For better or worse the curious specter of Michel Foucault greets the reader of Chandan Reddy’s Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the U.S. State. Foucault’s path-finding “archeological” historical method, encouraging Reddy and ourselves to read the “texts” (archival discourses) of American cultural life “against the grain” (Walter Benjamin) of their commonly assumed meaning, is fundamental to Reddy’s liberation project as a “Queer of color” scholar-activist (17–18).
The book title, especially its three-word signifier, “Freedom with Violence,” expresses succinctly Reddy’s chief “episteme”-become-“archive” discovery, a result of having sifted through selected primary texts associated with the U.S. State’s growth into “monumental” power during the past century. Reddy’s signifier is meant to shock the reader, presumed to be of liberal persuasion, into the discomfort of counter-instinctive thinking when confronting the oft-recurring phenomena of violence that seems freedom’s destiny in our epoch. It also functions as a mantra-like refrain for Reddy, evoking the embattled spirit of his outlier cultural critique rising up under the potential thrall of the Liberal-Capitalist-National-State.
Once read through, there emerges a reliance on the encircling rubric (or frame?) for the book in Reddy’s somewhat contorted, yet suggestive, introduction and conclusion. [End Page 165] These chapters treat President Obama’s 2010 signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, including its contested rider amendment, the Matthew Shepard (gay torture) and James Byrd, Jr. (black torture) Hate Crimes Prevention Act (1–3; 224) as a synecdoche event representing the whole conflicted freedom story. Contrary to many Black and gay civil rights supporters, Reddy configures this Congressional Act as an ominous extension of Obama’s earlier Nobel Peace Prize speech. The speech is said to have affirmed America’s peaceful, non-violent quest for universal human rights, while, in apparent contradiction, applying western (Christian) just war theory as justification for Obama’s troop surge policy in Afghanistan. Putting it together—massive defense expenditure plus hate crimes interdiction plus expanding war for transnational rights peace sends we readers a message! Obama’s composite acts become a performative “ACT,” a heuristic-analytic tool (weapon?) used to display the dangerous, expanding empowerment of the Neo-Conservative/Neo-Liberal Capitalist State legitimating its Rule by confronting/neutralizing/coopting any unruly opposition, American and international.
Taken as a whole, the reader must be prepared to accept that Reddy’s book is intended as a contrarian political testament. Reddy’s intermittent autobiographical flourishes show him attached to a “sexuality modernity” best identified by the acronym GLBTQ (Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgender and Queer people) (3). In one of several scattered iterations expressed on their/his behalf, Reddy addresses “the way in which socially and institutionally produced forms of emancipation remain regulative and constitutively tied to the nation-state form” (39). Here Reddy’s most striking historical-political claim is made, namely, to target the modern research university as the generative/strategic site where “racialized and non-normative sexualities” are “rationally” distinguished, thus to feed the state’s interest in asserting its “legitimate violence” of, by, and for their sake” (39).
An intrepid spirit is the essential requirement for readers of Reddy’s book. Straightforward discourse is rare. Even those chapters where expository treatment is interesting and most accessible are nested in the encircling polymorphous perversity (Lacan), “Queer of color” project. Major concepts such as race, ethnicity, nation, state, class, capitalism, Republicanism, liberty, society, law, even history and violence all float promiscuously throughout the text. Finally there is unintended irony in Reddy’s evolving self-image. His pilgrimage into becoming and owning an identity as a “sexuality modern” assumes exactly the common cultural habit most Americans indulge when “recalling” their “exceptional” relation to “freedom.” For Reddy to show that rights acquisition has necessitated multi-faceted acts of violence/counter violence/the State’s “legitimate” violence is not surprising. Such violence is the obvious cost of freedom. His hope for freedom without violence is everyone’s hope within the American grain. [End Page 166]