- Are the Lips a Grave? A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex by Lynne Huffer
In Are the Lips a Grave Lynne Huffer brings together her work in feminist and queer theory to continue the project that she began in her previous book, Mad for Foucault—the rethinking of the foundations of queer, and now feminist, theory in order to develop a relational ethics, which she sums up as “an erotic, desubjectivating practice of freedom in relation to others” (106). For Huffer this work requires bridging the gap that has emerged between feminism and queer theory over the nature of the subject, ethics and sociality, and the functions of narrative and performativity. [End Page 347] Huffer, in her own words, wants to “interrupt the shouting match” over the nature of sexuality, ethics, and politics between feminists and queers in favor of an ethical politics of eros that can “acknowledge the legitimacy of both positions” (87). She likewise seeks to insert perhaps in, or after, the din of the queer-feminist fight a sound that has been forgotten or ignored—the sound of a specifically lesbian feminist ethics found in the jouissance of erotic practices of writing, reading, and responding to the other.
As with Huffer’s other works, she employs an impressive range of texts (from Irigaray and Foucault to Levinas and Butler to Valerie Solanas and Baise-moi to personal anecdotes) in order to address some foundational questions for feminist and queer theory, a refreshing turn from the stultifying debate around high and low theory that has recently attended the questions of ethics, politics, and the antisocial thesis. On my reading, the book is oriented around three primary approaches to establishing the (antifoundational) ground for her queer feminist ethics. First, Huffer criticizes queer theory—particularly those varieties that celebrate radical or shocking queer (typically male) sex practices or the antisocial orientation of queer life (see, for instance, Chapter 3—”Foucault’s Fist”)—for its privileging of performativity, which she argues has led to queer theory’s supposed lack of historical consciousness (cf. 30, 47, 65) and its masking of a (typically masculine) universalizing “we” that is always “refusing to be read by another” (67, emphasis in the original) and, thus, attempting to escape or neglect ethics. Second, she seeks to restore feminism genealogically as the precursor to queer theory in order to claim an anti-foundationalism, against the charges against feminism as normative and moralistic, “that is not only queer, but explicitly feminist” (20). Finally, Huffer, through a queer rereading of Irigaray and the figure of the lips, brings a specifically lesbian sexuality and eros back into the feminist and queer frames as a corollary to queer theory’s drive for self-shattering jouissance and an alternative to the feminist image of the ethical moralizer (a depiction of feminism that she does not really dispute). Through this last turn to a lesbian queer feminism, Huffer finds the possibility of a “new ethics of love” (130) and a “feminist ethics of vulnerability and care.”
Before turning to a few reservations I have about the ends of this ethical project and its attempt to bridge these difficult divides, I would first like to highlight Huffer’s key reading of Lawrence v. Texas in Chapter 4 as a moment that can inspire thinking around the stubborn obstacles between feminist and queer theory. Huffer argues that at the heart of the queer/feminist split over ethics lies an unhelpful dichotomy between narrative (as a medium for registering identity, social violence and harm, and ethics) and performativity (as an expression of the incongruity of identity and the open possibility of radical disruption). Huffer interrogates this difficult division most persuasively in her reading of Lawrence v. Texas and Powell v. State through an appeal to Lyotard’s notion of the differend. Following certain diverging [End Page 348] feminist and queer perspectives of Lawrence v. Texas, Huffer argues that a smooth narrative reading of the Lawrence case as a story of queer narrative liberation fails to account for...