Since its inception a couple of years ago Letters Journal - a self-described ‘Anti-Political Communist Journal' - has advocated the joys of doing nothing while retaining an impetus towards the destruction of capitalism. However, part of the puzzle of Letters' critique is that this insurrectionist pleasure in negation exists in a tension with a pessimistic awareness of the constraints of contemporary capitalism. Imagine a strongly constructed box with a collection of weak, struggling human beings inside trying to break out. They actually built the box and now need to escape. However, even if they succeed there's just another tightly constructed box that constricts their possibility of movement, and so on. All the myriad inflections of capitalist social relations - alienation, work based exploitation, affective dysfunction - comprise a series of interlocking constraints. Rather than positing any 'outside' to this via acts of 'creative resistance', Letters' anti-politics posits resistance as being necessarily suspended within these constraints.And from 'The Afterlives of Queer Theory' by Michael O'Rourke in 1.2 continent (2011) 102-116 -
Melancholic claustrophobia, pessimism and nihilism all mark Letters Journal's terminal reflections on the limitations of anti-capitalist praxis and critique. This isn't, however, a journal that advocates any form of compliance with the cramped space of contemporary capitalism or a retreat into philosophical resignation. Letters retains a consistent tone of critical negation alongside a cheerful embrace of a nihilistic uncertainty in the face of capitalism's refusal to collapse into its own dead labour. This nihilism is jokingly referred to in a promo for Letters IV - Every Beggar is Odysseus that's posted on YouTube. Alfonso, a time travelling 1977 Autonomist, incoherently berates and threatens Letters while encased in a steel helmet and accompanied by a strangulated guitar solo soundtrack. Simultaneously, some masked-up guy holds up slogans such as ‘Nihilists, one less effort if you would be nihilists' and ‘Do Nothing'. This mobilisation of pessimism retains a playfulness, and Letters Journal's nihilism has nothing to do with punk cliché or the corpse-painted faces of black metal. It's more an expression of the absence of an exit from capitalism that Letters Journal glimpses in the present as well as a way of puncturing the balloon of self-importance attached to anti-capitalist endeavours and activist exertions. As Letters IV notes, ‘The first sin of the pro-revolutionary is to frame everything on a scale inversely proportionate to her significance. As she becomes more insignificant, her vision grows in grandeur.'
Letters Journal can be a difficult read for ‘pro-revolutionaries' or those in favour of revolution but without the agency to implement it whether Marxist, anarchist or whatever. The phrase ‘pro-revolutionary' was coined by the two-member 'Monsieur Dupont' collective, and both Le Garcon and Frére Dupont are in issue four. M. Dupont was partially formed out of a desire to mock the pretensions of revolutionary organisations with a similar membership ratio. Their tactic was to inject some ludic, nihilist realism into the anti-capitalist milieu by stepping out of the activist injunction to do something and instead 'Do nothing'. This wasn't necessarily an invitation to sit around and watch Bonsai trees grow but rather a critique of activist 'urgency', its 'moral apparatus', and the 'reproduction of authoritarian and capitalist forms within this (anti-capitalist) political milieu'[iii]. Both this, and their emphasis upon the stringent limitations imposed by economic structure upon the potential agency of anti-capitalist milieus, continue to be unerringly present within Letters. I'm sympathetic to this in that it identifies unacknowledged apparatuses - organisational and discursive structures that produce subjectivity - that are capable of deforming anti-capitalist politics. Political subjects ('activist' or 'militant'), organisations and even language often become invisible constraints clumsily locked in a cycle of self-valorisation. Such skepticism remains at the core of Letters Journal's anti-politics, but within its pages anti-political communism has developed into a much more speculative heresy.
Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner's essay "What does Queer Theory Teach us about X?" a guest column written for the PMLA in 1995 was already talking about queer theory in ways which we might now recognize as resonating with the term "post-continental". The first thing we might notice about their essay is a refusal to succumb to the need to pin things down, to say what exactly queer theory is and does and to be entirely clear about what precisely it is that queer theorists do. Berlant and Warner are equally reluctant to accord a specific time to queer. For them, queer is radically anticipatory; it holds out a promise, a utopian aspiration, and occupies a time out-of-joint. Perhaps the appeal and the lasting power of queer theory then (and now) is that it is non-delimitable as a field and non-locatable in terms of a chrononormative temporal schema. Part of, perhaps all of, the attraction of queer theory is its very undefinability, its provisionality, its openness, and its not-yet-here-ness. Queer occupies a strange temporality; it is always, like Derrida's monstrous arrivant, to-come, whether from the past or from the future. And it has a ghostly formlessness too. Berlant and Warner write that, in their view, "it is not useful to consider queer theory a thing, especially one dignified by capital letters. We wonder whether queer commentary might not more accurately describe the things linked by the rubric, most of which are not theory". It cannot, they insist, "be assimilated to a single discourse, let alone a propositional program". I share their desire “not to define, purify, puncture, sanitize, or otherwise entail [pin a tail on to] the emerging queer commentary” or to fix a "seal of approval or disapproval" on anyone’s claims to queerness as I begin to think about the many and various afterlives of queer theory, if there is such a thing. Furthermore, I agree with them that we ought to prevent the reduction of queer theory to a speciality or a metatheory and that we ought to fight vigorously to "frustrate the already audible assertions that queer theory has only academic — which is to say, dead — politics".
And, as we shall see shortly, there is a certain discourse which propagates the idea that queer theory (and not just its politics) is always already dead, buried, over, finished. For me, much of queer thinking’s allure is its openness, its promissory nature, and that much of what goes under its name has been "radically anticipatory, trying to bring a [queer] world into being". Because of this very provisionality, and an attendant welcomeness to its own revision, any attempt to "summarize it now will be violently partial". But we might see some value in the violently partial accounts, the short-lived promiscuous encounters, cruising impersonal intimacies, I will be trying to stage here in this article as I ruminate upon the post-continental afterlives of queer theory.
If, for Berlant and Warner, "Queer Theory is not the theory of anything in particular, and has no precise bibliographic shape" then I would like to suggest — with a willful disingenuousness since after all Queer Theory [dignified by capitals] does have a working bibliographical and anthologizable shape which one can easily constitute — that queer theory is not solely the theory of nothing in particular. We might, a little hyperbolically to be sure, say that queer theory is (and always has been) the theory of everything. However, if we turn queer theory into a capital-t Theory (as we are often wont to do [and I cannot exclude myself from this urge]) we risk forgetting the differences between the various figures associated with it and the variegated contexts in which they work (as we shall soon see). As Berlant and Warner caution, "Queer commentary takes on varied shapes, risks, ambitions, and ambivalences in various contexts" and if we try to pin the tail on the donkey by imagining a context (theory) in which queer has "a stable referential content and pragmatic force" then we are in danger of forgetting the "multiple localities" of queer theory and practice. No one corpus of work (Judith Butler's for example) or no one particular project should be made to stand in for the whole movement, or what we might more provisionally—and more openly, perhaps a possible alternative to Berlant and Warner’s queer commentary — call the "culture" of queer theory (small-q, small-t).