From the Bookshelf: Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie

Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, trans. by Bruce Benderson (New York: Feminist Press, 2013).

I eagerly awaited the English translation of Beatriz Preciado’s intoxicating volume that blends high-theory biopolitical diagrammatics with a piercing bio-technical-auto-fiction in an energizing, nomadic 400 pages whose roving affectivity is not, as I was perhaps first disposed to suspect, a result of its being an example of the sometimes wildly synthetic and speculative genre of European critical theory.  I first encountered Preciado’s writings on “the pharmacopornographic” regime in the recently released second edition of the Transgender Studies Reader, which included a snappy essay that I found immensely useful in putting together a genealogy of those thinkers in trans* studies who take “trans” beyond the level of subjectivity, the human, and the purely medico-discursive and speak also of technics, biopower, and affects.  Reading Testo Junkie reaffirmed for me that she offers some usefully provocative and playful speculations on contemporary modes of existence that work very hard to find a way of attending to the mutually presupposed emergence of subjectivity in tandem with its non-subjective biopolitical infrastructures, of culture and nature as indissociable and yet differentiating, of Foucault and Marx for productive ends, and of technology and the body without mutual exclusions.

The result is a sometimes chaotic assemblage of incisive arguments that span not only pornography and psychopharmacology, the twin tendencies of the era Preciado contends we live in, but a whole host of subjects and objects that gender studies, queer theory, and work on biopolitics and late capitalism hold dear.  Among them, we find:

  • “Heterosexuality must be understood as a politically assisted procreation technology” (47);
  • RE: trans v. cis: “in ontopolitical terms, there are only technogenders” (120);
  • The Pill (birth control) is “the edible panopticon” (173);
  • And, the “pornification of work” has built a contemporary economy of “excitation-frustration value” (287).

Certain parts of Preciado’s brash argumentation, written during a period when she was self-administering the “testogel” testosterone from which the book derives its title, make me nervous; and yet, I feel less inclined to hold her to her own words in a book project that succeeds so well as not taking itself seriously–something most critical theory won’t dare do, if only to maintain the emphasis of its critical-enough-orientation.  Still, while admiring her work to re-integrate the role of culture and representation into their place in thinking biopower’s specific apparatuses, I was left at the end of Testo Junkie unsure whether or not the compounding of the pharmaco- and the pornographic is too simplistic. Her theory of “potentia gaudendi,” the orgasmic force that designates “the (real or virtual) strength of a body’s (total) excitation,” too, seemed to be a rebaptising of a Deluzian, Nietzschean and Spinozist thinking of ontological force or affect that offered little new in its sexualized version other than a potential problematic anthropomorphization of vitality as always already (human-) orgasmic.  Nevertheless, the embellished indulgence of Preciado’s choice of Latin in this case once again reassured me that what Testo Junkie is able to do creatively within the rigorous constraints of contemporary critical theory is worth the potential shallowness of its creations, and that the author is more than aware of this.

The last chunk of the book, which examines in detail work on immaterial labor, the real subsumption of life under late capitalism, affective labor, and the so-called femininization of labor, was, I thought, outstanding.  Preciado takes Hardt and Negri, Lazzaratto and Virno, among others, and attunes their work more precisely with  feminist marxist scholarship, resulting in a set of mutations between the two somewhat overlapping fields that does a certain justice to contemporary questions of sex work and pornographic productions, especially.

Finally, she mobilizes a germane genealogy of feminist and queer techno-scientific speculative thought, particularly in her careful readings of Donna Haraway, which she diffracts through contemporary modes of existence to great effect.  “We are no longer pleading, like our predecessors in the 1970s and 1980s” writes Preciado towards the end of Testo Junkie, “for an understanding of life and history as effects of different discursive regimes.  We are pleading to use discursive productions as stakeholders in a wide process of the technical materialization of life that is occurring on the planet” (350).  I’ve certainly been in spaces where the pleading still is for that kind of discourse analysis, or somehow hasn’t even arrived at that poststructuralist moment, but I take Preciado’s declaratives here as speculation, a forceful textuality of their own that aim to make the future inhere from the present in order to contribute to nothing less than a transvaluation of values, academico-disciplinary ones very much included.

Read Testo Junkie, then, if not for any of these reasons, for the sex scenes in them that will elude the ability of any reader to dismiss them as mere capitulations to commodification and the spectacular/specular symptomatic of so much queer theory today.  I realized myself that it had been a few years sine I had read anything academic with a sex scene in it. Despite my experiential mistrust of such autobiographical or representational experiments–performative in spirit or not–I found myself nonetheless piqued by Preciado’s in/sincere(?) effort at what Peter Sloterdijk calls “voluntary auto-intoxication.”  As an attempt at transdisciplinary homeopathy, perhaps the fitting conclusion to draw about Testo Junkie is that it succeeds in doing something.  Differently. And that is an excellent place to start with it.

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