- Queer Marx
In the introduction to his collection of essays For Marx (1965), Louis Althusser tells us that one of Marxian philosophy’s unique assets—and one of its ongoing challenges—is its ability to account for itself, “to take itself as its own object.”1 Certainly, Marxism’s historical reflexivity has propelled its enduring power to describe and explain the fallouts and reinventions of capitalism. Yet this power has in recent decades been eclipsed by critiques of its tendency to reduce all of social relations to relations of economic production, relegating particularities such as race or sex “in the final instance” (as Althusser might say) to class. One of the most trenchant of these critiques has come from queer theory, a field whose own critical efficacy has also been called into question in recent years. The wholesale “queering” of any fixed epistemological category alongside the “homonormalization” of LGBT politics prompted the editors of a special volume of Social Text to ask “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?”2 The issue of Marxism’s and queer theory’s ongoing critical power—and their seeming incommensurability—sets the backdrop for Kevin Floyd’s ambitious and careful book The Reification of Desire. A primary aim of the book is to demonstrate how these two theoretical projects’ weaknesses can reinvigorate one another—particularly at a moment in history when the social [End Page 343] differentiation entailed by global capitalism has increasingly tended to deradicalize politics, including queer politics.
Floyd’s approach, however, is explicitly Marxian, and he seems to devote more adroit care in addressing this potentially skeptical audience than a queer one. To this end, his guide (and sometimes object of critique) is Georg Lukács, a theorist who reminds us that Marxian orthodoxy refers not necessarily to the content but to the method of critique; that is, fidelity to the dialectic. And, indeed, the structure of The Reification of Desire mirrors that of Lukács’s chapter on reification in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (1923), moving from the objective to the subjective moment of reification at different points in twentieth-century history. Importantly, Floyd recognizes that reification as a concept is one most susceptible to reification itself simply because the ever-commodifying world tends to dehistoricize human experience and knowledge by proliferating equivalences via market exchange. In this sense, reification is conceptually always-already reified. By bringing in a queer critique, Floyd aims to salvage reification from its passive, contemplative usage by demonstrating how “the merely cultural” in all its particularities can engender active, conscious subjectivities—that is, the precondition for praxis. Along the way, Floyd complicates queer histories in elaborating some of the material bases often ignored by the field, in particular here the entrance of Fordism in the twentieth century and the transition to post-Fordism. The book as a whole or totality (reification’s dialectical other) succeeds because of the openings generated by juxtaposing these two critical knowledges and reversing (or, more nearly, “queering”) their reifying tendencies: for Marxism by concretizing subjectivity, sexuality in particular; for queer theory, by expanding the scope of its critical tools to include dialectical materialism.
The individual chapters in The Reification of Desire offer many (often incisive) insights. Chapter 1 on “Disciplined Bodies” examines the reifying consequences of the expropriation of scientific knowledge from bodies at a point in the early twentieth century when capital is increasingly “freed” from labor, and the market becomes oriented toward service and consumption. For example, by regimenting the time and space of production, the logics of Taylorism sought to maximize output and cheapen labor; concomitantly the emergent science of psychoanalysis regimented the time and space of therapeutic services, deploying sexuality—especially male sexuality—to be reproductively active and unwasteful. For Floyd, these two epistemological innovations operated in tandem to institute differentiations that would not only organize social [End Page 344] life in the first half of the twentieth century (work/leisure; production/consumption; private/public), but also establish sexual...