- "This Kinky Practice of Freedom"On Lips, Restoring Rifts, and Huffer's Queer Feminist Ethics of Eros
In Are the Lips a Grave? (2013), Lynne Huffer reworks Leo Bersani's infamous question about homosexual self-shattering—"Is the Rectum a Grave?" (1987)—into an occasion for theorizing the desubjectivating possibilities of a queer feminist ethics of eros. Heterotopian, not utopian; nonredemptive, but attentive to harms; restorative (in a rift-restoring sense), not reparative; promiscuous, and therefore both relational (Huffer 2013, 32) and nonrelational (48) at the same time—"this kinky practice of freedom," as Huffer calls it (2013, 32), at once builds on and departs from the so-called antisocial thesis in queer theory (Caserio 2006), particularly as Janet Halley formulates it in Spit Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (2006). Challenging Halley's view that projects for sexual freedom need to take a queer break from feminism, Huffer interrogates the moralism of feminist foundationalism and simultaneously confronts the ethical limits of queer antinormativity. By challenging Halley's placement of Luce Irigaray squarely under the heel of a moralizing and decidedly un-queer cultural feminism and rereading Irigaray through a Foucauldian ethical lens, Huffer reclaims Irigaray as a crucial antifoundational feminist resource for thinking queerly about the rifts at the core of our queer feminist worlds.
In what follows, I analyze Huffer's reformulation of sexual ethics by focusing on two of the book's central figures: lips and rifts. Closely reading these figures, I contend that Huffer's writing embodies—linguistically, aesthetically, and philosophically—a kinky ethics in multiple senses of the term: an ethics that is densely knotted, twisted back upon itself, unconventional and erotic, Franco-American (français d'Amérique), motile and capacious in its co-entangled aptitude for aggression and its attention to harms, and painful yet tender. In a word, this kinky ethics is desubjectivating. In a world where the ground of sexual morality has always already been pulled out from under our feet—where the [End Page 179] foundational conceits of liberal modernity, progress, and personhood have been exposed as fundamentally incoherent, violating, and exclusionary—Huffer's kinky ethics offers an antifoundational repertoire for how to locate our precarious queer feminist positionalities with one another again and anew. Importantly, this kinky ethics offers no reassurance that things can be fixed, at least not once and for all. Rather the question Are the Lips a Grave? poses is, How can we more effectively cultivate our capacities to become undone?
Restoring Queer Feminism's Ethical Mobility
Huffer opens Are the Lips a Grave? by staking a "restorative claim to an ethical queer feminism and its transfiguration of ethics as erotic living" (21–22). Huffer's use of the adjective "restorative" in this instance is perhaps somewhat misleading, as she does not mean curative or ameliorative, but rather "adaptive" or "tonic," as in a muscle's physiological ability to adapt, tone, and transform by contracting and releasing in response to stimuli. In this sense, Are the Lips a Grave? seeks to restore to queer feminism what we might call its ethical mobility: its capacity to responsibly respond to others under difficult, fraught, and heavy conditions of constraint and complicity. Huffer argues that the antifoundational heritage of queer feminism provides underutilized resources for moving beyond the critique of Western rationalist sexual morality and toward what she calls ethopoiesis (43). In this imaginative ethical transmogrification, "eros emerges as a new name for an unreasonable, corporeal ethics of living in the biopolitical present" (12). Eros, that is to say, names an embodied ethics that troubles and exceeds the naturalized and normalizing rules of the sexual-moral status quo.
What distinguishes Are the Lips a Grave? from much contemporary antisocial queer theory is therefore not only Huffer's rigorous and vital defense of queer feminism, but also her insistence that we attend to the ethical dilemmas at the heart of sexual morality in the present. From Huffer's queer feminist perspective, love and betrayal, flirtation and threat, and care and harm are never simply or inherently opposed; on the contrary, they are complexly entangled, strangely coconstitutive, and irrevocably messy. This messiness, she...