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  • No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive
  • Carolyn Dever (bio)
No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, by Lee Edelman; pp. x + 191. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004, $21.95.

Recent accounts of lesbian and gay cultures in the popular press are remarkable for their investment in ideological categories familiar to readers of domestic fiction. More often than not, reports of same-sex relations describe domestic unions formally consecrated by secular and religious authorities and blessed by offspring—unions, in other words, comforting in their very familiarity and palatable to, perhaps due to their reflection of, bourgeois culture's ego ideal.

With No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman offers a fierce corrective to this narrative, arguing that our very conception of the "political" is shaped by a presumption of "reproductive futurism" embodied in figures of childhood innocence. "For politics," writes Edelman, "however radical the means by which specific constituencies attempt to produce a more desirable social order, remains, at its core, conservative insofar as it works to affirm a structure, to authenticate social order, which it then intends to transmit to the future in the form of its inner Child" (2–3). In sharp contrast to the normative psychology of political self-affirmation, Edelman argues for a queer politics that gains its ethical purchase in the unthinkable space "outside the framework within which politics as we know it appears....Queerness names the side of those not 'fighting for the children,' the side outside the consensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism" (3). Arguing that queerness "can never define an identity; it can only ever disturb one" (17), Edelman suggests that a queer ethics involves the rigorous negation of those platitudes of future fecundity that constitute discourses as "political": "The queer comes to figure the bar to every realization of futurity, the resistance, internal to the social, to every social structure or form" (4). A tactical embrace of such queer negativity provides a position from which to battle the fact that "we are no more able to conceive of a politics without a fantasy of the future than we are able to conceive of a future without the figure of the Child" (11).

In engaging readings of "A Christmas Carol" (1843) and Silas Marner (1863), as well as several Alfred Hitchcock films and such contemporary events as the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998, Edelman deconstructs the conventions that prop up the Child as the innocent figure of and for fantastic futurity. The "primal negativity" that Ebenezer Scrooge and Silas Marner forsake on behalf of their youthful charges returns abjectified, Edelman argues, "as the unacknowledged energy of futurism itself" (53). The conversions or deaths of bachelors such as Scrooge, Marner, and other Victorian pedophobes [End Page 601] dramatize the process by which the lives of fragile children—and the futures for which they stand—are redeemed in the name of sameness or resemblance, a vision of progress as social stability, a concept of the "natural" hollow at the core.

At the center of Edelman's psychoanalytic intervention is an embrace of the death drive's dark abjection of the erotic futurity that stands for the political: "the death drive names what the queer, in the order of the social, is called forth to figure: the negativity opposed to every form of social viability" (9). Edelman's rhetorical figure for this oppositional force is the "sinthome," drawn from Jacques Lacan's discussion of the symptom's refusal of the very Symbolic logic that constitutes it. Thus "Sinthomosexuality," for Edelman, bodies forth a spectral non-generativity, a reiterative sameness that evacuates all possible conceptions of fantasy and futurity, and the Symbolic on which they depend. Marner's loom, for instance, in its day-in, day-out monotony, "is clearly defined in the text as a machine for producing sameness, which allows it to serve as a figure for the repetitive insistence of the sinthome, or even for its embodiment in sinthomosexuality" (56).

Edelman seamlessly appropriates Lacanian theories of symptom, symbol, and drive on behalf of "the political." Yet the relationship between politics and the Symbolic is, for...