Queer theorist Paul B. Preciado’s new volume, "An Apartment on Uranus," documents the transformation of one’s body.
"My transbody does not exist," declares the "sujet perdu" Preciado Photo: David Jar/imago images
Whoever reads Paul B. Preciado is overwhelmed with words. And in the process reads, and reads again and again, why gender, sex, subjectivity are powerful fictions that impose rigid identities on people, exploit their desire, rob them of the diversity of their potential. "Necropolitics" is what Preciado calls this: making people "live as if they were already dead."
Dating from 2013 to 2018, the selected texts in the iconic queer theorist’s new volume, titled "An Apartment on Uranus," first appeared as columns in the French newspaper Liberation. Preciado also documents a series of concrete deaths in it: the refugees in the Mediterranean, the Catalan independence movement, Preciado’s relationship with the writer Virginie Despentes, and finally the name and "legal fiction" Beatriz Preciado.
In fact, Preciado allowed himself to be recognized as a man during this period of change. But this recognition takes place, as he meticulously documents, despite the obvious blowing up of the binary gender order only within this order, only at the price "that I consider myself dysphoric before, that is, disturbed."
In order to grant his request for the new first name Paul, the state forces him to undergo medically supervised hormone treatment, and curiously destroys all traces of Beatriz, including the birth certificate issued in her name. Yet the body represented by the new name is itself ambiguous: "I am not a man, not a woman, not heterosexual, not homosexual, not bisexual. I am a dissident of the gender/sex system. I am the diversity of the cosmos".
Emptiness is proper to the cosmos. "More than a month now I live in this empty house," reads one passage. "Without furniture, a house is no more than a door, a roof, a floor." No furniture also means no bed: "My hips were crushed against the wooden floor, and in the morning I got up with swollen limbs." For Preciado, however, this means less of an ordeal than an "aesthetic experience."
Paul B. Preciado, "An Apartment on Uranus – Chronicles of a Transition." Translated from the French by Stefan Lorenzer. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2020, 368 pages, 20 euros.
If transbodies feel the "violence of being named" most clearly, then it is as if they always slept on the floor, without a bed, without a mattress. However, if, conversely, being named is always connected with violence, then the comfort of furniture and upholstery most strongly restricts precisely those who remain most faithful to the norm. Then, conversely, it is precisely the attempt to evade any naming and to inhabit the body like an empty apartment that offers the chance for liberation. "My transbody is an empty house. I use the political potential of this analogy."
For Preciado, theory always includes practice, self-experimentation. In "Contrasexual Manifesto" he gave instructions for deconstructive dildo use, in "Testo Junkie" he experimented with testosterone – without prescription, as a tool to shake up bisexuality.
In the columns, it is traveling: between Barcelona and Kassel, between Athens and Paris, between breaking out of the (gender) norm and its fulfillment, between violent exclusion and exuberant inclusion as the " ‘heraldic animal’ of a progressive social policy". At every border, at every airport, the "theater" of subjectivation is thereby waiting: man or woman. "My transbody does not exist," declares the "sujet perdu" Preciado. At least not in the eyes of the law.
Who is the we?
The solution: "translate our difference into the language of the norm, while secretly continuing to practice ourselves in a foreign gibberish that the law does not understand." But here also lies one of the book’s weaknesses. For who exactly is this "we" that is speaking? And who is the you?
Especially in the essay "Learning from the Virus," which dates from March of this year, a tendency to use theoretical terms as discursive lawnmowers, not unlike that of Giorgio Agamben, becomes apparent. Why, then, are the "relaxations" called for everywhere not, like the shutdowns, the expression of a very specific "immunology of community"? Why does Preciado consider only one specific "biopolitical dispositif" to be authoritative? Is the face mask, as he writes, really the new Mediterranean?
In the face of a newly formed enemy, an alliance of authoritarian neoliberalism and presentable racism, Preciado’s columns rely on a queer "subjectivity in the plural," on the short-circuiting of all the excluded: the racialized, queers, disabled, monkeys, dogs, and, of course, Catalonians. (Jews, on the other hand, belong to this counter-alliance only as a reservoir of metaphors, as the talk of "the progressive transformation of refugee camps into concentration camps" shows).
But how much do they all really have in common? And wouldn’t the "micropolitics of transition" that are to be exercised consist precisely in not being related to the big picture for once?