Now Playing Tracks

For my own reference I attempted to compile the most complete list of published books on speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, new materialisms, and associated work and I figured I would share it. I also include in this list works from feminist materialisms, because they are important for providing a fuller genealogy for contemporary research, and those authors that are harder to classify together but generally write on nihilism, pessimism, and eliminationism. For the moment I’ve left off Francois Laruelle, who is still very confusing to me, and accelerationist authors like Nick Land and McKenzie Wark. The tags are my own and don’t necessarily reflect how the authors self-identify.

Graham Harman – Object-Oriented Ontology

Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (1993/2011)

Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (2011)

Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (2009)

Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (2010)

Circus Philosophicus (2010)

The Prince and the Wolf: Harman and Latour at the LSE (2011)

Quentin Meillasoux: Philosophy in the Making (2011)

The Quadruple Object (2011)

Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2012)

Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism (2013)

Levi Bryant – Onticology/Machine-Oriented Ontology

The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Edited with Nick Snricek and Graham Harman (2011)

The Democracy of Objects (2011)

Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media (2014)

Timothy Morton – OOO, Ecology

Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (2009)

The Ecological Thought (2012)

Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013)

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (2013)

Ian Bogost – OOO, Game Studies

Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (2012)

Quentin Meillassoux – Speculative Materialism

After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (2009)

The Number and The Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarme’s Coup De Des (2012)

Ray Brassier – Eliminative Materialism

Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (2010)

Iain Hamilton Grant – Naturphilosophie

Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (2008)

Jane Bennett – Political Theory, Vitalism

Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2009)

Reza Negarestani – Eliminative Materialism, Theory-Novel

Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (2008)

Ben Woodard – Naturphilosphie, Nihilism, Pessimism

Slime Dynamics (2012)

On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy (2013)

Steven Shaviro – Film Studies, Process Thought

Without Criteria: Kant, Deleuze, Whitehead, and Aesthetics (2009)

William Connolly – Political Theory, Pluralism

A World of Becoming (2012)

The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism (2013)

Paul J. Ennis

Post-Continental Voices: Selected Interviews (2010)

Continental Realism (2011)

Adrian Johnston – Transcendental Materialism

Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism: The Outcome of Contemporary French Philosophy (2013)

Adventures in Transcendental Materialism: Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers (2014)

John Protevi – Deleuze, Science Studies

Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (2009)

Life, War, Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences (2013)

Eugene Thacker – Media Studies, Horror, Dark Vitalism

After Life (2010)

In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1 (2011)

Thomas Ligotti – Horror, Nihilism, Anti-Natalism

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (2012)

Diana Coole and Samantha Frost – Political Theory, New Feminist Materialisms

New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (2012)

Stacy Alaimo – New Feminist Materialisms

Ed. Material Feminisms (2013)

Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (2010)

Bruno Latour – Actor Network Theory

We Have Never Been Modern (2012)

Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (2007)

An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (2013)

Adam S. Miller - Theology

Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology

Dylan Trigg – Phenomenology, Horror

The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (2006)

The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny (2013)

The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror (2014)

Tom Sparrow – Phenomenology, Horror

Levinas Unhinged (2013)

The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism (2014)

Peter Gratton

Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (2014)

w/ Paul J. Ennis, The Meillassoux Dictionary (2014)

Tristan Garcia

Form and Object: A Treatise on Things (2014)

Elizabeth Grosz – New Material Feminisms, Deleuze

Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (1994)

The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and The Untimely (2004)

Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (2011)

Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (2012)

Donna Haraway – Cyborg Theory, New Feminist Materialisms

Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature

The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2003)

When Species Meet (2013)

Rosi Braidotti – Nomad Theory, Deleuze, New Feminist Materialisms

Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (2006)

Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (2011)

Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2013)

The Posthuman (2013)

Karen Barad – Agential Realism, New Feminist Materialisms

Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2013)

Manuel DeLanda – Deleuze, Realism, Science Studies

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (2000)

A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (2006)

Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason (2011)

Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (2013)

Isabelle Stengers – Process Thought

Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts (2011)

Cosmopolitics I (2010)

Cosmopolitics II (2011)

Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin

New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (2012)

For Every Norm You’ve Ever Cored



The problem with metafashion is that it’s difficult to discern what exactly it’s supposed to be saying. This is the hipster irony conundrum. Is that douchebag in the corner wearing a fedora out of a sincere appreciation of brimmed hatwear and the douche-y image that it projects or is he wearing it to douchily satirize the type of person who would sincerely wear a fedora? It’s unclear. The same problem is posed when normcore is understood as metafashion. Is it a protest against capitalist consumerism or a reinforcement of the normative forces of fashion as an arm of capitalism? Could it be both and, therefore, a form of lateral agency? Or is it just bullshit?

Normcore, New York Magazine proclaims, is a trend where young, urban 20-somethings dress down because they know that they’re, as the subtitle of the article proclaims, only one in 7 billion. A normcore wardrobe relies on simple t-shirts, sweat pants, and other clothes considered “mall clothes.” Think about your generic suburban mom or dad’s leisure clothes, and you’re close to normcore. Jerry Seinfeld has become normcore’s mascot, and Gap is doing business on normcore’s tails.

But spoiler alert: it’s bullshit. Cat Smith at The Style Con notes that clothing only allows you to “blend in” only when your body is already understood as normative. Race and class are central to the (il)legibility of normcore, even if Lauren Bans wants to make a joke of those implications by rickrolling people rather than providing analysis. Fashion is both statement and armor. Clothing sends signals about status and respectability. It is not a “waste” for the poor to spend money on luxury goods when we all know what luxury goods can symbolize. But even more, clothing can also be the difference someone giving you the benefit of the doubt and someone pulling a trigger — depending on how your body is perceived. All fashion has implications for our bodies and our survival. I wear a hoodie largely with impunity. Trayvon Martin and other young black men wear hoodies, and they get read as dangerous, violent, and bodies to be killed.

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On Uyghurs, Kunming, and the Xinjiang Question



Guest post by Quinn Lester, cross-posted on and adapted from Quinn’s blog

On March 1st eight Uyghurs, an ethnic minority located predominantly in Xinjiang province in northwest China, attacked a railway station in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan province in the southwest, with knives and machetes. Ultimately 29 were killed, over a hundred wounded, and four of the assailants shot dead. This is the largest terrorist attack in recent Chinese history and the most prominent attack carried out by Uyghurs outside of Xinjiang, eclipsing fall’s suspected suicide bombing in Tiananmen Square. Who are the Uyghurs exactly and what would inspire such a violent attack in a place like Kunming, far from the coastal centers of power? Having lived in China for the last few months I have seen periodic references to the Uyghurs and their independence struggle against China, but for a better view I turned to Gardner Bovingdon’s 2010 book The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. It is a good primer on the Uyghurs, their grievances against China, and the form their struggle has taken. I want to highlight below some of the interesting facts I garnered from this book and how they shed light on the Kunming attack.

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Thanks to my friends at StrangeSubject for reposting my post on the Uyghurs’ struggles in China

Hannibal’s Feminist Take on Horror


So, I may not have talked about this, but I like this one show about a guy who eats people. Which show about a guy who eats people? Read on to find out! 

Anyway, here’s my (surprisingly long) two cents on Hannibal as a feminist filmmaking triumph, largely because you’re too fucking scared whilst watching it to notice how many plum roles are going to ladies and people of color, or how many Satan-worshiping rape gangs it’s refusing to include (cough, cough, rhymes with Blue Corrective, cough) so as to make effective horror that doesn’t rely on exploiting women. 

On Uyghurs, Kunming, and the Xinjiang Question

On March 1st eight Uyghurs, an ethnic minority located predominantly in Xinjiang province in northwest China, attacked a railway station in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan province in the southwest, with knives and machetes. Ultimately 29 were killed, over a hundred wounded, and four of the assailants shot dead. This is the largest terrorist attack in recent Chinese history and the most prominent attack carried out by Uyghurs outside of Xinjiang. Who are the Uyghurs exactly and what would inspire such a violent attack in a place like Kunming, far from the coastal centers of power? Having lived in China for the last few months I have seen periodic references to the Uyghurs and their independence struggle against China, but for a better view I turned to Gardner Bovingdon’s 2010 book The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. It is a good primer on the Uyghurs, their grievances against China, and the form their struggle has taken. I want to highlight below some of the interesting facts I garnered from this book and how they shed light on the Kunming attack.

To summarize some of the main history, the province of Xinjiang was conquered in the late 18th century by the Qing empire, though full territorial control was always spotty up until 1949, with two briefly independent states also existing in the area in the 1940’s. When the Communist Party came to power in 1949 it also assumed control of Xinjiang, despite the majority of the residents being Uyghurs and resistant to being part of the Chinese state. Hardliners in the CCP saw Xinjiang as an integral part of China for material and ideological reasons that will be covered below, and as a buffer against the Soviet Union. Since 1949 the Party has officially adopted a roughly multiculturalist stance in Xinjiang, proclaiming that Uyghurs are an ethnic minority in China that has the right to its own culture and that China itself is made up of many peoples working together. This rhetoric, however, has covered up the actual colonialist policies that China has carried out in Xinjiang. Even more so than the rest of China, especially during the current reform era, the Party has been repressive in Xinjiang. Uyghurs are often excluded from positions of power in the Party except for token leaders, and thus de facto rule of what many Uyghurs consider their homeland is denied to them. Uyghurs are excluded from the most economically profitable industries in Xinjiang. Uyghur cultural and religious practices – most Uyghurs are Muslim – are also often prohibited or discouraged by the state, such as religious gatherings or Uyghur language learning. Finally, the Party has policies that encourage Han Chinese migration to Xinjiang, both to carry out economic tasks prohibited to Uyghurs and to dilute the Uyghur, eventually making them a minority in their own land. Various details of this picture have changed over the years, but often not for the better for Uyghurs, and the state has often gotten more oppressive since prominent Uyghur uprisings in 1990, 1997, and 2009.

As I stated above, there are material and ideological reasons for China’s continued hold on Xinjiang, or East Turkestan as it is called by Uyghur independence activists, and claims that it is an inviolable part of Chinese territory. Materially the area is home to enormous natural gas and oil reserves, important for fueling China’s economy and maintaining energy security. Xinjiang also opens up natural trade routes to the economies, and again energy supplies, of Central Asia. The area has also been ideal for nuclear testing in the past, which Uyghurs have often protested against. Ideologically the Party refuses to give up any territory, whether that is Xinjiang, Tibet, claims to Taiwan or the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. One reason is due to the lingering history of China’s “century of humiliation” from the First Opium War in the mid-nineteenth century until the founding of the PRC in 1949. The weakened Qing and Republican governments were often forced to give territorial concessions to foreign governments like the British, the French, Germans, and probably most insultingly the Japanese. The loss of any Chinese territory would be a terrible blow to the Party’s ideological legitimization of freeing China from colonial rule, even if that ironically warrants China acting as an imperial aggressor in Xinjiang and Tibet. From more recent history, many Party leaders are convinced that the loss of any territory would presage the collapse of the Party itself. This comes from the Chinese view of the dissolution of the USSR, where the breakaway countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are seen as part of Gorbachev’s reformist policies and one cause for the soviet’s own destruction.

These ideological factors make Chinese state actors particularly hard line and the Party has consistently refused to acknowledge any legitimacy to Uyghur claims for independence or greater autonomy, and a refusal to negotiate with Uyghur transnational groups. Both China and Uyghurs contest the actual history of Xinjiang/East Turkestan; the Chinese claim there has been a Han presence in the area going back a couple thousands years, while Uyghurs claim there have been several independent nations in the area in the past. The truth is kind of in-between; there was a Chinese presence briefly during the Han and Tang dynasties but mostly different Central Asian states. The truth isn’t really useful here though, as modern claims to a nation-state often hinge on the idea of a single people who have lived in an area in perpetuity, a historically very modern idea that is linked to the origins of territory in 16th century Europe, as Stuart Elden excellently shows in his recent The Birth of Territory.

Since 1949 there have been several prominent waves of transnational organizing by Uyghurs living outside of China. In the fifties through the eighties much of this activity was located in Turkey with the permission of sympathetic Pan-Turkists in the government. Uyghur activists often had a difficult time calling attention to their cause, however, as China enjoyed a lot of leeway as an anti-colonial icon in Africa and Asia. The breakup of the USSR and the emerging Central Asian Turkic states created a lot of hope among Uyghurs that the time was ready for independence, an idea that China also feared. Early on Central Asian states, with large populations of Uyghurs having lived in these countries for years, were sympathetic and allowed Uyghur groups to organize. Unfortunately these Uyghur groups still relied on the benevolence of their host states. As time went on in the 90’s and these states had more pressing concerns in starting up their economies, leaders were more than willing to make sweet deals with Beijing in return for kicking out or pulling the plug on Uyghur groups and activists. The center of Uyghur organizing then moved to the developed West in Europe and America, as groups like the World Uyghur Congress emerged to try and claim one voice and legitimate representation of the Uyghur Diaspora.

Another interesting reason for this turn to the West was a perception in the 90’s, that feels like a faint memory now, that humanitarian intervention on the side of minority peoples was a legitimate action. When Uyghurs viewed the cases in Bosnia, East Timor, and Kosovo they saw examples of the West willing to act and both they and Party leaders did not think it unlikely that NATO or the UN would find reason to intervene on the side of the Uyghurs. Of course, as in many things, 9/11 changed the international calculus. Beijing quickly moved to highlight any violence in Xinjiang, not as separatist, but as Islamic terrorism. The Bush administration, in exchange for China’s assistance in the War on Terror, was willing to accept this interpretation, but not to the degree China wanted. In 2002 the US State Department placed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) on its terrorist watch list, despite the group’s rather insignificant existence up to that date. This move did not fully satisfy China, who wanted all Uyghur groups listed as terrorists, but this did not stop them from proclaiming to domestic audiences that all Uyghur groups were also terrorist groups. This dynamic has continued in the last decade with any anti-state activities by Uyghurs in Xinjiang being labeled as inspired by Islamic terrorism and outside agitators, regardless of the political, economic, and cultural grievances and motivations behind Uyghur actions.

This brings us to the Kunming attack of March 1st. Early reports followed this pattern of labeling the attack as jihadist and inspired by Islamic terrorism, with potential linkages to violent Uyghur groups, though no official group has claimed responsibility. Beijing has an interest in portraying the attack as not only terrorist, which in its execution it was, but as also Islamic and part of a nefarious conspiracy by “separatist leaders” that deligitmizes any claims to independence or autonomy by actual Uyghurs in Xinjiang/East Turkestan. Further reports have complicated this picture however. Other evidence suggests that the eight Uyghurs involved in the attack had fled from Xinjiang to Yunnan with the intention of crossing the border to Laos as refugees. When the Chinese police crack downed on Uyghur activity and closed this route, however, these eight Uyghurs became trapped in Kunming. Furthermore, the police then arrested some of the family members and spouses connected to the eight Uyghurs, and placed them on a most wanted list even before the March 1st attack. Their precarious position may have inspired the eight Uyghurs to carry out a last desperate attack and would explain the crudeness of the knives and tactics involved. Far from being part of an organized jihadist cabal, the eight Uyghurs may have been the perverse outcome of China’s own harsh security measures.

This account is also more consistent with the lack of widespread Islamic jihadist influence in Xinjiang. There certainly does seem to be a rise in recent years of jihadist-influenced rhetoric but nothing on the level of Islamic movements like Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda. One reason for this lack of widespread jihadist influence may be the success of China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang. It is incredibly hard for information to get into the region with China invested in blocking radio waves and the internet. There is also little history of locally-inspired Islamist organizing or participation in Pan-Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the case of Pre-Revolutionary Iran. The most popular and successful transnational Uyghur organizations, such as the World Uyghur Congress, are also secular in outlook and work to actively counter China’s professed links between Uyghur violence and Islamic terrorism. Any increase in the influence of Islamist views in Xinjiang are probably linked to the severe crackdown on civil society, which leaves only religious spaces and groups as sites for Uyghurs to gather and articulate their political grievances.

Much of the rhetoric of Uyghur organizing seems to have followed the language of anti-colonial nationalist movements, when it sought support from Non-aligned states like Turkey and the immediately post-Soviet states of Central Asia, or the international human rights rhetoric of the UN and minority peoples. As such efforts have continually failed to improve the situation on the ground, and as China has become even more intransigent, it is not unsurprising if the language of jihadist and Islamist inspired terrorism becomes more prominent, though it is unlikely such actions would do more than inspire even more repressive measures in Xinjiang/East Turkestan. As I hope I have shown the “Xinjiang Question” is intimately tied up in Chinese domestic and international politics, and only dramatic changes in the Party and its policies, or intense international pressure that sees through China’s distortions of Uyghur demands, are likely to bring any betterment to Uyghurs in the near future. Even more so than the Tibetans, who at least have an internationally recognized charismatic leader in the Dalai Llama, the future for the Uyghurs does not look like a very hopeful.

Polyamory in Theory

Emmett Rensin has written a long essay for the LARB that he claims is about polyamory and its often adversarial relationship to a dominantly monogamous society. This is true to the extent that Rensin discusses polyamory and various reactions to it, but between these intellectual bits Rensin also offers a narrative of his first polyamorous relationship. Instead of reinforcing his intellectual opinions, this personal narrative in its messy complexity often undermines the very coherency of the definition of polyamory Rensin so earnestly wants to give. As is often the case, Rensin’s actual experiences of love, sex, and desire work against his own attempts to justify and understand his experience.

The first thing we should note about Rensin’s narrative of his long-term tumultuous relationship with his polyamorous girlfriend Lou is how un-polyamorous the whole relationship appears. There is little to the actual relationship that would seem to be meaningfully impacted by the very definitions of polyamory Rensin gives, of being able to pursue relationships with multiple people at the same time. Sure he mentions the time he and Lou go out with other people, sleep with others, and engage in non-monogamous activities that Rensin thinks defines polyamory. However, his narrative of his relationship with Lou is characterized more by their uneasy reliance and, as Rensin dubs it, co-dependency on each other. Fragile egos lead to fights, fights lead to break ups that don’t last, cohabitation continues more out of habit than desire, miscommunications occur on both sides. On the one hand these details support Rensin’s conclusion that there is nothing abnormal about being polyamorous; polyamory is not an ideal condition that will save you from making terrible choices in your choice of partners or relationships in other words.

How should we square Rensin’s personal narrative then with his emphasis that polyamory, in the long term, is better than monogamy? Rensin’s beef with monogamy is that it is often unrealistic and provides fantastical narratives for people that they cannot possibly live up to. Rensin even sometimes seems to believe that his relationship’s failure stems from not letting go of monogamous ideals enough, of still viewing fighting and riled emotions as signs of care for another person. Perhaps this is true of Rensin’s relationship – though it is difficult to fully judge because we only have Rensin’s words to take on this and the other important player, Lou, shifts from being a real, independent person to another character in his story. By the end of this personal narrative Rensin is indeed single but still polyamorous and so with each new relationship has to negotiate the waters of “coming out” as polyamorous to all the monogamous others that, for Rensin, dominate the world. The ending is hardly satisfactory, and for all his apparent disclosures there is still an element of smugness to Rensin’s account, that he has figured something out that the rest of us mortals are ignorant of, even though he claims to have already overcome such zero-sum thinking.

As I noted at the beginning, the weakness of Rensin’s intellectual account polyamory is how his own narrative breaks down any conceptual coherency of polyamory. Why should we believe that Rensin is polyamorous just because he claims he is? Just because Rensin mentions other people doesn’t change the fact that the story he actually gives has all the markers of a monogamous tale, of the emotional battles that two people in love and lust with each other fight out. Change a few details and Rensin could easily be a modern Henry James exploring the psychological depths of our contemporary romantic and sexual experiences, only different in details but not in form from our Victorian ancestors. This leads to the greatest weakness of Rensin’s piece, in that he offers definitions of polyamory and monogamy that are both bound to each other and resolutely ahistorical. To be polyamorous is to be non-monogamous, and vice versa, and both categories have existed, at the very least, for a very long time. This ahistorical definition feels empty and shorn of any relationship to power.

For example, monogamy as a concept is not tied all the way back to our tribal ancestors in Neolithic times but is instead a very recent concept, tied to the Victorian emphasis on the ideal Bourgeois subject of landed property. Throughout history we can identify practices that are monogamous-ish, but these practices often refer to legal definitions. A husband and wife in the Western tradition are “monogamous” so that the husband’s male children can be ensured to issue from him and inherit his property. In practice, though, this does not mean that the man himself was monogamous. The figure of the cheating or philandering husband is a constant throughout Western literature. We know husbands cavorted with their servants, domestics, and slaves in the case of slave societies of America and the British Indies. We could also survey non-Western histories, such as the role of concubines in Chinese families even up until the 20th century, or ethnographic accounts of the many different kinds of non-monogamous/matriarchal societies to be found in South America, Africa, and Asia. Rensin is right to point out that there is nothing natural about monogamy, but the very appearance of its naturalness still needs to be examined at the same time that we reject it.

In these examples we see how closely monogamy, and non-monogamous practices, has been tied to patriarchal power. The importance was that a woman was monogamous with her husband, but the same did not always apply to the husband who could exercise his power over his social inferiors in various overt and covert ways depending on the legal regime. In the feminist criticism of monogamy it is the fact of patriarchal power that is often objected to, not just the idea of possessive control over another person (though this is also rightly critiqued by Rensin). Feminist critiques of monogamy have also not by default led to an endorsement of polyamory. Instead many different kinds of non-monogamous practices have been investigated in the last fifty years, such as the potential of friendships, queer family and kinship, celibacy and asexuality, and in the negative form of popular obsession with “hook-up” culture.

Rensin’s definition of polyamory takes none of these nuances into account, instead defining polyamory as simply the choice to be non-monogamous. In its worst form this choice does not look so different from the neoliberal fetish of the freedom to choose whoever and whatever we want, as long as we ignore the power dynamics that create meaningful choices in the first place. I have already discusses this neoliberal aspect of sexuality and choice in my earlier posts on the entrepreneurial dynamics of hook-up culture. Absent of any meaningful discussion and incorporation of power dynamics Rensin’s definition of polyamory loses any sense of being radically against a dominant monogamous culture, becoming just another sexual choice among many. This is a real shame, because Rensin’s own narrative is all about the power dynamics that can exist in any relationship, regardless of being monogamous or polyamorous. Yes, learning to negotiate and communicate is important, but it would seem to be equally important for the monogamous and polyamorous alike. I cannot help but think Rensin should have just offered his personal narrative on its own and leave it up to us readers to decide what we think of this polyamorous relationship, but Rensin’s intellectual digressions seem to show he does not trust us readers that much to form opinions on his story.

Frame This Blog Post



Written by Prashanth Kamalakanthan, reviewed by Y.F. Wang

Imagine meeting someone for the first time. A friend has pulled you two together at a party and stepped away. It’s time to say things to introduce yourself. What, though?

Maybe you comment on the music…

Since I have also been thinking about this lately, here are my brief notes on how psychoanalytic concepts are also involved in defining intimacy. (psychoanalysis isn’t the only way to talk about this subject but it is a language that is helpful for me).

Intimacy involves drives - in psychoanalysis the drives refer to the processes that lie beneath our desires, often with roots in the unconscious. A desire has a object and once that object has been obtained the desire is fulfilled; we then go on to desire different things. A drive, however, cannot be fulfilled. Any new object will ultimately be found to be lacking in fulfilling the drive, spurning us on to constantly look for new objects that we hope will finally fulfill our drives. Our drives cannot be fulfilled though because they form the basis of our psychic lives, especially in our conscious and unconscious awareness of ourselves as mortal beings. Many people then can feel driven to pursue intimacy with a wide variety of people, but it is also often the case that intimacy with just one person will not fulfill all our emotional wants and so we search for intimacy with others as well. Most likely there is no “peak” intimacy we can achieve; all we can do is try to come to terms with the intimate bonds we have already achieved.

Intimacy involves fantasy - our everyday experiences are often mediated through our fantasies, both of ourselves and of other people. It is true that we act differently when interacting with a stranger versus a long-time companion, but our interactions also vary in terms of how we position others and ourselves through our fantasies. If you are someone who has a particular fantasy of falling for a stranger, then that will incline you to be more open to searching out intimate moments with strangers. As the saying goes, you never know when you are an actor in someone’s story. But importantly, fantasy is also ideology. Our fantasies are often not our own but instead constructed through our social and media interactions. A shared moment of intimacy does not just exist between two people but is always already mediated by the ideological fantasies both parties bring to bear on their interactions. This is important in thinking about the politics of intimacy in how collective fantasies invest certain people - in many cases but not exclusively women - with a privileged access to intimacy.

Intimacy and enigma - one result of fantasy is that we are often not aware of other people’s real intentions or desires. Jean Laplanche summed this up best in his concept of the enigmatic signifier. This can easily be defined in the example of a mother and her infant child. From the child’s perspective the mother is often calling on her but the child does not know the content of the call. She is aware that the fulfillment of her mother’s desire, and so also the child’s own fulfillment, is predicated on responding to her mother but the child does not know exactly how to respond. And so often in our own interactions, we are aware that other people demand things and actions of us, often seen as vital to the other person’s own fulfillment, but in the enigma of the other person’s desire we do not know just how to act. This often seems important in intimacy, with a basis in either acting as if we understand the other person’s enigmatic desire or unwittingly fulfilling it. However this also makes intimacy, in its unconscious aspects, fragile.

Intimacy and the Other - all of this is to say that intimacy is a delicate balance between the Same and the Other. If another person was truly too Other then there would be no intimacy to be shared, as there would be no connection to bridge. However, if intimacy was all about negotiating the Same then it would also be worthless, only an extreme form of narcissism that would seek a complete replication of the self in the Other. One definition of intimacy then could be the movement we experience between the Same and the Other, between believing that another person truly knows us while also recognizing the difference that has been crossed to make the experience possible. This is the position taken in recent work on “impersonal intimacy” by theorists like Tim Dean, Leo Bersani, and Adam Phillips. Here intimacy names a relationship of discovering the same through the encounter with the Other. The dangerous aspect of this is coming to only see ourselves no matter who we connect with; intimacy becomes a psychic weapon to rid the world of difference and replace it with our own image. A more optimistic reading is that intimacy can allow us to negotiate a relationship with the Other that does not exclude them but allows for a plethora of meaningful and pleasurable connections.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the emotional lives of people it is rarely as simple as choosing between two options. Instead we are often engaged with multiple kinds of intimacy through our daily lives that require constant attention and work. Much of this intimacy is also outside of our conscious awareness but perhaps by reflecting on our intimate relations a bit more we can craft some of them in more mutually healthy and pleasurable ways.

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