Edited by Tom Cohen

Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, Vol. 1

    6. Sexual Indifference

    There has been much talk recently regarding the extinction of sexual difference, both in a highly specific sense and in a broader sense. In humans the y chromosome has recently been interrogated with regard to its evolutionary value, with some scientists suggesting its days are numbered. In addition to that quite localized prospect of annihilation, it is also possible that life, if it survives on this planet, will have to alter so radically that it will no longer take the forms of organic sexual reproduction that seem to have so dominated the imaginary, especially in these present times when thoughts of the inhuman and posthuman often stretch no further than imagining animal organic life, itself of the rather comforting sexually dual mode. [1] Sexual indifference—or the thought of production and ‘life’ that does not take the form of the bounded organism reproducing itself through relation to its complementing other might not just be a thought worth entertaining for the curiosity it presents to the life sciences. Such a thought might provoke us to think beyond the lures and laziness that the sexual dyad as a figure has offered for thinking. There were, in the early days of what has come to be known as ‘theory’ (at least) two diagnoses of this image of redemptive unity-in-otherness: Lacan’s insistence that ethics might begin if one could imagine the non-existence of woman, precluding the dependence of the subject on some fulfillment to come; and Paul de Man’s reading of the logic of growth, fruition and genesis as relapses into the myopic quiescence of meaning. Today, however, despite a few exceptions the dyad of sexual difference as fulfillment has taken on a new life in theory and has, I would argue, precluded the thought of the logic of extinction that at once resides within sexual reproduction but that also demands a thought of reproduction beyond that of sexuality. The two senses of the extinction of sexual difference—both sexuality’s necessary relation to extinction and the possibility of sexual difference itself becoming extinct—despite coming to the fore in a series of recent scientific studies has not only failed to dent theory’s commitment to a binary organicism, but has seemed to provoke a return or retreat to the figure of the sexual couple.

    It is possible that the earth’s previous significant mass extinction event was directly related to annihilation via sexual difference: if dinosaur genders were, like present day turtles and lizards, determined via temperature, then the severe cold caused by a comet would have precluded the birth of females, this in turn leading to a surfeit of males and species extinction. Recent research has opened the possibility of generating sperm from stem cells; further into the future—100 to 200 thousand years (which is a mere blink in evolutionary time)—the y chromosome has been predicted to face extinction. Many species already reproduce without dual sexual reproduction, or via sexual reproduction that does not generate distinct sexes. Non-sexual reproduction has recently been reported beyond the plant kingdom in a species of Amazonian ant that replicates itself from the queen without coming into contact with other gene lines. Far, then, from relation to sexual alterity being the sine qua non of life, the human sexual dyad is both an event within evolutionary life and possibly within human organic life—if the species lives long enough to realize its dreams of reproduction via stems cells, sperm generated from stem cells, cloning, inorganic artificial replication, and the mastery of a virtual reality that negates organic finitude. At a broader level, and in a temporal trajectory that conflicts with scenarios of liberation through stem cell technologies and anticipated evolutionary timelines of multiple millennia, sexual difference is not only a factor in species evolution but also faces annihilation via the extinction of organic life. Any number of (mutually exclusive but over-determined) threats promise to wipe out the existence of organisms: global warming, resource depletion, viral pandemic, bio-terrorism, the resurgence of nuclear warfare from ‘rogue’ states, economic collapse leading to social chaos, and the lawlessness that would preclude the managerial measures required to deal with the other threats. Indeed, the number of factors and their unpredictability intensify the possibility of panic and chaos precisely because procedures for adaptation and mitigation in one domain preclude the attention and resources being devoted to another. One might recall here, just to cite one example, the ways in which calls for population control by certain environmentalists have been criticized by left-wing feminists for (once again) focusing on the control of women and reproduction as the first port of call in a crisis regarding the viability of life. If extinction is certain as part of the natural logic of evolving life, it is also possible that extinction might—by virtue of the panic that accompanies the attempts to maintain human life at all costs—annihilate organic life as such, sweeping away sexual difference in any of its currently known or imagined forms. How then, we might ask—facing these crises and their ramifications—has theory and gender studies addressed the question of climate change in its broadest sense? The change of the literal climate cannot be delimited from the accompanying change in intellectual, social, political and systemic climates. At the very least, this is because a certain sexual feedback, whereby the imaginary of human reproduction that has allowed human life to figure itself as organically self-sustaining, has come to destroy the very system that would allow human life to sustain itself into a future imaginable as human.

    Work on the relation between climate change and gender has generally focused on the ways in which disasters caused by global warming and resource depletion have tended to affect women more adversely than men, and this because women are the first to suffer in a shortage of labor opportunities and also because crises in general do not allow the status quo of inequality to be addressed. But this use of the concept of gender difference to nuance the effects of climate change needs to be extended to consider the ways in which all that comes under the rubric of climate change—all the ways in which organic human life has rendered itself unsustainable precisely by sustaining itself—has a figure of sexual difference and justice pervading its imagination of itself. Climate change, after all, is not change of the climate, as though it were nothing more than the human being observing an alteration of its surround; climate change ‘includes’ a confrontation with what goes beyond any topology of ‘environ’ or oikos, no longer being conceivable of the place in which the human resides so much as an infiltration of the human by forces beyond its organic modes of comprehension. What such an over-determined and chaotic domain of possibilities alerts us to is that questions of sexual difference can no longer be located within life, within questions of living organisms and their relations to each other. It is no longer a question of addressing the ways in which sexual difference does or does not play itself out in the relation among humans. For it is sexual difference, both in its genetic reality and in its imaginary figuration, that is one of the crucial factors in organic life’s possible survival and possible disappearance; and this is because sexual difference is a strange and seemingly perverse logic of life, both enhancing organic variability (and survival) and yet also diverting perception, attention, and affectivity into the organism’s own bounds. What I would like to insist upon here is that the extinction of sexual difference does not arrive from without as some type of accident that befalls an otherwise benevolent living system. On the contrary: the possibility of sexual difference is essentially intertwined with the possibility of extinction. An organism and a species that combines reproduction with sexual difference abandons the efficient replication of simple cloning, but nevertheless allows for greater gene survival through the multiplication of variability in recombinant DNA. (Only through the coupling of chromosomes can mutations of single gene lines be added to create new distinctions in such an effective evolutionary speed.) Sexual difference, or the living being’s complex relation to the otherness it requires for genetic continuity alongside the identity that marks it as a living being as such, has always been considered (normatively and morally) in terms of the gendered couple. It is the failure to confront the potentiality of sexual indifference—or difference beyond bounded organisms—that has precipitated the accelerated trajectory towards the annihilation of sexually differentiated and organic life.

    So how is sexual difference intrinsically bound up with the potentiality of extinction? Sexual difference requires something like the bounded forms of distinct kinds, requires genres or relatively stable forms whose coupling then allows for greater chances of a gene line’s continuity. One of the basic principles of evolutionary theory—rendered annoyingly familiar through popular evolutionary psychology—is that the gene’s survival can often occur at the expense of the organism, allowing for seemingly perverse or disinterested behavior to have some rationale at the level of populations or at the level of surviving genetic archaisms. Sexual difference allows for a maximal chance of a gene line’s survival but can only do so at the expense of the organism’s self-interest. Whereas simple cloning or replication would allow the maintenance of the being’s identity, reproduction through sexual difference enables only a fragment of the being’s genetic makeup to survive. Reproduction through sexual coupling admits a large degree of variation, allowing for a greater chance of survival, but this survival is never that of an identity, organism or natural kind. If a being or organism were to remain simply as it is, without exposure to the risks of sexual reproduction, its gene line would not couple with this diversity, maximizing survival. Sexual difference therefore requires something like the boundedness and ongoing stability (achieved through difference) of organic life; at the same time, sexual difference operates beyond the bounds of organic closure and identity, proceeding beyond the organism and the lived.

    It is just this time and dynamic relationality of sexual difference—allowing the organism both to be of a certain kind or genre, while also open to living on through what is not itself—that has underpinned the highly normative images of life that have precluded the thought of the forces of life that threaten to annihilate sexual difference in its organic mode. An unthinking privileging of this logic of sexual difference has been extrapolated to much of the celebration of life tout court. Ecocriticism and many modes of environmentalism begin from the affirmation of humanity’s necessary coupling with nature, insisting that we are not detached and isolated Cartesian units. But these grounding concepts of climate environment and ecology betray the very anthropocentrism they insist is not primary: for if we were to consider life not as that of the bounded being empathetically attached to its complementing other but as a play of annihilating and dominating forces then we would have to jettison the figure of the climate, tied as it is (from klima) to the surface of the earth (or to region—as in the notion of ‘climes’), to the bounded and delimitable. Sexual indifference—or the forces of life, mutation, generation and exchange without any sense of ongoing identity or temporal synthesis—have always been warded off as evil and unthinkable, usually associated with a monstrous inhumanity. The shrill insistence on proper sexual difference—that creation must occur with a sense of continuity, intentionality, identity and dynamic self-becoming—precludes the organism from paying heed to those other rhythms that are now (for want of being perceived) exacerbating the annihilation of organic life. Had man recognized the inhuman—the monstrous mutations he has always warded off as evil, indifferent, and chaotically unbounded—he may have been more perturbed by those forces that are not of the life-world or intentional horizon, might have been able to face the encroaching sexual indifference that to date has been deemed to be unthinkable.

    We might note, then, that it is just at the point that bounded sexual difference unravels and opens to a milieu of rampant self-destruction that theory and culture has returned to, and reaffirmed, a bounded gendered enclosure. And similarly, it is just at the point that capitalism appears to be in a state of collapse—precisely because it was too self-enclosed and too sheltered from radical exchange and difference—that theory retreats to archaisms of community, identity, sociality, the polity, and humanity. To make this clearer, we might say that the event that will ultimately precipitate human extinction is not its radical openness to dissolution but its suicidal self-enclosure, its self-bounded integrity that will allow it only to imagine its own world from its own imaginative horizon. As has become all too evident recently, what may trigger utter economic collapse is not radical capitalism—an absolutely free and open market—but self-enclosing narcissisms, privileges, feudal lineages, knots of self-interest, archaic nepotisms, and good old-fashioned individualist self-interest. So, when figures of the nightmares of an indifferent, inhuman, purely technical capitalist world of mere exchange and replication are imagined through depictions of an equally mechanistic, inhuman, and contingent replication, it is always something like the well-bounded whole of intentionality and meaning that is seen as a corrective. And this is so despite the fact that the wholeness of bounded, meaningful and intentional life constitutes just the self-enclosed blindness that has eliminated any possibility of witnessing the lines of life beyond our own myopia.

    Before considering the ways in which the properly bounded, creative, and organic figure of sexual difference has operated as a moralism in theories of life, it might be worth pausing to ask how, today, ‘theory’ has responded to the milieu of extinction, to the increasing likelihood that what is now been imagined as the delimited anthropocene era may come to an end and take with it organic life in general. Far from confronting the surfeit of scientific information—or confronting the affective lag between influx of information and paralysis of response—theory has retreated from a position of theory (or inhuman disengagement) to a traditional figure of the sexual binary. In all cases what is rehearsed is a theological-anthropomorphic insistence on the fruitful, productive, relatively closed sexually dynamic couple, set over and against a (supposedly a-political) circulation of difference, exchange and possibly unproductive and senseless proliferation.

    Consider some quite specific examples. After an earlier career that insisted that there was no doer behind the deed, and that ‘sex’ was a retroactive effect of a performance without intentional agent, Judith Butler has considered structures of recognition and familial alliance as at least the starting point of political theorization. Symptomatically, Butler has retrieved the face to face encounter that is both formative of human recognition, and that remains the ultimate horizon of a political theory that will be focused on the normativity of humanity (even if who or what counts as the norm is the site of a battle). It is the face that marks, for Butler, the rupture of representation and the limits of cognition:

    For representation to convey the human, then, representation must not only fail, but it must show its failure. There is something unrepresentable that we nevertheless seek to represent, and the paradox must be maintained in the representation we give.

    In this sense, the human is not identified with the unrepresentable; it is, rather, that which limits the success of any available practice. The face is not ‘effaced’ in this failure of representation, but is constituted in that very possibility. Something altogether different happens, however, when the face operates in the service of personification. (Precarious Life 144)

    Butler opens with the promising and urgent question of the disruption of narcissistic self-enclosure, a disturbance that is not willed, and yet she thinks this intrusion in terms of the Other (via a Levinas whose entire project was founded on the primacy of the ethical, reinforcing the homeliness of ethos against the inhumanity of mere force). Butler’s model of the self and life remains primarily traumatic; she may see infraction as necessary and constitutive, but it remains the case that the self/other, or border/trauma limit is foundational for her theory:

    Perhaps we might have to think, along with Levinas, that self-preservation is not the highest goal, and the defense of a narcissistic point of view not the most urgent psychic need. That we are impinged upon primarily and against our will is the sign of a vulnerability and a beholdenness that we cannot will away. We can defend against it only by prizing the asociality of the subject over and against a difficult and intractable, even sometimes unbearable relationality. What might it mean to make an ethic from the region of the unwilled? It might mean that one does not foreclose upon that primary exposure to the Other, that one does not try to transform the unwilled into the willed, but rather, to take the very unbearability of exposure as the sign, the reminder, of a common vulnerability (even as ‘common’ does not mean ‘symmetrical’ for Levinas). (Giving an Account of Oneself 100)

    This primarily self-other mode of trauma precludes any consideration of the thousand tiny micro-events that take place beyond the lived. The attention to trauma maintains the self as a bordered whole, even if that surface can be punctured; the focus on the other as the agent of this disturbance both allows the self to await intrusion, and localizes that intrusion in the human-human relation. Drawing on Laplanche, as well as Levinas, Butler leaves behind the diagnosis of this sexual imaginary articulated by Lacan. The Other does not exist; its fantasmatic presence—the lure that if only one could decipher the other’s desire one might attain a plentiude beyond the self’s fragmentation. Lacan’s account of love would look forward to a relation of non-dependence, but is this the best we can do with his critique? Is a reconfiguring of the human sexual relation as far as we can go? Both in Laplanche and Lacan there is another path indicated for thinking beyond the seduction of the human-human lure. And yet the interest that has been attained in their work has tended to devolve on the question of the sexual relation, the other and love.

    Alain Badiou places the encounter of love as one of the four generic conditions of events. The properly evental mode of love that may not always be that of a couple is explicated most fully in Badiou’s work on St Paul. The privileging of love operates as a valorization of love as truth, in which human love would strive to achieve through the other, something of the universality of Pauline Christian love.

    Thus, the new faith consists in deploying the power of self-love in the direction of others, addressing it to everyone, in a way made possible by subjectivation (conviction). Love is precisely what faith is capable of.

    I call this universal power of subjectivation an eventual fidelity, and it is correct to say that fidelity is the law of a truth. In Paul’s thought, love is precisely fidelity to the Christ event, in accordance with a power that addresses the love of self universally. Love is what makes of thought a power, which is why love alone, and not faith, bears the force of salvation (90).

    Love is set alongside other generic conditions such as mathematics, politics, and poetry: all of which are other than what Badiou deems to be the evil of the present. Evil is the merely senseless ever-sameness of communication, the circulation of unthought content, the capitalist and bourgeois indifference of a world without proper thinking. Thinking is neither the reception of information nor a consideration of how bodily life or worldly life might survive. (As an aside one might observe that all those indifferent conditions that Badiou associates with the unthinking world of bourgeois normality are also figurally tied to a certain notion of woman: passive consumption, mere chatter, moral ambivalence, and a society of hedonistic spectacle.)

    Indifference—the loss of individuation, the subsumption of the thinking subject by opinion, and a mode of aesthetics of easy consumption and enjoyment rather than the creation of social relations—all these, too, are evils for Giorgio Agamben. Despite his theological heritage Agamben does not use the concept of evil to target the modern world’s loss of the political, but he does see the terrors of contemporary bio-politics as located primarily in the lack of distinction between bios and zoe. If the ancient origin of the polis was possible because of a continual working of the anthropological machine, whereby man set himself in distinction from the mere life that was at once internal and yet externalized, then modernity has increasingly lost the polis in its falling back upon a managed biological existence that is no longer formed collectively, practically and politically. The human becomes merely managed substance, not that which springs forth from itself to open its own world. Agamben, lamenting the loss of the political, concludes The Open by finding a way beyond the opposition between bare (or simply surviving) life and properly human (or lawfully ordered and recognized) life in the figure of two lovers as presented in a Titian canvas. Here, facing one’s sexual other, one is neither a mere body—for one’s natural existence is witnessed by another—nor is one fully humanized and politicized, precisely because sexual desire is the desire of the other’s bodily being. The lovers figure a threshold—for Agamben the political human threshold—of a fragile coming into existence as human from the natural:

    In their fulfillment the lovers learn something of each other that they should not have known—they have lost their mystery—and yet have not become any less impenetrable. But in this mutual disenchantment from their secret…they enter a new and more blessed life, one that is neither animal nor human. It is not nature that is reached in their fulfillment, but rather…a higher stage beyond both nature and knowledge, beyond concealment and disconcealment. (87)

    Even though Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue for a new creative mode of humanity (or homohomo) beyond the normalized sex of the family, it is human embodied love that opens the way to a new politics. Rather than move away from the bourgeois couple to impersonal forces beyond the human, Hardt and Negri return to a pre-bourgeois theological love—the godly love that had served to render heterosexual marriage spiritually proper to the life of man: “There is really nothing necessarily metaphysical about the Christian and Judaic love of God: both God’s love of humanity and humanity’s love of God are expressed and incarnated in the common material political project of the multitude” (Multitude 351–52). This love is artifice precisely because it is fully grounded in art and knowledge, not the mere life of zoe, and certainly not the simple experiences of mixture:

    This creative evolution does not merely occupy any existing place, but rather invents a new place; it is a desire that creates a new body. … In addition to being radically unprepared for normalization, however, the new body must also be able to create a new life. We must go further to define the new place of the non-place, well beyond the simple experiences of mixture and hybridization, and the experiments that are conducted around them. We have to arrive at constituting a coherent political artifice, an artificial becoming in the sense that the humanists spoke of a homohomo produced by art and knowledge, and that Spinoza spoke of a powerful body produced by the highest consciousness that is infused with love. (Empire 216–217)

    What all these appeals to redemptive love share, apart from their repetition of normative figures of life depicted through bounded and gendered distinction, is an alignment with a moralizing anti-capitalism. What must be expelled as evil is a proliferation of differences without limit, an exchange without sense, a chaotic productivity that is divorced from the vital normativity of organic being. Sexual indifference has always been warded off precisely because it opens the human organism to mutation, production, lines of descent and annihilation beyond that of its own intentionality. And this is so even if the evolutionary logic of sexual difference entails a necessary loss of distinction and opening to annihilation. A gene line survives not if it remains sufficient unto itself, remaining as it is and fully actualized. Not only is every individual life a negotiation between maintaining a border of identity and exposing the body to the contingency of an outside, gene line survival occurs through an encounter with other gene lines, the creation of maximum mutation without any sense of certainty of living on. And yet it is just this logic of necessary and positive extinction—this necessary production of differences that will not survive—that is repressed in the shrill affirmation of the vitality of sexual binary difference. Indeed, one might ask whether the human species is now facing its end precisely because it has only been able to respond to what it recognizes as its own political—that is, human to human—milieu?

    Apart from the standard anxieties regarding the engineering of life—which is, after all, an anxiety directed against the loss of chance, mystery or exposure to something other than the will making itself from itself, or an anxiety about a pure techne that would be a system maintaining itself with no sense or end other than its own efficiency—fears of the loss of sexual difference occlude a recognition of positive extinction that is the aporia of life as such. Sexual difference—if set against replication by splitting or parthenogenesis, or contemporary potentials for cloning—relies upon continuing a gene line through coupling with a diversifying other. This coupling of difference harbors three general structures of identity and difference: first, continuity of a living being occurs through a specific mode of becoming, whereby a being must neither remain simply the same through time (the inertia of a corpse) nor be radically different from moment to moment without relation; becoming is the becoming of this or that specified being. But what the substratum for becoming is can only be known after the event of becoming, and not as its logic. That is, it is never certain at what point a differentiation increases the complexity of a natural kind, or opens the first branching out of another natural kind. It cannot be clear, in other words, whether an event of sexual difference is the maximization of a being’s continuity or the opening to its eventual annihilation or supplementation. The continuity of life requires some degree of ongoing destruction, both of the individual closed forms that make up any species, and of species themselves. At what point an event of death represents the means by which a species continues itself or passes over into extinction for the sake of other forms is undecidable.

    Further, sexual difference as the motor for evolution and survival evidences an even more complex passage through a thousand tiny annihilations: if organisms were governed solely by the economic efficiency of survival it is hard to imagine how complexity would develop; complexity can—one imagines—only occur with the production of redundancy or not immediately useful differences that may or may not have some fit with the creation of an ongoing stability. This relation between immediate efficiency and risky redundancy is highly pertinent for sexual difference: a simply cloning species can double itself at twice the speed of a species that requires coupling, but its capacity to produce complex mutations is diminished. The same applies as sexual difference becomes increasingly complex. The lure of sexual difference, seen in its human mode, can appear as a manifest excess above and beyond any calculable benefit for continuity. Sexual display may impede a body’s organic functioning—including everything from peacock feathers to silicon breasts and high heels—rendering the living being’s boundedness less secure, opening its becoming to the eyes, ears, and olfactory sense of other beings. The inflections of becoming grounded in the lures of sexual difference at once evidence a logic of life as continuity and a disregard for the individual being. If this were not so, if organisms could only act in such a way that all actions and reactions were grounded in their own survival, then life in general would grind to a halt. Sexual difference appears to be the mark that explains the organism’s surpassing of itself for the sake of life, its passage beyond its bounded form to the becoming of life in general. At the same time, this indicates that the life of sexual difference is more than organic and bounded life, even though all the figures, logics and moralisms of sexual difference are haunted precisely by a fear of sexual indifference that is intertwined with a loss of individuation.

    Finally, sexual difference has, at its heart, a positive tendency of annihilation: not only do the lures of sexual difference act less for the organism’s own survival and more for the becoming and differentiating life of which it is an expression; the coupling with other gene lines enables survival—not of the same—but of that which lives on only by taking on a line of life other than its own. One might note that it is precisely because of a certain clinging to bounded sexual difference and a fear of individual extinction, that the human species is now forced to confront a species extinction that may well lead to the extinction of sexual difference in general, in the annihilation of organic and organized life. What would follow—a difference beyond the bounded organism—may be neither difference or indifference, having no longer that strange relationship to self-maintenance that is figured in all the moralisms of gender difference that have marked normative figures of life.

    As already noted, there has always been an anxiety regarding sexual indifference as the mere proliferation of life and production without the sense, identity and individuation of bounded forms. If life were simply to remain as it is, without alteration, becoming or creation then one would be left with nothing other than the inertia of matter, the ever-same of the inorganic. But that becoming must be a becoming of bounded and marked kinds, remaining both the same and other through the ongoing recognizable stability of gene lines issuing in kinds. Even so, alongside the anxiety regarding sexual indifference there is also—within the very insistence on creation through relation among individuated kinds—a refusal of sexual difference beyond kinds. It is precisely this moralism of sexual difference, an organicism that would contain difference in the bounded forms of self-recognising life, that reaches its limit today as the human species confronts an intensification both of extinction threats and sexual indifference scenarios. To broach a conclusion I would suggest that it is sexual difference and its figural imaginary that has underpinned the suicidal logic of human organicism.

    According to this persistent figural imaginary life in its proper, bounded, and organic form must at once become and realize itself through a creative coupling with an other kind. Not to do so would be a refusal of the creativity of which the bounded form is the distinct expression. And yet this becoming through what is not oneself must not be so open as to risk utter annihilation. Good sexual difference is relation to otherness that at once reinforces the bounded stability of the closed form, while nevertheless remaining open to a creative potentiality of that form that can be achieved by encounter with a complementary other. What cannot be admitted is what is figured as sexual indifference—the mere replication, simulation, or proliferation of chaotic and unbounded life that has neither sense of itself nor of its individuating relation to the whole. Good sexual coupling is a binary in which each term is more than itself by recognizing in the other not a merely present body that would be some object for consumption, but another open relation, enabling in turn an ongoing life and becoming of the future. Such a good coupling is situated between the extremity of an utterly bounded and fixed form—something that simply is, as fully actualized and without change or life—and the other pole of proliferating difference without identity or limit.

    Has not this normative figure of sexual difference, a difference that would seemingly ward off the chaos of indifference, randomness, mindless proliferation and closed completion, operated as the imaginary that has precluded us from thinking the positive indifference and extinction that would enable the human species to confront its current milieu? Why, we might ask, as extinction and indifference become possible, imagined, and even predicted scenarios, has there been a reaction formation asserting the bounds and sense of the organism? Today there is no shortage of scenarios for the annihilation of sexual difference, ranging from stem cell research that could produce sperm—a possible boon for lesbian couples—to predictions that evolution will close down the sexually distinct male human, and even further to the annihilation of organic life in general which would entail the extinction of the sexually differentiated in all its forms, allowing other modes of microbial life (possibly) to start some other line of becoming.

    One might suggest that this actual threat of annihilation and extinction followed directly from a logic of organic and sexually differentiated survival and self-maintenance. It is because the human organism fears sexual indifference, fears the loss of its bounded being and its differentiated world of fixed kinds, that it has been unable to perceive, consider or allow differences and rhythms beyond those of its own sensory-motor apparatus. That is, the normative dyad of creative human coupling that has warded off difference and production beyond its own bounded life, has been the figure that has precluded a sense of life beyond oikos, polity, organism, sense and man. One might say that it is the insistence on proper sexual difference—a sexual difference that would not extinguish itself in chaos and would allow for the ongoing maintenance of distinct lines—that will ultimately lead to the annihilation or extinction of sexual difference in general, in the extinction of life as such. Indeed, faced with the potentiality of a sexual difference beyond that of the organic couple, both popular culture and theory have responded by reaffirming the normative image of life that has always enclosed the human within its own suicidal logic of survival. The fear of sexual indifference—a circulation, exchange and proliferation beyond bounded forms—is precisely that which has imprisoned human species within its logic of self-enclosing sameness.

    The present continuation of the shrill affirmation of the life and fruition of sexual difference, along with the constant references to love and coupling, preclude recognizing all those forces beyond the organism whose play has been essential to our milieu.  By only admitting the lived differences of bounded kinds we have been unable to consider the difference of lifelines and force lines beyond our purview.

    Works Cited

    • Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal. Trans. Kevin Attell. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.
    • Badiou, Alain. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Trans. Ray Brassier. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.
    • Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.
    • ---. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
    • Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
    • Derrida, Jacques. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Ed. Marie-Louise Mallet. Trans. David Wills. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
    • Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
    • ---. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin, 2004.


    1. Why, we might ask, does one of the Ur-text’s for the turn to animality in theory—Derrida’s—take the form of the classically existential self-other “look”? Why is the relation that might challenge anthropo-morpho-centrism one of the eye-to-eye confrontation of duality? In the other two core texts of animal human bordering, Agamben’s The Open and Deleuze and Guattari’s plateau on becoming in A Thousand Plateaus, it is the border of the human that takes primacy. While all these texts challenge human specificity and supremacy they share two features: first, it is the human relation to the animal that opens the question of life and becoming; second, the problem of the future and the break with human boundedness nevertheless takes place in relation to organic and productive life. Deleuze and Guattari insist that the human relation to the animal will not be one of imitation, nor of sympathy and empathy but will, rather, extract ‘traits’ that will liberate thought from the “lived,” the organic and—most importantly—the being of woman. Despite that departing gesture, their phrase of “becoming-woman” has either been criticized for appropriating the force of “woman” from women themselves or has, more recently, seemed to justify maintaining a logic of woman as point of redemption. This essay will argue that this gesture of Deleuze and Guattari’s to move from becoming-animal and becoming-woman to becoming-imperceptible—thinking the non-existence of the human organism—has been occluded in the recent turn to life and praxis in contemporary theory. return to text