Claire Colebrook suggests it’s a queer passive vitalism. Consider this:
In concrete terms, we might begin by thinking of gender. Active vitalism, at least in the form that Deleuze and Guattari trace back to Kant, regards all concepts and categories as originally imposed by the subject upon an otherwise meaningless life. Active vitalism might regard gender as one of the ways in which life or the social ‘constructs’ categories that differentiate an otherwise general or undifferentiated humanity: so the criticism of stereotypes (as clichés or rigid forms imposed upon life) would lead to an overthrow of rigid categories in favour of what we really are (as unique individuals) or would expose that there are no such things as individuals, only effects of gender as it is represented. Genders and kinds are known in the vague and general opposition between male and female, distinctions that are imposed upon life and that need to be reactivated by being traced back to their social and familial origins. By contrast, for Deleuze and Guattari’s passive vitalism genders, kinds and stereotypes are not categories imposed upon life that might be overcome or criticised in the name of a universal and self aware humanity; instead, it is life as a multiple and differentiating field of powers that expresses itself in various manners. Differentiation is not a false distinction imposed on an otherwise universal humanity. On the contrary, every female is an individuated actualisation of a genetic potential for sexual differentiation, and every aspect of that female body – ranging from chromosomal and hormonal composition to the stylisation of dress and comportment – is one highly individuated way of actualising a potentiality. So every woman is an actualisation of a potentiality to be female, while the difference between straight and gay gives further specification or distinction, and this would continue on and on to the smallest of differences, marking out not only each body, but also all the events, souls and affections within bodies. There is, then, no opposition between sexual difference and queerness. It is not the case that causes, such as feminism, that would aim to affirm the possibility of women’s becoming would – as gender differentiated – be opposed to movements of queerness that would strive to liberate bodies from gender norms. The key to Deleuze’s passive vitalism and the aesthetics that it mobilises lies in thinking difference beyond the kinds and generalisations of a politics of active vitalism. Whereas active vitalism would seek to return political processes to the will, intent and agency of individuals or subjects, passive vitalism is micropolitical: it attends to those differences that we neither intend, nor perceive, nor command.
Again, to return to a seeming tension between queer politics and gender politics, we might consider movements of trans-sexualism, cross-dressing and the politics of sexualities. On an active vitalist model the very identification of oneself as, say, ‘woman’ or ‘queer’ would be internally contradictory. In order to achieve political recognition I must at once be recognised as this or that being participating in some movement of identifiable collective will, but I must also realise that the demand for recognition from the normative matrix compromises my claim as a subject. The vital, on this model, is the spirit or subjective act that is always belied or compromised by actuality. It follows, then, that there would be a conflict between the vitality of political claims and the intrinsic compromise of political actuality. It also follows that those selves who would embrace certain kinds or distinctions – men who want to be regarded as naturally homosexual, women who want to be recognised as masculine, and bodies who regard their individuation as possible only outside or beyond gay, lesbian or gendered kinds – would have competing and exclusive political agendas. What is presupposed is a distinction between the active enunciating self of politics – the active subject whose claims must be heard in opposition to normativity – and the enunciated or represented individual defined by sex, gender, sexuality or other terms such as race, ethnicity or belief. Such an opposition is captured in what Gayatri Spivak refers to as strategic essentialism: on the one hand we acknowledge that politics requires kinds or essences, but we also see such terms as the effect of strategies, or activist decisions made for the sake of political efficacy. Such a term creates an ongoing problem and contradiction for any political movement that undertakes an overthrow or revolution in terms of transgression, for acting in the name of a subordinated term must begin from the already determined and subordinated field of positions.
The same problems and tensions apply to the tired dialectic between philosophies of rights on the one hand and multicultural and racial political claims of difference on the other. That is: there are those who would defend a ‘subject,’ universalism or radicalism opposed to all constituted identities (and would therefore reject any multiculturalisms or relativism that merely allowed competing bodies to exist alongside each other). At the same time there are those who oppose any such appeal to the subject, philosophy or critique as such insisting that one only knows the subject as this or that specified, individuated and socially determined form. In the first mode of critique in opposition to actualised terms in favour of a constituting decision we could place Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, both of whom insist that there is no intuitable domain of life in itself, for being is just that void that is given only in its disappearance. But for every insistence on the subject as a power that must be inferred as that which gives birth to the decision there are also a range of political debunkers who regard such appeals to an originating act as one more ideological obfuscation or mysticism; for all we have is an actual political field of determined bodies, always already given in terms of race, sex and gender. It is no surprise, perhaps, that today a series of ‘philosophers’ berate the ways in which multiculturalism (or the claim for difference) precludes an ethics of decision and the subject. For Alain Badiou subject events occur not through processes of inclusion and the allowance of any lifestyle whatever, but through acts that decide – with no prior justification in actuality – that a new situation has occurred; subjects are nothing other than such decisions.9 The entire possibility of ethics is not grounded on life and actuality, but on a subjective decision or break. Badiou’s ethics of the subject is ostensibly an anti-vitalism, insistently opposed to the grounding of political claims on some already existing actualisation of being or life. But it is just the vibrancy of the subject’s difference from the world as already actualised, the radical distinction of the subject as negation of an already lived order that places Badiou in stark contrast both with the undifferentiated and generalising inclusiveness of a weak multiculturalism that would seemingly appeal to differences among individuals, and the passive vitalism of Deleuze and Guattari who would regard the subject of identity politics and activism as not yet fully individuated. Far from seeing the subjective event as occurring in a break with the world of differences, as Badiou would do, or from regarding the profusion of different cultures and bodies as the very force of life, Deleuze and Guattari put forward a vitalism that is neither that of the decision nor of the differentiated body. Their vitalism is passive in its attention to the barely discerned, confused and queer differences that compose bodies.
Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence that there is a vitalism that one can discern in Kant alerts us to a long-running privileging of the decision and the re-awakening of the subjective act in the face of a fall into everyday normality and normalisation. An active vitalism strives to overcome the imposed norms that would reduce an individual’s autonomy, but also takes into account the vitality of traditions, cultures and practices that constitute bodies as individuals and agents in the first place. A passive vitalism, by contrast, is one of re-singularisation or counter-actualisation: every differentiated political claim, whether that be in the name of the human, a sexualised or gendered individual, or a racial minority may begin with a molar politics, but has the potential to become minoritarian, and it is this potentiality of queering that is properly vital.