I am back from the Second Annual IFjP Conference (Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms (University of Sussex 17-19 May 2013) where, after chairing an interesting panel on Queer research methods and pedagogies, I attended Lisa Duggan‘s keynote address Atlas Shrugging:The Impossible Queer Desire of Ayn Rand. This talk was particularly interesting for me because I am at the moment writing up two different articles* about social imaginaries and materialities of networking and digital engagement, in relation to civil society actors – and Duggan is thinking about fantasies and figurations of the heroic enterpreuner which sustain the neoliberal dream.
It comes as no surprise (if one thinks back at the ‘homonormativity’ position) that she argued that queer politics become enfolded in neoliberalism because they have aspirations in its three vital institutions – marriage, military and the market. And it is no surprise that audience response was heated, either. Duggan worked her argument through Lee Edelman’s No Future thesis of anti-sociality, to argue that the figure of the queer outsider is basically what captures the queer and feminist community into this romantic fantasy, and enfolds us into the neoliberal belly of the beast.
Which brings me to Ayn Rand, who, Duggan explains, with her bad writing and fascination for America’s serial killers, is responsible for many of these figurations of greedy heroic individualism. These are the figurations that sustain our psychic investment and political consent to a neoliberal, murderous state, she suggests (which is what Duggan calls ‘optimistic cruelty’, in response to Berlant’s cruel optimism). Complex but interesting, huh? Some clips that were shown manifest the huge influence that Rand has had in American politics and pop culture (such as the Simpsons clip below).
Less about psychic investment and more about popular consent in something that has obviously failed is what the Kilburn Manifesto deals with. Duggan’s keynote introduced me to this and I am reading the first intallment now (After Neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto Edited by Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin).
** One paper was partly presneted with the title Digital and networked by default? Feminist politics media lived at Queer, Feminist and Social Media Praxis, University of Sussex, 17 May 2013. The second will be presented with the title Telling the story of the stories: imaginaries and materializations of digital engagement, at ICA 2013 London (International Communication Association), 20 June 2013, Panel The Materiality of Voice.