Imagined Violence/Queer Violence: Representation, Rage, and Resistance Author(s): Judith Halberstam Reviewed work(s): Source: Social

Text, No. 37, A Special Section Edited by Anne McClintock Explores the Sex Trade (Winter, 1993), pp. 187-201 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/12/2012 09:29
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Imagined Violence/Queer Violence

Fear is themostelegantweapon... It willbe demonstrated nothing safe, is that Sacred or sane. There is no respite From Horror.Absolutesare Resultsare spectacular. Quicksilver. Holzer --Jenny and there'sreligiousleaders and health-care officials thathad better get ?. fencesand more complex security and higherfucking biggerfucking dogs homes and queer-bashers workfrom alarmsfortheir better startdoingtheir tanksbecause the thinline betweenthe inside and the outinside howitzer side is beginningto erode and at the momentI'm a thirty-seven-foot-tall man one-thousand-one-hundred-and-seventy-two-poundinsidethissix-foot and all I can feel is the pressureall I can feelis the pressureand the body need forrelease. -David Wojnarowicz In "Do Not Doubt the Dangerousness of the 12-Inch Politician," David Wojnarowicz asks "should people pick up guns to stop the casual murder of other people?"' In Thelma and Louise, a woman responds to a rapist who tells her to "suck my dick" by blowing him away and raises the question of what happens when rape victims retaliate. In "Poem about Police Violence," June Jordan asks, "what you thinkwould happen if/everytime they kill a black boy/thenwe kill a cop?"2 These questions are all rhetorical, hypothetical, and unanswerable. They are powerful rhetorical strategies, however, because they present possibilities and they trouble the fine line that divides nonviolent resistance fromrage and rage fromexpression and expression from violent political response. This essay does not advocate violence in any simple sense; but it does advocate an imagined violence, the violence that is native to what JuneJordan calls, in a filmof the same name by Prathiba Parma, "a place of rage." What is the exact location of "a place of rage"? I will argue that rage is a political space opened up by the representationin art, in poetry,in narrative, in popular film, of unsanctioned violences committed by subordinate groups upon powerfulwhite men. The relationshipbetween imagined violence and "real" violence is unclear, contested, negotiable, unstable, and radically unpredictable; and yet, imagined and real violence is not simply a binary formulation.Precisely because we cannot predict what action representationswill give rise to, it is impossible to describe the bound-

Judith Halberstam

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violencefrom realviolencein anydetail. Jordan's arythatdividesimagined it terrain, is a locationbetween place of rage is a strangeand wonderful and beyond thought, action, response,activism,protest, anger,terror, and detestation. ofrageis groundforresistance. murder, Jordan's place A recentcontroversy line betweenthe imaginedand overthe fragile the real was the uproaroverrap singerIce-T's song "Cop Killer."In an electionyearand in the wake of the L.A. insurrection, Ice-T's song created a consensusbetweenliberalsand conservatives about the limitsof and what constituted theirviolation.People who would representation be freespeech demandedthatIce-T notperform the otherwise defending song live and thatthe tape/CD be pulled fromthe shelves.Ice-T, well awareofthelinehe had crossed,had thisto sayto thequestion,"Whydo you think people takeyoursong so literally?" Politics and all that. Lots of reasons. to mostly. Peopletrying getelected with nuclear There'speopleout there bombsand yetwe'vegot all these to based on a record. Isn'tit politicians trying makea political platform ridiculous?3 Ice-T goes on to say thatthemedia has focusedon the song as partof a problemgenre:rap. But,he pointsout,thesong is noteven a rap song,it is of is a hardrocksong.The significance thiserror glaring: recordby any a black man is rap and rap music is a genreof music thatmustbe conis and tained. Genre,likeracial categorizations, supposed to essentialize of His protest, and content Ice-T's cultural stabilizetheform production. thatthe song is a hardrocksong and thatit shouldbe heardas however, a fiction rather thanas a direct the provocation, emphasizes waysin which The censorsrefuseto grantthe song any moralor narrative complexity. is takenliterally-asa call to arms. song into disintervention a stymied "Cop Killer" is a violentand rageful directedat minorities and especiallyat cussion about police brutality African-American young men. While the debate surrounding"Cop Killer" centeredupon whetheror not Ice-T was advocatingviolence understood verywell the powerof represenagainstcops, Ice-T himself of tation.In responseto the question,"Do you advocatethe murder law officials yoursong 'Cop Killer'?" Ice-T responds: in enforcement
in No way . . . what I'm trying tell people is that police brutality the to

in is whether guy, cop killer this the 'hoodis nothing Andthething that new. OK?4 are is realornot, believe there peopleatthat it, point, mysong,

Ice-T suggeststhatcops should be scared by the Later in the interview This is a further and he hopes thattheirfearwillprevent brutality. song
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about theuses of fear,about the selective argument complicated deploymentof terror, about therelation threat change. of to and The Ice-T controversy revealeda crisisin the politicsof representation: the censorshipactivity directedat "Cop Killer" made visible the racialviolenceas a one-waystreet It space ofthepermissible. also marked in America: whiteviolence is not only permitted but legallycondoned whilethe mererepresentation black-on-white of violenceis the occasion forcensorshipand a paranoidretreat a literal to relation betweenrepresentation and reality. Whilea whitejurywas to blurthelinebetweenrepresentation reality the case of thevideo of police brutalizing and in Rodmediajuryestablished stability thisrelation the the of in neyKing, a white case of Ice-T. Obviously, interpretation theliteral an ideologically the of is valencedact,and in thisinstance, is streamliterality a traditional political liningof complexmaterial. The eruption rebellion thestreets L.A. and itsrepresentations of in of in hip hop cultureindicateveryclearlythatviolentlaw demandsviolent resistance.Tactics of nonviolent resistancedeveloped in the sixtiesand used nowadaysseem to have become dangerously rather than hegemonic In takesa back demonstrations, indeed,outrageoften disruptive. political seat to organized,formal,and decorous shows of disapproval.In San the after L.A. uprising spring1992 in the of Diego, forexample,shortly wake of the RodneyKing decision,people filled streets sing,give to the speeches,and marchupon the police station.What mighthave been an of directed theracist, at violent outpouring rageand angerand frustration tacticsof the local police was transformed ratherquicklyinto a passive and indifferent meeting. The groupof "protesters" a followed routelaid out forthem actually a police escortand arrivedfinally a desertedpolice building.After at by and shouting, crowdquietlydispersed.Local newspasome chanting the pers indeed were able to reportthatin the case of San Diego, the city remained calm in theaftermath theKing verdict.5 of The failure relatively of nonviolent resistanceto register but the most polite disapanything is of lack of imagination thepart on proval,I suggest, the effect a glaring of political organizers,and an overemphasison "organization"itself, whichoftenproducesdetermined to efforts eradicateexpressions rage of or angerfrompoliticalprotest. Such expressions, after mightlead to all, thatspillsacross the carefully drawn something spontaneous,something police lines,something threatening. When and whyand how did rage disappearfromthe vocabularyof activism? whatfollows, willnotattempt historical In I a organized political or ethnographic answerto thisquestion;rather, and cineusing literary matic examples of imaginedviolenceand articulated rage, I elaboratea of of as of theory theproduction counterrealities a powerful strategy revolt
Imagined Violence/QueerViolence 189

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in Protest the age ofAIDSis not separate from representation; and "die-ins, "kiss-ins," posters, slogans, graphics, and queer propaganda create a new formof politicalresponse to that is sensitive of and exploitive the blurred boundaries between representations and realities.

an from increasingly I emanating queer postmodern politicalculture. use the word "queer" here to denote a postmodern,postidentity politics to focusedon but notlimited sexual minorities.6 has Postmodernism been accused of notbeingpoliticalenoughbut in thatoften failsto be postmodern Americain in factit is politicalactivism no the the 1990s. Powerand conflict longeronlyspringfrom domain of has and resistance become as much an effect popularculture, of politics, and novels,as of directaction groups. Postmodernism of videos, films, and itsrepreinvites new and different conceptionsof violentresistance we a sentations. Michael Taussig writes, live in a "nervoussystem," As as characterized "illusionsof ordercongealedby fear."7 The fear, system the order,the nerves are all produced preciselyas illusions,fantasies whichgovernand disciplinethe self.However,it is also in the realmof that and nervous,and thatwe fantasy representation we makethesystem in otherwords,goes both can control and use our illusions. Imagination, (or many)ways. So, whatifwe imaginea new violencewitha different object;a postmodernterror represented another"monster"withquite other"vicby a that tims" in mind? "What if" denotes a potentiality, possible reality but may onlyeverexistin the realmof representation one whichcreates an "imaginedviolence" withreal consequences and which corresponds to onlyroughly real violenceand itsimaginedconsequences. an has Recently, queer activism revived emphasison loud and threatand eningpoliticaldemonstration, groupslikeQueer Nation and ACTUP brand of postmodern terror createhavoc withtheirparticular regularly marshall ACT UP demonstrations, tactics. furthermore, regularly renegade art formsto produce protestas an aestheticobject. As Douglas Crimp

in and AIDS activist is grounded theaccumulated art knowledge political movement. of produced collectively theentire by analysis theAIDS crisis not but to that contribute its The graphics onlyreflect knowledge actively as articulation well.8

in Protest the age of AIDS,in otherwords,is not separatefromrepresenand queerproand "die-ins,""kiss-ins," posters, slogans, graphics, tation; to createa new formof politicalresponsethatis sensitive and paganda and boundaries between of representations realities. exploitive theblurred in Meanwhile in the arena of popular representation, popular film and realitycontinueto be and video, the lines betweenrepresentation drawn.Liberals continueto complain about the violentsubject starkly thatespeciallykids are exposed to on TV and in cinema. But, I matter violencetakesmanyformsand some stillhave the suggest,represented
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power to produce change. ConventionalTV and movie violence, of whitemen usually course, consistsof violenceperpetrated powerful by of againstwomen or people of color. Such violenceis a standardfeature of theactiongenre,oftherockvideo,of almostevery form enterpopular and to a degreeit is so expectedthataudiences may even be tainment, immuneto it. whitemen perpetrated women On theotherhand,violenceagainst by so thoroughly or people of colordisrupts logic of represented the violence that(at leastfora while)theemergence such unsanctioned of violencehas an unpredictable power.In recentyears,popular textsthatprominently feature violenceagainstwhitemen have been thoroughly analyzedby the and Louisecreated popularmedia. So, forexample,RidleyScott's Thelma an unprecedented wave of discussionsaround the issue of violenceand women.9Suddenly, viofemalerevenge violence,and particularly fantasy lence, was tagged as "immoral,""extravagant," "excessive," or simply "toxicfeminism."'0 Debates ragedaboutwhether really we wantto condone a kindofrolereversal thatnow pitsfemale male victims. aggressors against But role reversalnever simplyreplicatesthe termsof an equation. The depictionof women committing acts of violenceagainstmen does not simply "male" tacticsofaggression otherends; in fact,female use for violencetransforms symbolic the function thefeminine of within popular and narratives it simultaneously the insistence challenges hegemonic upon thelinking might of and right underthesignof masculinity. Womenwith in has to guns confronting rapists thepotential intervene popularimaginthe to ings of violenceand genderby resisting moralimperative not fight violencewithviolence.Filmslike Thelma Louisesuggest, and not therefore, thatwe all pickup guns,butthatwe allow ourselves imaginethepossito of violencewithviolence. bilities fighting as rather thanperpeWomen,in otherwords,long identified victims trators violence,have much to gain fromnew and different of configurationsofviolence, and Within "nervoussystem" the women terror, fantasy. are taughtto fear certainspaces and certainindividualsbecause they threatenrape: how do we produce a fear of retaliation the rapist? in Thelmaand Louiseis an example of imaginedviolencethatproduces or may produce an unrealistic (givenhow fewwomen carryand use guns) fearin potentialrapiststhattheirvictimsare armed and dangerous.Of betweenimaginedviocourse,thereis no directand simplerelationship lence and real effects: just as it is impossibleto judge the waysin which interacts withmale sexual violence,it would pornographic representation the between imagined the and therealto claim onlyrestabilize relationship thatrepresenting femaleviolencequells male attacks. The "place ofrage" whereexpression threatens becomeactionis of to coursethattightly and highly patrolled ambiguousspace thatwe call "fanImagined Violence/QueerViolence 191

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in tasy."The powerof fantasy the realmof eroticdesirehas been theorized variouslyby feminist, and psychoanalytic, postmoderncritics.In for constitutes problematic a site for feminist theory, example,fantasy and politics-the pornography various contests over representation debates have posed the question of whether rape and violence against women are in part produced by the objectifying dynamicsof pornodesireand between Such questionsabout therelationship graphicfantasy. is have provento be unanswerable since thisrelationship representation In constantly being refigured. an essay titled"The Force of Fantasy," Butlerproposesthatwe rethink relationship the between however, Judith to the "real" and fantasy refusing grantthe "real" an a prioristability. by whichis always She suggeststhatthe "real" is "a variableconstruction in outside: fantasy, the and only determined relationto its constitutive the unthinkable, unreal."" What happens when we make imagined violence-as opposed to What is at stake in this erotic fantasy-the object of criticalscrutiny? or with not might might intersect questionis thewaythatsexual fantasies to the natureof thereal. violentfantasies forceintovisibility constructed If imagining violentwomendoes nothing else forexample,it might shift for the betweenfantasy and the responsibility articulating relationship fromwomento men. In otherwords,powerlies in the luxuryof reality is not needingto knowin advance whatthe relationship betweenrepreof and acted violenceor sexuality. The sentations violence or sexuality in this burdenof stabilizing relationship thearena of sexuality fortoo has and has, of course, produced long fallento women and to feminism alliances betweenantipornography feminists and the reliunproductive gious Right.Texts like Thelmaand Louise create anxietyabout fantasy in and reality a verydifferent groupof spectators. "Imagined violence" is obviouslyan adaptationof BenedictAnderson's well-known politicalcomconceptionof thenationas "an imagined Andersonexplainsthat"communities to be distinguished, are munity."'12 but not by theirfalsity/genuineness, by the stylein whichtheyare imaglike is ined." Whilenationalism, nationalidentity, one of themostpowerthereare manyotheridentities that ful effects imagining of community, are mobilizedbythepowerof fantasy. Furthermore, imaginedcommuniof interventions: allow forthetransformation tiesallow forpowerful they fearintoimaginedviolence. imagined is PanOne exampleof such a transformationtheQueer Nation/Pink thisgroup thersslogan"Bash Back." In responseto homophobic violence, mobilized around the menace of retaliation.In an essay on "Queer Lauren Berlantand ElizabethFreemanexplaintheaffectivNationality," ityof thisstrategy:


Halberstam Judith

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"BashBack"simply intends mobilize threat bashers so effecto the use gay Ifimagining notinnumbers inthepresence a few of but bodies whoreptively-strength the for resent potential widespread the themselves. violent women violence-against bashers In this theslogan turns bodiesofthePinkPanthers a psychic the into way, counter shield the their of threat, beyond confines their does nothing expanding protective else physical "beat."'3

itmight shift the

The powerof the slogan,in otherwords,is its ability represent vioto a lence thatneed not everbe actualized.There is no "real" violencenecesof saryhere,onlythe threat real violence.The violenceof Queer Nation in thisexampleis themoment whenwhatFoucault calls the"reversediscourse" becomes something more than simply"homoelse, something to sexuality beginning talk on its own behalf."'4The reversediscourse untilit is in excess of the category purit steam,acquiresdensity gathers The excess is the disruption identity of and the vioportsto articulate. lence of powerand the powerof representation; is dis-integrational; it the
excess is QUEER.

for responsibility the articulating relationship betweenfantasy and reality from womento men.

the Imaginedviolencedisintegrates powerof whatAudreLorde calls "the mythic and whatDavid Wojnarowicz describesas the "ONE norm"'5 TRIBE NATION." It challenges, otherwords,hegemonicdefinition in and of In A even thedefinition hegemony itself. Close totheKnives: Memoir of writesabout being queer in the age of AIDS: Wojnarowicz Disintegration, "We'resupposedto quietly and politely makehouse in thiskilling machine called americaand pay taxes to supportour own slow murderand I am amazed thatwe're not running amok in the streets"(108). Wojnarowicz writesof murderous desiresand desiresformurder;he calls forbloody and violentchangeand he does so in whathe calls "the languageof disFor becomes a weapon,a tool, integration." Wojnarowicz, languageitself and the act of imagination and a technology becomes a violentact. In Wojnarowicz's essays,he imaginesa violence generated HIV+ bodies by and transforms AIDS-stricken the body intoa symbolof postmodern politics.The PersonWithAIDS, thejunkie, homelessperson,thequeerin the Americahave thepower,as Wojnarowicz says,"to wakeyou up and welcome you to your bad dream" (82), or the power to completelyand alterthe contoursof the real and to reshape theminto realized utterly nightmares. "memoirof disintegration" countersthe slow decline Wojnarowicz's of the body with speed, physicaland mentalspeed. Life speeds up as timewindsdown and thecar traveling across an open landscapebecomes a symbolforWojnarowiczof desire withoutan object and of a kind of or The pleasurein self-propulsion auto-mobility. automomasturbatory bile here signifies the of of precisely movement the self,the multiplicity

Imagined Violence/Queer Violence


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the theselfas it disintegrates within realmofthebodilyand proliferates in the the realmof fantasy. Fantasy, safestsex of all, avoids physicalcontaminationbut it contaminatesnonetheless.It contaminates making by in via information viral;information, otherwords,is transmitted images whichenterlanguageand mutate. "Americans can't deal withdeathunlesstheyown it" (35), saysWojto narowiczin reference a museum of the atomicbomb. Death, in this it is stasis,the banality arriving one's destination; is a full of at memoir, stop, an end to language and speed. Wojnarowicz'sheroes with AIDS or therefore staveoffdeathwithtechnology, to attempt writing, photoghis dead body-here thevideo In raphy. one scene,theherofilms friend's techcamera,liketheKing tape,liketheIce-T song,recordsa dangerous a in novisionof reality the making.The "real" now is precisely reel of rewound,paused, or tape, a memorythatcan be cut, edited,replayed, "There is no enlarged glittering viewofthenature or new fast-forwarded. "No god or angelsbrushing or writes of things existence," Wojnarowicz. myeyelidswiththeir wings.Hell is a place on earth.Heaven is a place in yourhead" (28-29). his to or Wojnarowicz's languageof disintegration, effort rewind fastforwardthe real, destroysthe America he calls the ONE TRIBE NATION and it transforms intothe manytribes.Of course,the politicaltacticsof ACT

into the many of UP have involvedthe disintegration discreteidentities unitedin coalitionagainstthe"viruswhichhas no morals."The identities the but imaginedcommunity, it is one thatcannotwithstand impactof a in of of diseasewhich, thegeography itstransmissions, maps out thelimits the effects inadequatehealthcare systems, idethe of identity, murderous and of of ological investments medical institutions, the breakdown even of can theunity theRight.This transformation be capitalizedon through the thatprevents a people imagining violencethatshatters complacency "I'm amazed," writes and spontaneousrevolution. fromimmediate Wojamokin thestreets." Here Wojnarow"thatwe are notrunning narowicz, icz echoes JuneJordan's poem titled"Poem about My Rights":"We are and what/in the wrongpeople/of wrongskinon the wrongcontinent the thehellis everybody beingso reasonableabout."'6 at answerto his frustration whathe sees as a passive Wojnarowicz's
of nonresponse to the totalitarianism the ONE TRIBE NATION is to imagine: left to I'm beginning believethatone of thelast frontiers fortheradicalgesI At ture is the imagination. least in my ungoverned imagination can fuck a or somebodywithout rubber, I can, in theprivacyof myown skull,douse Helms witha bucketof gasolineand set his putridass on fire.... (120)
ONE TRIBE NATION, Wojnarowicz shows us, is a particularly powerful


Judith Halberstam

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Hell is a place on earth and heaven is a place in your head and I too left believe that "one of the last frontiers forthe radical gestureis the I violencethatwe can harness imagination." believethatit is by imagining the forceof fantasy it and transform intoproductive fear.Wojnarowicz's in because it confronts JesseHelms memoir the participates AIDS activism of ofAmericawiththepossibility violent it retaliation; threatens precisely in itspotentiality. It is withthe potentialforviolentresponsefromthe so-called other thatJuneJordanends her poem: "I am not wrong: wrong is not my I name is my own myown my own/and can't tellyou who the name/My hell set thingsup like this/but can tellyou thatfromnow on my resisi tance/my simpleand daily and nightly self-determination/may well very cost you yourlife."This is the return thegaze in cinematic of the terms, threat thereturn therepressed, alwaysbloodyand violent of of an re-entry intothe realmof signification. This is the articulation smashesbinathat rismby refusing roleof peacefulactivism the and demandsto be heardas the voice thatwill violate-the damage, again, lies in the threatrather than in any specificaction. My resistancemay cost you your life; my answermaysilenceyourquestion;myentry intorepresentation erase may control how I am represented. over your takes place withinrage, not the rage Jordan's"self-determination" and carelessly, a quiet rage, tightly but thatexplodes mindlessly reined, everso preciseand intent upon retribution. "Rights"in thepoem signify not simply but to to the legal rights theright exist,theright walkat night, to not to the the to right write, right to be raped,theright reply, right be to the the to inhabit and angry, right respondwithviolence, right lawfully populatea place of rage: Eventonight I needto takea walk clear and and I this myheadabout poemaboutwhy can't go outwithout my my changing clothes shoes mybodyposture gender my identity age my as aloneintheevening... mystatus a woman "Poem about My Rights"turnslegal rights intoa fiction power:rights of do not change wrongsand Jordanis "the wrongsex the wrongage the but tunedanger, threatens transto wrongskin," thepoem,herexquisitely form resistance. wrongsintoviolentand powerful BothWojnarowicz's Jordan's and constitute poeticthreats postmodern in revolt-revolt the arena of representation. This is thepostmodern tactic of ACT UP-the burningof effigies, carnivalprotestsof art and the and imagesthatdrivethe scientists religious creepsintopanic mode. ACT UP chooses symbolic the weaponsthatreconstitute shape and contoursof Imagined Violence/Oueer Violence 195

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the real. The rage of David Wojnarowiczand JuneJordanallows each of artist expressfantasies violencein waysthatmake queer and black to and terrifying. Perhapsmorethananyotherrecentwriters, rage palpable Wojnarowiczand Jordanuse poetic expressionas a scare tactic,as the enunciation a threat. of This is the poetics of rage,expression thatsugin geststhatretribution some formis just aroundthe corner.Of course, a of thissounds likecatharsis, purging emotionafforded dramaor litby and Wojnarowicz, however, Jordan eraryexpression. give no such assurare channeledby finding in ance thattheirexpressions safely expression art. Like the activistart of ACT UP demonstrations, Jordan'sand Wojare narowicz'swritings more like wake-upcalls and activeprotestthan cathartic outlets. betweenthe real and fantasy As the distinctions collapse upon each is seems alreadysaturated as as withrealism, reality other, representation I is the reconstituted acts ofimagination, effect, have suggested, to proby do We duce a crisisof spectatorship. simply notknowhow to read imagof of ined violences:all too oftenrepresentations the perniciouseffects homophobia,racism,and sexismare collapsedby theviewerintohomoSo, phobia, sexism,and racismthemselves. forexample,a filmabout a be as racistwhitecharacter thatproduces might interpreted a racistfilm about a sexistand homophobic racialhatred.Or a film police department as be thatis challenged outlawlesbiansmight interpreted a homophoby bic filmabout murderous dykes.It is not hardin mylast exampleto find film and thatI want theplotofthecontroversial Basic Instinct itis thisfilm on the to actuallyforegrounds finally concentrate because Basic Instinct betweenrealityand representation, relationship imaginedviolence and of themaintenance law and orderas majorthemes. tore about Basic Instinct through queer communities. Disagreements While thefilmseemedto some people to move femaleheroismand cineto viewedBasic Instinct maticlesbianism a new and exciting place, others of as a dangerousvision of lesbianismas a network lesbian murderers. The filmtherefore drew outragedresponsesfromsome membersof the who read it as homophobic and as partof a generalsmear gaycommunity againstqueers."17 campaignthatHollywoodhas longmaintained is Basic Instinct indeed a filmwhich weaves a tale of desire and but arounda web oflesbiankillers, itis notat all clearthatthis destruction in It makesit a homophobicfilm. became clearrather quickly the debates had the same stakesin attacking thatnot everyone around Basic Instinct were led by gay men, forexample,and manylesThe protests the film. bians involvedin the protests actuallyviewing changedtheirmindsafter assumedor theorized of thefilm. Many of thegayprotesters Basic Instinct of woventhrough and all depictions thathomophobiawas intricately any


Judith Halberstam

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The psychopathic queer,theyclaimed,was a gaysand lesbiansas killers. in homophobicstandby Hollywoodcinema and theytriedto repressthe film "givingaway" the endingof the film and distributing "Catherine by Did It" buttons. The buttons, the underlined miserable failure this of however, merely and willknow traditional civildisobedience.Viewersof thefilm distinctly a thatthereis no endingto give away-the film'sconclusionis precisely and a question question, a question about homophobia,heterosexism, thatfemaleviolencewilldisrupt once and forall the about thepossibility The ending, of is heterosexual resolution narrative. moreover, compulsory The filmopens witha mirrored the film'sbeginningscene, literally. by overthe bed. shot of a couple havingsex on a bed as seen in the mirror The cameraslowly movesdownto fixupon the actualinsteadof themirthe roredscene and as we enter filmic "real" thesex playturns murder to and the male partnerclimaxesas his loverice-pickshim. This intricate scene introduces viewerto both the vexed relationship the betweenfanand to the narrative of tasy,image, and reality trajectory the film:what heterosexubeginsin bed willend in bed and whatbeginsin compulsory alityends in murder. The beginning the film of givesawaythe ending,but in case thereis herself all we anydoubt,Catherine destroys narrative suspense.Catherine, her findout,writes novelsthatmirror perfectly lifeand itsviolences.Her tellsof a youngboywho murders parents first his book, TheFirstTime, by a boatingaccident. Catherine'sparentswere killedin a boating rigging tellsof an agingrock'n' rollstar accident.Her second book, Love Hurts, The book thatshe is working who is ice-pickedto deathby his mistress. on when she meetsMichael Douglas's character, Nick, is called Shooter nickname,althoughthereis obviouslya pun here so maybethe (Nick's film asksus to read "Shooter" as the "real" name and "Nick" as thenickname) and tellsof a cop who fallsforthe wrongwoman. "How does it end?" asks Douglas nervously."She kills him," answers Catherine. Catherine, indeed, did it, but to give away thatfactabout the filmis to resolutionis not the focus of the give away nothingbecause narrative is film. Like anygood detective this in mystery, film interested interpretation and the twists and turnsof the relationship betweencrimeand punviolenceand order.The evidence, this criminal and detective, in ishment, is alwaystextualevidence-Catherine's writing-and the work of film, of is fiction theinevitable and blurdetection alwaysthe sorting factfrom ringof the two. The gay protesters withtheir"CatherineDid It" buttonsobviously failedto incorporate kindof postmodern the of thathave readings culture As C. Carr wrotein the VillageVoice: manyqueer protests. invigorated



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wereamazingly the denseaboutthefilm. Gay or straight, critics Theysaw daterapewhere there mutual, was sex. exciting, rough Theysaw"senseless in of thrill sex the by killings" triggered lesbian when, fact, murder a lover, or is husband, brother, father always overdetermined.1s was no accidentalor gratuitous murIndeed,murder subplotin thisfilm; der was central onlyto the actionbut also to the character not identificain is tions.Everymaincharacter thefilm a murderer murder and comesto define betweenthe characters their and their their relations families, jobs, howeverare differentiated gender:the men in lovers.The murderers by or the filmwho kill do so professionally in the line of duty;theirsare sanctioned murders. The women-Catherine, her lover Roxie, her Beth-all kill, C. Carrpointed as Hazel, thepsychiatrist ambiguousfriend or in out, husbands,lovers,brothers, fathers: theykepttheirkilling the families violentoutbreaks. family, theydisownedtheir through Roxie killedher brothers, Hazel herwhole family, the police are and to as to whytheywould have done so. The police's inability find stumped for to out motives femalemurder to corresponds their inability figure the relationbetween Catherine'sfictionand her life. Female aggressionis as definedtherefore unreadable,irrational, but it is insane, motiveless, clear that the filmsuggests a kind of sorority empathyamong the of femalemurderers. They can read each other'smurdersand the chances are thatat least femaleaudiences are all too willing fillin the blanks to a for of or whenit comes to establishing motive themurder brothers husis bands. But Catherinealso knowswhatthe relationship betweennovels and reality-ambiguous, undecidable,negotiable. The veryfactthatBasic Instinct thematizes relationship the between and representation realityshould defend againstlinearreadingsof the filmwhen it comes to the characters' or And sexuality theircriminality. are continually furthermore, mirroring relationships emphasized throughfor out thefilm: each femalecharacter mistaken every is one other, dresses one is killedwhenDouglas confuses her another, up as and impersonates and Catherine.Also, Douglas is played as a distorted mirror image of relation the law to Catherine:he slides evermore clearlyinto a criminal his as and she mastersand manipulates movements if he were simplya in character a scene she has scripted. calls attempts collapselifeintoartand artintolife"stuto Catherine but the pid." She knowsthedifference is notbeyondmanipulating blurred of linebetweenthemforher own freedom movement. the Similarly, critwho read it as homophobicand misogynist victim fall ics of Basic Instinct thatin to thekindof facilereadingof right and wrong, real and imagined thisfilmonlythe police are prone to. Collapsingreal and imaginedis a it to it the activity, refuses read difference, refuses interpretabiltotalizing
198 Halberstam Judith

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ityof any giventext,and it freezesmeaningwithina staticdynamicof trueor false.This, of course,is notto say thattextsmayneverbe read as sexistor racistor homophobic-of coursetheyare and can be, butto read of wherehomophobiaand sexismare thetargets an elaborate homophobia and prolongedcritiqueis to misreadthe power of an imaginedviolence and theviolenceof imaginedpower. Imagined violence, as conceptualized in this paper, is the fantasyof unsanctionederuptionsof aggressionfrom"the wrong people, of the the the We wrongskin, wrongsexuality, wronggender." have to be able to violence and our violence needs to be imaginablebecause the imagine is but powerof fantasy not to represent to destabilizethe real. Imagined make a man violencedoes not stop men from rapingwomenbut it might think twiceabout whether woman is goingto blow him away.Imagined a but comviolencedoes not advocatelesbianor femaleaggression it might or between womenand passivity feminism plicatean assumedrelationship and pacifism.The imaginedviolence of lesbians against men in Basic Instinct betweengay men and lesbianssince also recaststhe relationship of men may well have been threatened the representation female by gay violencethatempowered lesbians.In thisway,imagined violencefractured the fiction an identity of politics. to is one But unityis not necessarily be desired,unity Wojnarowicz's withplatitribe,an imaginedconsensusthatalwayscoversup difference tudes.Let politics postmodern queer,postidentity posthuman. be and and a Imagined violencescreatea potentiality, utopic statein which conserather thanactual,thethreat in the anticipation, is quences are imminent rock song "Cop Killer" to the not the act. From Ice-T's controversial in and Louise,from lesbianice-picker the feminist spreein Thelma killing Basic Instinct the AIDS-infected to junkie in Wojnarowicz'sClose to the black womanwho talksback in June Knivesand the self-determined Jorheterosexual dan's poem, imaginedviolences challengewhitepowerful and coalitionof postmodern terror. masculinity createa cultural Notes
in Politician," Close to theKnives:A MemoirofDisintegration (New York:Vintage

1. David Wojnarowicz, Not DoubttheDangerousness the 12-Inch "Do of

Killer' Furor,"Los Angeles 19 Times/Calendar, July1992), 7.

Books,1991),160. in 2. June "PoemaboutPoliceViolence," Naming Destiny: Our New Jordan, andSelected Poems Thunder's Mouth, (NewYork: 1989),84-85. 3. ChuckPhilips, Q&A withIce-T aboutRock,Race, and the'Cop "A 4. Ibid.,7.

Imagined Violence/OueerViolence


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5. See San Diego Union,2 May 1992. 6. For an excellentdiscussionof identity politicsthatpointstowarda postand DifFeminism, Nature, identity politics,see Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: ference (New York:Routledge,1989), 97-112. Fuss writes:"While I do believe thatlivingas a gay or lesbianpersonin a post-industrial heterosexist societyhas . certainpoliticaleffects . I also believe thatsimplybeing gay or lesbian is not activism"(101). See also Judith to sufficient constitute "Imitation Butler, political in and Gender Subordination," Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, ed. Gay Theories, Diana Fuss (New York:Routledge,1991), 13-31. For a critiqueof identity see context, ChandraTalpade politicsin a different Mohanty,"Cartographiesof Struggle:Third WorldWomen and the Politicsof in Women thePolitics Feminism, Chandra Taland ed. Feminism," ThirdWorld of Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington: Indiana Univerpade Mohanty, to sityPress, 1991). Mohantyuses theidea of "imaginedcommunity" buildfeministpoliticalalliances: "The idea of imaginedcommunity usefulbecause it is notionsof third leads us awayfrom essentialist worldfeminist struggles, suggestthan biologicalor culturalbases foralliance. Thus, it is not ing politicalrather color or sex whichconstructs groundforthesestruggles. the it Rather, is the way we thinkabout race, class, and gender-the politicallinkswe choose to make (4). among and betweenstruggles" 7. Michael Taussig, TheNervous System (New Yorkand London: Routledge, the thatpasses through 1992), 2. Taussigasks,how do we "write NervousSystem
us and makes us what we are"? He concludes: ". .. it calls for a mode of writingno

thantheNS itself-ofwhich, course,itcannotbutbe less systematically nervous of thelatest the the last" (10). before extension, penultimate version, one permanently Bay, 1990), 20. 9. Severaljournalsand magazinesfeatured debatesforand againstthe repof had resentation femaleviolence. Film Quarterly a featurecalled "The Many and Louise,"whichincludedmostly Faces of Thelma sympathetic responsesto the filmfromcriticslike Linda Williamsand Carol Clover. Timemagazine had a more openlyhostileforumcalled "Gender Bender: A White Hot Debate over Thelmaand Louise." See Film Quarterly no. 1 (Fall 1991), 20-31; Time,24 45, June1991, 52. 10. See especially on Leo, "Toxic Feminism theBig Screen,"U.S. News John 10 and World Report, June 1991, 20. But see also Laura Shapiro,"Women Who 17 Kill Too Much: Is Thelma and LouiseFeminismor Fascism?" Newsweek, June 1991, 63; Fred Bruning,"A Lousy Deal forWomen-And Men," Maclean's, 12 August 1991, 9. 11. Judith Butler,"The Force of Fantasy: Feminism,Mapplethorpe,and DiscursiveExcess," differencesno. 2 (1990), 106. 2, Communities: on 12. BenedictAnderson,Imagined Reflections theOriginand (London: Verso,1983), 15. SpreadofNationalism 2 13. Lauren Berlantand ElizabethFreeman,"Queer Nationality," boundary 19, no. 1 (Spring 1992), 162. trans. Vol. 1: An Introduction, 14. Michel Foucault, TheHistory Sexuality, of RobertHurley(New York:Vintage,1980), 101. Differ15. Audre Lorde, "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining ence," in SisterOutsider (Trumansburg, N.Y.: CrossingPress, 1984), 116.
8. Douglas Crimp and Adam Rolston, eds., AIDS DEMO-GRAPHICS (Seattle:


Judith Halberstam

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in New and 16. June "Poem about My Rights," NamingOur Destiny: Jordan, Selected Poems(New York:Thunder'sMouth, 1989), 102-5. 17. See Christopher Sharrett, "HollywoodHomophobia," USA Today(July 6 1992), 93; JaniceC. Simpson,"Out of the CelluloidCloset," Time, April 1992, 65; Michelangelo Signorile,"Hollywood Homophobia," The Advocate,5 April The 21 "Basic Instinct," Advocate, March 1992, 1992, 37; and David Ehrenstein, 87. In Ehrenstein'sarticle,his obvious disgustat the infamousSharon Stone crotchshotrevealedthatmisogyny largepartin gaymale journalplayeda rather of ists' rejection the film. 28 18. C. Carr, "Ice Pick Envy:ReclaimingOur Basic Rights,"VillageVoice, April 1992, 35-36.



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