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Let's Read "Terrorist Assemblages"! A Phenomenological Review: Introduction

The following is part of a "Let's Read" series where I plan to blog, slowly and probably interspersed with other posts, about my reflections of Jasbir K. Puar's Terrorist Assemblages. This first of these posts, concerning the Preface and an explanation as to what this series is, can be found here.  Today I'm reflecting on the Introduction.

Yes, every post in this series will most likely contain a variant of the book's cover.

The fact that the Introduction is titled "homonationalism and biopolitics", combined with what Puar has already claimed about "biopolitics" in the Preface, is somewhat worrisome for a historical materialist who finds the entire category of "biopolitics" suspect.  Let's be clear: there is indeed something about the Foucauldian concept of biopolitics that is politically useful––it's even useful in the way that Agamben mobilizes it––but at the end of the day this strikes me as an avoidance of a material analysis that can provide something more significant than a reflection on discursive operations.  Hence, I immediately feel troubled because the author is signalling a very clear fidelity to post theory.

Puar rightly calls out the way in which the queer discourse is being appropriated by the imperialist military as "a cultural moment of national inclusion for homosexuality." (1) At the same time, however, she argues that the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (which was overturned, to much "homonationalist" celebration, after this book was written) demarcates "the least welcome entrants" into a "national revelation of pride to be queer people of color." (2) This understanding of military recruits seems to collaborate with the liberal assumption that the US military is primarily composed by an economic draft of the poorest and most racialized members of US society.  The actual fact, however, is that the US military, post-9/11, is primarily composed of members of the lower middle-class, predominantly white.  But since a particular discourse regarding the "economic draft" is treated as truism amongst lefty scholars, Puar cannot really be blamed by accepting a common sense narrative about a phenomenon that is only tangental to her overall project.

The terrain covered in the introduction has to do with "sexual exceptionalism, queer as regulatory, and the ascendance of whiteness" as manifestations that are related "to the production of terrorist and citizen bodies." (2)

Since the US tends to see itself as an "exceptional" state that is beyond judgment because it is the exemplar of the greatest values of humanity (an ideology that allows it to torture, murder, and incarcerate people at rates that would indeed make it an "exceptional" scourge on humanity but that are not seen for what they are because of this discourse of moral exception––it alone, a priori moral and free, possesses the right to judge and wage wars of attrition), Puar examines how this exceptionalist ideology is connected to the way it sees the sexuality of its citizens.  She employs Agamben's concept of "state of exception" (itself taken from the reactionary philosopher Carl Schmitt) as her avenue into this discussion.  While on the one hand it can claim to be "exceptionally tolerant" to queer people within the US, on the other hand it valorizes terrorists as being "exceptionally queer" and permits the worst kind of sexual torture upon its prisoners of war.

Puar tracks out the development of this sexual exceptionalism by examining the parallel employment of feminist categories, by a very anti-feminist US regime, to defend the invasion of Afghanistan. Women need to be saved from the oppression of the Taliban by the US, US women are pulled into a national project of an appropriated feminist discourse.  Although this troublesome and moral justification (particularly ironic considering the Bush regime's stance on birth control) is indeed an example of a kind of sexual exceptionalism that will tell us something about "homonationalism", I cannot help but be troubled by Puar's reliance on a critique made by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan [RAWA] considering that, as I've mentioned before, RAWA emerged from the Afghanistan Liberation Organization [ALO] that was ousted from the Afghanistan Maoist movement when it chose to collaborate with the Islamists and the CIA, it is not (regardless of its name) a revolutionary mass organization of the most oppressed women, it has been complicit in the US occupation in that it has chosen to only critique its excesses, rather than the occupation itself, is not a secular force involved in actually fighting the occupation, and even has candidates sitting with the puppet Karzai administration.

While it is indeed the case that Puar cites Spivak's critique of RAWA as part of an "emergence" of a middle class permitted by the occupation, it is also the case that both Puar and Spivak would be better served to learn something of the women's movement in Afghanistan, particularly the much larger women's front of the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan that is the only secular organization that is fighting on the ground against the occupation.  Thus, when Puar rightly claims "[d]espite RAWA's feud with the Feminist Majority, invariably they remain complicit with a displacement of other Afghan women's organizations that cannot so easily enter the global feminist stage" it would be helpful if Puar (and also Spivak) knew something about these other women's organizations.  But this has always been one of my long-standing problems with Spivak's theory about the subaltern's ability to speak for itself: due to a totalizing critique that claims the most oppressed aspects of the masses are being spoken for by other organizations (i.e. Marxist or religious organizations), she is also not in contact with those masses whose voices are supposedly being suppressed and is thus also speaking for them, claiming that they would think otherwise if those revolutionaries didn't appropriate their desires.  All in all this is something of a petty-bourgeois understanding of reality, and is rightly critiqued by proletarian feminists such as Anuradha Gandhy and Hisila Yami, and though this might seem like a tangental complaint I have a feeling it might mean something later on for Puar's analysis––a tendency, a pattern that might repeat––just as it has implications for Spivak and her actual connection with the struggles of the so-called subaltern. [To be clear, however, there are things I like and respect about Spivak as well; this is not meant as a dismissal of her work as a whole but just what I take to be one of its limitations.]

Falling back on a small literature review of Agamben, Puar again demonstrates a drift towards eclectism that bothered me earlier.  To be clear (and to expand on a point I made in the comments of my previous post), I do not think theoretical eclecticism is simply the use of work and concepts from multiple theorists––I'm all for using concepts from a variety of radical traditions and insightful thinkers, some of which might not like each other.  My problem is that there is a tendency to sample, as if one is at a buffet dinner, from a variety of theoretical plates simply because they are present and tantalizing (i.e. they are "chic" theorists of the day) and without much attention to anything else.  As anyone who has experienced the smorgasboard hangover will know, simply because things taste good on their own doesn't mean we should eat them altogether in massive portions until we are glutted with a confusion of competing recipes––at the end of the day it's not particularly edifying.  My worries about Puar's possible eclecticism is precisely what has bothered me with a lot of academic cultural theory that is produced in theory or literature departments: there is a tendency to build the appearance of rigour but this is simply a playful moving and back and forth between different tools, like a carpenter so impressed by a toolbox s/he has inherited from a whole bunch of other carpenters that s/he spends most of the time playing with the tools rather than putting them to use.  So when Puar waxes eloquently about the dimensions of temporality and spatiality contained in Agamben's theory, I get the feeling that I'm going to be subjected to a series of literature reviews where one theoretical position is replaced by another, and another, and another, and no synthesis capable of cutting completely to the roots of the problem will ever be achieved.  Worse yet, such eclecticism can lead to idealism since it often ends up, in the confusion produced by this eclectic sampling, remystifying rather than demystifying the object of critique––hence the reason so many of these eclectic approaches are woefully obscurantist.

Thankfully, even works of theoretical eclecticism will sometimes hit the right notes, which is why I think Puar's work will most probably be important even if she ends up spending most of her time in the idealist haze of theoretical mystification, but this is greatly frustrating.  If a work is eclectic but also banal, then its eclecticism bothers me very little.  If a work is eclectic but also possesses a potential that is hampered by this eclecticism, then I'm bothered by the fact that it could have better realized this potential by avoiding eclecticism.  And theoretical eclecticism, let's be clear, is pretty easy to fall into by everyone involved in thinking through the social/historical/political.  Not only is it the easy way out for academic work, where moving from one theory to another is simpler and less demanding than thinking of how to use multiple concepts in connection with a concrete analysis of a concrete situation (my MA thesis was extremely eclectic in this sense), but it is also the easy way out for bargain-basement orthodox Marxists who think that the solution of making sense of their particular context is to just randomly combine ideas from the classical marxist tradition, fix the grammatical connections, and call it materialist because, well, it's marxist.

But back to Puar's discussion of sexual exceptionalism.  I think this quote elegantly sums up her thoughts on the matter: "Sexual exceptionalism also works by glossing over its own policing of the boundaries of acceptable gender, racial, and class formations.  That is, homosexual sexual exceptionalism does not necessarily contradict or undermine heterosexual sexual exceptionalism; in actuality it may support forms of heteronormativity and the class, racial, and citizenship privileges they require. The historical and contemporaneous production of an emergent normativity, homonormativity, ties the recognition of homosexual subjects, both legally and representationally, to the national and transnational political agendas of US imperialism." (9)  Right on!  I feel this is a very astute grasp of how the ideology of American exceptionalism has accumulated a sexual exceptionalism, particularly one that has to do with using "homonationalism" to justify imperialism, while at the same time not contradicting the fact that the US remains a heterosexist society.  I also find Puar's discussion of "an emergent normativity, homonormativity" extremely compelling.  I really wish she had set this up with rigorous arguments, a way in which this statement would be forced by a series of well constructed premises or empirical data, rather than relying on arguments to theoretical authority––this is yet another problem with the eclectic approach to theory.  Still, this is a stunning insight that, when the book was written, was ahead of its time: in many ways it predicts the normalization of queer relationships in the US that have happened since the War on Terror and should cause us to ask: would gay marriage in the US ever be normalized without a War on Terror that connected itself to "an emergent normativity"; is not the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy connected to this same tendency?

Before moving on to Puar's examination of how queer is regulatory I have a few more thoughts about the first section of the introduction: i) the sudden trotting out of Foucault in the same way as Agamben is yet another example of the eclectic tendency; ii) Puar's complaint the "troubling teleology of modernity" is in itself troubling because, as Samir Amin has done a good job of demonstrating in Eurocentrism and elsewhere, this kind of discourse about the ravages of modernity can also be quite complicit with reaction––but since I'm sure this will come up later in Puar's book, I won't argue as to why I think this is the case.

Puar's discussion of the way in which a particular first world ["western"] discourse of queer secularity regulates the way queerness is understood as a concept clearly possesses some truth.  Queerness has been coded, she argues, to demand "a particular transgression to norms, religious norms that are understood to otherwise bind that subject to an especially egregious interdictory religious frame. The queer agential subject can only ever be fathomed outside the norming constrictions of religion, conflating agency and resistance." (13) This discourse, due to the boundaries it has drawn around the meaning of queer will necessarily exclude "the agency of all queer Muslims" by interpreting them according to its discursive framework.  Hence, "queer secularity most virulently surfaces in relation to Islam because Islam, the whole monolith of it, is often described as unyielding and less amenable to homesexuality than Christianity and Judaism, despite exhortations by some queer Muslims." (13)

On the one hand, I couldn't help but view this analysis (which of course has already existed, in other forms, prior to Puar which, to be fair, she notes), and the way she frames this analysis, according to the old communist category of the ultra-left.  Queerness as essentially transgressive is some kind of ultra-left queer politics that ends up being a disguised rightism because it ends up being complicit with the imperialist project.  The "transgression" of ultra-leftism, after all, is mainly about waving the red flag harder, and shouting communist exhortations, louder than others to the point of silencing the masses and valorizing the camp of reaction.  Puar seems to be drawing a similar line between the ultra-transgressive queer ideology and its eventual complicity with the interests of imperialism… and yes, I do find this compelling.

On the other hand, I cannot help but worry that she is ignoring some truth about militant queer secularity that should not be easily dismissed: there has been, historically, good reason for queer subjects to be suspicious of the non-secular.  While it may be the case that the development of the homonationalist queer subject obscures the ways in which Christianity and Judaism are also opposed to queer desire due to the emergence of Islamophobia, this does not necessarily undermine the modus operandi of a queerness that is opposed to all religious strictures.  As with my worries about Puar's complaint about modernity I feel that she is going to misconstrue secularity as the problem rather than the ways in which discourses of modernity and secularity are used (and usually by rather immodern and anti-secular class forces) by cynics who will use any discourse to promote class power.

Also, the fact that Puar complains that the way in which queer homonationalists use the term "homosexual" instead of "queer" in regards to queer people in the Muslim world "resonates with the medicalization of homosexuality in the west and intimates an immature version of queerness in an anthropological sense" (14) seems, at least to my mind, quite messy.  The term "queer" was also a negative term and once resonated with a kind of mental estrangement of queer people (that which is queer, semantically, is other), but at the same time she is right to recognize that the term "queer" is considered a more advanced term by queer activists than homosexual, gay, etc. and so the choice of applying terminology might indicate something significant.

The strength of this section about queer-as-regulatory, though, is in Puar's linking of hegemonic queer discourse with the construction of the liberal subject.  If queerness "is the modality through which 'freedom from norms' becomes a regulatory queer ideal that demarcates the ideal queer," then "individual freedom becomes the barometer of choice in the valuation, and ultimately, regulation, of queerness." (22) Indeed, the very fact that queerness relies on discursive appeal to individual transgression against all norms is in itself the norm of the liberal subject: Mill's harm principle, the watermark of liberal theory, permits individuals to express themselves freely as long as they are not causing physical harm to other individuals, and no matter how "deviant" one's self-expression might appear to another, it should not be forbidden in the marketplace of ideas.  Hence the essential conceptualization of queer, with its assumptions about being "automatically and inherently transgressive" ends up "enact[ing] specific forms of disciplining and control, erecting celebratory queer subjects." (24)  Moreover, while these liberal queer subjects are "folded into life," there still remain those other "sexually pathological and deviant populations targeted for death" (24) that are paradigmatic of the terrorist subject.  Again we encounter one of the strong points of Puar's analysis, that has been repeated since the preface, of how the normativization of the queer subject in the imperialist metropoles is connected to the sinking of heterosexism––the over-queering in the pejorative sense––into the global peripheries.

Puar's problematization of the liberal queer subject is again something that resonates with the parallel of ultra-leftism.  The ultra-leftist is ultimately a rightist because s/he emanates liberalism (here it is important to note that Mao saw ultra-leftism as liberalism, and Combat Liberalism even explains how certain practices of ultra-leftism, without using that term, are liberal), hir politics is not one that is connected to the masses but is instead a product of a selfish individualism that treats hirself as a pure revolutionary, like a Hegelian soul, that knows better than the masses.  Much of the impetus behind expressions of ultra-leftism––that is, more-radical-than-thou politics where individuals treat their self-expression as exceptional, where they believe they have the right to judge and regulate the masses despite their individualistic disconnection––is a selfish desire to not be regulated by a mass movement.

My worry with the way in which Puar frames things, though, is that the shift between "queer secularism" and "queer liberalism" happens without any coherent distinction between the two categories.  At one point she is talking about the queer secular discourse, at another she has hastily synonymized it with queer liberalism.  The result is an identity relation of secular = liberal and this is indeed troublesome because it is not only a category mistake but indicates a failure to define one's theoretical terrain (and yes, this is also connected to my charge of eclecticism) which is what leads to such category mistakes in the first place.  Modernity/secularism is that which demystified the world by putting forward the claim that humans make history and that history is not predestined by some divine order, allowing for natural phenomena to be understood according to natural causes, and undermining the claim that class position is ordained by destiny (God/gods/heaven makes some people peasants and some people kings and we must respect this "natural" order).  Capitalism/liberalism is that which has found a way to contain this demystifying impulse by remystifying it according to a secularized ideological order.  We lose a more complex understanding of history when we conflate categories, as Puar seems to be doing, and thus cannot see how there might be something entirely different between "queer secularism" and "queer liberalism", though the latter clearly emerged according to ruling class logic to contain the former.  Perhaps if she spent more time exploring the meaning of categories, and clarifying the way in which they function according to social-historical processes, she would not waste time throwing out more theoretical semi-lit reviews (i.e. her tangent into Sara Ahmed) to obscure her conflation.

With her analysis of sexual exceptionalism and queer regulation in place, Puar has the two main ingredients of her theory of homonationalism in place to derive the third and final ingredient: the ascendancy of whiteness.  Because, after all, both US sexual exceptionalism and imperialist queer regulation should lead us to recognize the fact that what is being deemed as the exception of queer normality, and what possesses (due to its exceptional status) the right to regulate the meaning of queerness is the white queer [and liberal] subject.

After more literature review eclectism where we are treated to Foucault's The Order of Things through Rey Chow (and some others), Puar talks about the market, the state, and multiculturalism with a little too much slippage between these categories.  To simply claim that "market is a foil for the state" without explaining the difference and relation between markets and states (the market has to do with economic exchange, the state is a machine for the domination of one class over an other that mediates particular markets), and then to move on to talk about nation-states without even examining the complexity of the concept of nation––which also possesses a long anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist dimension––so as to drift into discussions of multiculturalism, which is a discourse quite new in the history of the state (but part of the concept of nation-state, partly because of an attempt to nullify competing nations under a given, colonial/imperialist state order), is quite haphazard.  I cannot help but feel that this too quick theoretical movement is established mainly (because it lacks any coherent theorization) to talk about the bugbear of multicultural ideology and its possible connection with heteronormativization.  Since this feels entirely confused and obscurantist to me, mainly because it cannot give any explanation as to the categories it has used to get to this point, my inclination is to ignore it.  Or, to be more honest, after reading these passages multiple times, and realizing there was no logical justification for how the problematic of multiculturalism was derived from the premises of market/state/nation in the way they were put forward, I want to ignore it.

Hegel famously proclaimed that all that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real.  Leaving aside Engels' complaint that this pronouncement was "tangibly a santification of things that be, a philosophical benediction bestowed upon despotism, police government, Star Chamber proceedings and censorship," I kind of want to say, vis-a-vis Puar, that all that is irrational (i.e. that which is not logically established) is unreal, which gives me license to refuse to investigate the connections between the categories she hastily conflated.  Perhaps this is laziness on my part, but since I feel that the movement from market to state to nation-state to multiculturalism was also lazily established, regardless of the appeals to theoretical authority, I figure it's warranted.  This isn't to say there aren't interesting things she says, here, but that they read as entirely tangental due to the fact that the reason to talk about them isn't motivated by any argumentative force.

What is most interesting about this final section of the introduction, then, is the way in which it interrogates a queerness that is implicitly understood as white, regardless of its attempts to "multiculturalize" or transgress this whiteness.  In this sense it plugs into the capitalist market, and accepts the strictures of the capitalist-imperialist state (if only those categories and the connections between them were better explained), but is still about the ascendance of a white queer subjective order.  "Folded into life and reproducing life, an aspirant class of wealthy white gale males who can simulate the biopolitical mandate to reproduce and regenerate may actually have it better than their hetero counterparts, perhaps even significantly so." (30)  Here, Puar is interested in those wealthy queer individuals who can produce family structures that are complicit in the imperial order simply because they have the money to adopt (and thus appropriate) third world children or appropriate the labour of third world women surrogates. She also talks about how white lesbians are part of this scenario, the emergence of "modes of assembling homesexual kinship norms" where "gays and lesbians today are no longer eccentric to structures of family and kinship." (30-31)  Here I cannot help but hear Kajsa Ekis Ekman who, in Being and Being Bought, talked about how the surrogacy industry, even its use by queer couples, establishes normative family structures at the expense of the bodies of third world women.

In the end, for Puar, "the ascendancy of whiteness, rendering both disciplinary subjects and population norms, is not strictly delimited to white subjects, though it is bound to multiculturalism as defined and deployed by whiteness [yes, but this wasn't coherently established]. The ethnic aids the project of whiteness through his or her participation in global economic privileges that then fraction him or her away from racial alliances that would call for cross-class affinities [but as yet there is no definition of class and thus no deep class analysis that treats class, rather than an identity in the "workerist" sense, as intersectionality itself] even as a project of multiculturalism might make him or her seem truly and authentically representative of his or her ethnicity. Neither is the ascendancy of whiteness strictly bound to heterosexuality [well of course not, it was always ascendant in colonial Euro-Amerikan spaces, regardless of sexuality], though it is bound to heteronormativity [why? this identity relationship is just claimed rather than argued]. That is to say, we can indeed mark a specific historical shift: the project of whiteness is assisted and benefited by homosexual populations that participate in the same indentitarian and economic hegemonies as those hetero subjects complicit with this ascendancy." (31)  The last sentence is extremely insightful… It's a pity that the rest, as my bracketed comments point out, cannot be accepted as anything other than spurious conjectures.

There's a lot of confusion in this section about ascendant whiteness, a lot of contrary impulses, that requires some level of clarity in order to make the claim, which I do think is important, that there is a white queer discourse that promotes the common sense idea that "the homosexual other is white, the racial other is straight." (32)  The fact that this section ends with this claim, but that does not at all seem troubled by the fact that the racial other is also queered (or more accurately, is the sink of unacceptable queerness), as Puar reminded us at the beginning of the introduction, is quite off-putting.  In some ways it feels as if she is squaring the circle of her theory, or moving in a contrary direction.  This is precisely what happens when you're invested in theoretical eclecticism.

The introduction ends with a meditation on what the author calls "queer necropolitics" that seems more like a theoretical tangent than anything else.  I cannot help but read most of these concluding pages as simply an opportunity to quote Butler, Foucault, and Mbembe, but for reasons that are somewhat obscurantist.  Puar justifies this meditation by claiming that she is interested in "disaggregating exceptional queer subjects from queer racialized populations in contemporary U.S. politics rather than proffer an overarching paradigm of biopolitical sexuality that resolves these dilemmas. By centering race and sexuality simultaneously in the reproduction of relations of living and dying, I want to keep taut the tension between biopolitics and necropolitics." (35) Here I cannot help but feel the ways in which particular theories, that may not in fact describe anything significant about reality as such (and may be impositions, wild conjectures), are suddenly forcing the author to tail reality itself by disappearing into the rabbit holes they promote.  More than anything else, this final section reads as an exercise in obscurantism.  Even still, Puar's conclusion does succeed in making a very significant point: against Butler's "focus on how queers have been left to die" Puar asks: "How do queers reproduce life, and which queers are folded into life?" (36)  More particularly, how is a very particular construction of queer identity complicit in the imperialist project––a project that is now not concerned about leaving queers to die but can easily appropriate queerness into its anti-people agenda.

I final thought, here, before ending my reflections on the Introduction… So far, despite referencing a few organizations and events outside of the US, Puar's analysis of "homonationalism" is centered on the US.  Such a centering is clear in the Introduction, particularly in the way in which American exceptionalism plays a key role in her analysis.  Although I recognize that an author has to draw particular boundaries in order to keep her project from growing too large and unwieldy, I worry that this might cause the development of her conceptual terrain to also end up being an "exceptional" instance of American Imperialism.  While it is the case that the US is currently the most powerful imperialist nation, and that every other imperialist power has found their tendency to compete severely mediated by the state of US hegemony, I wonder how some of the very particular aspects of her analysis might not apply to, for example, Canadian imperialism which is my social context.  That is, while I think that what Puar calls "homonationalism" can indeed be seen in the way the liberal queer movement has been incorporated into Canadian capitalism/imperialism/colonialism (i.e. such as past struggles, to cite just one example, of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march in Toronto Pride), by suturing it to American Exceptionalism it runs the risk of excluding its particular dimensions elsewhere.

Can we also not speak of Canadian, British, French, etc. versions of "exceptionalism" that are not entirely the same as American Exceptionalism (and in the US imaginary must always take a back seat) but relevant to those of us who live in these imperialist countries?  For example, Canada likes to imagine that it is exceptionally socially democratic, more liberal than the US, and that even its imperialism is enlightened peace-keeping.  The fact that it normalized gay marriage almost two decades ago contributes to a very particular exceptionalism that provides perhaps more self-righteous justification of imperialist jingoism, and more impetus for a homonationalism.  Indeed, even the Conservative Party now accepts gay marriage, as it has tacitly done with abortion and access to medical care, as part of "Canadian culture"––recently even a long-standing conservative public intellectual capitulated to the normalization of homosexuality and was immediately embraced by Canadian gay liberals, losing only the support of the most obscurantist elements of reactionary chauvinists (the kind who write death threats, who think the Rapture is coming, who think that even the Conservative party isn't right enough, and express the fringe-but-honest expressions of "unacceptable" racism).  With this in mind, Canada's involvement in the War on Terror, as well as its other imperial projects (in the Philippines, in Honduras, in Argentina, etc.) can be continually baptized as "peace-keeping" because imperialist jingoists can say, in comparison to the US, "but we actually are feminist and gay champions."  In this context, where there is less tension––or maybe more accurately a more sublimated tension––between homophobia and homonationalism, as well as a stronger ideology around myths about Canadian peacefulness (which are valorized by both US conservatives and liberals who imagine, for different reasons, that colonial-capitalist Canada is "socialist"), what does this mean for homonationalism?  And if Puar's analysis of homonationalism is something that is instrinsically connected to the discourse of American exceptionalism, and thus a US artifice, will it be difficult to adapt to the Canadian context without transforming it into another, though related, concept?

Hopefully I'll return to these questions later in this series, though I fear they might end up being left hanging here once the successive layers of theorizing are reflected upon…


  1. Just a small thing, but regarding this paragraph:

    "The term "queer" was also a negative term and once resonated with a kind of mental estrangement of queer people (that which is queer, semantically, is other), but at the same time she is right to recognize that the term "queer" is considered a more advanced term by queer activists than homosexual, gay, etc. and so the choice of applying terminology might indicate something significant."

    This strikes me as being true largely among younger and academic activists and theorists. I've been told by a few working-class, older (and British) LGBT people that they intensely dislike the use of the term "queer" because it reminds them of imminent violence, and also obscures distinctions among L,G,B,T, etc groups. It can end up being used in such a way as to make anything "queer" in ways which depart from historical usage and in particular that remove that term from the persons it has been used to target. Puar's critique of people using "homosexual" over "queer" seems very ivory tower in that light.

    - Z

    1. Good point… In the first part of this series I indicated how this blanket use of "queer" in academic parlance could mean that anyone that otherwise lives a completely heteronormative life can use it… At the same time, however, in the modern movement––even in the leftist one––queer is the standard term. So while I agree with the critique you highlighted (otherwise I wouldn't have also noted it) I think that if Puar's use of "queer" is not simply academic: this is normative amongst even the "queer" proletariat in her social context (and mine) and it is only people involved in the struggles of the 1960s/70s/80s who resist it. In this sense, there is a way in which people who use "homosexual" demonstrate a certain temporal backwardness, which is why you find the common parlance of conservatives who do not at alls speak about the "gay threat" and "the evils of homosexuality" with the modern term "queer".

    2. Does she give any examples of homonationalist use of "homosexual" for queer people in the Muslim world? There's a few places where your commentary suggests she makes assertions without any particular support, but that could also be a) you're reading the book and I'm not, and b) it's just an introduction.

      - Z

    3. Do you mean how queer people in the Muslim world use the word "homosexual"? If this is the case then it's not the main focus since "homonationalism" is something tied to imperialism, not the victims of imperialism, although she does indicate at some point where I'm now reading (and have to write reflections on) the ways in which it forces complicity amongst Muslim populations implicated in the Imperialist project, or at least living within the metropoles, who are forced to collaborate in order to avoid targeting.

      If you're talking about how the homonationalist discourse interprets (and speaks for) queer people in the Muslim world, then there's a lot of that… I breezed through some of her discussion of that to cut to the heart of her theoretical analysis, and maybe should have included that in more detail? But I think, since it's a regular concern, it will keep coming out.

      Even still, if you're interested in whether or not she looks out how queer people in the Muslim world understand "queerness" or "homosexual", and how that differs from the first world discourse of "queer" then she does start talking about this in chapter one, particularly in the way she draws from Joseph Massad. To be fair to her, in light of your previous comment, when she talked about the distance between "queer" and "homosexual" she was doing so as part of statements made by the US queer movement and how they, while referring to themselves with the language of "queer", simultaneously used the language of "homosexual" for people in the Muslim world. I think she was simply trying to point out, though in a way that clearly had its problems, that since this discourse saw "queer" as the modern terminology, why was it using "homosexual" for the Muslim world?

      But all in all, yeah this is just the introduction and since I am doing the reading and reflecting, I end up only highlighting those parts that jump out at me––I can't just replicate it word for word, after all, because what would be the point?! I'm also interested in knowing the answers to some of these questions.

    4. Sorry, I meant what you say in the latter part of your third paragraph - the use of "queer" by Westerners for themselves, and their use of "homosexual" for people in the Muslim world. I simply hadn't encountered that and wondered if it was actually a common discourse among Western queer circles. I definitely understand the critique is focusing on the contribution of queer people and discourse in imperialist countries to imperial projects.

      I also have zero background in 'theory' stuff, so I am having to work at following the theoretical stuff and parsing out some of the language.

      So far it seems pretty interesting, though.

      - Z


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