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  1. While optimism has made cameos in the pages of queer theory, "queer" is not itself readily imaginable as one of optimism's epithets. More familiar, perhaps, is Lauren Berlant's and Michael Warner's invocation of "hegemonic optimism" in their 1998 essay, "Sex in Public" (549). Berlant raises the spectre of "dubious optimism" in her 2001 essay, "The Subject of True Feeling: Pain, Privacy, and Politics" (129). The epithets "dubious" and "hegemonic" construe optimism as a tease, a seduction that queer theory might expose--and subsequently if not simultaneously jettison altogether--as that which cozens liberals (queer and non-queer) into complacency, the extensiveness and lure of which would all the more require optimism's debunking.

  2. In the vernacular, optimism is often imagined epithetically as "premature": as though if the optimist at hand knew all that she could eventually know, she would retract her optimism altogether. Prematurity would qualify optimism as a temporary state of insufficient information. The phrase "woefully optimistic," on the other hand, implies that the knowledge that would warrant optimism's retraction might never arrive. As an epithet, "woefully" (like "hegemonic," "dubious," or "premature") subjects optimism to an outside judgment, the likes of which the optimist in question is presumed unable to make. It is difficult to imagine an optimist, as conventionally understood, denominating her own optimism as woeful or premature. Indeed, the moment at which a person is able to characterize her optimism as such might well mark the moment at which being optimistic cedes, as a position, if not to being pessimistic, then to something like being realistic. (I will return to the idea that being pessimistic potentially is potentially equivalent to being realistic.) The epithets delineated, that is, do not describe optimism so much as impose a diagnosis external to it that would make further characterizations of optimism (and more to the point, attachments to optimism) unnecessary.

  3. For all the lexical and semantic differences between the above epithets ("hegemonic," for instance, hardly seems synonymous with "premature"), the optimism to which these epithets attach is fundamentally the same. This optimism can describe the utopic energy that motivates counterpublics (along the lines drawn by Michael Warner); or more generally, the liberal nation-state; or cynically, the inane recalcitrances of the Bush administration; or literarily, the pluck of Pollyanna or Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick. I do not seek a new relation (oppositional, proponential) to this optimism. Rather, my essay calls for a revaluation of optimism itself. The particular élan that underwrites utopic optimisms can be traced to Leibniz, and I shall turn later in the essay to the ways Leibnizian optimism crucially differs from that of my own project. Succinctly: utopic optimism--and following, the optimism that crops up both in queer theory and critical theory more generally--is attached, temporally, to a future. Not unrelated to its futural (promissory, parousiac) stakes is its allergic relation to knowledge. For Leibniz, as we shall see, optimism's attachment to faith would render knowledge superfluous. In current critical thought, optimism's very sanguinity implies an epistemological deficit. This ostensibly definitional antagonistic relation to knowledge has had the perhaps unsurprising effect of taking optimism out of critical circulation. Queer optimism, oppositely, is not promissory. It doesn't ask that some future time make good on its own hopes. Rather, queer optimism asks that optimism, embedded in its own immanent present, be interesting. Queer optimism's interest--its capacity to be interesting, to hold our attention--depends on its emphatic responsiveness to and solicitation of rigorous thinking.

  4. Queer optimism, immanently rather than futurally oriented, does not entail a predisposition in the way that conventional optimism entails predisposition. More simply, it presents a critical field and asks that this field be taken seriously. If my investigation, then, extends to the likes of happiness, this is not because if one were more queerly optimistic, one would feel happier. Rather, queer optimism can be considered as a form of meta-optimism: it wants to think about feeling good, to make disparate aspects of feeling good thinkable.

  5. Queer optimism, then, seeks to take positive affects as serious and interesting sites of critical investigation. Likewise, queer optimism insists on thinking about personhood (as opposed to subjectivity) in terms of a durability not immediately or proleptically subject to structuralist or post-structuralist mistrust. Queer optimism concerns persons, rather than subjects or even selves. The latter categories inhabit (and unknowingly curate) particular discursive labyrinths (Cartesian, Foucaultian, Althusserian, Hegelian, Lacanian, etc.) of discipline, desire, and knowledge to which examinations of personhood at best only obliquely speak. My theoretical preference for persons over subjects asks how personhood variously can be characterized, removed from the columbarium of subjectivity.

  6. This critical project is born of the sense that queer theory, for all its contributions to our thinking about affect, has had far more to say about negative affects than positive ones. Furthermore, that in its attachment to not taking persons as such for granted, queer theory's suspicious relation to persons has itself become suspiciously routinized, if not taken for granted in its own right. Risking charges of producing but another reductive binary, I shall for present, heuristic purposes be calling this tropaic gravitation toward negative affect and depersonation queer pessimism. It's worth noting that queer pessimism has as little truck with conventional pessimism as queer optimism trucks with optimism, per se. Still, queer theory's habitation of this pessimistic field is cause for real concern. Melancholy, self-shattering, the death drive, shame: these, within queer theory, are categories to conjure with. These terms and the scholarship energized by them do not in and of themselves comprise queer theory. To argue that they do caricatures both queer theory and the theorists who have put these terms on the map. However, these terms have dominated queer-theoretical discourse, and they have often seemed immune to queer theory's own perspicacities.
  7. My essay conducts a purposive survey of the work of Judith Butler, Leo Bersani, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Lee Edelman. Without taking as definitive either this survey or my analysis of any given author, I wish these analyses to articulate a certain shape, to describe a current of enchantment that has privileged "suffering" and "dereliction" (to invoke two of Badiou's terms) as sites both of ethics and understanding. Queer theory's analyses of negative affect and ontological instability have been and continue to be both generous and generative. My wish is to clear a space for the possible generosities and generativities of queer optimism's corresponding milieu. As space-clearing, this essay does not deliver the queer-optimistic "goods," per se: positing a compact or even synecdochal account of queer optimism is at cross purposes with my reluctance to reduce queer optimism's field before expanding it. I offer "Queer Optimism," here, in the spirit of exordium and invitation.

  8. Of Sadness & Certainty

  9. The year I told my parents I was gay was also the year of my first sustained encounter with depression. At its bleakest, sadness and self-loathing felt like the sole remainders of a self which in all other aspects seemed untrustable and ersatz. Past happinesses seemed the feat of terrific mountebanking, moored either to monstrous ulterior motives or to machinically vacant automaticity. Delight was a little boat on a sad sea; it was slight and, simultaneously, perversely too heavy to be buoyant, too heavy because so quickly waterlogged.[1]

  10. What Elaine Scarry observed of physical suffering seemed as true of psychological suffering, that "for the person in pain, so incontestably, and unnegotiably present is it that 'having pain' may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it is to 'have certainty'" (4). Incontestable and unnegotiable, sadness seemed certain, tenaciously and vibrantly so. If sadness was the only thing I could feel utterly certain about, such an observation dovetailed with the inkling that certainty was itself a kind of sadness. Judith Butler's accounts of melancholy seemed to confirm this latter possibility with an eloquence I had neither will nor skill to contest. "I want to suggest," Butler writes, "that rigid forms of gender and sexual identification, whether homosexual or heterosexual, appear to spawn forms of melancholy" (Psychic Life 144). Not just particularly gendered or sexual identities, but "coherent identity position[s]" in general, are suspect within Butler's account (149). "Perhaps," Butler continues, "only by risking the incoherence of identity is connection possible" (149).[2]

  11. It seemed, in my first engagements with Butler's texts, that I had two options. I could risk my own incoherence (which is as much to say, accept the originality of that incoherence), or can attach to coherence; as described by Butler, however, the latter can never really be an option. How can a nascent queer theorist indebted to and inspired by Butler choose the latter, when coherence was constitutively equivalent to reification, naturalization, and congealment? "Further," Butler writes, "this [masculine or feminine] identity is constructed and maintained by the consistent application of this taboo [against homosexuality], not only in the stylization of the body in compliance with discrete categories of sex, but in the production and 'disposition' of sexual desire" (Gender Trouble 81). To attach to coherence would be to deny this series of "consistent applications," to confuse repetition (amounting to congealment [81] or sedimentation [178]) with a "false foundationalism, the results of affectivity being formed or 'fixed' through the effects of the prohibition [against homosexuality]" (81).[3] The globby abjection of a term like "congealment" should not, I think, go without saying. As though it weren't bad enough that stability could come only on the heels of melancholy, this stability becomes, within Butler's rhetoric, not just melancholic but disgusting, a sort of ontological aspic.

  12. My particular sadnesses, then, were all the more humiliating and confusing in so closely reflecting the critical writings to which I, as an initiate into queer theory, was attached. My experience of feeling ersatz, however, had none of the thrill of reading about being ersatz; likewise (to look ahead to another queer paradigm), my experience of feeling shattered lacked all the thrill of reading about being shattered. Stronger than the excitement of radical new possibilities of self-losing, of the vigorous embrace of factitiousness, was the grief of self-loss and the consuming repellence of feeling fictive. It seemed humiliating to approximate, even literalize, the conditions that in theory seemed so important, even exhilarating; but only to approximate them, to come up short. What I wanted for myself was the opposite of what I found intellectually most interesting and vital.

  13. What I noticed only later, returning to Butler's texts, was the puzzling disjunction between the permanence ascribed to identities and the permanence ascribed to melancholy itself. Whereas identities appeared permanent (or became permanent through a process unsavory as congealment), melancholy simply was permanent. "This [melancholy] identification is not simply momentary or occasional, but becomes a new structure of identity" (Gender Trouble 74). Whereas the identity borne of melancholy required constant, quotidian maintenance, melancholy itself was described as a "permanent internalization" (74). Furthermore, Butler's inclination to describe melancholy's technique as "magical" rendered melancholy unimpeachable (73). Melancholy wasn't like a magic trick, in the manner of debunkable smoke and mirrors; it was simply magic, a process beyond explanation, not entailing a suspension of disbelief, but seducing one into belief. Its effects were proof of its reality, and beyond analysis: unlike the identities that both "spawn[ed]" (Psychic Life 144) and were spawned by melancholy,[4] whose congealed repetitions and machinic habits were nothing, under Butler's perspicacious eye, if not susceptible to challenge and revision. Melancholy, that is, produced what would (erroneously) be experienced as coherent or certain identity, even as this false coherence was founded on the certain permanence of a melancholy whose reality was beyond reproach.

  14. For Leo Bersani, stable identities aren't melancholic, but rather the source of interpsychical aggression. In one of his most recent books, Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity, Bersani reprises his conception of persons as fundamentally destructive, and sexuality as that which underwrites both auto- and allo-destructiveness. Bersani and co-author Ulysse Dutoit write:

  15. If we dismiss--as it seems to us we should--the more or less optimistic psychoanalytic theories between Freud and Lacan, theories that would make us more or less happy by way of such things as adaptation to the real and genital normalcy, then we may judge the great achievement of psychoanalysis to be its attempt to account for our inability to love others, and ourselves. The promises of adaptive balance and sexual maturity undoubtedly explain the phenomenal appeal of psychoanalysis as therapy, but its greatness may lie in its insistence on an intractable human destructiveness--a destructiveness resistant to any therapeutic endeavours whatsoever. This has little to do with sex, and we can distinguish between the practices normally identified as sex and a permanent, irreducibly destructive disposition which the great figures of psychoanalytic theory--especially Freud, Klein, Laplanche and Lacan--more or less explicitly define as sexuality. (124-25)[5]

  16. Bersani's and Dutoit's qualification of optimism and happiness as "more or less" connotes less optimism's insidiousness--an allegation more readily detectable in Berlant's and Warner's affixing of "optimism" and "hegemonic"--than its inconsequentiality. Whether insidious or inconsequential, the result, however, is the same; optimism, for Bersani and Dutoit, calls not for further inquiry, but for "dismiss[al]." The grounds for dismissal, here, lie in the teleological alignment of those "more or less optimistic psychoanalytic theories'" with "real and genital normalcy." In its imbricating of "real and genital normalcy" with the implicit factitiousness of both "real" and "normalcy" (and, in turn, its suggestion of heterosexuality's conscription of this factitiousness as its own perseveratingly veracious prerogative), Bersani's etiolated sketch of psychoanalysis resembles Berlant's own recent analysis of optimism's inextricability from the coercions of love.[6] But even if queer theory positions normativity as heterosexual fantasy (and vice versa), why does it follow that heterosexuality necessarily monopolizes optimism? Why couldn't optimism alternately navigate the non-normative? Or be conceived as other than universalized and universalizing? The dismissible inconsequentiality of the above passage's optimism contrasts starkly with the passage's subsequent account of "destructive disposition" as "permanent," and "irreducibly so," specifications rhetorically similar to Butler's depictions of melancholy. Queer optimism seeks to turn these tables--to consider the possible permanences of optimism, the possible fictions of aggression.

  17. Bersani omits British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott from his catalogue of "great figures of psychoanalytic theory," perhaps, in part, because Winnicott's theorizations of aggression challenge the intrinsically negative, malfeasant valence of Bersani's primordial destructiveness. Contrary to Bersani's invocation of "human destructiveness" as commensurate with (if not underwriting) "our inability to love others," Winnicott argues provocatively and sensitively that destructiveness is itself a condition for love. Unlike Bersani's consideration of love's destructive tendencies,[7] Winnicott's insights are not reducible to theorizations of masochism insistent upon desire's inextricability from pain. Rather, Winnicott's insights pertain to a sphere more expansive than that in which desire and masochism so quickly collide. Winnicott writes thus, in his crucial essay, "The Use of an Object and Relating Through Identifications":

    This change (from relating to usage) means that the subject destroys the object. From here it could be argued by an armchair philosopher that there is therefore no such thing in practice as the use of an object: if the object is external, then the object is destroyed by the subject. Should the philosopher come out of his chair and sit on the floor with his patient, however, he will find that there is an intermediate position. In other words, he will find that after "subject relates to object" comes "subject destroys object" (as it becomes external); and then may come "object survives destruction by the subject." But there may or may not be survival. A new feature thus arrives in the theory of object-relating. The subject says to the object: "I destroyed you," and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: "Hullo object!" "I destroyed you." "I love you." "You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you." "While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy." Here fantasy begins for the individual. The subject can now use the object that has survived. It is important to note that it is not only that the subject destroys the object because the object is placed outside the area of omnipotent control. It is equally significant to state this the other way round and to say that it is the destruction of the object that places the object outside the area of the subject's omnipotent control. In these ways the object develops its own autonomy and life, and (if it survives) contributes-in to the subject, according to its own properties. (89-90)

    Winnicott's conception of destructiveness amounts to a theory of love (as opposed to desire) to the extent that the object survives the destructiveness dealt to it. This is to mark within Winnicott's work an interest in and valuation of durability that is not inapposite to my own. Put more directly, an object's durability as such signals that it is an object, and this durability is not recognizable to the Winnicottian subject without the fantasy of destroying it. The destructiveness that an object can withstand, for Winnicott, demonstrates not just the object's own integrity (an integrity from which the subject might subsequently learn), but its own capacity for loving in spite of feeling damaged or even repelled by the subject. This form of durability (opposite Butler's flinching congealment) offers an important psychoanalytic context in which to imagine my own subsequent readings. Winnicott's work seems indispensable both to future queer engagements with psychoanalysis, and not unrelatedly to particularly psychoanalytically-conceived modes of optimistic thinking and practice.
  18. Contrary to Winnicottian destructiveness, Bersanian self-shattering amounts to a temporary figurative suicide, a moment's disorganization within a field of otherwise intense regulation; or oppositely, an internalization of the destructive, shattering energies otherwise directed outward. Whereas Butler deploys Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" in the service of producing a genealogy of subjects, Bersani illuminates resistances and impasses internal to Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle that collectively suggest a violence far more capacious than the one Freud's text manifestly delineates. "What has been repressed from the speculative second half of Freud's text," Bersani writes, "is sexuality as productive masochism. The possibility of exploiting the shattering effects of sexuality in order to maintain the tensions of an eroticized, de-narrativized, and mobile consciousness has been neglected, or refused, in favor of a view of pleasure as nothing more than the reduction of all tension and the evacuation of all excitement" (Freudian Body 63-64). In "Is the Rectum a Grave?" Bersani more explicitly narrativizes self-shattering and the conditions from which its need arises:

    The self which the sexual shatters provides the basis on which sexuality is associated with power. It is possible to think of the sexual as, precisely, moving between a hyperbolic sense of self and a loss of all consciousness of self. But sex as self-hyperbole is perhaps a repression of sex as self-abolition. It inaccurately replicates self-shattering as self-swelling, as psychic tumescence. If, as these words suggest, men are especially apt to "choose" this version of sexual pleasure, because their sexual equipment appears to invite by analogy, or at least to facilitate, the phallicizing of the ego, neither sex has exclusive rights to the practice of sex as self-hyperbole. For it is perhaps primarily the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power. As soon as persons are posited, the war begins. It is the self that swells with excitement at the idea of being on top, the self that makes of the inevitable play of thrusts and relinquishments in sex an argument for the natural authority of one sex over the other. (218)

    Sex, for Bersani, becomes a spectacular, radical literalization of deconstruction. The "shattering" of sex undoes persons the way queer theory (as paradigmatically practiced by Butler) undoes persons.
  19. I might say here that this essay has less to do theoretically with my own engagements with Freudian or Lacanian psychoanalysis than it does with queer theory's mobilizations of particular psychoanalytic topoi. More to the point, I am concerned with the particular strains of queer theory that such mobilizations both enable and preempt. For all my interest in Freud, my attention is not primarily to his texts, but to particular receptions of him within queer theory. Freud's own body of work indubitably remains an important site from which to challenge ostensibly uniforming, simplifying distillations of psychoanalysis. As just one instance of Freud's usefulness in the interrogation of his reception, one might consider Butler's dependence on a particular passage from The Ego and the Id. Freud observes thus:

    When it happens that a person has to give up a sexual object, there quite often ensues an alteration of his ego which can only be described as a setting up of the object inside the ego, as it occurs in melancholia. (29)

    Butler's reading of this passage takes for granted that a process structurally analogous to that of melancholic incorporation ("as it occurs in melancholia") is itself equivalent to melancholia:

    If we accept the notion that heterosexuality naturalized itself by insisting on the radical otherness of homosexuality, then heterosexual identity is purchased through a melancholic incorporation of the love that it disavows: the man who insists upon the coherence of his heterosexuality will claim that he never loved another man, and hence never lost another man. That love, that attachment, becomes subject to a double disavowal, a never having loved, a never having lost . . . . What ensues is a culture of gender melancholy in which masculinity and femininity emerge as the traces of an ungrieved and ungrievable love. (Psychic Life 139-40)

    My interest, contra Butler's, lies in the extent to which Freud's account does not literally produce equivalence so much as insist upon similarity. In following a structural pattern that is like melancholia, the process described seems most readily not to be melancholic; analogy marks a structural similarity but explicitly not an affective one. Thus, such a passage from Freud's writings might not singularly corroborate Butler's argument that sexual loss effects gender melancholy, but also pressure Freud's and Butler's readers to query precisely the differences between the loss of a sexual object and the losses particular to melancholy as such.
  20. There is much in Bersani and Butler to disagree with. Nonetheless, within queer theory (as it has been and is currently being practiced), no one with the exception of Sedgwick has been more influential. The list of essays and books variously indebted to the insights of Butler and Bersani is long, and ever lengthening. The number of times Butler and Bersani are noted in the index of Tim Dean's and Christopher Lane's Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis (well over fifty instances) far exceeds references to such seminal psychoanalysts as Sándor Ferenczi (four cites) or Winnicott (zero). While one cannot equate influence with this kind of indexical showing, one nonetheless can get a sense of the extent to which Butler and Bersani have become part of a canon, contested as the category of canonicity (in queer theory or in psychoanalysis) might be.[8]

  21. Even as Butler and Bersani have positioned their work in the context of AIDS, hate-crimes, and other lived domains of crisis,[9] their work, with telling insistence, often depends on abstraction, on metaphor. One doesn't really shatter when one is fucked, despite Bersani's accounts of it as such; millions of persons who imagine their subjectivity as fairly cohesive and non-fictive do not necessarily feel melancholy, even if Butler would claim melancholy as the inevitable cost of that cohesiveness. If these models of shattering and gender-melancholy seem less than practicable in lived experience, they've become ubiquitous in the no less lived biosphere of the academy.

  22. The alchemy of such figurations demarcates an ever-fluctuating space between (theoretical) scrutiny and (ontological) practice. How to get from one domain to another, without the complex alchemy of figurativity? How might one articulate what happens within the limbo of the figurative? I see figuration as syncope between theoretical and practical domains, between literary and lived investments. Deleuze, in Essays Critical and Clinical, writes that "health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people who are missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people" (4). What if the people who were missing, the people this essay sought to invent, were missing optimists? The non-Bush optimists, the queer optimists, with a voice differing from both queer theory and optimism, as usually understood?

  23. If Deleuze's turn to literature's "fabulating function" does not exactly illuminate fabulation's particular mechanisms, it nonetheless reminds us that fabulation is a function (of something, on something), whose structures and ends can and ought prompt explication in ways that figuration, in its slippery whisper of self-evidence, too often theoretically eludes. At the same time, it strikes me that the move to figuration within theoretical discourse often is a premature one. The transformation of non-figurative phenomena into figurative phenomena as often is a consequence of saturating cathexes that fetishize (and fetishistically treat) phenomena without acknowledgment of either their cathectic pulsions or the fetishization in which they participate.

  24. Along these lines, I again stress the salutary utility of Winnicott, specifically Winnicott's non-ironic denomination of adolescent depression as "doldrums." Adumbrated by the gravities of melancholy, doldrums might seem comparably slight. Winnicott, however, does not take his nominally non-enthralled category lightly. Doldrums, clinically, are experienced as miserable, and theoretically, are something that psychoanalysis can engage seriously (and compassionately), from which psychoanalysis can learn. For the purposes of queer optimism, I value the extent to which doldrums resist melancholy's ostensible capacity to nominally colonize all experiences similar to it. The more there are doldrums, the less of a stronghold melancholy maintains over a field more various and differentiated than one term ever could describe. This Winnicottian de-fetishization of terms seems all the more salient an intellectual (and therapeutic) model in the context of David Eng's and David Kazanjian's edited volume, Loss (2003), in which accounts of intense resilience and creativity seem ultimately mischaracterized by their no less intense absorption into the category of melancholia, which, write Eng and Kazanjian, "at the turn of the century has emerged as a crucial touchstone for social and subjective formulations" (23).

  25. There seems in Eng's and Kazanjian's collection a conspicuous disparity between innovative scholarship and regression to nominal "touchstones," as though after Freud's dichotomizing of mourning and melancholia, a scholar's choice were de facto only between these two categories. Such a disparity likewise is manifest in Ann Cvetkovich's coterminous An Archive of Feelings. "What's required," Cvetkovich writes, "is a sex positivity that can embrace negativity, including trauma. Allowing a place for trauma within sexuality is consistent with efforts to keep sexuality queer, to maintain a space for shame and perversion within public discourse rather than purging them of their messiness in order to make them acceptable" (63). Cvetkovich wants a trauma that could describe nearly any lesbian experience (53-55), insisting on the de-pathologization of trauma (44-46), but simultaneously wants perversities to sustain their shocking edge. The result is an astute study that seems less energized by its recurrent invoking of trauma, than hampered by a misnomer for a range of experiences better left articulated in their specificity, rather than condensed to a single traumatic term. Winnicott speaks of a similar condensation in Freud's original delineation of the death drive:

    when we look anew at the roots of aggression there are two concepts in particular, each of which must be thrown away deliberately, so that we may see whether . . . we are better off without them. One is Freud's concept of a death instinct, a by-product of his speculations in which he seemed to be achieving a theoretical simplification that might be compared to the gradual elimination of detail in the technique of a sculptor like Michelangelo. The other is Melanie Klein's setting up of envy in the prominent place that she gave it at Geneva in 1955. ("Roots" 458-59)

    Winnicott's polemic distinguishes helpfully between the existence of a range of energies or pulsions and the denomination of that range as one "concept." My reservation regarding works such as Cvetkovich's has less to do with any given set of "speculations," which (as Winnicott suggests) are often innovative and adroit, than with their resigned gravitation to a single concept, which can't possibly do speculations as such justice. The more one can transform speculations into concepts, the more likely one is to turn observations into figurations. Easy enough, as Eng and Kazanjian demonstrate, to wax lyrical on melancholy.[10] Harder to wax lyrical about "doldrums," and thus "doldrums," for all its banality, retains a useful nonfigurative (or at least differently figurative) specificity.
  26. Loving Shame

    Faithful, was all that I could boast
    But Constancy became
    To her, by her innominate
    A something like a shame
    --Emily Dickinson, Franklin 1716

  27. Melancholy and aggression, this essay has argued, are undertheorized terms in queer theory that have nonetheless galvanized a vital and proliferative body of work. Vital and proliferative, but also foreclosing, in its demarcation of an intellectual field that reinforces the intellectual non-viability of a different terrain, which I am calling the field of queer optimism. This section of the essay engages with shame (as opposed to melancholy, aggression, or self-shattering); it departs from the psychoanalytic, partly to attest that queer pessimism isn't more simply a psychoanalytic pessimism. I'm likewise moved to write about queer theorizations of shame because much of this work (itself intentionally seeking to circumnavigate a psychoanalytic argot) in fact seems optimistically motivated. This is not to say that much of queer theory isn't likewise optimistically motivated: much of Butler's work seems thus energized, even as its optimistic premise nevertheless deploys a comparatively less optimistic-seeming lexicon of melancholy.

  28. I mean, here, to distinguish between the energy that motivates a theoretical enterprise and the subject of that enterprise. Queer optimism (pace inevitable charges of sloppiness by hard-core nominalists) speaks less to what motivates a project than to a project's content. Optimistic motivations (of Butler, or even Bersani, and many other theorists[11) could correspond to Gramsci's "optimism of the will," while queer optimism would not. This is the case because Gramsci's optimism does not seem radically different from optimism as usually conceived, whereas queer optimism, prima facie, seeks to complicate how optimism is conceived. This is not to say that I do not feel solidarity with recent interventions in pessimistic methodology (for instance, challenges to what Paul Ricoeur first termed a hermeneutics of suspicion).[12] Queer optimism, however, calls for a different sort of intervention, an intervention on the level of content rather than of practice. On the level of practice, then, I'm sympathetic toward Butler's recent invoking of hope. "I hope to show," Butler writes in Giving an Account of Oneself, "that morality is neither a symptom of its social conditions nor a site of transcendence of them, but rather is essential to the determination of agency and the possibility of hope" (21). The formulation, "possibility of hope," confirms what in a subsequent sentence Butler makes clear: that hope inhabits a horizon, emergent "at the limits of our schemes of intelligibility" (21). This hope, in content if not necessarily in practice, differs from queer optimism in that hope held-as-promissory (or "possibility"), or consigned to intelligibility's limits, is only fleetingly intelligible--which is to say, estranged from immanent, fastidious articulation.

  29. Hope is promissory, hope is a horizon. Shame, on the other hand, occurs in a lavish present tense. This, again, helps clarify my turn to shame. What if the field of queer optimism could be situated as firmly in the present tense as shame? Even as work on shame may arise out of generosity and hopefulness, this work, within queer theory and affect theory, provides shame all the more eloquent and vibrant a vocabulary, leaving positive affect itself lexically impoverished. That positive affect would seem naturally less available to thinking (or that hope definitionally would exist futurally, and shame immanently) is the sort of temporal donnée against which this essay speaks.

  30. I have here distinguished between motivation and content because Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's theorizations of shame are indubitably, magnanimously optimistic and good-intentioned. Furthermore, the bon esprit that suffuse Sedgwick's work--the inseparability, in her writing, of delight and perspicacity--have inspired my own thinking in ways for which I hardly can account. If ignorance attaches to bliss,[13] Sedgwick's trenchant complicating of ignorance (Epistemology 5) has made my chiasmatic attempt to complicate bliss possible. More simply, I imagine my project as a furthering of Sedgwick's account of tantalizingly immanent joy, in Proust:

    In Freud, then, there would be no room--except as an example of self-delusion--for the Proustian epistemology whereby the narrator of A la recherche;, who feels in the last volume "jostling each other within me a whole host of truths concerning human passions and character and conduct," recognizes them as truths insofar as "the perception of [them] caused me joy." In the paranoid Freudian epistemology, it is implausible enough to suppose that truth could be even an accidental occasion of joy; inconceivable to imagine joy as a guarantor of truth. Indeed, from any point of view it is circular, or something, to suppose that one's pleasure at knowing something could be taken as evidence of the truth of the knowledge. ("Paranoid Reading" 137-38)

    I'm riveted by the idea that joy could be a guarantor of truth--differently put, that joy could be persuasive. While qualifying the above observations with a caveat against tautology, Sedgwick's later analyses of shame are marvelous in part for their escape of tautology, such that shame would yield knowledges not at all equivalent to the sense of shame with which one starts. This new body of knowledge, all the same, defers to a nominal circularity--what no longer resembles shame, in Sedgwick's writing, still is called shame. Why would this necessarily be the case? Given shame's (or, for that matter, melancholy's) lability within queer theory, why might queer optimism's subjects not be analogously labile?
  31. In "Shame, Theatricality, and Queer Performativity," Sedgwick charts the exuberant, ambivalent affects of Henry James as he returns (in writing the prefaces for the New York Edition) to his own earlier novels and characters and to his own earlier authorial selves. In these prefaces (as in nearly everything he writes), James's affective range is expansive, fastidious and ravishing, but the affect toward which Sedgwick turns (indeed, the affect, for Sedgwick, that comes to organize, beget and describe most other affects) is shame:

    The speaking self of the prefaces does not attempt to merge with the potentially shaming or shamed figurations of its younger self, younger fictions, younger heroes; its attempt is to love them. That love is shown to occur both in spite of shame and, more remarkably, through it. (40)

    The love of shame is the love between a "younger self" and the self that is currently writing; in the distance between selves, the younger self might arguably be experienced not only as having written those "younger fictions," but as a "younger fiction" in its own right. The love of shame occurs in the disruption of what might otherwise be seen as a continuous self. The love of shame does not "merge," does not synthesize, but flourishes in the very space of personal fissure. This is unsurprising, in that Silvan Tomkins (whose work Sedgwick's extends and to which it pays homage) describes shame as "strik[ing] deepest into the heart of man":

    While terror and distress hurt, they are wounds inflicted from outside which penetrate the smooth surface of the ego; but shame is felt as an inner torment, a sickness of the soul. It does not matter whether the humiliated one has been shamed by derisive laughter or whether he mocks himself. In either event he feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth. (133)

  32. Tomkins associates shame with guilt, and to a lesser extent with humiliation. I think also of a particularly resonant (if only because so pervasively, campily familiar) articulation of the link between shame and embarrassment: I could just die! Teenagers often say this in movies after they have done something embarrassing, or if their parents have done something terrible in their presence. Less common now than in the fifties (cf. Sandra Dee), the articulation clarifies an implicit relation between shame and the strategies of self-abdication found in Butler and Bersani. I could just die! More often a performance of shame than a literal threat (shame, after all, is, as Sedgwick suggests, the performative affect par excellence[14]), this articulation of shame nonetheless speaks to the ways shame, as an affect, erupts not just in the space between one version of self and another (as in James), but also in the space where one wants another self, and more acutely, to give up the self one has.[15]

  33. "Shame," Tomkins writes, is "a specific inhibitor of continuing interest and enjoyment" (134). I want to emphasize that shame can also inhibit continuity. To live without shame, putatively, would be to live continuously, without the trauma of wanting to disappear, without the need to reinvent one's "younger self" as a new if no less fictional person. A life without shame (neither plausible nor necessarily desirable, but entertained here hypothetically) might approach the stability of Butler's melancholy congealment, even as Tomkins writes that shame, in its renunciation of or abandonment by a loved one, is "not unlike mourning, in which I become exquisitely aware of the self just because I will not surrender the love object which must be surrendered" (138). Here we come to a double-bind. The stable self is constitutively melancholic, and yet the unstable self, florid with "its own, powerfully productive and powerfully social metamorphic possibilities" (Sedgwick, "Shame" 65) is constituted by an affect that might "not [be] unlike mourning." Why should the opposite paths of ontological stability and instability seem to go in circles?

  34. Shame, for Sedgwick, "generates and legitimates the place of identity . . . but does so without giving that identity space the standing of an essence" (64). While identities are not to be essentialized, however, Sedgwick claims that "at least for certain ('queer') people, shame is simply the first, and remains a permanent, structuring fact of identity" (64). Sedgwick's "simply," "permanent" and "fact" effect a strange dissonance between shame's fostering of affective and ontological equivocation (what Sedgwick terms "possibilities") and its own utterly stringent unequivocality. Shame, as conjured by Sedgwick, seldom seems shame-like, per se. So to Sedgwick's credit, we can see in James how a "potentially paralyzing affect" can be "narratively, emotionally, and performatively productive" (44). What Sedgwick identifies in James's writing as "occasions for shame and excitement" (46) do not, however, seem directly to bear on shame. Sedgwick cites this passage from James's preface to The Wings of the Dove:

    I haven't the heart now, I confess, to adduce the detail of so many lapsed importances; the explanations of most of which, after all, I take to have been in the crudity of a truth beating full upon me through these reconsiderations, the odd inveteracy with which picture, at almost any turn, is jealous of drama, and drama (though on the whole with greater patience, I think) suspicious of picture. Between them, no doubt, they do much for the theme; yet each baffles insidiously the other's ideals and eats round the edges of its positions. (46)

    Why denominate these various affective maneuvers--these magnificently odd personifications of aesthetic media--shame, when they seem, affectively, so variously tinged with delight (for instance, the delight of imagining "drama" and "picture" eating around each other's edges)? Such a question, following both the early work of Charles Darwin, and the more recent work of Mark Hansen, attempts to characterize not just what any particular affect is, but how long it lasts, what it cedes to, and why or how it cedes.[16] The degree to which Sedgwick's conception of shame, at this Jamesian juncture, seems more convincing on a nominal rather than affective register recalls, again, the ways Butler's melancholy often doesn't quite seem melancholic (in her work or as recounted in a work such as Julia Kristeva's Black Sun). Or the way Bersani's self-shattering describes an obliteration that on a somatic level (or even, speculatively, on a psychical one) doesn't occur so much as hover, tantalizingly, as an idea.
  35. "Blazons of shame, the 'fallen face' with eyes down and head averted--and, to a lesser extent, the blush--are semaphores of trouble and at the same time of a desire to reconstitute the interpersonal bridge" (Sedgwick, "Shame" 36). I would question the inevitable simultaneity of shame's semaphoric "trouble" and its desire for reconnection. Shame (at its most felicitous) cedes to a desire to reconstitute interpersonality, but this desire is neither synchronous with nor necessarily equivalent to shame's desire to hide. Sedgwick posits shame as "the first" and "permanent, structuring fact of [certain ('queer')] identity":

    Queer, I'd suggest, might usefully be thought of as referring in the first place to this group or an overlapping group of infants and children, those whose sense of identity is for some reason tuned most durably to the note of shame . . . . The shame-delineated place of identity doesn't determine the consistency or meaning of that identity, and race, gender, class, sexuality, appearance, and abledness are only a few of the defining social constructions that will crystallize there, developing from this originary affect their particular structures of expression, creativity, pleasure, and struggle. (63)

    Why, in the midst of all these social constructions, is shame granted originary privilege? Tomkins usefully notes that before shame there exists an even more originary positivity:

    One of the paradoxical consequences of the linkage of positive affect and shame is that the same positive affect which ties the self to the object also ties the self to shame. To the extent to which socialization involves a preponderance of positive affect the individual is made vulnerable to shame and unwilling to renounce either himself or others. (138-39)

    Before one can have shame, before one can be disappointed into blushing (or performative blazoning), one must previously have nursed some "preponderance of positive affect." But why, if positive affect so clearly precedes shame, is shame so unequivocally pronounced foundational? I don't disagree with Sedgwick on the point of shame's seeming intertwined in queer experience. I nonetheless challenge the insistence of shame's anteriority; at the expense of elaborations of the sorts of positivity that might have preceded it, at the expense of the queer continuities which shame might be able to interrupt.
  36. Toujours du Jour

  37. I do not take my readings of Butler or Bersani as definitive, nor do I imagine these moments in the work of Butler or Bersani as synechdocally representative of their work. I mean, rather, to articulate some of the ways in which Butler's and Bersani's rigorous thinking itself sometimes seems predicated on curiously nonrigorous attachments (in the case of Butler) to melancholy, or (in the case of Bersani) to an unqualified aggression calling forth a no less qualified resort to self-shattering. My account of Sedgwick does not critique Sedgwick's analyses of shame for lack of inventive and generous scrutiny (the sort of scrutiny I find absent in Butler's and Bersani's respective accounts of melancholy or aggression). Rather, I've sought to note how Sedgwick's thinking makes available an affective territory far more interesting and various than the denomination "shame" could (or further, should) describe.

  38. Juxtaposed with Lee Edelman's 2004 book, No Future, the orchestratively powerful but nonetheless opaque queer pessimism of the above theorists would seem like kid stuff (to invoke Edelman's own charged turn to this formulation). The queer pessimism of Butler and Bersani, circuited from text to text in a persuasiveness inseparable from its occludedness, brings to mind Jean Laplanche's enigmatic signifier.[17] Edelman's queer pessimism, by contrast, insistent on its own absolute non-enigmatic unequivocality, might suggest the draconian bravura of a superego were Edelman's project not so pitted against the superego, pitted against all forms of stable identity except the "irreducible" (No Future 6) identity of the death drive. Though moving beyond the strictures of psychoanalysis, it is difficult for me not to hear in the sheer absoluteness of Edelman's dicta something like a superego's militancy.

  39. Edelman insists that "the only oppositional status to which our queerness could ever lead would depend on our taking seriously the place of the death drive we're called on to figure" (30). Edelman, as the passage I've cited suggests, doesn't seem to leave queers a lot of options, even as the option he adjures hardly seems self-evident. The egregious militancy of No Future presents an apogee of what I've been calling queer pessimism. Or if not an apogee, then a sort of pessimism-drag. My own thinking differs from Edelman's in many ways, and might often go without saying.[18] How, for instance, could a project attached to queer optimism not bristle at a book that insists unilaterally that "the only oppositional status" available to queers demands fealty to the death drive? Edelman's book certainly trounces optimism, but the optimism he trounces is not the optimism for which my own project lobbies. Edelman writes thus:

    The structuring optimism of politics to which the order of meaning commits us, installing as it does the perpetual hope of reaching meaning through signification, is always, I would argue, a negation of this primal, constitutive, and negative act. And the various positivities produced in its wake by the logic of political hope depend on the mathematical illusion that negated negations might somehow escape, and not redouble, such negativity. My polemic thus stakes its fortunes on a truly hopeless wager: that taking the Symbolic's negativity to the very letter of the law . . . that turning the force of queerness against all subjects, however queer, can afford an access to the jouissance that at once defines us and negates us. Or better: can expose the constancy, the inescapability, of such access to jouissance in the social order itself, even if that order can access its constant access to jouissance only in the process of abjecting that constancy of access onto the queer. (5)

    As I've made clear, and as this essay's final section will make clearer, queer optimism is no more attached to "the logic of political hope" than No Future is. Even as I think there are some forms of hope worth defending, I'm not interested, for present purposes, in demarcating good and bad hopes, hegemonic and nonhegemonic attachments to futurity. To the extent that my own project seeks to recuperate optimism's potential critical interest by arguing for its separability from the promissory, I'm here insisting that there are ways of resisting a pernicious logic of "reproductive futurism" besides embodying the death drive. If Edelman opines that all forms of optimism eventually lead to Little Orphan Annie singing "Tomorrow," and therefore that all forms of optimism must be met with queer death-driven irony's "always explosive force" (31), I oppositely insist that optimism's limited cultural and theoretical intelligibility might not call for optimism's grandiose excoriation, but for optimism to be rethought along non-futural lines. Edelman's hypostasization of optimism accepts optimism as at best simplistic and at worst fascistic. This hypostasization leaves unthinkable queer optimism's own proposition that the reduction of optimism to a diachronic, futurally bound axis is itself the outcome of a machinery that spits out optimism as junk, and renders suspicious any form of "enjoyment" that isn't a (mis)translation of jouissance, "a violent passage beyond the bounds of identity, meaning, and law" (25), the production of "identity as mortification." Enjoyment, anyone?[19]
  40. Edelman's might be one way of refusing the logic of reproductive futurism, but not the only one. That there would be many possible queer courses of action might indeed seem to follow from Edelman's invoking of Lacanian truth ("Wunsch") as characterized by nothing so much as its extravagant, recalcitrant particularity. "The Wunsch," Lacan writes in a passage cited in No Future's introduction, "does not have the character of a universal law but, on the contrary, of the most particular of laws--even if it is universal that this particularity is to be found in every human being" (6). This truth, which Edelman aligns with "queerness" (and ergo with negativity, the death-drive, jouissance, etc.) "does not have the character of a universal law." Edelman, for all his attentiveness to the Lacanian "letter of the law," glosses Lacan's own argument with a symptomatic liberality. "Truth, like queerness," Edelman writes, "finds its value not in a good susceptible to generalization, but only in the stubborn particularity that voids every notion of a general good. The embrace of queer negativity, then, can have no justification if justification requires it to reinforce some positive social value" (6). Lacan, however, does not speak, even in Jacques-Alain Miller's translation, of a "general good." He speaks of a universal, which might be good or bad. Furthermore, if the only characteristic universally applicable to this "truth, like queerness" is its particularity, what sort of particularity voids every notion of a general good? Might so intransigent a particularity sometimes not void a universal, good or bad?

  41. My line of inquiry might seem petty, but my question, in fact, illuminates how little Edelman's argument can hold onto the particularity on which it is partly premised. "The queer," Edelman insists, "insists that politics is always a politics of the signifier" (6). Edelman likewise insists that "queer theory must always insist on its connection to the vicissitudes of the sign" (7). The ubiquity of "always" and "every" in Edelman's argument is nearly stunning, and it seems to me indicative of No Future's coerciveness, as a different passage from No Future's introduction quite handily demonstrates:

    Rather than rejecting, with liberal discourse, this ascription of negativity to the queer, we might, as I argue, do better to consider accepting and even embracing it. Not in the hope of forging thereby some more perfect social order--such a hope, after all, would only reproduce the constraining mandate of futurism, just as any such order would equally occasion the negativity of the queer--but rather to refuse the insistence of hope itself as affirmation, which is always affirmation of an order whose refusal will register as unthinkable, irresponsible, inhumane. And the trump card of affirmation? Always the question: If not this, what? Always the demand to translate the insistence, the pulsive force, of negativity into some determinate stance or "position" whose determination would negate it: always the imperative to immure it in some stable and positive form. (4)

    Always this, always this, always that. This absoluteness in Edelman's characterization of affirmation, meant to rally and provoke, recalls Sedgwick's incredulous reading of Fredric Jameson's ukase, "Always historicize." "What could have less to do," Sedgwick rightly asks, "with historicizing than the commanding, atemporal adverb 'always'" ("Paranoid Reading" 125)? What, for that matter, could have less to do with particularizations? The axiomatic thrust of Edelman's "always" would seem to make the world so irrevocably one thing that response to the world would amount to one thing. But still: why would rejecting a primary attachment to futurity (regardless of what this futurity always does or doesn't do) necessarily require embodying negativity?[20]
  42. Edelman's queer pessimism positions itself as "our" only option without having exhausted what other options might glimmeringly look like. This glimmer doesn't conjure the sort of horizon Edelman would be so quick to dismantle. Rather, it suggests that not all optimisms are a priori equivalent to each other. And as importantly, that not all queer theories need look like Edelman's. "As a particular story . . . of why storytelling fails," Edelman writes, "queer theory, as I construe it, marks the 'other' side of politics . . . the 'side' outside all political sides, committed as they are, on every side, to futurism's unquestioned good" (7). This account of queer theory, even as construed by one theorist, hardly seems like a "particular" story, not at least particular enough. Queer theory, on this account, doesn't seem like an escape from the political's claustrophobically refracted unavailing sides, but a claustrophobia unto itself.[21]

  43. "If not this, what?"

  44. To return to the question Edelman raises, if not this, what? The structure of such a question importantly allows possible answers beyond the foreclosing choices that queer theory, these past decades, often has been asked to make. Mourning or melancholia? Gay pride or queer shame? Utopic or nonutopic? Even as the diacritical assertion of queer pessimism versus queer optimism might seem yet another reductive binary, queer optimism, as an answer to if not this, what?, first and foremost resists the self-evidence of the diverse things this "what" is. For instance, Butler reiterates in Giving an Account of Oneself what she earlier maintains in The Psychic Life of Power as the ethical value of "affirm[ing] what is contingent and incoherent in oneself" (Giving an Account 41). It seems crucial, in affirming what is incoherent in oneself, to understand likewise what is coherent, and furthermore, crucial to have a vocabulary as adequate to coherence as to coherence's disruption. Why take coherence for granted? Why presume that coherence necessarily is characterizable only in the attenuated, non-critical terms that queer theory and other post-structuralist disciplines seek to challenge? Dissatisfaction with a given regime of coherence might sponsor a critical commitment to dismantling coherence tout court. Such a dissatisfaction, however, might likewise productively sponsor a reconfiguration of coherence--the cultivation of a vocabulary of coherence that more precisely does justice to the ways in which coherence isn't expansively, unilaterally destructive, reductive, or ideological.

  45. To imagine a reevaluation of something like personal coherence as a queer-optimistic project requires, as I have been arguing, a reevaluation of optimism itself. Disdain for optimism as commonly practiced or invoked might solicit optimism's wholesale repudiation (a la Edelman)--or it might solicit optimism's own redress. Optimism's queer contents seem inaccessible so long as optimism is sustained as futural, as allergic to scrupulous thinking. To more fully account for what in optimism heretofore has seemed unthinkable, it seems useful to return to Leibniz, insofar as Leibniz's thinking remains exemplary of the context in which optimism is thought (or more to the point, not thought) about. Here I only want to note where Leibnizian optimism departs most starkly from my own essay's investigations. My critique of Leibniz isn't incommensurate with my critique of queer theory. And as this essay wishes already to have made clear, one of the ends of reconceiving optimism as an intellectual venture would be to open the possibility of a criticism--even skepticism--that is itself optimistically motivated. I conclude with an account of Leibniz--and by extension, Leibnizian and non-Leibnizian happiness--to suggest the penuries of our current repertoires of optimism and happiness. Again: what if these penuries compelled us to think harder about optimism or happiness, rather than accept their straw-figure hypostasizations as grounds for their dismissal or too easy excoriation?

  46. Before turning to what in Leibniz underwrites the modes of optimism from which my own project diverges, I wish to note one extraordinary way in which Leibnizian optimism itself differs from the optimisms invoked by Berlant, Bersani, Edelman, or Warner. Leibnizian optimism is not, in fact, oriented to the future. Optimism, etymologically evoking one who hopes, might somehow have come to name one strain of Leibniz's philosophy, but Leibniz's writing--even when most resembling Panglossian caricature of it--has nearly as little staked in hope or future as Edelman's anti-optative No Future. In his 1686 Discourse on Metaphysics, Leibniz delineates the tenets of what would later be described as his optimism. "Therefore," Leibniz writes,

    it is sufficient to have the confidence that God does everything for the best and that nothing can harm those who love him. But to know in detail the reasons that could have moved him to choose this order of the universe--to allow sins, to dispense his saving grace in a certain way--surpasses the power of a finite mind, especially when it has not yet attained the enjoyment of the vision of God. (38)

    As Deleuze succinctly notes, "Leibniz's optimism is really strange" (The Fold 68). Really strange, in that "miseries are not what was missing; the best of all possibilities only blossoms amid the ruins of Platonic Good. If this world exists, it is not because it is the best, but because it is rather the inverse; it is the best because it is, because it is the one that is. The philosopher is still not the Inquisitor he will soon become with empiricism . . . . He is a Lawyer, or God's attorney. He defends God's Cause, following the word that Leibniz invents, 'theodicy'" (68). That is, when Leibniz exhorts that we find all God's works excellent and in complete conformity with what we might have desired, he neither claims that any given work would seem manifestly delightful, nor that our desires only retroactively could be known.
  47. Adjacent but by no means equivalent to Leibnizian tautology is a more familiarly teleological model of wishful thinking, whereby time could reveal the commensurability of God's work and our desire. Leibniz, however, doesn't need time to prove what faith simply makes known,[22] faith being that which posits optimism not as practice but as given. Following Leibniz, a struggle to remain optimistic in the face of calamity or distress signals not a wavering of optimism, per se, but a wavering of faith, whose digital robustness forecloses faith as analogic sliding-scale. One believes or one does not, without gradation. Similarly, either one is optimistic, or one is not. To struggle to remain optimistic most reductively belies that one is not optimistic, that one already has fallen from the logic by which optimism is upheld. To believe absolutely in the goodness of God makes optimism not a choice, or even an attitude, but that faith's inevitable extension. Faith's capacity to convert all crises (past, present, future) into manifestations of the good indicates the extent to which Leibniz's theodicy is as imperializing as the pessimisms of queer theory. That is, the semper of Leibniz and the semper of Edelman seem equivalently suspect, even if programatically opposed.
  48. At the same time, however, this Leibnizian semper is exactly that which countermands any privileging of futurity. Faith subordinates human experience of time (past, present, future) to a divine temporality in which temporal distinctions all but vanish; God already has orchestrated what will happen no less than what already has happened. Leibniz writes thus:

    The whole future is doubtless determined: but since we know not what it is, nor what is foreseen or resolved, we must do our duty, according to the reason that God has given us and according to the rules that he has prescribed for us; and therefore we must have a quiet mind, and leave to God himself the care for the outcome. (Theodicy 154)

    Humans perhaps equivocate, but Leibniz's God does not, and in the fundamental non-equivocality of what divinely will happen, the future consequently for all practical purposes lies beyond engagement, revision, or hope--contrary the ways optimism, after Leibniz, is not beyond hope but generated by it.
  49. My turn from Leibniz, then, does not stem from his intense valuation of futurity; optimism as valuation of futurity seems a gross mischaracterization of both Leibniz's Discourse and his Theodicy. Rather, queer optimism most significantly departs from Leibniz in indirect (and perhaps counterintuitive) response to Leibniz's radical deflation of futurity. Leibnizian optimism lies beyond theorization not because it consigns determination or delight to a futural horizon, but because the faith that underwrites it looms beyond interrogation. This brand of optimistic unimpeachability characterizes both George W. Bush's exasperating contumaciousness, as well as Howard Dean's infamously Whitmanian barbaric yawp. The former is beyond theorization because (among myriad less glib reasons) Bush is incapable of theorizing; the latter, beyond theorization to the extent that Dean's whoop came on the heels of defeat, what J.L. Austin might characterize as an optimistic performative utterance executed under infelicitous conditions. A person (e.g., George W. Bush) might possess the faith that prosthetically would make credible (which is to say, make credibly existent) the divinely infinite logic which to his finite mind is otherwise incomprehensible, or he might not. The optimism that this essay introduces, it nearly goes without saying, is not predicated on faith, at very least because concertedly wary of the seductions of absolutes over the comparably vulnerable values of particularity. I raise the examples of Bush and Dean to note the ways in which optimism already saturates the political field, both making and breaking presidential campaigns, initiating and sustaining otherwise untenable-seeming policies and positions (not to mention wars). Optimism's political power (if not eloquence) makes its critical re-examination--as opposed to its critical eschewal--all the more timely, and crucial.
  50. Like optimism's iron fist, Leibnizian happiness is chronic and beyond question, even as the means of this interminable happiness are in a secular register altogether unavailable. Leibnizian optimism purports a structure in which non-happiness might arise as an erosion of faith, as an erosion, that is, of a happiness that is otherwise structurally inescapable. I find the possible ordeal of inescapable happiness fascinating, in part because such an understanding so extravagantly revises how happiness ordinarily is considered. If optimism eludes or renders gratuitous theorization via a tautology (Deleuze's "it is the one that is") that fashions optimism as conceptually expansive and indelible as the world itself, happiness--plain old happy, not Leibniz's mega-happy--oppositely eludes theorization because so transient. Non-Leibnizian happiness isn't inextricable from structure (for instance, Leibnizian faith) but more precisely experienced as a disruption of structure.
  51. To speak of optimism's relation to the timely likewise is to speak of optimism's strenuous and strange relation to time. In Leibniz, a finite mind could come (if at best asymptotically) closest to accessing infinite knowledge through the exercise of an intense patience by which future events could make sense of past ones. The optimism of my study isn't interested in the capacity of time to render the meaning of apparently terrible circumstances felicitous. My project more fundamentally challenges the temporal narratives to which both (Leibnizian) optimistic happiness and non-optimistic happiness ordinarily are subjected. For instance: Leibnizian happiness is chronic and beyond question, but the means of this durability are in a secular domain altogether unavailable. Leibnizian optimism imagines a structure in which nonhappiness might erupt as a wavering of faith, as a wavering, that is, of a happiness that is otherwise structurally inescapable. On the contrary, non-Leibnizian happiness (as vernacularly understood) isn't inextricable from a structure (for instance, the strong theory of faith), but is more acutely experienced as a disruption of structure.

  52. The psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear describes happiness as disruption in his account not of Leibniz, but of Aristotle:

    If contemplation were a state that one could achieve and sustain indefinitely and unproblematically, then Aristotle would have been led to feel discontent within it--and he would start to fantasize a real happiness which lies just outside. (50)

    Continuing his discussion of contemplation, for Aristotle, as a site of happiness happier than that derived from living ethically, Lear observes that "those few who do manage to find time to contemplate will experience that time as precious and short-lived" (50). The supreme happiness afforded by contemplation, that is, lies outside the realm of ethics. This moment in which contemplation occurs is "precious and short-lived." In the Leibnizian model, happiness is the structure from which one falls. In the Aristotelian model, happiness lies outside of structure. Indeed, in Lear's work, happiness more closely resembles the death drive (in its disruption of life-as-lived) than it does the pleasure principle (despite happiness' quotidian imbrications with pleasure), whose status as principle Lear finds antithetical to happiness' propensity to disrupt principles as such:

    Here we need to go back to an older English usage of "happiness" in terms of happenstance: the experience of chance things' working out well rather than badly. Happiness, in this interpretation, is . . . a lucky break . . . . If one thinks about it, I think one will see that in such fleeting moments we do find real happiness. (129)

    Despite Lear's chiasmatic invoking of thinking, it seems unclear how such constitutively fleeting happiness could be thought about. One could recollect it, but could one articulate it beyond the fact that it feels good, quickly? Or that it feels so different from the rest of life that it approaches something like death? As Lear writes, "the fantasy of a happy life becomes tinged with the suggestion of a life beyond life--a certain kind of living death" (27). It is not surprising, given this claim, that Lear finally opines that "there are certain structural similarities between Aristotle's treatment of happiness and Freud's treatment of death. Happiness and death are each invoked as the purported aim of all striving" (98). The difficulty of really thinking about happiness (as opposed to the ease of thinking that real happiness arrives fleetingly) is, I think, a function of its putative fleetingness. Were one able to articulate happiness more thoroughly, or even imagine it as less fleeting, would it seem as authentically happy?
  53. Queer optimism involves a kind of thought-experiment. What if happiness could outlast fleeting moments, without that persistence attenuating the quality of happiness? What if, instead of attenuating happiness, this extension of happiness opened it up to critical investigations that didn't a priori doubt it, but instead made happiness complicated, and strange? If the insights of the past few decades could newly mobilize shame, shattering, or melancholy as interesting, as opposed to merely seeming instances of fear and trembling; what if we could learn from those insights and critical practices, and imagine happiness as theoretically mobilizable, and conceptually difficult? Which is to ask, what if happiness weren't merely, self-reflexively happy, but interesting? Queer optimism cannot guarantee what such a happiness would look like, how such a happiness would feel. And while it does not promise a road to an Emerald City, queer optimism avails a new terrain of critical inquiry, which, surely, is a significant felicity in its own right.

  54. English Department
    Mount Holyoke College

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    1. I offer this anecdote to suggest the difficulty of sequestering feelings from metafeelings. Or to conjure Isabel Archer or Maggie Verver, the frustrating and exhilarating perviousness of thinking and living. I'm not telling this particular story as a retreat from the discursive or critical, but to note the strangeness of having felt like an allegory for my own subsequent academic work. Why did sadness feel indomitable? Why did happiness, in comparison, seem to offer so impoverished and ineloquent a vocabulary?

    2. What Butler openly invokes as "connection"--implying connection between others on political, erotic, and any number of less recognizably charged registers--returns, more recently, in Lauren Berlant's invoking of "collective attachment." I wish to juxtapose Butler's emphasis on "incoherence" with Berlant's emphasis on attachment itself. "I propose," Berlant writes, "that we turn optimism itself into a topic probably best phrased as collective attachment. Optimism is a way of describing a certain futurism that implies continuity with the present" ("Critical Inquiry" 449). I continue to be grateful for Berlant's insistence on returning the term "optimism" to the critical field.

    3. For other references to congealment in Butler's writing, see Gender Trouble, xii and 43, as well as Bodies that Matter, 244.

    4. "Spawn," with its suggestion of mass hatchings of creatures, arguably resonates within the same implicit science-fictional register as "congealment."

    5. Bersani's account of a person's hardwiring for destructiveness, "something as species-specific as the human aptitude for verbal language" (126-27), indulges a fantasy of primordiality that recalls and arguably is indebted to Foucault's account of disciplinary subjectivity, even as the former's insistence on a radical interiority starkly departs from the emphatically non-psychologizing dermal attentions of the latter. See Foucault, Discipline & Punish 153.

    6. "The centrality of redemptive and therapy cultures to the promise of love's formalized satisfactions means that where love provides the dominant rhetoric and form of attachment, so a discussion of pedagogy must be. Popular discourses that merge scientific expertise with a putatively general desire for better techniques of the self--as we see in talk shows, self-help books, and twelve-step semipublics--provide maps for people to clutch in their hands so that they can revisit the unzoned affective domain of which love is the pleasant and thinkable version. In these contexts love--never fully secularized--is the church of optimism for the overwhelmed. The currency that pays the price of entrance is the loss of everything except optimism" (Berlant, "Love, a Queer Feeling" 441).

    7. See, for instance, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art 38-40.

    8. For other queer-theoretical texts less thinkable without the preceding work of Butler or Bersani, see Tim Dean's Beyond Sexuality; David L. Eng's and David Kazanjian's edited collection, Loss, for which Judith Butler writes an afterword; Diana Fuss's Identification Papers; Ann Cvetkovich's An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures; Teresa de Lauretis's The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire, whose first chapter takes as epigraph one of Bersani's articulations on Freudian desire; Brett Farmer's Spectacular Passions: Cinema, Fantasy, Gay Male Spectatorships; Didier Eribon's Insult and the Making of the Gay Self; Esther Sánchez-Pardo's Cultures of the Death Drive: Melanie Klein and Modernist Melancholia; Jeffrey T. Nealon's Alterity Politics: Ethics and Performative Subjectivity; José Muñoz's Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. The above list, neither alphabetical nor chronological, intends only to suggest the iceberg's tip; the single essays written under the influence of Bersani or Butler are nearly countless. Butler and Bersani have proliferated and inspired a kind of critical mass, such that my essay positions itself not just in relation to the work of two scholars (or three, or four), but in relation to the veritable queer cottage-industry that these scholars have engendered.

    9. See, for instance, Judith Butler's trenchant analysis of hate speech in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, and more recently her critique of post-9/11 politics in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence.

    10. Curious how both Loss and An Archive of Feelings seek to depathologize their respective melancholia and trauma, as though these books weren't being published at a time when pathologization itself seemed critically so far afield; as though, if not post-Butler or Bersani, then post-Oprah, melancholia and trauma hadn't themselves long-trafficked in nonpathological, celebrity-like circuits.

    11. Regarding these "countless other thinkers," I think, for instance, of Michael Moon, Biddy Martin, Jane Gallop, Lauren Berlant, Henry Abelove, and of course, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, to whom this section returns.

    12. For a lucid critique of the hermeneutics of suspicion along Laplanchian lines, see Tim Dean's recent "Art as Symptom: Zizek and the Ethics of Psychoanalytic Criticism."

    13. Think, for instance, of Thomas Gray's paradigmatic "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College":

    Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
    Since sorrow never comes too late,
    And happiness too swiftly flies?
    Thought would destroy their paradise.
    No more;--where ignorance is bliss,
    'Tis folly to be wise.

    14. "Shame is the affect that mantles the threshold between introversion and extroversion, between absorption and theatricality, between performativity and--performativity" (Sedgwick, Touching Feeling 38).

    15. Whereas Sedgwick celebrates shame's blossoming between otherwise ossified formulations of selves (for instance, between the Henry James of 1875 and the Henry James of 1907), Giorgio Agamben, in a recent essay titled "Shame, or On the Subject" notes, following Levinas, that "shame is grounded in our being's incapacity to move away and break from itself" (Remnants 104-05). "In shame," Agamben writes, "we are consigned to something from which we cannot in any way distance ourselves" (105). From this opposite beginning, and in the radically different (which is to say, most accurately, literal) context of the book's titular Auschwitz, Agamben nonetheless reaches a conclusion that is nearly identical to Sedgwick's. "It is now possible to clarify," Agamben writes, "the sense in which shame is truly something like the hidden structure of all subjectivity and consciousness" (128). I juxtapose Sedgwick's account of shame with Agamben's as a way of illustrating the persuasiveness of shame, as a trope, beyond the essay's immediate queer purlieu. If Sedgwick will eventually make a claim for shame that universalizes its relation to queers, Agamben goes one step further, extending his reading of shame within Primo Levi's The Reawakening to pertain to everyone. I introduce Agamben to recall the fact that queer theory's energies are not necessarily constitutively different from theories of people as such; and as often, are mutually informing.

    16. See Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and Mark Hansen's New Philosophy for New Media.

    17. Laplanche situates his theorization of the enigmatic signifier in the context of the primal scene. Without speculating on any possible primal scene or scenes in the genesis of queer theory, I find heuristically valuable Laplanche's account of an enigmatic signifier's simultaneous transmittability and nonintelligibility: the absorption and circulation of a message's form, irrespective of recognition of message's content. Laplanche writes,

    The primal scene conveys messages. It is traumatising only because it proffers, indeed imposes its enigmas, which compromise the spectacle addressed to the child. I certainly have no wish to make an inventory of these messages, for there are, in my sense no objective enigmas: the only enigmas that exist are ones that are proffered, and that reduplicate in one way or another the relationship that the sender of the message has with his own unconscious. (170-71)

    In suggesting the circulation of something like melancholy from one theoretical text to another, I imagine Butler (or Bersani) not as "the sender[s] of the message," but rather as themselves recipients of an enigma antecedent to their own work.

    18. The interminable gadflying of No Future itself constitutes a peculiar and peculiarly capacious generosity, insofar as it is near impossible not to feel something toward Edelman's work. How not to be grateful for a book that solicits intense feeling from nearly anyone who reads it?

    I balk, for instance, at the possibility of a revamped queer ethics predicated on "the corrosive force of irony" (No Future 23), predicated on the slap-happy eschewal of The Child, as though there were only one ideological Child. As though there weren't within cultural discourse (not just the specter, but) the tenable, exquisitely precocious, touched and touching figure of a Queer Child. "The cult of the Child," Edelman writes, "permits no shrines to the queerness of boys and girls, since queerness . . . is understood as bringing children and childhood to an end" (19). Such claims seem so patently misguided and foreclosing that it's difficult to know how to respond, beyond the obvious fact that there's nothing queerer than childhood: c.f. Henry James's Maisie, or JonBenet Ramsey, or "Ma Vie en Rose's" Ludovic, or my own childhood home videos, which motivate in me a certain pathos not because childhood ends where queerness begins, but because my own queerness, as I bat my seahorse eyelashes or wander through leaf-piles, is so effusively, if confusedly, in full-gear. Were one to claim that Edelman's hypostasizations of the Child seem to do more harm than good, Edelman, impeccably, might say, of course, more harm than good. In fact (of course), Edelman already says as much:

    The queerness of which I speak would deliberately sever us from ourselves, from the assurance, that is, of knowing ourselves and hence of knowing our "good." Such queerness proposes, in place of the good, something I want to call "better," though it promises, in more than one sense of the phrase, absolutely nothing. (5)

    I have written this essay for those wanting ("in more than one sense of the phrase") something "better" than "nothing."

    To be sure, I'm not the only scholar rankled by Edelman's immodest proposals. In the introduction to Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children, Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley similarly question Edelman's preemptive inscription of the Child into a predetermined ideological matrix: "What is the effect," Bruhm and Hurley write, "of projecting the child into a heteronormative future? One effect is that we accept the teleology of the child . . . as heterosexually determined" (Curiouser, xiv). Curiouser's essays importantly challenge simplifying or evacuating narratives of childhood sexuality, rescuing children from hypostasized forms of innocence. My own project, on the other hand, seeks to rescue (not children, but) optimism from innocence. Thus, one way of distinguishing my ambitions from those of Bruhm and Hurley is that the latter engage Edelman on the level of No Future's subject (the child, or more precisely, the child-under-erasure), whereas I take Edelman's subject as symptomatic of the book's methodology, as such. Differently put, Bruhm and Hurley, along with Edelman, presume within a given cultural archive innocence's epistemic force. If this innocence is linked to a sort of optimism (specifically, for these scholars, through children such as Ragged Dick, Heidi, Pollyanna, etc.), I'm interested in the ways that optimism, within an intellectual archive, hasn't been hegemonically organizing, so much as a priori ineffectual and depleted.

    On a different register, Susan Fraiman interestingly challenges the foreclosure, in No Future, of a queer pregnant body. Fraiman writes at the close of her book Cool Men and the Second Sex,

    My interest here is not in the merits of campaigns for gay "normalization" and marriage rights but rather in Edelman's suppression of procreative queerness even as he brings up lesbian and gay parenting. By tying this firmly and exclusively to adoption, Edelman keeps the category of queerness apart from the feminized, reproductive body, which is imagined as scarcely any closer or more familiar than China or Guatemala. (133)

    Fraiman's interceding is timely (and not just because the pregnancy of Katie Holmes has brought home to all checkout-aisle tabloid-readers how utterly queer pregnancy itself can be)--albeit the queer unheimlich of pregnancy has been available for scrutiny, at very least, since Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Neither my interest nor Fraiman's, however, is in a pregnancy that could assert its queerness only along these limited, science-fiction (or Scientological) lines. Rather, I admire Fraiman's appraisal of Edelman for its vision of queer theory that could accommodate (and not merely chide) the complicated lexicons of maternal affect. Here, again, I would invoke Winnicott, whose own meticulous and insightful theorizations of maternity salubriously supplement those enabled by Fraiman's work, or (psychoanalytically) the work of Melanie Klein.

    19. The argument (if not the polemical affect) of Edelman's recent study implicitly suggests various moments in Bersani's corpus, but more explicitly recalls an earlier proposition made by Peggy Phelan, in her 1995 essay, "Dying Man with a Movie Camera, Silverlake Life." Phelan writes thus:

    Let's suppose that lesbians and gay men in the academies and institutions of the contemporary United States have a particularly potent relation to grief. Exiled from the Law of the Social, many gay men and lesbians may have introjected the passionate hatred of mainstream homophobia and taken up an embattled, aggressive, and complex relation to the death drive. The aggressivity of this relation, the theory goes, makes it possible for us to survive our (first) deaths. While we wait for the next, we perform queer acts. (380)

    Such "queer acts," folded back into Edelman's No Future, would entail acting as though there were no future, executing actions directly (if not solely) motivated by the death drive. Phelan's essay, meditating on the utterly harrowing documentary, "Silverlake Life," is itself harrowing in the austere deference with which Phelan approaches her topic.

    20. There isn't space in this essay to do justice to Edelman's complicated and saponifying rhetoric of embodiment and figuration.

    21. This claustrophobia might account, in part, for the ellipses that conclude No Future's second epigraph, by Virginia Woolf. "Yes, I was thinking: we live without a future. That's whats queer...." One could variously speculate how Woolf's "queer" differs from Edelman's, when Woolf continues, beyond Edelman's ellipses: "That's whats [sic] queer, with our noses pressed to a closed door" (355).

    22. "I hold, therefore, that, according to these principles, in order to act in accordance with the love of God, it is not sufficient to force ourselves to be patient; rather, we must truly be satisfied with everything that has come to us according to his will" (Leibniz, "Discourse on Metaphysics" 37-38). If optimism is difficult to cultivate, this is because a person can never know as much as God does. Leibniz's conception of God, in this respect, is analogous to Freud's conception of an unconscious. Both God and the unconscious delineate what a person at any given moment cannot know. Several years later after Leibniz's writing, in response to Hobbes's condemnations of humanity, Shaftesbury appositely describes an epistemological predicament which Leibnizian optimism would innoculate altogether, or which something like psychoanalysis might take as point of departure. "In an infinity of things, mutually relative, a mind which sees not infinitely can see nothing fully, and must therefore frequently see that as imperfect which in itself is really perfect" (The Moralists: A Philosophical Rhapsody, qtd. in Tsanoff 113).

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