Complex Singularities

Adventures in Thinking Outside the Tower
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NOMOREPOTLUCKS article: Critical Intimacy Studies in the Era of Intersectional Hate

In this short piece, I look at what insights critical intimacy studies and affinity politics might have for the new ideological and political struggles made manifest in the rise of the so-called “alt-right” and Trumpism. In particular I explore tactics for reckoning with their powerful deployment of an “intersectionality of hate,” especially seeing new opportunities for uncanny alliances and for troubling binaries.

Check it out on NOMOREPOTLUCKS:

Field Musings

You know your research object has become a research field when it becomes impossible to keep up with all the new material it keeps hurling your way without a research team.

Discursive Struggles

How many world-historical struggles have been discursive struggles?

Social Justice Warriors Unite!

As a discourse analyst, the calls to not use the term “alt-right” and instead use “White Supremacy” miss the mark I think. You can’t discount the materiality of the discourse of the alt-right, which contains elements of White Supremacy and White Nationalism, yes, but also consists of MRAs, Pick Up Artists, Gamergate, anti-gay and trans elements, etc. The alt-right is a re-articulation of various discourses forged out of, as Rembert Browne put it, the intersectionality of hate. We cannot collapse that dire diversity because it gives us clues to the multiple fronts of this battle. As with grassroots organizing, which the right excels at, it seems like they have also trumped us with respect to affinity politics. 

These are backlash politics writ large—writ yuge—and we need to do what we do best: name, identify, deconstruct, create cracks, workshop alternatives, persevere, make change. I say we start taking up the mantle of Social Justice Warriors in the proud tradition of taking their discourses and reversing them. This is what they are trying to do to us, after all, they are using our own tool kit and tactics to get at us. Enough. I refuse to cede that ground, to let “social justice” become their term to mock us with. 

Social Justice Warriors unite!

On Weaving Something other than a Shroud for the Day after the Apocalypse

I’m re-reading Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” for my Robotic Intimacies class, and this passage, written in the depth of 80s struggles and fear, leapt out at me an appropriate measure of today, too:
I do not know of any other time in history when there was greater need for political unity to confront effectively the dominations of ‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’, and ‘class’. I also do not know of any other time when the kind of unity we might help build could have been possible. None of ‘us’ have any longer the symbolic or material capability of dictating the shape of reality to any of ‘them’. Or at least ‘we’ cannot claim innocence from practising such dominations. White women, including socialist feminists, discovered (that is, were forced kicking and screaming to notice) the non-innocence of the category ‘woman’. That consciousness changes the geography of all previous categories; it denatures them as heat denatures a fragile protein. Cyborg feminists have to argue that ‘we’ do not want any more natural matrix of unity and that no construction is whole. Innocence, and the corollary insistence on victimhood as the only ground for insight, has done enough damage. But the constructed revolutionary subject must give late-twentieth-century people pause as well. In the fraying of identities and in the reflexive strategies for constructing them, the possibility opens up for weaving something other than a shroud for the day after the apocalypse that so prophetically ends salvation history.
Here’s to new affinities, new alliances, new possibilities, and to fighting those old and new struggles now upon us—as well as those that loom in the offing. And here’s to weaving a new and better future, together.

Robotic Intimacies as Class and Chronicle

Robot Creation of Adam

I just finished my first Robotic Intimacies class of the term, and I’m excited by what this new semester has in store. One of the insights that came out in discussion with a current grad student who had taken the class last term, the first time I taught it, is that the problematics that had to be brought to the surface last semester, were the first things that students had in mind this year. We thought perhaps this had to do with the growing societal prominence of robotic technologies, artificial intelligence, bionics, wearable technology, and posthuman subjectivities broadly. While before it was an oncoming horizon, with landscape that you could make out if you were looking for it, 8 months later we are just that much closer, and the details are more present, more urgent.

Articles on the 4th industrial revolution, weaponized drones, bionic appendages, mind-controlled technology, teledildonics, named AIs with distinctive skill sets and personalities have been on the rise. In Flesh and Machines (2002), roboticist Rodney Brooks talks about how there is a massive gulf between the the robotic dreams of science fiction and the actual machines of today, but also talks about how, year by year, we are closing that distance. He posits that “in just twenty years [from 2002] the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder” and, from a 2016 standpoint, I have to think his timeline is more-or-less accurate. The interesting thing is teaching a course on a topic that’s societal prominence is in a process of rapid becoming. I’m coming to see the course as also a chronicle of the changes that are underway, one that has one foot in the present and the other in a future that is fast approaching—and palpably closer each term.

A Few Thoughts on BLM and Pride

Random thought from last night: Usually, a few days after Pride, we stop talking about it; it tucks away with LGBQT* issues broadly into its customary corner of the public sphere and the slate of public discussion moves on. This year, almost a week later, my news feed is absolutely full of discussion of LGBQT* issues, of discussion of racialized queers, of discussion of the relationship of marginalized communities with the police. This is exciting, this is the political, and this is what happens when some brave people literally force us to pause and consider, and to step out of the comfort zone of celebratory neoliberalism.

Bravo to Black Lives Matter Toronto for being fierce and visionary in their affinity politics and fighting for solidarity, progress, and inclusion.

CFP: Screen Memories, Screen Cultures [Open Access Anthology; Papers due 19 Sept 16]

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Please find below the Call for Papers for the second open access anthology from The Canadian Network for Psychoanalysis and Culture on Screen Memories, Screen Cultures. And if you haven’t seen it I invite you to also check out the first anthology, The Freudian Legacy Today (Ed. Dina Georgis, Sara Matthews, and James Penney), here: ( Please feel free to boost this to any relevant networks or pass it on to anyone who might be interested.
Best Regards,
(with apologies for X-posting)

The Canadian Network for Psychoanalysis and Culture ( contributions to a new anthology:

CNPC 2: Screen Memories, Screen Cultures

Editors: Sara Matthews, James Penney, Nathan Rambukkana

With our current popular and critical preoccupation with digital screens and screen cultures, we readily forget that psychoanalysis since its inception has had a lot to say about screens. Specifically, psychoanalysis draws our attention to how screens mediate the difficult intersection of everyday experience with unconscious desire.

In his essay “Screen Memories” (1899), Freud asks why we tend to remember only indifferent details of our childhood experiences, including those whose emotional intensity would presumably leave an indelible impression on the memory. By way of an answer, Freud suggests that the psychical mechanism of repression selects these humdrum elements in order to disguise their associative links to others that directly evoke inappropriate fantasies and unsettling desires.

For his part, Lacan in his teaching develops an understanding of the screen as an aspect of the realm of appearances that serves to shield us from the Other’s expropriative gaze. In this sense, the screen is that opaque or ambiguous region of the visual field that provides us with a modicum of shelter from the ravages of an unmasterable, unlocatable, and often malevolent look. This look wields a forbidding power to trigger guilty self-reproach or leave us blushing in shame.

For its second volume of original and provocative work “Screen Fantasies, Screen Cultures,” CNPC invites the submission of papers that foreground the continued centrality of psychoanalytic theory to the contemporary study of media cultures.

How do we understand today’s proliferation of representational surfaces and spaces – today usually pixellated – psychoanalytically? Are the skeptics right – are we rearing new generations whose often compulsive attachment to their screens bespeaks a decreased or degraded capacity to confront the difficult challenges of psychic and social life? Or do digital screens offer new pathways to sublimation, that is to the negotiation of unconscious conflict through intellectual and aesthetic creation? Also, how do screens mediate the construction and deconstruction of social identities and desire?

We are especially interested in work that builds bridges between psychoanalytic theory and criticism broadly conceived and the cognate fields of media studies, visual studies, film studies, art theory, internet studies, and the digital humanities. How might psychoanalytic insights force us to re-evaluate and reconsider the most fundamental assumptions of these diverse and influential arenas of critical and theoretical work?

Deadline: Monday, 19 September, 2016

Word Count: maximum 7000 words

See Submissions for further details.

Book Project: The History of Digital Intimacies

So after running the idea of a History of Digital Intimacies book series up the flagpole and getting a mixed response, I’ve decided to be less ambitions and go with a single book, tentatively titled The History of Digital Intimacies: Sexuality, Kinship, and Connection over Social Media. The title and matter will of course shift and blur over time but I am spending one month of the summer working out a grant proposal and book for the project as well as starting figuring out the parameters of the eventual book and moving towards the book proposal. I think one thing it will include is my digital authoethnography of my own digital intimate connections, including reflection on things like programming as a kid, hanging out and having relationships over Talkers during my undergrad (including breaking into computer labs in the middle of the night and having pizza parties with my friends who were also chatting with others is disparate virtual text worlds of the 90s while we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show on the big teaching screens, working for the online hitchhiker’s guide website in the late 90s, to now, where the majority of my professional social life is actually digital—sharing ideas, texts, news, discussion and frustrations over social media. It’s possible this is the introduction, it’s possible this is another chapter, but I find it extremely daunting—part research, part autobiography, part an archeology of my personal/intellectual journey. But is should be an interesting process… hopefully!

In the Run Up

It just struck me that the way I got over my imposter complex for large lectures was moving beyond thinking of the lecture scene as a performance that I was scripting and rehearsing and thinking of it more like an exam or interview that I prep for. Maybe I don’t know everything about, say, privacy laws, but in the lead up to the lecture anything I am foggy about I read up on, and cram in there. I also practice, which I’m finding is key for repeating a class because even if I knew all this the first time around, there are things that I have forgotten, or aren’t at the tip of my tongue. Then the lecture just becomes the last little piece of a long process, you just talk about what you know, and by then you know you know it, so it is easy. Even if the tech fails, or something else comes up, or students just refuse to engage that day, that is okay, because the exact same lecture another year might go great.

It’s about training. Even a seasoned runner is not able to run a marathon effectively starting from nothing, they train in the lead up. It’s a process of constantly becoming the marathon runner.

Maybe that will be the pedagogical book I write—one about teaching, overcoming the imposter complex and working with different levels of class: In the Run  Up: University Teaching as Process (or something….)