Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More No Future

(See here for my first post on this book. Having taken the incredulous words of an anonymous poster at that thread seriously, I deliberately took some time off from reading Edelman in the hopes of cultivating a more distanced perspective. In the meantime I've been reading The Convict and the Colonel, an amazing piece of PoMo anthropology with stories in parallel columns and visual narratives interwoven.)

Finished the "Sinthomosexual" chapter of Edelman's No Future last night, and found myself wishing once again that he'd read more Zizek ... or at least that he didn't write as if ideas traveled straight from Lacan in 1975 to Edelman three decades later without crossing intervening critical space. There are a few scattered references to one Slavoj essay, but no nod to Sublime Object -- or to Looking Awry, the seventh chapter of which is as strong and sustained an examination of the sinthome as you can get.

Having said that, though, I want to emphasize that there are many good parts to this chapter. I'm not sure I can articulate them better than k-punk has, writing on the innovative powers of Edelman's sinthomosexual. The medievalist in me, though, wanted Edelman to acknowledge the pun that Lacan's sinthome encodes: sinthome as "Saint Thom[as]," the original disbeliever who had to poke his fingers into the gaping wound of Jesus ... talk about suturing, the Real, and all those Lacanian goodies. My feeling is that, had he done so, he might have focused more on the processual workings of the sinthome rather than instantiating it. A sprinkling of feminism might also have helped ... Cixous, for example, in her own work on Joyce (the author for whom Lacan coins sinthome) phrases more positively what Edelman emplaces within the utterly negative. And of course it would have been nice to bring Joyce into the argument, since the "original" sinthome so involved is compulsion to write and produce art.

But the chapter does yield a terrific reading of Ebenezer Scrooge, and offers a compelling argument for why Tiny Tim must die.

More soon.

[chart from here. See also here.]


Anonymous said...

My undergraduate mentor David Hayman has a nice story about Jacques and the symptom as it appears in Joyce.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

what a piece that was, Michael! Lacan's lightweight skimming over symptoms paired with sentences like "a daunting pyramid of beef which refused to yield any chewable meat despite my urging." Poor Jacques; it sounds like he was even less interesting than the chewy entree.

Michael O'Rourke said...

Before JJC ties us all up in Borromean knots I would also point out another startling (even more than the absence of Cixous, Kristeva, Irigaray, any feminists...) omission inthis book....Foucault. Where is Foucault (early, middle, late) in this book? I'm not saying that is a bad thing. The saintification (sinthommeification?) of Foucault in queer studies is rather tiresome but it is an odd lacuna in a text full of unacknowledged debts and skirted debates. Is he not here because Foucault's texts are almost always given over to the future I wonder?

I agree with JJC about Edelman's Zizek and would ask "who's Zizek is this?" (and whose De Man? not mine in either case).

One other point about the text's relative neglect of feminism leads me to ask if Edelman is really only talking about/to/for gay men in NF. Some readers--perhaps not JJC--might ask if the sinthomosexual must always be male (if I remember correctly Edelman has a note to this effect. The notes in the book are interesting for their attempt to foreclose interpretations of NF I think). Other readers might ask--JJC might be included here-- if the sinthomosexual must always be human (the birds after all are sinthomosexual in his schema, right?).

One final problem to think through before I go back to Leo Bersani's A Future for Astyanax (a remarkable book on desire in literature written in 1976 which already theorizes the dissolved, scattered, disseminated self): Tim Dean sees the sinthomosexual/sinthome as functioning identically to the homograph/homographesis in Edelman's earlier (and still the best book ever written in queer theory) book. I'm not persuaded by this at all. Back to JJC's cantorian contortions!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

"Cantorian contortions"?!

The notes are very interesting. They seldom yield bibliography (other than for a specific citation) or emplace the conversation within wider critical debate, as traditional scholarly endnotes would do. They often offer instead a rumination on the text wherein Edelman chews over what he just wrote, and tells the reader why other possibilities are not all that possible (e.g. the notes to the first chapter, especially 14 and 19, both of which ventriloquize the response he expects from his readers -- actually, the responses are labelled as cries, resistance, rejection, assailings, dismissals, and symptoms; as well as the notes to chapter 4, which offer a parallel narrative to the main text).

To put it more charitably, the notes are more imbued with the personality of their author than any other endnotes you are likely to find in a scholarly book.

Eileen Joy said...

As regards whether Edelman's book is really for gay men, I certainly feel that way [but that could be my "issue" and not Edelman's fault]--Judith Halberstam has already spoken to this. As to Tiny Tim, don't you think Edelman choses awfully easy targets for his critique? Frankly, even *after* reading Edelman, I still want Tiny Tim to live. Seriously. [More later on this.]

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Oh, me too. I think it's fun to say things like "Tiny Tim must die!" and "Fuck Annie! Fuck the waif from Les Miserables!" but in the end that joy of verbally smashing the idols (especially the tiny, cute, tender idols) doesn't necessary clear all that much critical space. Because they are maudlin, tiny idols are easy targets. But I wonder if they are really so powerful as they are made out to be?

Eileen Joy said...

Actually, I think Tiny Tim *is* a powerful idol; just think of all the continual remakes of Dickens's story: in Bill Murray's film "Scrooged," Tiny Tim is transmogrified into a lower-class black child who is mute; and so on and so forth [not counting all the faithful remakes and retellings of the original story in which Tiny Tim is still, um, Tiny Tim]. But I guess I just prefer the message of "the life you save might be Tiny Tim's!" over "the life you save might be your own!"

Odin said...


Regarding the Zizek comment, Professor Edelman disagrees (convincingly!) with Zizek on many points concerning Zizek's applications of "Lacanian" thought (his criticism of _How to read Lacan_, for example, is scathing). Lacan said something to the effect of "You can be Lacanians if you choose; I, however, am Freudian" (paraphrase), and I think that Professor Edelman is one of those willing Lacanians.

What I mean to say is that I don't believe that he simply neglects Zizek or that he hasn't read enough Zizek, but that he is distinctly not Zizekian.