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    Review of:
    Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips, intimacies. U of Chicago Press, 2008.

  1. If these past decades of ruminating on J.L. Austin have rendered I do a paradigm of performative utterance, one of the actions with which this performative arguably coincides--beyond conjugal contract, beyond ostensible entrapment in a certain symbolic narrative--is the no less paradigmatic act of all acts, the sexual encounter. The more familiar opposite of this performative informs the no less powerful pseudo-tautology No means No. Against the rhetorical and non-rhetorical certainties of I do and No, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has more recently posited the periperformative--I want to have said it--whose frisson depends on a formulation's propinquity to some more conventionally understood locutionary scenario (e.g. having actually said it). The auxiliary of "wanting..." implies that the periperformative describes a lexical correlative to desire, as the performative describes a lexical correlative to a fantasy of the instantaneousness between desire and that desire's objects.
  2. Bersani and Phillips's recent book offers an important contribution (one might say non¬-contribution) to such performative scholarship, in its displacement of "that act" as we know it; in its trenchant argument that one of the most important things to do with words is not the instantiation of or flirtation with action, but rather the potentially indefinite deferral and reconceptualization of action, for the sake of holding a bit longer onto the uncertainties of words, the uncertainties of what is recognizable as action (in metonymic rather than metaphorical relation to language). intimacies presents theorizations of intimacy unhinged from desire as we know it, intimacies whose most (if not only) reliable component is a spatial closeness neither definitively predicated on nor leading to sexual inevitability.
  3. This sexual moratorium is all the more remarkable given intimacies's insistence on a psychoanalysis held apart from the erotic energies on which that discipline is usually imagined to rest (and act). Psychoanalysis constitutes both subject and object of these delicately transitive meditations. That is further surprising in that much of Bersani's career has so vigorously pursued the question of how to do things with sex. Or rather (in the spirit of the aforementioned sense of non-contributiveness), how not to do things with sex. The violence of sex, as Bersani has announced, is peculiarly valuable in its capacity to disable the aggressions of egotism. (I shall return to the aporetic-seeming mobius of disabling capacity.) intimacies, on the other hand, articulates modes of interrelation that might (ethically, epistemologically, psychoanalytically) be possible only in the temporary disabling of the sex machine's disabling--clearing a salubriously under-explored space between the stringencies of either having or not having an ego. This book, then, besides its more manifest contributions to queer-theoretical and psychoanalytic thinking, as importantly contributes to the more nascent field of disability theory. Or to be less hypostasizing, suggestively redescribes a psychoanalysis of disability. Or to return to the grammatical vocabulary of Austin, a psychoanalysis of subjunctivity. Subjunctivity, here, is grammatically equivalent to disability (that of which psychoanalysis might be constituted and that which it regards), but also (beyond auditory affinity) meant as evolving proxy for what otherwise, following Lacan or Foucault, has been taken as subjectivity, as subject.
  4. Powerfully contrapuntal to Bersani's earlier articulations of the knack for psychoanalytic subjects to administer and incur damage, intimacies considers the possibility of a no less psychoanalytically grounded vocabulary of safety. The terms on one level are not unfamiliar; if in works such as "Is the Rectum a Grave" or Homos aggression arises as the ineluctable raison d'être of personhood, the exploration in this work of impersonality necessarily illuminates in its veer from persons less the evacuation of impulse so much as an impulse differently attuned to innocuity. Impersonality (or in its adjectival form, the impersonal) does not oppose personality so much as rewrite personality, as though we might hold onto the former as temporary misnomer until either personality itself were more capaciously accessible or some term more precise than impersonality were available. Innocuousness (my term, not Bersani's or Phillips's) itself serves as temporary misnomer for what more exactingly might be understood as the subjunctive.
  5. That grammatical terminology could so importantly figure in the new forms of psychoanalytic engagement imagined by Bersani and Phillips attests to the extent to which intimacies extends the Lacanian aphorism of unconscious-structured-like-a-language to a differently fructive aphorism of writing-structured-like-psychoanalysis. To parse grammar is to parse persons--not because persons or subjects are textual (we've thought this for some time), but because the architectures of grammar invariably harbor and effect the pulsions of persons. Especially interesting for me is the way in which a grammatical lexicon could defer the further adventures of metaphoricity for the sake of the no less bracing lexicon of the non-transformative. The subjunctive, indeed, seems less a rhetorical shibboleth than a grammatical residuum, although with not too much imagination, the temporal openness of subjunctivity (as opposed to subjectivity) recalls the peculiar diachronics of de Manian allegory. I note the affinity between allegory and subjunctivity to reiterate the extent to which impersonality speaks only tangentially to the concerns at hand, the extent to which the subjunctive, in its gravitation toward mutability, is less a diminished mode of personality than a terrifically refractive and therefore richly complicated site of possible personality. The realm of the possible, in Bersani's readings, does not hover as ideation so much as assume the body of an actuality. What would it mean to imagine an equivalence between a person and the personification of that person's subjunctive possibilities? What would it mean to treat personification as an empirical (rather than a figurative) phenomenon?
  6. Psychoanalysis, in this light, less parses the vicissitudes of being a person than opens the possibility of imagining persons as personifications, thereby entitled to the same scrutinies solicited by the least over-embedded hermeneutic modes of recovery. intimacies responds generously to such queries to the extent that its archive consists of persons and characters whose lives (textual and otherwise) are indistinguishable from their own rhetorical resonance. The book's first chapter, for instance, cites Patrice Leconte's film, Intimate Strangers, in which a psychoanalytic relation blooms from the putative analysand's erroneously entering the office of a tax lawyer, instead of that of an analyst. What ensues feels removed from verity to the extent that the former is catalyzed and then knowingly sustained by misrecognition. In its acceptance of fiction as the grounds for therapy (if not a life), the film's explicit allusion to Henry James's novella, The Beast in the Jungle (literary product placement if ever there was one) confusingly registers as non-gratuitous, in further complicating the film's own examination of fiction's inseparability from non-fiction. One can say that the film's theory of fiction transforms the characters of James's novella from literary precedent to filmic presence in their own right, separated by a temporal rather than an ontological distinction. To ground a film predicated on What if on a novella predicated on What if subtends both works' fascination with subjectivity--the extent to which one could understand oneself, let alone another person--on the particulars of subjunctivity: a predilection for the capriciousness of knowledge, over and against any hostility harbored against psychical caprice.
  7. The heroine of James's story is aptly named May, as in it may happen, it may not, I may or may not prefer this decision. A heroine who denominates an allegory of the pure subjunctive, May also occupies the position of analyst to the story's hero, John Marcher. Marcher doesn't march so much as shuffle, and while the latter under the direction of different authorship might rule out the status of hero, the shuffle is exemplary of Jamesian heroism, which is as much to say that it serves as exemplum of a particularly psychoanalytic heroism (to be distinguished from Bersani's earlier implicitly heroic accounts of the gay bottom, etc.). Marcher, weekending at an English summerhome, is told by May that at some point many years back he had told her something that she had never forgotten. Already, here, we are in a realm beyond that of a conventional unconscious, to the extent that May--as both analyst and proxy psyche--catalyzes the story (such as it is) as instantiation of memory, rather than of forgetfulness. More precisely, May instantiates the form of memory without any necessarily substantive mnemonic content (a point left unremarked in Bersani's analysis): she tells Marcher that their first and only other meeting was in Naples, and in Marcher's desire to enact his not having forgotten, he accedes to the memory-form that May offers. At this point, however, it's not quite so simple as May's remembering versus Marcher's not: rather, May Bartram either offers up a shared experience or fabricates one. Crucially, the difference is nugatory.
  8. Marcher's desire to seem as though he has remembered what she offers trumps the inevitably dubious provision on Bartram's part of producing what might or might not count as valid memory. If the unconscious, proverbially speaking, is the shore of all-forgotten, this shore, in James's novella, non-antagonistically stands as shore of possibility. Do you believe me, or not? Did we or did we not meet in Naples? To say yes, on the basis of memory, is barely distinguishable from assenting in the name of art. Which is to say, beyond James's frame, that psychoanalysis might analogously found itself on an eloquent fiction (a fabulism at which Bersani already hints in his earlier reading of James's Maggie Verver, in A Future for Astyanax). Less that truth is out the window than that truth shares a bed with fabulisms approximate or intelligent enough to prolong the germinal conversation, Bartram and Marcher agree to live on (or off of) this shared possibility of having previously met, met previously in Naples, site of putative offering of their secret. The secret may or may not be real, more or less contingent on the reliability of the locus of sharing. Unconfirmable. We are finding, here, the sort of adventurous and aspiring psychoanalytic configuration that for many years has languished, adumbrated by the strictures and indices of a psychoanalysis that less for better than for worse has gone restrictively predictable. Bersani's freefall into James enacts a psychoanalytic freefall into ambiguity whose irretrievable bounds anticipate a new vocabulary, a new set of relations. And to the extent that being interpersonal (or in Bersani's vocabulary, impersonal) maps onto a cliff, we have no choice, in the midst of the previous landscape's aridity, to take the jump, even as the jump requires revisiting what may from other vantages have seemed conventional. Falling through the conventional differs, apparently, from tourism of the conventional. And fall we do.
  9. At the chapter's end, Bersani wonders whether the "impersonal intimacy" cultivated by Leconte's "analyst" and "analysand" (scare quotes rendering both categories less dubious than interchangeable) "might emerge from larger relational fields" (39), against the film's suggestion that this intimacy can survive only in being "sequestered" from the world as such. While there are several salient expressions within LeConte's film of the world excluded from the psychoanalytically modelled relation, the analysand's husband seems both especially to fit the bill and to complicate exclusivity's perceived bearing on the "relational field" from which it is barred. If we follow Adam Phillips's aphorism with which Bersani's chapter begins, that "psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex" (1), the sex life of the analysand and her husband ought in its (implicitly contractual or consensual) relation to sex seem least like a psychoanalytic encounter, least welcome within the psychoanalytic field even as its translation into the narrative of a sex life constitutes one of the archives on which the psychoanalytic encounter depends.
  10. Marc, the analysand's husband, would seem at first blush to consolidate--precisely in his normative capacity as husband--some conjugal intimacy at odds with Bersani's interest in impersonality. Nonetheless, Leconte's film demonstratively positions Marc's marriage as unusual, precisely on the order of the sexual which would otherwise foreclose its psychoanalytic purchase. As Bersani distills their marital predicament, "Anna's husband, Marc, has been impotent since a car accident six months earlier when Anna (at least according to her account), having gone into reverse rather than drive, backed their car into him and crushed one of his legs against the garage wall. Watching another man have sex with Anna will, he feels, reawaken his own crippled desires" (7). In an essay expressly interested in modes of contractual abstinence, Bersani's gloss of Marc's "crippled desires" feels undertheorized: all the more so transposed with James's John Marcher, whose failure and fate, by many accounts, seem as much an instance "crippled desire" as anything else. What is James's subject if not the erotic cripple, and what is James's genius if not (at least partly) the vivescent and inextricable energies of erotic and epistemological disability?[1]
  11. While "erotically crippled," as a category, skips across the surface of Bersani's essay like a stone, it likewise more resonantly sinks into the medium of the essay's meticulous exploration of impersonal intimacy. On the level of the vernacular with which the terms initially register, "erotically crippled" and "impersonally intimate" might well seem if not synonyms then kindred spirits (or disspirits). In the context of Bersani's particular project, "erotically crippled" maps (if over-broadly) the space between impersonal intimacy and the aesthetic subjectivity that is the subject of one of Bersani's coterminous essays. Erotic crippledness and aesthetic subjectivity already imply a relation based precisely on the limitations (intrinsic or extrinsic) on the radius of personal action. In both, perceived proscription of normative action precipitates, in the loss of action, a florid repertoire of displacement begotten by the contingencies of ocularity. Neither the world nor the self becomes under either optic a work of art; rather, world and self lose their customary borders under the influence of a perspicacity unable to distinguish between the perceived and the experienced. In the implosive propinquity of perception and experience, the world of a sudden seems unreliably and (as in James's An American Scene) garrulously non-objective, and the self seems unreliably and garrulously inseparable from the world which from other discursive vantages would seem less miscegenate. Along the lines of correspondence between self and world, aesthetic subjectivity, as Bersani writes, "eschews psychologically motivated communication and replaces such communication with families of form" (168). How better to describe the Jamesian displacement of psychological motivation? How better to articulate the aesthetic compensations of an erotic crippledness whose removal from the realm of the actual initiates a new realm of contemplation. Erotic crippledness, that is, occasions an epistemology rather than a phenomenology, whose erotic component depends not on the execution of erotic acts but on the pleasures gleaned from ruminating on the aestheticization of the erotic act.
  12. John Marcher, by his own account, is--until his "reunion" with May Bartram--a man of crippled desire. The "secret" he shares with May (again, a secret whose utility extends beyond necessary veracity) retroactively justifies his detachment from a life denominated as a series of inhabited forms--his modest patrimony, his library, his garden, his London acquaintances. Inhabited forms, uninhabited life: the possibility of a secret occupies the negative space of a life itself otherwise characterizable as negative space. Marcher doesn't want anything, has never, ostensibly, wanted anything, since his desiring energies have been preoccupied with a fate of which before his encounter with May he was unaware. Marcher's entreaty for May to wait with him and watch for this fate to materialize further justifies his detachment from the world, and renders fate itself an imminent picture at an exhibition. The overdetermined passivity that subsequently organizes their shared vigil (to be sure, no more overdetermined than any Jamesian passivity) is essentially aesthetic. This particular aesthetic, again, is an effect of the dubious fate that simultaneously adumbrates both future and past:

    What it had come to was that he wore a mask painted with the social simper, out of the eye-holes of which there looked eyes of an expression not in the least matching the other features. This the stupid world, even after years, had never more than half discovered. It was only May Bartram who had, and she achieved, by an art indescribable, the feat of at once--or perhaps it was only alternately--meeting the eyes from in front and mingling her own vision, as from over his shoulder, with their peep through the apertures. (James 510-11)

    Such an indescribable art--and the narrativized aesthetic which that art engenders--surely isn't equivalent to Bersani's understanding of aesthetic subjectivity, even as its intersection with the latter seems non-coincidentally persuasive. Again, as Bersani writes in the earlier essay, "aesthetic subjectivity . . . eschews psychologically motivated communication and replaces such communication with families of form" (168).
  13. And what of Marc's crippled desires? What is the relation between impotence and desire? To say that impotence physiologically hampers desire's expression too quickly, I think, reduces erotic expression to the vicissitudes of erection and ejaculation. Something similar can be gleaned from James's earlier The Princess Casamassima, whose bed-ridden (and eventually, suggestively, couch-ridden) Rose Muniment extends nothing if not a series of erotic queries and requests. The novel's internal repugnance of Rose's character subsequently confirms the extent to which impotence's own vim instigates far more discomfiture than vim or impotence. The confluence of disability and imagination monkeywrenches the novel's disposition to redescribe Rose's iconoclastic surveillance as otiose, if not pathetic--even as Rose's particular constellation of disability cannot be disentangled from her particular capacities as reader (if not author).
  14. The second chapter of intimacies presents an argument structurally analogous to that of the first--the laying out of a system of relationality to be assessed less as exemplum than as template--which corrects the reductions of ejaculation by subjunctively estranging ejaculator from ejaculation from ejaculate. What if there were models of intimacy akin to psychoanalytic conversation is followed by what if there were models of intimacy akin to barebacking. We have moved from a contractually non-sexual set of narrative transactions and confidences to a contractually non-narrative set of sexual transactions and confidences. By "contractually non-narrative" I mean an agreement between the members of a given barebacking community against normative modes of erotic and sexual plot development, characterology, telos. We have, furthermore, finagled a theoretical ornamentation that might reconfigure Rose Muniment's bedriddenness into its own heroic and less (or at least differently) repellant vantage of both erotic reward and information. Rose both is and curates the jetsam of erotic (which is to say psychical) residue. Disability is her attraction, her impediment, and her tease. Structurally speaking, Rose's position in Casamassima is of a supine psychoanalyst. Regardless of one's estimation of her interlocutionary facility, she can be said furthermore to occupy positions of analyst and analysand simultaneously--recalling the fluidity of analytic hydraulics in Bersani's reading of Intimate Strangers. Or rather, the boring familiarity of her position on the couch transforms the status and availings of the couch. Countertransference here is a place-holder for a volubility both stained and availed by a psychic estrangement severely distinct from physical unreliability.
  15. Even as Bersani's account of barebacking relies on a reading of Guillaume Dustan's novel, Dans ma chambre (or, as Bersani notes, less Dustan's novel than what Dustan himself denominates "an auto-fiction"), the novel at hand--all the more so following Bersani's reading of James's differently radical Beast in the Jungle--itself recapitulates the particular rhythms of a sexual repetitiveness that consolidates non-distinguishability over and against the distinctions that otherwise characterize if not constitute the terms of novelistic phenomenology. This is to say that one does not lose oneself in the time of Dustan's novel so much as, potentially, lose oneself in its anti-time, whether the detemporalized inventory of sex toys or the temporally amnesiac disorientiation of ejaculation. Beyond Bersani's own methodology (what if there were models of intimacy akin to but not equivalent to ____), the valuation of ejaculation, in its overfamiliarly double valence, sutures this second chapter to the first. The foreclosure of one form of ejaculation for the sake of absolute immersion in the form of another seems all the more interesting in a book such as intimacies, imagined from its first introductory pages as conversation.
  16. To momentarily pull out (forgive the pun): subjunctivity aims to redescribe Bersani's interest in subjective dilation/diffusion in grammatical/temporal/ epistemological terms. To the extent that gravitation to the figure (or negative space) of impersonality risks too quickly presuming that we eschew our adequate enough understanding of personality, subjunctivity seeks to rescript the vicissitudes of personality and impersonality along an axis sufficiently unfamiliar to either one (at least within the kingdoms of either psychoanalysis or queer theory), such that, should we decide ultimately to return to (im)personality, it will be on the basis of neither analogy (a model such as this ____) nor tautology (____ is what we desire, which is _____). Subjunctivity likewise seeks to reconcile recent misformulations of the Drive with coterminous misformulations of psychoanalytic futurity; after all, if (as Tim Dean has persuasively argued) the Drive is characterized less by its stringent commitment to corrosion than by its capricious uncommitability, how better to describe the latter capriciousness than in terms of the subjunctive mode. If this could happen, or would happen, that might or might not follow:

    after the tops' departure, another man uses a blue plastic funnel in which he has collected the semen of other men to inseminate young Jonas with the ejaculate of men he has never met. (Several bottoms in these videos, like Jonas, maintain a smile that struck me as at once idiotic, saintly, and heavily drugged.) Dean calls the funneling scene a "ritual summoning of ghosts" that engenders "a kind of impersonal identification with strangers past and present that does not depend on knowing, liking, or being like them." (48)

    Such a sex scene ratchets sexual personality to its most rigidly minimalist components. First the departure of the top, and then the departure of any penis (or penis-shaped object) whatsoever. Sex at its most austerely utilitarian, which is to say gay sex as a correlative to the impugned severity of heterosexual utilitarianism (down to the denomination, as Bersani and Dean note, of the ejaculate as the bottom's "baby"). The blue plastic funnel strikes me as phallic less in homology than in function, as though a man's gravitation to another man's penis were itself purely functional. That one possible function of the funnel--ghostly conduit--is the transmission of HIV on one level, suggests that the thrill of this particular sex practice (insofar as "sex" with a funnel forecloses sundry other more conventional thrills) is the possibility of possibility. It is one thing to be the consensual bottom for a serio-converted top: another thing to be the consensual bottom for a funnel bearing what may or may not be infectious semen.
  17. The difference instructively juxtaposes vernacular and more canonical accounts of the death drive. In the former case (willingly risking one's own serio-conversion from being barebacked by an HIV+ top), death drive seems a given, if we understand the death drive to be akin to a deathwish. The latter case, however, more astutely demonstrates the capriciousness of death-drivenness. It's less that one might be infected than that one might or might not. We have moved from "might" as noun (the might of an ego requiring being taken down a peg, the might of the death drive itself, impelling one toward the latter, the might of the top, or bottom, within the fine print of the sexual contract) to "might" as qualifying auxiliary (which might well be another way of describing the funnel).
  18. It's less that the psychical askesis described by Bersani in "Is the Rectum a Grave" might find in eventual infection a medico-physical correlative; rather, that psychical askesis (if one can reach such a thing with a funnel in one's rectum) might or might not find correlation in the sex act. One's relation to another set of bodies already having been rendered equivocal (as one is being gangbanged, how to discriminate between one set of thrusts and another), one's relation to one's own body is rendered equivocal. Equivocality, again, is not equivalent to self-abstraction, nor is equivocality equivalent to impersonality. The melodrama of Jonas is or is not decisive or somatically transformative. As with a placebo, we might or might not respond to something that is or is not eventually present in our blood stream.
  19. The thrill of the death drive, thus instantiated, is less in knowing one's relation to a funnel of semen than in not knowing. The death drive, for all its externally imposed Tarantino-esque luridness, depends on the contingencies of knowing, themselves dependent on a horizon in which contingencies might themselves come to fruition (or to recall Edelman's reading of The Birds, come to roost). The death drive, then, doesn't oppose futurity so much as depend on the deferral of futurity so as to extend as long as possible the Jamesian project of waiting. The death drive, even in its cathexis to deferring, is futurally organized. The death drive may be impulsive (the manner of drives), but maximization of its concomitant pleasures requires patience, in requiring and being ravished by the tick of minutes, hours, days, in between the fever-dream of possibility and its coming or not coming (as it were) to pass.
  20. I have in the past responded to Bersani's multitudinous accounts of self-shattering with the frustration of not understanding self-shattering's remainder, if there is one. If in fact we were to call "ego" both the source and engine of aggressivity, and if the ego were in fact self-shattering's target, then it would seem reasonable to pursue this psychoanalytically inflected regimen of self-askesis; but to what end? With what is one left, in the loss of self? More generically: in the wake of obliteration, could one still speak of oneself as a "one" at all? Would the pronomially disingenuous neutrality of the "one" likewise count less as an impersonal selfhood (one invariably speaks, on some register, on behalf of some more particular one) than the reconstitution of ego under another name? What could count if not as compensation, then as consolation? In its perhaps most luminously emphatic articulation, "Is the Rectum a Grave?," askesis feels all the more definitively teleological in the essay's actual staging (if not outright theorizing) of it, not only as crescendo of the essay's final paragraph, but as that final paragraph's final word. Where to go from askesis? How to think beyond it without finding one's self rebounded by the ego's vicious lure?
  21. The remainder, intimacies suggests, is kinder and gentler, though kindness and gentleness of different orders, insofar as they are unmoored from fictions of interrelationality on which they are ordinarily (ideologically, sentimentally) predicated. By what name can we call a self so sedulously at odds with the myriad ways its intelligibility is said to exist in the first place? If not self, if not person, if not subject, if not human, then what? Bersani's recent meditations on these very questions makes possible the conceiving of a post-asketic self as an interlineation of subjunctivities (perhaps imaginable as the radicalization of Whitmanian adhesiveness). Bersani notes that in the Foucauldian analysis of power, "intentionality is not eliminated . . . it is displaced" (64). Intentionality, that is, does not accrue to a given subject, to a locatable nexus, but goes diffuse. In the context of psychoanalysis, the displacement of intentionality occurs in the recalibration of temporality from the ego's declarative to the id's subjunctive. Subjunctivity's imposition of contingency between grammatical subject and grammatical object in fact renders diaphanous the veracity of ontological subject (and ontological object); no less so, it renders diaphanous the distinction between subject and object, to the extent that the possible fruition of one inevitably will depend on that of the other.
  22. The non-destructive, non-sexual slippage of one person into another--one subjunctivity into another, or more precisely, their one shared subjunctivity--returns us to Henry James. John Marcher, of The Beast in the Jungle, counts among literature's great presumptive narcissists. Most accounts of the novella position May Bartram as ever watchful, ever patient, for John Marcher's eventual discovery that the secret--shared but undisclosed--haunting his life is the possibility of his truly loving May for herself, rather than for her maieutically hermeneutic relation to his cultivation of self-interest. She dies before such a discovery is made. His infatuation with what she might know about him putatively forecloses the depths by which he might know her. intimacies, however, supports a different account of James's text--not by replacing the failure of amorous narrative with some non-amorous narrative, but by making explicit a vantage from which James's love story is, in fact, successful.
  23. If Marcher is a narcissist, it is Bartram who has made him so. It is Bartram who has suggested to Marcher that something, crucially, is missing from his life, and Bartram who spurs, if not Marcher's recovery of this missing thing, then his new career of rotating, ruminating, reassessing the syntactical complications of what is missing. What is missing, by conventional accounts, is Marcher's desire for Bartram (which in earlier instantiations of queer theory, would indicate Marcher's desires elsewhere). In fact, the story seems less about desiring what is lacking than about cultivating interest in what is lacking. And if what is lacking is not Marcher's desire, we may take the absence toward which Marcher and Bartram both gravitate to be the missingness of Marcher's ego. The plausibility of waiting for something to come, for Marcher, redescribes Bersani's clarification of the id as virtuality, and resituates the ego as that which might call from a horizon never entirely reached. The Beast in the Jungle, then, describes neither the desireless selfishness of Marcher's ego, nor the put-upon selflessness of Bartram's, but rather Bartram's catechism of Marcher into his own immersion in impersonality, in the stringent and irreducibly amorous (if not erotic) manner in which Bartram less partakes in or is excluded from Marcher's ego than shares with Marcher the experience of not having an ego. This is self-shattering without sex. This is askesis without self-shattering. This is gentle, patient conversation in which Bartram and Marcher evince each other's own gracefully and ethically depleted narcissicism. Such a reading of James's text might or might not have been anticipated by Bersani, in his own interlineating of Beast in the Jungle and Intimate Strangers. The "might or might not," borne out across the time and space of my own writing (it may well have been anyone else's), enacts another version of the fructive and constitutionally stalled amorousness of intimacies, a dilation that doesn't jeopardize closeness so much as consolidate it, or at least carefully and collectively watch it, for signs of waking.
  24. Department of English
    Queen's University

    Talk Back




    1. That some persons collectively choose not to have sex differs from persons who simply (or at least nonexplicitly, noncontractually) don't have sex, which differs from persons who don't have sex because one of the relation's participants (but not both) is unable to have sex, which in turn differs from persons who don't have sex because one of the relation's participants is perhaps able, but for all sorts of reasons, does not want to have sex. Succinctly, there are as many ways to not have sex as there are to have it.

    Works Cited

    James, Henry. "The Beast in the Jungle." Complete Stories, 1898-1910. New York: The Library of America, 1996. 496-541.

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