This essay excavates from within the history of feminist and queer theory a series of implicit theories of the couple, ranging from French feminist critiques of asymmetrical heterosexual relationships to triadic accounts of the queer as couple’s sexual and racialized Other. We turn to four integers—one, two, three, and zero— to comprehend the shifting relationship between the Couple and the Queer, constructing a queer numerology that attends to the numerical patterns that can be said to characterize coupled relationality in different historical moments. Taking cues from Lee Edelman as well as recent Afro-pessimist scholarship, we approach the Couple not as a sociological category, but as a structure of being, and the Queer, not as an identitarian category but as an (non)ontological position. Drawing from a diverse archive of texts from 1970s Italian feminism to Daoist philosophy to early psychoanalytic theories of the anus, we take a step back from the post-structural logic that has animated queer studies since its inception, developing a structuralist methodology that insists on the ontological and ethical significance of the position we call the zero.
THE ONTOLOGY OF THE COUPLE: or, What Queer Theory Knows about Numbers
S. Pearl Brilmyer is assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses on nineteenth- century European literature, sexuality, philosophy, and science. Her current book project, “The Science of Character: Matter, Form, and the Ends of Victorian Realism,” develops theory of late Victorian realism as a descriptive science committed to understanding what brings characters — literary and natural historical, human and nonhuman — into existence.
Filippo Trentin is a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses on film and psychoanalysis, European art cinema, and queer cinema. His work on the relationship between Pier Paolo Pasolini and Walter Benjamin, on Federico Fellini’s entropic aesthetics, and on queer representations of Rome appeared in journals such as Modern Language Review, Forum Italicum, and the Journal of Romance Studies. He is the coeditor of Rome, Postmodern Narratives of a Cityscape (2016).
Zairong Xiang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the DFG Research Training Group “Minor Cosmopolitanisms” at Potsdam University, Germany. His research intersects feminisms and queer theories, literary and visual studies, and philosophical and religious inquiries in their decolonial variants in Spanish, English, Chinese, French, and Nahuatl. He is the author of Queer Ancient Way: A Decolonial Exploration (punctum books, 2018).
S. Pearl Brilmyer, Filippo Trentin, Zairong Xiang; THE ONTOLOGY OF THE COUPLE: or, What Queer Theory Knows about Numbers. GLQ 1 April 2019; 25 (2): 223–255. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-7367717
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