Bourcier, M.-H. (2012). “Cultural translation, politics of disempowerment and the reinvention of queer power and politics”. Sexualities, 15 (1), p. 93-109.
This article addresses the task of describing the flows and trends of cultural translation of queer between the USA and Europe, particularly France. Firstly, it demonstrates how queer groups located in France re-translated ‘queer made in the USA’, inspired by continental philosophy, back into a French idiom in the mid-1990s. It then seeks to explain their contemporary responses to new trends and agendas in queer studies and politics that sound more and more compliant with ‘logics of disempowerment’. The re-sexualization and re-politicization of French post-structuralist philosophers and psychoanalysts such as Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and Lacan, made possible by American queer theory and cultural studies, have been succeeded by a phase in which American theorists seem to crave the traditionally European privilege of being lauded as public intellectuals. At the beginning of the new century, a violent recodification by straight scholars and institutions took place and is still taking place in France: queer and post-colonial studies are dismissed or banned as subjective, unscientific agit prop. Today’s benevolent researchers reaffirm their power through powerlessness and ‘identify’ with the victims they defend. In this context, recent American queer theory and politics can give the impression of being driven by a logic of disempowerment. To illustrate this, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is compared with her Undoing Gender. Thus where Gender Trouble promoted strategies of resignification and resistance for both gender expression and hate speech, Undoing Gender displaces the strategy of resignification from hate speech to what could be called ‘master words’ such as ‘the universal’ and ‘the human’, and this ‘neo-universalism’ is linked to a politics of vulnerability. Moreover, whereas in Gender Trouble, textual or discursive performativity is impersonal and reversible, in Undoing Gender, the continental European figure of the philosopher is back. To counter this development, to pursue a strategy of dis-identification with the nation state and the United States, to quit the politics of vulnerability or desperation and to reverse the disempowering effects of the neo-assimilationist agenda, the article proposes a specifically French alternative. This consists of seeking to insert a queer version of what Felix Guattari calls ‘micropolitics’ into the macrocultural agenda of the LGBT right.