(Queer) Desire

Marcus Fassl & Eleonora Ciani

For as surely as social factors play a role in scientific knowledge construction (...), there is a sense in which "the world kicks back." (Barad, 2007, p. 214-215)

Defining desire generally remains quite a cumbersome task due to the multiplicity and versatility of its conceptual nuances. Sexual desire inevitably plays a significant role, especially for people who identify as queer or non- (hetero) normative, where the desiring of, or for, individuals can be ascribed as marginalized or excluded from a "normal majority" by the majority itself. People can barely avoid thinking of the way they love and how they experience their sexuality, when their position within society is defined (not only conceptually) by their "sexual orientation".

Although Queer Theory has debunked many of the fundamental assumptions underlying continuities between categories such as sex, gender, sexual practice, and sexual desire as discursive-linguistic constructs (Butler, 1990), the material dimension of desire has yet to be adequately explored. If the body is only ever conceived as a product of discourse, it follows that desire should also be considered only as a passive material entity. But, this merely discursive-linguistic interpretation of desire excludes the idea of pre-existing pre-discursive "facticities" (Haraway, 1995; Braidotti, 1994, p. 186) through which individuals experience and perceive their desire as non- (hetero) normative or queer within the heteronormative matrix. As far as corporeality and materiality are concerned, the termini facticity or "phenomena" (Barad, 2007, p. 118-121) critically address the positivist notion of fact.

A critical yet affirmative engagement with feminist "de / constructionism" (Lykke, 2013, p. 37), which also includes Butler's performative-linguistic approach, can widen perceptions of desire, particularly through a queer-feminist reading of new materialisms. Investigating desire as a material-discursive phenomenon resulting from intra-actions (Barad, 2007) can offer valuable insights into what desire might look like, and how and where it might originate and occur. At the same time, a fluid understanding of desire as an ongoing process highlights its mutability. Questioning dominant boundaries in defining desire makes it possible to consider intimacy and "trans-corporeality" (Alaimo, 2010) outside the mere linguistical-cultural or anatomical-material dichotomies. According to Alaimo, the term trans-corporeality "suggests that the humans are not only interconnected with each other but with the material flows of substances and places" (Alaimo, 2010, p. 23-24). Furthermore, feminist new materialisms explore the possibility to critically research landscapes of desire without falling back on heteronormative codes. How can thinking, speaking and writing about desire be redesigned in a way that it is not already restricted by categories, but rather undermines both mechanisms of social exclusion and essentializations?

Starting from a perception of the "body as an apparatus of bodily production" (Lykke, 2010, p. 117; Haraway, 1991, p. 197-199; Barad, 2007; King, 1991), desire can be understood as an agential component of this productive mechanism, being generated by, as well as generating performative and material (trans)corporeality. This sense of desire within the apparatus is aimed, inter alia, at subverting dominant onto-epistemological and ethico-political realms. Furthermore, it links and gives rise to the notion of a technobody (Lykke, 2010, p. 117) which is constantly redesigned by techno-scientific and non-human intra-actions. Hence technologies reconfigure intimacy and contribute to shaping desire scenarios.

In some cases, critical approaches explicitly addressing discriminating patterns concerning sexuality and gender take into consideration the genealogy of desire, but often leave out questions about the material agency of desire. Barad argues that "[m]atter itself is not a substrate or a medium for the flow of desire. Materiality itself is always already a desiring dynamism (…)" (Dolphijn and van der Tuin, 2012, p. 59). In this sense, we may ask: how is desire, love and sexuality intra-connected as material-discursive phenomena, in for example online dating apps enabling cyber-intimacy in the contemporary digital era, or emotional impulses and urges which come into being that are not always predictable or logical?

Hegemonic, binary conceptions of sex and gender influence how we experience desire. But how then can queer desire come into existence despite the normative heterosexualized reproduction system? And can individuals distinctively perceive their own sexual identity at all?

Barad describes matter as something that "[…] feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers" (Ibid.). Likewise, we argue that desiring matter acts as a "witty agent" (Haraway, 1991, p. 199) which influences individuals beyond their control. In this light, desire might "kick back" (Barad, 1998, p.116) and resist categorizations or restricting, essentializing limits.

KEYWORDS: desire, body, corporeality, transcorporeality, queer, feminism, love, sex, sexuality, gender, intra-action.
GENEALOGIES: material feminisms, queer theory, posthuman feminist theory, feminist de/constructionism, feminist and queer engagements with psychoanalysis.
ANTONYMS: dichotomies, heteronormativity, essentializations, cis-gendered. HYPERNYMS: body, materiality, sexuality, sexual identity/sexual orientation.
HYPONYMS: queer, gendered, human-non-human. SYNONYMS: agency, entanglement, apparatus.

Alaimo, Stacy (2010) The naked word: The trans-corporeal ethics of the protesting body. Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 20:1, 15-36.
Barad, Karen (1998) Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality. differences. A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 10 (2). 87-128.
Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.
Braidotti, Rosi (1994): _Nomadic Subjects. Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. _New York: Columbia.
Butler, Judith (1991) Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London and New York: Routledge.
Dolphijn, R. and Tuin, I. van der (2012) New materialism: interviews & cartographies. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press (New Metaphysics).
King, Katie (1991) "Bibliography and a Feminist Apparatus of Literary Production." TEXT 5: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarship: 91-103.
Haraway, Donna (1991) Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective, in: Simians, Cyborgs and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, pp. 183 – 20. London: Free AssociationBooks.
Lykke, Nina (2010) Feminist Studies: A Guide to Intersectional Theory, Methodology and Writing. New York: Routledge.

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who

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Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more

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New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more

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New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more

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New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more


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COST Action IS1307

New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’

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