This book, translated from the French, is a “voluntary intoxication protocol,” in which Spanish drag-king activist and cultural theorist Beatriz Preciado takes testosterone off-label for 200-something days, as a strategy of resistance towards the involuntary intoxication of what she calls the “pharmacopornographic” regime. It’s a memoir, a terrifying and brilliant work of cultural deconstruction, and also a eulogy for the French writer Guillaume Dustan, a loved one of Preciado’s who died of a drug overdose in 2005. Some of the first-person text is written addressing Dustan. She explains:
I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man or as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me, so that I can write, fuck, feel a form of pleasure that is postpornographic, add a molecular prostheses to my low-tech transgender identity composed of dildos, texts and moving images; I do it to avenge your death.
I’m probably behind on this, but I’d never connected our cyborg prostheses—the phone, the laptop, that I-word thing I’m using to talk to you right now—with the “molecular prostheses” of drugs. And oh but these things are connected, in Preciado’s theory, as an overall strategy of capitalist surveillance and control, which has moved away from human mercantile activity into the more fertile, more profitable ground of human subjectivity.
Specifically, she says that sex and sexuality, in which she’s including the vast realm of gender-identity, have become “the main objects of political and economic activity.”
I suspect that many gender-normative, heterosexual readers of my blog are not the types to think of themselves as even having a gender identity, which will be a stumbling block towards comprehending the vastness of the arena of control. Maybe seeing “some semoitechnical codes of white heterosexual femininity” will help: (And also, Preciado is funny.)
“…the subdued elegance of Lady Di, Prozac, fear of being a bitch in heat, Valium, the necessity of the G-string, knowing how to restrain yourself, letting yourself be fucked in the ass when it’s necessary, being resigned, accurate waxing of the pubes, depression, thirst, little lavender balls that smell good, the smile, the living mummification of the smooth face of youth, love before sex, breast cancer…”
As she puts it, gender is a “biotech industrial artifact” and we are living in a “gigantic pharmacopornographic Disneyland in which the tropes of sexual naturalism are fabricated on a global scale as products of the endocrinological, surgical, agrifood and media industries.”
She also posits a concept of “potentia gaudendi” or “orgasmic force,” which she claims is being put to work through pornography, among other things.
I have some doubts and questions. I find her arguments about the control of sexual subjectivity convincing without seeing how she’s concluded that it’s the primary thing being controlled. If you look at capitalism as a vast strategy to generate in humans the desire to buy things, gender seems to be one of the many things we purchase. I will admit, though, that I’m not perfectly versed in a lot of the theory she’s riffing on.
And speaking of those riffs, the power of Preciado’s writing and synthesis is glorious to behold. She gets a manicure, hilariously. She writes about the World Cup. She starts thinking about the couch we sit on to watch TV and ends up characterizing it as “a tentacle of the control system, an installation within inner space in the form of living room furniture…a political device, a public space of surveillance and deactivation.”
I suspect she’s too serious of a thinker to want to be this entertaining, or to write prose this aesthetically exquisite, but she does both.
The path leading from the Vauvert writers’ residence to the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a paradise of plants over which they’ve rolled a tongue of asphalt. It’s a natural garden inhabited by new technoliving species: beavers, eagles, bulls, white horses, colonies of pink flamingoes, and cars. The cars that glide along that unique gray carpet are cyberpredators longing to eliminate all competition between mobile prehistoric organisms and new ultrarapid human-machine aggregates…. The beavers swim nimbly through the river, plunging under the submerged shrubs, their fur-covered shapes rippling…. On dry land their furry bodies become clumsy, their tails too heavy; their eyes still covered by a liquid film, can barely distinguish the other shore. The cars zigzag to try to trap these viscous volumes under their tires. Sometimes they hit them head on, making them burst into blood and guts.
She goes on to describe the eagle circling above the road-kill beavers as using the automobile as its “hunting prosthesis,” and looking forward to a meal of the beaver’s “foreign and exquisite tripe.” It’s a perfect passage.
The strategies of resistance to pharmocoporn and the narco-state that the book offers in the end—voluntary intoxication, gender-hacking, activism, telling your own story—are surprisingly low-tech, and that too is perfect.