Claire Colebrook

Sex After Life: Essays on Extinction, Volume Two

    11. On the Very Possibility of Queer Theory

    Is queer theory a reflection on what it means to be queer, or does the concept of queerness change the ways in which we theorize? On the one hand the concept of theory appears to be inextricably intertwined with the concept of the human: man is that rational animal possessed of a soul capable of intuiting the essential, or what truly is, and thereby liberating himself from determined and merely actual perception (Irwin 1988). On the other hand, the possibility of a true theory—a mode of thinking that operates without a normative image of thought—seems to be opened only after the death of God and the death of ‘man’ (Deleuze 1994: 109). For Deleuze, true thought and true theory—a real break with the normative image of ‘man’—must include both the intuition of the ground from which sense, truth and problems emerge, and must fulfill the promise of transcendental inquiry, which has all too often fallen back upon a self or subject who subtends theory. Contrary to a popular idea of a simple anti-humanism Deleuze does not reject the intuition of essences, the eternal, genesis and grounds; on the contrary, his work is best understood as an argument in favor of a superior transcendentalism that would think beyond the residual humanism maintained both by forms of Kantian critique and by popular notions of community and interrogation (Deleuze 1994, 197).

    While abandoning the idea of a metaphysical outside or ‘beyond’ which might ground metaphysics, post-Kantian thought has nevertheless maintained the possibility of renovating thought from within (O’Neill 1989). If, in modernity, we have abandoned the idea of theoria as an intuition of essences, we can nevertheless sustain some commitment to critique: an interrogation of our situation from within (Habermas 1992). From such a commitment to interrogation from within, or resignation to an ironic attitude, it might seem that the values of queer theory would be the values of the postmodern, post-human, post-metaphysical attitude in general. If our situatedness is, by definition, that which also counts as normal and normative, then theory as such might be intrinsically queer, as an attempt to deviate from, or pervert, that which appears self-evident, unquestionable and foundational. Accepting such a definition of queer theory would render the enterprise both parasitic and relative; queer theory would always be a solicitation of the normal, and if homosexuality and bisexuality were to become legitimate social models, then queerness would not have withered away, but merely shifted terrain: queer theory would be queer politics and would proceed by way of interrogating any supposed normality or normativity, having no intrinsic power. What I would like to consider in this final concluding chapter is a less negative and less relative formulation of queer theory, one concerned more with the intuition of essences than with the critical distance from the natural attitude.

    There are two ways to think about the theoretical point of view in modernity. The first is critical. After Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’ we recognize that there can be no ‘view from nowhere.’ To experience or live a world we must be related to that world through knowledge or perception; there cannot, therefore, be any intuition of that which exists outside the relations through which the world is received (Langton 1998). All our concepts are concepts of some intuited world, and all our intuitions are formed as conceptually meaningful and ordered. Kant therefore defines theoretical knowledge as given through the forming power of concepts and the receptive power of intuition. There can be no theoretical knowledge of any supposed foundation or law that would lie beyond experience: to know is to relate to, and conceptualize, what is other than oneself. There cannot be a theory of that which underpins experience; theory is, by definition, always situated, relational and grounded. Theory can, however, reflect on the conditions of our situation, and this would yield practical rather than knowable outcomes. If there can be no law intuitable beyond experience, then we are compelled to give a law to ourselves (O’Neill 1989). We cannot appeal to a foundation or ground, for we are always already grounded. Asking the question of grounds requires some grounded position from which questions can be posed. Theory can only tell us that we exist within mediation and experience, but cannot step outside that mediation.

    Practically, though, this recognition of our location within experience allows for a radical anti-foundationalism. In the absence of any law or ground we must give a law to ourselves, and because this law is ungrounded—because there is no position beyond experience—no point of view can claim to speak for the law. One must give a law to oneself, always aware of that law’s provisional status. As a consequence, liberalism remains a primarily critical and reflective ethic. Even though one is always located, one must strive to imagine a law that could in principle be agreed to by any subject whatsoever; one must neither make an exception of oneself—say, by not acting in a manner that would be universalizable on the grounds that one knows better—nor can one attribute one’s located preferences to others. One can only will, ethically, that which would be willed as such (Kant 1990). Such a critical recognition of locatedness has served feminism and radical politics well. No one can be excluded from the practice of self-determination; there can be no exclusion from the public sphere of reason on the basis of spurious empirical claims. Thus, Mary Wollstonecraft (1975) argued that there was no way of knowing whether women were less capable than men at the art of reason; there could be no exclusion of women from education and argument, for if there is such a faculty as reason then it behooves us all to extend that faculty to its highest power. It is precisely the absence of foundations and the impossibility of basing theory on anything other than our situatedness that releases the subject from ‘imposed tutelage’ and issues in the central value of autonomy, of giving a law to oneself (Kant 1990).

    In addition to Kantian liberal anti-foundationalism, the other possibility for modern political theory would appear to be some form of communitarianism. On this model, like liberalism, there can be no view from nowhere; however, the liberal appeal to the rational self-constituting individual cannot function as a legitimate point of departure. Selves, including the modern ideal of the autonomous self-critical subject, are constituted through others. One is a self only through relations; to be a self requires that one maintain oneself as recognizable through time, as having this or that character. Such recognition requires others, both so that one might be recognized as who one is now, and also so that there will be a context of norms, traditions, expectations and narratives through which one understands what it is to be human. On this communitarian model, theory does not take the form of abstracting from one’s particularity to produce a purely formal procedure. Theory is not the regulation of those who would seek to exempt themselves from the claims of a universal unfounded reason. Theory is reflection on constituted norms, and is often enabled not by limiting contradiction and particularity, but by paying acute attention to those cultural moments when the conflict of founding (but irreconcilable) values are brought to the fore. If autonomy—relying on no law other than the law one can give to oneself—is the key value of liberal anti-foundationalism, recognition is the key value of communitarianism. Both values follow from an acknowledgement of the theoretical predicament: that to live or be a self is to have a law, but no such law can be known or intuited. Autonomy asks how one must regulate oneself in the absence of a founding shared law; recognition looks at the ways in which such shared laws are founded communally, historically and culturally.

    Judith Butler’s work, from its very beginning, has maintained the force of both these founding values of modern theory. On the one hand, the self is not given as a knowable substance but must be performed or given to itself through action. On the other hand, such self-giving or performing is only possible through others and recognition. It is for this reason that Butler’s work is not so much a mobilization of twentieth-century theory for queer politics, but a theory in which the queer body becomes exemplary. For it is the queer body that exposes the essential tension between autonomy and recognition. One must both be recognized as a subject who subtends various performances, but there must also be a self who is not reducible to performances, such that actions can be posited intelligibly as issuing from this or that coherent self-fashioning subject. To be a self requires that one take on a norm; one must be recognizable as this or that subject. The condition of being a self—that one remain the same through time—requires a certain iterability: there is no self who repeats, for it is through the event of ongoing repetition that a self is constituted. The various performances or actions that the self undergoes must be recognizable as repetitions of some style or mode of being. Gender is one of the ways in which various differing performances can be recognized as differences of this or that sexual subject; if one’s actions do not bear this iterability then one cannot be recognized as a subject. At the same time as the self exists only in performing itself as a self to be recognized, one must not be reducible to one’s performances alone. If performances are normative, intelligible or readable then one can be recognized as a sexual subject who exists above and beyond any of her recognized actions. The self who asks to be recognized is, in the very claim for recognition, never reducible to the norm or system through which she speaks and performs. Without a difference or deviation in the repetitions of the norm one could not be a subject who subtends or performs that norm. Theory, then, maintains the necessary and essential tension between subjection (to the norm) and activation: the norm has its being only through the various performances but these performances also introduce differences and instabilities.

    In many respects we might consider Butler’s work to be both exemplary of the precarious model of the self that is presupposed in cultural studies, as well as being critical of the premises of identity politics. Without the mutability of the self the critique of cultural norms makes no sense; but this radical capacity for self-redefinition is also at the heart of contemporary capitalist modes of identity. On the one hand, one can be a self only through some recognizable identity; on the other hand, the performance of that identity is also the condition for the subject’s destabilization and possible (but not necessarily enabling) undoing. Such a theory at once provides a way to think through the classic problems of representation in cultural studies. How do we judge images of political identity? On the one hand we might argue that stereotypical representations of certain images in the media reinforce rigid norms, preclude self-constitution and do not allow for subjects outside limited norms to be recognized. On the other hand, there can be no creation of oneself ex nihilo. Butler’s answer to the politics of representation is not to judge between good and bad representations, dividing the authentic from the imposed. Rather, the conditions of representation themselves will yield a politics in which one can be a self only through the repetition of a norm, at the same time as that very repetition is essentially queer. For the queer is not radically outside or beyond recognition and selfhood; it is that which makes a claim to be heard as human—within the norms of speech, gender, the polity and the symbolic—at the same time as it perverts the normative matrix. Perhaps too much has already been said about Butler’s early championing of parody and drag (Bersani 1995), but her work is dominated by the claim that it is the necessary repetition of a norm that both allows a self to be recognized, at the same time as the repetition is the self’s undoing. To perform as queer is to maintain and demand recognition for that which has, hitherto, exceeded the bounds of cultural recognition. Thus, the queer is that which both partakes in the norm—one can be recognized as male or female—and destabilizes that norm, for this male or female will not take on the desires of the heterosexual matrix.

    Butler’s theory therefore allows for the (albeit problematic) maintenance of identity politics: the assertion of oneself as this or that subject demanding recognition is both necessary for the social system at the same time as it introduces a necessary dynamism into the system. At the same time as it maintains specified groupings, identity politics must also be recognized as queer: one is not asserting one’s difference from some already recognized other. One is asserting difference as such: that one is a self only insofar as one, through repetition, also creates and performs differently. If I were merely the exemplification of a norm, if being straight or gay exhausted my identity, then I would have no identity at all. The condition for identity is difference, but for Butler this is iterative difference. There is not a substance or subject who then goes through time and difference; it is by way of the repetition of this differing act that a subject might be retroactively posited. Theory, in its Butlerian or critical mode, is an analysis of the conditions of performative difference; this mode of critical and destabilizing analysis exposes the fragile and precarious status of the supposedly stable and conditioning norm. The conditioning norm is itself conditioned, possible because of processes of iterative difference.

    Against the model of iterative difference, which allows for the critical maintenance of identity politics, Gilles Deleuze offers a theory of positive difference. Crucial to the understanding of the distinction between the post-Hegelian iterative model of difference and Deleuze’s understanding of difference is the status of relations. In her early work on Hegel, Butler explains Hegel’s critique of internal relations: if relations were internal, then the way in which any being related to the world would be determined in advance. Encounters, journeys and interactions would merely unfold from what that being already is (Butler 1987: 35). Against this, Hegel argues that something is only in its relations; it is not that there are beings that then encounter difference. Rather, there is difference or relationality from which points of stability and recognition emerge. Absolute consciousness is just this differing—or not being the self-same—recognizing itself as its own negating power. Subjectivity is a relation to relationality, a consciousness aware that it is nothing other than its distance and difference from itself:

    The Hegelian subject cannot know itself instantaneously or immediately, but requires mediation to understand its own structure. The permanent irony of the Hegelian subject consists of this: it requires mediation to know itself, and knows itself only as the very structure of mediation; in effect, what is reflexively grasped when the subject finds itself ‘outside’ itself, reflected there, is this very fact itself, that the subject is a reflexive structure, and that movement out of itself is necessary in order for it to know itself at all. (Butler 2012, 7-8)

    We might say, then, that we have abandoned internal relations: the encounters, qualities, events and individuality of a being do not unfold from any single point but occurs in relation to another relation. There is an unfolding of relations that then produces a specific difference between terms; consciousness is just this coming to recognition of oneself as nothing more than relationality. The essence of what something is—that which makes it what it is—is its existence, its actualization, or the way in which it has established itself as this or that complex of relations.

    Butler remains committed to the idea that relations are produced through a process of difference and repetition. Something is identifiable as something only if it is repeated through time, but each repetition also introduces a certain difference or not being at one; the self in remaining itself is always subjected to, or negated by, that which is not:

    When we ask, what are the conditions of intelligibility by which the human emerges, by which the human is recognized, by which some subject becomes the subject of human love, we are asking about conditions of intelligibility composed of norms, of practices, that have become presuppositional, without which we cannot think the human at all. So I propose to broach the relationship between variable orders of intelligibility and the genesis of the knowability of the human. And it is not just that there are laws that govern our intelligibility, but ways of knowing, modes of truth, that forcibly define intelligibility.

    […]Subjectively, we ask: Who can I become in such a world where the meanings and limits of the subject are set out in advance for me? By what norms am I constrained as I begin to ask what I may become? And what happens when I begin to become that for which there is no place within the given regime of truth? (Butler 2004A, 57)

    Quite recently new developments in theory have subtly shifted the emphasis on relations (Harman 2012). If we insist that something can neither be, nor exist outside of the relations through which it is actualized, then this might lead us—as Butler has done—to insist on a subject as relationality (and perhaps to attribute that subjective relational capacity to linguistic or social beings alone, the latter including animals). But there is another inflection of the insistence on relations, which is to say that a thing comes into being through relations but has a force to produce other relations, and that for every actual relation there are a ‘thousand tiny’ virtual relations not given (but that ‘swarm’ in the background, accessible only in part and fleetingly). In most modes of theory relations are external to terms; very few writers today would insist on substances being nothing more than that are what they are, with relations being determined in advance by a being’s intrinsic properties. In Deleuzian theory relations not only yield the dispersed world of actual beings but also remain as real virtual potentialities beyond the world as we know it, and beyond the world as it is at present.

    That is, whatever systems or relations happen to have been formed, the forces that produced those relations could always have produced other relations. Relations do not follow from self-sufficient terms, but they do emerge from tendencies. Deleuze posits a positive virtual plane, or ‘pure past’, that is actualized in each encounter to produce both the term that is repeated, and the difference established in each term. Tendencies are never known or given as such, only in their inflections. Deleuze seeks to find syntheses of difference and repetition that are asymmetrical, positive and pre-individual. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze makes two key points with regard to the establishment of an active synthesizing subject. First, the self who repeats and from whom relations to the world are established depends upon passive, pre-individual syntheses: the individual who acts is composed of a thousand tiny egos, each effected from an encounter. Thus, it is not the self who must receive sensation and organize a world, for sensations are already the effect of intensive encounters or syntheses, and emerge from potentialities to be sensed. Synthesis does not occur as the repetition of the same through time; synthesis is not the maintenance of sameness. Rather, there can only be a relative stability through time of a quality if two forces of difference have entered into relation. Synthesis occurs first as difference before identity. Color, for example, occurs as relation between waves of light and an organism’s eye, but the eye, in turn occurs as the relation between organic living matter, milieus of light, and evolutionary tendencies towards formation. An intensity’s synthesis (or the coming into being of a quality) is not the repetition through time of the equal but is an asymmetrical synthesis; a quality, such as color, occurs as the relation between quantities. There can be more or less light, more or less of a quality, because of a relation of quantities, or forces entering into encounters. Before there is the ‘I’ of the self who repeats itself actively, there is the ‘eye,’ which is already the establishment of a qualitative relation or the unfolding of an intensity. The ‘eye’ is the result of a passive synthesis that has organized the problem of light, and light—as intensity—is that which might also have unfolded or been explicated in other relations or other qualities: so that each of our organs, according to Deleuze, is a contemplative soul, not receiving so much determining data, but giving a quality to the intensities of all it encounters:

    The passive self is not defined simply by receptivity—that is, by means of the capacity to experience sensations—but by virtue of the contractile contemplation which constitutes the organism itself before it constitutes the sensations. [...] There is a self wherever a furtive contemplation has been established, wherever a contracting machine capable of drawing a difference from repetition functions somewhere. The self does not undergo modifications, it is itself a modification—this term designating precisely the difference drawn. Finally, one is only what one has: here, being is formed or the passive self is, by having. Every contraction is a presumption, a claim—that is to say, it gives right to an expectation or a right in regard to that which it contracts, and comes undone once its object escapes. (Deleuze 1994, 100)

    Second, while the self is nothing other than repeated modifications, what is repeated is not the actual, existing, material or bare present. Nor does repetition happen to an individual: what is repeated is the pure past. Each event is the actualization of a pure potentiality, a power to be which each present repeats. All revolutions are the repetition of the power or potentiality of revolution; all selves are repetitions of a potentiality for modification. All the objects that constitute an individual’s reality are haunted by another series of virtual objects that are never fully present; these are not psychic, wished for or imagined, but exist as pre-individual potentialities. A virtual object opens any material objective individual series to a contemplation beyond the self, a pure intensity that is beyond the habitual time of the body, and the remembered time of the psyche. The beyond of pleasure—or the outside of any individual’s definition through a series of desired objects—is not an indeterminate negativity or undifferentiated ‘beyond’. Deleuze objects to psychoanalysis’ grounding of the ‘beyond’ of pleasure on an opposition between death and life, between the self and its return to a state of inanimate matter. Instead, Deleuze insists on the pure past as a virtual, eternal, intense, pre-individual and positive series that each actualized present repeats. If the individual appears in the form of organized, actual and life-serving objectifications—the desired objects towards which the subject is directed—this is because the individual is grounded upon a series of virtual objects. These virtual objects are pure fragments, or shreds of the past: a past that was never present and does not exist, but is always absent from itself and insists (Deleuze 1994, 124–5).

    To give this concrete form, we can note that any actualized, existing, acting, repeating subject—a self who defines itself both against others (autonomy) and through others (recognition)—has as its prior condition pre-personal series. The aim of Deleuze’s ethics and politics is to analyze, affirm and open these series. Most importantly, in terms of theory and the life and humanity of theory, Deleuze insists on the importance of the ground or dark precursor. Any two series of resonating differences—such as the differences of a language and the differences of our bodily identity—resonate with each other and can experience forced movement only through a ‘dark precursor’ or ground. So, in order for the self who says ‘I’ and speaks the language of man to be coordinated with the bodily movements of the self-interested, active and organized human organism there has to be some silent, unstated, undecided, passive ground (or sense) that itself cannot be simply stated. Much of Difference and Repetition is concerned with trying to intuit those silent presuppositions of representation and identity that tie the series of philosophical concepts—of the self, the ‘I’, truth, identity and recognition—with the body of man oriented toward maintaining a state of equilibrium.

    For Deleuze, thinking beyond the human requires some forced movement; this force can be thought of as the pure past, as desire, as the dark precursor, as the body without organs, and as the virtual—all of which open the constituted field of relations to that which is given through relations, but is not exhausted by any actualized relation. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes of the ‘beyond’ of a life and pleasure of self-maintenance: this beyond would be ‘death’, but not a death opposed to life and Eros. Thanatos, he argues, is Eros carried to its ‘nth’ power: desexualized, or rendered purely virtual and inhuman. Only here would we encounter pure intensity. The self or ‘I’ who loves another self (erotically) is already the effect of a whole series of virtual and intersubjective objects. Any actual couple draws upon, while repeating and transforming, the history of erotic encounters. To think the power of Eros beyond bounded bodies, would be to imagine syntheses beyond the organism and beyond the maintenance of life—a positive and annihilating ‘death.’ This conception of a ‘beyond’ of pleasure does not rely on the notion of returning to a state of nothingness, but it does raise the thought of how we might think intensities tending towards minimal thresholds. If we took desire beyond its human and bounded form, what minor intensities of desire might we discern: the movements of plants towards the light, the movements of particles towards (and away) from each other? Such a conception of desire in terms of small intensities, enables a redefinition of the objects of desire, and a non-Oedipal approach to psychoanalysis. If the self is given positively through the objects it desires, then it makes sense to see certain privileged objects as the outcome of a pre-individual and supra-individual plane of history. The phallus would not be a universal signifier of promised presence, the desire for which orients all subjectivity to an always concealed absence. Any actualized object that a body desires is possible because of a positive history, or a series of events that might have issued in an entirely different present. (The positivity of history is outlined in Anti-Oedipus where the phallic totem begins as a collective investment: Deleuze and Guattari insist that once capitalism develops as a concrete form, it is then possible to discern that capitalism was always lying in wait as a potentiality.) The phallus, through historical and political syntheses, becomes a virtual object; it organizes desires and bodies prior to their actual and individual encounters. Deleuze refers in Difference and Repetition, and in The Logic of Sense, to the aleatory object which allows series to resonate. So, before ‘I’ can love or recognize ‘you’, our perceptions have already been synthesized in advance by the sense of our encounter: the sense or orientation of what counts as human, what counts as love, what counts as a recognizable body. For Deleuze this virtual plane is precisely not linguistic, for language as such can only organize bodies after those bodies have been intensively and affectively organized or synthesized. The true aim of thinking or theory would be to go back to the singular points from which relations and affects have been determined:

    Underneath the large noisy events lie the small events of silence, just as underneath the natural light there are little glimmers of the Idea. Singularity is beyond particular propositions no less than universality is beyond general propositions. Problematic Ideas are not simple essences, but multiplicities or complexes of relations and corresponding singularities. (Deleuze 1994, 203)

    How does each individual or the self who says ‘I’ repeat and modify a virtual series of affections, encounters and intensities that are not its own and that might also be repeated otherwise? Against iterative difference—which is a repetition of a being that has no existence outside its seriality, or that produces that which repeats only through a maintaining of the same through time—Deleuze insists on the positive insistence of the virtual in all its intensity.

    If we were to draw an example from genetics we might say that iterative difference gives us the idea of an organism that would undergo change and modification through repeating itself; each generation or copy introducing more and more instability and alterity. Deleuze’s positive difference shows how each modification of an individual is preceded by micro-perceptions or encounters: before the self repeats itself there are repetitions of intensities or pure qualities. A virus might be repeated in my body, creating not a different organism but a different potentiality—a new virus or the modification of an organ, which might then effect my body’s motility—not the ways in which I act but the ways in which I am acted upon. Difference is not the reiteration of some quality but occurs through the eternal return of the power to create relations, to produce connections. Concretely, this idea of difference does not result in an organism being modified through selection, but an individuation and selection that disregards the organism, creating connections among bodies that are the undoing of any organized body:

    For the I and the Self are perhaps no more than indices of the species: of humanity as a species with divisions. [...] The I is therefore not a species; rather—since it implicitly contains what the species and kinds explicitly develop, in particular the represented becoming of the form—they have a common fate, Eudoxus and Epistemon. Individuation, by contrast, has nothing to do with even the continued process of determining species but, as we shall see, it precedes and renders the latter possible. It involves fields of fluid intensive factors which no more take the form of an I than of a Self. Individuation as such, as it operates beneath all forms, is inseparable from a pure ground that it brings to the surface and trails with it. (Deleuze 1994, 190)

    In political terms we can also distinguish iterative and positive repetition. For Butler, an individual does not exist ex nihilo but can be a self only through an other whom the proto-subject repeats and modifies. Claiming to be a queer subject might involve laying claim to certain normative practices—such as marriage and gender—which would have the effect both of normalizing the self by subjection to convention and recognition, but also disturbing convention by introducing a new mode or style of claim. To a certain extent all politics is queer politics, or an ongoing negotiation between the degrees of repetition to which the self submits and the amount of deviation or difference from normativity that the self can effect. The queer, on such an understanding, would be negative, defined as the difference from those conditions of recognition and normativity that both enable and preclude autonomy. Deleuze offers a quite different ontology and ethics of non-being. We are mistaken if we think of non-existence as the failure, deviation or difference from the present and actual. We need to think of non-being as positive, real and affirmative. Each existing, actualized individual is therefore the actualization of a non-being, which is better defined as ‘?-being’ or as a series of problems. The queer self might be better thought of as a counter-actualization of the material repetitions that make up ‘man’, rather than as a deviation from actual norms of man. Similarly, we could think of queer politics, not so much as a de-formation of what is constituted as normal, but as the composition of questions based on what bodies might be able to do. We could see marriage in its current bourgeois normative and heterosexual form as the solution to a certain problem or question: how the self forms its gender, manages its desires and property, and organizes its child-rearing. The queer self would repeat, while also recomposing, the problems that orient the self: counter-actualizing the present by drawing on the pure past of the questions from which we have emerged. How might a self desire, what might count as an object of one’s desire, what future relations or events might the couplings of bodies produce and enable?

    Whereas Butler’s model of theory is to begin with the subject and then interrogate its conditions of possibility in the tension between recognition and autonomy, Deleuze’s theory is one of positive intuition. Here, we go beyond composed selves and problems to the affects and intensities from which they are organized. For Butler a queer theory is one in which the conditions of being a subject are essentially queer—one must claim to speak as a self, but can do so only through an other who is not oneself. At the same time, the condition for being queer is to become a subject: one must be recognized as having a claim to speak, a claim to be and exist. For Deleuze, the conditions of theory require a going ‘beyond’ of the self and the organism. As long as we are concerned with identity, with the repetition of who we are, we remain within constituted matter and lived time. To think transcendentally we need to think the pure form of time and difference, the pure intensities that each present repeats and actualizes both in the present and for all time. For Deleuze, then, the conditions of the queer and the conditions of the new are the same: to counter-actualize the present, to repeat the intensities and encounters that have composed us, but not as they are for us.

    In quite specific terms this requires a radical and distinct break from identity politics. As long as ethics is defined as the maintenance of individuals as they are we restrict the potentiality of life to one of its constituted forms. Only by thinking intensities beyond the human can we begin to live ethically. Thus queer politics would involve neither recognition of the self, nor a refusal of normativity, but the affirmation of the pre-personal. Rather than assessing political problems according to their meaning and convention—or the relations that organize certain affects and desires—we need to think desires according to virtual series, all the encounters that are potential or not yet actualized.

    Such a queer politics has two direct consequences. First, practically, once we abandon conditions of recognition we can interrogate a practice according to the potentiality of its encounters. Rather than seeing gay marriage, trans-gendering or gay parenting as compromised maneuvers in which the queer self repeats and distorts given norms, we need to look at the positivity of each encounter. How do bodies establish relations in each case, and what powers are opened (or closed) to further encounters and modifications? Second, aesthetically, against an art of parody or drag that would repeat the norm in order to destabilize it from within, positive repetition and difference make a claim for thinking time in its pure state, by attending to those powers to differ that are pure fragments. Art would not be the representation or formation of identities but the attempt to present pure intensities in matter, allowing matter to stand alone or be liberated from its habitual and human series of recognition. The sensations presented in art are not those of the lived subject but are powers to be lived for all time, allowing us to think the power of perception beyond the selves we already are.

    This aesthetics would, in turn, give us a new distinct model of reading. On the critical identity-based model of queer theory, where the queer self is the destabilizing repetition of an enabling normativity, we look at the ways in which works of art introduce a difference or dissimulation into the image of the human. A reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, might focus on the ways in which the final image of normative heterosexual desire has to go through a series detours and deviations in order to arrive at the supposedly normal destined end. Queer reading would attend to all those moments in the text in which the normal has to be achieved, produced, effected and also, therefore, exposed as contingent, constituted and open to change. To a great extent the queer theory industry has been mobilized around a re-reading of the literary canon’s images of heterosexual desire to show moments of instability, deviation and mobility. Deleuze, however, offers a quite distinct model of reading, both of the literary work in Difference and Repetition, and of art in general in The Logic of Sensation and (with Guattari) in What is Philosophy? In The Logic of Sensation (2003) Deleuze describes all art as the repetition of the history of art, but a repetition that struggles to release sensations from their subjection to figuration and repetition. There is, for Deleuze, no such thing as a bare canvas, for we are always already composed and dominated by clichés. The creative future can arrive, not through the assertion of greater and greater individuality, but only in a destruction of the personal to release the figure. This would not be the figuration of some repeatable form, but the delineation or process of differing from which this or that determined figure is drawn. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze draws upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past to describe the profound syntheses of time that go beyond the body that is composed of habits, and the self that is composed of memories. The act in Hamlet exists above and beyond Hamlet’s individual existence; it is a pure potentiality, something that he may or may not live up to, actualize or bring into the present. The future, or the opening of the new, can come about not through Hamlet drawing upon himself, his desires or his personal past, but by living out or allowing that power to differ which exists above and beyond him:

    As for the third time in which the future appears, this signifies that the event and the act possess a secret coherence which excludes that of the self; that they turn back against the self which has become their equal and smash it to pieces, as though the bearer of the new world were carried away and dispersed by the shock of the multiplicity to which it gives birth: what the self has become unequal to is the unequal in itself. In this manner, the I which is fractured according to the order of time and the Self which is divided according to the temporal series correspond and find a common descendant in the man without qualities, without self or I, the ‘plebeian’ guardian of a secret, the already-Overman whose scattered members gravitate around the sublime image. (Deleuze 1994, 112)

    Here, for Deleuze, the art of theatre is not about the representation of plots, individuals and desires, but somehow giving form to a power of the pure past. Beyond the habitual repetitions that organize a body—‘this is what I do’—and beyond the repetitions that constitute a self—‘I am who I am by being the same through time’—drama exposes this higher repetition which destroys the self and its world of coordinated actions: ‘Drama has but a single form involving all three repetitions’ (Deleuze 1994: 115). The task of art is the presentation of this higher power, and reading the work of art is intuiting this power of time. In Proust the art of the novelist lies in presenting a self with its habits and recollections, and then presenting the pure potentiality from which that self was actualized: the past not as it was actually lived and recalled, but as it never was, but only could be, ‘in a splendour which was never lived, like a pure past which finally reveals its double irreducibility to the two presents which it telescopes together: the present that it was, but also the present which it could be’ (Deleuze 1994, 107). Against a critical reading, which would look at the ways in which art or literature queers the pitch of the normal, Deleuze offers a positive reading in which temporality in its pure state can be intuited and given form as queer, as a power to create relations, to make a difference, to repeat a power beyond its actual and already constituted forms.