Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Beyond Interpellation: Forster, Connection, and the Queer Invitation

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Beyond Interpellation: Forster, Connection, and the Queer Invitation

Article excerpt

  I shall then suggest that ideology "acts" or "functions" in such
  a way that. it "recruits" subjects among the individuals (it re-
  cruits them all), or "transforms" the individuals into subjects
  (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I
  have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined
  along the lines of the most common everyday police (or other)
  hailing: "Hey, you there!"

  --Althusser (130-31)

  She had failed to respond to this invitation merely because it was
  little queer and imaginative--she, whose birthright it was to
  nourish imagination!

  --Forster (Howard End 78-79)

Luis Althusser's concept of interpellation has proven immensely helpful to a generation of post-structuralist scholars seeking to describe the means by which individuals become subjects of, not merely subjects to, particular ideological regimes. The policeman's authoritative summons is an extreme example of the multitudinous rhetorics and discourses--some exceptional, some everyday--though which individuals are ritually and repeatedly constituted as faithful followers of the dominant order. Because this process of social inscription begins even in pre-natal practices of naming and gendering, the individual is "always already" interpellated as a subject, sewn. into the legal and cultural fabric before ever making a sound. Althusser's nod to the "sexual subject" (132) has made interpellation a particularly useful concept for queer theory as it continues to question the practices and protocols by which heternormativity sustains its power over bodies, pleasures, and modes of intimate assembly. (1)

This essay aims not to question interpellation's intellectual value but rather to offer a counterweight, the queer invitation, to help illuminate insurgent opportunities to break with dominant patterns, to become subject to something other than what the individual "always-already" is. Where interpellation locates the subject in relation to present circumstances, the queer invitation encourages a move beyond into unknown territory, opening a horizon of possibility. Through a reading of.E. M. Forster's Howards End, from which I borrow the idea of an invitation that is queer, I argue for a more dynamic understanding of subjectivity in which rigidifying interpellations intermingle with queer invitations. I call these queer because they work to undermine the social norms against which certain kinds of erotic and nonerotic intimacy--same-sex, cross-class, and intergenerational, to name only a few--are judged to be abnormal, inferior, insane, irresponsible, unproductive, or simply pointless. If in Hebrew "inviting" is equivalent to "making time," as Anne Dufourmantelle speculates in her response to Derrida's seminars on hospitality (76), then Forster's queer invitation might be said to inaugurate a temporality for non-normative desires and relationships; to make time, that is, for queerness to incubate and thus find a future.

Interpellation has not, of course, escaped criticism in post-structuralist quarters. Judith Butler presses on the "always-alreadiness" of interpellation as she theorizes a "conscience" that precedes or at least partners with the policeman's call (7); otherwise, Butler argues, the individual would not recognize the summons as a legitimate authority. She also wonders if it is possible for the subject to exceed the coordinates of her discursive constitution and thus operate as a "bad subject" (8). Where Butler turns to Foucault to question Althusser, Mladen Dolar draws on Lacanian psychoanalysis to argue that the subject is not what interpellation creates but rather a kind of primordial material that resists interpellation's totalizing ambitions (75). Both Butler's and Dolar's accounts provide compelling points of departure for rethinking interpellation--and I am indebted to their lucid expositions--but they both prioritize subjectivity over sociality and therefore imply that whatever disturbances arise in interpellation's machinations are owed to the heterogeneity of subjectivity rather than to the heterogeneity of sociality Neither theorist, then, posits a social process, such as the queer invitation, that might compete or at least interact with interpellation. …

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