The problem of identity politics is a problem of body.
It is the idea that we ‘are’ what – and only – as we appear to be. It’s the idea that body takes precedence, that form is singularly determining of creation, evolution, growth, development, capacity… and a determinant of codes and coding, to be read literally like descriptors of a thing. It is objectification because the myriad-infinity of available combinations and psycho-social-ethical-cultural disciplinary continuums are presumed to read easy – a singled out story, a pre-scribed range of possibility. Looks like, will be.. Judging a book by its cover.
For all of its contributions, from the crucial grounding of difference vis-à-vis patterns and policies of violence, sanctioned and not, Identity Politics is invariably a return to the oldest of essentialisms: where ‘body x’ means ‘x’ – hopes, dreams, skills, literacies, fluencies, likes, dislikes… The expectation that what appears as… is only this, that, those – not more, not less. Objectification is (a) simplification. It serves the viewer. It is desire waiting to be satisfied. Non-compliance thwarts desire, confuses the simplifying mind, simultaneously exposing its simplicity, its fallibility. It also gives more to think about – which may or may not be welcome, may or may not find will and/or skill adequate for this new encounter – the additional stuff that wasn’t suppose to be (there), that doesn’t fit the prefab containers (narrow by definition), invisible absences making appearances, too much stuff, unknown, unfamiliar, unorthodox, unexpected. More parts than the prevailing ideology was intended to handle – creating unwanted surprise, shock, conflict… all the kinds of responses normally elicited: denial, rejection, vilification, prohibition censorship, elimination.
Identity politics is an irreducible and vital response to lived violence. We need the recognition, politicization and informed response that ID politics affords in order to mount strategy and solution-finding, to hold accountable individuals, social institutions, cultural practices for their contributions to these deeply patterned and ingrained injustices. But the illuminating qualities of ID politics also reinscribe the categories of being and being-as that are foundationally antithetical to becoming sole persons of infinite variation and possibility.
Kill the messenger:
who speaks more than one language.
who can code switch
who belongs to more than one
who has seen what you cannot see
visited where you have not been
is what you can’t imagine
does what you do not dare
accomplished what you do not know exists.
Identity based on body, limits because it forces amalgams of complexity into singular compositions of externalities that while integral and determining are not objects – are subjects, are vast unique systems of selectivity, nuance and radical specificity. We need a social politics that moves beyond category of time, place, language, shape, form or circumstance into finer more subtle assignments…
I propose: frequencies, “ethical frequencies” as the foundational units of our conscious engagement with each other; arranged in continuums as sliding scales of meaning constituting Continuum Politics.
revised: Sp 2016