In issue 3.3 of Theory & Event we present three essays that, for all their surface diversity, share a common concern about the politics of the emergence and maintenance of techniques of normalization.
In “Hiding for Whom?” Jill Locke examines the emergence of the Council on Civil Society, organized under the auspices of the Institute for American Values, and the work of the person who might called its primary theorist of family life, Jean Elshtain, as they respond to what they perceive as a crisis in American domestic life, the fragmentation of the contemporary family. Their response, Locke shows, in excluding gay and lesbian citizens from the possibility of enjoying the same civil rights as straights, serves not only to reinforce a heteronormative vision of familial life, but also to constrict the range of democratic contestation. Underlying the desire to shape family life through public policies designed to assign shame to some and pride to others, Locke argues, is a politics of truth that appropriates a particular reading of Hannah Arendt so as to delimit political action to a rarified sphere. Rereading Arendt for a more pluralized vision of politics, Locke counterpoises a multivocal dissenting politics of acting up to the vision of rejuvenated bowling leagues and recloseted gays and lesbians.
In “The Thickness of Tissue Engineering,” Eugene Thacker pursues the contemporary biopolitics of tissue engineering to show how the renegotiation of the natural not only occurs in laboratories, but is in large part the point of what goes on in contemporary bioengineering. The synthesizing of better bodies, he shows, has direct implications for the body politic, in that the very concept of agency is being transformed in laboratories, along with its processes, standards, and ambitions. What is at stake, of course, is our health, but at a more fundamental level, what is a stake is the very concept of “health” as it continues to subsume politics under the sign of normalization.
Finally, in “Et in Arcadia Ego,” Robin Wagner-Pacifici presents a thoughtful response to this year’s prime American spectacle of violence — so far — the mass slaying at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Looking beyond the usual suspects of violence as presented in the usual Hollywood fare, she analyzes recent (“Home Alone”) and classic (“Pinnochio”) children’s literature for a key to psychic life of high school outcasts. Warner-Pacifici thus provides a disturbing characterization of the unfolding of this event that responds compellingly to the “bellicose eclecticism” of a youth culture that can lasso together trench coats, the mafia, nazi insignia, video games, and rock music to form a new version of Dante’s inferno in the imaginary institution of society.
Completing a transition initiated at the beginning of this year with the departure of Anne Norton and the arrival of Bill Chaloupka as co-editor, at the end of this year Jane Bennett will end her term as review editor and move over to the board of coordinating editors. Jane has done an extraordinary job, persuading excellent commentators to review for a risky new enterprise, making sure that each issue, no matter what the state of the rest of the journal, would be provided with thoughtful comments on the latest in scholarship. She will be missed.
Though Jane can’t be replaced, she will be, by Kathy Ferguson of the University of Hawaii. (How fortunate to edit a journal whose audience can appreciate such paradoxes!) Those who know Kathy’s work as a feminist political theorist are familiar with her acuity of mind and generosity of vision. Those who know her personally are familiar with her laughter. We look forward to her joining us.