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Yesterday I was one of four invited speakers for a roundtable discussion on policing sexuality, cruising and anonymous public sex, and police entrapment.

This flash event,”Project Marie: Policing Sexuality in Law, Ethics, and Policy,” was organized and sponsored by the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, moderated by Mariana Valverde (Criminology, U of T), and featuring comments by Patrick Keilty (iSchool U of T), Simon Starn (School of Law, U of T) and Kyle Kirkup (School of Law, U of Ottawa).

It was a public forum organized in response to a recent two-month operation by the Toronto Police Service, called “Project Marie,” in which undercover police officers charged 72 individuals with 89 separate infractions for indecent exposure and sexual solicitation, in Marie Curtis Park, in Etobicoke, Ontario. Approximately 40-50 people attended, and many voices and perspectives were heard. It was an extremely successful event; one of those rare occasions when the university community and the non-academic community meet in order to talk about the relations between sex, ethics and publics.

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Here are the remarks that I presented at the opening of the panel:

In today’s urban political climate, in which the stranger, the foreigner, the one who lingers, the solitary walker, the workless or out-of-work someone—and not least of all, the one who is simply curious—when each of these someones in the singularity of their anonymity, itinerancy, promiscuity, and clandestinity—and thus in their essential illegitimacy—are increasingly targets of suspicion and surveillance, bodies to be taunted, beaten, entrapped, and at times permanently marked as illegal, the cruising ground remains more necessary than ever, given that it is an ethical training ground. 

A cruising ground is an ethical ground in the precise sense that it is a place where being together with others does not rely upon the law of identity and the logic of the name. Instead, it is a place consecrated to the joys and pleasures of the passing encounter, and the liberating fact that, as Tim Dean has intimated: strangers can be lovers and yet remain strangers. Meaning: sharing an erotic and perhaps sexual bond that is less structured in terms of attachment than separation, and that thus affirms that a mutual intimate experience can be had that does not require or ask for the assimilation of oneself into an other, but instead remains open to the outside.

But of course the cruising ground is also where such pleasures find a place in the world that in so many ways and in so many instances have pushed them out of the sanctioned spaces of domesticity and the family; the school and the church. That have relegated them to zones of the unthinkable by normative relations of sexuality (including those which go by such names as sexual relationship, monogamy, and marriage), and that have been expropriated by the gentrification of minds and bodies, no less than the gentrification of city neighbourhoods (as Sarah Schulman has recently argued). It is precisely those spaces, those norms, and those processes of gentrification that create conditions that are unsafe for some of us: the adolescent queer, the closeted, the exhibitionist, the spouse, the homeless. As Samuel Delany has argued, “if every sexual encounter involves bringing someone back to your house, the general sexual activity in a city becomes anxiety-filled, class-bound, and choosy. This is precisely why public restrooms, peep shows, sex movies, bars with grope rooms, and parks with enough greenery are necessary for a relaxed and friendly sexual atmosphere in a democratic metropolis” (Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, 127).

Lest you think that I am only arguing for the more practical political importance of the cruising ground, allow me to close by noting that the logic of the lure is not only driven by the need to escape the normalizing and criminalizing logic of the law, but that it is also an attraction to that which is imperceptible, un-nameable, transitory, and even unconsummated. But all of this also means that cruising offers us a sense of the ways in which erotic pleasure is not only sexual, but spatial, and that for some of us, where we do it, is just as important as who or what we do. Cruising eroticizes the essential anonymity of the common and urban intimacy, and so, to the extent that there are cities, there will be cruising, because in the cruising ground persist some of the  essential truths of a city. Today we are faced with nothing less than the question of how to ethically create a city. In doing so, we must insist on the fact that “sex lives matter.”*

*Thanks to Etienne Turpin for this phrasing.

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Photo Credit: Thomas Roma, In the Vale of Cashmere, Powerhouse Books, 2015.

  1. Leo Bersani, “Sociability and Cruising” in Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and other essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010: 45-62.
  2. Tim Dean, “Cruising as a Way of Life,” in Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009: 176-212.
  3. Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
  4. Garth Greenwell, “How I Fell In Love with The Beautiful Art of Cruising,” BuzzFeed, April 4, 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/garthgreenwell/how-i-fell-in-love-with-the-beautiful-art-of-cruising?utm_term=.nc2W7wrg3#.vgd37mO0B
  5. William Haver, The Body of this Death: Historicity and Sociality in the Time of AIDS. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  6. William Haver, “Really Bad Infinities: Queer’s Honour and the Pornographic Life,” Parallax, vol. 5, no. 4, 1999: 9-21.
  7. Timothy Morten, “Queer Ecology,” PLMA, vol. 125, no. 2, March 2010: 273-282.
  8. John Paul Ricco, The Logic of the Lure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  9. John Paul Ricco, “The Art of the Consummate Cruise and the Essential Risk of the Common,” Feedback, February 2016. In two parts: http://openhumanitiespress.org/feedback/sexualities/the-consummate-cruise-1/ http://openhumanitiespress.org/feedback/sexualities/the-consummate-cruise-2/
  10. John Paul Ricco, “Jacking-off a Minor Architecture” (with new extended preface, 2016), Keep It Dirtyhttp://keepitdirty.org/a/jacking-off-a-minor-architecture/
  11. John Paul Ricco, “The Commerce of Anonymity,” Qui Parle, forthcoming, 2016.
  12. Thomas Roma, In the Vale of Cashmere, Powerhouse Books, 2015.

I am preparing for the 10th meeting of the undergraduate seminar I am teaching this fall term on “The Collective Afterlife of Things,” in which we will discuss “The Last Political Scene,” an interview with Sylvère Lotringer, conducted by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin and published in their co-edited volume, Art in the Anthropocene.

At one point, Lotringer makes an argument that I find entirely relevant to our current situation, following the US Presidential election. A situation that includes the mass protests taking place in front of institutional architectures (Trump Towers, US embassies, etc.) and the reliance on Facebook (and all other social media platforms) to express discontent:

There is no civic mobilization possible because there are no civilians anymore; we have all been turned into warriors, part of a war because war and technology now mean the same thing. We are powerless because all the tools that we have—all the little trinkets given to us by the CIA and NASA, etc.—are there to turn us into the soldiers of the death of our civilization.

Earlier in the conversation, Lotringer makes the distinction between critique and collective action. Where critical counter-discourse is claimed to be that which “plays into the hands of the institution, of what it is supposed to criticize. Occupy Wall Street was an intimation of what could be done, but it didn’t go all the way. It stopped at the door of the institutions.” While in contrast, collective action experiments and creates unforeseen forms of being-with, together and in-common.

Yet as Lotringer goes on to argue, in the midst of anthropogenic species extinction, these forms of sociality must not lose sight of the fact that this very collectivity is living the last (political and critical) scene, and thus the collective task is to learn how to exit gracefully. Including in our relations with inorganic and inanimate things (as well as those organic lifeforms) that will survive us. In other words, today our ethical-ecological task concerns the afterlife of things, after “life.”

This calls for what Lotringer and I (and several others) see as an “art of disappearance:” of creatively engaging with and ethically exiting from this terminal scene. As Lotringer clarifies, this is something like non-art art. Meaning, art produced for reasons other than aesthetic (i.e. in terms of beauty, or perhaps even of the sublime). It is the art of the already-unmade and the anonymous. It is this kind of art, technique and praxis that we most need to partake in today; the kind that in its anonymity bears the signature of the common (of no one name), and as already-unmade affirms that existence is that which will forever remain un-finished. It is in this way that we might become something other than the soldiers of the death of our civilization.

 

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