2018-2019 HTDWT Seminar Rachel O'Reilly: At the Limits of the Writerly: Queer Theory and the Critique of Energy - from month to month

Seminar 6, April

guest tutor: Ho Rui An

What does it mean to be always “in the midst of crisis”? How can crisis be at once a historical event to which we bear witness and an enduring, transcendental condition from which our acts of witnessing commence? Pushing back against prevailing conceptions of “crisis” as something that can be empirically observed and distinguished from “noncrisis”, Janet Roitman suggests instead that crisis is “a non-locus from which to claim access to history and knowledge of history” and from which meaning is generated in “a self-referential system”. Crisis, in other words, is the “blind spot” of observation that in securing a scene for witnessing preserves a normative condition from which things can be said to have “gone wrong” and upon which certain ways of life are given to be “in crisis” (and thus in need of saving) while others are rendered disposable. 

Taking heed of this understanding of crisis as a structure of narrative foreclosure, this seminar addresses the broader economy of foreclosure entailed by today’s financialised global market wherein racialised and gendered processes of dispossession are immanent to what appears to be simply a purely abstract production of value from time itself. From the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States that serves as Roitman’s case study, we move to the liberalised economies of China and the Philippines that serve as the key sites for understanding what Neferti X. M. Tadiar calls the “remaindered life-times” of global neoliberalism. For Tadiar, approaching the blind spot of the so-called crisis of financial capitalism demands a reckoning of the surplus national populations whose availability and disposability are necessary for absorbing the risks on which financial speculation depends, and who thereby constitute the “virtual time zone” that enables the speed of capital circulation and the capacity of an economy to quickly “recover” from crisis. Yet as we shall see, forms of life making still persist as one makes through the debris of lives expended or being expended. There remains the possibility of “making time” in the midst of “crisis”: a time of living that may or may not emerge from actively distending the life-times of disposability but nonetheless remains at our disposal as resource, perhaps the only resource, for making a life worth living. 


Roitman, Janet. “The Stakes of Crisis.” Critical Theories of Crisis in Europe: From Weimar to the Euro, eds. Poul F. Kjaer and Niklas Olsen. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016. 17-34.
Tadiar, Neferti X. M. “Life-Times of Disposability within Global Neoliberalism.” Social Text 115 31, no. 2 (2013): 19-48.


Seminar 4 February

"That is what I am doing right now, drawing a genealogical diagram, a family tree, using now-standard icons for sex and sexual relationship: a diamond represents a man; a circle, a woman; an upside-down staple, sibling relations; a right-side-up staple, marriage; and a small perpendicular line between these two staples, heterosexual reproduction." 

Following on from Lugones on the coloniality of gender and our approach of the autological and genealogical subject in Povinelli last month, this month we pay closer attention to the disciplinary and situated context in which Povinelli's work on the frontier emerges - mediating indigenous land claims in Australia through the 'drag' of descent. In "Notes on Gridlock" Povinelli gives a diffractive reading of the interests of urban queer cultures of the West in inessential and radical, form-breaking non-identity, which asserts to assume love, family and intimacy as  ruptural and self-selective. The decolonizing realism she brings to anthropology critiques the foundations of Western kinship models in colonial land management laws that "include" authentic indigenous identity, or not, based on patriarchal and matriarchal models of relationships that are limited and limiting with regard to how improvised worlds are intimately held up and lived. Here, the disciplining force of the genealogical grid did not disappear with the rise and expansion of capitalism. Instead, it was "reduced, regrounded" and heavily formally pushed into the life-worlds of ordinary people and the seams of homogenous national space-time, towards the purpose of the governmental management of citizenship. While Western queer culture knows this, the rise of homonationalism and the anthropological conceits of settler colonialism make clear that what is also at stake is a notion of queer practice that is dialectically attentive to what needs to be epistemologically disrupted and shattered and what needs to be repaired outside of the coloniality of power, on specific sides of the frontier.


Povinelli, Elizabeth. "Notes on Gridlock: Genealogy, Intimacy, Sexuality." Public Culture 14, no. 1. Duke University Press. 2002. 215–238.


Seminar 3 January

Many will be familiar with the work of the Italian materialist feminist Silva Federici in thinking the European transition to capitalism, the ‘witch' trials this involved to prosecute non-capitalist epistemologies reproduced by women, and thus the relationship between sex/gender, accumulation and planetarity. In the last decades, intersective critiques of capital from Latin American thinkers have developed new and alter- discourses around and against gendered and racialized relations between capital/empire, cultural and epistemological reproduction and violence.

Maria Lugones is a key thinker of decolonial feminism whose work asks us to think beyond not only essence and category but furthermore, the formal and epistemological foundations of modern thought that scripted compulsory patriarchal and racial capitalism into place using gender across the globe. Binary sex/gender as ‘civil’ code gets rendered here as a key mechanism of the coloniality of power, and by consequence, also queries to displace the (often Americanist) spacing and timing of ‘innovation’ in feminist and queer thought, performativity, languaging and being.

Secondly we will read an interview with American-trained Elizabeth Povinelli whose work on empire and love can be seen to be aligned with a similar epistemological and deconstructive project. Beyond Focauldian biopolitics and US feminism, Povinelli's work frames sex and race as 'corporeal regimes' and thus comprehends ‘the body’ as a useful by insufficient object/instrument for thinking feminist or queer or anti-racist practice. The focus instead is to address institutional orders and consider wide-ranging disorganising mechanisms, including many that aren't self-authored, for the distribution of power and difference. 


Lugones, María. "The Coloniality of Gender." In Globalization and the Decolonial Option. Walter D. Mignolo and Arturo Escobar. Routledge: London and New York, 2010: 369-90.

Turcot DiFruscia, Kim. "Shapes of Freedom: A Conversation with Elizabeth A. Povinelli." eflux Journal 53 (2014). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/53/59889/shapes-of-freedom-a-conversation-with-elizabeth-a-povinelli/.

Additional viewing (non-compulsory): Video: Federici, Silvia. "#MeToo and the New Forms of Capital Accumulation." Verso (website), 16 Feb 2018. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3625-video-silvia-federici-metoo-and-the-new-forms-of-capital-accumulation.


Seminar 2 December

The longevity of capitalism's 'toxic progeny' has us address the 'bastard children’ of capital that will not only outlive us but that challenge all normative takes on eco-social reproduction, as well as capital’s preferred standardised time and spacings, and the assumed events of its romances. 

This is the argument of Heather Davis in Toxic Progeny: The Plastisphere and Other Queer Futures’ which imaginatively offers a materialist reading of the current predicaments and disturbances of the anthropocene - where ecosocial reproduction is meeting the limits of land use - against nihilistic, apocalyptic and masculinist techno-fantasies (equally). If toxicity is hardly a great late liberal event, how can we think through non-continuities in the social order that speak matter through and beyond capital? What does plastic tell us about the realism of repro-futurity? 

Davis’ text gives us a way to read back through the materialist crtitique of energy from last month, and to put this in closer dialogue with critiques of liberalism and liberal affect politics. If liberalism is both legal infrastructure and a particular organisation of affects that assume autologics, self-determination, movement and relation, then here we can start to address the impersonality of material rifts that work bodies through time in ways that break and expand reproduction beyond the heteronormed sexual relation, and bio-politics as such? 


Seminar 1 November

Approaching queer energy? 

We will begin with an historically engaged approach to the contradictions, crises and cultural logics of late fossil capitalism, specifically, and begin to consider the value of reading the present through aesthetic and political desires for an otherwise that might be anti-identificatory to the operative paradigms. 

In the first month we consider liberalism as a particular arrangement of feeling politics, and consider forms of attachment that express and confuse feelings of identification with political agency and actual social change. The queer theorist of affect, Lauren Berlant, asks us to consider, also in the wake of '68 and given the counter-revolutionary traffic in injurious affects, the extent to which the political is also impersonal, and that "new vocabularies of pleasure, recognition, and equity must be developed and taught" through contemporary impassess across vast asymmetries. We will couple Berlant's essay 'The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy and Politics'  with Brent Ryan Bellamy and Jeff Diamanti’s introduction to ‘Materialism and the Critique of Energy’, which gives an overview of historical materialist thinkers coming to terms with questions of energy, electricity, nuclearity, and expenditure in the context of a planetary background becoming ever more brought to the forefront of analysis. The readings do not very obviously 'fit' together for now. The year's coursework and discussion will help us draw  connections between affect's politics, queer theory's charge and possible objects, and materialist engagements with planetary dramas of capital and reproduction. 


Berlant, Lauren. “The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy and Politics.” In Cultural Pluralism, Identity Politics, and the Law. Edited by Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Bellamy, Brent Ryan and Jeff Diamanti. “Introduction.” Special Issue: Materialism and the Critique of Energy, Mediations: Journal of the Marxist Literary Group 31, no 2. (2018). http://www.mediationsjournal.org/articles/critique-of-energy.


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