The Screwball Asses

by Guy Hocquenghem, Semiotext(e) Intervention Series 3, 2010

Alex Jovanovich

I’ve always bristled at the word “gay”: “gay” books, “gay” movies, “gay” parties, “gay” clubs, “gay” hotels, “gay” men and women. It’s a word that too easily supersedes numerous other qualities a person or thing might have. I, of course, have no issue identifying myself as “gay,” but I want to take part in a much larger discussion as to what the embodiment—ideologically, socially, sexually—of gay can be. I believe that the parameters of this term should be as fluid and gloriously fucked-up as possible.

Guy Hocquenghem (1946–88) was one of queer theory’s most abrupt and original thinkers. A participant in the French student riots of 1968 and one of the leaders of the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire—a gay-rights group founded in 1971 that sought recognition amongst its primarily male and heterosexual revolutionary counterparts—he authored several texts that contributed to the radicalization of gay politics and identity (including Homosexual Desire, 1972; Love in Relief, 1982; and posthumously, The Amphitheatre of the Dead Ones: Anticipated Memories, 1994). In The Screwball Asses, an essay originally published in 1972 in the magazine Recherches (whose editor-in-chief was his mentor, Félix Guattari), Hocquenghem criticized the methods through which the majority of leftists sought social change. He felt that if queers wanted to affect culture and create a language of genuine revolution, then they needed to do what heterosexual leftists at the time weren’t doing: adopt desire—physical, sexual desire—as a fundamental component to queer political thinking (desire too often being mistakenly defined as strictly a pallid catalyst within capitalist production). Hocquenghem saw the denial of physical desire, gay and even straight, as a failure of left-wing ideology, as well as an error in assuming that desire is a force utterly excised from the intellect: “Not only have Leftists blocked off their senses, they have also constructed a language in which half the words are suspect, or tainted because they are colonized, swindled of their meaning either by religion, by the bourgeoisie, or by Marxist or Freudian ideologies.”

So, how can desire, as an ideology, slip into the mainstream of political thought? Queer writers and theorists continue to acknowledge the various failures in changing the primarily heteronormative, capitalist politics of Western culture in the struggle for “equality.” Hocquenghem saw the need for change through a sensualist’s lens, which does not sit exclusively within the realm of the homosexual; play, eroticism, poetry and chance apply to all manner of sexual proclivity and body, as Hocquenghem realized.

Play, eroticism, poetry and chance are words that signify beautiful, exquisite revolt, and they have been used without moderation in describing the changes that took place in art and aesthetics during the twentieth century—it’s foolish to think that these terms should sit exclusively within the realm of art history. It is time to see how these words could be applied within the larger philosophical arena of politics, for it is there that unwieldy doses of artfulness and queerness are desperately needed.

Alex Jovanovich is a freelance writer based in New York.

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