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After Sex on Writing Since Queer Theory

After Sex on Writing Since Queer Theory

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Published by Pablo Herrera

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Published by: Pablo Herrera on Mar 22, 2012
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to ofer something like a cautionary tale that has enormous relevance: the
failure of coupledom is a result of the couple’s attempts to be too real, too
understood, and too explained. Bersani and Dutoit, following the flm’s
visual and formal cues, thus urge us to remember that we have a “respon-
sibility not to be,” that perhaps the couple’s loneliness would not have had
to be so catastrophic: “By potentializing their relation while they are in it,
they would have left their condemned coupledom and given to each other
the freedom to reappear, always, as subjects too inconclusive, too multiple,
too unfnished, ever to be totally loved” (67–68).
I appreciate this kind of couple critique so much, especially since it can
be optimistic about the way that we can relate beyond the ideological grips
of any relating we are coerced to assume. But I’d like to situate my very
unruly, often inconsistent object of inquiry—the lonely—in a perhaps less
lyrical, less aestheticized conceptual space. For the aesthetic often ofers,
as the solution, more intimacy, more special and secretive knowledge, that
resists easy communication. While arguing about the couple formation,
Bersani and Dutoit also argue something quite revealing: “To aestheticise
our relation to the past is not to remove ourselves irresponsibly from it, but
rather to live in proximity to it” (67). I couldn’t agree more, which makes
me nervous. The aesthetic, especially when it is erotic, always seems to give
us so much freedom. A literary closeness, if you will, provides for a kind of
intimacy that has the capacity to escape typicality and convention; it’s often
the solution we fnd at the end of our queer critiques, which doesn’t make
them any less correct. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s analysis of masturbation
and Jane Austen, for another example of a literature that redeems intimacy
as a closely felt experience, fnds that “Sense and Sensibility . . . can succeed
in making narratively palpable again, under the pressure of its own needs,
the great and estranging force of the homoerotic longing magnetized in
it by that radiant and inattentive presence—the female fgure of the love
that keeps forgetting its name.”6 Something about the erotic in the aes-
thetic inevitably conjures up the intimately felt, the palpable, which seem
to always resist the more negative forces of power that surround sexuality.
This is very local, however inarticulate, knowledge and/or feeling. And
although I always fnd such gestures simply alluring, I want to arrest my
own patterns of thought for a bit and think about Arendt’s critique of totali-
tarian loneliness, which is really a critique of a forced intimacy, intimacy
we always seem to welcome because a terrifying loneliness keeps us up at

Lonely 451

For the Love of Couple

Since I just fnished a book on the religious Right and homophobic hate
speech during this time of the war on terror, I’ve been thinking a great deal
about that nebulous category, the “values voters,” made even more success-
ful by the controversy and outrage over same-sex marriage—the plea for
participation in state-sanctioned coupleness, state-sanctioned “freedom”
from the terror of being lonely. These values voters are, for the most part,
conservative Christians (even if they are not named as such) who proft,
in many senses of the term, from patrolling and excluding those who can
enter into ofcial and state-sanctioned forms of intimate couple relating.
Marriage is serious political and cultural business, and with the other
“values votes” issues that will have continued and substantive clout in the
Bush regime (and really, any other regime, Democratic or Republican)—
abortion, stem cell research, afrmative action—we have what sounds very
much like biopolitics, not wedge issues, ferociously animating our political
present and future tense. Marriage and, for that matter, coupledom are at
the heart of this political life. And if one is at the heart, one should have a
heart and be open to love and connection, which are increasingly the pre-
requisites for personhood in a form of government (say, the U.S. govern-
ment) that certainly has forceful resemblances to other totalitarian regimes
in the last century.

For love, the emotion that putatively relieves (or promises to relieve)
loneliness, is not merely an activity one adds to a list of things that have
to get done in this life. For many, it is not life’s primary obsession, but
life itself—life in which important feelings and work are permitted to
be accomplished. It is the steely, “vise”-like logic that captures everyone
in its grip. And if you belong to a couple, on sliding scales of social and
legal legitimacy, you occupy a not-so-frivolous status. Laura Kipnis’s saucy
polemic Against Love puts love, and particularly the extensive work of love,
in terms that can help us with what seems to be a long-overdue critique
of the couple form. She wonders, “Has any despot’s [love’s] rule ever so
successfully infltrated every crevice of a population’s being, into its move-
ments and gestures, penetrated its very soul? In fact it creates the mod-
ern notion of a soul—one which experiences itself as empty without love.
Saying ‘no’ to love isn’t just heresy, it’s tragedy: for our sort the failure to
achieve what is most essentially human. And not just tragic, but abnor-
mal.”7 Kipnis is entirely right: you’re not allowed to be without love; you’re
not allowed to be merely single—which is diferent from being pre- or

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