary for possession, have been erased” (H 100). Although this aesthetic frottage—what Bersani calls a “double rhythm”—reminds him of what in The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (1986) is a specifically evolutionary process of masochism, this rubbing friction’s biology is itself coded as intuitively aesthetic, an ancient formalness in the manner, perhaps, of the reliefs. This is the gist of aforementioned Freud’s “line of speculation” regarding the line against which the boundaries of organisms are plunged and pressed. This aesthetic of subjectivity-as-impingement echoes an analogous passage in Nietzsche’s Daybreak: “What do we understand to be the boundaries of our neighbour: I mean that with which he as it were engraves and impresses himself upon us” (74). Like Nietzsche, Bersani turns to a visual vocabulary that “literalizes” the shapes in which he, like Nietzsche, tries to understand this strangely obscene rubbing of edges: Rothko makes present to us the always tense relation between the distinctness of forms and the indeterminacy of their boundaries. A belief in the distinct nature of boundaries is the precondition of identifying bodies in space, even though we may know that our identification of bodies neglects the multiple points at which they are indistinguishable from their contexts. Rothko paints the resistance and surrender of forms to form-defeating fusions as the principal sign of the very emergence of forms, and he does this within the framework of what is, apparently, a securely marked-off and privileged aesthetic space. (AI 100) The beauty of “Blocked Vision,” I’ve argued, involves its sustaining of nonpersonifying vision for the sake of articulating aesthetic relations resistant to the personifying inevitability of what previously might have seemed our only imaginable vista. Bersani’s reading of Rothko draws us into this sensorium of enriching ocular difficulty as a stopgap in the compulsively limiting and mutually informing positions from which we ordinarily encounter each other and ourselves. The contemplation of persons receding into relation, the “ontological implausibility of individuality” (FoB 153), is the subject of “One Big Soul,” Bersani and Dutoit’s 2004 analysis of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, a film whose response to the ethical trap of believing in persons in turn comes to look like abstract composition. The mobilization, in “One Big

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Soul,” of the terms of “Blocked Vision” speaks directly to Bersani’s claim from “Is the Rectum a Grave?” that “being on top can never be just a question of physical position” (IRG 23). Rothko problematizes what seems unimpeachable (all the more so in the context of a war film like Malick’s) in Bersani’s earlier statement that “as soon as persons are posited the war begins” (IRG 25). If it seems like suddenly there are too many Bersani texts and terms at play, it is in the deceptive elegance of “Blocked Vision” that these differing accounts of aesthetics, sex, and war become commensurate. One of the two characters in Malick’s “so-called war film” (FoB 129) in whom Bersani is most interested is Sean Penn’s Sergeant Top. Top makes sense as a top less in terms of aggression than in his negotiation of other characters as formal complexity. More to the point, Bersani is drawn to Penn’s sergeant for the same reasons he is drawn in “The Jamesian Lie” to an early James character like Eugenia. Bersani writes of Penn’s character that “[a]lthough this complexity is magnificently embodied in Sean Penn’s performance, Top’s function in the film in more interesting than his implied psychic richness. He has the relational function of putting into relief Witt’s unintelligibility” (FoB 149). Eugenia is similarly instructive as relationality emptied of content: “Eugenia’s ‘dishonesty’ . . . is the margin she leaves for her own and for other people’s absorbing possibilities. If she lied she would say the opposite of what she means, but ‘between’ her words and her meanings lies the prospect that the beneficently strenuous conjectures of another mind may offer some views of her meanings rich enough to make a relation seem appealing. . . . The idea of her fibbing hides her psychological originality (her emptiness)” (FA 136–37). Whereas Eugenia thrives in the comic burgeoning of relations (which, James notes, “was one of a certain number of words [she] often pronounced in the French manner” [Europeans 105]), Top’s response to the fact of relationality is guardedness. Like “the darker upper rectangle . . . invading the lower one” (AI 99), Malick’s Top (the “darkest point of view in the film”) speaks to a fantasy of rectangularity as self-sufficiently identical to itself rather than absorbed by the world to which it corresponds. Top’s top-ness, as Bersani writes, depends on there being “no world but this one, a world of madness and evil, where wars are fought for property” (FoB 147). This singularity of vision requires (more precisely, is inseparable from) an interminable vigilance that differently describes what makes Rothko’s canvases exciting. Imagining the rectangles as potentially rather than presently capable of aggression rewrites their intimacy as an indefinitely deferred shoot-out. This is the force of Ennio Morricone’s scoring to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, whose balletic minimalism is more interesting as a medium than the cowboys who inhabit it. “In addition to its other virtues,” Bersani writes, “Penn’s acting is at times a masterpiece of squinting. His response to what he sees is to see less” (FoB 149). Bersani and Dutoit have insisted from the start of Arts of Impoverishment that “the Rothko of the Houston chapel appears to have painted in order to

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keep us from seeing his painting, to make us blind” (AI 4). Or later: “And yet that willful insistence on this simplest of truths about painting—it is an art to be seen—depends for its originality not on the reintroduction of another type of subject, but on a kind of unprecedented demonstration of the difficulty of the very act of seeing” (AI 104). In their introduction to Arts of Impoverishment, Bersani and Dutoit note that “we will frequently see Beckett, Rothko, and Renais—all masters of their media—engage in certain sacrificial or crippling moves” (AI 4). To indulge a false etymology, in making us “masterpieces of squinting” they leave us, like Newman’s Queen of the Night II, periwinkled. Top exists as a rectangle in relation to Witt’s interstitiality but likewise functions as a viewer of Rothko-like rectangularities. His aesthetic and ontological functions do not blur so much as suggest that aesthetic subjectivity entails the necessary difficulty of trying to see oneself as the aesthetic subject one is, doing justice to the weather of interstices rather than the bounded shapes which the former only sometimes delineates or avails. To be viewer and viewed, both blinding and blinded, or in the case of Top, squinting and squinted, is to perceive one’s self as literally figurative. Rather than not seeing, we find the possibility of almost seeing, a squinting given over on the squinter’s part to seeing differently. While “Is the Rectum a Grave?” cannot not pair a top’s vision of supremacy with a bottom’s obliteratingly heroic masochism, The Thin Red Line’s extension of soldiers “individuated not as personalities but as perspectives on the world” (FoB 146) instead pairs Top with Witt, a figure who allegorizes an interstitial rather than rectangular relation to the world. Witt counters Top’s belief in an evil world not with some symmetrically obverse optimism but with a belief in openness itself, complicating Top’s “Manichean vision,” by which to “bring one [world] into contact with the other is either to have the evil destroy the good, or to have the good penetrate the evil just enough to be evoked as a tantalising but essentially unreachable paradise. Witt asks, ‘Why can’t we reach out and touch the glory?’ ” (FoB 142). Witt personifies this possibility of “reaching out,” which is of a piece with his final words of the film, “all things shinin’.” Witt’s words, like Witt himself, illuminate the “all” that they absorb by “never ceasing to locate him within it” (FoB 176). Witt’s ethical openness corresponds to the relational function of what we have already encountered as the “shimmering white line [that] . . . appears to operate as a barrier of light somehow preventing the somber green mass from descending into and crushing the smaller and more fragile form below it” (AI 112). The shimmering line shapes an encounter not only between rectangles or among them and an interstice’s surveillance of them but between the shimmering light and the canvas itself (and us). Witt’s noninvasive inhabiting of the world recalls Bersani’s earlier insistence that the eye—in this case, Witt’s eye—“is not passive; it actively fails to dominate its field of vision” (FoB 81).

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Interstitial being allows Witt to represent formal immanence as an antiformal disposition toward self-disintegration and absorption. “Surfaces blurred,” Bersani writes, “made somewhat indeterminate by the light shining on them, are visual metaphors for the indeterminate identity conferred on all things by inaccurate replication” (FoB 169). Witt, interstitially, is both a surface and the light that blurs the surface. Like Antigone, he seems to become até at the moment he enters it. The Emersonian force of being what one sees makes our identification with Witt both critical and trivial, since “Witt’s look . . . receives us in the same way that it receives the rest of the world. . . . [A]nd since that world is inseparable from Witt’s look, we are absolutely called upon to share Witt’s looking” (FoB 164). Perhaps most telling in terms of Bersani’s theorization and practice of coauthoring, our shared looking with Witt is described by Bersani (which is to say by Bersani and Dutoit) as a “collaborat[ing]” (FoB 163–64). One of the impediments to understanding Rothko’s interstice as corollary to Witt’s riveting and expansive vision has to do with the difficulty of not perceiving it as though from the vantage, as it were, of a rectangle. The shimmering strip surfaces from the imagined depth of the canvas, or seems to float above it, but how to experience it nonrectangularly as Witt’s Whitmanian spaciousness?8 What does the world look like when viewed from this horizon? I see it as the fractally explosive simultaneity of Rothko’s interstice and the “world seen as a vast reservoir of correspondences, of surfaces always ready to open,” something like the coincidence of promontory and horizon in Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog. I look out onto what may or may not be separate from myself, less to be taken than taken in.

In The Freudian Body, Bersani opines that “we are, ontologically, implicated in violence almost from the beginning” (FrB 70). Rectangularity, in giving shape to the observation’s slippery but potentially crucial “almost,” treats ecstasy (in Emily Dickinson’s words) as a fundamentally formal feeling: Jouir is the French word for coming, for having an orgasm. Lacanian jouissance unavoidably evokes orgasmic pleasure, but it pushes pleasure beyond itself, to the point of becoming the enemy of pleasure, that which lies “beyond the pleasure principle.” “My neighbor’s jouissance,” Lacan states, “his harmful, malignant jouissance, is that which poses a problem for my love”—the insurmountable problem of an ecstasy dependent (for both my neighbor and myself) on being destroyed. Jouissance accompanies the “unfathomable aggressivity” which is what I find at the heart of both the other’s love for me and my love for the other. . . . To follow Freud in [Civilization and its Discontents] is,

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as Lacan claims, to conclude that we cannot avoid the formula that jouissance is evil. (FoB 126) Jouir may well “unavoidably” evoke orgasmic pleasure, but as a coming, it compositionally signals the questions of approach and nearness that inform Bersani’s watching of the rectangles. In the moment of jouissance, we find an “unfathomable aggressivity,” conjuring not only an aggressivity that cannot be thought, but an aggressivity without bottom. The latter formulation returns us to a version of Top’s bottomlessness—the extent to which Top, in Malick’s film, approaches not a Bottom, but an incandescently questioning Witt. When one calls “I’m coming,” one locates oneself in a confusion of proximities; by the time one announces one is coming, one is usually there. Bersani’s gloss of Lacan insists on both ecstasy and aggression as constitutively compositional issues. The neighbor is neither a lover nor spouse nor stranger nor friend. What matters more than how well one knows or loves the neighbor is his physical proximity. Is he near or far? How near must he be to be considered neighborly? The neighbor’s pure relationality can be heard in the nearness of its etymon, the “nigh” of neighbor pushing toward one form of space and one’s coming indicating another. Pushing pleasure beyond itself. “Pleasures of Repetition,” a chapter in The Freudian Body, ends with a passage lifted almost verbatim from the concluding section of The Forms of Violence, whose titular interest in “betweenness in the Palace Reliefs” anticipates Bersani’s longstanding investment in the interstice as “a cage which imprisons nothing” (FV 131): “The nearly indefinable quality of ‘betweenness’ in the palace reliefs—and consequently our interpretive suspension between narrative and nonnarrative readings—may manifest an impressive hesitation or even ignorance, on the part of these ancient anonymous artists, about the forms of disruption and of violence which they had chosen to love” (FrB 78). “Nearly indefinable,” like the earlier “almost from the beginning,” asks us to think further not only about “betweenness,” but about “impressive hesitation,” which so well describes the phenomenology internal to much of Rothko’s work. Like Whitman, who also constellates homosexuality with cradling and impressiveness, Bersani’s attachment to hesitation is energized not only by hesitation’s almost-withdrawing flutter but by its capacity to be impressive, to leave a mark. Published twelve years after The Freudian Body, Caravaggio’s Secrets (1998) seeks further to elaborate this betweenness between the fictive sovereignty of palatial reliefs. Recalling the cradling motion that absorbs us into the work of art (its own version perhaps of finding ourselves, like Antigone, caught in stone), Caravaggio “shows, and he is part of what is being shown” (CS 65). His compulsive insertion of himself—variously disabled, castrated, decapitated—into his own paintings literalizes the fantasy of viewing oneself as aesthetic subject. Maud Ellmann is exactly right that “[i]n Caravaggio’s Secrets the authors seem

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to recognize the limits of their previous ascetism” (40). This recognition of limits isn’t impasse so much as the grounds for intimacy. Here is Bersani and Dutoit’s account of the Brera Supper at Emmaus: There are several pairings in the work, pairings that ignore the boundaries not only between persons but also between living human beings and inanimate matter. Christ’s raised right hand is paired with the raised left hand of the figure to his right; his left hand is resting on the table next to the similarly positioned right hand of the other seated disciple; there are two pieces of bread, one already broken, the other intact; and there is the curious repetition of the folds of wrinkles on the old woman’s brow in the ribs of meat on the plate she is carrying. Each member of each couple remains distinct. Even the two hands resting on the table are contiguous without touching. Indeed, the possibility of contiguity as the subject of this painting is suggested by the miniscule space separating the sharply outlined little finger of the apostle to Christ’s right from the unbroken piece of bread. A space between keeps all these paired objects apart. The couple never becomes one; each member of each pair echoes its partner without sacrificing any parcel of its own space, of an individuality that can be paired but that cannot essentially be repeated. (CS 21) Bersani and Dutoit likewise articulate “the between-ness Caravaggio emphasizes” in The Resurrection of Lazarus in terms of a “between-ness that means that Lazarus is neither dead nor alive, or that he is both” (CS 29). The Resurrection of Lazarus complicates Bersani’s insistence that “if the rectum is a grave in which the masculine ideal (an ideal shared—differently—between men and women) of proud subjectivity is buried, then it should be celebrated for its very potential for death” (IRG 29). To take rectangularity as a model for less proud a structure of subjectivity is to imagine the gravity of recta ceding to a lightness of being that doesn’t displace rectal spectacle so much as produces a differently infiltrating echo of it. “[A]rt,” Bersani and Dutoit write, “illuminates relationality by provisionally, and heuristically, immobilizing relations. A light we never see appears, as being, momentarily ‘trapped,’ designates itself to us . . . by the prominent strip of light . . . that has no function other than to make illumination literally the center of the painting” (72). What, again, seems a description of a Rothko in fact comes from a reading of Caravaggio’s Betrayal of Christ. The extent to which this reading of Caravaggio’s Betrayal of Christ could be a description of Rothko opens onto the possibility of uncoupling the rectum from the “internalized phallic male,” recoupling the rectum with a rectangle. We anticipate in such a move the impressive hesitation that shines between the two. Rectum

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and rectangle, curiously pondering the new aesthetic and ontological scene in which they find themselves, “float because they have not ‘chosen’ the direction in which they will move. Floating, then, would be a special effect of immobility; it is the vibratory relation among the various directions that forms have not yet taken, between the different points not yet designated as their goals” (AI 111).

Notes 1.“What it had come to was that he wore a mask painted with the social simper, out of the eye-holes of which there looked eyes of an expression not in the least matching the other features. This the stupid world, even after years, had never more than half discovered. It was only May Bartram who had, and she achieved, by an art indescribable, the feat of at once—or perhaps it was only alternately—meeting the eyes from in front and mingling her own vision, as from over his shoulder, with their peep through the apertures” (James, “Beast” 315). 2. Hence Eugenie Brinkema’s reading of aquatic danger in the analogously aesthetic rectangles of ocean in Open Water depends on what the shapes contain (namely: sharks!) as much as the shapes themselves: “Although an ontological break in the sea-surface line has been signaled in the appearance of the fin that rips through it, the breach’s more radical form involves the camera dipping under water. . . . The sharks’ visual disturbance is not only to a line, then, but also to space, to the field of open water, now rendered a depth instead of an expanse” (228). 3. “If the bodies fade so that the field of the title can come into visibility, then what is representable or made present in the film is the staging of the blocked visibility of the disappearance of the event and the calm return of the original site of water in early milky morning light” (Brinkema 236–37). 4. I think along these lines of Foucault’s account of Herculine Barbin as “a world of pleasures in which grins hung about without the cat” (xiii). 5. See Brinkema’s reading of the aquarium as an “aesthetic of marine life” (225), which in turn returns me to Bishop’s “The Map”: We can stroke these lovely bays, under a glass as if they were expected to blossom, or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish. The names of seashore towns run out to sea, the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains —the printer here experiencing the same excitement as when emotion too far exceeds its cause. (3) 6. The absorption that this geometry orchestrates recalls the composition of encroaching surfaces found throughout Walt Whitman’s theorizations of interrelation: “The soul of the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go half-way to meet that of its poets. The signs are effectual. There is no fear of mistake. If the one

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is true the other is true. The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it” (20). 7. See Bersani, “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject” (IRG 139–53). 8. As Witt says, sounding like Leaves of Grass, “Oh my soul, let me be in you now” (qtd. in FoB 168).

Works Cited Berlant, Lauren, and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2014. Print. Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Map.” The Complete Poems, 1927–1979. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983. 3. Print. Bollas, Christopher. “Psychic genera.” The Christopher Bollas Reader. New York: Routledge, 2011. 57–78. Print. Brinkema, Eugenie. The Forms of the Affects. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2014. Print. Edel, Leon. Introduction. Henry James, The Sacred Fount. New York: New Directions, 1983. 3–15. Print. Ellmann, Maud. “Lessness: The Art Criticism of Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit.” Oxford Literary Review 20.1–2 (1998): 33–46. Print. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Lectures. New York: Library of America, 1983. Print. Foucault, Michel. Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a NineteenthCentury French Hermaphrodite. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon, 1980. Print. Gardner, Colin. “Barnett Newman’s Zip as Figure.” Deleuze Studies 6.1 (2012): 42–54. Print. Girard, René. Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1966. Print. Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print. Howie, Cary. Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2007. Print. James, Henry. “The Beast in the Jungle.” Tales of Henry James. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. Print. ———. The Europeans. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print. ———. Roderick Hudson. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. Print. Lane, Christopher. “Similitude, or Why Sameness Is Not a Synonym for Gayness.” Umbr(a): A Journal of the Unconscious (2002): 115–29. Print. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Ed. Maudemarie Clark and Brian Leiter. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985. Print. ———. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. Print.

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Snediker, Michael D. Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008. Print. ———. “Queer Philology and Chronic Pain (Bersani, Melville, Blanchot).” Qui Parle (forthcoming). Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: The Original 1855 Edition. New York: Dover, 2007. Print.

9

Proust, Shattering Aesthetic Subjects and the Metonymies of Desire

E. L. MCCALLUM

These are different aspects of the one reality. And the aspect that repels us is in fact the most touching. . . . —Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah

What does it mean to find Proust distributed—shattered—across Leo Bersani’s oeuvre? When the shattering of the self in jouissance has been one of the signature elements of Bersani’s work in queer studies and when Proust has been a foundational figure for Bersani’s pivotal criticism, one cannot but remark that these two threads converge in how Proust keeps cropping up in Bersani’s texts, even if only in a fragmentary way. If Proust can’t keep it together in Bersani’s work, then what hope is there for the rest of us, readers and theorists and critics? Of course, readers and theorists and critics are people in the world, while “Proust” is a text, and texts are meant to be cited, appropriated, distributed across other texts in a way that persons are not. Unless, of course, this is precisely Bersani’s point in moving from the psychoanalytic subject to the aesthetic subject: that we should reconsider human subjectivity along a textual model of a distributed, decentered, aesthetic object. Tracking Proust in Bersani’s oeuvre will let us investigate whether and how this is the case. There’s an interesting tension between Proust as an aesthetic model, as a model for psychoanalysis, as an exemplar of how imagination or fantasy threads through our encounter with actuality, and Proust as a failure to be a gay writer, a novelist of the homo, a radical innovator in articulating

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new modes of relationality. Proust serves a lot of purposes, subtends much of Bersani’s thinking, but seems to fall short in what is perhaps the most compelling development in his theory: the search to map or articulate alternative, nonnormative modes of human relations. One of the key mechanisms to open up a consideration of radically different, non-Oedipal, even queer modes of relationality is, in Bersani’s formulation, self-shattering. Bersani’s idea that certain forms of sexuality entail a pleasurable selfshattering—most famously articulated at the end of his essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987) but a notion also significantly taken up in The Freudian Body (1986)—evolves from a view of “the sexual itself as the risk of selfdismissal, of losing sight of the self” (IRG 30) to become refined into a form of practice that occasions “a seductive self-dissolution, or more exactly, . . . his or her partial, fugitive, and mobile extensions or reappearances in the external world” (IRG 69). This argument, sustained over several different texts, has been crucial to developing a strongly psychoanalytic understanding of the subject and subjectivity that operates on something other than an economy of lack and a logic of castration. It builds upon a reading of Jean Laplanche, in constellation with a rereading of a few key Freudian texts. What becomes apparent over the arc of Bersani’s thinking, however, is that psychoanalysis is only part of the story: in his emphasis on loss, shattering, and failure, Bersani reads psychoanalysis aesthetically, as regenerative, creative—a refinding. As Bersani’s thought has evolved from psychoanalysis to the aesthetic subject, he has remained concerned with the notion of a shattered self, a self destroyed and refound elsewhere. Notwithstanding how often Bersani figures Proust as quintessentially a psychoanalytic writer (as when he claims that Proust offers us “the most incisive and thorough representation of what we might call the psychoanalytic subject” [IRG 157]), it is the aesthetic subject that enables Bersani to trace how the self is lost, dissolved, but yet still able to be, queerly, regained. The accent here is not on the loss but on the search it instigates. The recherché subject of Á la Recherche turns out not to be so lost—disoriented, missing, bygone, ruined, irredeemable, engrossed—after all. Yet reading Bersani’s readings of Proust through the lens of the aesthetic subject reveals that for all the mobilization of Proust as an echt psychoanalytic text, a certain silence around particular passages, a certain averted (or perhaps even lost) reading becomes apparent. If, as happens in Homos (1995), Proust may not be enabling theoretically all that Bersani wishes him to, such that he must turn to Jean Genet for the fuller elucidation of the homo; or if, as Bersani maintains in Marcel Proust (1965), Proust’s homosexuality is at odds with Marcel’s heterosexuality such that with In Search of Lost Time Proust masochistically renounces his homosexual perspective to become the novelist of heterosexual love, albeit one who defines “erotic desire as epistemological catastrophe” (MP 58); or if,

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Proust in The Culture of Redemption (1990) is one of the major writers most imbricated in the redemptive power of art (CR 7)—in short, if in all these ways Proust has failed to articulate what Bersani will theorize in his reading, why does Proust persist, fragmented, throughout the oeuvre? The attachment to Proust must be understood in light of the writings of another famously isolated French author of the haut monde who seems to be articulating an understanding of sexual subjectivity much more evidently and originally resonant with Bersani’s concerns. Indeed, Bersani’s insistence that we attend to the violence and aggression in sexuality (a lesson he draws explicitly and convincingly from Freud); his emphasis on how sexual intercourse can as much entail a failure or impossibility to connect with another as serve to forge a personal connection; his skepticism of identity-based community and advocacy for impersonality and acommunality; and his dual emphasis on the specificity of pleasure and the body as well as the imagination in eroticism all seem to have much in common with the Marquis de Sade’s writings. Yet Bersani’s reading of Sade is curiously averted. Where Proust is the touchstone for so much of Bersani’s thinking—not just the first monograph on Proust, but the first chapter of The Culture of Redemption and a substantial portion of the fourth chapter of Homos, not to mention countless briefer references to Proust in essays throughout his career— Sade is hardly mentioned at all. Bersani treats Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom and Pasolini’s film of the novel, Salò, in the single-authored The Freudian Body and “Representation and Its Discontents” (1981), and addresses the same two texts again in Forms of Violence (1985) and an essay “Merde Alors” (1982), both coauthored with Ulysse Dutoit.1 (Notably, the ink shed on Pasolini’s film is much greater than that shed on Sade.) How does Bersani’s relative silence on Sade illuminate the limits of Sade as a generator of an aesthetic subject? How does this curious absence of Sade limn the negative space of Bersani’s passion for Proust? In his critique of queer theory, identity, and queer politics, Bersani has argued that what we should be doing is “questioning the value of community and, even more fundamentally, the notion of relationality itself” (H 52). Although he states this in Homos, it is a recurring concern in other texts as well.2 Yet there is a new form of relationality laid out in what Bersani has avoided in his reading of Proust, and in what he has averted in his addressing of Sade. My aim in this essay is to read these a-versions—these turnings-from, these negated accounts, these rebuffs. There are many reasons one might shy away from reading Sade, but none of them seem to be germane for an ardent critic of the pastoralization of sex, for a theorist who privileges sodomy for its promise as ascesis (IRG 30). One particularly intriguing form the reproof of Sade takes is through the charge that Sadean sexuality is mimetic sexuality, and mimesis is one of the things

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under Bersanian critique. Mimesis (from the Greek “to imitate”) opens up a range of questions about relationality, representation, and resemblance. Given that Bersani’s queer theory has strategically intervened in debates that focused on difference in order to advocate for sameness—emphasizing the homo in homosexuality—one could be forgiven for thinking that mimesis would be a likely concept for thinking the homo. There seems to be a curious tension between Bersani’s emphasis on homo as sameness and the antimimetic stance that is at the heart of his aesthetic theory. Moreover, mimesis is a term deeply steeped in literary tradition. It would thus seem to be especially useful to a theorist who relies on literature to theorize sexuality. Bersani’s very turn to literature—a turn that has been turned again along a narrative vector via film and Assyrian sculpture—aims not to find models for real-world situations but to read the configurations of desire and sexuality mapped therein, so that we might find ourselves in the art we confront. So how is this refinding or extensibility of the self in or through art not mimetic? Must mimesis, as Bersani maintains, always be restricted to replicating existing configurations of power? Does mimesis foreclose on new modes of replication, relation, and politics, such as those his work seeks out? The third part of this essay will confront these questions, but first we must work through the averted readings of Proust and then Sade. What will Sade’s texts show us—or fail to show us—about mimesis, self-shattering, narcissistic refinding, or aesthetic extensibility, compared to Proust’s? The interplay between the two, the readings and averted readings of Proust and Sade, bears on Bersani’s critique of representation via mimesis. As the theorist whose advocacy of homospecificity intervenes in queer theory to promote thinking sameness rather than difference, Bersani cogently posits how to reconfigure relationality and subjectivity without lack. Yet his strategies of reading deploy a complex interplay of aversions and shatterings at a textual level, to complicate a representational economy hinging on mimesis. We will find that a shift in figural registers, from the metaphorical to the metonymic, will be crucial to his project.

Proust’s Way How does Proust come to present the aesthetic subject, more so than the psychoanalytic subject? We find this implicitly formulated as far back as the 1965 monograph, where Bersani argues that not only does this major twentiethcentury novel produce a dispersal of perspective across Marcel as character and Proust as narrator, but also that Marcel himself empties out: “Marcel’s identity is given to him in a series of pictures, but as in space, there are gaps between the pictures, areas of emptiness.” Bersani continues: “There seems to be no overlap of feeling, nothing to convince him of a single, continuous history”

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(MP 51). The search for what might bring that spatialized and imagized subject into coherence, articulate this continuity and the overlaps of feeling, without organizing the subject into the invidious fiction of individuality or identity undergirds Bersani’s oeuvre, his concern with new modes of relationality and new ways to build community—and this quest transpires through aesthetics, not politics or psychology. The idea of the spatialized subject returns in Bersani’s later, more overtly aesthetically focused work, redescribed through the term “communication of forms” as a strategic intervention in disentangling “sameness” (a quality to be valorized) from “identity” (a problematically positivist word). Sameness anchors spatially disparate forms in relation to one another, providing a basis for linking them. This communication of forms should be understood “as the affirmation of a certain solidarity in the universe, a solidarity we must perhaps first of all see not as one of identities but rather of positionings and configurations in space” (IRG 100). Although this passage describes a movement away from a psychoanalytic paradigm in the later essay “Against Monogamy” (1998), in fact it also designates how Marcel’s sense of self is mapped onto the relation among entities in the world in the first book. Marcel’s pictured self, his fragmented, gap-ridden spatialization lays the groundwork for the communication of forms. One significant way that Proust and Sade could readily be said to diverge is in their relation to psychoanalysis. Perhaps most obviously, Sade is picked up in Freud’s pages, whereas Proust is not. Yet in Bersani’s view, Proust is the more psychoanalytic writer: “I might, at several points of what I have been saying, been speaking not only of psychoanalysis but also of Proust” (IRG 157). Proust extends the boundaries of psychoanalysis; he enacts, as Bersani performs it through his reading, a communication of forms. Kaja Silverman has described this communication of forms as a corporeal exchange, “either when the form of one thing speaks to the form of another, or when the elements of a single thing speak among themselves” (141). In juxtaposing Proust with Sade and Bersani, I elaborate a further communication of forms, and explore how these writers instantiate new modes of relationality. The contrast between mimetic sexuality—symmetrical, sadistic, expenditure without loss—and narcissistic selffinding—displaced, masochistic, contingent on self-shattering—is the fulcrum of this triangulation. As Bersani’s thinking evolves, he privileges extensibility and sameness rather than difference, narcissism over otherness, a loss of self that is a refinding elsewhere. Sade certainly gives us a vision of acommunality. His libertines come together for the purpose of orgies, but discourse at length about how humans have no innate connection to one another, no natural duties or responsibilities linking them together. The fundamental orientation of the libertine is to selfpleasure. Similarly, Proust’s sociable world, with its incessant repetition of the inaccessibility of the other’s desire, confronts the truth that “an authentically

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dramatic relationship with other people is impossible: his love for Albertine is really the pursuit of an elusive image of himself” (MP 246), thus apparently reinforcing the Sadeian lesson of libertine narcissism. Indeed, when Bersani turns, as he inevitably does, to an extended discussion of Proust in Homos, it is specifically for Proust’s anticommunitarian view of homosexuality. Playing fully on the double entendre, Bersani avers: “Nothing, Proust suggests, is more unnatural than for sexual inverts to come together” (H 129). Where Bersani underscores “unnatural” and “come,” we might also underscore “suggests”—the flirtatious connotation of suggestion is that Proust lays out for us a view of homosexuality that we may or may not take him up on, or that he may be deploying insincerely to entice us. And indeed, Bersani is quick to observe that for Proust, homosexuality becomes heteroized: “Homosexuality is merely an illusion; what looks like a man desiring another man is actually a woman longing for sex with a man” (H 131–32). Bersani rightly grounds this understanding in how Proust describes Baron Charlus as a woman trapped in a man’s body. In fact, Bersani cites Marcel’s realization “I now understood . . . why . . . when I had seen him coming away from Mme de Villeparisis’s, I had managed to arrive at the conclusion that M. de Charlus looked like a woman: he was one!” (qtd. in H 132).3 Yet despite the recurring theme of Charlus as anima muliebris in corpore virili inclusa (H 132), Proust also has other descriptions of—suggestions for—inversion that would cut across or undermine Bersani’s decision to focus on the heteroization of inversion. More importantly, these moments are notably depicted from the vantage of the narrator rather than Marcel.4 They are, moreover, passages that supply the unmarked source for Bersani’s claim that “[h]aving come together, inverts are, according to Proust, compelled to see with disgust their unnatural selves reflected in the specular presence of their fellow inverts” (H 129), a view that enables Bersani to elaborate that Proust is “suggesting something far more significant: the aversion of inverts to the society of inverts may be the necessary basis for a new community of inversion” (H 131). What Proust in fact does with the woman-in-the-man is parse out a typology of inversion; some are like this (“with some of these newcomers, the woman is . . . hideously apparent”), some are like that (the “solitaries”). In all cases, however, Proust holds that there is not a coherent gay community, even if there are a range of modes, genders if you will, of being gay or of manifesting same-sex desire; some of these are more sociable and others are more acommunal. After treating quite directly how it is that inverts form community—or, rather, if not a community, then a “freemasonry far more extensive, effective, and less suspected than that of the lodges” (Sodom 20)—Proust digresses into a remarkable sidebar narrative about the second kind of invert, the solitaries.5 The slide into the sidestory shifts from the third person plural (“they have gone off to live on their own the day when they discovered it”) to the impersonal

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third person singular (“for no one [personne] knows right away that he is an invert or a poet or a snob or a miscreant”) to a particular third person: “The schoolboy [collégien] who was learning poetry or looking at obscene pictures, if he then pressed up against a classmate, merely imagined that he was communing with him in the same desire for a woman” (27).6 This shifting person signals not only the narrator’s changing distance from the anonymous solitary, but also suggests a proliferation of instances—that there are indeterminately many solitaries. Hardly an incidental digression, the solitary’s story fills the next four pages, marked by a trajectory from personal intimacy to impersonal intimacy or the failures of impersonal intimacy. It’s a tale of retiring to the country, unexpectedly finding carnal communion with an old schoolmate who subsequently marries, who at first maintains the affair but then throws over the solitary for the wife’s male cousin, and who tries to remedy the situation by sending a lover to the solitary; meanwhile the solitary fails to recognize the stranger’s intent until too late, and the solitary is left to seek solace in quotidian interactions with a railwayman or by cruising the rail platform for a likely or like-hearted soul, from which point the narrator abruptly launches into his hyperbolic nature imagery about jellyfish (la méduse) on the beach or insects seeking a certain nectar. This imagery, particularly of the insect, explicitly connects what might be denoted the solitary’s tale to the more famous bee and orchid image that instigated the depiction of Charlus and Jupien’s encounter. It also gives the narrator occasion to muse on how the frame of reference alters our encounter with an object or situation: “When I was following only my own instinct, the jellyfish repelled me at Balbec, but had I known how to look at it, like Michelet, from the point of view of natural history and of aesthetics, I would have seen a delectable girandole of azure” (30).7 This calls attention more directly—albeit not completely forthrightly or overtly—to the layered frames of reference that the shifting persons marked as we entered this digression. The tale is queerly marked by a discretion that is not necessarily too demure: the encounter with the childhood friend is explicitly described in the following way: “they take up the games of old once again, on the grass, in darkness, without exchanging a word. During the week, they meet in one another’s houses, chat about this or that, without referring to what has taken place, exactly as if they had not done anything and were never going to do anything again” (28).8 Sure, it’s not the overtness of Genet or John Rechy, but neither is it quite the obliqueness of Henry James. What’s remarkable is the way that the encounter between the schoolboy friends is depicted as both intimate and curiously impersonal, anonymous. Here is Proust, then, developing a theory of homos that relies on sameness rather than heteroized difference, and thus equally usable for the purposes of complicating the notion of gay community. That a diverse range of homos

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could retain a specificity of “homo” suggests that what subtends this set is a communication of forms. True, even the “solitary” does not entirely exemplify the impersonal intimacy that Bersani will later discuss with Adam Phillips. Proust’s account is also not without—to use Bersani’s appraisal from Homos—a bitchy element, for the narrator acknowledges that what is not stated in the sociable conversation is nonetheless marked by tone, described here as: “except, in their dealings, for a hint of coldness, of irony, of irritability, of resentment, and sometimes of hatred” (28). But the way that the entry into and exit from this tale renders unstable the person or perspective from which it is to be seen, or about which it concerns, exemplifies the lack of grounding in a particular self in order to pleasurably refind oneself dispersed elsewhere that is the paradigm of the aesthetic subject. That the story of the solitary comes after Proust’s dissection of gay social circles as comparable to “professional organizations” or gatherings of “connoisseurs of old snuff boxes, Japanese prints, or rare flowers” (22) augments the idea that he has not a monolithic sense of inversion but a nuanced one.9 Which isn’t to say that the dominance of the anima muliebris paradigm doesn’t sting a modern reader, as Bersani observes (H 132–33)—particularly one invested in sameness, rather than difference. Insofar as Proust does offer any sense of a common ground among homosexuals, it is in two ways. First, through a series of metaphors whose tenor is a particularity that seems to be not unlike what Bersani wants to insist on as the “sameness” of the homo: “at once the close understanding of specialists and the fierce rivalry of collectors” (Sodom 22); “like the nectar that certain flowers offer to attract insects” (30); “the confrère with whom our specialist might speak the unusual tongue” (30).10 And second, despite Bersani’s claim that “Proustian inverts constitute a ‘race,’ almost never a community” (H 130), Proust does provide a sense of common ground of homosexuals in framing it as a “freemasonry” one that “rests on an identity of tastes, of needs, of habits, of dangers, of apprenticeship, of knowledge, of commerce, and of vocabulary, in which even the members who do not wish to know one another at once recognize one another by natural or conventional signs, whether involuntary or deliberate” (Sodom 21).11 This is the second and more promising way that Proust carves out a generative notion of homo-community or at least homospecific connectivity. Bersani does acknowledge Proust’s discussion of gay groupings, if only to underscore (as he moves toward his consideration of Genet) that Proust “manages to point us in the direction of a community in which relations would no longer be held hostage to the demands for intimate knowledge of the other”; that, in effect, if we chide Proust for being “regressively dependent on essentializing assumptions” in his queer theory, we must balance that upbraiding with the fact that “our own thinking about a radical queer community has not, so far, produced much more than demands to let us into the dominant community or, at the most, attempts to reconceptualize that

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community subversively” (H 151). If returning to Proust provides a new starting point for rethinking relationality, it is insofar as he does offer an image of cruising, of the sociable diminishment of personality, of impersonal intimacy, and of a freemasonry of taste. What becomes clear, I suggest, in the chain of prepositional objects that modify “identity” in the Proustian quotation above is that an aesthetic, a communication of forms, links together or becomes the foundation of homocommunity, such as it can be said to be. And moreover, “identity” here in Proust might better be read along the lines of Bersani’s insistence on “sameness” or what I have been targeting as “particularity,” rather than in the sense of coherent self—the sense which it is rightly Bersani’s aim to critique. By founding homo-community on aesthetics, one undermines the prescriptive power of community as some sort of substantive, circumscribable, or administrable entity or unit. Aesthetics, on this view, as a question of taste, could also be said to be what unites Sade’s libertine “communities,” which are, truly, acommunal. The Sadean libertine certainly figures “at once the close understanding of specialists and the fierce rivalry of collectors” as a matter of taste or proclivity. So we might see how a queer, aesthetic consideration of Proust arguably presages a return to certain libertine values espoused much earlier by Sade: a freemasonry of tastes, an impersonal intimacy of the libertines among themselves as well as in relation to their sexual objects, a sociableness that, based in the same aristocratic mores of the Guermantes set, privileges social position over personality or individuality, and finally a certain mode of cruising as the educational philosophy of the libertine. And yet, in Homos, Bersani pits Proust against not Sade but Genet, by negative comparison. In part this is because Bersani sees Proust’s analysis of homosexuality as having a “profoundly heterosexual bias” (H 139), but it is also because where Proust for Bersani usefully elicits “the aversion of inverts for the society of inverts” (H 131), Genet valuably depicts not even a society to be averted but a spatial positioning—one man with another. The shift from social to spatial position is key; it resonates with Bersani and Dutoit’s work on Assyrian reliefs. Position is what everyone in Marcel’s world strives for, or seeks to maintain, in various ways—it is the warp on which society’s actions are woven, whether this be Mme Verdurin’s social climbing or the Duchesse de Guermantes’s carefully timed absences that keep her in social demand. The flow of sociability, movement from soirée to soirée, uses space to mark social position, to order the social hierarchy; to keep this flow going requires a diminishment of the self, modulated toward the impersonal to be part of the flow. Position in Sade, by contrast, is a little more literally what everyone vies for to achieve their desires—which is to say, their self-shattering. Physical position is organized by the dynamics of the orgy, a constant repositioning in the sociable

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flow, a flow disrupted by jouissance, by loss of self, not fixity. In Sade’s texts, as in Genet’s, position is not so much about the coordinates for the self—it is about the coordinates for a shattering of the self, coordinates which operate on the basis of metonymy. This dynamic positioning contrasts to how social position—married or single, clergy or lay, sibling or stranger—more statically spices up the libertine’s debaucheries. For Sade, as for Genet, position’s spatiality enables a different mode of the sociable, an irreducible gap and also a proximity that undergirds how “the replications of being are always, however minutely, inaccurate replications” (IRG 57). Perhaps this passage from Sodom and Gomorrah is what Bersani had in mind when he claimed in Homos that inverts “feel revulsion in each other’s company” (H 129): “the day having come when they discover themselves to be incapable at once of lying to others and of lying to themselves, they go off to live in the country, fleeing their own kind (whom they believe to be few in number) out of horror at the monstrosity or fear of temptation, and the rest of humanity out of shame” (Sodom 28).12 This passage describes the opposite of cruising—or possibly a certain aversion to one’s interest in cruising. If Bersani’s proposition that “Proust suggests nothing is more unnatural than inverts coming together” is rooted in a passage such as this, then Proust’s suggestion might also be understood in the sense of “suggest” from the OED, of something that is a problem to be solved or an idea acted upon. The invert’s flight to the country has to be seen as not merely self-horror but also fear of temptation, a conundrum of coping. The aversion the invert feels for the society of the other inverts, moreover, recalls Bersani’s opening line of “Is the Rectum a Grave?”: “There is a big secret about sex: most people don’t like it” (IRG 3). Is the invert’s aversion to himself, or to sex, or to the threat of dissolution in sex? It is Bersani’s work that enables us to pose this very question, parsing out the facets of aversion in the name of interrogating the grounds of sexual community. If inverts coming together is the apogee of the unnatural, we should also weigh that claim with how Proust deploys the natural, for it is hardly synonymous with the habitual or socially expected. Similarly, we should not leave unquestioned what valence Bersani himself is putting on “unnatural” here. In his lead-in to the homosexual encounter between Baron Charlus and Jupien in Sodom and Gomorrah, for instance, Proust veers into such an explicitly natural metaphor (an insect in an flower, indeed a flower that is specifically marked as male and not passive [6])13 that it overpowers the very distinction between natural and conventional. Marcel claims that his observation of nature leads him to be in a position to espy Jupien and Charlus’s introduction, though of course no amount of rapt attention to a bee in a flowering shrub would truly account for Marcel’s following the men indoors to monitor their encounter from the empty shop next door to Jupien’s. Clearly for Proust, the figure of the bee

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in the orchid serves to parallel if not heighten the scene of solicitation; the bee is cruising for nectar and the orchid is cruising for pollination. Moreover, this is not a light-handed image, even limited to the introduction of the scene. For Proust threads it through his description of the encounter: M. Jupien is said to be “striking poses with the coquettishness that the orchid might have had for the providential advent of the bumblebee” (8), while a couple of pages later “M. de Charlus passed through the gateway whistling like a fat bumblebee [sic]” (10).14 In Charlus and Jupien’s meeting, moreover, Proust describes the encounter as “imbued with a strangeness, or if you like a naturalness, the beauty of which continued to grow” (9).15 As if hyperbolically reinforcing the natural, Proust shifts the figure from the bees to the birds as the solicitation seems to be clinched: “Closer still to nature—and the multiplicity of these comparisons is itself all the more natural in that, examined over the course of a few minutes, the same man seems successively to be a man, a man-bird, or a man-insect, and so on—it was like two birds” (10).16 The shifting from the human to the human-animal or the human-nonhuman makes Proust’s queer theory tally quite nicely with Bersani’s suggestion, in a 1997 interview, of “the homosexual as a model not only for the intersubjective but for the relation between the human and nonhuman”—a configuration that he explicitly yokes to the idea of communication of forms (IRG 181). Bersani’s narrow point to take from the Charlus/Jupien interface would be that this encounter is not a foundation for community or the basis for political affiliation or movement. Yet both as an example of how cruising might open up new vectors to think about community-formation or relationality and as a moment where the dissolution of the human subject into a nonhuman figure enables a refinding of the self elsewhere, aesthetically, through a communication of forms, this passage seems richly resonant with some of Bersani’s later aims. I suggest, moreover, that Proust’s use of nature helps this imagining of acommunality along, by raising the question of what sort of community is “natural.” In other words, given the necessary interrelation of the bee and the orchid for the shared interest of pollination—even if this has disparate objectives in the end—can this asymptotic relation be said to be the basis of a community? Can it even be said to be a relation? Does social class similarly obscure or prevent community formation? This last passage from Proust shows that the nature metaphor scales humans’ relation to the animal kingdom over a gradation of both time and space: it is a successive shifting, with an indeterminate number of grades (“and so on”) until the final simile—“it was like two birds”—enables Proust to reassert a heterosexual pairing, for the two birds that he goes on to describe the pairing of are male and female. But then Jupien departs, and Proust shifts the metaphor from mating birds to a hound losing the scent, and then to the bumble-bee that is Charlus—in the space of as many sentences. In the loosely shifting

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terrain of animal metaphor, Proust echoes the refraction of man, man-bird, man-insect, . . . , two birds that had been the articulated forms of the first comparison. It is this serially described aesthetic subject to which we should attend, and not so much the singular moment of heteroization. Proust deploys natural metaphor in a way that undermines conventional rhetorical appeals to nature and the presumed naturalness of monogamous heterosexuality. His comparison of cruising to pollination explodes the euphemistic image of the birds and the bees, and with it the presumed ideological privilege of heterosexuality as “natural.” The pairing of the male flower and the insect defamiliarizes the association of femininity and flora, and furthermore emphasizes the difference in species—flora and fauna—at the expense of complementarity. The class difference between the Baron and the former tailor could likewise be expressed in this species gap.17 More curiously, although perhaps less famously, this same figure of the bee in the flower returns at the end of the solitary’s story, to truncate it by digressing from it and returning us from the hypothetical third person to the first-person register of the novel’s discourse. And this time the image serves to highlight specificity, a sort of recherché knowledge. Proust had been describing how the solitary finds himself cruising the railway platform when the simile erupts into the sentence. Curiously, it appears as one of two comparisons: “which, like the brilliant luminescence with which certain insects adorn themselves to attract those of the same species, or like the nectar that certain flowers offer to attract the insects that will fertilize them, would not deceive the adept, almost impossible to find, of a pleasure too singular, too difficult to place, that is being offered to him” (30).18 The vacillation here around whether or not some other exists who could recognize the subject’s desire is at the heart of (as Bersani explicates it) Proust’s novel, the order of desire in the novel. It not only echoes the worldview of the solitary—who may be “holding their vice to be more of an exception than it is” (27)—but also that of the Baron: “M. de Charlus was one of those men who may be called exceptional, because, however numerous they may be, the satisfaction, so simple with others, of their sexual needs depends on the coincidence of too many conditions, too difficult to encounter” (31).19 And Marcel’s worry is precisely that he doesn’t have this specificity—that he is not the adept of Albertine’s pleasures.20 That obscure signal of a subject’s desire is just too difficult—and yet, nonetheless, it does transpire, and the natural metaphor of pollination implies that it does so rather commonly. The talk of difficulty and impediments and rarefied taste—are these not aesthetic categories? At the same time, this description of the sexual brings to mind the difficulty and complex conditions for desire’s fulfillment confronted by Sade’s libertines. If that is so, then is it always just our own tastes that seem so challenging and rare, while other people’s seem to be so much easier to slake?

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As Marcel and Albertine’s relationship indicates, heterosexuality is no guarantee of ease of relating, or of what I would call complementarity. We should recall complementarity as the ideal of Aristophanes’ myth, which Bersani has more than one occasion to invoke.21 But where Proust seems to revel in the impossibility of desire—or rather, Bersani’s reading of Proust privileges desire as precisely that impossibility, founded on just how unlikely the connection between two people can be, and so it is continually deferred or found wanting—Sade (or rather, his libertines) revels in such a narcissistic—well, not so much a satisfaction of desire, as rather a narcissistic prolongation of desire. The Sadean libertine could readily be compared to the bee in the orchid busy with his own concerns and not so interested in the flower’s satisfaction as long as he gets his. The view attributed to Proust by Bersani may have something to do with—indeed, an unacknowledged investment in—complementarity, much as Proust’s image itself betrays that reading, dispensing with complementarity in favor of a narcissistic specificity. If Proust gives us a model of a sexual being as solitary, unattached, cruising, an individual who is not seeking intersubjective union with another, this model is not restricted to certain homosexuals, but can be said to resonate in some of the other sexual relationships as well. Towards the end of the monograph on Proust, Bersani suggests a number of parallels between the increasing aristocratic society and homosexual society, between Albertine’s possible secret lesbianism and “a parallel degeneration of the aristocracy’s mysterious real life into a secretive sexual freemasonry” (MP 171)22 to the point where he claims: “The ‘spread’ of homosexuality in this world as the novel goes on is a more grotesque version of this movement toward an anti-social absorption in selfcreated images” (MP 187), a movement that will culminate in Marcel’s retreat from society to become, if not a homosexual, then a writer. This reclusion parallels the solitary’s taking himself to the country or the Sadeian libertines’ retreating to the provincial castle so as not to be disturbed in their revels. I suggest that lack of attachment in Proust is a detachment that serves both the invert and the artist. Generalizing even beyond the singular notion of the solitary that Proust delineates, a linchpin of Sade’s philosophy is isolisme, the sense that “Nature caused man to be born alone, independent of other men” (Philosophy 284), and thus humans have no bonds to other people.23 It’s not that one never needs other people; it’s that one has no innate long-term attachments to them. Sade seems to serve as a precursor to the discussion against monogamy that Bersani and Phillips offer in several publications (Phillips’s Monogamy book; Bersani’s “Against Monogamy” essay [IRG 85–101], as well as their collaboration, Intimacies). From this isolisme follows Sade’s conclusion that not only community but the law, which binds people together into communities, is inimical to Nature, and indeed since “nothing is more an egoist than nature,” as the libertine

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Dolmancé announces in Philosophy in the Bedroom, “then let us be egoists too, if we wish to live in harmony with her dictates” (286).24 Dolmancé’s claim for egoism will resonate with what Bersani says about narcissism in “Against Monogamy” two centuries later, where he talks about a kind of narcissism that he links to aesthetics, a narcissism that is the sign of “the natural extensibility of all being” (IRG 100). This non-self-aggrandizing narcissism is the pleasure of finding ourselves elsewhere, what I would call an aesthetic subjectivity. What’s curious about Dolmancé’s announcement is that it’s couched in an appeal to be in harmony with Nature, although the vision of Nature in Sade is hardly harmonious or Arcadian. On the one hand, Sade valorizes the dynamism of Nature: “Nature [is] forever in action, forever moving” (209).25 On the other hand, where Proust’s notion of nature is sociable, Sade’s is both destructive and oddly egalitarian. Sade argues that Nature’s laws entail destruction (274, 330); the isolation of the individual; self-love over the love of one’s fellows (“to love one’s brethren as oneself . . . is in defiance of the laws of Nature” [309]);26 and an impersonal indifference to human suffering (283) or to the suffering of one living thing rather than another (331). The view becomes even more perverse as Dolmancé asserts that “propagation was never one of her laws” (276) and that any pleasure the body registers is intended by Nature and thus justifiable. Nature’s impersonal attitude is curiously antihierarchical: she can set no value on “individuals whose making costs her neither the least trouble nor the slightest concern” (330).27 All of Nature’s creatures hold the same rank (329), and all are part of the regenerative cycle. Sade offers a paradigm of sexuality that is impersonal, self-seeking, oriented toward ébranlement—what Bersani two centuries later will translate as “self-shattering.” Sade thus seems to present precisely the kind of mapping of new modes of aesthetic, cruisy, detached relationality that Bersani seeks to initiate through his averted reading of Proust. So what happens when Bersani reads Sade?

The Sadean Way To rethink relationality means that we have to rethink what sex and desire actually promise for any kind of social or political revolution. While one strand of this thread attends to the question of the subject (whether psychoanalytic or aesthetic), another strand attends to the social. Indeed, Bersani’s thinking on relationality is clearly positioned in response to Foucault’s famous call for turning from sexuality to bodies and pleasures (157). But Foucault’s invocation also resonates with Sade’s sexual-revolutionary proposition that people—and women in particular—should “surrender themselves, indifferently, to all who want them . . . eschewing love, worshipping pleasure” (Philosophy 286).28 Sade’s promotion of sodomy remaps the both the female and male bodies’ availabilities

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for pleasure, decentering phallic primacy. Sade’s manifesto aims to throw off the imbalance of the double standard: if men can satisfy their every erotic whim with no social consequence, why can’t women do so as well? Attachment to others impedes this freedom, and it not only confines women to a secondary social status, but also restricts pleasure and desire. In some ways, Sade seems to be a more obvious model for Bersani’s queer theory than Proust. Sade conforms on this view rather remarkably to the anticommunitarian and sameness-oriented relationality that Bersani advocates in Homos. Sade’s libertines certainly question the value of community, just as Bersani argues that we should be doing (H 52), if we are truly to challenge an oppressive society. The fuckers in Sade’s novels want one thing—that is, to get off. They not infrequently want the same thing every time, and not incidentally that thing is male sodomy, an act which, Bersani and Dutoit point out, allows for an intense symmetry (“Merde” 82). The Comte de Gernande, for instance, in Justine, is very much about repetition of the same complex scene of jouissance: wives completely interchangeable, his boy-toys completely interchangeable; the erotic scene of bloodletting that Justine not only regularly witnesses but undergoes once herself is repeated every four days. The libertines who run the sexual scenarios are not interested in relating to another, connecting in an intersubjective space, or uniting with another, unless that union somehow redounds upon them to reassure them of how full they are (in all senses—in terms of having an erection, exercising power, consuming cock, or pursuing passion). They are certainly not interested in what Bersani has termed the “pastoral” aspect of sexuality. Sade’s orgies are a solipsistic world of driving to self-shattering; Bersani and Dutoit observe that “both Sade and Laplanche use the words ébranlement to describe this psychic shattering” (“Merde” 84). In Sade, those who resist ébranlement—as Justine seems to do—are driven even harder to shatter. As a result, Justine is always either trying not to find herself elsewhere—in the sense that the people she encounters are not folks she identifies with—or else she keeps hoping in vain to find herself elsewhere—in the sense that every time she gets in trouble, it’s because she expected the other person to respond with the decency, charity, and/or respect that she herself brought to the situation. And yet Justine herself is curiously detached from others. Her interview with Comte de Gernande gives one example that illustrates her failure to connect: “he solicited numerous details concerning what had been done to me at the monastery of Saint-Mary-in-the-Wood, and without noticing that my recitations doubled his warmth, I was candid enough to give them with all naiveté” (Justine 632). It hardly needs pointing out that the “warmth” here is not figurative, that of human kindness, but a more literal lust. Justine’s isolation is not simply that imposed by those into whose power she falls, but it is compounded by her astonishing inability to clue in to the situation and the character of the people in that situation, in a timely way.

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She thus illustrates the problem of a lack of sense of aesthetic self—she does not see herself in the world, and she misrecognizes as herself those she does perceive. By contrast, Marcel seeks to have himself reflected back to himself via the other—for instance, by Albertine, in relationship to whom Marcel pursues “knowledge of himself as an object outside himself” (MP 211). What is so striking about the moment when Bersani actually does turn to a consideration of Sade is that some of the same themes emerge that he has been developing from or through Proust. The sadistic model for sexuality is clearly crucial enough to Bersani that he replicates it—arguably inaccurately—in disparate texts: two single-authored, two coauthored. But it is also remarkable that within each text, the term sadism follows a curious, one might glibly say Freudian, trajectory, slipping from sadism to sadomasochism, and then further to masochism as the core element in sadomasochism. In “Representation and Its Discontents,” Bersani traces this slippage to Freud’s “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” and a reading of that text by Laplanche. Following similar lines of analysis, The Freudian Body will claim masochism as the very basis for jouissance. While I have no argument with Bersani’s contention that masochism is the root of the sexual, it is nonetheless troubling that Sadean sexuality becomes through this slippage a masochistic sexuality, particularly after Gilles Deleuze has gone to such trouble convincingly to disentangle the two and dispel the very notion of “sadomasochism.” Meanwhile, Sade’s text itself—for Bersani discusses only one, 120 Days of Sodom—and Sade himself as emblem of a certain sexuality/sexual practice are objects to be distanced from. Indeed, in the conjunction of 120 Days and Salò, Sade’s novel becomes displaced in favor of Pasolini’s film adaptation, which is praised for its particular distancing tactics (“Merde” 90). These tactics are not a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, as Bersani and Dutoit are careful to point out, but a “subversive passivity” (91) that “goes along with” the sadists and “use[s] repetition and replication as distancing rather than imitative techniques” (91). The slide from 120 Days to Salò is not, in fact, a Freudian slip but a careful enactment of how the distance between the two texts enacts the kind of aesthetic relation that they theorize for the aesthetic subject: the film’s adaptation of Sade’s novel enacts in its relation to its hypotext the inaccurate replication Dutoit and Bersani have theorized about so many texts. What becomes ultimately valued, then, is a nonmimetic repetition. Let’s back up a bit and walk through this in more detail. Sadean sexuality, according to Bersani and Dutoit, is based on “a replay in the libertine of the agitation he produces on another’s body” (“Merde” 83). They go on to emphasize that “mimetic sexuality is essentially sado-masochistic sexuality” (83). In The Freudian Body, these two claims appear in reverse order, and the one about mimetic sexuality lack italics and the modifier “essentially” (FrB 42). But in both texts, Bersani subsequently draws this very interesting conclusion:

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Sexual excitement must be represented before it can be felt: or, more exactly, it is the representation of an alienated commotion. Sadism is the necessary consequence of this view of sexuality. If erotic stimulation depends on the perceived or fantasized commotion of others, it becomes reasonable to put others into a state of maximal commotion. (“Merde” 83) What is perhaps most notable in the passage above is the intrusion of representation in the sexual process, and representation seems to be implicitly a mimetic representation—the sadist feels the alienated commotion of the object in himself. Instead of—as would be expected—being something one directly feels, sexual excitement is mediated, a representation. It is already distanced from one’s experience. This distance is not just spatial but temporal. Mimetic sexuality, moreover, entails a delay, a Nachträglichkeit, as the one sensation is replayed in the other. This delay sets up a disjunction in sexual relation, despite the fact that mimesis might seem to promote sameness, alignment. What’s also notable is the emphasis on reason in this passage. The version in The Freudian Body offers a slightly different wording of the middle sentence, but one that still underscores rationality: “We can see how sadism might be a logical consequence of this view of sexuality” (FrB 42). Moreover, there is not simply assertion but a claim to evidence: we can see—although granted that “see” in this sense may be about calculation rather than vision, what we see is the operations of the rational. The phrase “logical consequence” is not absent in “Merde Alors”— indeed, it appears on the article’s first page, in reference to why the libertine finds the vagina distasteful as an erotic locus. This distaste arises “as a logical consequence of some rigorous speculation about sexual intensities” (“Merde” 82), namely that sexual pleasure is intensified for the libertine when the sexual relation is symmetrical. And the point of logic is presented provocatively in the essay’s very first line: “The vagina is a logical defect in nature” (82). How can we read this claim? How is logic related to mimesis? Who is claiming this—is it Sade, the libertine, Bersani-Dutoit as the libertine, or Bersani-Dutoit, or nature herself? I put such emphasis on rational language because its not uncommon to align the Sadean with the rational or even the hyperrational; in the present instance, this tendency contrasts with the alignment of the Proustian with the imagination. But the provocation of the opening line—and Bersani’s opening sentences are never neutral—is manifold. To begin with such a classic misogynist trope as the inherent defectiveness of female genitalia is politically provocative, to the point where readers question the sincerity of the claim—Is it a feint? Is it a double feint? But the sentence is quickly followed by a quotation

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from Sade’s Duke instructing female sex slaves to proffer their backsides in preference to their frontsides, which marks the initial provocation as a focalization of the Sadean libertine. It is just free indirect discourse, preceding direct discourses. This sense is reinforced by the more disinterested observation after the Sadean quote (which only appears in French) that “Sadean misogyny is based on the libertine’s view of the female genitalia as a scandalous offense to reason” (“Merde” 82), whose tone seems to confirm that it is Sadean reason that is offended, not our own progressive, modern view. But the following sentence returns, silently, to a libertine focalization and voice: “Nature orders us to live only for the pleasure of our senses at the same time that she continues to produce millions of beings sexually equipped to repel us” (82). There’s something about how the appeal to reason is working rhetorically in the opening paragraphs of this essay that undermines the easy invocation of rationality in the later passage about mimetic sexuality. The pleasures of miming the libertine’s misogyny here are suspect: we can say this as a Sadean libertine, but we are not Sadean libertines. Or are we? On the one hand, one might understand what Bersani and Dutoit are doing here as distancing themselves from the Sadean view, much like they perform Salò’s distance from 120 Days. On the other hand, the “logic” of the libertine displayed here is of a piece with other of Sade’s texts—especially Philosophy in the Bedroom— which evince a kind of rational discourse, albeit one that tends more toward rationalization rather than a truly well-considered, evidentiary reasoning. For instance, Dolmancé argues that sodomy is more natural because the penis’s shape is round like the asshole rather than oblong like the vagina. This seems to posit symmetrical sexuality par excellence, less of a logic than an ana-logic, working backward or against logic. What is to distinguish Bersani’s and Dutoit’s “channeling” the libertine’s logic, of the one hand, from a libertine mimesis of reason, of the other? And how then are we to view mimetic sexuality—is it the problem or the solution? On the face of it, the reasoning in Bersani’s passages seems persuasive; the libertine’s preference for symmetry facilitates the mimetic model of sexuality: what I feel mimes what you feel. Such a view is, however, hardly solipsistic. Bersani acknowledges as much in one moment, but does so in order to posit that “[i]n the Sadean cult of mimetic violence, the appropriation of the other’s ‘commotion’ makes the other ultimately unnecessary” (“Merde” 85). This might seem to be the moment to ask, how do we square Sade’s isolisme with this reading of sadism? But let us examine its timing. Bersani and Dutoit’s assertion occurs at the essay’s hinge from Sade to Salò, as if by turning to Salò’s commotion, Sade’s novelistic instigation of the film is ultimately unnecessary or destroyed. Bersani and Dutoit’s point in juxtaposing the two texts at this moment is to aver that fascism is the political outcome “most congenial to Sade’s theory of sexuality” (85). But to what extent is the relation between

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120 Days and Salò itself mimetic, or is the appropriation of the other’s commotion, somehow rather “the introjection of the other . . . [as] movement away from difference and towards replication” (84)? If mimesis is the problem, is replication, particularly inaccurate replication, which seems to be valorized in Bersani’s aesthetic theory, the better alternative? Moreover, what might this reading have to say with or to Bersani’s implicit critique of mimesis in Homos? For how can the advocate of desiring-sameness, or of inaccurate replication, be down on (rather than down with) mimesis? In Homos, Bersani’s criticism of Butler’s Gender Trouble hangs on the limitations of mimetic representation: “It is, in any case, extremely doubtful that resignification, or redeployment, or hyperbolic miming, will ever overthrow anything. These mimetic activities are too closely imbricated in the norms they continue” (H 51). Too close to challenge, but not close enough to destroy. This is similar to Bersani’s criticism of actual S&M sexual practices in the same text, a criticism that is also aimed at Foucault: “S/M’s celebration of master and slave renders it (on the whole involuntarily) complicit with the perpetuation of regimes that promote the erotic opportunities of domination and submission” (H 90); or, just further down the same page: “S/M profoundly—and in spite of itself—argues for the continuity between political structures of oppression and the body’s erotic economy”; and finally: “S/M lifts a social repression in laying bare the reality behind the subterfuges, but in its open embrace of the structures themselves and its undisguised appetite for the ecstasy they promise, it is fully complicit with the culture of death” (H 97). Mimesis risks complicity; imitation’s variations—parody, the aestheticization of domination and submission, resignification—share that same risk. Is it a question of the appropriate distance, or is the issue the kind of relation between entities, the fact that it imitates rather than replicates? What is at stake in their distinction between mimesis and replication? In Bersani and Dutoit’s reading of Sade, the libertine’s mimetic sexuality ultimately dispenses with the other by finding one who is so symmetrically same, so proximal, that the self-shattering is suicidal (“Merde” 84), whereas in the reading of Pasolini the mimetic violence is disrupted by aesthetic distraction, which distances, either by calling attention to the film’s own devices as cinema or as art, or by distracting our attention with the excessive spectacle of “divertissements of dance, music, and painting” (89). Pasolini is valorized for distancing himself from Sade through a “non-imitative recognition which is Pasolini’s distance from Sade and sadistic violence” (91). If distance is the key, how is this different from the repetition with a difference that he criticizes in Homos? Is Butler’s parody too attached in its melancholic introjection of the lost object of desire? The answer lies in part in the fact that Butler’s talking about identification rather than desire in the formation of identity. But Bersani does seem to be

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underplaying the failures of repetition that Butler’s reading exploits. Moreover, in arguing that “mimetic sexuality is essentially sado-masochistic sexuality” (“Merde” 83),29 Bersani and Dutoit tie imitation to identification, positing that “[i]t is identification itself—that is, a fantasmatic introjection of the other— which appears to be intrinsically sexual” (84). So there is some overlap in terms of considering identification. And yet, it is just in the next paragraph that introjection, the mechanism for identification, becomes “a movement away from difference and toward replication” (84), so it seems like it would be valorized, just as the aesthetic subject’s replication rather than difference is. And the answer also lies in part in how radically sameness works in Bersani: there is a crucial distinction between mimesis and the kind of selffinding or inaccurate replication that is at work in the aesthetic subject. If we recall the passages cited above from “Merde Alors” (83) and The Freudian Body (FrB 42)—that sexual excitement must pass through representation in order to be felt by the Sadean—it might seem that representation is the key. Replication, on this view, would be a mechanical or indexical reproduction, whereas representation invokes a symbolic comparison—which is precisely where its inaccuracies and failures, on which Butler’s theory seeks to capitalize, occur. But a pivotal piece has to do with attachment, or rather lack thereof. Recall that masochism comes into play in Bersani’s discussion significantly because it entails “the pleasure of at once losing the self and discovering it elsewhere, inaccurately replicated” (IRG 174). The lost self is one to which there is no attachment—no melancholic thread hanging on, because one is free to find oneself elsewhere. If masochism is fundamentally all sexuality (per The Freudian Body—but also in “Representation and Its Discontents” [7], and “Merde Alors” [84]), can we say that it is also the basis for this aesthetic subject (a subject that is not a coherent, singular entity, but a distributed, spatialized entity, lost and refound through art)? “It is a more spatial conception that brings masochism together with narcissism,” Bersani claims (IRG 174), bringing together two of the features that are at work in Marcel’s aesthetic subjectivity. In Bersani’s reading, mimesis is somehow not narcissistic (and thus becomes problematic), whereas the aesthetic subject is (and thus is valorized). Mimesis is the imitation of the other, and thus remains in representational relation to the other; it does not offer possibilities for finding the self. And this stake in narcissism is what makes Bersani’s relative silence on Sade so intriguing, for the Sadean libertine is nothing if not narcissistic. A cue could come from the distinction Bersani makes in “Against Monogamy,” where he contrasts a megalomaniacal narcissism against a smaller-scale narcissism of finding oneself elsewhere (IRG 100). But if Bersani is right, and what the Sadean libertine wants most is the “intense jouissance [that] comes from a murderous relation with ‘un être absolument de (son) espèce’ ” (“Merde” 84), it is not clear that such a narcissism would not be of the smaller kind, that is to say “the narcis-

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sistic pleasure of reaching toward our own ‘form’ elsewhere,” which is distinctly not the megalomaniacal domination of the world’s difference. The crucial element of this smaller-scale narcissism is the loss of the self, which would seem to include ébranlement and the libertine’s search for “suicidal symmetry” (84). This domination of the world’s difference, however, seems to be how Bersani and Dutoit view Sade, arguing that “Sade’s famous ‘order of nature’ is really a movement toward universal destruction” (“Merde” 84), a claim that they tie to mimesis by positing this destruction as “both function and consequence of mimetic orders” (84). Sade’s contention that passion is the “organ of Nature” (Philosophy 209) and that “Nature [is] forever in action, forever moving” (209) suggests that it is difficult to disintricate sexuality from what Sade labels as “Nature.” Dolmancé claims that “nothing is more an egoist than nature; then let us be egoists too, if we wish to live in harmony with her dictates” (286). This view seems to make narcissism into something libertines replicate in nature, making them more the same as forces external to them, rather than dominating the world’s difference. Indeed, the world’s difference is not nature but civilization. Sade’s reading of nature as the impersonal, disruptive, and destructive force outside of culture or civilization, a force that in its dynamism is primarily linked with the sexual, would seem in fact aligned with the very sort of destruction that Bersani—via Freud, Laplanche, and even at times Proust—maps as intrinsic to masochistic self-shattering. It is hard to see how the reversal from the shattered self onto the shattering of a world holds up; nature is destruction in Sade, but it does not destroy itself. The destructive capacity of nature is part of its cycle of flourishing and growth. Sadean mimesis is intricately linked with a reversal of the expected cause and effect: Bersani argues that in Sade, “excitement is the consequence of sex rather than its motive” (FrB 42) because such excitement is routed through representation. Mimetic/sadistic sexuality is, thus, a reversal from convention, a retrospective or retroactive sexual practice. One would think, therefore, that such a sadistic paradigm would undergird a retrospective novel such as Proust’s. Bersani suggests instead a masochistic perspective: “In its somber glamorizing of a desire grounded in the irreducible opposition between an empty subject and objects of desire that might but won’t reveal and return the subject to himself Proust masochistically celebrates difference as the very condition of desire, thus renouncing the privilege his homosexuality might have afforded him of recognizing, and loving, himself in a hospitably familiar otherness” (IRG 58). In this instance, masochism is bound up with difference as the basis for desire—difference as the exchange between the empty subject and the refusing other, and linked inextricably with the heteroization of sexuality in Proust. Although Bersani opines that Proust writes a masochistic novel, there are elements that seem more Sadean, even in Bersani’s sense. Notably, in a sexual relation based on an empty subject and a refusing object of desire, Marcel’s

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sadism toward Albertine (and his projection of her sadism toward him) imbues La Prisonnière with an almost unreadable cruelty—keeping her largely in his family’s apartment, monitoring all her interactions outside the house, trying to control whom she sees when out, and refusing to let her go to parties he himself attends. That he showers Albertine with expensive gifts—Fortuny gowns, for instance—only underscores a kind of libertine expenditure. Moreover, while his jealousy of Albertine might suggest Marcel is hardly indifferent to his charge, his obsession, as he wrestles with whether he loves her or wants to break it off, becomes increasingly solipsistic. As if modeling the kind of mimetic sexuality Bersani describes in Sade, then, La Prisonnière puts Marcel in a state of maximal commotion, and this supplants erotic stimulation—to the point where he not only reverses conventional cause and effect but exceeds the physical erotic and launches into fantasy. Albertine’s alienation from Marcel instigates his jealousy, his fear that he cannot even detect her commotion, and it drives him to project fantasies of her lesbian liaisons. Sexuality as the representation of an alienated commotion—is not this precisely mapping a certain trajectory in Proust’s La Prisonnière? Fantasy enables Marcel to calibrate the appropriate distance—not through spectacle and song, as Pasolini does, but through accounts of the girls on the beach or at the theater. Marcel cannot appreciate Albertine’s sexuality directly—her face coming close for a kiss overwhelms him (MP 79)—but he must project fantasies of her lesbian liaisons that then become part of what Proust narrates in retrospectively constructing their relationship. This point might be best illustrated with a curiously uncommotional example; Marcel loves Albertine best when she is asleep next to him: “He can love her most gently now because it is really he who is at rest” (MP 79). Yet in La Prisonnière, Albertine’s alienated commotion is not necessarily symmetrical (at least if we stick close to Bersani’s reading, and hold off on indulging in Elizabeth Ladenson’s view of Proust as lesbian). For like the sleep example above, the symmetry is of the kind of inversion or pendulum swing: the sleep of one makes possible the calm wakefulness of the other, or Marcel’s being at a fevered pitch of jealousy makes Albertine calm. If symmetry provides the basis for mimetic sexuality—that is, “a symmetrical partnership provide[s] the highest sexual pleasures” because “[s]exual excitement is a shared commotion” (“Merde” 83)—we must pause to wonder, especially given the Nachträglichkeit of this transmission, whether the pendulum swings of Marcel’s relationship with Albertine are not a form of diachronic symmetry rather than a synchronic one. Perhaps this accounts for why Bersani posits masochism rather than sadism as the organizing passion of In Search of Lost Time: masochism lacks the necessary symmetry of sadism. Why does masochism operate asymmetrically? Because, as formulated by Bersani, masochism serves as the ontological grounding of the sexual itself, the investigation of which reveals a “massive detachment of the sexual from both object-specificity and organ specificity”

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(FrB 39). Sexuality is introduced to the subject as an infant, Laplanche argues, at a moment before she or he can make sense of it; being overwhelmed by the (m)other’s touch and yet surviving it initiates the pleasures of self-shattering. If, drawing on Laplanche’s reading of Freud’s delineation of masochism, Bersani is able to claim that “[w]e desire what nearly shatters us, and the shattering experience is, it would seem, without any specific content— . . . it belongs to the nonlinguistic biology of human life” (FrB 39–40), it is because he has reworked masochism to foreground the loss of self, the dissolution of the self’s boundaries. This self-shattering is not a mutual event, but a narcissistic one. With neither object-specificity nor organ-specificity, there is no other to mime, no alien commotion to vibrate to. Indeed the very sense of responsive vibration suggests a certain limit to the Sadean riposte: that there remains a body vibrating, replaying the other’s agitation, indicates that there is still no shattered self. If the self is shattered, there can be no relations; the sexual is a site of a failure to connect (IRG 109). The dialogical form of several of Sade’s key works could serve to underscore the depiction of Sadean sexuality as queerly responsive, mimetic, representational. The linguistic nature of the Sadean relation might suggest that there is no complete loss of self—there is perhaps only the dissolution of the self into language, and the sexual and linguistic positions reaffirm the boundaries of the self. Certainly Roland Barthes’s reading of the Sadean scene draws out the necessary component of representationality: “The libertine body, of which language is a part, is a homeostatic apparatus that maintains itself: the scene requires justification, discourse; this discourse inflames, eroticizes” (146). The libertine’s transgression may be instrumentalized, as Barthes observes, by language, but its force derives from the law that names such acts as infractions.30 The term “sodomy” now, in an age of decriminalization of sexual practices, has a quaint tenor to it compared to the frisson it must give Sade’s eighteenthcentury libertines. The power of the law organizes the transgression; although Dolmancé celebrates “the delicious balm of life whose outpouring causes the whole happiness of libertines” (200), that outpouring’s pleasure is no simple thing, but highly structured by Dolmancé’s carefully orchestrated orgiastic scenarios whose physics are exceeded and compounded only by the imagination of the violation of codes of honor, legality, and morals.31 They are also carefully couched between philosophical discursions. Whether the classical philosophical dialogue form of Philosophy in the Boudoir, or the narrative frames that encompass Justine and—even more explicitly—120 Days of Sodom, the recurring selfother relation persistently recoups the subject from self-shattering. But what if the Sadean narrative were a way for subjects to lose themselves and refind themselves elsewhere? Bersani gives us and diverts from giving an answer as his work evolves toward the aesthetic subject, which loses itself only to find itself elsewhere,

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already in the world. This finding is, as Bersani acknowledges, most unpsychoanalytic. He suggests that psychoanalysis will not be much help in explaining “a will to be in all things” because “it has been unable to think desire as the confirmation of a community of being” (IRG 105). Turning to a philosophical dialogue, moreover, to demonstrate this point, Bersani argues that “all being moves toward, corresponds with itself outside of itself” (IRG 118). This claim emerges from his reading of Plato’s Symposium, and especially Aristophanes’ myth of the origin of love, a myth that Freud also takes up several times (and does so in texts that are key to Bersani’s theorizing: namely, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Beyond the Pleasure Principle). One cannot help but remark, as Bersani does, that Aristophanes’ myth privileges sameness over difference—if humans were originally round, and numbered three genders, sameness in the pairings outnumbers difference: man-man, woman-woman, woman-man. But Zeus cut them in half, and ever since humans have been searching for their counterpart. “All love is, in a sense, homoerotic” Bersani concludes, because human love is based on “the extensibility of sameness” (IRG 118). Note that the discourse has shifted from sexuality (which is masochistic and self-shattering) to love, which is an extension of the self. Would love be understood as a narcissistic investment in the same? Bersani is talking about a form of narcissism, but one that “erases the individuating boundaries within which an ego might frame and contemplate itself” (IRG 118). With this reading, Bersani argues for an impersonal narcissism that is compatible with the self-shattering sexuality that his earlier work so cogently delineated. And from this reading the terms shift—not only from psychoanalysis to philosophy but continuing through to the aesthetic. It is the aesthetic which confirms our existence in the world in this selfless way; we find ourselves—our perspective, our resonance—in a work of art in which we have lost ourselves (in the idiomatic sense of absorption, contemplation that dissolves self-awareness). If the point is the extensibility of the self, that brings us to metonymy, the rhetorical figure of extensibility. And metonymy—albeit not as love—fundamentally undergirds the Sadean narrative, in its profuse extensions of scene after scene after scene, philosophizing following upon depredation following upon further philosophizing. In “Merde Alors,” Bersani and Dutoit come to identify a need “to present a convincing theory of nonmimetic sexuality,” a “theory by which we could account for sexual excitement in terms no longer dependent on the fantasyrepresentations of the excitement of others” (86). This requires “an alternative not merely to Sade but also to Freud” (86). But Bersani’s Sade takes a turn away from Sade in a direction that makes me think that we should return to Sade for this alternative. In fact, Bersani and Dutoit’s turn to Pasolini provides a model not so much of how to turn away from Sade as how to turn Sade, redirect his effects

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and paradigms toward a new thinking of relationality. The root of the aversion to reading Sade may be that Laplanche filters the reading of Sade, not just because of their convergence in the use of ébranlement. In a Laplanchean vein, Bersani draws from Proust the lesson that desire comes from outside—being desired by another teaches us to apprehend our own desire, so that “[t]he desiring of others is the model of the subject’s own desires” (Bersani, “Death” 864, qtd. in Bowie 28). As Bersani and Dutoit trace out the consequences (whether logical or some other operation) of masochistic-mimetic sexuality, they come to realize that “to the extent that sexual excitement depends on the ‘sympathetic’ appropriation of the ‘violent commotions’ experienced by others, the only truly erotic society is the Sadean and fascistic one of masters and slaves” (“Merde” 85). In short, they see mimetic sexuality as dangerously leading to fascism. And if Sadean sexuality were purely a specular sexuality, I might agree with them. But the “vibrations” that transmit desire are tangible, not necessarily so much only visible. Why else describe with such a tactile label? The “commotion” of the other is a moving with—again, a tangible sense privileged over the visible. This corporeal language is quite Sadean, but unremarked by a theorist who is attuned to the visual, who seeks to flee the verbal text for the film. I will hold off on reading the analysis of mimetic sexuality just a little longer, to first consider their closing move in “Merde Alors.” What’s most striking—though perhaps unsurprising, given the essay’s title—is that Bersani and Dutoit end with the example of coprophagia—specifically the story Signora Maggi tells in Salò of “a man whose greatest delight was to eat the excrement of a woman condemned to death. With the feeling of death in her very bowels, the woman can perhaps transmit its taste to the enthralled, deprived, hungry libertine” (“Merde” 95). This tale, notably, is not the end of the film, just the essay. For Bersani and Dutoit, this example is “a childish [re-] [per-] version which may be both our first retort and our last resort” (95, brackets in original). The first-person plural here is again ambiguously theirs or someone else’s—in this case, not the libertine’s so much as the child’s (in the developmental paradigm). The placement of the tale in the essay, framed as an element in Pasolini but acknowledged to be in 120 Days as well, refuses the linear expenditure of beginning again that the Sadean repetition of plot impels, in favor of a disruption of that progression through both turning aside and turning back to. In the same way, their ending with coprophagia brings us readers back to the beginning of the essay, with its titular expostulation of merde, alors, performing the displacement of inaccurate replication that a nonmimetic sexuality might execute. But what I find more intriguing about this example than the shit and death it thematizes is the operation of metonymy in the scene of sexual excitement. Rather than mirror back the excitement of the other, along the lines that Bersani or Bersani and Dutoit

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suggest the libertine’s desire is incited (reading Sade through the lens of Freud and Laplanche), this tale from Pasolini’s narrator emphasizes the direct, one might even say indexical, communication of fear to the libertine. And the libertine’s excitement is not the commotion of the other, but his own ecstasy at apprehending the other’s commotion. The transmission of the taste death from coprophagia is metonymic rather than mimetic. Can metonymy give us an alternative relationality, a nonmimetic sexuality? The commotion of the other—be it the agitations on the other’s body or the fear of death in her bowels—is transmitted to the libertine and excites him through the vibration of the nerves. As they develop their reading of Sadean mimetic sexuality, however, there’s a slippage even more important than that among sadism, sadomasochism, and masochism: that is, a shift from commotion transmitted to imitation of the other’s movements. Here’s the passage as a whole: The libertine’s pleasure depends on the transmission of his victim’s “commotion” to his own “nerves.” In one sense, crime is life-preserving in Sade; it creates spectacles of movement without which individuals might remain dangerously inert. “Le crime est un mode de la nature,” Durcet proclaims, “une manière dont elle meut l’homme.” Sexuality is a psychic mobility which depends on scenes of mobility in others; the libertine’s movements are a kind of imitation of their movement. (“Merde” 83) From the metonymic, tactile register of commotion, motion, vibration to the visual register of imitation is a short hop over a semicolon. It is a little difficult to see how “crime is life-preserving in Sade,” because it is a mode through which nature moves man, becomes an opportunity for imitation, mimesis. Why is the movement not simply a transmission? This has everything to do with representation. Bersani talks about a “missing link” between the one’s vibration and the libertine’s response in The Freudian Body, “Representation and its Discontents,” and “Merde Alors.” This “missing link” is similarly displaced on to the visual register: “The missing link here would seem to be the means of transport from the other’s ‘commotion’ to the libertine’s ‘vibration.’ But the latter can only be the agitated perception of the former. The ‘vibration’ which produces recognizable signs of sexual excitement is the spectacle of the other person’s commotion. Sexual excitement must be represented before it can be felt; or, more exactly, it is the representation of an alienated commotion” (FrB 42; “Representation” 2–3; “Merde” 83). How, exactly, is this link “missing”? The passage that purports to have this “missing link” is in 120 Days, where Sade sums up the Duke de Blangis’s observations about pleasure. Bersani

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quotes Sade thus: “He noticed that a violent commotion inflicted upon any kind of adversary is answered by a vibrant thrill in our own nervous system; the effect of this vibration, arousing the animal spirits which flow within these nerves’ concavities, obliges them to exert pressure on the erector nerves and to produce in accordance with this perturbation [ébranlement] what is termed a lubricious sensation” (FrB 42; “Representation” 3, brackets in Bersani’s trans.). It seems pretty evident from Sade that the “commotion” travels metonymically. “He noticed” is in fact “il sentit” in Sade (120 journées 15), and while “notice” may be a perfectly fine translation of “sentir” (it is not Bersani’s choice but that of the English translation of the novel published by Grove), the more obvious choice would be “feel” or even “sense,” which makes the metonymy clearer and obviates the visual register: “he felt” or “he sensed.”32 Le Robert tells me that “commotion” is an “ébranlement violent par une choc direct ou indirect” or a “violente emotion” synonomous with “bouleversement, ébranlement”; the movement from the violent commotion of one to the libertine’s perturbation is thus also a movement of synonymy along the syntagmatic chain. The link is not missing so much as not visible, or visual. Metonymy facilitates communication across a gap, however infinitesimal; it affords connection without attachment—the movement of shattering can proceed from one to the next as a wave. If these three different versions of Bersani’s, and Bersani and Dutoit’s, theorizations of Sade as mimetic sexuality converge on—one might even say touch on—this same moment before diverging into very different treatments of Pasolini, this might speak to how the communication of forms, the inaccurate modes of replication, become fugitive practices.

Finding Proust Again What, then, does it mean to find Proust distributed—shattered—across Leo Bersani’s oeuvre? The metonymies of this shattering suggest that Bersani’s lifelong reading of Proust models the inaccurate replication, the communication of forms, that he comes to articulate as the aesthetic subject. The recurrence of Proust models the kind of extensive, aesthetic subject that Bersani’s later work investigates as the externally displaced self, a process of finding oneself in the world through a formal replication that is always in some ways a failed or inaccurate replication. But would that view be counter to how Proust, according to Bersani, offers us “the most incisive and thorough representation of what we might call the psychoanalytic subject” (IRG 157)? In what sense could Proust be said to be the linchpin in Bersani’s oeuvre, the one who articulates the sexual or psychoanalytic subject with the aesthetic subject? What I have been interested in is less a coherent theory than the “textual relationality” that this oeuvre manifests. I take the phrase from Bersani’s

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reading of The Symposium, but also want to route its connotations through the rhetoric of the tangible and the spatial. Let us turn to one last moment where Proust occurs. In Forms of Violence, Bersani and Dutoit contrast Proust and Assyrian palace reliefs for how they aesthetically treat time and space. They write: The demarcation between past and present, between land and sea, fade; juxtaposed objects are fused in a transcendental identity; and the heterogenous space of human life would be replaced by a unifying, homogenous space of essences. The great moments of metaphoric conjunction in Proust’s novel correspond to the abolition of spatial and temporal intervals. (FV 63) Metaphor has the power to inscribe universal relations, to render aesthetically the relations among objects and their perceiver. “But the Assyrians create relations partly by directing us away from relations of resemblance,” Bersani and Dutoit continue, directing our attention to a figure reproduced from the palace reliefs, charting the graphical images across its surfaces. They conclude that “to make the connection we pass through the interesting space which diverts us from the connection. The eye and the circle thus also connect through spaces that do not resemble them at all. They touch, ultimately, through the mediation of other forms” (FV 64). Here the tactile, the contingent, operate alongside a metaphor of the eyes of the fish and the circles by them depicted in the relief. Metaphor may have its aesthetic place, but metonymy becomes the underpinning for the communication of forms. This enables the figure of communication of forms to operate not as a mimesis, not as a matter of resemblance, but across a space that is both visual and tactile. At the outset I raised the question of whether Bersani’s point in moving from the psychoanalytic subject to the aesthetic subject is precisely that we should reconsider human subjectivity along a textual model of a distributed, decentered, aesthetic object. This “subjectivity,” or this “subject,” I now caution, must be understood as a metonymic formation, and not as a substantive or bounded entity. If we are to understand the extensibility of the self as what we gain by a move away from a psychoanalytic understanding of the world, we should understand that in relation to the impersonal narcissism Bersani articulates. This form of narcissism is able, notably, to defeat specular narcissism (IRG 118). Proust’s self-shattering may be really a finding himself, a model for the extensibility of the self in the world. Or Proust’s self-shattering may be about finding an inaccurate replication of Bersani, which he’d love. If what we are to be accounting for is the way that “all being moves toward, corresponds with itself outside of itself” and psychoanalysis is found

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wanting, is Proust also to be found wanting? It is in reading Proust that Bersani reads psychoanalysis aesthetically. But it is also in reading Sade—and not reading Sade—that Bersani opens up a space to read psychoanalysis aesthetically. “Aesthetically” here can be understood as the kind of distance that allows a “nonimitative recognition” such as Bersani finds Pasolini to have toward 120 Days (FrB 53). And paradoxically, this distance is necessary in order that the eye can circle through spaces that are not about resemblance, and we can be touched through the mediation of other forms. When Bersani and Dutoit open their chapter on Alain Resnais in Arts of Impoverishment (1993) with the question “Is there a nonsadistic type of movement?” (AI 147), we have to turn to Sade and Proust and the fugitive readings of their texts to understand how metonymy opens up the possibilities for this answer in the aesthetic communication of forms.

Notes 1. The Raritan essay, “Representation and its Discontents,” is acknowledged to be the earlier version of the material that appears in The Freudian Body. In relation to the Raritan essay, I will work primarily from The Freudian Body as it is the later published version. “Merde Alors,” which is not acknowledged in The Freudian Body, I will treat on its own. 2. In an interview, Bersani notes: “our most urgent project now [is] redefining modes of relationality and community, the very notion of sociality” (IRG 172). This concern recurs in, for example, “Sociability and Cruising” (2002) (IRG 45–62), “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (IRG 3–30), The Culture of Redemption, and Intimacies (2008). 3. Though Bersani seems to be fixated on Charlus’s femininity, in her reading of Proust Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (ch. 5) points out how slippery this assignment of genders is, that Jupien takes his turn as the feminized one as well. 4. The distinction is crucial to Bersani’s argument in his first book: the novel is all about duality, whether it’s Marcel’s fantasy about a person before he meets them vs. how they turn out to be quite limited, banal persons when he meets them, or the tension of how Marcel is heterosexual, Proust is homosexual, but renounces his sexuality: “There is . . . a certain creative indecisiveness about novelistic form which is . . . the literary consequence of the narrator’s extreme uncertainty about the relationship between the self and the world” (MP 19–20). 5. “formant une franc-maçonnerie bien plus étendue, plus efficace et moins soupçonnée que celle des loges” (Sodome 420). 6. “Tenant leur vice pour plus exceptionnel qu’il n’est, ils sont allés vivres seuls du jour qu’ils one découvert. . . . Car personne ne sait tout d’abord qu’il est inverti, ou poète, ou snob, ou méchant. Tel collégien qui apprenait des vers d’amour ou regardait des images obscènes, s’ils se serrait alors contre un camarade, s’imaginait seulement communier avec lui dans un meme désir de la femme” (424). While the third-person singular impersonal pronoun here is the negative personne and not the positive on,

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the shift from plural to singular and then from impersonal-general to particular is still happening in the original. 7. “Méduse! Orchidée! quand je ne suivais que mon instinct, la méduse me répugnait à Balbec; mais si je savais la regarder, comme Michelet, du point de vue de l’histoire naturelle et de l’esthétique, je voyais une délicieuse girandole d’azur” (426). In the French, the question of knowing how to look and the thematic of the averted gaze is more explicitly resonant with Medusa’s legend in the choice of word for “jellyfish.” 8. “Et ils recommencent les jeux d’autrefois, sur l’herbe, dans la nuit, sans échanger une parole. En semaine, ils se voient l’un chez l’autre, causent de n’importe quoi, sans une allusion à ce qui c’est passé, exactement comme s’ils n’avaient rien fait et ne devaient rien refaire, sauf, dans leurs rapports, un peu de froideur, d’ironie, d’irritabilité, et de rancune, parfois de la haine” (425). 9. “des amateurs de vielles tabatières, d’estampes japonaises, de fleurs rares” (421). Indeed, Bersani takes a similar tack in Homos when he observes that “[w]hen a man recognizes another man’s desire, he is also learning something about the other’s identity, not exactly what kind of person he is, but what kind of group he belongs to” (H 147), and can presumably suss out what kind of collector he is. 10. “règne à la fois, comme dans une bourse aux timbres, l’entente étroite des spécialistes et les féroces rivalités des collectionneurs” (421); “ou comme le nectar qu’offrent certaines fleurs pour attirer les insects qui les féconderont” (426); “le confrère avec qui notre spécialiste pourrait parler la langue insolite” (426). 11. “car elle repose sur une identité de goûts, de besoins, d’habitudes, de dangers, d’apprentissage, de savoir, de trafic, de glossaire, et dans laquelle les membres mêmes qui souhaitent de ne pas se connaître aussitôt se reconnaissent à des signes naturels ou de convention, involontaires ou voulus, qui signalent un de ses semblables” (420). 12. “Quand le jour est venu où ils sent découverts incapables à la fois de mentir aux autres et de se mentirs à soi-même, ils partent vivre à la campagne, fuyant leurs pareils (qu’ils croient peu nombreux) par horreur de la monstruosité ou crainte de la tentation, et le reste de l’humanité par honte.” 13. “Je savais que cette attente n’était pas plus passive que chez la fleur mâle, dont les étamines s’étaient spontanément tournées pour que l’insecte pût plus facilement recevoir” (410). 14. “prenait des poses avec la coquetterie qu’aurait pu avoir l’ochidée pour le bourdon providentiellement survenu” (411); “Au même instant où M. de Charlus avait passé la porte en sifflant comme un gros bourdon” (413). 15. “Cette scène n’était, du reste, pas positivement comique, elle était empreinte d’une étrangeté, si l’on veut d’un naturel, dont la beauté allait croissant” (412). 16. “Plus près de la nature encore—et la multiplicité de ces comparaisons est elle-même d’autant plus naturelle qu’un même homme, si l’on examine pendant quelques minutes, semble successivement un homme, un homme-oiseau or un homme-insecte, etc.—on eût dit deux oiseaux” (412). 17. The idea of difference and not complementarity is particularly interesting insofar as Bersani criticizes Proust, pretty consistently, for how heteroized his representation of homosexuality is (Homos) and how his novel is unwaveringly heterosexual—and yet, in the Marcel Proust tome, heterosexual is understood as not only difference but the impossibility of connection. It is not just that homosexuals are queerly uncommunal but

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community is a fraught problem for heterosexuals as well—albeit perhaps not the catastrophe that heterosexual relationships are, in Bersani’s reading of Proust (IRG 58). Moreover, as Bersani will elsewhere observe, “[s]exuality and history are catastrophes that art has the task of repairing and redeeming” (CR 108), which suggests that what also may be at stake in the criticism of Proust is his undermining the redemption of heterosexuality. 18. “mais qui, comme l’éclat lumineux dont se parent certaines insectes pour attirer ceux de la même espèce, ou comme le nectar qu’offrent certaines fleurs pour attirer les insectes qui les féconderont, ne tromperait pas l’amateur presque introuvable d’un plaisir trop singulier, trop difficile à placer, qui lui est offert” (426). 19. “Tenant leur vice pour plus exceptionnel qu’il n’est” (424); “M. de Charlus était de ces homes qui peuvent être appelés exceptionnels, parce que, si nombreux soient-ils, la satisfaction, si facile chez d’autres de leurs besoins sexuels, dépend de la coincidence de trop de conditions, et trop difficiles à rencontrer” (426). 20. Indeed, Bersani had in Marcel Proust claimed a specific motive for this difficulty or impossibility: “Lesbianism is, so to speak, available in his mind as the particular kind of elusiveness that will make him suffer. An elusiveness he will also look for: having sinned against his mother and grandmother both by his tyrannical possessiveness and his selfish indifference, he can, by pursuing Lesbians [sic], punish himself for his desire for independence by a hopeless, anguished pursuit of indifferent women” (MP 113–14). This selfish indifference—how is it to be compared to the impersonal narcissism of the libertine? 21. Notably, the Aristophanes myth comes up in both essays on sociability in Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays. It seems that this myth encapsulates something of the refinding of the lost self that is the basis of Bersani’s theorizing the aesthetic subject. 22. Note the recurrence of the term “freemasonry” to indicate a sexual subculture, transposed from Proust’s description, above, to Bersani’s. 23. Eugénie parrots what she has heard from Dolmancé here: “Mais si, comme vous le dites, la nature fait naître les hommes isolés, tous indépendants les uns des autres” (Philosophie 150). 24. The Grove translation into English in 1965 erroneously used the term “bedroom” for “boudoir”; as Jane Gallop has incisively argued, this catachresis elides the gendered and classed nature of the space in which the “philosophy” takes place. In La Philosophie, “rien n’est égoïste comme la nature, soyons-le donc aussi, si nous voulons accomplir ces lois” (154). 25. “que la nature toujours en action, toujours en mouvement” (40). 26. “il ne s’agit pas d’aimer ses semblables comme soi-même, puisque cela est contre les lois de la nature” (186). 27. “cette propagation, ne nous trompons point, ne fut jamais une de ses lois” (138); “de quel prix peuvent être à la nature des individus qui ne lui coûtent ni la moindre peine ni le moindre soin?” (215). 28. “qu’elles se livrent indifféreraient à tous ceux qui veulent d’elles . . . fuyant l’amour, adorant le plaisir” (153). 29. This part of the argument is also a moment where the slippage among sadism, masochism, and sadomasochism is in play: the claim that mimetic sexuality is sadomasochistic ends a paragraph on p. 83, but the claim about sadism as a necessary consequence had started that paragraph; then the next paragraph avers that “Sade’s sadism”

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is, ironically, aligned with theories of sympathy that he rejects. The mechanism of this sympathy, Bersani and Dutoit determine, is introjection, and then in the following paragraph they discuss introjection and leap to assertions about masochism—the word is used twice in that paragraph on p. 84, which ends with the claim that “sexuality . . . might almost be thought of as a tautology for masochism.” 30. This discourse is culturally embedded, drawing primarily on language but also, one might point out, props. The libertine’s simple act of copulation might be called an act of Nature, but the language that nominates the act as sodomizing his married daughter after inserting a communion wafer into her, turns it from a simple act to a transgression: “Only by the progressive addition of some nouns does the crime gradually develop, grow in volume, in consistency, and attain the highest degree of transgression” (157). Moreover, that transgression is hemmed in not only by nouns but by nouns that gain their power by inscribing a violation of the law. As Barthes sums it up, this act enables the libertine “[t]o unite incest, adultery, sodomy, and sacrilege” (157). 31. “le baume délicieux de la vie dont l’écoulement fait tout le bonheur des libertins” (26). 32. “il sentit qu’une commotion violente imprimée sur un adversaire quelconque rapportait à la masse de nos nerfs une vibration dont l’effet irritant les esprits animaux qui coulent dans la concavité de ces neufs les obliges à presser les neufs érecteurs, et à produire d’après cet ébranlement, une sensation lubrique” (Sade 15–16).

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. Sade Fourier Loyola. Trans. Richard Miller. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print. Bersani, Leo. “Death and Literary Authority.” A New History of French Literature. Ed. Denis Hollier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. 861–66. Print. ———. “Representation and Its Discontents.” Raritan 1.1 (1981): 3–17. Print. Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. “Merde Alors.” Stanford Italian Review 2.2 (Fall 1982): 82–95. Print. Bowie, Malcolm. “Bersani on Proust.” Oxford Literary Review 20.1–2 (1998): 23–32. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty. Trans. Jean McNeil. New York: Zone, 1989. Print. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. 1976. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print. Gallop, Jane. “The Liberated Woman.” Narrative 13.2 (2005): 89–104. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. Ladenson, Elisabeth. Proust’s Lesbianism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1999. Print. Laplanche, Jean. Life and Death in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Print. Pasolini, Pier Paolo, dir. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. 1975. Criterion Collection 1998. DVD. Phillips, Adam. Monogamy. New York: Pantheon, 1996. Print.

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Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. Ed. Christopher Prendergast. 6 vols. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print. ———. The Prisoner. Trans. Carol Clark. In Search vol. 5. ———. Sodom and Gomorrah. Trans. John Sturrock. In Search vol. 4. ———. Sodome et Gomorrhe. Á la Recherche du temps perdu. Tome 2. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Print. Sade, Donatien Alfonse François de. 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings. Comp. and trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver. New York: Grove, 1966. Print. ———. Les 120 journées de Sodome, ou l’école du libertinage. Tome 1. L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque National de France. Paris: Editions Dominique Leroy, 1997. Web. Googlebooks.com 8 Dec. 2011. ———. Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised. 1791. Justine 447–743. ———. Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Comp. and trans. Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse. New York: Grove, 1965. Print. ———. La Philosophie dans le boudoir. 1795. Bruxelles: Chez les marchands des nouvéautés, 1890. Web. Google Play. 12 Dec. 2011. ———. Philosophy in the Bedroom. 1795. Justine 177–367. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. Print. Silverman, Kaja. World Spectators. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2000. Print.

10

A Future for Henry James DAVID MCWHIRTER

From “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of the Dove’ ” (1960) and “The Jamesian Lie” (1969) to The Freudian Body (1986) to Intimacies (coauthored with Adam Phillips in 2008) and beyond (“Re-Perusal, Registered” [2011]),1 Henry James has been a persistent point of reference and attention in Leo Bersani’s critical trajectory. Considering both the continuities and the changes in his successive encounters with James over the past fifty years, this essay also asks why James has played such a crucial role in Bersani’s unique and evolving account of modern literature’s “ethical-erotic”—and profoundly political— “project” (CR 3), from his earliest against-the-grain readings of realist novels and his subversions of standard models of psychoanalytic criticism, through his mid-career “polemic” against the modernist “culture of redemption” (CR 1), to his recent efforts to rethink the nature and vocabularies of modern subjectivity, sociability, and intimacy. But if James, as one commentator puts it, “continues to act as a key signifier or coordinate” for Bersani (Jöttkandt 241), it is also worth clarifying from the outset what “Bersani’s James” is not: “the designs” Bersani has recently acknowledged having “always had on and for James” (“Re-Perusal” 280) do not constitute in any sense an effort to master “the Master,” to offer a full scale or in-depth “reading” of his oeuvre or career or even of particular James texts. Rather, what Susan Griffin has correctly described as “Bersani’s long conversation with Henry James”—although I might instead, for reasons that I hope will become clear, call it a long flirtation—has been consistently, deliberately tangential (193). A conversation, Bersani and Phillips remark in their preface to Intimacies, “is neither diligent, thorough, researched, nor finished” (I viii). Like the collaborative work of Intimacies itself, a conversation is a space where “something is being at once worked out and tried out—worked out by being tried out—rather than completed or in any way fully formulated” (I viii). And Bersani’s ongoing conversation with James

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has constituted just such a space, one in which, to borrow a key term from his own recent lexicon, he has worked to project a “virtual” James positioned always at a tangent to dominant mappings of the novelist’s career, a James deterritorialized from his familiar place in American and Victorian Studies, and reterritorialized as a key figure in one of our most important accounts of modern art. Bersani’s James is primarily the late James—the twentieth-century James, that is, of The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, the New York Edition prefaces, and “The Beast in the Jungle.” But his James is also in some sense the French novelist James might have become had he settled in Paris instead of London in the 1870s, always read more in the company of Flaubert, Stendhal, Proust, Beckett, and Gide than in the American (Hawthorne, Howells, Faulkner) or English (Thackeray, George Eliot, Conrad, Woolf) contexts.2 From the first, in fact, Bersani’s comparativist’s perspective, along with his French professor’s fortuitous early exposure to poststructuralist theory, has underwritten a version of Henry James, and of modernism, more radical than and persistently at odds with—or in advance of—the successive standard accounts provided by Anglo-American criticism. If Bersani’s “resolutely superficial” (FrB 110) reading of James in his early criticism anticipates both the deconstructionist James of the 1980s and contemporary criticism’s queer James twenty or even thirty years avant la lettre, his mapping of modern literature, shaped by that same theory and powerfully inflected by his career-long effort to re-imagine Freud and psychoanalysis, has developed at a tangent to virtually every dominant narrative of modernism, from the New Criticism to the new historicism and beyond. Bersani challenged—early and often—what Perry Meisel would in 1988 call “the myth of the modern,” an “improbable mixture” of alienation, primitivism and formalism that was, as we now understand, “more an ideology . . . than a mode of criticism,” a “mythic literary history” that never provided an adequate account of Henry James (1, 6). The Henry James of what might be called “the old modernism” may be said to culminate in the portrait of “the Master” constructed by Leon Edel (in his biography and his editions of James’s texts, letters, and notebooks) in the cold war fifties: the New Critical, classically Freudian, humanist, modernist Author with a capital A, hero and high priest of an elitist, autonomous art. Even in his earliest engagements with James, which were, it’s worth noting, coincident with the publication of Edel’s five-volume biography, Bersani was already resisting the stultifying aura of sanctity and reverence that had grown so thick around this modernist master, in no small part because he was also already resisting the terms, premises, and claims—including “claims made . . . for the authoritative, even redemptive virtues of literature” (CR 1)—that marked the account of modernism James was being made to serve. Edel’s massive, at-thetime indisputably authoritative Henry James, with its casting of the artist as

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hero and its narrative of Oedipal crisis and resolution, was itself an instance of the kind of modernism Bersani has long taught us to approach with suspicion, one that mistakenly, and dangerously, assumes to itself the power to save us from the “catastrophes of history” and of sexuality (CR 1). In contrast, James emerges as an unexpectedly exemplary figure in Bersani’s brief for a criticism that would “stop immobilizing modern writing,” “give up the vocabulary of cultural crises,” and “renounce the pastoral view of alienation as a peculiarly modern loss of cultural wholeness and harmony” (“Other” 48–49) in order to elucidate an erotics of modern art capable of resisting the “tyranny of the self” manifested in “the prestigious form[s]” and “legitimizing plots” of “cultural authority” (CR 4).3 The availability of James to this project of resistance is already discernible in Bersani’s early essays on The Wings of the Dove—“The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of a Dove’ ”—and The Golden Bowl—“The Jamesian Lie”4—where he emphasizes the threat posed by James’s late writing to “the reader’s right to enjoy conditions of ideal knowledge and possession in reading fiction” (MP 94), as well as that writing’s refusal to be bound by traditional novelistic regimes of fullness, coherence, consistency, and depth in characterization—James’s thinning out of his characters, as it were, into “allegorical functions” that primarily reflect the Jamesian narrator’s “sensitivity to possible verbal sequences” (“Narrator” 131, 133).5 In his 1965 study of Proust, Bersani identifies Flaubert as the first important rebel against “the tradition of the omniscient author,” but he goes on to remark that “this traditional enjoyment” of “the reader’s right to . . . ideal knowledge and possession” is “much more seriously threatened by the narrative techniques of Proust, Gide, and Henry James” (MP 94). Thus, what generations of James’s critics, and more than a few of his contemporaries, saw as James’s unfortunate abandonment of “the technical premises of the realistic novel—the commitment to intelligible, ‘full’ characters, to historical verisimilitude, to the revealing gesture or episode, to a closed temporal frame” (Bersani, “Subject” 8)—Bersani sets out to reread as a reflection of the novelist’s recognition of “the frightening invisibility of our ‘nature,’ ” that “constant gliding of our desires which both sustains life and ruins the possibility of any settled understanding of life.” James’s writing thus “liberates to the extent that it takes the risk of undermining its obviously enormous investment in reliable descriptions and settled understanding” (12). “Taking enormous risks with the definiteness of novelistic plot and character,” practicing “an exasperating avoidance of fact and direct statement,” and “proposing a [fictional] language responsive almost exclusively to the inspirations of its own surfaces” (FA 134, 136, 146), novels like The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl constitute, in Bersani’s formulation, a “Jamesian move to the side of fictions which would stabilize being” (“Subject” 12) in “a notion of human character” that “limits the imagination of desire” (FA 146).

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To be sure, this potentially liberating “move to the side” is constrained, perhaps ultimately thwarted for Bersani by James’s commitments to novelistic form and the coherences it inevitably reimposes: “James,” he somewhat reluctantly acknowledges, “finally submits the critical or speculative intelligence to a critique provided by what might be called the superior finality of art” (FA 146). His late novels, for all their risk-taking and violations of the realist regime, ultimately cannot help but “dramatize the difficulties of living by improvisation” and “the nostalgia for an enslaving truth which would rescue us from the strenuous responsibilities of inventive freedom” (FA 132–33). If Bersani is drawn to a text like The Golden Bowl—his most frequent point of reference in his long interlocution with James—because he recognizes in it a desire, manifested in “a continuous moving away from what might be called the narrative ordering of thought” (DSM 60), to undo novelistic form and character, he nonetheless ultimately reads the novel as unable to evade “the coercive power of . . . forms” that it sets out to thematize. Like his characters, James, and the liberatory potential of his writing, are “victimized by their own yearnings for settled interpretations.” The novel, like its protagonist Maggie Verver, “vacillates between a view of art represented in the novel by her father (a view in which forms are collected, centralized and immobilized in museums) and a notion of art as improvised, even aleatory ‘mobile syntheses’ ” (DSM 59).6 The “necessary defect of James’s compositional ethic” is thus “the very coherence and unity into which those analogies between his fictional world and the process of creating it allow him to organize life” (FA 154). James’s favored “center of consciousness” technique—his practice, especially in the late fiction, of writing “stories in which the narrative point of view is limited to the awareness of characters within the world of the novel” (MP 81)—might seem to promise a measure of freedom from the constraints of form and character, “in the sense that it invents and satisfies desires which meet only a minimal resistance from either the external world or internal depths. Language would no longer be principally a reflection or sublimation of given desires; it would promote new versions of being” (FA 146). But if James’s most radical experiments in this vein—the governess’s virtually uncontained first-person narrative in The Turn of the Screw, for example—hint at a kind of text that would be at least “theoretically endless” (MP 193), they also provoke a backlash against what James, in his New York Edition preface to the novella, describes as the text’s “excursion into chaos” (Art 172). The writer’s “improvisation,” like the governess’s, risks becoming the “terrible fluidity” James elsewhere cites as his reason for preferring the relative containment of the “center of consciousness” form to the openness and improvisation of pure first-person narration (321). In The Turn of the Screw, one of only two longer fictions James wrote using the first person,7 “the running on and on of invention” is a “stream [that] breaks bounds and gets into flood. Then the waters

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may spread indeed . . . violating by the same stroke our sense of the course and the channel, which is our sense of the uses of a stream and the virtue of a story” (171–72). The first-person narrative is thus “a form foredoomed to looseness,” and that looseness, James does not hesitate to note, “was never much my affair” (320). For Bersani, a text like The Turn of the Screw “dramatize[s] the dangers to civilized life in fictions released from a shared if conventional belief about the nature of reality” (FA 141), dangers which may be said to trigger in James the uneasy compromise—between form and desire, immobilization and improvisation—embodied in his deployment of centers of consciousness. And as Sam See notes in his recent tracing of Bersani’s always ambivalent love affair with James, Bersani critiques that Jamesian compromise from his earliest essay on The Wings of the Dove to his reading (in Intimacies) of “The Beast in the Jungle.” James “litters his characters’ lives with incoherence only to resolve our own confusion about those characters with a masterfully designed, centrifugal structure: all roads, whatever their potholes, lead to the center of consciousness” (See 199). Thus, in Bersani’s view, See argues, James flirts with narrative and characterological incoherence, but in the end his never “entirely effaced” narrators—into which “his centers of consciousness tend rather to be merged, to be assimilated into his point of view on the story” (“Narrator” 131)—“mind and master their novels’ semantic gaps too well” (See 199). Such an assessment brings Bersani close to a critic like Mark Seltzer, whose Foucauldian reading of James explicitly draws on Bersani’s work to argue that the exercise of power everywhere critiqued in James’s fictions is in fact continuous and complicitous with the novelist’s “policies” and “techniques” of representation (15–16)—or, even more curiously, to someone like Frederic Jameson, who sweepingly asserts that “Jamesian point of view, which comes into being as a protest and a defense against reification, ends up furnishing a powerful ideological instrument in the perpetuation of an increasingly subjectivized and psychologized world” (221). Both Bersani and See, like Jameson, it may be, make the mistake highlighted by Ross Posnock in The Trial of Curiosity of conflating “James’s technique of central consciousness” with “the ideology of individualism’s belief in centered consciousness” (91). Where Bersani, in a surprisingly rare comment on a novel—The Ambassadors—that one might have expected to be more productive for his construction of a counterrealist James, views Lambert Strether’s “mature awareness at the end” as an instance of “the traditional pattern of a protagonist’s education”—a closing of “the distance between the author and his main character” through which James makes “as clear a statement of [his] own point[] of view as, say, Jane Austen and Dickens in Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations” (MP 192)—Posnock, in a reading that is arguably more Bersanian than Bersani’s, describes Strether as still resisting “conventional forms of profit” through a “scandal of deliberate failure,” a “refusal of fulfillment” that “preserves margin and nonidentity as modes of freedom” (245).

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I will return to The Ambassadors, and what I see as its neglected potential for furthering Bersani’s Jamesian project, later in this essay. More immediately, however, I want to focus on a particular way in which James, despite Bersani’s ambivalence, remains important to his counterrealist reimagining of the novel and novelistic character, his own effort, especially in his early work, to “move to the side of [realist] fictions which would stabilize being” in “character” and in so doing “limit[] the imagination of desire” (“Subject” 12; FA 146)—namely, Bersani’s approbating recognition that James’s characters, while enormously dense in observed psychological detail, are nonetheless “remarkably resistant to an interest in psychological depth.” Psychological complexity in James, notes Bersani, consists not in prior, hidden or unconscious but ultimately locatable motives, but in “the expanding [narrative] surface itself which, when most successful, finds a place in its intricate design for all the motives imaginable” (FA 130–31). Resisting “the nostalgia for an enslaving truth which would rescue us from the strenuous responsibilities of inventive freedom” (FA 133), the late Jamesian text frustrates realism’s desire for psychological depth, and thus for coherence and mappability, in order to reinvent itself as a kind of machine for producing new desires, for “invent[ing] other pleasures” (FA 135–36)—an essentially formalist but deeply political reading of James that mirrors, and will ultimately intersect with, key elements of Bersani’s reading of Freud, with its emphasis on retrieving or rescuing sexuality’s decentering and destabilizing mobilizations—what he elsewhere calls the “antisystemic moments in Freud” (CR 3)—from within Freud’s own insistent attempts to normalize sexuality in the immobilizing, teleological structures of the oedipal narrative. Both psychoanalysis and the novel, in other words, are overinvested in providing what Bersani describes as readable “maps of the self.” And this “mythologizing of the human as a [stable,] readable organism is,” in Bersani’s words, “a fundamental political strategy”; “the eagerness,” he continues, “with which both literature and psychoanalysis have contributed to that mythology may be the surest sign of their willingness to serve various types of orders interested in the shaping of the human as a precondition for predicting and controlling it.” Thus the frequently praised social criticism in realistic fiction”—a kind of criticism, it is worth noting, rarely attributed to James8—“is perhaps less consequential politically than assumptions about what the self is, assumptions which create and limit the ‘field’ in which social criticism can take place. A myth about psychic structure and order contains and restricts all critiques of social disorder” (FrB 83), instantiating an “implicit agreement about the natural shape of human experience” that in turn “creates a field of irreducible ‘truth’ to which all new versions of social organization must conform, and which insures that any criticism of existing social arrangement will not transgress restrictive notions of possibility” (“Subject” 7). This last quotation comes from “The Subject of Power,” a 1977 review essay devoted to Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sex-

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uality in which James—who, excepting Bersani, would or could have thought this in 1977!—surprisingly reappears as the central example of “the realistic novelist who expresses his suspicion of his own commitment to settled meanings in cataclysmic ways”: by allowing The Wings of the Dove’s Milly Theale, for example, “to become intolerable as a novelistic character,” in the process “petrify[ing]” Kate and Densher into mute worship of her own “unarticulated, nonanalyzable worth”; or by imagining in The Golden Bowl’s Maggie Verver an unmappable self that triumphs by cultivating the “unlocatability” of its of own resistance to power (12, 11).9 In such “ambiguous centering[s] of [figures] whom the language of the novel can’t really locate” (11), James, by Bersani’s account, moves us toward an antinarrative eroticizing of consciousness in art that reveals normative forms and narratives of the self and its relations—marriage or genital heterosexuality, for instance—as merely “the convenient social envelope[s] for desires imagined as too original to be contained or expressed by any established forms of social life” (FA 153). In this sense—and here I am quoting from The Freudian Body—Bersani’s James also facilitates a psychoanalytic criticism which, “far from seeking keys to the hidden wishes and anxieties ‘behind’ the text, would be the most resolutely superficial reading of texts,” one which “would trace the continuous disappearing and reappearing of relations and forms. It would not be a question of identifying desires, for the work of art itself exists not in order to hide them, but in order to make them visible.” Criticism, so conceptualized, “makes manifest the ontology of human desire by tracking down the threats to its visibility in art,” articulating “the ‘de-forming’ or ‘dis-formulating”’ effects of desire nestled within, or erased by, our “representational identifications of desire” (FrB 110–11). With its emphasis on “the continuous disappearing and reappearing of relations and forms,” such a criticism has much to tell us about texts like What Maisie Knew and The Turn of the Screw, where relations are in constant flux and the self itself becomes a fluid, self-reflexive project of chronic revision—and about an author who never stopped probing the contingency, and tyranny, of social and literary forms. In his consideration of “the question of selfhood,” suggestively entitled Oneself as Another, Paul Ricoeur, in terms that resonate with Bersani’s project of rethinking the possibilities for ethical selfhood, stages a confrontation between two conceptions of personal identity: “on one side, identity as sameness (Latin idem) . . . ; on the other, identity as selfhood (Latin ipse).” “Selfhood,” Ricoeur insists, “is not sameness,” for it “implies no assertion concerning some unchanging core of personality” (116, 2). While both conceptions of identity depend on a sense of continuity with the past, idem or sameness identity attributes that permanence to a schema rooted “in the category of substance”—to the persistence of an essential, selfsame whatness that Ricoeur construes (and that Bersani would recognize) in narratological terms as “character”: sameness identity conceives of “change as happening to something which does not change” (118).

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But there is, Ricoeur asserts, “another model of permanence in time besides that of character. In narrative terms, it is that of keeping one’s word in faithfulness to the word that has been given.” Ricoeur sees in “this keeping [one’s word]” that is the hallmark of selfhood or ipse-identity the emblematic figure of an identity that is the polar opposite of that depicted by the emblematic figure of novelistic character. “Keeping one’s word expresses a self-constancy which cannot be inscribed, as character was, within the dimension of something in general [i.e., as a substance] but solely within the dimension of ‘who?’ ” (123). Ricoeur argues that identity in narrative oscillates “between two limits: a lower limit, where permanence in time expresses the confusion of [sameness and selfhood]; and an upper limit, where [selfhood] poses the question of its identity without the aid and support of [sameness] or the idem” (124). And it is to this upper limit—where the continuity of “keeping one’s word” unfolds without the support, and without the disabling immobilizations, of sameness— that James gravitates even in his earliest fictions by creating and, through his center of consciousness technique, investing himself in protagonists who are given to recalculating the forms and boundaries of the self, reimagining who they are and what they desire. One thinks, for example, of Christopher Newman’s decidedly “out of character” decision not to take revenge on the Bellegardes at the conclusion of The American, or of Isabel Archer’s devastating—but also, in some crucial sense, liberating—reassessment of her past and herself, a revision so complete as to divest her of the very forms and narratives of that past and that self that have sustained her “unquenchable desire to think well of herself” and her moral determination always “to be what she appeared” and “appear what she was,” following her glimpse of her husband and Madame Merle “unconsciously and familiarly associated” (Portrait 53–54). In the fictions James produced after 1895 to which Bersani is so consistently drawn, however, the dynamics and problematics of self-justification—by which I mean the activity of drawing and redrawing the margins of the self and its desires—are explored with an almost unmediated extremity. Isabel Archer begins her career with principles and intentions, however naïve, she understands as grounded in humanist moral norms and an idealized conception of autonomous Emersonian selfhood. In contrast, James’s late protagonists, including the child protagonist of What Maisie Knew and the adolescent Nanda Brookenham of The Awkward Age, The Turn of the Screw’s unnamed governess and The Sacred Fount’s similarly unnamed narrator, as well as centers of consciousness like Maggie Verver and Lambert Strether, seem almost existentially thrown into shifting and complex situations, armed with nothing but their ability to read the immense array of signs that surround them, and their capacity to justify and rejustify their assumptions, actions, pasts, desires, and selves in the face of floods of revision that continually threaten and breach and fill the margins of their identities. Thus when Bersani describes The Turn of the Screw as “theoretically

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endless,” he is, I think, responding to the Governess’s practice and writing of a kind of improvisatory or nomadic selfhood—a selfhood, to borrow Julia Kristeva’s phrase, always “in process/on trial” (58)—that ceaselessly moves toward incorporation of the other. Always open to the “abrupt transformation of [her] office” (James, Turn 79), always willing to incorporate more and “still other things”—the appearance of one ghost and then another; the previously “inconceivable” possibility that the children are “already lost,” that “the four” (the children Flora and Miles, the ghosts Miss Jessel and Quint) “perpetually meet” (35, 48); the shock of having her “situation horribly crumble” when Mrs. Grose fails to see the second apparition of Miss Jessel by the lake (71)—she is seemingly unable or, it may be, unwilling to restrict the potentially infinite proliferation of meanings unleashed by the events at Bly by adhering rigidly to any predetermined or finalized account of her situation or herself—a modus operandi that adumbrates the radically revisionary subjectivity ubiquitously, and riskily, explored by James in his turn-of-the-century texts. Through his narrative investment or participation in the governess’s perpetual self-justification, her successive de-formations and re-formations of the self, James may also be said to approach an aesthetic embodying that “continuous disappearing and reappearing of relations and forms” in which Bersani locates James’s, and modernism’s, at least provisional ability to sidestep realism’s limits on the imagination of desire. Making visible “the ‘de-forming’ or ‘disformulating”’ effects of desire immobilized by our “representational identifications of desire” (FrB 110–11), a text like The Turn of the Screw also provides us access, however limited and indirect, to a range of desires Victorian society declared invisible, even inconceivable. Long before queer theory adopted The Turn of the Screw as one its favored sites of Jamesian inquiry,10 critics could not help but notice the various sexual possibilities this text—like The Awkward Age, What Maisie Knew, The Sacred Fount, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl, among others—manages to render legible. Given the novella’s constant doublings and redoublings of the “evil” possibilities that can or must be entertained, and James’s own studied refusal to specify the source or nature of the evil—“my values,” he remarks, “are positively all blanks” (Art 177)—it is not surprising that critics have rushed to fill the vacuum with varied speculations about the characters’ sexual desires and relations. Without naming names, contemporary reviewers often pilloried the story as unclean and perverse—a “sink” of unspecified “corruption” (Hayes 304). Where Edmund Wilson once explained—or perhaps explained away—the mysteries at Bly in terms of the Governess’s supposedly repressed desire for the Master, subsequent commentators have suggested that the Governess in fact desires Miles, or that there is an illicit liaison between Miss Jessel and Quint, or even that the relationships between Quint and Miles and between Jessel and Flora are homosexual.11 And this proliferation of possible sexual desires and positions,

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all of them illegitimate in normative social and novelistic terms, is in fact invited, strangely authorized, by James’s text. To be immersed in the Governess’s experience is to be radically, endlessly in between the fixities of character or idem identity, adrift in a textual/sexual process where the forms that structure and sanction gendered, sexual identities are repeatedly ruptured and redrawn. Bersani is of course right in seeing The Turn of the Screw as only “theoretically endless” (MP 193). The difficulties of sustaining Jamesian revisionary subjectivity are palpably and painfully manifest in the novella’s final scene, where the Governess, in what might be read as a profound betrayal not only of Miles but of her own experience, responds to “the white face of damnation” that appears once again at the window by shrieking, “No more, no more, no more!” (88)—a refusal that embodies her final, and deadly, grasp at the clarity and order that would justify her once and for all, and put an end to the “constant gliding of [her] desires” and self which, to recall Bersani’s words, “sustains life” even as it “ruins the possibility of any settled understanding of life” (“Subject” 12). I have already remarked on the somewhat surprising company Henry James is said to keep in Bersani’s rendering of “the master.” Nowhere is this more true, however, than in The Freudian Body, where James’s appearance, alongside Mallarmé, Sade, Pasolini’s Salò, and Assyrian sculpture, as an example of how “consciousness appropriates sexuality in art” and of how we might “recognize the traces of a prelinguistic shattering of the human subject in the most highly refined, most deliberately shaped forms of civilized discourse” (FrB 107), may serve to highlight the extraordinary reach and radical nature of Bersani’s Jamesian project. In his writing of the 1980s—including The Freudian Body, but also The Culture of Redemption (1990) and The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (1982)—Bersani’s James is increasingly read less as a late realist than as an exemplary manifestation of the productive tensions and radical potentialities of modernism. In the last named of these titles, for example, Bersani returns to The Golden Bowl to reexamine the interplay between “the ambiguous status of sexual passion” in the novel and its equally ambiguous form. “Sex” in this text, Bersani argues, is shaped and “covered over” by the given forms and obligations of marriage, but it also breaks loose of any institutional definitions whatsoever and isolates Maggie in an “improvised ‘post’ ” which, James notes, would be marked on a map of social relations only by the geography of “the fundamental passions.” Seen as a work of art, Maggie naturally offers a sublimated version of this alternative, and in esthetic terms the parallel to uncharted sexual desire would, I think, be a mobilizing of forms which makes them radically, permanently unreadable. And this unreadability would be a function not of mystifyingly intricate surfaces beyond which lie graspable meanings, but rather of sense

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performatively dissolved in the time of the work and perhaps even demanding, correlatively, self-dissolving interpretations. . . . (DSM 60, ellipsis in original) Bersani goes on to posit “two types of difficulty in modern writing”: on the one hand, a difficulty that “has nourished textual imperialism” and resulted in “the interpretive centering of highly valued texts, a centering which reinforces traditional cultural hierarchies”; on the other, a “difficulty created by (and critically interpreted as) an extreme mobility of attention, a continuous moving away from what might be called the narrative ordering of thought.” And he aligns James, though not without vacillation, with the latter strand, with a modernism characterized by “a continuous relinquishing of tentative formal arrangements” and “a playfully promiscuous attention always ready to swerve to the side of its objects and to wander in a variety of sensually appealing digressive activities”—as opposed to that “imperialist” modernism “consistent with the metaphysical seriousness of a Book that would ‘explain’ the universe” (DSM 60). It is significant, too, I think, that James, rather than Joyce, to whom he essentially bid farewell in “Against Ulysses” (1988)12—remains the crucial Anglo-American figure in Bersani’s ongoing meditations on the fluidity—even the unnarrativizability—of modern subjectivity. “Verbal consciousness” in Ulysses is a form of self-asserting “conquest”—a “process of clarification,” built on “identifications and recognitions”—that remains essentially unthreatened by “the personal and social pressures antagonistic to all clarifications” (CR 178). James, in contrast—the explicit, admittedly “incongruous juxtaposition” is with The Europeans, an early novella usually counted among James’s least experimental texts, but seen here as a radical alternative to Ulysses—explores “the effect of something like the disappearance of the self on human relations” (CR 168). For Bersani, it is Henry James, not James Joyce, who is closer to Baudelaire, Bataille, and Beckett (not to mention Sade and Pasolini) in helping us “to think of art,” in teaching us “to want an art,” unavailable for the legitimizing, often violent plots of selfhood (CR 4), and capable of reaching beyond the inherited narratives and vocabularies that shape and channel and distort our relations, deafening us to the echoes and rhythms that might link us to other human beings in unanticipated, less appropriative relational vectors. In “The Subject of Power,” Bersani writes that “perhaps no novelist has ever spoken more finely of the relational aspect of all human experience than James in his Prefaces.” Yet in much of his early work on James he tends to emphasize the novelist’s pursuit “of an ideal of the ‘free’ self as the unrelated self.” Quoting Foucault’s identification of the sinister opportunities for power present “at every instant, at every point, or rather in every relation from one point to another,” Bersani repeatedly suggests that for James, “the only escape from power is to escape from relations themselves” (“Subject” 12) through a

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renunciatory gesture that justifies and consecrates “his alienation from everything except his inner vision of an ideal above and beyond the unacceptable real possibilities of life” (“Narrator” 144). Relations, James famously wrote, “really, universally, . . . stop nowhere” (Art 5). But no one—unless it be perhaps Leo Bersani—was more aware of the ways in which our imagination of social and affective relations between human beings, in our cultural and literary as in our social forms, always does stop somewhere, somewhere, in fact, quite short and brutal, and of the power and fatality of the conventional limits that constrain our relations and our imagination and representation of relations—the limits, I mean, embodied in the ideological structures of heterosexual romance, monogamy, marriage, the couple, and the novel itself—than Henry James. That the author of The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians knew just how difficult it is to resist or evade or slip through the forms that channel and restrict and block our relational possibilities is undoubtedly one of James’s negative attractions for Bersani. Contemplating the most important relation in her life, Isabel Archer, cornered and trapped by the relentless demands of the marriage plot, and ground, as who should say, in the very mill of its conventions, finds “the infinite vista of a multiplied life to be a dark, narrow alley with a dead wall at the end” (349). At times it seems that, as Robert K. Martin once remarked, there are not only no happy marriages in James, “there are no alternatives to marriage, except possibly the convent” (87, my emphasis): a judgment confirmed by Isabel’s final return to Osmond, perhaps, as Davida Pines suggests, in a deeply ironic attempt to liberate Pansy from her father by the only means Isabel can imagine—that is, by helping her stepdaughter to marry Ned Rosier (31–32).13 At the end of The Bostonians, “her long cloak” thrown over her head by her husband-to-be “to conceal her face and identity,” Verena Tarrant, we’re told, “was in tears. It is to be feared that with the union, so far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, these were not the last she was destined to shed” (433). With dry-eyed unsentimentality, James throughout his career portrayed disastrous marriages that thwart, rather than enable, personal and relational freedom; but his oeuvre is also full of equally disastrous attempts to move beyond that all-too-familiar place where relations conventionally stop. Daisy Miller, one might say, pays with her life for a relation that refuses to stop where it is supposed to. And the rich imagination of relations practiced by the unnamed telegraphist of In the Cage can only find material expression, as many readers have lamented, in a new kind of cage—her marriage to Mr. Mudge. We might think, too, of The Golden Bowl’s Charlotte Stant, who pursues what is surely one of the most passionate relationships in all of James, but is ultimately “removed, transported, doomed” for her attempt to realize an alternative relation not properly charted on what James calls the “map of the social relations as such” (Golden 483, 517). Near the end of the novel, Maggie Verver thinks that Charlotte’s marriage to Adam

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“would not have been wrongly figured if he had been thought of as holding in one of his pocketed hands the end of a long silken halter looped around her beautiful neck. He didn’t twitch it, yet it was there; he didn’t drag it, but she came” (493). For James, real personal relations—as opposed to imaginative ones—are almost invariably controlled by those—the Madame Merles, the Dr. Slopers, the Mrs. Newsomes, the Kate Croys—who are most willing to manipulate and brutalize others, and to see them only in terms of their utility to closed, coercive, over-determined relational plots. James’s secretary, Theodora Bosanquet, once described her employer’s vision of human relations with an eloquent if appalling precision: “when he walked out of the refuge of his study into the world and looked about him, [James] saw a place of torment, where creatures of prey perpetually thrust their claws into the quivering flesh of the doomed defenseless children of light. . . . He realized how constantly the tenderness of growing life is at the mercy of personal tyranny and he hated the tyranny of persons over each other” (275–76). Readers of James are thus not unjustified in worrying about the futures of Mrs. Mudge and Mrs. Ransom, or in suspecting that the rich potentiality Strether discerns in the young Mamie Pocock will not find unlimited expression in her foredoomed union with that hot-shot young advertising executive, Chad Newsome; nor are they wrong in mourning the foreclosure of other relational possibilities—romantic and otherwise—that the existing “map of the social relations” demands. One thinks here, too, of course, of those potential same-sex relations—Rowland Mallet and Roderick Hudson (Roderick Hudson); Olive Chancellor and Verena (The Bostonians); Hyacinth Robinson and Paul Muniment (The Princess Casimassima); Miles and the boys he “liked” at school (The Turn of the Screw [86–87]); Strether and Chad Newsome (The Ambassadors)—that are not simply uncharted, but unchartable, by that map: relations foreshortened and foreclosed not only by decisively end-stopped social, cultural, and legal prohibitions, but also by the places our imaginations, our aesthetic forms, and our language itself would seem to come to an end. As I have suggested in my discussion of The Turn of the Screw, however, the Jamesian text, by tracing “the continuous disappearing and reappearing of relations and forms” (FrB 110), nonetheless works to make visible alternative desires and relations not locatable on our existing maps. In Intimacies—a coauthored dialogue which, in instancing Bersani’s penchant for collaboration (here with Adam Phillips; most frequently with Ulysse Dutoit), formally enacts a version of the alternative selfhood and relationality that constitute its subjects—Bersani begins his attempt to work out “a new story about intimacy, a story that prefers the possibilities of the future to the determinations of the past,” with—once again—Henry James (I viii). Intimacies builds on Bersani’s extraordinary queer theory work of the past fifteen years, beginning with Homos (1995), where he

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elaborates the risk of creating a model of gay identity and relationality—through an overemphasis on gay marriage rights, for example—that might, “by its very coherence, only repeat[] the restrictive and immobilizing analyses it set[s] out to resist.” To stabilize relationships by assigning them their proper place in a homoheterosexual dyad, Bersani notes following Foucault, is inherently “a disciplinary project,” dependent on “a successful immobilizing” of the human relations it surveys, and on an imprisonment of the body within a rigidly gendered sexuality. The result is that sexuality comes to provide “the principle categories for a strategic transformation of behavior into manipulatable characterological types,” producing a “map of the social relations” (James’s phrase from The Golden Bowl [517]) with all routes charted and policed long before the territory can even be surveyed, let alone occupied (H 3–4). Bersani would mostly agree that making gay identities and gay relations visible is a move to be welcomed. But as he also remarks, “the social project inherent in the nineteenth-century invention of ‘the homosexual’ can now perhaps be realized,” insofar as “visibility is a precondition of surveillance [and] disciplinary intervention,” and of classificatory practices that threaten to reduce the heterogeneity of relational and erotic behavior (H 11). Bersani’s response to this predicament, in Homos and in a series of interrelated essays from the past fifteen years, including his reading of “The Beast in the Jungle” in Intimacies, is a sustained meditation on the possibilities for new modes of connectedness, new ways of coming together, and on what he calls “the most politically disruptive aspect of the homo-ness” in gay desire and relations—a “redefinition of sociality so radical that it may appear to require a provisional withdrawal from relationality itself” (H 7). “Few things,” Bersani remarks in an essay entitled “Sociability and Cruising” (2002), “are more difficult than . . . to prevent our connection to others from degenerating into a ‘relationship’ ” (IRG 57). Should it surprise us that Henry James has a role to play in Bersani’s current rethinking of relationality and sociability? Bersani’s project—“one,” he asserts, “in which a deliberate avoidance of relationships might be crucial in initiating, or at least clearing the ground for, a new relationality” (IRG 59)— seems to me strikingly resonant in connection with the work of a novelist whose characters are famously, and, for many readers, frustratingly, given to renouncing the very relationships (think Fleda Vetch and Owen in The Spoils of Poynton, Maisie and Sir Claude, Strether and Maria Gostrey) they appear to desire, and whose texts often leave us (conclude would be too strong a word) with odd couples (Maisie and her caretaker Mrs. Wix, The Awkward Age’s Nanda and her elderly friend Mr. Longdon, even Ralph Touchett and Isabel in Portrait of a Lady) as unmappable and unreadable as the selves that enter into them. Bersani’s attempt to radically rethink relations and relationality resonates as well with an emerging queer ethics, stimulated especially by Foucault’s late work, that discerns in gayness an opportunity, even an imperative, not only to

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think beyond the conventional plots and demands of heterosexual coupling, but also to redraw our maps and mappings of relations at large. In a 1981 interview with the French magazine Gai Pied cited by Bersani in “Sociability and Cruising,” and subsequently published under the title “Friendship as a Way of Life,” Foucault, echoing and developing one of the central concepts in the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality, speaks of “a homosexual ascesis that would make us work on ourselves and invent—I do not say discover—a manner of being that is still improbable” (137). Taking ascesis “not in the sense of a morality of renunciation but as an exercise of the self on the self”—“a way of life”—“by which one attempts to develop and transform oneself” (“Ethics” 282), Foucault, in terms that echo Bersani’s own resistances to depth psychology, urges us “to distrust” what he calls this tendency to relate the question of homosexuality to the problem of “Who am I?” and “What is the secret of my desire?” Perhaps it would be better to ask oneself, “What relations, through homosexuality, can be established, invented, multiplied, and modulated.” The problem is not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex, but, rather, to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships. And, no doubt, that’s the real reason homosexuality is not a form of desire but something desirable. . . . The development toward which the problem of homosexuality tends is the one of friendship. (“Friendship” 135–36) Thus, viewing homosexuality as “a historic occasion to reopen affective and relational virtualities” and to explore the possibilities for “the formation of new alliances and the tying together of unforseen lines of force,” Foucault proposes a new relational model in which the participants “have to invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: that is to say, the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure” (138, 136). Such a “way of life,” Foucault asserts, “can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized” (138). We thus need to move beyond “the form of [the] couple,” just as we need to “escape and help others to escape the . . . readymade formulas” through which we recognize and legitimize our relations, sexual and otherwise (136–37). “Might there be,” as Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit write in their recent Forms of Being, “another type of couple?” Is it possible to imagine “a different sort of intimacy” (FoB 53)? In Intimacies, Bersani returns to what might be called the primal scene of queer James, and of queer theory itself, in “The Beast in the Jungle,” a story that he reads not as a conventional, moralized tale of missed passion, or even, in Eve Sedgwick’s terms, as parable of the self-ignorance of the closet, but as James’s

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attempt, admittedly only partially successful, to imagine just such a different form of intimacy, a “new way of being present to another person” that would put “relationship”—with all its appropriative identifications and (mis)recognitions, its culturally sanctioned narratives and concomitant exclusions—in abeyance or “suspense.” “What would it be like,” in a relation, “to actively expect nothing to take place?” (I 11). “An attempt to formulate alternatives to the violent games of selfhood” (I 122), and to the often destructive relational forms and modes those all-too-privileged games underwrite, Intimacies returns to James in asking how our lives would, in Phillips’s words, “be better if human relations were something other than the collusion of ego-identities, if the shared project was not the consolidation of selfhood, but its dissolution” (I 117). James’s writing, it seems to me, and not only in “The Beast in the Jungle,” has much to offer for the Bersanian project of seeking “a new vocabulary, new ways of putting what can go on between people that do not presume lethal antagonism” (I 103). Take, for example, a novel—What Maisie Knew— about which Bersani has had nothing whatsoever to say over the course of his long Jamesian engagement. As its title suggests, What Maisie Knew is in one sense a novel of education, a study of the processes in and through which a child is interpellated into the symbolic forms, linguistic and social, that structure the adult world, and which she variously adapts to or resists. But Maisie’s is also, and importantly, an education in the structures and languages and forms of human relations, an education that begins quite early on when she realizes that her bitterly divorced parents “wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other” (36)—want her, that is, as a “boundless receptacle” into which to pour their mutual, venomous hatred of each other, as a “little feathered shuttlecock they could fiercely keep flying between them.” Once Maisie, not incidentally the novel’s center of consciousness, begins to understand the uses to which she is being put, she “had a new feeling, the feeling of danger; on which a new remedy rose to meet it, the idea of an inner self or, in other words, concealment” (42). But if Maisie here learns what it means to have an “inner self,” she has also registered something fundamental about the nature of adult relations—that they are always about someone or something else (“not for any good they could do her”), always a form of misrecognition that we need, as Bersani writes, “in order to love ourselves, to have the illusorily objectified self-confirmation of a mirror” (IRG 105). In psychoanalytic terms, relationship is always a mistaken reaction to a loss or lack, an identificatory appropriation of the other, rather than a confirmation of “a community of being.” “[G]rounded in antagonism and misapprehension,” relationality becomes, as Bersani puts it, “a drama of property relations” in which “the projective, introjective, and identificatory techniques” foregrounded by Freud are really an expression of “the subject’s paranoid suspicion that the other is

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deliberately withholding the subject’s being,” ultimately a suppression of the other (IRG 110, 108, 106). Maisie learns this lesson over and over again, as the adults with whom she is put in relation by successive waves of marriage and divorce—she is, in fact, a minor but significant functionary in what her father calls “the empire of the matrimonial tie” (67)—relentlessly use her not only to manipulate their partners, present, future, and ex-, but also to affirm their fragile sense of their own power, prestige, beauty, goodness, or self-esteem, and to suture their wounds and fill their lacks, assuage their unquenchable need to be loved and affirmed. These relational modalities are especially charged, both intensified and blocked, in the case of the adult’s relation to the child. As Kevin Ohi has argued in “Narrating the Child’s Queerness in What Maisie Knew,” the queer child—and for Ohi, all children are queer, not just in the sense of other, dissident sexualites that might be named, but of a resistance to containment in such legible identity categories—poses a threat to the fantasmatic serenity of adult self-understanding. “At stake,” writes Ohi, “is the possibility of recognition itself; children are queer because they thwart such comforting selfrecognitions” (82). Try as she might, in other words, Maisie can never really give these adults what they want and demand, for her relations with them, mirroring and magnifying their relations with each other, amount to a kind of institutionalized, “normalized” dysfunctionality. Moreover, because she is a child, Maisie’s way of connecting to all of the adults with whom she is put in rapidly revolving relation by successive, deforming and reforming waves of marriage and divorce—she calls it “making love” (225), though she can’t yet know what “making love” is—is necessarily marked by an experimental openness as to just what “making love,” adult marital or erotic or even nonerotic relations, might or could actually mean. Maisie wants something from her relations but isn’t sure what that something is, leaving her, paradoxically, wellpositioned to learn about other possibilities, to imagine, for example, another sort of relation with her stepfather Sir Claude. As I have already mentioned, What Maisie Knew ends with the odd couple of Maisie and Mrs. Wix. And Mrs. Wix, it is worth noting, if she begins by projecting her own past losses onto the other—she wants Maisie to serve as a substitute for her own lost child, “the little dead Clara Matilda, . . . knocked down and crushed by the cruellest of hansoms” (49)—also, and importantly, comes to separate the loved other or friend from such appropriative misapprehensions. By the end of her narrative, Maisie has in fact come to recognize in Mrs. Wix, with her “eternal straighteners” (Maisie’s suggestive term for Mrs. Wix’s spectacles), what she calls “a certain greatness”—a greatness that inheres in “the quality of her motive” (210–11). And I think it is crucial that we resist the impulse to read this odd couple only as a retreat following defeat, as a disastrous renunciation, what’s merely left after what Maisie herself describes as the loss of “everything” (260).

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For we should also remember that Maisie chooses Mrs. Wix, or, more precisely, makes Sir Claude—who finally cannot do without the self-affirming attentions of his numerous lady friends—choose, in the sense that she asks Sir Claude to join her in making a friendship apart from the endless circuits of appropriative desire that pervade and define the novel’s social, affective, even its parental relationships. Maisie’s final turn to Mrs. Wix might thus be seen as a refusal of the very terms that constitute relations in this world, a refusal to play the relational game by its existing rules, perhaps even as a strategic withdrawal in Bersani’s sense—one in which a deliberate avoidance of relationships “might be crucial in initiating, or at least clearing the ground for, a new relationality” (IRG 59)—a first step toward defining “new alliances” and “unforseen lines of force” (Foucault, “Friendship” 136). Or to put it another way, Maisie, it may be, is simply holding out for something new, for a relation, to quote Bersani once more, in which the goal “is the loving subject’s communication with himself through the other—not the suppression of the other through such psychoanalytic strategies as projection and identification, but rather the bringing to term the other’s pregnancy of soul” (IRG 117). What Maisie Knew thus exposes the shortcomings of the “existing map of social relations” and imagines—or at least tries to imagine—the possibilities for redrawing it to include a greater range of relational trajectories and tangents previously uncharted. It also, I think, moves toward a more fundamental critique of the structure of relationality itself in something like Bersani’s sense, a critique, I would argue, that is reiterated in the novel—The Ambassadors— Bersani perhaps too easily dismissed as a conventional narrative of education, one that in the ultimate closing of “the distance between the author and his main character” he sees as retreating from “the possible ambiguities” and relational proliferation it had previously entertained. Unlike Maisie, Lambert Strether knows what “making love is”: he’s had a wife, has fathered a child, and is currently “booked,” as James puts it, not only, like so many ambassadors before him, to secure the marriage of the son and heir Chad Newsome to Mamie Pocock, but also to himself marry Chad’s mother, Mrs. Newsome. After parting from Chad and his lover Madame de Vionnet at the Cheval Blanc, where he witnesses “the deep, deep truth of the intimacy revealed,” Strether acknowledges that “intimacy, at such a point, was like that,” before going on to ask himself “what in the world else would one have wanted it to be like?” But while Strether is at least momentarily embarrassed by “the way he had dressed the possibility in vagueness, as a little girl might have dressed her doll” (313), I want to insist that his question to himself is anything but rhetorical, that it in fact exemplifies his ongoing engagement with the question of “what in the world else” one might want intimacy to be like. From the opening pages of The Ambassadors, where we’re told that Strether is “burdened . . . with the oddity of a double consciousness”—“There was detachment in his zeal and curiosity

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in his indifference” (18)—to its putative “conclusion,” in which he refuses on principle to commit to commitment and articulates his credo of not getting anything for himself out of the whole affair, Strether practices a rather precise and almost systematic version of the relational “virtuality” Bersani discerns in “The Beast in the Jungle”: the experiment of asking “what would it be like,” in a relation, “to actively expect nothing to take place” (I 11) in order to discover what might be possible. Strether’s European sojourn constitutes a long “playing for time” or “deferral” that religiously resists the foreclosure of relational options, both for himself and others. He is, one might say, a frontline battler against those authorized stories of committed purpose and power that so tyrannize our erotic and nonerotic relations. Noncommittally committed to keeping open his relations with the others he encounters—Maria Gostrey and Madame de Vionnet; Little Bilham and Mamie Pocock; Chad and even Waymarsh—and equally determined not to “limit the imagination of desire” between and among those others, Strether works ceaselessly to free the previously excluded relational possibilities of his and their lives. Strether’s relations are marked by what the author and journalist Max O’Rell, writing in 1884, calls “attention without intention” (2)—O’Rell’s wonderfully concise definition of flirtation, and a formula that illuminates Strether’s ability to connect with others in ways that move beyond the fatal drama of property relations described by Bersani, to undertake relations that carry no demand for the other to suture his wounds or fill his lacks or assuage his unquenchable thirst to be loved and affirmed. He will indeed get nothing out of the affair for himself—nothing, that is, except a rich experience of nonpossessive relational openness and multiplicity, and a profoundly enhanced and expanded sense of what in the world one might want intimacy to look like. Yet if Strether returns to America with, as Bersani suggests, “certain illusions” chastened and corrected, to what he calls, regarding his own intimate relationships, “a great difference,” he also, as he tells Maria Gostrey, will “see what I can make of it”—an “it” I am tempted to read through Bersani’s gloss of Freud’s Das Es, as “the reservoir of possibility, of all that might be but is not” (I 25). Intimacies, as Omri Moses remarks, reveals once again how Bersani’s work can teach us “how to recognize and value James’s effort to imagine a futurity released from the patterns and precedents of long ago” (273). Yet it simultaneously situates James, as Bersani’s ongoing Jamesian project has from the first, in unexpectedly odd company—gay barebacking subcultures, for example—and in a striking account of modernism, this time exemplified by Turner’s “nearly monochromatic late seascapes, the almost imperceptible variations within the dark coloring of the walls in the Rothko Chapel, the willed thinness of Beckett’s last fictions . . . , the nearly subjectless banality of Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, . . . the erasure of abstraction itself in Mallarmé’s obsessively present page blanche, and of course the at times staggering

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thinness of meaning in James’s late novels”—an art in which “represented happening . . . , however meticulously detailed, is inherently unspecifiable happening.” Such emphasis on aesthetic or “verbal play with the unspecifiable It of pure potentiality,” analogous to the “virtual being” of the relation explored in the analytic exchange (I 25–26), returns us in some sense to the determinedly unredemptive, “resolutely superficial” formalism of Bersani’s early work on James, even as Bersani’s still-evolving James continues to remind us, as it did some fifty years ago, that modern art, including the art of Henry James, is both more radical and less coherent—more radical because less coherent, less masterful, or even less readable—than our legitimizing accounts of it have tended to acknowledge. In his 1909 New York Edition preface to The Wings of the Dove, by any measure one of his most experimental fictions and the subject, in 1960, of Bersani’s first published critical engagement with his work, James repeatedly remarks on the large array of compositional faults and structural failures his rereading of the novel brings to light. Describing The Wings of the Dove as “a tangled web” that “bristles with ‘dodges’ ” of a sort that the critic is “committed to recognize and denounce,” James laments, with a “scarce more than halfdissimulated despair,” the novel’s “makeshift middle” and “false and deformed” latter half (Art 302), as well as a whole series of “lapsed importances” in its characterizations—“the absent values, the palpable voids, the missing links, the mocking shadows” (Art 297–98)—that measure his failure to realize his subject’s full potential. Yet the lesson James draws from revisiting Wings—that “one’s plan, alas, is one thing and one’s result another” (Art 296)—carries with it as its crucial corollary a recognition of “the degree to which the artist’s energy fairly depends on his fallibility” (Art 297): “we are never so curious about successes,” James would write elsewhere, “as about interesting failures” (“Honoré” 97). James’s recognition of the potentialities in and of failure resonates suggestively with Bersani’s career-long interest in “the energies released by failure,” “the energizing effect of failures in language, an energy that prevents a voice from entering, and being locked into, the presumed history of a presumed culture” (“Broken” 417, 414). And it may be that the presence in James of something analogous to the “ethic of failure” (IRG 188) he discerns in a writer like Beckett can help explain Bersani’s ambivalent, on-and-off-again-attraction— See describes is as a fifty-year-long critical infidelity (195)14—to this putative “Master,” as well as the odd but persistent importance of James in Bersani’s account of modernism. For Bersani, James’s writing is most interesting and valuable at those moments when he joins company with artists—Beckett, Rothko, Resnais—who “were failing with respect to certain traditions and expectations connected to the medium in which they were working,” and who in so failing “inhibit[] a kind of appropriation of the work which we tend, as a result of a great deal of quite effective cultural training, to take for granted” (IRG 188).

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To be sure, James fails most notably in Bersani’s terms by not, as it were, failing enough, fails precisely insofar as his effort to imagine a futurity released from existing patterns and precedents inevitably succumbs to the legitimations that conventionally define “success,” to the “coercive power” of masterful forms, to the lure of coherence, the “yearning” for “settled interpretations” (DSM 59). “Bersani’s James,” as Robert Caserio remarks, “always doesn’t go far enough” (205). But the critic’s “exasperation” at the novelist’s “never having failed enough” also adumbrates his eminently Jamesian recognition that his own “career in writing” has depended on a corresponding fallibility: “If . . . there has been” such a thing as “a career in writing,” Bersani avers, “it has perhaps been because, somehow, I have not succeeded in failing, or I have at least (or at most) insufficiently failed” (“Broken” 414). The productivity of James in and for that career, not to mention that career’s indispensable contributions to our understanding of Henry James, might thus encourage us to read “Bersani and James” as constituting one of those “families of singularity that connect us to all the forms that have, as it were, always anticipated our coming, our presence” (IRG 146)—as a “famil[y] of form” (IRG 147) that still has a part to play in Bersani’s always uncompleted effort to re-imagine the forms and futures of subjects and relations, of art and aesthetic response.

Notes 1. “Re-perusal, Registered” is Bersani’s afterword to the special Bersani issue of The Henry James Review (2011), where an earlier version of parts of the present essay appeared. 2. In November of 1875, James arrived in Paris with the apparent intention of making it his permanent home, an intention abandoned a year later when he moved to London. Introduced by Ivan Turgenev, James during his Paris year met and socialized with important novelists including Flaubert, Zola, Goncourt, Maupassant, and Daudet. In his recent Henry James Goes to Paris, Peter Brooks argues persuasively that James’s encounters with the French realists had a lasting influence on his own writing, nowhere more so than in the late novels—The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl—of his so-called “major phase.” 3. As I have argued elsewhere, James in fact consistently eschewed the languages of crisis, decadence and/or nostalgia—narratives, on the one hand, of collapse and exhaustion, hysterical visions of political and sexual anarchy, with their attendant myths of some lost golden age of unity, or, alternatively, apocalyptic anticipations of some new, more “authentic” totalizing order—that so often marked his contemporaries’ responses to the disruptions and disjunctions of modernity (215). 4. “The Jamesian Lie” was revised for inclusion as Chapter 5 of A Future for Astyanax (1976). 5. In “The Jamesian Lie,” Bersani describes James’s thinning-out process as “the absorption of character into language” (FA 146).

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6. Bersani borrows the term “mobile syntheses” from Mallarmé, who uses it to describe “those constantly shifting positions of groups which constitute the ‘first subject,’ and the meaning, of dance” (DSM 94n16). 7. The other is The Sacred Fount, a text often read as James’s parody of his own center of consciousness technique. By way of contrast, James employs a first-person narrator in as many as fifty of his short stories. 8. Bersani notes the irony by which this in fact “intensely political novelist”— political in the sense that he is, like Foucault, more interested “in the types of discourse produced by the exercise of power” than in “power as the presumed possession of those who govern”—“has been decided by ‘politically-conscious’ Anglo-American critics” to be a “a nonpolitical novelist” (“Subject” 10). 9. In his reading of The Golden Bowl in The Freudian Body, Bersani remarks that the novel might be understood as organized around the problem: “What is narrative to make of an unmappable self?” (FrB 83). 10. See especially the readings of The Turn of the Screw by Hanson; Ohi, Innocence; and Savoy. 11. Millicent Bell, for example, advances the possibility that the children have been “sexually initiated by Miss Jessel and Quint” (226). John Clair proposes that the children are the illegitimate offspring of the uncle (the children’s absent guardian) and Miss Jessel; John Carlos Rowe suggests that they might be the illegitimate children of the uncle’s younger brother and Miss Jessel (134). Richard Ellmann argues that Miles is expelled from school because of his involvement in homosexual practices (6–7). For an overview of the various kinds of sexual corruption Victorian readers would probably have sensed in James’s tale, see Schrero. 12. A revised version of “Against Ulysses” appeared in 1990 as Chapter 7 of The Culture of Redemption. 13. At the end of The Portrait of a Lady, Pines argues, Isabel and Pansy are “ ‘like two sisters,’ both trapped by marriage—the one because she has elected to remain true to her ‘free’ choice, and the other because the ability to choose eluded her. In either case, the marriage plot offers the only way out” (32). 14. “Leo Bersani has been cheating on Henry James for nearly fifty years” (See 195).

Works Cited Bell, Millicent. Meaning in Henry James. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. Print. Bersani, Leo. “Against Ulysses.” Raritan 8.2 (1988): 1–32. Print. ———. “Broken Connections.” PMLA 125.2 (2010): 414–17. Print. ———. “The Jamesian Lie.” Partisan Review 36 (1969): 53–79. Print. ———. “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of the Dove.’ ” Modern Fiction Studies 6 (1960): 131–44. Print. ———. “The Other Freud.” Humanities in Society 1 (1978): 35–49. Print. ———. “Re-perusal, Registered.” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 274–80. Print. ———. “The Subject of Power.” Rev. of Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir and La Volonté de savoir. diacritics 7.3 (Fall 1977): 2–21. Print. Bosanquet, Theodora. Henry James at Work. London: Hogarth, 1924. Print.

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Brooks, Peter. Henry James Goes to Paris. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007. Print. Bruhm Steven, and Natasha Hurley, eds. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2004. Print. Caserio, Robert L. “Leo Bersani, Terrence Malick’s Witt, and Henry James: A Future Past for Astyanx?” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 204–10. Print. Clair, John. The Ironic Dimension in the Fiction of Henry James. Pittsburg, PA: Duquesne UP, 1965. Print. Edel, Leon. Henry James. 5 vols. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1953–72. Print. Ellmann, Richard. “A Late Victorian Love Affair.” New York Review of Books 4 Aug. 1977: 6–7. Print. Foucault, Michel. Essential Works, Vol. 1: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Ed. Paul Rabinow. Trans. Robert Hurley and others. New York: New P, 1997. Print. ———. “The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom.” 1984. Trans. P. Aranov and D. McGrawth. Essential 280–301. ———. “Friendship as a Way of Life.” 1981. Trans. John Johnston. Essential 135–40. Griffin, Susan. “Leo Bersani and Henry James.” Introduction. Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 193–94. Print. Hanson, Ellis. “Screwing with Children in Henry James.” GLQ 9 (2003): 367–91. Print. Hayes, Kevin J., ed. Henry James: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. James, Henry. The Ambassadors. 1903. Ed. S. P. Rosenbaum. New York: Norton, 1994. Print. ———. The American. 1877. Ed. William Spengemann. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1986. Print. ———. The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces. New York: Scribner’s, 1934. Print. ———. The Awkward Age. 1899. Ed. Ronald Blythe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1987. Print. ———. “The Beast in the Jungle.” 1903. Selected 426–61. ———. The Bostonians. 1886. London: Penguin, 1986. Print. ———. “Daisy Miller.” 1877. Selected 26–74. ———. The Golden Bowl. 1904. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974. Print. ———. “Honoré de Balzac, 1902.” Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, The Prefaces to the New York Edition. New York: Library of America, 1984. 90–115. Print. ———. In the Cage. 1898. Selected 314–84. ———. The Portrait of a Lady. 1881. Ed. Leon Edel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin/Riverside, 1963. Print. ———. The Princess Casamassima. 1886. Ed. Derek Brewer. London: Penguin, 1987. Print. ———. Roderick Hudson. 1875. Ed. Geoffrey Moore. London: Penguin, 1986. Print. ———. The Sacred Fount. 1901. New York: Grove Press, 1979. Print. ———. Selected Tales. Ed. John Lyon. London: Penguin, 2001. Print. ———. The Spoils of Poynton. 1897. Ed. David Lodge. London: Penguin, 1987. Print. ———. The Turn of the Screw. 1898. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1966. Print. ———. Washington Square. 1880. New York: New American Library, 1964. Print.

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———. What Maisie Knew. 1897. London: Penguin, 1985. Print. ———. The Wings of the Dove. 1902. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1965. Print. Jameson, Frederic. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981. Print. Jöttkandt, Sigi. “Splitting the Difference: Aesthetic Relations in Henry James and Leo Bersani.” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 235–41. Print. Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. Print. Martin, Robert K. “Failed Heterosexuality in The Portrait of a Lady.” Henry James and Homo-Erotic Desire. Ed. John R. Bradley. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 87–92. Print. McWhirter, David. “What’s Awkward about The Awkward Age?” Centuries’ Ends, Narrative Means. Ed. Robert Newman. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996. 212–21. Print. Meisel, Perry. The Myth of the Modern: A Study of British Literature and Criticism after 1850. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1988. Print. Moses, Omri. “Henry James’s Virtual Beast.” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 266–73. Print. Ohi, Kevin. Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James and Nabokov. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print. ———. “Narrating the Child’s Queerness in What Maisie Knew.” Bruhm and Hurley 81–106. O’Rell, Max (Léon Paul Blouet). John Bull’s Womankind. London: Field and Tuer, 1884. Print. Pines, Davida. The Marriage Paradox: Modernist Novels and the Cultural Imperative to Marry. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2006. Print. Posnock, Ross. The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Print. Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself as Another. Trans. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Print. Rowe, John Carlos. Theoretical Dimensions of Henry James. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1984. Savoy, Eric. “Theory a tergo in The Turn of the Screw.” Bruhm and Hurley 245–76. Schrero, Elliot M. “Exposure in The Turn of the Screw.” Modern Philology 78 (1981): 261–74. Print. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic.” Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazell. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. 148–86. Print. See, Sam. “Bersani in Love.” Henry James Review 32.3 (2011): 195–203. Print. Seltzer, Mark. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984. Print. Wilson, Edmund. “The Ambiguity of Henry James.” A Casebook on Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw.’ Ed. Gerald Willen. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1969. 115–53. Print.

11

Extreme Style Firbank, Faulkner, and Perspectives on Modern Traditions

KEVIN OHI

She was the apotheosis of flesh triumphant. —Ronald Firbank, Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli Among those attached to the Chedorlahomor expedition was a young— if thirty-five be young—eccentric Englishman from Wales, the Hon. “Eddy” Monteith, a son of Lord Intriguer. Attached first to one thing and then another, without ever being attached to any, his life had been a gentle series of attachments all along. —Ronald Firbank, The Flower Beneath the Foot**

In “Hippolytus Veiled,” a rewriting of Euripides in which the beautiful boy martyred to a Queen’s illicit passion comes in his martyrdom to represent all superseded literary, cultural, and religious traditions, Walter Pater gestures toward an appealingly reticulated model of art history: “Given any development at all in this manner there must have been phases of art, which, if immature, were also veritable expressions of power to come, intermediate discoveries of beauty, such as are by no means a mere anticipation, and of service only as explaining historically larger subsequent achievements, but of a permanent attractiveness in themselves, being often, indeed, the true maturity of certain amiable artistic qualities” (325).1 By making plural history’s lines of development, Pater makes it difficult to think of cultural history in developmental

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terms at all. If one ought to be suspicious of canons of cultural achievement, it is perhaps less because of the self-interestedness secreted away in the ostensibly neutral terms of “greatness,” terms we have been taught to suspect reinforce values that serve the interests of the powerful, than because unitary tradition and history are illusions generated by a limited perspective. Art develops no more than individual people do; we perceive our life as a development because we have only one, and every moment in art and life is both intermediary and endpoint. To view art as the expression of an identity—of whatever ilk—may be more troubling than the specific ilk it is seen to express.2 However that may be, these “phases of art”—which Pater, notably, asserts have “a permanent attractiveness in themselves,” even as he cannot but subordinate them to later, more “mature,” less “intermediate” developments—inevitably make me think of Ronald Firbank, a great, unjustly neglected writer singularly difficult to assimilate to our narratives of modern tradition. There are no doubt many reasons for that. Firbank’s writing presents an extreme form of aestheticism or decadence—movements many critics are reluctant to view in relation to later developments in modern literature. The trope of decadence makes it difficult to imagine what comes after it (other than death), and the decadents themselves privileged the sterility of their work—as an end in itself, or a dead end. Their meditations on the ends of art, however, also imagined new ways of conceiving of literary tradition, and that these reimaginings have not, for the most part, registered, suggests that the consigning of Firbank to the status of camp curiosity may owe less to the (far from insignificant) trivializing of interests perceived to be gay than to the shaping of our understandings of tradition by metaphors of reproduction—metaphors that, ultimately, seek to make the shape of art history conform to the shape of a human life. (Pater and Wilde appear, not coincidentally, as quintessentially “weak” poets at the beginning of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence. To conceive of tradition as other than reproductive, as even other than human, is also to perceive affiliations not structured by the Oedipal.)3 It may also involve the insistence that cultural tradition serve as a principle of continuity; Firbank (and the decadents, for that matter) is closer to Samuel Beckett in Leo Bersani’s account: “intertextuality in Beckett . . . is not a principle of cultural continuity . . . but the occasion for a kind of psychotic raving. Cultural memories exist in the minds of Beckett’s characters like fossils belonging to another age, like instruments no one knows how to use anymore” (CR 169).4 That Firbank’s writing is hilarious—and, for the initiated, deeply pleasurable—might be part of the reason that it has not generated sustained critical reflection—an effect, no doubt, too, of an extraordinarily difficult prose style that refuses (unlike, for instance, that of Joyce) to demand that a reader take its difficulty seriously.5 I would like to focus on a few related difficulties in Firbank’s writing, difficulties that center on the relation between narrative voice

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and character psychology.6 Attempting to offer an account of Firbank’s extreme style, I would like to suggest an unexpected form of affiliation or tradition by reading him alongside William Faulkner’s experiments with perspective in As I Lay Dying. Read in that context, Firbank’s prose displays continuities with important (if neglected) strands in various literary traditions—not just the manipulation of voice that could be said to constitute a humorous tradition running from (for example) Henry Fielding and Jane Austen to Thackeray to P. G. Wodehouse and E. F. Benson, but also the complexities of a more exalted, ostensibly psychological tradition running from George Eliot to Henry James to Woolf and Proust. The attempt here to trace the lines of tradition that might make visible some of the complexity and importance of Firbank’s experimental writing offers one context to think about Bersani’s reflections—extending from “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987) (IRG 3–30) to “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject” (2006) (IRG 139–53) to Caravaggio’s Secrets (1998), Homos (1995), Forms of Being (2004), and Intimacies (2008), among other texts—on nonpsychological, nondifferential modes of understanding relationality and being in the world, modes that “can both recognize and initiate correspondences between the subject and the world that are free of both an antagonistic dualism between human consciousness and the world it inhabits and the anthropomorphic appropriation of the world” (IRG 139).7 If, as Bersani notes, a negativity he values—“the negation of relationality as we now know it, and an attack on the cult of difference that supports the dominant mode of relations”—is often “more prominent in canonical authors than in culturally marginal art” insofar as the latter, by celebrating minority cultures, can unwittingly support “the differential barriers that the dominant culture is only too happy to see reinforced,” it also seems to be the case that the consigning of a literary corpus to the niche market expressing “minority cultures” can serve to contain the “negativity” (as Bersani puts it) of both the so-called minority work (making it expressive of an identity, and of no interest beyond that expression) and of the “larger” tradition from which it is exiled (IRG 34). If Firbank is a central figure for a certain gay tradition—and it perhaps remains to be seen whether, even sociologically speaking, the allure for a wider gay audience of such hyperliterate cultural forms will wane with a shift of homophobia away from a near-exclusive structuring by the closet (toward, for example, ideologies of gay normalcy, visibility, assimilation, and marriage)—it is perhaps in large part because he combines a depiction of characters for whom desire is an imperious, nearly exclusive reality with a decadent sense of imperviousness to the consequences of such imperious desires. In other terms, his style (and narrative voice) presents an unflappable surface seemingly impervious to the miseries of human existence in a fictional world roiled perpetually to the verge of chaos by unrepentant longings of the importunate flesh. (“Mrs. Chilleywater extended a painful smile of welcome which revealed her pointed

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teeth and pale-hued gums, repressing, simultaneously, an almost irresistible inclination to murder” [Flower 60].)8 In yet other terms, his characters seem driven by very earthly forms of monomania—lust and social ambition perhaps above all, but also hunger, greed, and even sleepiness9—and yet seem almost devoid of interiority or psychology. “Style” in the accounts of D. A. Miller and Roland Barthes10 offers one way to name these particular forms of equipoise—an aloofness or imperturbability (one consequence of which is that the moralizing of desire becomes unthinkable) and a beauty that “literally” drips blood:11 But only for the bridegroom had she eyes. Oblivious of what she did, she began to beat her hands until they streamed with blood, against the broken glass ends upon the wall: “Yousef, Yousef, Yousef. . . . ” (Flower 94) Gay readings of Firbank tend to offer catalogs of desires invoked or avowed with equanimity—desires unveiled as unceremoniously as the statues are routinely denuded of their fig leaves in his texts: gay and lesbian desire, fetishism, sadomasochism, intergenerational desire, and forms perhaps more difficult to classify.12 Among many, many others: the incestuous “esoteric antics” of father and son dogs (Concerning 291); a character who is said to have “thrown her engagement ring into a place of less dignity than convenience and refused to draw it out,” leading another character (a lover of sapphires) to wonder if “she should ask ‘la Inglese’ to recover it with the asparagus tongs” (315); the Hon. “Eddy” Monteith and his ecclesiastical, transsexual bathtime fantasies: “Lying amid the dissolving bath crystals while his man-servant deftly bathed him, he fell into a sort of coma, sweet as a religious trance. Beneath the rhythmical sponge, perfumed with Kiki, he was St. Sebastian, and as the water became cloudier, and the crystals evaporated amid the steam, he was Teresa . . . and he would have been, most likely, the Blessed Virgin herself but that the bath grew gradually cold” (38); a woman who on the Feast of the Circumcision “invariably caused to be laid before the high altar of the cathedral a peculiarly shaped loaf to the confusion of all who saw it” (322); and a Marchioness who is led to think (she concedes, more than she should) of her little grandson: “ ‘Imagine, Luiza . . . Fifteen, white and vivid rose, and ink-black hair . . .’ And the Marchioness cast a long, penciled eye toward the world-famous Pietà above her head. ‘Queen of Heaven, defend a weak woman from that!’ she besought” (306). The last instance is perhaps exemplary, not only in the equanimity with which the chaotic desire is avowed—in another novel (Valmouth): “And how is your young grandchild’s erot-o-mania, Mrs. Tooke? Does it increase? (158)—but in the anarchic way that it desublimates aesthetic apprehension and religious (above all, Catholic) observance.

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For W. H. Auden, Firbank’s is a world of “amateur sex”: “The improprieties in Firbank are those of children playing Doctor behind the rhododendron bushes. Serious love is out of the question, for it is inseparable from personal dedication, and the possibility of suffering, if it is unrequited or the beloved dies, is always there” (1005). In that view, Mademoiselle de Nazianzi at the end of The Flower Beneath the Foot (pounding her bleeding hands on the glass shards) or Cardinal Pirelli seemingly dying for his newly discovered love for the boy Chicklet are anomalies, or are characters who must be cast out of Firbank’s “earthly paradise” (Auden 1008). If such figures were simply anomalous, however, or if they merely served as scapegoats to give point to the unflappable sangfroid of the rest of the characters, I doubt that Firbank’s examination of desire would hold the kind of appeal that it does. What is liberating (in a context that forbids mention of nonnormative desires, or rather forbids the nonanguished mention of them) is perhaps the severing of desire from psychological content. One of the pleasures of reading Firbank is the (often, arch) references to nonnormative desires that are elliptical and transparent at the same time. The pleasure for a reader (even, or especially, one who experiences nonnormative desires) is more complicated than a discovery of an unconflicted avowal. If desires are typically rendered elliptically, that is not because there is any psychological prohibition on mentioning them. (When, in desperation that her “unsatisfied longings” might find relief, the Marchioness of Macarnudo motors out to watch the men bathe at Ponte Delgando, or is observed one morning after a ball, “standing on the main road to Cadiz in a cabochon tiara, watching the antics of some nude muleteers,” she seems to feel shame no more than anyone else feels repugnance or disapprobation—“Black as young Indians—she had described them later” [318–19]. Like Her Dreaminess the Queen or His Weariness the Prince in The Flower Beneath the Foot, the Marchioness seems to respond simply to the need to embody her name. For names in Firbank often constitute all there is of a character, which does not, however, mean that no one experiences desire.) Rather, the elliptical quality is a narrative and stylistic effect, in which, however, style is not antithetical to embodied desire (does not “sublimate” it, for example). If writings on Firbank (mine no less than anyone else’s) tend to gravitate toward the catalog of hilarious instances, the specific content of the catalogs (off-hand references to homosexuality, to nuns birching themselves, or to intergenerational incest, for example) is less important than the catalogs themselves, and the particularly fragmented narrative (on the level of plot and character) that is already itself a kind of catalog of hilarious instances insofar as the narrative is severed from psychological and realistic causality. Desire seems as if it were without consequence for individuals because its importunate presence has moved to the level of style. It is striking in this regard that many of the explicit avowals of desire seem to belong to the narrative voice. To stay for a moment with The Flower Beneath the Foot:

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And she was begging and persuading the Queen to rise as the King entered the room preceded by a shapely page (of sixteen) with cheeks fresher than milk. (4) Her voice reached the ears of the fresh-faced ensigns and the beardless subalterns in the Guard Room far beyond, and startled the pages in the distant dormitories, as they lay smoking on their beds. (13) The Countess decided on presenting the fallen senator with a pannier of well-grown, early pears, a small “heath” and the Erotic Poems, bound in half-calf with tasteful tooling, of a Schoolboy Poet, cherishable chiefly perhaps for the vignette frontispiece of the author. (64) “Erri, erri, get on with thy bouquet, oh Lazari Demitraki!” Bachir exclaimed in plaintive tones, addressing a blond boy with a skin of amber, who was “charming” an earwig with a reed of grass. (77) Such moments are far from uncommon in Firbank and do much to contribute to one’s sense of a world saturated with desire. They are rarely accounted for, and rarely developed, and pass by, like the “two youths on assback, seated close” who momentarily occupy the attention of Cardinal Pirelli (322). As in each instance here, they tend (more precisely) to waver between narrative comment and a voicing (made possible by free-indirect style) of a character’s desirous view. If Firbank’s often seems a fictional world from which serious consequences are banned—“Poor Lizzie has ceased articulating” is the phrase with which her Dreaminess the Queen rehearses her announcement of the death of the paddling, lavatory-designing Archduchess in The Flower Beneath the Foot, anticipating by many minutes, as it happens, the unhappy event (46)—the characteristics of that world follow from the effects of narrative voice (and are not, that is to say, qualities of an Edenic vision of a world of untrammeled desires and unanguished love). Thus, for example, Cardinal Pirelli and Mademoiselle de Nazianzi are exemplary instances for a reading of Firbank; if they feel anomalous to Auden, I think that is because, in them, one registers most fully the paradoxical status of character in Firbank. Pirelli and Nazianzi present perhaps the most fully developed narratives of characters coming to a realization about their desire, but they appear in texts that eschew any narrative development that would register the consequences of their realizations. I would insist they are not anomalous because this paradoxical effect in the detailing of desire corresponds to a fundamental aspect of Firbank’s radical fictional practice; they seem anomalous only if one takes the lack of vociferous realizations on the part of other characters to intimate a lack of felt desire,

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which then, on the basis of the psychological coherence it asserts or assumes, makes the intuited relative seriousness an attribute to be judged (more or less explicitly) in moral terms. Free indirect style makes visible a different way of understanding the relation between narrative and psychology—or rather suggests the possibility of a curiously externalized desire, a narrative elaboration of characters without psychological depth. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli presents a number of intersecting narratives: Pope Tertius II sends Monsignor Silex to southern Spain to observe the increasingly eccentric Cardinal (and Silex in turn hires “paternostering Phoebe Poco” [341] as his spy); the Duquesa DunEden uses her social influence to convince the Church to baptize her dog (“And thus being cleansed and purified, I do call thee ‘Crack’!” [290]), to admit, at least theoretically, a dog (as long as it is a bitch) to the College of Noble Damosels (“we would turn her out a creature of breeding. . . . An elegant tail-wave, a disciplined moral, and with a reverence moreover for house-mats and carpets” [317]); and to say a Mass for another, Clapsey (“ ‘Poor dearest: you’ll keep it quiet and black?’ ‘We say all but the Black’ ” [331]), thereby fueling both scandal and some minor social rivalries; and many other much more fragmentary narratives that are hinted at without being developed, from the world-weariness of the outdoorsman Pope to the sexual rivalries of the choirboys (Christobal, for example, “a youngster of fifteen, with soft, peach-textured cheeks and a tongue never far away,” invites the censure of Felix [“finely sensitive to his prerogative”]—“indeed, it was a matter of scandal already, how he was attempting to attract attention, in influential places, by the unnecessary undulation of his loins” [299]). The primary narrative, however, is Cardinal Pirelli’s discovery of his love for Chicklet: “Yet, Thou knowest,” the Primate says to God, “I adore the boy.” The text continues, “He paused a moment astonished by the revelation of his heart” (334). Even as the text then turns to slapstick—with the gradually denuded priest chasing the boy around the Church, while the Monsignor’s sneezy spy wishes he would “be brisk about it” so she can get back to bed (“Thus will egotism, upon occasion, eclipse morality outright” [338])—that revelation is curiously moving, not least because it comes as such a surprise to the Cardinal. One is, nevertheless, very far from the earnest soul-searching (and social protest) of John Francis Bloxham’s “The Priest and the Acolyte”; one is also very far from the causal narratives of sexology. In part, this is because the central narrative (as is nearly always the case in Firbank) is overwhelmed by the minor plots; in part, it is because “central narrative” overstates the degree to which the Cardinal’s epiphany is given narrative development. His desires prior to this point seem to be directed toward women, and we are given no etiological explanation for his discovery. There are many desirous gazes directed at young boys in the text, but the Cardinal does not seem to register any particular boy’s existence until he feels remorse for his overly severe punishing of

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Chicklet (he locks him alone in a deserted church at night because, during the service of “Departure” after the closing of the Basilica, the “little Ostensoirswinger” had missed all the responses as he “rushed about the cathedral after mice” [334]). The Cardinal’s epiphany seems to condense a desirous textual atmosphere more than any psychological etiology. As the newly enamored Pirelli chases Chicklet around the church (where, wearing only his “fabulous mitre” he will be discovered dead, “nude and elementary now as Adam himself” [341]), the narrator comments in passing: “Men (eternal hunters, novelty seekers, insatiable beings), men in their natural lives, pursue the concrete no less than the ideal—qualities not seldom found combined in fairy childhood” (340). Strikingly, this is not an explanation of the Cardinal’s specific desire, and not just because it could be a definition of desire in general. Describing “men,” it links the desire (for incarnation, it seems) not to a specific boy (though Chicklet, “to judge from his floral caprices, possessed a little brain of some ambition, not incapable of excess” [324] and “possessed the power to convey the unuttered” [327]) but to “fairy childhood” and to qualities “not seldom found combined there.” A quasi-psychological narrative is to some degree legible; intimated, as in the paean to fairy childhood, is a desire rooted in the Cardinal’s sense of mortality. Chicklet expresses the Prelate’s attachment to the pleasures of this world, and yet this explanation is given to us in evocations not of a desirable body or a particular desired person, but in observations that curiously float free of the Cardinal’s consciousness. Early in the text, such observations are often explicitly anchored in the Cardinal’s point of view: Ambling a few steps pensively side by side, they moved through the brilliant moonlight. It was the hour when the awakening fireflies are first seen like atoms of rosy flame floating from flower to flower. “Singular times, sure enough,” the Cardinal answered, pausing to enjoy the transparent beauty of the white dripping water of the flowing fountain. (293) “Everything she forgets, bless her,” he breathed, lifting his gaze towards the magnolia blossom cups that overtopped the tower, stained by the eternal treachery of the night to the azure of the Saint Virgin. Suspended in the miracle of the moonlight their elfin globes were at their zenith. (295) Later in the text, such moments seem to offer more distanced representations of the Cardinal’s thoughts—sometimes in narrative commentary and sometimes in free-indirect renderings of his thoughts:

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A sigh escaped him. Divided by tranquil vineyards and orange-gardens from the malice and vindictiveness of men it was difficult to experience emotions other than of forgiveness and love. (320) It was around the Moorish water-garden towards shut of day he liked most to wander, seeking like some Adept to interpret in the still deep pools the mirrored music of the sky. All, was it vanity? These pointing stars and spectral leaning towers, this mitre, this jeweled ring, these trembling hands, these sweet reflected colours, white of daffodil and golden rose. All, was it vanity? (324) Profoundly soft and effaced, it was a place full of strange suggestion. Intersecting avenues of pillared arches, upbearing waving banners, seemed to beckon towards the Infinite. (339) Such moments, if seemingly anchored in these instances in a character’s thoughts, are not uncommon in Firbank more generally, where they disrupt characterization more than they establish it. (On one level, “All, was it vanity” seems to gloss in the subjective terms of his own temporal predicament what it is to “interpret in the still deep pools the mirrored music of the sky”; on another, however, the repeated phrase not only mimics a voice but draws that voice toward an explicitly formal or rhetorical patterning. Likewise, that one suspects the music that follows is inspired by Prospero in The Tempest13 is one of many reasons to think that the causality empties the subject to whose motives it would seem to refer, even as the parallel forms of deixis pair his hands with his ring and mitre, and with the shifting spectrum of external stimuli—seen stars and spectral towers, flowers and the colors of flowers.) A quasi-psychological narrative is legible, I suggested, for the Prelate’s epiphany of desire; Chicklet’s beauty is evoked by a description that, tonally, calls to mind these other moments: “there was a spell of singing silence, while the dove-grey mystic lightning waxed and waned. Aroused as much by it as by the Primate’s hand, the boy started up with a scream of terror” (338). But this narrative of desire is only quasi-psychological. In the earlier instances, we encounter a description as if colored by the Prelate’s perception; the description of the world takes on affect and might be read to express a consciousness. Notably, here, if the description renders the Cardinal’s rapturous gaze, that rapture, disembodied, seems then to touch, or “arouse” the sleeping boy. Then, after we are told that “the panic appeared to be mutual”: “With the bound of a young faun the lad was enskied amid the urns and friezes” (338). The

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desirous gaze is expressed by the verb “enskied,” which evokes his power, as foreground, to constitute a background to frame his beauty. And the urns and friezes, in the scene that follows, seem to distract Cardinal and narrator alike. More important, perhaps, here as elsewhere the description of the eroticized boy seems to float free of him to a more generalized rapture of viewing. It is also noteworthy in this regard that the final instance of such narrative rapture occurs after the Cardinal’s death: “Through the triple windows of the chancel the sky was clear and blue—a blue like a blue of lupins. Above him stirred the wind-blown banners in the Nave” (342). Pointing to the fact that the sights he loves go on without him, the final words of the text also inflect the earlier moments of rapture, pulling them toward a world structured by the absence of the implied gazer. One of the more explicit earlier moments that prepares us for the Cardinal’s epiphany—like the others, a fragmentary glimpse that is not submitted to development—likewise seems to project the intuition outward onto the landscape: “ ‘A nice cheery time this is!’ he murmured, oppressed by the silent cypress-court. Among the blue, pointing shadows, a few frail oleanders in their blood-rose ruby invoked warm brief life and Earth’s desires” (323). Such moments make Pirelli’s epiphany feel like a pastiche—but also a profound reading—of Paterian aestheticism: the Primate’s pedophilic gaze is repeatedly distracted by the works of art in the church, and the “subject” constituted by the erotic and aesthetic gazes is at the same time fragmented by a narrative practice that enacts the vanishing-away that aesthetic perception would ostensibly forestall.14 Read purely subjectively, the text seems to present a world of desire without anguish and without consequences; that does not, however, seem to be the result of the particular psychologies involved. Desire, linked to an aestheticist structure of viewing, is separated from narratives that would give it an etiology, or consequences. It is a welcome relief that there is no hand-wringing over the fate of Chicklet; found asleep after the Cardinal, having felt remorse for causing his lonely sobs in the deserted church, returns for “poor little Don Wilful,” Chicklet, bounding playfully around, hardly seems scarred by those sobs or by the terror he felt at being awoken. And in the chase that follows, the text seems as distracted as the Cardinal, who, though the boy’s laugh arouses him “like the thong of a lash” (340), also stops to consider, in addition to the urns and friezes, the eminent persons buried in the cathedral, and paintings that his eyes encounter, the narrative pacing of The Arabian Nights. The depiction of desire in the text is thus linked to a more generalized experimentation with narrative voice. Some of the greatest pleasures in reading Firbank are the asides, which often take the form of exclamations. Thereby mimicking the form of speech, they are difficult to assign to any particular character—in part because they often mock the character they would seem to ventriloquize and in part because, if locally linked to particular characters (by theme or content), they float free of characters because they do not seem

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tonally differentiated by characters’ voices (they all sound simply like a Firbank narrator).15 (Exclamation is perhaps most marked in the narrative asides of The Artificial Princess.)16 Here, for instance, is what seems to be the first description of Chicklet (though, characteristically, narrative fragmentation makes this uncertain): “ ‘Say it with what?’ the cry came from an oncoming-looking child, with caressing liquid eyes, and a little tongue the color of raspberrycream—so bright. Friend of all sweets and dainties, he held San Antolin’s day chiefly notable for the Saint’s sweet biscuits, made of sugar and white-of-egg” (299). The italics—also not uncommon as a device in Firbank—at once mimic a voice and foreground the mimicry (foreground the textual mediation that makes a voice visible as a typeface). In so doing, they also link this narrative effect of ventriloquism to the free-floating desire invoked; preparing us, perhaps, for the Cardinal’s later epiphany, here the text gives us an exclamation that seems to belong to no one (and it is notable that the Cardinal is not present for the scene—there might be a development leading to the desire for Chicklet, but that development seems not to be the psychological provenance of a character). The desire is free-floating, and so is the voice; the text seems to ventriloquize . . . no one in particular. Similar in effect are parenthetical remarks that seem more clearly rooted in the representation of character: The leering aspect of a lady in costume of blonde Guadalmedina lace and a hat wreathed with clipped black cocks’ feathers arrested her. Illusion-proof, with a long and undismayed service in Love’s House (sorry brutes, all the same, though, these men, with their selfishness, fickleness and lies!) the Marchioness of Macarnudo with her mysterious “legend” (unscrupulous minxes, all the same, though, these women, with their pettiness, vanity and . . . !), was too temperamentally intriguing a type to be ignored. (318) The marriage ceremony was over. From the summits of the giralda, volley on volley, the vibrant bells proclaimed the consummation. “It was all so quick; I hope it’s valid?” Madame la Horra, the mother of the “Bride,” looked in to say. With a rose mole here and a strawberry mole there, men (those adorable monsters) accounted her entirely attractive. (330) It was a night like most. Uranus, Venus, Saturn showed overhead their wonted lights, while in the sun-weary cloisters, brightly blue-drenched by the moon, the oleanders in all their wonder—(how swiftly fleeting is terrestrial life)—were over, and the bougainvillæas reined instead. (335)

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In each case, the humor no doubt derives from the voicing, which, somewhere between character and narrator, hovers between quotation and distanced representation, ventriloquizing the characters (in the first instance, one character’s thoughts about another) while also commenting on them. When, two paragraphs later, the text describes the erotomaniacal behavior of the undismayed Marchioness (driving out to observe the nude muleteers), it is unclear whether we remain within the point of view of the President of the College of Noble Damoselles; just as conversation in Firbank is often presented without context, and without transition, the representation of thought often moves similarly between characters, and to what might be “neutral” narration. The censorious schoolmarm, slightly earlier in the text, presents yet another example of equivocal ventriloquism: The word “moral,” never long from the President’s lips, seemed, with her, to take on an intimate tinge, a sensitiveness of its own. She would invest the word at times with an organic significance, a mysterious dignity, that resembled an avowal made usually only in solemn confidence to a doctor or a priest. The severity of my moral. The prestige of my moral. The perfection of my moral. She has no dignity of moral. I fear a person of no positive moral. Nothing to injure the freshness of her moral. A difficulty of moral. The etiquette of my moral. The majesty of my moral, etc., etc.—as uttered by the President, became, psychologically interesting data. (314) Confronted with an (at least) redoubled ventriloquism—the text explicitly gives voice to the President (speaking in the first person), but also mimics a voice mimicking her with its “etc., etc.”17—the effects of voice are not unrelated to the satire here of the moral passion of the headmistress (who “in private life was the Dowager-Marchioness of Pennisflores” [314]). Parenthetical asides recur throughout Firbank’s writing, and often pose similar questions of voice. In other terms, free indirect style in Firbank often seems to give voice to characters and yet appears in indeterminate relations to the characters’ own voices—an effect perhaps related to another hilarious device in Firbank, his quotation of ellipses as direct speech, which at once seems to come as close as is imaginable to mimicking nonverbal gestures in prose and dislocates ostensibly direct speech from any verbal content.18 Such effects, like Firbank’s scare quotes and italics, are mannerisms belonging indifferently to the characters and to the style. One of the funniest instances of indeterminate voice occurs at the beginning of Cardinal Pirelli, where it is also made clear how wild the narrative voice in Firbank can be:

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Head archly bent, her fine arms divined through darkling laces, the Duquesa stood, clasping closely a week-old police-dog in the ripple of her gown. “Mother’s pet!” she cooed, as the imperious creature passed his tongue across the splendid uncertainty of her chin. Monsignor Silex’s large, livid face grew grim. What,—disquieting doubt,—if it were her Grace’s offspring after all? (289–90) There are reasons of content that the passage is funny—the investigating Monsignor’s ignorance of matters sexual, for example, or the intimation that the “stout, dumpish dame, of enormous persuasion” might literally have given birth to a dog, or the rendering (just following this) of the Inquisition’s excesses as the condemning to the stake of a missal thrush (“impudent baggage” that had suffered itself to be born “through the channel” of a lady’s nose)—but the humor is largely a matter of voice. “Disquieting doubt” (as in the sentence just after this one—“Praise heaven, he was ignorant enough regarding the schemes of nature . . .”) both ventriloquizes the Monsignor in his earnest confusion and makes spectacle of his thoughts no less than of his “large, livid face.” Yet again, the text gives voice to a character’s thoughts and comments on its giving-of-voice. The text then goes on to this rendering of (a dog’s) parental pride: “Ah, happy delirium of first parenthood! Adoring pride! Since times primæval by what masonry does it knit together those that have succeeded in establishing here, on earth, the vital bonds of family’s claim? Even the modest sacristan, at attention by the font, felt himself to be superior of parts to a certain unproductive chieftain of a princely House, who had lately undergone a course of asses’ milk in the surrounding mountains—all in vain!” (290). Beyond the hilarious send-up not only of the cliché-ridden emotions that inevitably seem to descend on witnesses to ceremonial events of procreative life like christenings but also of the self-justifying preening that makes a biological function a matter of physical-cum-moral pride, the fact of ventriloquism makes one wonder: whose voice is this? And it is not impossible that it belongs, at least in part, to the dog (Crack’s father), a possibility further raised when, after the Duquesa relaxes her grip and Crack springs from her breast “with a sharp, sportive bark,” the text seems to offer a free-indirect rendering of the liberated dog’s pleasure: “What rapture! What freedom!” (291). These canine exclamations are interwoven with the parallel ventriloquizing of Monsignor Silex’s own exclamations: “Misericordia!” Monsignor Silex exclaimed, staring aghast at a leg poised, inconsequently, against the mural-tablet of the widowed duchess

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of Charona—a woman who, in her lifetime, had given over thirty million pezos to the poor! Ave Maria purissima! What challenging snarls and measured mystery marked the elaborate recognition of father and son, and would no one then forbid their incestuous frolics? (291) Whatever anarchy is unleashed in the church, the humor derives not only from the imagined scene but also from these equivocal effects of voice—the movement from quoted “Misericordia” to unquoted “Ave Maria purissima,” which becomes more unlocatable, leaving it hard to say whether “and would no one then forbid” is the Monsignor’s own interruption of himself, or a sudden intrusion of his thoughts into the narrative voice. Signal, too, are moments where animals and other nonhuman presences are addressed.19 Such moments include the voices of characters—“Pope Tertius II addressed his squirrel” (303); “ ‘This espionage sets a woman all behindhand,’ she commented to Tobit, the vestry cat. Black as the Evil One, perched upon a confessional’s ledge, cleansing its belly, the sleek thing sat” (312); “And how entrancing to perch on a bar-stool, over a glass of golden sherry! ‘Ah, Jesus-Maria,’ he addressed the dancing lightning in the sky” (295)20—forms of address that make the jealousy of the “young wife of the Inspector of Rivers and Forests” seem less exorbitant: “ ‘Don’t lie to me. I know it! You’ve been to the woods.’ And after his inspection of the aromatic groves of Lograno, Phædra in full fury tearing her pillow with her teeth was nothing to Marvilla. ‘Why, dear? Because you’ve been among the Myrtles,’ was the explanation she chose to give for severing conjugal relations” (305). Even more remarkably, the text itself seems to side with Clapsey against her mistress: “Clapsey, Clapsey!” her mistress admonished. The gift of a dear and once intimate friend, the dog seemed inclined to outlive itself and become a nuisance. Alas, poor, fawning Clapsey! Fond, toothless bitch. Return to your broken doze, and dream again of leafy days in leafy Parks, and comfy drives and escapades long ago. What sites you saw when you could see; fountains, and kneeling kings, and grim beggars at Church doors (those in San Eusebio were the worst). And sheltered spas by glittering seas: Santander! And dark adulteries and dim woods at night. (307)21 The sudden apostrophe to Clapsey also seems to comment on the voice-granting capacities of apostrophe itself, and, in details such as “leafy days in leafy parks” and “comfy drives and escapades,” the text as if ventriloquizes an act of ventriloquism. If Firbank’s world is a hyper-articulate one where everything

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seems to speak (where even silence becomes a form of speech: “. . . !”) and to be susceptible of being addressed, it is because that world begins and ends with the inimitable narrative voice; such effects are perhaps less personifying of animals than de-personifying of the figure of voice. The Edenic quality Auden cites arises from this; it is not so much a psychological effect (characters unanguished by the experience of desire—for the moralistic, characters perhaps immature or stunted, and, for others, characters mature past caring, the explanations might vary) as it is in effect of the severing of voice from the representation of psychological depth. When Valmouth gives voice to a frightened bird (“ ‘I, I, I, I!’ a nightbird fled on startled wings [205]), or when, in The Flower Beneath the Foot, the Hon. “Eddy” Monteith wonders about the social determinants of bees’ accents (and about “where the best bees’ accents were generally acquired” [39]), or, most strikingly, when that novel pauses for a long rendering of the “exhalations of the flowers” where only the Moon “may have guessed” what they were saying—“I’m glad I’m in a Basket! No one will hurl me from the window to be bruised underfoot by a callous crowd” or “It’s uncomfy, isn’t it, without one’s roots?” And so on (80–81)—the ventriloquism isn’t fundamentally different from the rendering of human voices by the free indirect style. (The speech of the parrot who wreaks havoc at two different moments in Valmouth hardly seems less motivated, psychologically, than that of the characters [174, 212].) One of the most striking difficulties of reading Firbank is the fragmentary rendering of conversations; often given without context, they make one feel as if one were eavesdropping while walking past at a brisk pace. The narrative voice—with its asides and parentheses and exclamations—could be described in similar terms: a palimpsest of “voices” that turns motivating consciousness into the polished surface of the prose. The depiction of an experience of desire that is at once immediate and distanced, searing and inconsequential, is thus one aspect (perhaps the most important one) of a more general phenomenon of voice in Firbank. Examples of related effects in the voice would be endless. Among many others: “Oh so formal, oh so slender towered the cypress-trees against the rose-farded hills and diamantine waters of the lake. The first hint of autumn was in the air; and over the gravel paths, and in the basins of the fountains, a few shed leaves lay hectically strewn already” (Flower 59); (in a footnote) “The Hon. ‘Eddy’ Monteith had succumbed: the shock received by meeting a jackal while composing a sonnet had been too much for him. His tomb is in the Veil of Akko, beside the River Dis. Alas, for the triste obscurity of his end!” (83). Where in the first is legible the intrusion of some other voice (but whose?) into the narration (a common effect, more generally—the unevenness in Firbank’s language is finely calibrated and often eludes specific attribution to a character), in the second, the narrative punctures itself with an exclamatory aside. At one moment in Valmouth, as Mrs. Hurstpierpoint consults with her maid about which relic will

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most comfort her in a storm, the maid replies, “You used to say the toe, ’m, of the married sister of the Madonna, the one that was a restaurant proprietress (Look alive there with those devilled kidneys, and what is keeping Fritz with that sweet-omelette?), in any fracas was particularly potent” (187). It is perhaps unclear who “speaks” these asides—the parenthesis could represent the maid’s thoughts or a narrative aside, but the fact that it occurs within quotation marks suggests that we read it as her dramatic rendering of the restaurant owner, her becoming, in other words, a Firbankian narrator in relation to her own speech. Examples could be further multiplied, and to describe the multivalent effects of voice in Firbank would begin to detail one extreme issue of a particular style of humor—linked to effects of free indirect style—running, as I suggested, from Fielding and Austen to Thackeray to Wodehouse and Benson.22 To dwell on these effects of voice in relation to the depiction of importunate, unregenerate bodily needs in a curiously desubjectified, unshakable verbal poise might be a way to spell out what some people seem to mean by “camp.”23 To read camp in this way would offer an unexpected context for thinking about impersonality, potentiality, virtuality, sameness, and the “aesthetic subject” in Bersani—where particularities of narrative voice might take the place of the formal repetition Bersani emphasizes in visual art. To draw out some of the consequences of thinking of Firbank’s narration in relation to Bersani, I would like to turn not to camp but to a perhaps more startling line of affiliation by considering, briefly, Faulkner’s experiments with perspective in As I Lay Dying. One of the more beautiful things about Faulkner’s deceptively simple text is the double perspective that it asks its readers to inhabit: on the one hand, it allows us to glimpse how the spectacle of the Bundren family, carting Addie’s corpse around the county, appears to various bemused or outraged, and more or less dispassionate, observers, while, on the other, it presents the interior lives of this family, allowing us to intuit, in more or less obliquely presented views, complicated, sometimes not fully rationalized, motivations and solitary, often unarticulated experiences of grief. Its searing moral vision—linking it to perhaps less subtle later novels like The Hamlet, The Mansion, The Town, and Intruder in the Dust, which (among other things) examine these effects in communal terms, in texts that in various ways give voice to the disembodied, aggregated view of a community—implies the consequences of failing to encompass such perspectival shifts: the most repellent character turns out to be not Jewel or Anse or Dewey Dell, driven as they are by the monomaniacal pursuit of selfinterested, elemental passions, but Cash, to whom, with Darl’s commitment (to the insane asylum in Jackson), the narration is in a sense ceded and who seems to have the capacity for a moral imagination he is simply too lazy to exercise. However that may be, this moral question for the novel corresponds to a central “technical” problem. Each chapter, of course, takes its name from a character whose perspective and voice the novel inhabits for the course of that

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chapter. The first-person narration would seem to imply a perfect fit between narrative and consciousness, and, indeed, one of the challenges for a reader at certain moments is deciphering what is going on because the “internal” view assumes knowledge and intimacy that the uninitiated reader cannot have (suggesting that, for most of us, the shorthand quality of our consciousness ought to deprive of its terror the possibility of mind-reading). In a simple but very moving instance, Darl does not tell us that he is weeping after he tries to burn down Gillespie’s barn; only Vardaman’s comments later allow us to “see” that (“You needn’t to cry, Darl” [225]), just as it is only Darl’s answers “across” the younger boy’s uncomprehending questions that we can see his reasons for setting the fire in the first place (“ ‘She’s talking to God,’ Darl says. ‘She is calling on Him to help her.’ . . . ‘She wants Him to hide her away from the sight of man’ ” [214–15]). Likewise, Dewey Dell never says explicitly that she is pregnant. To be intelligible, of course, the narration cannot fully merge with the perspectives it inhabits, and the novel is in many ways simply about the possibility of a sustained equipoise between the representation and the narration of consciousness. Corresponding, schematically, to a division within the narration between past tense and present tense renderings of events (and the novel fascinatingly combines retrospective narration with a mode that mimes immediate experience—often moving between the two without transition), this opposition could be correlated to one between “narration” and “voice” in Firbank, and the effects lead one to an analogously desubjectifying account of consciousness. Perspective in As I Lay Dying turns out to operate independent of persons. And death is one way that the text considers the consequences of this fact. The complexity of the relation between perspective and narration becomes especially visible when Darl begins narrating events that he was not there to see; in default of any supernatural explanation, one might have to turn, if one wants an explanation to justify such perceptions as realistic happening, to Darl’s powers of imagination and empathy. It is striking, however, that the novel opens with a passage from Darl that seems to thematize a curious form of perspective capable of objectifying itself: Jewel and I come up from the field in single file. Although I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cottonhouse can see Jewel’s frayed and broken straw hat a full head above my own. The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision. The cottonhouse is of rough logs, from between which the chinking has long fallen. Square with the broken roof set at a

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single pitch, it leans in empty and shimmering dilapidation in the sunlight, a single broad window in two opposite walls giving onto the approaches of the path. When we reach it I turn and follow the path which circles the house. Jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking straight ahead, steps in single stride through the window. Still staring straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down, and steps in a single stride through the opposite window and into the path again just as I come around the corner. In single file and five feet part and Jewel now in front, we go on up the path toward the foot of the bluff. (3–4) A novel whose basic premise initially seems to be a series of alternations among limited, localized perspectives begins with a character’s imagining of another view: “anyone watching us from the cottonhouse can see.” The entire novel is in the sense “there” in the virtuosic paragraph that follows. That Darl, walking around the cottonhouse, knows how many strides Jewel takes within it is perhaps the simplest aspect of the displaced perspective, and offers a way to frame, from the outset, the more startling instances of clairvoyance later in the text; that dramatic displacement (where an aerial view of the field is combined with a view from the cottonhouse and with Darl’s view of himself [the perspective seems “external,” and, the voice, “internal”: “just as I come around the corner”]) is articulated with the coordination of differential movements through space. (A perhaps more complicated version comes in Darl’s later narration of the effort to cross the flooding river,24 but the basic “vectors” of the novel are here at the beginning: shifts among perspective, and the moving through space of the family’s journey to the Jefferson cemetery.) An image later in the text seems to contemplate perspective in relation to movement—again, from Darl: “Jewel,” I say. Back running, tunnelled between the two sets of bobbing mule ears, the road vanishes beneath the wagon as though it were a ribbon and the front axle were a spool. “Do you know she’s going to die, Jewel?” It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end. (39) Darl’s image makes manifest what is perhaps intuitively available to anyone who has watched the mesmerizing cross-stitch of telephone wires as one drives past them on a highway, or, sitting in a stationary train, has been startled into

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a sensation of movement by the departure of another train on a neighboring track: “perspective” is never unitary, and to inhabit a point of view is of necessity simultaneously to objectify it from without. Movement, otherwise, is imperceptible, or indistinguishable from other movements in the world. Legible, no doubt, in other registers as well, Darl’s quasi-syllogism replays the perspectival “error” of the image of the road wound around the axle’s spool: for any mortal being, death is the end of the world. (Whether it is intentional or not the resulting sense that “I is another” is visible in Darl’s ostensible solecism, turning “one person” to “one people.”) Framing, in turn, Darl’s questions to Jewel—which might be read as asking Jewel to leave the confines of his own perspective—these two versions dramatize a limited perspective and thus paradoxically constitute the alienation and self-objectification that they seem to deny. They might be read therefore to figure the novel’s own procedure. (One thinks, for instance, of one of the more overwhelming passages in the book, where we are given to see Vardaman’s grief at the loss of Darl through his reiterated statements of their relation: “My brother is Darl . . . Darl is my brother. My brother Darl” [251]. Vardaman’s “point of view” is made visible through our view of what he isn’t yet able to cognize—in statements, moreover, that represent that point of view [as the affective tie itself] by restating his relation to a [vanished] other.) More generally, perspective comes into view for the text in the incompatibility of the narration of consciousness with the representation of consciousness—comes into view, therefore, as objectified, and as something other than consciousness itself. (One might also phrase this in another way by suggesting that “perspective” is uninhabitable; one must, but cannot, view the world from a point of view that one simultaneously objectifies.) Such terms offer one way to understand one of the most beautiful passages in the book: In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not

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be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home. (80–81) The difficulty of the passage, it seems to me, derives from the number of different, incompatible ways Darl figures consciousness, and ponders the relation between sleep and death. The moment of consciousness’s vanishing makes visible the problem of its inability to objectify itself while remaining itself. One cannot be the wagon and the wind and rain shaping it at the same time; the necessary but imperceptible interval between the wagon and the wind and rain (if read as a figure for consciousness) means that the wagon cannot experience its own shape—that, more than their spatial proximity, is why (I think) the wagon is shaped only for Jewel and Darl, who are not asleep. Hence the apparent contradiction: “I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not.” To sleep, then, might paradoxically be to know one is insofar as there is no longer any “one” to do the knowing. The text here seems to imagine—and perhaps to enact—the possibility of locating a moment “between” wakefulness and sleep, between life and death, a moment “after” consciousness and “before” its vanishing, which would allow one to externalize or objectify it. I take that to be one way to read Darl’s figure of the lumber. The lumber owned by no one—in transit between “they who felled it and sawed it” and they who “bought it”—seems, like the implied interval between the wagon and the rain, to stand in for this otherwise unrepresentable “state” of consciousness. This figure also allows Darl to articulate a relation between the question of identity (“I dont know what I am”) and temporal sequence—between, relatedly, two different oppositions, is to is not, and is to was. In another sense, Darl’s figure repeats the dilemma. If the lumber can persist, suspended, as ownerless, it is perhaps only because someone (Jewel and Darl, in this case) owns the wagon. The suspension “between” states is therefore made possible by the collision of incompatible metaphors: consciousness is both container and contained, both something owned and something that owns (or not) something else, and both a mode of transport and a thing transported. The encounter between these different figural contexts stalls consciousness and thereby as if makes it visible. For the passage is, of course, not just the narration of Darl’s perception of consciousness; it is a representation of it, and of a mind falling asleep. In addition to charting the logic of the various figures, I think one is meant to note the retention of logical form as the connections or logic becomes increasingly strained. Of particular interest, therefore, is the

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break before the final paragraph: “how often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” A striking tonal departure from what comes before it, it also marks a shift in temporal perspective—from the present movements of consciousness to a later reflection on them. Darl seems to have fallen asleep in the interval between these two paragraphs, and we witness here the separation of two functions: Darl as narrator separates from Darl as character. If at that moment consciousness becomes visible, it is only insofar as it is externalized. We are reminded, too, that the separation enacted here is fundamental to the intelligibility of the novel. The transition between the two modes of vanishing—is to is not and is to was—links death and sleep to narration. Told in the first person, every “voice” is at once character and narrator, and the split between these two functions makes the perspective visible, and the novel itself intelligible. What Darl’s meditation here makes visible is that consciousness becomes representable only at the expense of ceasing to be itself; the wagon in Darl’s metaphor is both “him” and the narration of his thoughts, but it cannot be both of them at the same time. The break between the two functions is visible in the transition between the two paragraphs; what we can never know is whether Darl “knows” this, though some of his “mad” comments late in the text suggest that he does. If one consequence is that Faulkner’s experiment in perspective is inseparable from its self-reflexivity, it also means that “perspective” in the text is not subordinated to the subjectivity that ostensibly houses it, which would link Faulkner’s text to a series of other modern fictional experiments: for instance, to the externalization of consciousness in Henry James, to what Deleuze calls “perspectivism” in Proust, and to “the world seen without a self” in Virginia Woolf, particularly as it is read by Ann Banfield in relation to the linguistic characteristics of free-indirect style.25 I would also suggest that the paradoxes of desire in Firbank—an experience of imperious desire to which persons seem oddly irrelevant—which are, I suggested, inseparable from the effects of narrative voice that make his texts so funny, likewise link his (marginal, decadent, gay, camp) novels to this tradition. It is in the details of narrative voice and perspective, therefore, that we might find some of the most profound considerations of theoretical questions raised by Bersani in his writings about aesthetic subjectivity—his efforts to imagine, within and beyond psychoanalysis, different modes of relationality and of understanding the relays among psychic and communal structures. And, likewise, Bersani’s writings offer some the most of compelling contemporary contexts for thinking about the consequences of these various literary “traditions.” Thanks to David Kurnick. The argument presented here is also indebted—in oblique, but not inconsequential ways—to Kurnick’s “Carnal Ironies” and “Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption.”

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Notes 1. I discuss this text—and its implications for a queer literary tradition—in chapter 4 of Dead Letters Sent. 2. For a succinct formulation of some of the issues at stake, and one that puts the question of “gay art” in relation to his larger theoretical project, see Leo Bersani’s “Is There a Gay Art?” (IRG 31–44). 3. Bloom’s metaphors are (often) Oedipal, even if he repeatedly insists that his theory is not. One might also note that Bloom deeply admires Pater; “weakness” here may simply mean that Pater reads too well, and too generously, to be strong. I discuss Bloom and tradition in greater detail in the introduction to Dead Letters Sent. 4. Bersani continues: “Beckett’s work remembers culture as Lucky remembers the structure of logical argument in Godot: they are played like the broken records of language and consciousness,” turning then to “Beckett’s extraordinary effort to stop remembering, to begin again, to protect writing from cultural inheritance” (CR 169–70). I am grateful to Mikko Tuhkanen for reminding me of Bersani’s argument here, and its relevance for my essay. 5. I am thinking, of course, of Bersani’s “Against Ulysses” (CR 155–78). “Firbank,” writes Christopher Lane, “has been inveighed as ‘unserious,’ the frivolity and burlesque of his fiction lending it apparent vacuity as though his texts are so slight and irremediably surface that they cannot withstand the rigor of critical reading” (271). 6. For Don Adams, the difficulties of Firbank’s writing are rooted in its debt to the pastoral. Adams writes: “Our usual habits of reading certainly have not prepared us to consider Firbank in a critical fashion. The questions that we are accustomed to ask of fiction are lost on him. . . . Firbank’s narratives progress in an almost arbitrary manner, in which reliance on plot is reduced to a minimum; his characters are ‘finished’ at conception, and although they are continually striking psychologically revealing poses, they do not analyse themselves or seek to make of the reader a ‘confessor.’ ” A reader, he concludes, is “forced to swallow Firbank’s novel’s ‘whole,’ or not at all” (121). Adams then goes on to chart some of the difficulties of the prose in relation to the conventions of the pastoral. 7. See also the essays collected in Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays, especially (in addition to those listed above) “Sociability and Cruising” (IRG 45–62); “Aggression, Gay Shame, and Almodóvar’s Art” (IRG 63–82); “Can Sex Make Us Happy?” (IRG 120–32); and “The Will to Know” (IRG 154–67). 8. Unless indicated otherwise, all ellipses and italics in the quotations are Firbank’s (added ellipses will be indicated by square brackets). 9. Firbank’s representations of aesthetic passion (the murderous rage of Mrs. Chillywater, one notes, arrives because she is interrupted while trying to write) make it seem a similar kind of appetite (albeit sometimes more exalted than one Archduchess’s designing of public lavatories; her sole passions being “paddling” and the design of such conveniences [“The most philanthropic perhaps of all the Royal Family, her hobby was designing, for the use of the public, sanitary, but artistic, places of necessity on a novel system of ventilation” (25)], she dreams of both in her dying moments, and more specifically of designing a lavatory for dogs [“ ‘I think I must undertake a convenience next for dogs. . . . It is disgraceful that they have not got one already, poor creatures’

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[. . .] A look of wondrous happiness overspread the Archduchess’s face—She was wading—wading again among the irises and rushes; wading, her hand in Princess Elsie’s hand, through a glittering golden sea, towards the wide horizon” [46–47].) 10. “Style,” writes Barthes, “always has something crude about it,” the “decorative voice of hidden, secret flesh” (10–11). I discuss both Miller and Barthes in greater detail in Henry James and the Queerness of Style. 11. “Literally” is one of the favored stylistic tics of Eva Schnerb, the society diarist in The Flower Beneath the Foot: “I sat in a corner of the Winter Garden and literally gorged myself on the display of dazzling uniforms and jewels” (45); “I stood in a corner of the Great ball-room and literally gasped at the wealth of jewels” (19). 12. For a reading of the gay allure of Firbank, see Davies. 13. Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air, And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep. (Shakespeare 4.1.148–58). 14. For a more developed account of a similar dynamic in Pater (and hence an elaboration of why I think the moment in Firbank might be read in relation to Paterian aestheticism), see Ohi, Innocence. 15. There is a “sameness” to the voices of characters in Firbank—a kind of nondifferentiation that evokes Bersani’s arguments from Homos on for what he comes to call an “impersonal narcissism” and that is a characteristic of the “aesthetic subject.” Located in a very different register, it is not unlike the inaccurate replication of forms that Bersani (often in his writings with Ulysse Dutoit) emphasizes in visual art—which likewise issues in a kind of negating of psychic particularity. The rhyme between narrator and character in their modes of expression could be read in relation to the rhyme between inside and out (and in repeated forms) in Bersani, which, in various contexts, allows for a discovery of a connectedness to the world grounded in sameness (and therefore a kind of resemblance) but not in personal identity. Such effects would link Bersani’s recent ethical speculations to some of his earlier writing where the effect of narration can be said to have similar effects—for instance, about Henry James, in “Narrator.” It might also link his project to, for example, Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Proust, in Proust and Signs, particularly his assertion that viewpoint creates subjectivity, not the reverse. I discuss the concept of “viewpoint” in relation to James (and in relation to an impersonality relevant to my argument here) in greater detail in Henry James 21–24. Bersani himself notes the connection to Deleuze in IRG 160–61. This “sameness” might also be read in relation to the virtual or potential being that, for Bersani, in his reading of James’s “The Beast in the Jungle,” is embodied by John Marcher (see I 1–30). 16. Among many other examples, all from The Artificial Princess: “What an elegant view! What deceptive expanse! Who could have guessed that behind the swaying

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curtain of the trees, stood the curly wrought-iron gates, with prowling Sentinels in gay plumed hats, and sun-fired swords; while beyond, the white town, with its countless Spires and gold domed Opera House, its Theatres and spacious streets, its Cafés, from whence, sometimes, on still nights, you might hear the sound of violins, trailing capriciously, like a riband upon the wind. [. . .] What an elegant view! What deceptive expanse! So much, contained in so little, suggested a landscape painted delicately upon a porcelain cup or saucer, or upon the silken panel of a fan” (245); “How close it was! Small risk to get down and sit on the bench outside . . . but to manœuvre one’s hat twice through that narrow door . . . No! better sit still and essay to be amused as best one might. How stout the conductor was! . . . really there was lots to see” (257); “with an annihilating look at the golden-haired youth, she left the interior of the tram and climbed on top. How delightful it was on top!” (259); “Indeed, nobody of any note seemed to be about. [. . .] A girls’-school passed with its escort of Nuns, and fantastic Demons flying above them (invisible) criss-cross through the air; (these summer days! How irksome they were . . . even quite fervent prayers would fall swooning to earth, too tired to rise) whilst at the corner of ‘Looking Glass Street,’ over the new Beauty Shop, where, unembarrassed, you might buy other things as well, they were hammering the Royal Arms up over the door” (260); “Ambling up and down beneath, the Baroness was growing impatient for the pink tram. Such unpunctuality was a scandal! It was monstrous! It was a perfect bore!” (262). 17. There is a similar problem in The Flower Beneath the Foot, where the gossipy effluvia of Eva Schnerb often trail off into an etc., leaving one uncertain whether the “etc.” is hers or the text’s—whether she truncates her observations, or, the text, her writing. 18. The most extravagant of these appears in The Flower Beneath the Foot: “ ‘I thank Thee God for this escape,’ she murmured, falling to her knees before the silver branches of across. ‘It is terrible; for I did so love him. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ........................................................... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .and oh how could he ever, with a negress? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pho . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I fear this complete upset has considerably aged me. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .But to thee I cling . . . . . ........................................................... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Preserve me at all times from the toils of the wicked, and forgive him, as I hope to forgive him soon.’ Then kindling several candles, with a lingering hand, she shaped her course toward the Kennels, called Teddywigs to her, and started, with an aching heart, for a walk” (52). This instance is, however, perhaps more conventional (insofar as what seems to be marked are omissions in speech) than some others, where the ellipses appear as quoted speech. Among many such instances: Lady Something raised a glass of frozen lemonade to her lips. “Fleas,” she murmured, “have been found at the Ritz.” “. . . . . . ! . . . . ? . . . ! !” (11) Or, likewise in The Flower Beneath the Foot: “ ‘. . .’ the Ambassador displayed discretion” (63).

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19. Very different in register and tone, such moments evoke Bersani’s readings of nonhuman presences in, for example, his reading of The Thin Red Line (FoB 124–78). 20. There are many similar instances in other Firbank novels. Just for example: “ ‘She should no more be trusted with ink than a child with firearms!’ he declared, addressing himself with studious indirectness to a garden-snail” (Flower 64). 21. There is a related apostrophe in The Flower Beneath the Foot: “(Oh, you gardens of Palaces . . . ! How often have you witnessed agitation and disappointment? You smoothed, adorned paths . . . ! How often have you known the extremes of care . . . ?)” (50). Evoking a traditional poetic (“poetic”) gesture (of apostrophe), its appearance in a novel is disorienting because the parodic rendering of poetic language explicitly stages the constitution of a voice through a turning-aside (thereby denaturalizing novelistic “voice”). 22. One might compare Firbank’s asides to moments like this one in Jane Austen’s Emma: [Harriet’s] tears fell abundantly—but her grief was so truly artless, that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma’s eyes—and she listened to her and tried to console her with all her heart and understanding—really for the time convinced that Harriet was the superior creature of the two—and that to resemble her would be more for her own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence could do. It was rather too late in the day to set about being simple-minded and ignorant; but she left her with every previous resolution confirmed of being humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of her life. (142) The aside punctures the narrative’s taking of Emma’s perspective in the preceding paragraph—where the voice also remains aloof from Emma, offering an indirect representation of her thoughts. Firbank seems to have separated the aside from its narrative function; while sometimes his asides offer commentary on characters—puncturing their aspirations or parodying their limitations—more often, the point seems to be the pleasure of turning aside. That potential is certainly there in Fielding (and Austen); the removal of any narrative justification (as characterization, for instance) for such effects in Firbank (which is one way to describe Firbank’s rendering of decadent tenets in the terms of narrative technique) might be one reason that he has been seen as a minor novelist. Rob Odom called my attention to this passage in Emma (a long time ago); his comments then led to the thoughts I am beginning to think through in this article. 23. Firbank figures prominently in Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes (in an essay about Cavafy and Proust) of her attraction to “visibly queer authors and cultural venues”: “Queer, I might even say, verging on camp. But that’s supposing we managed to think of camp, as I believe we need to, not in terms of parody or even wit, but with more of an eye for its visceral, operatic power: the startling outcrops of overinvested erudition; the prodigal production of alternative histories; the ‘over’-attachment to fragmentary, marginal, waste, lost, or leftover cultural products; the richness of affective variety; and the irrepressible, cathartic fascination with ventriloquist forms of relation” (20). 24. For Hortense Spillers, the latter passage describes “with awful precision what might be imagined if time ‘turned’ spatial, if it dramatically materialized as an actual goal

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to traverse, at least in the disturbed poetically gorgeous head of Darl Bundren.” It seems Faulkner, she continues, “wanted to attempt to articulate the most difficult idea that he could think of about the world of mathematical relations (or, in Kantian terms, a pure synthetic a priori) here set down on the flooded ground of a human enough dilemma, however mock heroically it might strike the imagination” (553). 25. See Cameron; Deleuze; Banfield, “Describing,” Phantom, and Unspeakable. One might also think in this context about Bersani’s writings on potentiality and virtual being; see especially “The It in the I” (I 1–30) and “The Will to Know” (IRG 154–67).

Works Cited Adams, Don. “Ronald Firbank’s Radical Pastorals.” Genre 35.1 (Spring 2002): 121–42. Print. Auden, W. H. “Ronald Firbank and an Amateur World.” Listener 65 (1961): 1004–05, 1008. Print. Austen, Jane. Emma. 1816. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. Print. Bamfield, Ann. “Describing the Unobserved: Events Grouped around an Empty Centre.” The Linguistics of Writing: Arguments between Language and Literature. Ed. Nigel Fabb, Derek Attridge, Alan Durant, and Colin MacCabe. New York: Methuen, 1987. 265–85. Print. ———. The Phantom Table: Woolf, Fry, Russell, and the Epistemology of Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print. ———. Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and the Representation in the Language of Fiction. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. Print. Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero. Trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. Print. Bersani, Leo. “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of the Dove,’ ” Modern Fiction Studies 6 (1960): 131–44. Print. Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973. Print. Cameron, Sharon. Thinking in Henry James. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print. Davies, Paul. “ ‘The Power to Convey the Unuttered’: Style and Sexuality in the Works of Ronald Firbank.” Lesbian and Gay Writing: An Anthology of Critical Essays. Ed. Mark Lilly. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1990. 199–214. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Trans. Richard Howard. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print. Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. Ed. Noel Polk. New York: The Modern Library, 2000. Print. Firbank, Ronald. Five Novels. New York: Directions Books, 1981. Print. ———. The Artificial Princess. Five 241–87. ———. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. Five 289–342. ———. The Flower Beneath the Foot. Five 1–94. ———. Valmouth. Five 149–239. Kurnick, David. “Carnal Ironies.” Raritan 29.4 (Spring 2010): 109–93. Print.

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———. “Embarrassment and the Forms of Redemption.” PMLA 125.2 (Apr. 2010): 398–403. Print. Lane, Christopher. “Re/Orientations: Firbank’s Colonial Imaginary and the Sexual Nomad.” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 3.4 (1992): 271–86. Print. Miller, D. A. Jane Austen or the Secret of Style. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005. Print. Ohi, Kevin. Dead Letters Sent: Queer Literary Transmission. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015. Print. ———. Henry James and the Queerness of Style. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011. Print. ———. Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print. Pater, Walter Pater. “Hippolytus Veiled: A Study from Euripides.” Walter Pater: Three Major Texts. Ed. William E. Buckler. New York: New York UP, 1986. 322–42. Print. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Cavafy, Proust, and the Queer Little Gods.” Imagination and Logos: Essays on C. P. Cavafy. Ed. Panagiotis Riolos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. 1–20. Print. Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Stephen Orgel. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. Print. Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Picador, 1966. 275–92. Print. Spillers, Hortense. “Topographical Topics: Faulknerian Space.” Mississippi Quarterly 57.4 (2004): 535–68. Print.

Part I V

Interview

12

Rigorously Speculating An Interview with Leo Bersani

MIKKO TUHKANEN

Mikko Tuhkanen: Are you a queer theorist? Leo Bersani: Not that I know of. I’ve had a very strange relation, if I have one at all, to queer theory. I had nothing to do with its beginning, and I have very little connection with the people who are, I guess, involved in it. So I really feel detached from it. As you know, there’s some criticism of queer theory in Homos. I was interested in it to the extent that it was politically an attempt to move away from definitions of being gay by and for middle-class gays. But it also seemed to go along with a kind of desexualization and something that didn’t seem to me to have any relation to being gay. I met a young activist in New York recently who described to me something that struck me as being a good example of queerness that is related to being gay but that does have the kinds of expansive political and social ambitions that queer theory at its best has had. We were talking about gay marriage; I said how little it interested me. Although I felt that everybody should have the right to marry, at the same time it struck me as something very uninteresting to aspire toward, this kind of assimilation into, or imitation of, a given social structure. He told me that he belonged to a group of gay activists who get in touch with people targeted by gay marriage fundraisers in various states, and suggest that these people donate what they were thinking of donating to gay marriage campaigns to larger social causes, for example to certain antipoverty movements, or other minority group advocates. So that’s interesting: politics that is gay-based but at the same time moves out toward other groups. This was what Fear of a Queer Planet was all about, queer expanding beyond but

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somehow also having a base in being gay. This struck me as an example of that. MT: In recent queer scholarship, your work has been associated with what has become called the “antisocial thesis.” It does seem to me that something of a misrecognition, of whatever scale, has allowed this identification. What is your take on the polemic around this notion and the debates surrounding it? LB: Apparently I’m put in the same category as Lee Edelman; to some queer theorists we’re the bad guys because we’re presumably “antisocial.” Well, I suppose he is more uncompromising about “negativity” than I am. Already in Homos I was trying to think of connectedness, that is, trying to adapt the idea of “correspondences of form” to psychic correspondences; I was thinking of homosexuality as a kind of psychic correspondence of sameness. This now strikes me as taking the sameness in same-sex desire too literally. It was too literal and too arbitrary: sameness is obviously not the only thing between gay people, and there’s more difference very often between two gay people than there is between a gay person and a straight person. So the argument in Homos strikes me as a somewhat unfortunate application of the idea of correspondences and connectedness. But to the extent that I was, and have always been, interested in the Foucauldian idea of “new relational modes,” it seemed to me that the precondition for such modes has to be a kind of antisocial breaking-down of relations. And this is why in Homos the section that interests me most is the one on Genet, which begins with the provocation “Betrayal is an ethical necessity.” What people have always found most difficult to take in Genet is the betrayal. They can take the fact that he is a thief, they can take the fact that he is a homosexual—but the betrayal is the sticking point. But I thought that was precisely the most important thing in Genet. It’s, again, not to be taken—obviously—in the literal sense, but as an effort to think about the possibility of breaking all familiar connections. I’ve become very interested in that not only in Genet or Beckett, but also in the film Safe [dir. Todd Haynes], which I talk about in the new book [Thoughts and Things]. This is a film, I think, about a woman who becomes allergic to the universe. It gives us a very extreme case of breaking-off, of a kind of antirelatedness, without any compromise whatsoever. What’s the value of that? Recently at a lecture at Johns Hopkins somebody—in what struck me as a sincere and even anguished way—wanted to know what possible political relevance one could find in Carol’s self-disappearance. It occurred to me then that the point for me in the aesthetics of these extreme cases—a category in which I put Genet, Beckett, and a film like Safe—is that these examples don’t come with any obvious or direct political messages. Their ultimate political relevance can perhaps be understood neurologically. Such artistic experimentations can strike parts of the brain that have remained dormant; art—and I

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think Safe falls into that category—can have a kind of traumatizing effect on until-then dormant areas of the brain. This might begin not actually to define new relations, but it opens a space for them—as if we were being compelled to think with parts of the brain that, you might say, haven’t been thought with previously. MT: One of the names that, especially in your later work, you give to this dormancy is “virtuality.” Can you say anything about the role of that term in your work? LB: Well, that’s an enormous question. Two different things. There’s the idea of art as a kind of trauma that can shock the mind into the beginning of thinking of new relational modes. I think that’s very important. Foucault, as you know, had trouble trying to find out what he meant by this phrase, “new relational modes.” One of the things he came up with was the San Francisco S&M scene, which doesn’t strike me as a supremely interesting example of a viable relational mode. For me, the idea of the virtual has emerged recently, for example in the context of what is developed in the chapter that begins with the dream of not getting to a lecture on time [“I Can Dream, Can’t I?” in Thoughts and Things]. What I mean by the virtual here is rethinking the unconscious in terms not of a hidden, secret part of the mind but as something that is already constitutive of consciousness and that helps to redefine the syntax of conscious thinking in a way that is perfectly available to us but that has only rarely been formulated, made explicit. That’s why Godard is very interesting to me. Without any psychoanalytic reference at all, he proposes a syntax that I schematically reduce to three terms: virtuality, incongruity, and unfinishedness. In Godard we have a possible syntax not of the unconscious, not of primary process, but of consciousness, a syntax that has been neglected for the sake of a more traditional syntax of cause-and-effect, of temporality as we usually understand it, and of logic. It’s interesting to speculate why that’s been, not exactly repressed, but suppressed in the way we think about thinking. MT: In the preface to your forthcoming book, Thoughts and Things, you speak of “an aloneness different from the conquering autonomy toward which the Cartesian subject aspires.” Does this notion of “aloneness,” or perhaps “solitude,” that you have developed in your work have anything to do with the queer “antisocial”? I’m also asking this because one might map twentieth-century queer literatures in the West under the banner of “solitude.” This mapping could begin with Marcel Proust (the homosexual as le solitaire), Thomas Mann (der Einsame in Death in Venice), and Radclyffe Hall (Stephen Gordon as the “advent,” the unprecedented monstrosity in the family line), and move on to the very different form of isolation one finds in Genet’s work. It is with

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Beckett and, later, Genet that you appeal to something like radical disconnect, which one might also locate in Blanchot’s idea of “essential solitude” (partially emerging from his reading of Beckett). I have a two-part question here: What is the appeal of “solitude” for your thinking? And: Does that concept have any queer specificity? LB: I don’t think it has an appeal as such; it’s a precondition for something else. And I don’t mean we have to go literally through the Genetian solitude, or Carol-solitude in Safe; these works can traumatize us into thinking about the virtues of solitude, or not exactly the virtues but rather the necessity of solitude as a precondition of sorts. I mean, a lot has to be renounced. I think the trouble with the gay marriage thing is this attempt to modify gay relations within an existing framework; but if you really want to do something radical you need to start elsewhere. In this sense a lot of what I’ve done is utopic, and this, I suppose, is what separates me from Lee Edelman. I’m not sure that he feels there is “a new kind of viability” beyond negativity. For Lee, the great value of gayness is the negativity, a negativity I think he sees as inherent in the Lacanian version of jouissance. For me, solitude has always been a precondition for rethinking relationality, and not a final point. But an absolutely necessary precondition. Psychoanalysis comes in here in an important way: solitude is connected to what psychoanalysis makes us think of, or should make us think of, as a kind of intractable alienation from the world, an alienation from the world which is connected to destructiveness and to the death drive. Intrinsic to being human is a kind of forlorn solitude that will react with violence against anything that would stand in the way of the accomplishment of a desire. And that can’t be gotten over. And this is where I’ve criticized queer and gay and feminist thinking for their pastoral imaginations, their conviction that if only we could get rid of some of the bad social conditions everything would be fine. The great thing about psychoanalysis is its most somber aspects, the death drive, the aggressiveness, and something intractable that no social change will ever undo. And that is connected to the condition of solitude and the condition of our thrownness in the universe that, even when you do establish relational modes, always remains. MT: In a seeming contradiction to the Blanchotian “essential solitude,” then, your work also seeks to think about—or rethink—connectedness (as evinced, again, by Thoughts and Things). You give this idea several names, but the bestknown formulation may be the one you borrow from Baudelaire: “correspondence of forms.” Another one, relevant to our present context, is “homo-ness.” Can you speak a little about the relation of solitude and correspondence?

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LB: Socially and ethically, solitude can mean dropping out of the kind of connectedness that has been given us. It’s done very dramatically in Genet. But at the same time Genet’s kind of transgressiveness is always related to that from which he is trying to separate himself. Blanchot is a purer case of solitude theoretically, but an example that particularly appeals to me is Beckett. What’s interesting about Beckett is that there’s absolutely no concession made to the possibility of a new sociality. I think it is in Worstward Ho, one of the last, short texts, that a character is constantly saying something like, “I’m not failing enough, I’m not succeeding in failing enough; I must fail better.” But at the same time—and this may be a good example of the way in which a new possibility of connectedness comes out in the very expression of the impossibility of connectedness—there’s something comic about that. In a similar way, early in Beckett’s career, in Waiting for Godot, the extraordinary thing is that there’s a kind of sociability between the two main characters, between Vladimir and Estragon. Their sociability is built on a relentless refusal to connect, a refusal that is so absolute that it becomes a kind of occasion to reinvent “talking.” And it’s a reinvention of talking that necessarily includes some comical possibilities. The same thing happens in Company, a text that suggests that we can never avoid having company. And this has a great deal to do with language. As long as you speak there’s connectedness: there’s something being shared and there’s something being heard. So that it can’t be a kind of absolute solitude. That’s silence, total silence, and removal, and death. So inscribed in this is the negative comicality, or the negative comedy, of Beckett, which is wonderful. MT: And one name that you give this paradox of aloneness-company is, precisely, “sociability,” which you seem to define as “sociality minus desire.” LB: Yes, and for me, all this is very much connected to Foucault. In thinking of Foucault and his antagonism toward the emphasis on sexuality and desire in psychoanalysis, I’ve come to feel that a new kind of sociality, of human connectedness, should perhaps be one in which the role of desire (and the role of sexuality) in intimacy is deemphasized. We have to de-Proustify ourselves. I’ve said that if Freud had the possibility of giving birth to a novelist, who would that novelist be? It would, of course, be Proust. Proust is the dramatization of the psychology and connectedness of desire. I try to put this in a historical perspective in the article “Ardent Masturbation” [also ch. 3 in Thoughts and Things], where I speak of the epistemological hegemony in our culture. I was interested to find that Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is a critique of the priority given to epistemology in modern philosophy. And I think that’s what Foucault is arguing against when he talks about “the Cartesian

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moment”: it’s a moment when “knowledge” replaces “being,” to put it very schematically. In intimate relations, this knowledge is connected to everything that’s important in both Proust and Freud. In Proust, it takes the form of curiosity about the other’s desires: I can’t know you unless I know what your desires are. So it becomes this mad attempt to penetrate the other’s desire, which is impossible (there’s no way in which you can mimetically be the other’s desires). More than that: Proust suggests that the attempt to penetrate the “secrets” of the other is an attempt to penetrate the differential otherness within oneself. Fundamentally, in Proust and in Freud, desire is narcissistic. I’m intrigued by nonsexual intimacy. Which is not saying I’m trying to convince people never to have sex again (students sometimes seem worried about this). No, of course not. But there’s a way in which you either put sexuality at the heart of intimacy or you don’t. We should try to think of forms of intimacy that are nonsexual forms of connectedness, that may be sensual without being sexual. Since writing Thoughts and Things I’ve been trying to think of this shift from the sexual to some other form of intimacy as something like an epistemic shift of the sort that Foucault talks about, much too schematically for my taste, in Les mots et les choses. It seems to me that we’ve been going through something like that. In a recent lecture—this is not in the book—I put three apparently disparate figures together, figures that I think announce the beginning of this sort of epistemic shift in the preconditions of knowability: Foucault, D. H. Lawrence (who seems to have become the novelist I’m most interested in now), and Freud (because I think Freud, at the same time that he’s an intensification of the old episteme, is also its subversion). MT: You invited Foucault to visit Berkeley in the late 1970s. What role did Foucault’s presence in Berkeley have for you in the late 1970s? What role did you—or Berkeley—or the West Coast—have for Foucault? Can you say something about whatever mutual interaction or influence the two of you had? LB: Foucault was the first person we invited after I got there. The visit was sexually a great discovery for him, in the sense that San Francisco, as you know, in the late 70s, was as close as we have come, in my view, to a sexual utopia. People were doing it everywhere, practically on the streets; I remember . . . well, anyway, sex seemed available almost anywhere, anytime. And Foucault, coming from an uptight Parisian atmosphere of gay life, with some very piss elegant bars that you could go to, nothing like what they now have in Le Marais, it was a very uninteresting, from our point of view, a very uninteresting atmosphere, and suddenly, in California, he found, I think, an incredible liberation, one in which sex and drugs played an important role in an expansion of consciousness, of the mind, of the body.

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MT: You suggest we find in Foucault both a “de-emphasis of knowledge” and an “expansion of consciousness.” How are these ideas related? LB: Adam [Phillips], in Intimacies and elsewhere, has been talking a great deal about the possibility of a psychotherapy or clinical analysis that would not be focused on knowledge of the other. What would a curative therapeutic session be like in which you would not be suggesting to the patient that there’s something about her that she doesn’t know yet, where the word “knowledge” would become minoritized or somehow subordinated to something else? What would it be like? This interests me very much: the ways in psychoanalysis might be rethought outside of knowledge. For example: what is the importance of gesture in psychoanalysis? There is an anecdote about Lacan that I recently heard at a lecture in Chicago (and that I’m told is also on YouTube). Apparently Lacan was treating a woman who had been a child during the occupation of Paris. She tells Lacan about a dream she has had. She wakes up at 5 a.m., the time when, as she recalls, the Gestapo would come to arrest the Jews in their homes. Apparently Lacan—and this is among the best things I know about Lacan, especially about the way he treated patients—stood up, went over to the woman, and caressed her tenderly on the cheek. The woman interprets this as Lacan saying that “Gestapo” can also be understood as geste à peau, “gesture along the skin.” She says that this exchange didn’t eliminate her pain, but nevertheless made a difference: it amounted to, as she says, “a call to humanity.” I think this is connected to what Lacan was saying toward the end, that you get to “live with the symptom.” You don’t get rid of the symptom. This is what the woman is saying, not at all theoretically: it changed nothing but did have a powerful effect on her. What we have here is an interesting version of what, for me, became Lacan’s boring insistence on the signifier, signifier, signifier . . . That never struck me as particularly new or revolutionary. I was in analysis in my twenties before I had ever heard of Lacan, and what the hell could an analyst do except talk about the signifier? But gesture in treatment, as in the case of the woman, is fascinating to me. Lacan actually used the signifier Gestapo/geste à peau in a way that was clinically, therapeutically, and even theoretically interesting. Of course, the example is not repeatable; it can’t be made into a program of psychoanalytic technique. Another example comes from Christopher Bollas, an analyst who interests me very much. He suggests that what can go wrong in the relation between the mother and the infant may have nothing to do with the mother’s failure to get to know the infant or the mother’s failure to encourage the infant to know her as an independent person. Those are questions of knowledge. Bollas suggests that, when we imagine the mother and the infant in a room together

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alone, maybe more important than the enterprise, either successful or failed, of knowledge, is the way in which the mother has positioned herself and the child, the way in which they gesture toward and touch each other. He says that perhaps we should try to reproduce this in clinical work—of course you can’t do this literally because you’re not going to lift up the patient the way the mother lifts up the infant—but there has to be some coming back or repetition of the way in which the mother handled the child. So, for him, the whole question is, “What was her aesthetic of handling?” An aesthetic of handling—that’s an extraordinary program for what’s important in being brought up. How were you handled? What was the movement, what was the choreography of your relation to the primary person who was taking care of you? And therefore it gets connected to art in a way: it’s choreography. MT: Looking back at your work, you’ve noted a move, in your thought, from the psychoanalytic subject to the aesthetic subject; yet what you’re saying now is that the aesthetic is in the psychoanalytic, or that there is an aesthetic mode, or an aesthetic virtuality, in psychoanalytic theory. LB: Yes, and the aesthetic virtuality would be letting different formal arrangements play out, without any of them being the truth. I mean the negative words in all of this are “knowledge” and “truth” obviously, and then there’s a play of movement, there’s a play of touch, there’s a play of gesture. Bollas wrote an essay about the unbearable quality of growing up, of finding out that you have a mind that’s alone and that the mind is constantly being assaulted by multiple claims being made on it, as distinct from the wonderful, small, closed environment of the family that you started out with. Bollas speaks of adult society as psychotic; it’s this mad multiplicity of demands that you can’t handle. And so, what do we do? What we do is to revert to childhood, and what’s the best way to revert to childhood? Getting married. He says we marry in order to escape growing up. And this is Bollas, who wrote an essay on gay cruising in which he was very negative and old-fashioned. It’s striking that this straight, often conventional analyst makes that statement: that we marry to escape the world. And he asks, “If we don’t marry in order to go back to childhood, what are the possibilities of living with these multiple claims?” He speaks, referring to Winnicott at the end of the essay “Why Oedipus?” of learning to play with an otherwise threatening multiplicity of demands. How, we could ask, might such play be performed? MT: You’ve mentioned both Lacan and Laplanche, but you don’t really write about Lacan that much, as opposed to Laplanche, who is hugely important to you from the mid-1970s onward. Why Laplanche and not Lacan?

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LB: I would never write anything on Lacan apart from simply mentioning this or that idea. First of all, I don’t understand a lot of what I read, and I’m always astonished because I discover that so many people whom—to put it in a very conceited way—I think of as less intelligent than I am write books about Lacan. That always astounds me. Either I’m misjudging their intelligence and they’re much more brilliant than I thought, or something’s wrong here. I couldn’t possibly do that. But I do get occasionally an idea, like the “gesture” thing I just mentioned, or like when he says the unconscious is “something posited between perception and consciousness.” This last remark is quite astonishing, because it’s so mysterious: it places the unconscious not in depth psychology but somewhere closer to perception, which is very interesting. We might think of the unconscious not as a reservoir of hard nuggets of unresolved traumas, but rather as something like floating virtualities that can be actualized in consciousness. What I call the virtuality of the unconscious, or fantasy, is much closer to visual perception than it is to something that has been buried in some invisible depth of the mind. So that sort of thing fascinates me very much. There are moments like that, very important moments. Laplanche can be an academic-sounding writer, but you get these extraordinary insights in his work. I mention him so often that here I’ll just point out a few of what are for me his most important proposals: the relation between sexuality and masochism, the enigmatic signifier, the identity of sexuality and the death drive. Laplanche is something of a strange figure—quite different from Lacan, who was so aware all the time of his role as the revealer and savior of psychoanalysis. MT: In the aesthetic field, your work has shuttled between literature, drama, painting, sculpture, and film. Do works of literature and those of the visual arts enable distinct modes of thought, distinct “ontological laboratories,” for you? Do they allow different forms of “experimentations”? LB: Yes, I would think so, certainly. Literature’s dependent on that which we’re most adept at using in order to stay encrusted in our old habits, that is, language. I find more and more that film and other visual arts are more interesting—or not more interesting, that’s ridiculous, but let’s say with them you can see things more directly, in a way. Someone I’m very interested in now is Éric Rohmer. Rohmer wrote a novel at the beginning of his career, which apparently is a completely uninteresting popular romantic novel; there’s nothing there. It consists mainly of the kinds of conversations that the women in his films have, which are essentially not that interesting. What’s interesting are the images of the women, for example, talking about love and about whether it’s better to stick with one man or to go from one man to another. There’s a

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recurrent scene in Rohmer where two women, two friends, are sitting together and are talking about the usual Rohmer subject—love—in a way that’s not terribly original; but their talking creates a kind of sensual sociability. I think it’s in Pauline at the Beach where the two women, sitting on a bench, move closer together until they end up, talking and laughing, putting an arm around each other. The scene is interesting because it doesn’t suggest anything sexual. It’s not, “Ah, they’ve discovered their lesbianism through this.” Not at all. And in cinema the sensuality of talk can be shown visually in ways that would be very difficult to evoke through only language. We see actually bodies coming closer together, and that closeness is very important. MT: It’s striking that the majority of your commentary on the visual arts takes place in the collaborations with Ulysse Dutoit, while your single-authored texts focus mostly on literature. Is there a reason for this division of labor? Is it merely a question of Dutoit’s scholarly specialization, or is there something about the fact of collaboration that facilitates a discussion of the visual arts? LB: I think in our collaboration it’s mainly a question of intellectual temperament. It interests me very much that he doesn’t share most of my so-called theoretical interests; he’s not interested in psychoanalysis in the way I am. And I can be sort of a dope about looking at visual arts, although I feel I’ve gotten much better about looking at film. In the Caravaggio book, it’s the analyses of the particular paintings that I find most interesting, and those are almost entirely Ulysse’s. I did the writing, but almost everything interesting that we say about the paintings came from him. He has an extraordinary eye for the visual. So we complement each other in these ways—a complementing that could also be tense and frictional. MT: “Friction” may be one of your key terms, especially in the earlier work. LB: Movement is inconceivable without friction. It’s always been very interesting to me that Foucault’s definition of power in the first volume [of The History of Sexuality] has to do, really, with movement and friction. An object moving will always meet something. And that’s what he means by power; he’s not talking about what we think of as power in the usual sense, he’s thinking about the frictional resistance that something will provide to something moving toward it. And you can never get rid of this, and if you translate this psychoanalytically it means that the child’s wish (and the adult’s too) is always going to run up against something, a frictional resistance. And that’s very, very important. And that’s connected to intractability, it’s connected to psychoanalysis essentially—which is all about friction versus the ruthless movement of desire.

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MT: You have consistently tackled questions of ontology in your work. Perhaps the earliest moment in your work where this emerges is the engagement with Deleuze’s reading of Proust and Blanchot’s reading of Beckett in Balzac to Beckett. Ever since then, you have seemed compelled to speculate about what the 2004 Dutoit collaboration calls “forms of being.” What’s at stake for you in thinking being? LB: I think it’s mainly a frictional response to epistemology. Actually, Forms of Being was not our title; the publisher found that title. It struck me as a little too ambitious for the title of that book, but anyway . . . I know I have used the term “ontology” a lot, but I’m a little hesitant with it now. I’m not a professional philosopher, and I don’t think of myself as a theoretician really. MT: One of the ways you deal with your hesitation with ontology is to aestheticize it: it’s always forms of being, always linked to aesthetics. In The Culture of Redemption, and then in Arts of Impoverishment, you embrace Nietzsche’s designation of art as “our truly metaphysical activity,” a site for life’s “justification.” Your ontology, in other words, is an onto-aesthetics. LB: Yes, exactly. And always also an onto-ethical aesthetics. What I’m really suggesting is that art, in a way, is the concretizing of the ontological. The aesthetic for me is ontological, it’s a form of being. And it does bring being into the phenomenological. Somebody asked me at a recent talk in Chicago, “Well, are you dealing with ontology or aesthetics?” My response was to say that I’d like to collapse the two. MT: You briefly discuss Deleuze (particularly Proust and Signs [1964]) in Balzac to Beckett, and return to this discussion in your later texts; there are other scattered references to such books as Anti-Oedipus, Nietzsche and Philosophy, and Coldness and Cruelty in subsequent texts. I detect something of an agreement with Deleuze in your work. You seem to insist on the kind of immanent ontology that one also finds in Deleuze-Guattari. Would you agree with this diagnosis? How do you understand Deleuze’s role in the unfolding of your thought? LB: Deleuze has undoubtedly had a profound effect on my thought—more exactly, on the choice of the questions that preoccupy me most deeply. The connection becomes more visible, I think, in my most recent work. I’m thinking here particularly of the discussion of “the virtual” in Thoughts and Things (although Deleuze’s presence there may be more virtual than actual . . .). The question of the virtual struck me as important already in Difference and Repetition [1968], which I remember reading with enormous admiration shortly after it appeared in French. But now it seems to me that of all Deleuze’s texts it is

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Bergsonism [1966] that most closely resonates—anticipatorily and toutes proportions gardées—with the views of time and of virtuality developed in my latest book. And I say this as someone who read Bergsonism for the first time only after completing Thoughts and Things! MT: How did Anti-Oedipus influence your reading of psychoanalysis? LB: I feel that the book is something of a relic, of course a monumental relic, a very interesting and important one in the history of thinking about and against psychoanalysis. I can still remember even the physical conditions in which I read it, in Paris, when it came out. It was overwhelming, this attack on the moi-papa-maman paradigm. I thought it was very important, but at the same time I think, at least in retrospect, it’s superficial, in two senses. First of all, there’s been an increasing distance in psychoanalysis from the Oedipal paradigm. It’s a little unfair to offer this as a critique of Anti-Oedipus, because this distanciation occurred after the book came out. I don’t mean the analysts did it because of the book, but there has been a rethinking of what role the Oedipus complex plays in psychoanalysis. I know several analysts, Laplanche certainly explicitly, and Bollas also, have spoken of the Oedipus complex as already a binding formation, that is, already a secondary attempt to order things. It really doesn’t explain; it’s something that’s already hiding an explanation. It’s already a certain narrativizing or immobilization of an earlier unbinding movement in the unconscious. Deleuze and Guattari also simplify the Oedipal situation in psychoanalysis in other ways. Think of The Ego and the Id: I once figured out that in addition to the so-called normal Oedipal situation—the little boy wanting to get rid of the father and marry the mother—there are, if you work on all that Freud says about bisexuality and the inverted Oedipus complex, a dozen or so versions that are possible. It’s by no means as simple—the mamapapa paradigm—as the attack in Anti-Oedipus makes it seem. It also struck me that Deleuze and Guattari don’t get the real importance of the Oedipus complex, which concerns not so much the figuration of the actual actors, the infant, the mother, and the father, but rather the necessary triangulation. This occurred to me in teaching a very antagonistic class at Berkeley that absolutely refused everything to do with psychoanalysis. One girl in the class said, “Well, Freud doesn’t take into account the lesbian couple raising a child, or the single parent raising a child, and therefore he’s completely useless.” What occurred to me, which I still think is true, is that the profound thing about the Oedipus complex is that it does suggest that if there’s not a third agent in the relation, the child gets stuck in a dyadic relation, which is disastrous, which is very much enclosed and not open to the world. Freud suggests the necessity of another call and interpellation from somewhere else. And it doesn’t make any dif-

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ference whether it’s the mother or the father. You can imagine a situation where the father is playing the role of the primary caretaker. There would have to be someone else coming in, whether it’s a man or a woman, who would say, “Look, there’s something else.” Where I think the Freudian thing becomes unfortunate, to say the least, is the figuration of the father as a threatening intervention, who pronounces that what is going on in the dyadic relation is forbidden, that one has to give it up in order to accept what Lacan calls the Law. Lacan himself had reservations about the centrality of the Oedipus complex, but still in the seminar on the psychoses he comes back and back and back to the fact that to foreclose the father is a disaster because then you don’t accept the Law. Isn’t it possible to think of the father as not a prohibitive intervention but as an inviting one? “Look, there are other sources of pleasure all around you that have nothing to do with the mother, a variety of sensual appeals.” Why can’t the father be that kind of invitation? Freud keeps insisting that the father’s intervention has to be prohibitive. For example, in the Schreber case study, when the father becomes ill, the son visits him and takes care of him and is very tender toward the father. Freud is aware that the relation between the boy and the father is not one of Law and prohibition and guilt, but he then remarks, extraordinarily, “Well, this doesn’t seem to fit my idea of the Oedipus complex, but we really have to appeal to phylogenesis rather than ontogenesis.” He is so determined that the relation be one of antagonism, war, violence, threats, and renunciation that even when he himself is describing a case where the relation between a father and son is something else, he refuses to accept it as perhaps raising questions about his definition of the Oedipal situation. MT: So here Laplanche’s importance is that he doesn’t emphasize the Oedipal moment but, rather, that call, as you say, that call of the other, which is not a prohibition but a call to become something, to translate the other’s message, the other’s enigma. But then, I guess, the problem with the enigmatic signifier is that it’s profoundly linked to knowledge—it produces an epistemic anguish in the child. LB: Yes, absolutely. I realized my distance from Laplanche when I was writing the chapter “Far Out” [in Thoughts and Things], especially the concluding discussion in that chapter of the drive in Freud. When he tries to explain the source of the call being made on the psyche to translate a bodily stimulus, Laplanche connects it to the enigmatic signifier; whereas I think the drive (which, we should remember, Freud calls a “concept”) may be looked at as an attempt to understand a bodily stimulus, something that happens to the body—of course stimuli also come from the world, but they’re not necessarily enigmatic signifiers. Its origin can be in the self, in the body, in the bodily

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self, rather than it being a reaction to a message from outside the body that has been sent and not understood. But all this is not entirely clear to me; I’m trying to think now about those “calls” from the body. MT: In Laplanche, it is always a human solicitation that calls the infant into desire: der Andere is irreplaceable. Is the limit of psychoanalysis the limit of the human? In other words, is your turn to the aesthetic subject also an effort to think onto-aesthetics/ethics beyond the human? Is aesthetics an effort to get away from a certain anthropocentrism that one arguably finds in psychoanalysis? LB: It is, it is. Actually, already The Forms of Violence was essentially about the nonhuman, the way the nonhuman is composed of correspondences among its parts. Then Homos was entirely about forms of intersubjectivity, but I think there’s also something which is our reaction with the nonhuman, and then finally our place in the world, our place in the universe, our place among objects. There is the question of our relation to objects, and the way in which objects touch us, even at a distance. I’ve become interested in George Herbert Mead, who in the early 1930s wrote a fascinating book, Philosophy of the Present. He talks about intentionality: he suggests that my intention to open that door is already registered by the door; it’s as if the door is reacting or resisting or providing a kind of friction before I even get to the door. He speaks of the human organism’s responses becoming part of the objective field to which the organism reacts. It’s a very strange idea in this sort of sensible, William James-type philosopher; he’s talking about something that’s happening at a distance. This might be thought of as a connection between the human and the nonhuman that doesn’t involve touch but a kind of touch-at-a-distance, a meeting before—and after—it’s actually accomplished. MT: That’s very speculative. In the new book, the chapter “Far Out” may be the most speculative text you’ve ever written. You use the term often in your work; it seems to do important work for you. In Thoughts and Things, you also speak of “speculative psychoanalysis.” Can you say something about the role of “speculation” in your thinking? Is there a relation between what you do and what is known as “speculative philosophy”? LB: That I’m not sure of. But speculation is certainly a kind of habit of thinking for me. When I get one of my ideas, I’m sure other people I’ve read are involved in the idea that has occurred to me, but it seldom occurs to me to ask, “Where did I get that from?” Even though I have of course gotten it from some place, and probably more than one place, I don’t often try to locate the source. Then later, when I give lectures, people say, “Oh, that sounds like Deleuze; that sounds like Levinas; that sounds like, I don’t know who else,

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maybe something in Derrida.” I say, “That’s interesting, I’m sure there are connections because I’ve read those people, so there have to be some influences.” But if an idea occurs and you think it’s an interesting idea, why not try it, just try it out. And that’s what I mean by speculation; it’s a sort of a philosophical trying-out, a reflective trying out of an idea to see where it takes you, not in the wild sense of just anything goes . . . I think we should be encouraged to work on what Foucault called une problématique, and on “problems” as Deleuze defines them early on in his book on Bergson. There are a lot of French writers who belong to what I call the n’importe quoi school of thinking, which means “anything goes.” People like Baudrillard, much of whose thought is very much nonrigorous speculation. The French have a talent for that—not the best French writers. In contrast, “speculate rigorously” means “let yourself go ahead with something without worrying about where it comes from, or the kind of truth it may or may not have.” MT: To continue, perhaps, on “speculation”: anecdotally speaking, I have been present on a couple of occasions where readers of your work have used the term “mysticism” to describe the inflections of your thought, especially in the later texts. What is your reaction to this appellation? LB: I don’t know what they mean by “mysticism.” It may just mean that they think I’ve gone too far in this “speculation,” I guess. But, then, why not “go too far”? MT: Your first book, Marcel Proust, has just been reissued with a new preface. What strikes you most when you reread this book now, almost fifty years after its original publication? LB: A lot of things. It was a very interesting experience, reading it again. First of all, it struck me that, even though I hadn’t read Freud when I wrote the book, I was thinking psychoanalytically, a mode of thought that interests Tim [Dean] for example, who’s writing a book on the subject. For me, thinking psychoanalytically is connected to what we talked about earlier, you know that sense of another syntax of conscious thinking. This is what I would call “thinking psychoanalytically.” Godard does it in the structure of his films without making any explicit appeal to psychoanalysis at all. I don’t think it would be fair to him to say, “Well, he’s remembering without realizing the Freud that he read and was profoundly influenced by.” I think that would be ridiculous—that would be nonrigorous speculation about Godard. But it interested me very much that already in the 60s I was thinking psychoanalytically, especially in terms of the relation of Marcel to the desire of the other, even though I didn’t have any of the scholarly implements with which to articulate that; that’s just

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what came from the text. I say in the new preface that I wouldn’t retract or change anything in the book. I think it’s a good analysis of Proust, but in a way it could be, to use a term that’s become important to me, recategorized— and in a way this is precisely what I have been doing in my subsequent work. The subsequent psychoanalytic references add to the original reading, enrich it in a way, and also make it a little more precise, or more expansive. It’s as if later versions of certain thoughts keep spiraling out with new additions. It’s a strange relation of undoing but not quite undoing what you’ve thought; it’s supplementing, it’s additive in a way. MT: So you’re describing your own work in this way, which is what you’ve said about the Proustian text: it’s unfolding in concentric circles. LB: Yes, exactly. There’s a book written of Proust a long time ago by someone who’s not a great, great critic, but nevertheless very smart, Germaine Bree. In The World of Marcel Proust, she reads the Combray section, the first seventy or eighty pages of the book, and says that everything in À la Recherche is already there. She didn’t mean that the rest became superfluous; rather, she argues that Proust tries out Combray over and over again. That’s the kind of philosophical or speculative thinking that I’m interested in. If there’s something important there, why not try it again? I’m not interested in variety very much. People have said to me, “You already said that twenty years ago.” Well, fine. That simply means that it was an important idea and it’s remained an important idea but I’ve found ways to recategorize it, to play with it in a different way, adding something, changing something. I think that’s all very important. I think that’s what Proust does. For example, when he gets the idea that jealousy of the other is essentially the jealousy of the self, that move can only take place after about 2,000 pages of recategorizing the movement of jealous desire in Combray. MT: You’ve retired from Berkeley but you continue teaching. What has been the role of teaching in the way your work has developed? LB: That’s become very important recently. I never enjoyed teaching all the years I was at Berkeley, but strangely enough, belatedly, I began to enjoy it after I retired. That’s why I’ve been very interested in all these visiting appointments. I’ve done several of them in the past fifteen years or so. I now enjoy it very much, partly because I don’t have to deal with the administrative drudgery that we all have to deal with. So you’re just with a group, and—I’ll just end on this one thing, it was very interesting to me when it happened—in a class I was trying to talk about impersonal intimacy, and the students were both interested and somewhat irritated by this idea. “What does impersonal intimacy mean? Intimacy seems to contradict the very notion of the impersonal.

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How can you be impersonally intimate?” And it suddenly occurred to me that we were doing it. That’s what this class of ten or fifteen people were doing: we were being impersonally intimate. I said, “I don’t know anything about any of you, and I’m not interested.” I have friends who have these wonderful relations with students: they have them for dinner, they become great friends, and so forth. That’s never happened to me. I’ve never had any close relation, a friendship or otherwise, with a student. I just enjoy the group, not knowing who the people are. And I don’t know if they know each other either. But we’re talking about really important, intimate things. I now think that this is what education should be: when students ask me, “Well, how can all this come about, this other society, this utopic kind of community that you’re talking about?” I say, why not have more groups where you practice impersonal intimacy, where you practice not wanting to know who the other person is, what’s his or her background. Just talk about some things that are extremely important or intimate—I can’t imagine talking about anything more intimate than, say, Women in Love. But at the same time there’s something impersonal about this group of people that don’t have any personal stake in what they’re talking about, at least with each other at that time. The personal stakes have spoiled so many of the great liberation movements, the gay groups and the feminist groups: they got into all these fights about what kind of sex is acceptable, whether lesbians should be part of the movement, and so on. These personal issues have really inhibited what might have been absolutely liberatory in some of these movements. We need training in impersonal communities. MT: So the classroom is an example of how to train one to move differently in the world. LB: Yes, I think it could be. Pedagogy can be important as a practice of the self and of community, a sort of expanding Foucault’s idea of the practice of the self. There was a conference on “collaboration” at the University of Pennsylvania a couple of months ago, organized by my friend Kaja Silverman, in connection with an exhibition in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of the people who spoke at the conference was Ann Wagner. She talked about an invitation that she got with another woman, an artist, to collaborate for two or three months at the University of Chicago. They didn’t know each other before. The collaboration was set up so that, even though they didn’t live together, they would meet and talk about their work. The university, of course, usually does this in the hope that the people collaborating will produce something at the end of the collaboration. What was interesting about these two women’s time together is that they didn’t produce a thing. All they did was to be together in some interesting way. When Ann would walk over to her

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friend’s apartment, she would see things that she thought her collaborator might be interested in seeing—it might be something like a twig or a pebble shaped in an interesting way—and she would give this to the woman as a little gift, and the woman would set them up, and at the end of the two or three months she made, it wasn’t what they produced at all, but she created various groups of shapes. But the point is, at the end of the three months they hadn’t produced anything. Speaking of this to my students, I said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if universities did not exist in order to produce knowledge? If universities just suggested that we be—differently—or a little more than the way in which we are. What if universities were like communities of being rather than factories of knowledge?” I’ve no idea how you would set that up administratively. But Chicago actually did this: they didn’t ask for anything at the end of it; they might have said, “Well, you’ve been together.” And that might disperse and proliferate and be contagious. I think that’s contagion of being rather than transmission of knowledge. That, you might even say, is ontology versus epistemology, in my decidedly nonprofessional philosophical language. Interview conducted 30 and 31 May 2013, in New York City.

Contributors

Leo Bersani is Professor Emeritus of French at the University of California, Berkeley and the author, most recently, of Intimacies (with Adam Phillips) (2008), Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays (2010), and Thoughts and Things (2014). His first book, Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Art and of Life (1965), was reissued, with a new introduction, in 2013. Patrick ffrench is Professor of French at King’s College London, having previously been a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of French at University College London, where he also completed his PhD on the review Tel Quel. He is the author of The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1996), The Cut: Reading Bataille’s Histoire de l’œil (2000), After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community (2007), and a number of articles and chapters on twentieth-century French literature and contemporary theory. He is currently working on two book projects, one on cinematographic ontology in Proust’s À la Recherche du temps perdu, and the other on the moving body in French literature and culture from Baudelaire to Beckett. Jack Halberstam is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Halberstam is the author of five books, including Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), Female Masculinity (1998), In A Queer Time and Place (2005), The Queer Art of Failure (2011), and Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (2012), and has written articles that have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and collections. Halberstam has coedited a number of anthologies, including Posthuman Bodies with Ira Livingston (1995) and a special issue of Social Text with José Muñoz and David Eng, “What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?” (2005). A popular speaker, Jack gives lectures around the country and internationally every year on topics such as queer failure, sex and media, subcultures, visual culture, gender variance, popular film, and animation. Halberstam is currently working on several projects, including a book titled The Wild on queer anarchy, performance and protest culture, the visual representation of anarchy, and the intersections between animality, the

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Contributors

human, and the environment. Ellis Hanson is Professor of English at Cornell University. He is the author of Decadence and Catholicism (1998), as well as the editor of Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film (1999) and “Digital Desire,” a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (2011). He is currently working on a book on cinema and child sexuality. David Kurnick is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. His research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, the history and theory of the novel, gender and sexuality studies, and sociology and literature. He is the author of Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel (2012) and of articles in PMLA, Raritan, Victorian Studies, ELH, Critical Quarterly, and Novel. His translation of Julio Cortázar’s 1975 novella Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires was published in 2014. Heather Love is the R. Jean Brownlee Term Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include gender studies and queer theory, modernism and modernity, affect studies, disability studies, film and visual culture, psychoanalysis, sociology and literature, and critical theory. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (2007), the editor of a special issue of GLQ on Gayle Rubin (“Rethinking Sex”), and the coeditor of a special issue of New Literary History (“Is There Life after Identity Politics?”). She has current projects on reading methods in literary studies, comparative social stigma, and mentorship and generations in queer studies. E. L. McCallum is Associate Professor of English at Michigan State University, where her research and teaching ranges across critical theory, queer and feminist theory, film studies, and American literature. She coedited with Mikko Tuhkanen The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature (2014) and Queer Times, Queer Becomings (2011). Her first book was Object Lessons: How to Do Things with Fetishism (1998). Recent essays have examined the telephonic subject in Edith Wharton and William Gass, the Gothic in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the verbal photograph in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and montage in Vertov and Faulkner. David McWhirter is Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University, where he teaches classes on modernist literature and culture, early cinema, and U.S. southern studies. He is the author of Desire and Love in Henry James (1989) and editor of Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (1995), Aesthetic Subjects (with Pamela R. Matthews, 2003), and Henry James in Context (2010). Currently he is completing a book project on James’s late

Contributors

299

1890s fictions and editing Roderick Hudson for the forthcoming Cambridge University Press Complete Fiction of Henry James series. McWhirter’s essays on James and other topics have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, Mississippi Quarterly, ELH, ELN, The Henry James Review, and numerous edited collections, most recently Eudora Welty, Whiteness, and Race (2012) and Transforming Henry James (2013). Kevin Ohi is Professor of English at Boston College. The recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he is the author of Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov (2005), Henry James and the Queerness of Style (2011), and Dead Letters Sent: Queer Literary Transmission (2015), as well as articles on queer theory, cinema, aestheticism and decadence, Victorian literature, and twentieth-century American literature. James Penney is the author of three books: After Queer Theory: The Limits of Sexual Politics (2014), The Structures of Love: Art and Politics beyond the Transference (2012), and The World of Perversion: Psychoanalysis and the Impossible Absolute of Desire (2006). He is currently working on a new book project prospectively entitled “The Poetic Acts of Jean Genet.” He teaches in the Cultural Studies and Modern Languages (French) Departments at Trent University, Canada. Michael D. Snediker is the author of Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions (2009) and the forthcoming Contingent Figure: Aesthetic Duress from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. His book of poems, The Apartment of Tragic Appliances (2013), was a Lambda Finalist for Poetry. He is Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston. Mikko Tuhkanen is Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies at Texas A&M University. He is the author of The American Optic: Psychoanalysis, Critical Race Theory, and Richard Wright (2009), as well as the coeditor, with E. L. McCallum, of Queer Times, Queer Becomings (2011) and The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature (2015). He has published essays in diacritics, differences, American Literature, GLQ, Modern Fiction Studies, Cultural Critique, and elsewhere. He is working on a book project on Leo Bersani’s philosophical genealogies.

Index

Adams, Don, 270n6 aesthetics: Bersani on, 2, 3–4, 292; of disability, 179; onto-ethical, 289; and sexuality, 170; and social spaces, 40 “Against Ulysses” (Bersani), 235 AIDS. See HIV/AIDS Almodóvar, Pedro, 17–18 Althusser, Louis, 146; theory of interpellation, 124 annihilating desire. See desire antiessentialism, and Homos (Bersani), 1–2 antinatalism: and Beckett, 149–50; paradox of, 154. See also monadism Antonioni, Michelangelo, Blow-Up (film), 102 Anzaldúa, Gloria, 28n1; Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 1 archival history, 72, 76 “Ardent Masturbation” (Bersani), 37 Aristophanes, 214, 221n21 art: Bersani’s definition of, 62; as redemptive, 41–42, 62–63 Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais (Bersani and Dutoit), 4, 9, 17–20, 28n4, 143, 157–58, 169–72, 175–76, 179–84, 188, 219, 289; and Beckett, 148–49, 160–61n9; and monadism, 153–55, 157, 159n2; and Rothko, 169–70 asociality: alternative, 94; Bersani on, 91–92, 280; in Homos (Bersani), 92; and language, 283; and Sade, 195–96, 199, 203–205; and solitude, 281–83

Assyrian art, 121n2, 177–79, 186, 199, 218 Auden, W. H., 253 Austen, Jane, Emma, 273n22 autoeroticism, 144 Badiou, Alain, 152 Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (Bersani), 2, 3, 143, 289; Leibniz in, 142; margins in, 48; monadism, 159; monadism in, 150–51; social spaces in, 40 Barthes, Roland, 137, 222n30, 252; Miller on, 66n2; “Objective Literature,” 50–51; and Sade, 213; on style, 271n10 Bataille, Georges: Madame Edwarda, 129–30, 137; Story of the Eye, 137 Baudelaire and Freud (Bersani), 2, 6, 10, 14; and discontinuity, 148 Beckett, Samuel: and antinatalism, 149–50; and Bersani, 18–21, 25, 142–43, 148–58, 160–61n9, 244, 270n4; and impersonal intimacy, 152; impoverishment in works by, 25; and monadism, 148, 150–51, 153–56, 158–59; and queer temporality, 19–20; on reduction of language, 151–52; and sociability, 18, 143, 157–58; works: Company, 18, 283; Waiting for Godot, 18, 158, 283; Worstward Ho, 151–52, 283. See also monadism Bell, Millicent, 246n11

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Index

Bergson, Henri, 147 Berlant, Lauren, 172 Bersani, Leo: on Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael (Segal), 46, 48, 49; on aesthetics, 2, 3–4, 292; on annihilating desire, 8–9, 12–13, 19, 126–27; and antiessentialism, 1–2; as antisocial, 38–39, 51–52n4, 52n5, 280; argumentative status of, 64, 67n4; and art as redemptive, 41–42, 62–63; on asociality, 91–92; and Assyrian palace reliefs, 177–79; on Baudelaire’s flâneur, 116–18; and Beckett, 18–21, 25, 142–43, 148–58, 244, 270n4; on betrayal, 280; and Blanchot, 151–52; on Caravaggio’s paintings, 187; Caravaggio’s Secrets (with Dutoit), 3; on critical imperialism, 9–10; definition of art, 62; and Deleuze, 142–43, 150, 152, 153–54, 158, 289–90; and Dutoit, 47, 173, 288; early work of, 2; on Edelman, 91, 280, 282; on the ego, 117; and enigmatic signifier, 131–32; on ethics, 2, 3, 13; on Flaubert, 14; and Foucault, 20, 25, 60–61, 110–11; and Freud,, 106–20, 126, 128; on The Golden Bowl (James), 12–13; on impersonal intimacy, 84, 158, 198, 294–96; and James, 27, 30nn21–22, 225–45; on jouissance, 171, 185–86; on Joyce, 10–11; on Lacan, 287; and Laplanche, 2–3, 25, 106, 192, 287; and Leibniz, 142; on literary texts as enigma vs. puzzle/ riddle, 10–13, 30n23; on literature vs. visual arts, 287–88; on Mallarmé, 11; and monadism, 142–43, 146–47, 148, 150–55, 158–59; and negative modes of knowing, 69; on Oedipal complex, 290–91; on ontology, 1, 2, 15, 16, 18, 26, 29n12, 129, 143, 153, 289, 296; on Passion (film), 57–58; on primal scene, 94–95; on primary narcissism, 147; and Proust, 9, 13, 26–27, 150, 152, 191–204, 211–12, 217–19, 219n4, 220–21n17; and psychoanalysis, 2–3,

6–14, 24–25, 28n5, 37–38, 42–43, 106–20, 125, 127, 142, 147–48, 152, 160n8, 282; and queer betrayal, 72–75, 77–79; and queer of color critique, 21, 23; and queer theory, 1–2, 4–5, 28n1, 237–38, 279–80; on realist fiction, 7, 19, 29n12; rejection of Hegelian dialectics, 3–5; on relationality, 193, 219n2, 280; on Rothko, 169–72, 174–88; and Sade, 193, 195–96, 199, 203–17, 219; on sexuality, 110–12, 117, 127–28, 147; on shattering/ébranlement, 18, 23, 26, 75, 79, 127, 192; and sociability, 16–18, 39–41, 45, 47, 49, 118–20, 121–22n10, 132, 157–58; on speculation, 292–93; on “swerving,” 14–18, 23, 61, 62, 157; on traditional literary criticism, 5–8; on virtuality, 281, 286, 289–90; writing process of, 67n4; works: “Ardent Masturbation,” 37; Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais (with Dutoit), 4, 9, 17–20, 28n4, 143, 148–50, 153–55, 157–58, 159n2, 169–72, 175–76, 179–84, 188, 219, 289; Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction, 2, 3, 40, 142, 143, 150– 51, 159, 289; Baudelaire and Freud, 2, 6, 10, 14, 148; Caravaggio (with Dutoit), 4; Caravaggio’s Secrets (with Dutoit), 4, 9, 10, 14, 132, 134–37, 186–87; The Culture of Redemption, 4, 11, 14, 18, 39–42, 46, 49, 61, 69, 116–17, 142, 147, 148–49, 150, 158, 169, 192–93, 221, 225–27, 230, 235, 289; The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé, 2, 5–14, 16–17, 148–49, 228, 235, 245, 246n6; Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity, 239; Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (Bersani and Dutoit), 289; Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (with Dutoit), 4, 9, 17, 26, 171, 173–74, 179–80, 182–86; The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art

Index and Modern Culture (with Dutoit), 4, 14–15, 177–78, 186, 193, 218, 292; The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art, 2, 6, 7–8, 13, 24–25, 28n4, 106, 108–11, 113, 128, 134, 137, 182, 185–86, 192, 206–207, 210–13, 216–17, 225–26, 230–31, 233–34, 237; The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (Bersani), 246n9; A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature, 2, 3, 8, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 125, 126–27, 142, 147–49, 150, 159, 169, 227–31; Homos, 1, 4, 5, 17–18, 44–45, 59, 73–74, 84, 92–96, 103, 152, 159, 182, 192–93, 196, 198–200, 205, 209, 237–38, 271n15, 279, 280, 292; Intimacies (with Phillips), 26, 84, 150, 173–74, 177, 203, 225, 229, 237–40, 243–44; “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” 1, 4, 28n1, 58–59, 76; Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays, 4, 11, 15, 30n22, 52n5, 57–58, 59–60, 62, 69, 73, 79, 106, 114, 118–20, 127, 147, 151, 157–58, 170–72, 183, 187, 192–93, 200–201, 203–204, 210–11, 213–14, 217–18, 238, 240–42, 244–45; “The Jamesian Lie,” 183, 225, 227, 245n5; Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art, 43, 192, 194, 196, 203, 206, 212, 219n4, 227–29, 293–94; “Merde Alors” (with Dutoit), 193, 205–12, 214–16, 219n1; “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of a Dove,’ ” 27; “No Exit for Beckett,” 143, 149, 151–52; “The Other Freud,” 14; “Re-perusal, Registered,” 225, 245; “Representation and Its Discontents,” 193, 206, 210, 216–17, 219n1; “The Subject of Power,” 230, 235; Thoughts and Things, 280, 281, 282, 283, 289, 291, 292; “Against Ulysses,” 235. See also Laplanche, Jean; specific works betrayal: ethics of, 23, 77, 280; queer, 71–75, 77–79 The Birds (film), 90–91 Bishop, Elizabeth, “The Map,” 171, 188n5

303

blackness, and negative modes of knowing, 70–71 black power, 21 Blanchot, Maurice, 150–55, 158; The Book to Come, 154; and solitude, 283; The Space of Literature, 154 blindness, 174–77, 181, 184 Bloom, Harold, 250, 270n3 Blow-Up (film), 102 Bloxham, John Francis, 255 Bollas, Christopher, 30n23, 172, 285–86 Bowling for Columbine (film), 85. See also Elephant (film) Bree, Germaine, The World of Marcel Proust, 294 Brinkema, Eugenie, 188nn2–3 Brooks, Peter, 19, 29n9, 245n2 Bruns, Gerald L., 154 Butler, Judith: antifoundationalism of, 38; Hegelian dialectics, 4–5; on performativity, 4–5, 44; on power and psychoanalysis, 125; works: “Geist ist Zeit: French Interpretations of Hegel’s Absolute” 5; Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 1, 4, 5, 209–10; The Psychic Life of Power, 125; Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France, 1, 4; Undoing Gender, 5 camera: as gun, 83–84, 88–89; as phallus, 83–84; a tergo, 96. See also Elephant (film) camp, 273n23 Canguilhem, Georges, 22 Caravaggio: Betrayal of Christ, 187; The Fortune Teller, 136; The Resurrection of Lazarus, 187; Supper at Emmaus, 187 Caravaggio (Bersani and Dutoit), 4 Caravaggio’s Secrets (Bersani and Dutoit), 3, 4, 9, 10, 14, 132, 134–37, 186–87 Caserio, Robert, 245 castration anxiety, 95, 114 Caviezel, Jim, The Thin Red Line (film), 24 “character space,” 48

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Index

cinematic gaze: and gay men, 89; and impersonal intimacy, 102; and women, 89 Clair, John, 246n11 Columbine massacre. See Elephant (film) complementarity, 203, 220–21n17 consciousness, 265–69 Contempt (film), 61–62, 135–36 Cooper, Dennis, 30n22 coprophagia, 215 correspondence of forms, 282–83 creolization, 29n12 critical imperialism: definition of, 9. See also literary criticism Cullen, Dave, 84–85 The Culture of Redemption (Bersani), 4, 11, 14, 18, 69, 116–17, 169, 192–93, 221, 225–27, 230, 235, 289; and Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael (Segal), 46; desire in, 39–40; and discontinuity, 148–49; homosexuality in, 49–50; Leibniz in, 142; and monadism, 150; primary narcissism in, 147; Proust’s “swerving” in, 61; rejection of art as redemptive in, 41–42; and sociability, 158 Davidson, Arnold, 160n8 Dean, Tim: on “antisocial” debates, 51–52n4; on Bersani as anti-social, 38; on shattering/ébranlement, 52n5; on sociality and antisociality in Bersani’s work, 52n5; on spatiality and intimacy, 45 death drive: and Elephant (film), 90–91, 101, 103; and solitude, 282 The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (Bersani), 2, 5–14, 16–17, 228, 235, 245, 246n6; and discontinuity, 148–49 deconstruction, 108 Delany, Samuel, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 18 de Lauretis, Teresa, 1, 160n8 Deleuze, Gilles, 3, 11, 45, 152–53, 206, 271n15; and Bersani, 142–43, 150, 152, 153–54, 158, 289–90;

and monadism, 142, 153–54, 158; and Proustian “essences,” 150; and psychoanalysis, 160n7; on self-relation, 138; works: Anti-Oedipus (with Guattari), 125, 126, 290; Proust and Signs, 150 de Man, Paul, Allegories of Reading, 126 Denis, Claire, Beau Travail (film), 63–64 Derrida, Jacques, 108, 121n4 desire: cinematic, 89; in The Culture of Redemption (Bersani), 39–40; Deleuzean conception of, 125, 126; vs. drive, 115; in Firbank’s work, 251–60, 269; as narcissistic, 284; object of, as enigmatic signifier, 133–34; and primary narcissism, 113; and sociability, 157 desire, annihilating: Bersani, on 8–9, 12–13, 19, 126–27; vs. fascination, 12–13; Laplanche’s alternative to, 10–13; in psychoanalytic theory, 3; and realist fiction, 29n12; vs. sociability, 16–17; “swerving” as alternative to, 17. See also literary criticism; shattering/ébranlement Dickinson, Emily, 185 differences (journal), 1 digressions. See “swerving” disability studies, 21–22, 28n4, 169, 179 Dollimore, Jonathan, 43–44 drives: vs. desire, 115; vs. enigmatic signifiers, 291–92; Freud on, 18–19, 115–16. See also sexuality Dutoit, Ulysse: Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais (with Bersani), 4, 9, 17–20, 28n4, 143, 148–50, 153–55, 157–58, 159n2, 169–72, 175–76, 179–84, 188, 219, 289; and Bersani, 47, 173, 288; Caravaggio (with Bersani), 4; Caravaggio’s Secrets (with Bersani), 3, 4, 9, 10, 14, 132, 134–37, 186–87; Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (with Bersani), 4, 9, 17, 26, 171, 173–74, 179–80, 182–86, 239, 289; The Forms

Index of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modern Culture (with Bersani), 4, 14–15, 177–78, 186, 193, 218, 292; “Merde Alors” (with Bersani), 193, 205–12, 214–16 Edel, Leon, 177, 226–27. See also James, Henry Edelman, Lee, 72, 89–92; Bersani on, 91, 280, 282; on primal scene, 89–90; and queer studies of cinema, 90–91; “sinthomosexuality,” 90 the ego, Freud on, 117, 141 ego psychology, 109 Elephant (film), 23–24; camera technique a tergo in, 87–89, 98–99, 101; camera technique in, 83, 86–88, 99–101, 103; camera vs. gun in, 88; and death drive, 90–91, 101, 103; elephant parable in, 85–86; formalism of, 85–86, 88; homosexuality in, 96–98; impersonal intimacy in, 87, 92, 96–98, 100; jouissance in, 88, 103; plot overview, 84–85; and repressed homosexuality, 90 Ellman, Maud, 186–87 Ellmann, Richard, 246n11 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 169 enigmatic signifier: and Bersani, 131–32; in Contempt (film), 135–36; in The Fortune Teller (Caravaggio), 136; and knowledge, 291; Laplanche on, 130–31; object of desire as, 133–34; and relationality, 131, 132–33; and self-relation, 135; and sexuality, 131; and translation, 155–57. See also literary texts Escoffier, Jeffrey, 42 essence. See monadism; Proust, Marcel Esslin, Martin, 149, 160–61n9 ethics: Bersani on, 2, 3, 13; of betrayal, 23, 77; of enigmatic desire, 13; of failure, 244–45; Lacan on, 175–76; of relationality, 27; of sociability, 18; of “swerving,” 14–16 exile, and social spaces, 47–48

305

fascism: and homosexuality, 71–73, 75–77; and mimetic sexuality, 208–209, 215; and Sadean sexuality, 208–209. See also Nazism Faulkner, William, As I Lay Dying, 26, 27, 264–69, 273–74n24 femininity, 75 Ferguson, Roderick, 70–71 ffrench, Patrick, 24–25 Fiol-Matta, Licia, Queer Mother for the Nation, 78 Firbank, Ronald, 26, 27; Adams on, 270n6; Auden on, 253; and decadence, 250; desire in works by, 251–60, 269; and humorous literary tradition, 251; Lane on, 270n5; narrative voice in works by, 257–64, 271n15; style in, 253; works: The Artificial Princess, 259, 271–72n16; Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, 252–53, 255–62; The Flower Beneath the Foot, 252–54, 263, 271n11, 272nn17–18, 273nn20–21; Valmouth, 252, 263–64 the flâneur, 116–18 formalism: of Elephant (film), 85–86, 88; of Homos (Bersani), 59; impossibility of sustaining, 58; of “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (Bersani), 58–59; of queer theory, 58; and relationality, 65 Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (Bersani and Dutoit), 4, 9, 17, 26, 171, 173–74, 179–80, 182–86, 289; co-authorship of, 173; cover image of, 26, 173–74; formalism of Contempt (Godard) in, 61–62 The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modern Culture (Bersani and Dutoit), 4, 14–15, 177–78, 186, 193, 218, 292 Forrester, John, 12 Foucault, Michel: and Bataille, 129; and Bersani, 20, 25, 60–61, 110–11; contradictions of, 38; on friction, 288; on Hegelian dialectics, 20; on

306

Index

Foucault, Michel (continued) homosexuality, 239; and power’s productivity, 4; and psychoanalysis, 121n6, 125; on psychology, 12; and relationality, 281; and Sade, 204; in San Francisco, 284; and selfrelation, 124; on sexuality, 110–12; and sociability, 283–84; works: The History of Sexuality, 138n1; “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 20; The Use of Pleasure, 129 Freeman, Elizabeth, 21 French modernism, 2 Freud, Sigmund: and Bersani, 106–20, 126, 128; case studies of, 109–10; Derrida on, 121n4; on drives, 18–19, 115–16; on the ego, 117, 141; “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” 205; Lacan on, 107–10, 114–18; and Laplanche, 3, 141, 144–47, 160n8; and monadism, 158; Oedipal fantasies, 115, 290–91; primal scene, 89–90, 94–96; primary narcissism, 24, 112–14, 144–47; on sexuality, 7, 10, 128; on sublimation, 93; and “swerving,” 15. See also psychoanalysis The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (Bersani), 2, 6, 7–8, 13, 24–25, 28n4, 106, 108–11, 113, 128, 134, 137, 182, 185–86, 192, 206–207, 210–13, 216–17, 225–26, 230–31, 233–34, 237, 246n9; ffrench on, 24–25 friction, 288, 292 Fuss, Diana, inside/out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, 1 A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Bersani), 2, 3, 8, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 125, 126–27, 142, 169, 227–31; decentering in, 49; and homosexuality, 56–57; Kurnick on, 56–57; and monadism, 150, 159; and psychoanalysis, 147–48; realist fiction in, 62 Gallop, Jane, 221n24 gay betrayal. See betrayal

Genet, Jean: Funeral Rites, 73–74, 92–96, 103; and solitude, 283. See also betrayal geometry: and boundaries, 179; and sex, 182; triangles vs. rectangles, 174; triangulation of Oedipal complex, 290–91. See also Rothko, Mark gesture, 285–86 Glavey, Brian, 38, 45, 52n5 Glissant, Édouard: on creolization, 29n12; and literary imperialism, 9, 12 Godard, Jean-Luc, 281, 293; Contempt (film), 61–62, 135–36, 173–74; Passion (film), 57–58 Greenblatt, Stephen, 138 Griffin, Susan, 225 Grosz, Elizabeth, 160n7 Guattari, Félix, 152–53; Anti-Oedipus (with Deleuze), 125, 126, 290 Hacking, Ian, 145 Haeckel, Ernst, 22–23 Halberstam, Jack, 21, 23; The Queer Art of Failure, 69–70 Hanson, Ellis, on Elephant (film), 23–24 Harris, Eric, 84–85, 88 Hartmann, Heinz, 109 Haynes, Todd, 280 Hegelian dialectics: Bersani’s rejection of, 3–5; Butler on, 4–5; Foucault on, 20; and literary criticism, 8–10; vs. “swerving,” 17 Hewitt, Andrew, 75 HIV/AIDS: and 1980s queer-theoretical texts, 1; and “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (Bersani), 4 Hocquenghem, Guy, 45 hominization, 3, 25, 145–46, 156–57 “homo-narcissism,” 161n20 Homos (Bersani), 1, 4, 5, 17–18, 182, 192–93, 196, 198–200, 205, 209, 237– 38, 279, 280; and antiessentialism, 1–2; asociality in, 92; content and form of, 59; and Funeral Rites (Genet), 92–96; impersonal intimacy, 84, 103, 152; impersonal narcissism, 271n15;

Index and intersubjectivity, 292; and monadism, 159; negative modes of knowing in, 73–74; queerness a tergo as reparative, 92–96; sex and social spaces, 44–45 homosexuality: contradictions of, 65–66; in The Culture of Redemption (Bersani), 49–50; double sign of, 59; in Elephant (film), 96–98; and fascism, 71–73, 75–77; Foucault on, 239; and A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Bersani), 56–57; and identity, 59–60, 66–67n2, 76; as individual vs. social phenomenon, 40–43; presence of, in Bersani’s work, 39; and Proust, 195–203, 220–21n17; and psychoanalysis, 42–43; and relationality, 238–39; repressed, in Elephant (film), 90 Howie, Cary, 172 Huffer, Lynne, 52n7 Humphreys, Laud, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, 45 identity: and homosexuality, 59–60, 66–67n2, 76; queer theory as refusal of, 58; sameness vs. selfhood, 231– 32 impersonal intimacy: and Beckett, 152; Bersani on, 84, 158, 198; and cinematic gaze, 102; and cruising, 118, 120; in Elephant (film), 87, 92, 96–98, 100; and Funeral Rites (Genet), 92–96; Homos (Bersani), 84, 92–96, 103, 152; Intimacies (Bersani), 84; and monadism, 152; and pedagogy, 294–96; and Proust, 197, 199. See also monadism; sociability the individual: Bersani’s destruction of, 40–41; vs. social world, 51 intentionality, 292 interpellation, 124, 132 interstices. See rectangles and interstices Intimacies (Bersani and Phillips), 150, 173–74, 177, 203, 225, 229, 237–40, 243–44; co-authorship of, 173;

307

cover image of, 26, 174; impersonal intimacy, 84; and monadism, 150 intimacy. See impersonal intimacy; relationality “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (Bersani), 1, 4, 28n1; content and form of, 58–59; hetero- and homosexual identity, 76; Kurnick on, 52n8; as response to Watney, 4 Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays (Bersani), 4, 11, 15, 30n22, 69, 114, 118–20, 127, 170–72, 183, 187, 192–93, 200–201, 203–204, 210–11, 213–14, 217–18, 238, 240–42, 244–45; argumentativeness in, 64; Bersani on art, 62; Bersani on Passion (Godard), 57–58; and Bersani’s writing process, 67n4; and enigmatic signifier, 157; Glavey on, 52n5; homosexuality’s doubled function in, 59–60; jouissance in, 171; monadism in, 147, 151; negative modes of knowing in, 73, 79; and relationality, 251; sociability in, 157–58 James, Henry: and Bersani, 27, 225–45; “center of consciousness” technique, 228–29, 232, 240, 246n7; and consciousness, 269; Edel’s biography of, 226–27; and modernity, 245n3; in Paris, 245n2; as political novelist, 246n8; and relationality, 235–43; sexuality in works by, 233–35; “swerving” in works by, 227–28, 235; works: The Ambassadors, 66–67n2, 229, 233, 237, 242–43; The American, 232; The Awkward Age, 232, 238; “The Beast in the Jungle,” 171, 188n1, 229, 240, 243; The Bostonians, 236, 237; In the Cage, 236; The Europeans, 235; Europeans, 183; The Golden Bowl, 12–13, 30nn21–22, 169, 226–28, 233–34, 238, 246n9; The Portrait of a Lady, 232, 236, 238, 246n13; The Princess Casimassima, 237; Roderick Hudson, 177, 237; The

308

Index

James, Henry (continued) Sacred Fount, 177, 246n7; The Spoils of Poynton, 238; The Turn of the Screw, 228–29, 231–34, 237, 246n11; What Maisie Knew, 231–33, 240–41; The Wings of the Dove, 226–27, 229, 231, 233, 244 “The Jamesian Lie” (Bersani), 183, 225, 227, 245n5 Jameson, Frederic, 146, 229 Jöttkandt, Sigi, 225 jouissance, 108; as ascesis, 170, 179–80; Bersani on, 171, 185–86; and The Birds (film), 91; in Elephant (film), 88, 103; and fascination, 130; and masochism, 206; and shattering/ ébranlement, 45, 75, 84; and social spaces, 186 Joyce, James: Bersani on, 10–11; Ulysses, 235 Kelly, Ellsworth, 175 King, Stephen, 181 Klein, Melanie, 148 Kris, Ernst, 109 Kristeva, Julia, 233 Kurnick, David, 22–23, 38–39, 49, 50; on A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Bersani), 56–57; on “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (Bersani), 52n8 Lacan, Jacques: Bersani on, 287; on the ego, 117–18; on ethics, 175–76; on Freud, 107–10, 114–18; and gesture, 285–86; jouissance, 185–86; on Oedipal complex, 291 Ladenson, Elizabeth, 212 Lane, Christopher, 172, 270n5 language, 132, 151–52, 154–55, 158, 283, 287 Laplanche, Jean, 26, 155–56; alternative of, to annihilating desire, 10–13; and Bersani, 2–3, 25, 106, 192, 287; and Derrida, 121n4; on enigmatic signifier, 130–31, 155–57, 291; and

enigma vs. riddle, 10, 29n8, 29n15; and Freud, 3, 141, 144–47, 160n8; law of “theoretico-genesis,” 22–23; Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, 128; and monadism, 141–42, 145–47, 156, 158; and otherness, 8, 25; on post-1915 Freud, 24; on primary narcissism, 145, 159, 160n4; and productive masochism, 127; and queer temporality, 19; resources for, 28n2; on sexuality, 6, 29n10, 160n3, 213; and shattering/ébranlement, 134; and “swerving,” 15–16 Lee, Joon Oluchi, 75 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm: and Beckett, 159n2; and Bersani, 142; on monadism, 145, 152–53, 159; and Proust, 161n12 lesbianism, 221n20 literary criticism, 8–9; as annihilating desire, 8; Bersani on traditional forms of, 5–8; and Hegelian dialectics, 8–9; imperialism of, 9–12 literary texts: as “disabled,” 5–8; as enigma vs. puzzle/riddle, 6–8, 10–13, 30n23; as “queer,” 8; vs. visual arts, 287–88 Loewenstein, Rudolph, 109 love, 214 Love, Heather, 22 Lovejoy, Arthur, 4, 150 Lucey, Michael, 50 Malick, Terrence, The Thin Red Line (film), 24, 26, 62, 182–86 Mallarmé, Stéphane: Bersani on, 11; and sociability, 17; sociability of, 17. See also under Bersani, Leo Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art (Bersani), 43, 192, 194, 196, 203, 206, 212, 219n4, 227–29, 293– 94 margins: concreteness of, 47–48, 50; and A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Bersani), 49 marriage, 236, 286

Index Martin, Robert K., 236 masochism, 127, 206, 212–13 McCallum, E. L., 26 McRuer, Robert, 21–22 McWhirter, David, 27 Mead, George Herbert, Philosophy of the Present, 292 Meisel, Perry, 226 Melville, Herman, Moby-Dick, 169 “Merde Alors” (Bersani and Dutoit), 193, 205–12, 214–16, 219n1 metonymy, 214–18 Miller, D. A., 66n2, 90, 252 Miller, Jacques-Alain, 117 Miller, Richard, 29n15 mimetic sexuality: Bersani’s critique of, 193–94; and fascism, 208–209, 215; as Sadean, 204, 206–13, 216–17; as sadomasochistic, 221–22n29; and shattering/ébranlement, 209 misogyny, 207–208 Mistral, Gabriela, 78 modernism, 234–35, 243–44 modernity, 245n3 Mollow, Anna, 21–22 monadism: and Beckett, 148, 150–51, 153–56, 158–59; Bersani on, 142–43, 146–47, 148, 150–55, 158–59; and Blanchot, 150–55, 158; and Deleuze, 150, 153–54, 158; and Freud, 158; and impersonal intimacy, 152; and Laplanche, 141–42, 145–47, 156, 158; Leibniz on, 145, 152–53, 159; and Proust, 161n12; Proustian “essences” as, 150–51; and queerness, 157; and sociability, 159. See also antinatalism; primary narcissism monogamy, 203–204 Moore, Michael, Bowling for Columbine (film), 85 Moses, Omri, 243 Mosse, George L., 72–73 Mulvey, Laura, 89 Nancy, Jean-Luc, The Inoperative Community, 137–38

309

narcissism: as aesthetic subjectivity, 204; of shattering/ébranlement, 213. See also primary narcissism narrative voice: in Firbank’s work, 257–64, 271n15; in As I Lay Dying (Faulkner), 264–69 “The Narrator as Center in ‘The Wings of a Dove’ ” (Bersani), 27 nature, 200–202, 204 Nazism, 74. See also fascism negative modes of knowing: and Bersani, 69; and The Queer Art of Failure (Halberstam), 69–70; and queer betrayal, 71–75, 77–79 Newman, Barnett: Broken Obelisk, 176; Queen of the Night II, 174, 184 Nguyen, Hoang, 75 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 149, 182; and Bersani’s ethics of being, 3 “No Exit for Beckett” (Bersani), 143, 149, 151–52 Oedipal fantasies, 115, 290–91 Ohi, Kevin, 27; on The Ambassadors (James), 66–67n2; on What Maisie Knew (James), 241 onto-ethical aesthetics, 289 ontology, Bersani on, 1, 2, 15, 16, 18, 26, 29n12, 129, 143, 153, 289, 296 O’Rell, Max, 243 “The Other Freud” (Bersani), 14 otherness: as enigma vs. puzzle/riddle, 10, 12–13; ethics of, in psychoanalysis, 25; and ethics of betrayal, 77; and Laplanche, 8, 25 Parikh, Crystal, 77 partial object (objet petit a), 115–16 Pasolini, Pier Paolo, Salò (film), 193, 206, 208–209, 215 Passion (film), 57–58 Pater, Walter, 249–50 Pauline at the Beach (film), 288 pedagogy, 294–96 Penn, Sean, 183 Penney, James, 24

310

Index

performativity, Butler on, 4–5, 44 Phillips, Adam: Intimacies (with Bersani), 26, 84, 150, 173–74, 177, 203, 225, 229, 237–40, 243–44; and psychoanalysis, 285 Pines, Davida, 236, 246n13 Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand, 144–45 Posnock, Ross, 229 primal scene, 89–90, 94–96 primary narcissism, 24, 112–14, 144–47, 159, 160n4. See also monadism promiscuous normativity, 118–20 Proust, Marcel: and Bersani, 9, 13, 26–27, 150, 152, 191–204, 211–12, 217–19, 219n4, 220–21n17; Bree on, 294; and consciousness, 269; and enigmatic signifier, 133–34; and homosexuality, 195–203, 220–21n17; and impersonal intimacy, 197, 199; and Leibniz 161n12; and monadism, 150–51, 161n12; on nature, 200– 202, 204; and psychoanalysis, 195; Sedgwick on, 180; sociability in works of, 17; works: À la Recherche du temps perdu, 133–34, 212; The Prisoner, 212; Sodom and Gomorrah, 196, 198, 200 psychoanalysis: and Bersani, 2–3, 6–14, 24–25, 28n5, 37–38, 42–43, 106–20, 125, 127, 142, 147–48, 152, 160n8, 282; and Deleuze, 160n7; and desire, 3; ethics of otherness in, 25; and Foucault, 121n6, 125; gesture in, 285–86; and homosexuality, 42–43; imperialism of, 12; Phillips on, 285; and power, 125; and realist fiction, 230–31; and relationality, 240–41; and Sade vs. Proust, 195; and “swerving,” 15–16; and the unconscious, 155. See also Freud, Sigmund; Laplanche, Jean Pynchon, Thomas, 62 queerness: as creative, 93; and monadism, 157; a tergo as reparative, 92–96 queer of color critique: and Bersani, 21, 23; and negative modes of knowing, 70–71; and queer betrayal, 78

queer theory: and Bersani, 1–2, 4–5, 28n1, 237–38, 279–80; and disability studies, 169; formalism of, 58; paradox of, 55; and refusal of identity, 58; and shattering/ébranlement, 143 reading: deconstructive, 126; and relationality, 133–35. See also spectatorship realist fiction: annihilating desire of, 29n12; Bersani on, 7, 19, 29n12; “character space” in, 48; in A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Bersani), 62; and pastoral imagination, 156; and psychoanalysis, 230–31; Said on, 29n12 rectangles and interstices: in Assyrian palace reliefs, 186; and blocked vision, 184–85; in Caravaggio’s work, 187; in Rothko’s paintings, 172–77, 179, 181; in The Thin Red Line (film), 183–85; vs. triangles, 174. See also geometry; Rothko, Mark Reddy, Chandan, 71 Reid-Pharr, Robert, 21 relationality: in Beau Travail (film), 63; Bersani on, 193, 219n2, 251, 280; in Caravaggio’s work, 187; and co-authorship, 173; and enigmatic signifier, 131, 132–33; ethics of, 27; and formalism, 65; and Foucault, 281; and homosexuality, 238–39; in James’s works, 235–43; Love on, 22; materiality of, 47; and metonymy, 216–17; nonsexual, 284; and Proust, 195–203; and psychoanalysis, 240–41; and reading, 133–35; and Rothko’s rectangles, 172–73, 179; and sociability, 157; and The Thin Red Line (film), 183; Whitman on, 188–89n6. See also self-relation “Re-perusal, Registered” (Bersani), 225, 245 “Representation and Its Discontents” (Bersani), 193, 206, 210, 216–17, 219n1 Resnais, Alain, 219

Index Ricoeur, Paul, 231–32 Rohmer, Éric, 287–88 Rorty, Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 283 Rothko, Mark: Bersani on, 169–72, 174–88; and “blocked vision,” 174–77, 181; Green and Maroon, 175–76; interstices between rectangles, 172–77, 179, 181; and “The Map” (Bishop), 171; Number 207 (Red over Dark Blue), 171; and positioning, 181–82; relationality of rectangles, 172–73, 179. See also rectangles and interstices Rowe, John Carlos, 246n11 Russell, Bertrand, 145, 146 Sade, Marquis de, 26–27; and asociality/ acommunality, 195, 199, 203–205; and Bersani, 193, 195–96, 199, 203–17, 219; and fascism, 208–209; and Foucault, 204; and metonymy, 214–16; and mimetic sexuality, 216–17; mimetic sexuality of, 204, 206–13; on nature, 204; and psychoanalysis, 195; and spatial positioning, 199–200; and women, 204–205; works: 120 Days of Sodom, 193, 206, 208–209, 213, 215–16, 219; Justine, 205; Philosophy in the Bedroom, 204, 208, 211, 213 sadism, 127 sadomasochism, 221–22n29. See also mimetic sexuality Safe (film), 280–81 Said, Edward, 29n12 Salò (film), 193, 206, 208–209, 215. See also Sade, Marquis de Schwules Museum Berlin, 75, 76 Scott, Darieck, 21 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 38, 66n1, 72, 83, 157, 174, 180, 219n3, 239, 273n23 See, Sam, 229 Segal, George, Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael, 46, 48, 49, 62 selfhood. See the ego self-relation: Bersani and transformation of, 123; Deleuze on, 138; and enigmatic signifier, 135; and Foucault,

311

124; and language, 132; and spatial proximity, 136–37. See also relationality Seltzer, Mark, 229 sexuality: and aesthetics, 170; Bersani on, 110–12, 117, 127–28, 147; and enigmatic signifier, 131; Foucault on, 110–12; Freud on, 7, 10, 128; and geometry, 182; in James’s works, 233–35, 246n11; Laplanche on, 6–7, 29n10, 160n3, 213; vs. love, 214; and primary narcissism, 112–14; Sade’s paradigm of, 204; vs. sociability, 283–84; and social spaces, 44–45. See also drives; hominization; mimetic sexuality shattering/ébranlement: alternative to, 48; and Bataille, 129–30, 137; Bersani on, 18, 23, 26, 75, 79, 127; Dean on, 52n5; of the drive, 115; and ego dissolution, 126–30; and jouissance, 45, 75, 84; and Laplanche, 134; and mimetic sexuality, 209; as narcissistic, 213; and queer theory, 143; as regenerative, 192. See also desire Silverman, Kaja, 40, 51n2, 195, 295 Smith, Daniel, 145 Snediker, Michael, 25–26 sociability: in Almodóvar’s films, 17–18; vs. annihilating desire, 16–17; and Beckett, 18, 143, 157–58; and Bersani, 16–18, 45, 47, 118–20, 121–22n10, 157–58; definition of, 16; Delany on, 18; and desire, 157; ethics of, 18; of Mallarmé, 17; and monadism, 159; in Pauline at the Beach (film), 288; in Proust’s works, 17; vs. sexuality, 283–84; shift from sociality to, 157. See also impersonal intimacy sociality: and Bersani, 39–41, 45–47, 49, 132; shift from, to sociability, 157. See also asociality social spaces: and Beau Travail (film), 63–64; and Bersani’s aesthetic, 40; concreteness of, 45–47, 50; vs. the individual, 51; and jouissance 186; margins, 47–48, 50; and self-relation,

312

Index

social spaces (continued) 136–37; and sex, 44–45. See also sociability Sofair, Michael, 85 solitude. See asociality Sontag, Susan, 72, 273n23 spatial positioning, 181–82, 199–200. See also social spaces spectatorship: and Bersani on Assyrian palace reliefs, 177–79; and Rothko, 174–77. See also reading speculation, 292–93 speech. See language Spillers, Hortense, 273–74n24 Spivak, Gayatri, and literary imperialism, 9 Stoler, Ann, 72 Stratchey, James, 10 style: Barthes on, 271n10; and Firbank’s work, 253 “The Subject of Power” (Bersani), 230, 235 sublimation, vs. repression, 93 “swerving”: vs. annihilating desire, 17; Bersani on, 14–18, 23, 61, 62, 157; ethics of, 14–16; and Freud, 15; vs. Hegelian dialectics, 17; and James, 227–28, 235; and Laplanche, 15–16; and Laplanche’s law of “theoreticogenesis,” 22–23; and psychoanalysis, 15–16; and “queerness,” 16; and visual arts, 63

teaching. See pedagogy temporality, queer, 19–21 The Thin Red Line (film), 24, 26, 62 Thoughts and Things (Bersani), 280, 281, 282, 283, 289, 291, 292 time. See temporality, queer Tomb Raider (video game), 88 Trask, Michael, 52n9 triangulation, 290–91 Tuhkanen, Mikko, 25 the unconscious, 155 Van Sant, Gus: Elephant (film), 23–24. See also Elephant (film) violence, Reddy on freedom through, 71 virtuality, 281, 286, 289–90 visual arts, vs. literature, 287–88 Wagner, Ann, 295–96 Warner, Michael, 58 Watney, Simon, Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media, 4 Watt, Ian, 146 Whitman, Walt, 188–89n6 Wilson, Edmund, 233 Woloch, Alex, on character space, 48 women: and cinematic gaze, 89; and Sadean sexuality, 204–205 women of color feminisms, 78 Woolf, Virginia, 269