Queer Monadology

Bernhard Christoph Francke (gest. 1729), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Leinwand 81 x 66 cm

In the Fall 2021 semester I taught a graduate seminar on “Queer Monadology.” The course emerges, in part, from out of my thinking and current writing on solitude, as part of my ongoing work on the anti-communal intimacy of anonymous singularities (strangers, the clandestine, the nameless passerby)—as for instance, in cruising.

Drawing upon Daniel Tiffany’s brilliant book, Infidel Poetics, and his theorization of sociologically obscure, solipsistic communities of opacity, imperceptibility, and illegibility, the seminar at the same time was rooted in Leo Bersani’s notion of impersonal narcissism and what Mikko Tuhkanen, in his indispensable study of Bersani’s lifework, The Essentialist Villain, refers to as “homomonadology.” With this neologism, Tuhkanen crafts a reading of Bersani that foregrounds the degree and extent to which Bersani is our current day Leibniz. With these authors and texts as our principle guideposts, the seminar was launched with a reading of Leibniz’s Monadology (1714), along with The Fold, Deleuze’s uniquely illuminating engagement with the latter.

Other topics and questions included: living in a world without others (Deleuze); the inertia of being (Kaufman); the sovereignty of quiet (Quashie); looking away (Terada); and last things (Khalip). We read Sherwood Anderson’s short story “Hands” (Winesburg, Ohio, 1919); Michel Tournier’s Friday (1967); and looked at the work of artists Dean Sameshima and Deirdre Logue. We ended the course with Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, and its own suggestion that giving oneself over to the elemental transience (and non-transcendence) of singularly monadic finitude, might be the “secret to superhuman strength.”

Here are the eleven sections of the course and assigned readings:

Week 1 Monadology

  • Leibniz, The Monadology, in G.W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and The Monadology. Translated by George R. Montgomery. Prometheus Books, 1992. 
  • Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. Minnesota, 1993. 
  • Daniel Tiffany, Infidel Poetics. Chicago, 2009. Introduction, and Chapter 4: Lyrical Monadologies.  
  • Merve Emre, “Critical Love Studies,” Los Angeles Review of Books, May 3, 2020. 

Week 2 Homomonadology

  • Sam See, “Bersani in Love,”  The Henry James Review, volume 32, number 3, Fall 2011.
  • Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave, and Other Essays. Chicago, 2010. 
  • Bersani, “The Gay Outlaw” in Homos, Harvard, 1995. 
  • Bersani, “Far Out,” Thoughts and Things, Chicago, 2015. 
  • Bersani, “Receptivity and Being-In,” Receptive Bodies, Chicago, 2018. 
  • Mikko Tuhkanen, The Essentialist Villain: On Leo Bersani. SUNY, 2018. Introduction, and Chapter 1 “Homomonadology.”

Week 3 Pornographic Life

  • Michel Foucault, “The Lives of Infamous Men,” in Essential Works of Foucault, volume 3: Power. The New Press, 2000. 
  • William Haver, “Really Bad Infinities: Queer’s honour and the Pornographic Life” Parallax 13, vol. 5, number 4, October-December 1999. 
  • Bruce Benderson, “Sex and Isolation,” in Benderson, Sex and Isolation and Other Essays. Wisconsin, 2007. 
  • John Paul Ricco, “Minor,” and “Wake,” in Ricco, The Logic of the Lure, Chicago, 2002. 
  • Tiffany, Infidel Poetics. Chapter 5: Infidel Lyric; and Afterword. 

Week 4 Living in a World without Others

  • Michel Tournier, Friday. Translated by Norman Denny. Johns Hopkins, 1997. 
  • Gilles Deleuze, “Living in a World without Others,” The Logic of Sense, Columbia, 1990. 
  • Eleanor Kaufman, “Extreme Formality and the World without Others,” The Dark Precursor, Johns Hopkins, 2012. 

Week 5 Looking Away & Being Quiet

  • Rei Terada, Looking AwayPhenomenality and Dissatisfaction, Kant to Adorno. Harvard, 2009. 
  • Kevin Quashie, Introduction: Why Quiet; Chapter 1: Publicness, Silence, Sovereignty of the Interior; and Conclusion: To Be One, in Quashie, The Sovereignty of QuietBeyond Resistance in Black Culture. Rutgers, 2012. 
  • Ricco, “Mourning, Melancholia, Moonlight.” CR: The New Centennial Review, volume 19, number 2, Fall 2019. 

Week 6 Inert Being

  • Kaufman, “The Inertia of Being” in The Dark Precursor
  • Bersani, “Lawrentian Stillness,” A Future for Astyanax, Little Brown, 1975. 
  • Bersani and Dutoit, “One Big Soul,” Forms of BeingCinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity. British Film Institute, 2004. 
  • Bersani, “Re-perusal, Registered”  The Henry James Review, volume 32, number 3, Fall 2011.

Week 7 On Queer Isolation and Loneliness, Then & Now

  • Michael Hobbes, “Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness.” (March 2017). 
  • Sherwood Anderson, “Hands,” in Winesburg, Ohio (1919). 
  • Nicholas De Villiers, Opacity and the ClosetQueer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol. Minnesota, 2012. 

Week 8 Aesthetic Solitude

  • Adam Barbu and John Paul Ricco, “Regarding Empty History,” and “Queer Solitude and Non-Reparative Curating.” Vtape, Toronto, 2019-2020. Download at: https://vtape.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Empty-History.pdf
  • Art Works: Dean Sameshima, being alone and zu verschenken (to give away). 
  • Ricco, “Solitude and Things in the Time that Remains” (in press). 
  • Art Works: Deirdre Logue videos. 

Week 9 Not Having Us

  • Justin Torres, We the Animals. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2011. 
  • Dana Seitler, “Willing to Die: Addiction and Other Ambivalences,” Cultural Critique, volume 98, Winter 2018. 
  • Simon Critchley, Notes on Suicide. Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2015. 
  • Rob Cover, “Subjective Connectivity: Rethinking Loneliness, Isolation and Belonging in Discourses of Minority Youth Suicide” Social Epistemology (2020). 
  • Stephen Best, “Introduction: Unfit for History,” and Chapter 1: “My Beautiful Elimination,” in Best, None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life. Duke, 2018. 

Week 10 Last Things, Last Addresses

  • Jacques Khalip, Last ThingsDisastrous Form from Kant to Hujar. Fordham, 2018. 
  • Roshaya Rodness, “Cinema’s Queer Witness: Ira Sachs’ Last Address and the Indifferent View, CR: New Centennial Review, volume 19, number 2, Fall 2019. 
  • Olivia Laing, “Strange Fruit,” in Laing, The Lonely CityAdventures in the Art of Being Alone. Picador, 2016. 

Week 11 The Secret to Superhuman Strength

  • Alison Bechdel, The Secret to Superhuman Strength. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2021. 

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