Modern style emerged from the ruins of the premodern “separation of styles” (high, middle, and low). Whereas, previously, only the nobility could be represented in the high style and commoners in the low, modern style harbors a democratic, generic potential: in principle, anyone can write about anything in any way he or she likes. The history of modern style, as a central critical and compositional principle, is thus deeply imbricated with modern democracy and capitalist modernity. It has a unique relationship to the history of realism, which was itself premised upon the demise of the separation of styles. Many critics (e.g., Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson) stress the way in which, as a concept and linguistic practice, style connects the body to a generic, Utopian potential of the everyday. Feminist critics, such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, have pursued style’s relationship to the body to delineate a specifically feminine mode of writing [écriture féminine]. Marxist critics, such as Raymond Williams, have argued that style should be understood as a linguistic mode of social relationship. The corollary is that social contradictions are experienced by writers as problems of style (e.g., in Thomas Hardy: how to unite the “educated” style of the urban ruling class with the “customary” style of the rural working class into a single artistic whole). Other critics (e.g., Franco Moretti, Roberto Schwarz) have extended this logic to the scale of “world literature:” they identify stylistic discontinuity as a feature of peripheral world literature that seeks to imitate European realist forms; it is caused by a mismatch between prevailing modes of production and dominant ideologies at the core and the (semi-)periphery of the capitalist world-system. Free indirect style, which merges narrator and character into a new, third voice, has been identified as a key feature of prose fiction in the world-systemic core—the symbolic embodiment of modern, bourgeois forms of power (an “impersonal intimacy”). Finally, “late style”—a concept associated with Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said—has become an influential way of characterizing works of artistic maturity written as the author approaches old age and death (though it is certainly not limited to biological maturity). It is a style in which form and subjectivity become torn from one another, the latter freeing itself only then to subtract itself (rather than “express” itself). Style thus hovers between the impersonality of the demos and the grave.
Two influential approaches to understanding sexuality emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe: sexology and psychoanalysis. These approaches develop a method for thinking about human sexuality apart from religious discourse. Sexology births the concept of the congenital “homosexual,” often understanding this figure as pathological. In turn, psychoanalysis, as it was first developed by Sigmund Freud, considers infantile sexuality as polymorphous and perverse. It analyzes how this perversity develops into adult genders and sexualities, sometimes through the repression of drives that, even in their repressed form, continue to show effects. In both these models, sexuality is figured as a natural force, one that may come to be shaped by social and cultural milieus, but that is ultimately innate. Breaking from this tradition, Michel Foucault’s 1978 The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 offers a different, groundbreaking approach. Rather than arguing that sexuality is repressed, Foucault argues that sexuality, as a discrete nexus of experiences and sensations, emerges in a particular nexus of power and knowledge, one that disciplines bodies to become productive and docile while also seeking to manage populations through the human sciences. In this vision, sexuality does not oppose power, but rather sex and power spiral together, producing or inciting one another. Feminist, queer, and decolonial approaches to sexuality also consider how the organization and even production of sexuality is tied to structures of power and inequality such as patriarchy, heteronormativity, colonization, and anti-black racism. For example, black feminist and queer of color scholarship explore the ways in which racial difference and inequality has been justified through the production of gendered, sexual stereotypes. Indigenous and decolonial approaches build on this argument, looking to how colonization was often figured as a form of erotic penetration of a feminized land, considering how enforcing heterosexuality and binary gender formation have been key to both colonization and settler colonialism, and attending to the ongoing legacies of colonial sexual violence. These approaches often seek to reclaim and reimagine the erotic as a part of a project of resistance and collective survival.
A term with both vernacular and technical uses in French, dispositif can designate any purposeful arrangement, ordering, or plan in contexts ranging from military arts to machinery. Prevailing anglophone translations include “device,” “plan,” “deployment,” “setup,” and “apparatus,” but it has become standard to see the word untranslated or rendered as its closest English cognate, “dispositive.” The term comes into theoretical discourse predominantly through the work of Michel Foucault, who deploys the concept in concert with his evolving genealogical method and mid-1970s analyses of biopower and governmentality. Designating a heterogeneous network of discourses, practices, sites, and screens, Foucault’s concept of dispositif describes power not as something housed within state institutions and legal codes nor as something one can possess and wield over another, but as an everyday effect of strategic relations and resistances. Foucault’s sourcing of the term is a subject of scholarly debate, but it is likely that he took inspiration from his mentors, the philosopher of biology Georges Canguilhem and the Hegelian Jean Hyppolite. Canguilhem uses dispositif to describe the organization and operation of organisms in his neo-achinic view of life, while Hyppolite explores Hegel’s notion of the positive, or historically contingent, facets of religion. From these two influences emerges a sense in which power operates materially on and through the living in aleatory, ever-shifting, and historically specific ways that are nonetheless technical, structured, and patterned. Dispositif analysis reveals the full scope and precision of investments in social control in the modernizing (urbanizing, industrializing, colonizing) West. Another, seemingly disparate strand of dispositif analysis is found in the respective writings of philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry. For Lyotard, dispositifs function like psychic traps; that is, the means of channeling, blocking, or otherwise conducting libidinal energies and drives (what one could also call affects or even dispositions). Among these dispositifs are narrative structure, painting technique, psychiatric knowledge, capitalist markets, and even language itself, each of which can work to dampen the revolutionary potential of raw impulses. Baudry, like Lyotard motivated by trending intellectual currents of psychoanalysis and Marxist cultural critique, used the dispositif concept to describe the conventional environment of film screening (collective viewing, dark room, back projection, etc.), part and parcel of the larger cinematic apparatus (appareil) and a decisive factor in shaping spectatorial subjectivity. Since the 1970s, the concept has received a number of further treatments, mainly emerging from the Foucauldian tradition. Gilles Deleuze interprets it capaciously as the improbable unifying thread stretching across Foucault’s entire oeuvre. Giorgio Agamben recalls that it also translates the Greek oikonomia, a term that binds political economy to theological views of divine management; as such, dispositif is, to Agamben, vital to our understanding of the production of subjectivity in late-capitalist societies. Over the first decades of the 21st century, the term has been valuably developed in a variety of scholarly contexts, spanning film and media studies, security studies, art history, education, urban studies, and the sociology of markets. As a heuristic for analyzing networked relations, dispositif seems especially ripe for interrogating power in the digital age, laying bare the workings of all those platforms and programs that seek to capture our time, attention, money, and thought.
Octavio González and Todd G. Nordgren
The definitional limits of the term queer have been under conceptual, political, and ethical dispute since its reclamation from its pejorative meaning during the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s. Reflecting activist recuperation, queer became a means to inspire and propel a coalitional politics oriented toward nonconformity and anti-normativity among diverse sexualities and across divisions of gender. Concomitantly, queer theory arose in academia as a way to expand upon and break what some scholars saw as the restrictive disciplinary boundaries of gay and lesbian studies, which were explicitly grounded in post–Stonewall identity politics. The term’s radical potential derives in part from its grammatical fluidity, as it operates as noun, adjective, and verb—combining action, identification, and effect into a single word. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, queer of color critique drew upon a different genealogy, beyond the postmodern rupture inaugurated by Michel Foucault’s work on sexuality and “biopower,” by foregrounding black and women of color feminisms, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies in order to analyze the intersections of race, nationality, coloniality, class, sex, and gender with a Foucauldian understanding of sexuality as a privileged mode of modern power– knowledge. Queer of color critique inspired and was mirrored in investigations of the analytic boundaries of the term, often defined as a binary distinction between a minoritizing and universalizing definition of queer.