Intersectionality, but Post-Identity?

As part of an ongoing conversation on Utopia or Bust, I tried to laid out the Deleuzian position.  I think I’m still missing key parts, but I think it’s a good start.  Comments would be greatly appreciated.

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a key term for understanding identity according to deleuze would be ‘singularity’.

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this example should feel basic and self-evident.  rather than looking at wood from the perspective of a mill, which tries to reduce all wood to varying grades of lumber (based on grain, knots, warps), a whittler or woodworker pays attention to the unique surface of each piece of wood.  every protruding knot and channel of grain serves to produce a truly singular piece of art.
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philosophically, this means resisting both Plato and Aristotle.  plato would note that a universal Form exists in an ideal transcendental order, from which each piece of wood exists as a degraded form.  some pieces of wood are ‘more perfect’ than other.  and the hidden criterion of perfectness would likely be less knots, less warp, straighter grain – all images of a piece of wood that expresses a few essential properties with no deviations or differences.
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aristotle would be similar, but with a bit more sophistication.  remember, plato culling the field of things, trying to organize them according to the smallest number of essential properties. aristotle, in contrast, multiplies the world of things, trying to separate them as much as possible until all of the necessary differences between them are determined.  at the root of contrasting things (animals, insects: two-legged, four-legged, etc), are natural kinds.
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deleuze has an even more expansive account of difference.  everything emerges from a differential field.  and even when things like speciation occur, it is because of a contingent splitting which is historically significant not abstractly necessary.  the field of possibilities is ever-greater than the world in front of us that has been actualized.  and the field of possibilities doesn’t exist out of this world, but is immanently “real without being actual, ideal without being abstract”.
identites are therefore always becoming otherwise.  the fact that they persist should be the real question.  foucault wrote two dense books (OT, AoK) explaining “the seeable” and “the sayable” according to this principle: in a world of discontinuity, how can one posit that we share the same way of seeing or are part of the same conversation?
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looking at already existing approaches, the diagnostic of most materialism is probably good enough to get the job done.  materialist critical race theory following from Cheryl Harris’ proposition of “whiteness as property” or Omi and Winant’s racial formations are excellent starting points, regardless of smaller metaphysical or methodological qualms.  the same goes for capitalism, femininsm, queer theory, poco, etc etc.  there are two ‘problems’ as i see them.
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the first problem is that the ‘objects’ of previous materialist analysis is largely a product of their epistemology.  therefore, the formations they set out to explain might not be the same ones we would look at.  for instance, if one is to maintain a strong fidelity to Foucault’s microphysics of power and a Deleuzo-Guattarian insistence on assemblage thinking, the capitalist mode of production will look much more like Gibson-Graham’s loose patchwork of heterogeneous practices than Jameson’s totality.  on the race front, i read some of the work my Maliqim Simone (most notably “Invisible Governance”) which used various African contexts as a basis for politics.
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the second problem comes turning the ‘rules’ that emerge from the analysis into the basis for strategy.  deleuze and guattari’s approach tends to produce a completely different politics.  one immediate example is their “anarchism”, which emphasizes a subversion of repressive hierarchal power and encouraging forms of productive power.  a case i like to use is the feminist group at the college i attended.  after some displeasure over oppositional strategies that couldn’t find a clear-cut target, they decided to have a sex fair.  compare this to recent campaigns at the university i currently attend that confrontationally condemn people of “supporting rape culture.”  as foucault would emphasize, such repressive (even forced ‘confessional’) strategies tend to produce sex as a point of anxiety and therefore a strange mix of guilt/perversion/power than to unleash productive notions of sexuality.  sure, tearing down the patriarchy is something that must be done, but the explosion of patriarchal assemblages into free quanta through reactionary affect will have to crystallize back into different assemblages, and likely result will be more repressive fruit.
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additional things to work in:
-peirce and indexicality of identity
-bergson and “passage precedes position” from massumi’s parables
-more on intersectionality proper (for instance: pat hill collin’s ‘interlocking’ approach + althusser’s philosophy of the encounter)

4 thoughts on “Intersectionality, but Post-Identity?

  1. Sleeplessness can be productive.

    I don’t know if I’m in any way thinking about this in a manner which really engages with what you’re interested in, but here it goes. That identities, assuming an originary difference, are always becoming otherwise, can be a politically problematic assertion. It allows for the endless expansion or modulation of certain identities, in a way which is easily captured by capitalism. The production of newness (the old can always return as the new new) sits comfortably with a never-ending becoming-other. Now, that capital tends to capture (or create) this or that characteristic which defines the newness or the otherness, is obvious. The problem begins when the formal principal, that of becoming-otherwise, becomes the content of itself: “becoming-otherwise” then becomes exactly that characteristic which is commodified. Maybe it’s even possible to claim that postmodernism has something to do with it. Once “becoming-otherwise” is reified as the captured newness, it becomes hard to distinguish the becoming otherwise which opens up possibilities from the one which is already captured – and here is the problem. That shock is an effect which is becoming harder and harder to generate doesn’t mean that it’s always productive to make it happen.

    Two possible problems with the above: I’m assuming a pragmatic approach. I don’t really care if it’s true that identities are always becoming otherwise, but only that this claim serves political goals that I like. The second problem is that I’m assuming that the capture of “becoming-otherwise” is necessarily bad.

    Post-identity? This seems to raise a (false?) problem of “uneven development”. Sure, we’re all tired of the beaten corpse of identity politics. The troubling thing is that the academic identity-talk is very different from non-academic one. Particularly since like those evil-but-innocent anthropologists, we interpret certain discourses as “identity construction”, while the supposedly naive talker isn’t even aware that he’s doing that. So yes, we want, or feel we need to, go beyond identity (no aufhebung, I swear ;-) ), which will then leave us as the same anthropologists, but this time of other academics, which are still doing the old identity-talk. No non-academic in sight. I don’t see how this map functions as part of the city. What I’m taking so long to say is that the same logic is at work here: the becoming-otherwise of the academic, which is predicated in this instance on moving to post-identity, is easily capturable.

    This has many interesting connections to utopia stuff, but maybe another time.

    (un)helpful? (un)intelligible?


  2. Thank you for that amazing reply.

    The analogy to resisting Plato and Aristotle in their generalizing to forms and natural kinds respectively, is the generalizing of identity, and the systematization of that into identity politics.

    With the introduction of singularities this makes generalization impossible. The possible-worlds calculus of all the different directions identities can go really makes the debate about identity seem childish and dogmatic even.

    I particularly liked this phrase: “identities are therefore always becoming otherwise. the fact that they persist should be the real question.”

    “in a world of discontinuity, how can one posit that we share the same way of seeing or are part of the same conversation?”

    — That’s what science and most of philosophy does, however? Science is simplifying, making the discontinuous world seem continuous. Kant I believe recognized this in the Critique of Pure Reason. John Zerzan also says that all abstract thought is limiting in this way. How can there be singularities in a science textbook? economics textbook? math textbook? This point I am making is also simplifying of science and philosophy. Categorical thought is abstract.

    I don’t understand the first problem you have with the materialist critical race theory, so I’ll sidestep that.

    The second problem is using subversion to generate strategies. What is the problem with that approach?

    The feminist group which previously propagated feminist thinking through repressive strategies, and then turned to a more “sex positive” strategy is an example of a Deleuzian style method that encourages a more “productive power.”

    I like to use real-world examples. What resembles this strategy in the racial identity politics arena? The APOC movement takes a decidedly negative approach to racial politics. For example, white people are not supposed to wear dreadlocks, and so on. If a white person wears dreadlocks they are supporting racism (particularly the recuperation of African culture by white colonizers) – akin to the feminist saying the sex-positive fair “supports rape culture”. Do you agree?

    That is one direction racial identity politics (as a discontinuous body of ideas) is not going. Another example I think is the split between anarchist-purists and subculturists. Purists say that the subculture is a destructive tendency in the anarchist movement. According to the pureist, then, you are giving into frivolous passions and “supporting capitalism” (essentially) by involving yourself with the subculture. But a more “subculture positive” approach would be to embrace this direction, to proliferate in that direction, to go the direction you find yourself pulled. Do you think that’s accurate?

    Thanks for posting.

  3. I should have responded sooner. I’ve started writing a few posts but they kept on going off-topic. So as a preliminary response, let me paste up a page from Anti-Oedipus (350-1):

    The task of schizoanalysis is therefore to reach the investments of unconscious desire of the social field, insofar as they are differentiated from the preconscious investments of interest, and insofar as they are not merely capable of counteracting them, but also of coexisting with them in opposite modes. In the generation-gap conflict we hear old people reproach the young, in the most malicious way, for putting their desires (a car, credit, a loan, girl-boy relationships) ahead of their interests (work, savings, a good marriage). But whatappears to other people as raw desire still contains complexes of desire and interest, and a mixture of forms of desire and of interest that are specifically reactionary and vaguely revolutionary. The situation is completely muddled. It seems that schizoanalysis can make use only of indices—the machinic indices—in order to discern, at the level of groups or individuals, the libidinal investments of the social field. Now in this respect it is sexuality that constitutes the indices. Not that the revolutionary capacity can be evaluated in terms of the objects, the aims, or the sources of the sexual drives animating an individual or a group; assuredly perversions, and even sexual emancipation, give no privilege as long as sexuality remains confined within the framework of the “dirty little secret.” It is in vain that the secret is published, that one demands one’s right to be heard; it can even be disinfected, treated in a psychoanalytic or scientific manner, yet thereby one stands a greater chance of killing desire, or of inventing forms of liberation for it drearier than the most repressive prison—as long as one has not succeeded in rescuing sexuality from the category of secrets, even if public, even if disinfected: i.e., as long as it has not been rescued from the Oedipal-narcissistic origin imposed on it as the lie under which it can merely become cynical, shameful, and mortified. It is a lie to claim to liberate sexuality, and to demand its rights to objects, aims, and sources, all the while maintaining the corresponding flows within the limits of an Oedipal code (conflict, regression, resolution, sublimation of Oedipus), and while continuing to impose a familialist and masturbatory form or motivation on it that makes any perspective of liberation futile in advance. For example, no “gay liberation movement” is possible as long as homosexuality is caught up in a relation of exclusive disjunction with heterosexuality, a relation that ascribes them both to a common Oedipal and castrating stock, charged with ensuring only their differentiation in two non com-municating series, instead of bringing to light their reciprocal inclusion and their transverse communication in the decoded flows of desire (included disjunctions, local connections, nomadic conjunctions). In short, sexual repression, more insistent than ever, will survive all the publications, demonstrations, emancipations, and protests concerning the liberty of sexual objects, sources, and aims, as long as sexuality is kept—consciously or not—within narcissistic, Oedipal, and castrating co-ordinates that are enough to ensure the triumph of the most rigorous censors, the gray gentlemen mentioned
    by Lawrence.

    I am more than happy to fill in any gaps/clarify the content. Additionally, to sum it up — as long as ‘privilege’ or ‘identity’ is a ‘dirty little secret’ that activists try and make people confess to, it is “specifically reactionary and [only] vaguely revolutionary.”

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