Below are fragments of, and links to writings that have helped to shape and inspire Critical Hedonism(s) as a project. Please note that none of these authors have endorsed Critical Hedonism(s) as a project, or necessarily even endorsed anything like what Critical Hedonism(s) seeks to create. We cite them as inspiration and further reading, in order to render the problem and politics of desire in the 21st century as a complex issue.


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Pleasure and Misery

Hakim Bey
"A freedom or pleasure that rests on someone else's slavery or misery cannot finally satisfy the self because it is a limitation or narrowing of the self, an admission of impotence, an offense against generosity and justice. Our freedom depends on other people's freedom, for our fates are inextricably interwoven with others', especially with those we love."   read more

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Capitalism and Gay Identity

John D'Emilio

"[P]ersonal autonomy is only half the story. The instability of families and the sense of impermanence and insecurity that people are now experiencing in their personal relationships are real social problems that need to be addressed. We need political solutions for these difficulties of personal life. These solutions should not come in the form of a radical version of the pro-family position. . . . We do need, however, structures and programs that will help to dissolve the boundaries that isolate the family, particularly those that privatize childrearing. We need community- or worker-controlled daycare, housing where privacy and community coexist, neighborhood institutions--from medical clinics to performance centers--that enlarge the social unit where each of us has a secure place. As we create structures beyond the nuclear family that provide a sense of belonging, the family will wane in significance. Less and less will it seem to make or break our emotional security. . . . The building of an 'affectional community' must be as much a part of our political movement as are campaigns for civil rights. In this way we may prefigure the shape of personal relationships in a society where autonomy and security do not preclude each other but coexist."    read more


On 'Cruel Optimism'

Lauren Berlant

"I define 'cruel optimism' as a kind of relation in which one depends on objects that block the very thriving that motivates our attachment in the first place. . . . Cruel Optimism asks: Why is it so hard to leave those forms of life that don’t work?  Why is it that, when precariousness is spread throughout the world, people fear giving up on the institutions that have worn out their confidence in living? . . . I want better objects for better optimism (there’s a slogan!).  But to achieve this we need to move our analyses of the historical present into the exploratory mode that crisis, regardless, forces us to occupy.  This is not a time for assurance but for experiment—to have patience with failure, with trying things out, to try new forms of life that also might not work—which doesn’t make them worse than what’s there now.  It is a time for using the impasse that we’re in to learn something about how to imagine better economies of intimacy and labor."    read more


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The Failure of the New Left?

A Critique of the Uncritical Hedonism of the 70s Counterculture
Herbert Marcuse

“Only the liberation of repressed and sublimated impulses can shatter the established system of desires and needs in the individual and create a place for the desire for freedom. Of course, the mere recognition and validation of these impulses cannot fulfill this function; the process of release must lead to criticism, to self-criticism of needs in reaction to socially manipulated and internalized desires; such internalized desires and needs continue to act as barriers to liberation, for their gratification guarantees the repressive reproduction of the commodity world. It is the critical analysis of needs that constitutes the specifically social dimension of psychology.”   read more
 


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The Idea of a Sexual Community

Jeffrey Weeks

Weeks explores sexual and erotic intimacy as a pathway toward mutual becoming, unbecoming, and rebecoming: erotic friendship can result in "dense interconnections, networks, relationships, experiments in living, new forms of loving and caring." Yet, in a way that I think is consistent with the approach we have been taking in Critical Hedonism(s), Weeks suggests that we place a check on our optimism around sex: "Erotic desire can undermine the firmest resolutions. Fear and jealousy and betrayal are not abolished because we disapprove of them. A commitment to safer sex has not stopped unsafe practices. Friendship can turn to hate, and love, like desire, can die. There is a danger that in celebrating the new ethos of lesbian and gay life we may aspire to a utopianism that frail, mere humans can scarcely live up to. So as well as celebrating eros and the possibilities of community, we need to begin to spell out what an art of life, an ethos based on reciprocal independence, means in practice. Are certain forms of behaviour better than others? Are some things right, others wrong, some things true and others false? These are hard questions, because they suggest prescriptive rather than freely chosen answers. The challenge facing us is to avoid prescription and proscription at the same time as we invent forms of conduct which maximise human autonomy and freedom of choice whilst affirming our need for one another, the importance of the human bond."    read more


Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy

Judith Butler

"kinship ties that bind persons to one another may well be no more or less than the intensification of community ties, may or may not be based on enduring or exclusive sexual relations, may well consist of ex-lovers, nonlovers, friends, and community members. The relations of kinship cross the boundaries between community and family and sometimes redefine the meaning of friendship as well. When these modes of intimate association produce sustaining webs of relationships, they constitute a 'breakdown' of traditional kinship that displaces the presumption that biological and sexual relations structure kinship centrally. In addition, the incest taboo that governs kinship ties, producing a necessary exogamy, does not necessarily operate among friends in the same way or, for that matter, in networks of communities. Within these frames, sexuality is no longer exclusively regulated by the rules of kinship at the same time that the durable tie can be situated outside of the conjugal frame. Sexuality becomes open to a number of social articulations that do not always imply binding relations or conjugal ties. That not all of our relations last or are meant to, however, does not mean that we are immune to grief. On the contrary, sexuality outside the field of monogamy well may open us to a different sense of community, intensifying the question of where one finds enduring ties, and so become the condition for an attunement to losses that exceed a discreetly private realm."   read more


the social reproduction of sexuality

Alan Sears

"I think the social reproduction frame helps us make sense of the contradictory gains that have been made, and therefore contributes to figuring out the next steps in sexual liberation. The crucial contribution is to show how sexuality and gender are nested in a whole set of relations of 'life-making' organized around specific divisions of labor and hierarchies of dispossession. We can’t have real sexual liberation without addressing the ways our bodies and our lives are enmeshed in relations of work, household, and market, and regulated by the state."   full interview


To Our Friends

The Invisible Committee

"Freedom and surveillance, freedom and the panopticon belong to the same paradigm of government. Historically, the endless expansion of control procedures is the corollary of a form of power that is realized through the freedom of individuals. Liberal government is not one that is exercised directly on the bodies of its subjects or that expects a filial obedience from them. It’s a background power, which prefers to manage space and rule over interests rather than bodies. A power that oversees, monitors, and acts minimally, intervening only where the framework is threatened, against that which goes too far. Only free subjects, taken en masse, are governed. Individual freedom is not something that can be brandished against the government, for it is the very mechanism on which government depends, the one it regulates as closely as possible in order to obtain, from the amalgamation of all these freedoms, the anticipated mass effect. Ordo ab chao. Government is that order which one obeys 'like one eats when hungry and covers oneself when cold,' that servitude which I co-produce at the same time that I pursue my happiness, that I exercise my 'freedom of expression.' 'Market freedom requires an active and extremely vigilant politics,' explained one of the founders of neoliberalism. For the individual, monitored freedom is the only kind there is. This is what libertarians, in their infantilism, will never understand, and it’s this incomprehension that makes the libertarian idiocy attractive to some hackers. A genuinely free being is not even said to be free. It simply is, it exists, deploys its powers according to its being. We say of an animal that it is en liberte, 'roaming free,' only when it lives in an environment that’s already completely controlled, fenced, civilized: in the park with human rules, where one indulges in a safari. 'Friend' and 'free' in English, and 'Freund' and 'frei' in German come from the same Indo-European root, which conveys the idea of a shared power that grows. Being free and having ties was one and the same thing. I am free because I have ties, because I am linked to a reality greater than me. In ancient Rome, the children of citizens were liberi : through them, it was Rome that was growing. Which goes to show how ridiculous and what a scam the individual freedom of 'I do what I feel like doing' is."   full text


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"Some aspects of the sexual problem"

Antonio Gramsci

"It is worth noting that in 'Utopias' the sexual question plays a large and often dominant part. . . . Sexual instincts are those that have undergone the greatest degree of repression from society in the course of its development. . . . The formation of a new feminine personality is the most important question of an ethical and civil order connected with the sexual question. Until women can attain not only a genuine independence in relation to men but also a new way of conceiving themselves and their role in sexual relations, the sexual question will remain full of unhealthy characteristics and caution must be exercised in proposals for new legislation. Every crisis brought about by unilateral coercion in the sexual field unleashes a 'romantic' reaction. . . . All these factors make any form of regulation of sex and any attempt to create a new sexual ethic suited to the new methods of production and work extremely complicated and difficult. However, it is still necessary to attempt this regulation and to attempt to create a new ethic."   full text


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“The Screwball Asses“

Guy Hocquenghem

“The most vigorous weapon against the couple is the permanent desire to desire. It must, of course, extend way beyond those structures known or unknown to sexual desire, and it must also have curbed the desire to be desired, which supposes that we start by desiring ourselves well. The desire to desire and to be desired, that’s love, finally wrenched from the fetor of bourgeois humanism as well as from the childishness of mystical liturgies. My weakness is not to believe in it, like a believer, but to see in it like a seer my desire as it ceases to repeat itself. What joy when I intercept it in its movements, just as it switches between machines! The desire that says ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘No.’ The desire that shoots its refusals one by one. The phoenix of desire, snatched away from avarice and usury, finally engaged in polymorphous expenditure, in seepage, in prodigality, in dilapidation.” full text


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“Acid Communism“

Mark Fisher

“Instead of seeking to overcome capital, we should focus on what capital must always obstruct: the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy. We on the left have had it wrong for a while: it is not that we are anti-capitalist, it is that capitalism, . . . is set up to block the emergence of this Red Plenty. The overcoming of capital has to be fundamentally based on the simple insight that . . . capital necessarily and always blocks the production of common wealth.“ book


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“Does anyone have the right to sex?”

Amia Srinivasan

“When we see consent as the sole constraint on OK sex, we are pushed towards a naturalisation of sexual preference in which the rape fantasy becomes a primordial rather than a political fact. But not only the rape fantasy. Consider the supreme fuckability of ‘hot blonde sluts’ and East Asian women, the comparative unfuckability of black women and Asian men, the fetishisation and fear of black male sexuality, the sexual disgust expressed towards disabled, trans and fat bodies. These too are political facts, which a truly intersectional feminism should demand that we take seriously. But the sex-positive gaze, unmoored from Willis’s call to ambivalence, threatens to neutralise these facts, treating them as pre-political givens. In other words, the sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.” full text


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“Your Sex is not Radical“

Yasmin Nair

“In many ways, when it comes to sex and sexuality, the Left makes the same mistake over and over again: it imagines that simply having violated the rules of the Conservative Right means that it is now setting about creating a new world order. . . . My point is simply that there's nothing inherently radical about sex and sexuality. . . . The revolution will not come on the tidal wave of your next multiple orgasm had with your seven partners on the floor of your communal living space. It will only happen if you have an actual plan for destroying systems of oppression and exploitation. . . . Should we think about sex at all? Yes, absolutely. Let's all think and agitate collectively around how sex is deployed against the most vulnerable bodies, like people in prison. Let's all think long and hard about whether we really want to keep reifying the idea that sex offenders deserve to be raped in prison (and about the oppressive framework of the category of “sex offender” itself). Let's consider how to create a world where sex work and sex trade can flourish without coercion and demeaning people. By all means, please, let's not stop having sex, which can be riotous fun, and let's not stop thinking about sex in all its multiple forms. But stop pretending that sex is anything more than sex. Your sex is not radical. Your politics can and should be. Consider the difference, and act upon it.” full text