The article of faith that in the beginning was the preference precludes consideration of how we could cultivate the desires we desire. Non-desire sparks no conversations; as theorist Guy Hocquenghem says in his celebrated essay The Screwball Asses, “Most everyone agrees that the refusal of desire is sovereign: ‘I don’t want to, that’s all!’” We know we are allowed to change our mind but we don’t know how to talk about how we might want it to change. In liberal sexuality nothing fundamental to the self is really exchanged along with bodily fluids; we are not transformed, not created interpersonally.
Online dating profiles, especially on Grindr, the gay cruising app, have brought new visibility to racist dating criteria. When it comes to sexual preferences, people who don’t think of themselves as racist, and who in other situations would feel compelled to cloak their implicit racism in socially acceptable forms, evidently feel no qualms about proclaiming their desire for “only white guys,” “no blacks, no Asians,” etc. This escapes significant censure by riding the coattails of the “Born This Way” discourse, which encourages us to strip away guilt and reveal our “natural” desires. The expedient argument used for decades to promote wider toleration of queer sexualities – i.e. as long as there is individual consent, sexuality is natural, amoral and should be non-ideological – also allows people to indulge their own racism under the cover of the primal innocence of sex. The “just a preference” argument pleads that it can’t be helped. But this naturalizes both sexuality and race. If we recognize race as socially constructed then racial sexual preference must be socially constructed fantasy too. We can’t become innocent of the original sin of being born into a racist, sexist society, but what kind of redemption is possible? Can we cultivate certain desires over others? Can we guide our fantasies to be more in line with our broader social ethics?
“Choose Your Own Adventure" by Luke Pagarani
Cutting off the scream—censoring it—is a way to render inaudible that which threatens to become audible on the soundtrack: the inside of the woman’s body—her vocal cords, larynx, and lungs at full power, a pornography of pure voice.
This is the editorial note to The New Inquiry Magazine,
Vol. 29: Queens.
The queen addresses her audience. She is draped in ermine. She wears her jeweled crown and sits on her gold throne. It is the day she speaks to her assembled Parliament and delivers directives for the year. The representatives of capital stand before her, looking as obedient as children dragged to church. A single page boy faints, overcome by the power of the ceremony, but the queen does not signal that she notices. It seems like a grace note in the performance of her power, or a sad commentary on its actual application. Such is the plight of the queen.
A queen is the image of a woman at the height of her potential social standing. She evokes beauty, poise, and dignity simultaneously with power. Women who inhabit their social role fully and without struggle are crowned queens. But if the queen is the pinnacle, she is also the limit. If she is an exception to the general subordination of women, she proves the male rule.
We are now republicans, as far as the term goes. And the redistribution of royal titles can only be celebrated. Many more women than there have ever been noble families elicit cries of “queen” these days. “Queen,” unlike “princess,” functions as praise — though its deployment can teach us about the gender of power. She has avoided the fate of a princess, a title applied with more derision than awe, shaming women for articulating their desires as demands.
A queen is also ruthless, controlling, runs shit. A queen is not an executive, though. The corporate form of power is still far too fraternal to allow for anything sororal in the boardroom. A queen stands alone, fixed in place, with her subjects arrayed around her. This means she is also outnumbered. If her every movement seems deliberate, she might be self-possessed or she might be trapped.
Still from Teenage
Now a feature film, Jon Savage’s history of 20th century adolescence Teenageis a modern classic on kids and demographics.Savage talked with TNI co-founding editor Mary Borkowski on youth culture now and then
Several years ago Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture fell into my lap, suggested by a good friend, and I devoured the book, intrigued at the time with the idea that I might never grow up (I was 23). Savage—a renowned music journalist who’d also written, inter alia, the award-winning punk history book England’s Dreaming—had as the central tenet of Teenage that sometime around the beginning of the 20th century a “new stage of life” was created: “Teen age,” or “Teen-age,” and later just “teenage.” That the adolescent demographic we now malign and mythologize was once effectively created—invented, marketed—is a fascinating notion to examine. Reading the book, I found myself equally fascinated by the parallel between adolescence and America’s own nascence as a country.
Recently, Savage partnered with filmmaker Matt Wolf to create a companion documentary film for the book, also titled Teenage (for venues, go to teenagefilm.com). While quite different, and slimmer in scope and information, the documentary succeeds as a lively companion to Savage’s impressive book. I had the opportunity to chat with Savage in early March about his experience translating the book Teenage into a film, and about the eternal draw and intrigue of this transformative step in the process of becoming-American.
Mary Borkowski: Good morning from here in LA. I read Teenage a few years ago, but I just recently watched the film, and I wanted to start off by asking about [director] Matt Wolf.
Jon Savage: Well, I’ve worked in television on and off since the late ’70s and I’ve made several other films as a writer, so I knew when I’d written Teenage [in 2007] that I wanted to turn it into a film or a television series. I tried to get it off the ground in the UK, but dealing with television people here didn’t work. It wasn’t until a mutual friend put me in touch with Matt that I thought this is somebody I could work with, because Matt was young, he really got the idea of the book, and he’s based in New York. It’s really an American story.
MB: I know you’ve written on music and worked on film for years, but historically, where does your interest in youth culture come from?
JS: I suppose, really, I’m the kind of person for whom music is everything. Telling social history through music is a good thing to do because music, in a way, is all about memory and all about emotion, and so it’s a very good way to go into social history. But, in fact, the Teenage book was driven by an idea, and music comes into that, but it is the idea that a second stage of life was quote-unquote discovered around the turn of the 20th century. So you have this dialectic between adults and regimes trying to control it and militarize it and the actual real-time adolescence being defined as special. What does it mean to be this second stage of life? How can it work for us? How can we get some freedom? How can we avoid getting sent off into the army and pushed around by our parents, and if we’re not going to do that, then what sort of world, what sort of culture are we going to create?
Anti-Zionist demonstration at Damascus Gate. March 8th, 1920
The BDS movement is enjoying success because even at home, Zionists are beginning to lose the PR battle.
“The Palestinians are winning,” writes Ali Abunimah in his new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. It’s an audacious assessment, and arguably true even in the U.S. This moment of Palestine activism is dynamic and by some measures unprecedented. Of course, Palestinian activism and scholarship have always been vigorous, but at no time in the United States, going back even to the anti-Zionist activity of al-muhjar (the Arab American writers of the early 20th century), has Israel’s behavior been under the sort of scrutiny in evidence today. That scrutiny has been forced into conversation by linking of the Palestine struggle to international movements of decolonization in new media venues, coming together under the name of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement.
BDS is not simply a political tactic. Even its most optimistic supporter would have a hard time arguing that it will significantly affect détente at the level of the state. However, if we view BDS as a phenomenon on the level of discourse, as Abunimah does, we can better understand its influence on public debate, where pressure on Israel has altered the dynamics of organizing and the vocabularies of advocacy. BDS as a specific movement is nearly a decade old, and emerged out of a weariness about the traditional modes of resistance (dialogue, state intervention, outreach, and so forth), which had largely proved ineffective. BDS has developed through systematic decolonial analysis, with the result that Israel continues to be situated—rightly, in Abunimah’s opinion—as a settler colony.
Ali Abunimah’s book arrives at an opportune moment, with the movement, not state actors, generating headlines and the latest round of peace talks sputtering with even more than the usual ineptitude. Abunimah is a well-placed narrator of Palestine as a global phenomenon. A founder of the news and commentary site Electronic Intifada[lr]Full disclosure: I write a regular blog for EI.[/lr], Abunimah is a familiar figure to veterans of the online wars around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Known for his sharp and sometimes pointed debating style, Abunimah is a veteran of Palestinian public life. His first book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, was published nearly a decade ago amid an emerging debate about the one-state/two-state solution and, along with a handful of contemporary titles (like Joel Kovel’s Overcoming Zionism and Mazin Qumsiyeh’s Sharing the Land of Canaan), helped push Palestine activism toward a one-state paradigm.
Elite education may impoverish and indebt young women and do little to get them a job, but at least it makes their eggs valuable
Reproductive Medical Associates of New York, a fertility clinic associated with Mount Sinai Hospital, maintains separate websites for egg donors and egg buyers. The home page of the donors’ site features a large stock photograph of a young woman holding schoolbooks. Behind crossed arms the pretty brunette model is clutching what looks like but is not a copy of Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, along with a white three-ring binder. She wears a zippered velor jacket in the same shade of blue as the graphic that emerges from behind her head in an oversize font: Become an Egg Donor.
Beneath is an embedded YouTube video of Dr. Georgia Witkin, a partner at Reproductive Medical Associates, who grins into the camera and delivers a poorly edited four-minute pitch to visitors interested in donating. Dr. Witkin is a woman who has undergone thorough and ambitious plastic surgery. Her stretched skin exposes the contours of her skull around glassy, saucer-size eyes, and she speaks to her audience of young women from behind sheaths of feathered blond hair. “The DNA in your eggs contains genetic material from your entire gene pool,” she says, speaking in a heavy Long Island accent. Dr. Witkin smiles, and blinks heavily at the camera.
Maya Mackrandilal Sheath IV (2014)
First, some definitions:
(White)spatiality: There is a specter here that haunts this space. It has multiple faces. We’ll call one white supremacy: the belief in the universal, a pure idea arrived at by a series of white men who have combed through culture and curated its worth. Another face we’ll call visual oppression. We’ll call it passing. We’ll call it presence without provocation. We’ll call it just enough black faces to assuage liberal guilt without the discomfort of challenging anything. We’ll call it the fantasy of postracial America. We’ll call it visible invisibility.
The Body of the Other: It goes where it pleases under the vague, ever-present threat of violence. It infiltrates. It wears the right clothes. It uses the right words. It has abandoned its mothers. But it claws at the ribs, crawls up the throat, and tumbles past the lips in polite company. Don’t forget what Gloria Anzaldua told us: “Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.”
The Ritual of Looking: It is pleasant enough, the rapt masses examining objects, reading texts, staring at screens. It is pleasant enough, their whispered exchanges, the sidelong glances at fellow patrons. Like pilgrims, we circumambulate the rooms in near silent meditation, offering our attention to the gods that feel right to us. We want to say that there is a value in this thing we’ve been doing for thousands of years, this thing that’s been with us before capitalism, before agriculture, before patriarchy. This thing was there at the beginning: to make, to regard what is made.
White Aesthetics: And isn’t this specter the god of our neoliberal artistic landscape? A place where critical language—which is meant to articulate everything that is not said, to reveal the threads of systemic inequality—is co-opted by an inane buzzword pastiche? Where the artist-CEO employs the labor of others—material labor of unpaid assistants, affective labor of subject-bodies, contractual labor of the working class, temporary labor of performers, take your pick—to realize his unique vision? There is only space for “questions” here. Ambiguity is both a currency and a shield. The titillation of a brush with the radical—a safari of political rebellion—without the nuisance of actually addressing systems of power or challenging the status quo. All the trappings, none of the substance.