- Editor’s Introduction: Racial Desire(s)
[W]hat if we were to reach, what if we were to approach here (for one does not arrive at this as one would at a determined location) the area of a relationship to the other where the code of sexual marks would no longer be discriminating? The relationship would not be a-sexual, far from it, but would be sexual otherwise: beyond the binary difference that governs the decorum of all codes, beyond the opposition feminine/masculine, beyond bi-sexuality as well, beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality which come to the same thing. As I dream of saving the chance that this question offers I would like to believe in the multiplicity of sexually marked voices. I would like to believe in the masses, this indeterminable number of blended voices, this mobile of non-identified sexual marks whose choreography can carry, divide, multiply the body of each “individual,” whether he be classified as “man” or as “woman” according to the criteria of usage. Of course, it is not impossible that desire for a sexuality without number can still protect us, like a dream, from an implacable destiny which immures everything for life . . .—Jacques Derrida, “Choreographies” (76)
The writing of desire—whether queer, gay, bisexual, straight, or other—often raises quandaries for the ethnic subject, whose sexuality has been both hyper-visible (as in the “promiscuity” of the so-called “Hottentot Venus” Sara Baartman or the menacing figure of the “Black Male Rapist” used to promote lynching) and under prohibition (as in so-called “macho” cultures such as Italian American or Chicano/a where homosexuality is sometimes seen as a betrayal of the race). Furthermore, for immigrants, desire often is embodied in terms of figuration of the new utopian land in which they hope to flourish or the white American identity they wish to obtain; therefore “making America” (as Rocco Marinaccio suggests in this issue) has both a sexual and political meaning—one may “make” the sexual body of the US through conquest of its subjects, but in so doing lose bonds to the body of the land of origin. Conversely, immigrants can become homesick for the land of origin, which often is configured as a sexual (and at times adulterous) desire that cannot be reclaimed. But since desire itself, as Jacques Lacan has argued, is always characterized as an absence or lack (223–24), these figurations of unobtainable and contradictory desires make legible the process whereby ethnic subjects are interpellated within dominant categories of race, class, and gender, but also sometimes suggest ways these categories can be partially undermined, or even rendered inoperative. [End Page 5]
This issue of MELUS takes up the topic of how the polymorphous desires of the “minority” subject—both desire for and of the other(s)—might be inscribed within the body of the individual, the text, and the multiple nations immigrant/ethnic subjects inhabit. Many of the literary works discussed in this issue figure forth binary configurations in which one can be either queer or straight, feminine or masculine, ethnic or white, immigrant or citizen, slave or master; however, sometimes the sexualities and identities described by the texts enact more hybrid constructions of desire and subjectivity. Jacques Derrida has suggested that if we could reach beyond binary oppositions such as “masculine/feminine” and “heterosexual/homosexual,” to which I would add “white/ethnic” and “American/immigrant,” we might embrace a “multiplicity of sexually marked voices” or of “polysexual signatures” (76). Derrida suggests that this embrace of the diversity of sexual identities and desires might “carry, divide, and multiply” the body itself; the body becomes the site of plural sexualities that in the end might protect us from annihilation, destruction, and an implacable destiny of hate for and denigration of the desires of the ethnic other, who is ultimately (I argue) inseparable from the self. This multiplying of polysexual signatures is both sexual and textual, and many of the essays in this issue suggest that desire acts within a text as a disruptive and destructive, but also creative and emplastic, force.
In “‘Haim Afen Range’: The Jewish Indian and the Redface Western,” Peter Antelyes investigates the...