7. Testo Junkie, by Beatriz Preciado

12 Jan

Testo Junkie, Beatriz Preciado, Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era

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.





6 Responses to “7. Testo Junkie, by Beatriz Preciado”

  1. Grab the Lapels April 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

    This book sounds very intimidating. For instance, the author uses a lot of portmanteaus that I’ve never heard before. Did you find them difficult to navigate, or does the author define them? To be honest, I’ve been very turned off from works in which people create their own words because I had a professor who wrote a lot about a theory she made up–necropastoral–but never actually explained to anyone what the word meant in her articles.

    • Ivalleria April 22, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

      Oh, yeah, it was totally difficult to navigate and I still don’t get all of it. I had to look a lot of roots up and then strain my brain to try to understand what she might possibly mean. But I thought that since I’m a layperson reader as opposed to an academic reader, that wasn’t that surprising. I was going to disclaim, but I thought “Melanie is an academic, she will take to it like a duck to water.” I still think it’s worth it though. Maybe some of the theory is obscure but the thinking on gender, prostheses, pharma, etc. is amazing.

      Gotta love the necropastoral!! Do you remember what it allegedly meant?

      • Grab the Lapels April 22, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

        Necropastoral meant something like spaces that are dying between cities and the woods??

      • Grab the Lapels April 22, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

        I keep thinking about your comment: “Melanie is an academic.” I’ve always felt very outside academia, to be honest. I like things clear and practical, which is probably why I hate it when writers make up words to represent theories that they don’t actually explain. It’s very pretentious. Most of the learning I’ve done has been outside the classroom, and though I teach at a college, I am not necessarily pro-college. I am pro-education. Classrooms can be slow and clunky, whereas being an autodidact can make you take in more information. And by those standards, you are just as “academic” as me, lady :) On the other hand, a big part of me being an autodidact is the wish to not look stupid in front of my students, so I’m not just reading with the intention of pleasure or casually learning something, but taking in the information and applying it to theories and stories that I already know in a way that I can then use what I read to teach it.

        • Ivalleria April 23, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

          I support this wholeheartedly! Though, I come from a family with a strong populist-intellectual streak, so kinda grew up with people bashing the idea of the academy and obscure academic theory as totally ridiculous pomposity for losers. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have a masters degree when by all rights of temperament I should. (Cue my mother’s voice saying USELESS! GIVE ME A BREAK! “IF YOU CAN’T DO, TEACH”. YOU’RE GOING TO SPEND MONEY ON THAT!!?!?) So my contrarian strand is to say, “well, actually, you *can* read theory and understand it, and there is some value in it. And often understanding obtuse stuff does deepen your appreciation of art and ability to think about the world.” But mostly I agree with you that academic writing is convoluted & jargon-y for no good reason and many bad ones. Given all this, you may not enjoy the Preciado. It’s pretty sexy and fun to read, but also a prime offender in the made-up-terminology and obscure argument department.

          • Grab the Lapels April 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

            But as Preciado introduces new terms, does he/she define them so we’re all on the same page, or is it more like “Here, YOU guess!”

            Also, I think I’ve learned more difficult concepts on my own because engaging with classmates can make it more confusing. They have ideas about what something means, and we’re sharing those ideas before I even have an idea of what we’re talking about. I took some pretty abstract classes during my MFA at Notre Dame, and I have to admit it was pretty clear who was INCREDIBLY smart (to the extent of being intimidating) and who made it out of their undergrad degree and submitted a good story and got into an MFA program (that may have been me). I remember taking a class with a guy who already HAD a PhD that he earned in Italy. For some reason, he was doing another one in the U.S. Before class, he and the professor would casually chat in Italian. The professor also spoke Arabic (he was from Malta, and those are the two official languages there). It was intimidating. What I remember learning in that class is that in Europe, people don’t think of the southern countries as “European.” There are theories that such people (like in Greece and Italy) are too dark skinned and spend a lot of time in the sun, so their dispositions are different from people who live in places like England, France, Sweden, etc.

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