- No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive
Lee Edelman's latest work continues the project began in Homographesis (1994) of tracing the confounding way that queerness is figured in representation as a structuring absence and arriving, even more pointedly this time, at the conclusion that "queerness could never constitute an authentic or substantive identity, but only a structural position determined by the imperative of figuration" (24). Edelman's contribution with No Future to this deconstructive thread of queer theory—a terrain shared by Judith Butler, Leo Bersani, and Diana Fuss among others—is a frank, unflinching, and sustained assessment of the problematic politics (or not) that such a theory figures or, perhaps more appropriately, the impossible politics that [End Page 252] such a queer figure would theorize. In the form of a bracing polemic, he argues, in short, that queer theory stands fundamentally opposed to politics, all politics. Queerness, as it is figured in cultural representation, effectively constitutes the limit of politics, by virtue of the fact that it becomes visible only when posed in opposition to the social fantasy of a reproductive future that provides the foundation to all political visions, regardless of the particular moral values of their divergent programs. Thus, Edelman insists that just as "queerness can never define an identity; it can only disturb one," so too queer theory can only disrupt politics not produce them (17). In the place of politics, Edelman offers a discourse of ethics, calling upon queer theory to resist all attempts to sanitize or valorize sexuality but insist instead on its complete, and profoundly disruptive, unintelligibility.
In No Future, Edelman gives us a highly nuanced and culturally specific account of how and why the disruptive negativity inherent in sexuality is figured onto the queer, ultimately naming "reproductive futurism"—rather than a vague idea of identity itself—as antithetical to the queer. Though at times it seems that he also naturalizes the association of the death drive with homosexuality, in his most lucid moments he returns to the heart of his argument: that it is in the figure of the queer that we find the trace of the death drive but that this figuration is always projected from elsewhere in a futile attempt to quarantine and suppress the death drive. To somehow correct this negative representation is impossible because queer sex can never be made to stand for life—stripped of the pretense of reproduction, queer sex is always exposed as "just fucking" and, as such, reveals the face of sexuality that the culture at large works so hard to conceal. Though queer families with children abound in our communities, and though nothing predisposes particular queer individuals to resist the appeal of futurity, we/they are made nonetheless to figure civil society's undoing through the perversion of the future. Thus, for Edelman, "The burden of queerness is to be located less in the assertion of an oppositional political identity than in opposition to politics as the governing fantasy of realizing, in an always indefinite future, Imaginary identities foreclosed by our constitutive subjection to the signifier" (17).
In chapter 1, "The Future is Kid Stuff," Edelman calls our attention to how powerfully all political visions of the future are invested in "the Imaginary form of the Child" (14). When advocates of reproductive choice use the same rhetoric as their antichoice opponents, claiming the value of their struggle lies in the future freedom of our daughters and sons—in other words, when even abortion must make peace with the baby in order to survive—then we know that the [End Page 253] political reach of the child is total. Following Lauren Berlant, Edelman identifies this new era in "the fascism of the baby's face" (75). Just as the queer is made to carry the burden of the ego-threatening negativity of sexuality, the child is made to figure a sutured wholeness, immune from the disruptive force of jouissance.
Edelman is careful, however, to remind us that by responding to his call to fill its own figural shoes in opposition to...