- “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory
“Grids happen” writes Brian Massumi, at a moment in Parables for the Virtual where one is tempted to be swept away by the endless affirmative becomings of movement, flux, and potential, as opposed to being pinned down by the retroactive positioning of identity (2002, 8). For the most part, Massumi has been less interested in how grids happen than in asking how they can un-happen, or not happen. What the tension between the two purportedly opposing forces signals, at this junction of scholarly criticism, might be thought of as a dialogue between theories that deploy the subject as a primary analytic frame, and those that highlight the forces that make subject formation tenuous, if not impossible or even undesirable. I have seen this tension manifest acutely in my own work on intersectionality and assemblage theory. On the one hand I have been a staunch advocate of what is now commonly known as an intersectional approach: analyses that foreground the mutually co-constitutive forces of race, class, sex, gender, and nation. Numerous feminist thinkers consider intersectionality the dominant paradigm through which feminist theory has analyzed difference; Leslie McCall argues that intersectionality might be considered “the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with other fields, has made so far” (McCall 2005, 1771). Intersectional analysis is now a prevalent approach in queer theory.1 At the same time, encountering a poststructuralist fatigue with the now-predictable yet still [End Page 49] necessary demands for subject recognition, I also argued in my book, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, that intersectionality as an intellectual rubric and a tool for political intervention must be supplemented—if not complicated and reconceptualized—by a notion of assemblage. Following Massumi on the “retrospective ordering” of identities such as “gender, race, and sexual orientation” which “back-form their reality,” in Terrorist Assemblages I write, “[I]ntersectional identities and assemblages must remain as interlocutors in tension . . . intersectional identities are the byproducts of attempts to still and quell the perpetual motion of assemblages, to capture and reduce them, to harness their threatening mobility” (Puar 2007, 213). Subject positioning on a grid is never self-coinciding; positioning does not precede movement but rather it is induced by it; epistemological correctives cannot apprehend ontological becomings; the complexity of process is continually mistaken for a resultant product.2
Since the publication of Terrorist Assemblages, in response to anxieties about my apparent prescription to leave intersectionality behind (as if one could), I have often been asked to elaborate on the political usages of assemblages and assemblage theory. A prominent concept in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, assemblage seems to inspire doubt about its political “ applicability,” while intersectionality seems to hold fast as a successful tool for political and scholarly transformation. Part of the assumption at work in these queries is that representation, and its recognized subjects, is the dominant, primary, or most efficacious platform of political intervention, while a Deleuzian nonrepresentational, non-subject-oriented politics is deemed impossible. Perhaps these queries also reveal concerns about how they might be somehow incompatible or even oppositional, despite the fact that intersectionality and assemblage are not analogous in terms of content, utility, or deployment. As analytics, they may not be reconcilable. Yet they need not be oppositional but rather, I argue, frictional.
In what follows, I offer some preliminary thoughts on the limits and possibilities of intersectionality and assemblage and what might be gained by thinking them through and with each other. What are the strengths of each in the realms of theory, political organizing, legal structures, and method? Through highlighting the convivial crossings of these two differentiated but not oppositional genealogies, I offer some thoughts on epistemological correctives in feminist knowledge production—which has been driven, sometimes single-mindedly, by the mandate of intersectional analysis—to see what kinds of futures are possible for feminist theorizing. I reread the formative concept that fueled the metaphoric invocation of intersectionality, specifically Kimberlé Crenshaw’s use of the traffic intersection, to show where intersectionality, as that which retroactively forms the grid and...