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Queer Amendments
Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State. Chandan Reddy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. xiiixiii + 303303 pp.

While popular accounts of the US state narrate its role in protecting the freedom of sexual minorities against the threat of violence, much political critique counters this view by delineating how the state perpetuates racial violence in the name of such freedoms. In this groundbreaking book, Chandan Reddy reassesses the relationship between sexual freedom and racial violence by characterizing it instead as one of conjunction—an affiliative rather than causal link maintained through various forms of state mediation, legitimization, and amendment. As an entry point into and concise but acute exemplification of the logic of freedom with violence, Reddy cites the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which conjoined the passage of celebrated LGBTQ hate-crime legislation and the increase of military spending to its highest point in US history. The act's passage was lauded by gay and civil rights groups alike, demonstrating how the "liberal egalitarian national state" (Reddy's incisive term for contemporary US governmentality) successfully covers over the contradictions in its own use of racial violence by concurrently promising to enforce sexual freedom (8).

Reddy argues that strategies like the NDAA allow the United States to secure a monopoly on its own use of "legitimate violence" and remain impervious to charges of imperialism or racism while continuing to pursue racial exploitation within its own boundaries and enabling "the military production of race wars" against "non-Western societies" (234). In this sense, the NDAA is an amendment to the state "body" that attempts to resolve the contradiction between the state's egalitarian raison d'être and its use of violence to perpetuate racialized immigration and labor practices rooted in logics of disposability. Using a thickly variegated archive of literary, legal, popular, and critical sources, Reddy's chapters in Freedom with Violence extend temporally and spatially from the NDAA example. Throughout the book, he disaggregates and reappropriates the disorganizing [End Page 411] excesses of the US state's monopoly on legitimate violence, insisting that, as with the NDAA, while sexual freedom professes to settle the inequalities of the past and promise egalitarianism, instead it "amends and regulatively frames" racialized violence (18).

The book's first chapters take up two African American modernist texts, W. E. B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk and Nella Larsen's Quicksand. Reddy argues that freedom with violence as a mode of governance emerged in the first quarter of the twentieth century, as a tactic of the state to uphold racial capitalism and state violence by incorporating African Americans into a brand of racial belonging that was constitutively defined as the deferral and denial of national citizenship. In contrast to interpretations of Du Bois's classic text that focus on its racial reformism or ambivalence, Reddy reads Souls against the grain as a disarming critique of positivist institutional knowledge: a testimony that blackness cannot be integrated into the linear narratives and demarcated spaces of officially sanctioned history and culture, formed as they are through the violence of forced labor practices and the artificial "freedom" of disciplinary constraints. Similarly, rejecting readings of Quicksand as a story of failed migrations, Reddy draws out Larsen's critique of an emergent system of governmentality (replacing the explicit racism of eugenics) in which the state manages industrial immigration and colonialist labor by manipulating racial subjectivity and securing noncitizenship for black women. In Quicksand the state extends freedom to the protagonist Helga through a "queer logic of inclusion" that is proffered hand in hand with—not against or through—the violence of racial alienage (132).

Reddy deftly connects the early chapters on literary modernism to the contemporary neoliberal moment discussed in later chapters by demonstrating how state-regulated racialization made possible both the development of the US welfare state in the early twentieth century and its continuing dissolution since the 1970s. The book's third and fourth chapters intervene in neoliberal governmentality's use of queerness and race, arguing that "sexuality mediates the violent racial and material conditions that the nation amends and conserves within itself" (246). In these latter chapters and the...