review of Jamie Heckert and Richard Cleminson, eds. Anarchism and Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power. Routledge, 2011. 232 pp.
It may surprise some people outside of the study of anarchism that, alongside race, sexuality is perhaps the least studied subject within anarchist scholarship. This absence in the scholarly literature is often mirrored in practice, and as such the recent publication of Jamie Heckert and Richard Cleminson’s Anarchism and Sexuality provides a necessary intervention. Judged on the basis of the editors’ intent "to craft a queer book, both in style and in content" (1), the result is an overwhelming success. Stylistically, the anthology darts from personal memoir to social scientific survey to literary analysis. In this sense, the anthology achieves what most interdisciplinary projects only gesture towards: a collection of writings (I intentionally avoid essays here, because the anthology includes "poetic interludes") that illustrate the dynamics of activists and intellectuals, public agonies and private abuses, philosophical excursions and tactical reminiscences. This may be the most diverse collection of writings I have ever read under one cover.
As Judy Greenway notes in the Preface, "sexual anarchy, alias ‘western decadence’, is blamed for everything from natural disasters to 9/11, and misogyny and homophobia are playing a significant part in the resurgence of the political and religious right" (xiv). For "fundamentalists and bigots of all persuasions," she continues, "sexual liberation is a variation on anarchism: an attack on the foundations of society, a form of terrorism—anarchy as chaos" (xiv). For their anthology, Heckert and Cleminson imagine anarchism "as a kind of ethics of relationships, as advocating and practising very different relations of power than those involved in the state, capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy" (3). The approach to the dynamic duo of sexual liberation and anarchism in this collection is "post-anarchist," a combination of anarchism’s libertarian socialism and post-structuralist influenced cultural theory (see, for example, Rousselle and Evren, 2011). The "radical decentring of the way in which people can live their lives" that characterized these philosophies "recognises that freedom cannot come through sex alone; rather it entails a critique that runs through all social relationships and attempts to reconstruct them in non-hierarchical terms" (9).
The variety and quality of analyses in this anthology is infectious. Jenny Alexander, for example, "re-reads" Alexander Berkman's prison diaries "in the service of a dynamic anarcho-affective praxis" (25). Berkman, the famous companion of Emma Goldman, is frequently discussed in anarchist literature, but not in connection with sexuality (contrary to the way Goldman is discussed). Alexander's perceptive analysis of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist repositions Berkman as "one of the first well-known political figures in America to endorse sexual love between same-sex individuals" (31). She claims that "Berkman-the-autobiographer wants us to know that Alexander Berkman changed in prison, from a young man shocked and disgusted by homosexual acts to an older man loving and losing two young men to death" (31). Thus, Alexander argues, "we might indeed read Berkman productively as 'queer' in its broadest sense," alluding to Sedgwick (34). Alexander believes "it is now time to return, within Western queer, anarcho-queer and anarchist political and scholarly contexts, to considerations of intimacy" (39).
In the next chapter, Stevphen Shukaitis does just that, by advocating for an "affective resistance—that is, a sustainable basis for ongoing and continuing political organizing, a plateau of vibrating intensities, premised upon refusing to separate questions of the effectiveness of any tactic, idea or campaign, from its affectiveness" (46). For Shukaitis, "the effectiveness of political organizing" cannot be separated from "concerns about its affectiveness" (46). To illustrate this theory, he looks at "struggles around issues of care and housework, of the tasks of the everyday" (50), especially various Wages for Housework campaigns, "a moment in the struggle of wages against housework: a strategy of composing class power from the position that women have found themselves in, but precisely to escape from that position" (52-53). Based on the traditional left's avoidance of issues around gendered labour, Precarias a la Deriva, "a feminist research and organizing collective," formed in Spain in 2002 (53). They utilized tactics derived from the situationists to explore the "intimate and paradoxical nature of feminized work" (54); the concept of dérive was transformed from a masculine bourgeois form of wandering into a "drift through the circuits and spaces of feminized labour that constituted their everyday lives" (54). The drift became "a mobile interview, a wandering picket" that sought out women in a haphazard array of spaces and sectors: the domestic, the telemarketing conversation, language instruction, food service, and health care. With the example of Precarias, Shukaitis demonstrates that "rather than considering interpersonal and ethical concerns as an adjunct and supplement to radical politics, affective resistance is about working from these intensities of care and connection" (62).
Lena Eckert's chapter looks at Beatriz Preciado's contrasexual manifesto and Preciado’s notion of dildotopia. Eckert believes "it is possible to open up a space between psychoanalysis and an anarchist expression of agency within daily sexual life" (75). To do so, she draws on Jack Halberstam and Ira Livingston's notions of the post-human, and Donna Haraway's cyborg manifesto. "Preciado's concept of contrasexuality seeks to interrogate the production of knowledge about gender, sex and sexuality," writes Eckert, "and should be understood as a specific way of questioning the production of knowledge, desire and their interconnections" (76). Using a Foucauldian "analysis of the possibility of resisting the disciplining production of sexuality not by struggling against the prohibition but by elaborating a contra- or counter-productivity," Preciado's manifesto seeks to "reclaim or twist traditional notions [of gender and sexuality] in order to place them in new contexts" (77). Contrasexuality, then, "is a practice of deheterosexualising" (78).
It may surprise some readers to encounter the interview with Judith Butler, who has recently been associating with anarchist gatherings such as "The Anarchist Turn" conference hosted by The New School in May 2011. Butler says she understands anarchism "as a movement, one that does not always function in a 'continuous' fashion" (93). Butler's interest in anarchism is derived from two "points of reference": Anarchists Against The Wall and "the way in which queer anarchism poses an important alternative to the rising movement of gay libertarianism" (93). Butler explains her particular form of anarchism:
So anarchism in the sense that interests me has to do with contesting the 'legal' dimensions of state power, and posing disturbing challenges about state legitimacy. The point is not to achieve anarchism as a state or as a final form for the political organization of society. It is a disorganizing effect which takes power, exercises power, under conditions where state violence and legal violence are profoundly interconnected. In this sense, it always has an object, and a provisional condition, but it is not a way of life or an 'end' in itself. (94)
This last sentence and its declaration of Butler as a "provisional" anarchist may be problematic for anarchists, but her legacy speaks for itself, and her presence in anarchist studies offers the field a notable convert, if you like.
After examinations of anarchist literature, highlighted by Lewis Call's reading of "postanarchist kink" in Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, co-editor Jamie Heckert offers some "Fantasies of an anarchist sex educator." Impressive for both its philosophical range and emotional depth, Heckert's autobiographical rumination on sex education is the heart and soul of the collection. From his recollections of life in a conservative town and a father who abused alcohol, to his recounting of the ways he survived many of life's challenges by constructing what he calls "fantasies of superiority," Heckert's voice is one of compassion and wisdom. "What effects do various forms of oppression have on our capacities for sexual pleasure, for self-care, for intimacy?" he asks (161). I cannot reproduce the nuances of his answers here, but suffice to say he and the collection he co-edits make a substantial case for "becoming-anarchist" (172).
Anarchism and Sexuality blends poetry with sociological insights about anarchist organizing, memoir with revisions of anarchist history, moments of intimacy with transnational queries. Contrary to forms of classical anarchism, post-anarchist thought resists teleological posturing in favour of instantiated modes of becoming, and often prefers the creative experimentation of micropolitical practices over prescriptive macropolitical ambitions. This anthology complements nicely a host of post-anarchist texts by people such as Richard J.F. Day, Todd May, Saul Newman, and Simon Critchley. What anarchist studies needs now is an anthology dedicated to Anarchism and Race.
Rousselle, Duane and Süreyyya Evren, eds. Post-Anarchism: A Reader. London: Pluto Press, 2011. Print.