The Homosexual says YES to Sterility

Huw Lemmey


"We're on queer time now folks - this has been a straight event so far. Apparently reproduction and extinction go hand in hand. Who knew?"

From the first strike,

*1. Jack Halberstam shakes the assumptions and pieties of so many of today's talks to pieces with an incredible, punchy short talk which brings a red-hot queer criticism to proceedings. What's so good about survival anyway?

Taking Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch, he suggests that it is we who are not pining for the fjords, but who have gone to meet our maker. We have ceased to be. We are ex-humans.

It's not just the death of a human Jack refers to. It's not just the death of the human. It's the death of a particular type of human — the pet-owner. What is represented by the pet-owner? The pet owner is a fundamental humanist. He is a good person, a person who reproduces life, reproduces at all cost: a human who believes in the continuance of life.

Jack says he wants to puncture that. This is a sentimentalist version of what a human is. The pet-owner believes he has "saved" an animal; saved, whilst keeping it locked in a cage, locked in his house. They lock an animal in their house so they can tell themselves they are a good person.

You can't use this version of humanism, a version of humanism as represented by the scientists who have stood on the stage today, a version that has put the world in this position, to save the world.

*2. Zombies

We see our hero, a new white patriarch, delivered to us to deliver us from the Zombies. To discuss zombies, and who we cast as zombies, Halberstam takes us on a detour through the writings of Michel Foucault. Foucault described our position as "biopolitical". Under a biopolitical regime the State generates ideas of a good life that middle-class people can cling to, despite the fact it relies upon the subjection, imprisonment and oppression of others. "We" then believe we are making a positive choice; we are choosing life.

We live under an ideology of extreme reproduction. Reproduction above all else. People want to reproduce well past their expiration rate; the de-extinction of reproductive power, because value, because choosing the good life means choosing reproduction. We want to live beyond death.

We choose life, property, cars, haute cuisine, and in doing so we push everyone else to the edge of death. Biopolitics is held up by necropoltiics. So what, in this context, do zombies represent? The living dead? Those who we have crushed, enslaved, incarcerated, emptied out? The wounded, the spectral: they are the necropolitical made visible.

In Haiti people worried that they would live on after death; live on as zombies, and live on still enslaved.

Two popular depictions of zombies currently dominated cable channels. The first, in the US, is The Walking Dead, a necropolitical depiction of the zombie, pitched against, of course a little clutch of white people who all happen to be heterosexual, who survive to fulfil the highest order of reproduction.

The UK version is biopolitical. In In the Flesh the zombie is redeemed through the medical. "Some meds, some contact lens, some counselling — you're good to go", characterises Halberstam. Even the gay teen who makes the choice of suicide is compelled to resurrection.

Halberstam offers an alternative pop culture depiction as a queer model — Renton, from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Faced with an orthodox, heteronormative, biopolitical vision of life, he chose something else…

*3. There's a wing of art that isn't interested in offering us redemption: Auto-Destructive Art. Halberstam gives us a whistle-stop tour of different tendencies of auto-destruction; of Gustav Metzger, who talked about not wanting to make art for the market. Faced with the instrumentalisation of beauty, beauty becomes anathema, something to be wary of, not something to clutch to in the face of doom and destruction. This is played out in Metzger's "Null Object (2012)", formed when Metzger say for 20 minutes clearing his mind of thought, then had his brianwaves mapped and carved into the centre of a block.

Punk, Pete Townshend, and anti-imperialist and feminist auto-destruction, as in the work of Yoko Ono or Marina Abramovic, or in the work of Günter Brus; an abject practice offering no succour.

*4. Heather Cassils Returning to a queer position, Halberstam offers the work of Heather Cassils' "Becoming an Image", where they trained themself to have a new body, one neither male nor female, and not through medicalisation or testosterone, but by birthing a new body through training. In an act of queer auto destruction they pounded a huge lump of clay in a performance in a pitch-dark room, destroying and remodelling not just the clay but also the body itself.

Then Halberstam returns to

*5. No Future, a major body of work and ideas within queer theory, which calls an end to a futurity that depends on the child and the valorisation of the needs of the child, where we must think of the children, act for the children. It also represents a "no future" where the queer stands for an end to the human itself, an end to the carousel of family perpetuation, the male line; an end to the obsession with reproduction (a position increasingly challenged by heteronormative ideals sinking deep into gay culture). The homosexual says "YES!" to sterility!

In conclusion he asks us to ask who are indeed the zombies, the walking, living dead whom we have consigned to the space between the good life and the bare life.

The sick, dying, old, mentally ill, incarcerated, homeless, enslaved, oppressed; the unsaved, unredeemed and unredeemable. "You may look upon them in horror now but tomorrow you will look to redeem them in order to redeem your own sense of your humanity. But ultimately it will not be you who decides whether you live or die, but it will be the zombie".