interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
artwork by RUTE MERK
the trans philosopher and theorist paul b. preciado is an icon for the new generations that reject the dominant body politics. we cannot speak about possible social evolution without asking him what a society without gender divisions might look like.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Before we talk about the future, I’d like to start with your take on the future of the human species. In your book Testo Junkie, from 2008, you don’t look at the world from the postmodern perspective, an end-of-history perspective. Instead, you say we’re entering a “cyberporn-punk world.” I quote: “We’ve reached a point in evolution where modernity is vomiting up its repugnant ejaculatory potential. We are swimming in nuclear sperm and learning to breathe in it like mutant beasts.” This idea of “nuclear sperm” interests me because it contains not only the orgasmic desire that is proper to individualism and capitalism, but also the urgency of our deleterious, deadly, apocalyptic situation. Has the situation changed?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — You’re right — I didn’t feel myself to be postmodern at all. Back then, I had just finished a Ph.D. in philosophy and was totally awash in postmodernist discourse, but I knew a way out was needed. Postmodernism and the ridiculous infatuation with the end of history was the privilege of white Western cis guys who were aded by their own normative lives. I wasn’t living in that world.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Jean Baudrillard was still alive.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes! There was Jean Baudrillard. He was an extraordinary thinker but so misogynous and transphobic … he was obsessed with the trans body as the postmodern sign of the end of the difference between reality and representation. But it was not just him, there was also…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Jacques Derrida?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Derrida was a professor of mine. Everything I’ve done since, I owe in part to him and to the liberty he granted me with respect to philosophy. With Derrida, I understood that philosophy was an art of fiction. I think that’s the most important lesson I learned from him. He was incredibly generous, a magnificent professor. But I did indeed learn that philosophy was not a scientific approach to the world — far from it — and actually belonged to the arts. When I write — you see it in Countersexual Manifesto and Testo Junkie, as in all my books — there’s always a language game. For the little text I wrote against normative psychoanalysis — “Can the Monster Speak?” — I borrowed the conceit of Franz Kafka’s pamphlet, where a monkey speaks to an Academy of Sciences. If we don’t understand that philosophy is a form of fiction writing, then nothing is possible today or tomorrow. If we believe that philosophy is a form of fiction writing, and that fiction can effect a transformation and modification of reality and the future — that’s something else altogether. So, all my studies in philosophy enter into dialogue with artistic practices.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Everything’s much more open.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, with much greater circulation between all domains: the sciences, the arts, medicine, technology, etc.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, is the fiction within which you practice your philosophy a cyberpunk or porno-punk story?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — At the time, I didn’t feel an affinity for the terminal view that end-of-histo- ry narratives take. I was discovering a plurality of histories and, naturally, the existence of hegemonic and minor histories. Some of us, those that I would call the monsters of modernity, were just at the beginning of a different history. I was myself sideways, in a minor history. I was born into post-Franco Spain, during the transition to democracy, which was, in fact, a transition to liberalism. I was designated a woman at birth. I was constructed within the political fiction of femininity of Catholic Spain after the Franco regime — a political fiction that has no place for a woman who wants to do philosophy. So, I promptly left for the United States to study. At the same time, since I was designated a woman, I was identified as lesbian and expressed my sexuality hyperbolically within the lesbian subculture as a radical lesbian, with a shaved head. I was aware that this was, in part, a political construct, but also that it had extraordinary potential for political antagonism. This was the era — I’m talking about the 1990s, when I was writing my dissertation in the United States — of the explosion in queer studies and Black feminism. Traditional feminism was actually very conservative until the emergence of queer and Black feminism, which started to take over. As for the philosophy I was studying, what interested me was Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and so on. It was a radical leftist philosophy, to be sure, but it still had a masculine perspective, even though there was a parallel microhistory — with a whole other language and whole other grammar — that was under development within the queer, AIDS, and radical lesbian subculture of the time. So, I’d take my philosophy class in the morning and spend the afternoon and evening at BDSM, porno- queer workshops. There was a sort of gap in my life, an extraordinary distance, but also a potential point of connection: a possible way to critically reappropriate the political grammar of Deleuze and Foucault, or even the deconstructionist grammar of Derrida, and turn it to other ends. I was, at the same time, getting into the queer feminist texts of the time, by people like Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. All of them were professors of mine, so I connected with it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And at the same time, there’s science fiction, and the Internet hit in a massive way, along with electronic music…
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Absolutely — because science fiction was the writing model that seemed to me closest to what I wanted to do in philosophy. To put it in terms of Mark Fisher, science fiction was closer to reality than the “capitalist realism” that was enforced by normative disciplines and pervaded all discourse. It was precisely the description of a parallel world, with a new language for the social reality taking shape. Science fiction had writers like Katharine Burderkin, Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, but also Monique Wittig — who’s not exactly science fiction but rather political fiction — and, of course, across sciences and critical theory, there was Donna Haraway, with her immense “A Cyborg Manifesto.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — And in Testo Junkie, you write: “So, we had best think about doing something as we go extinct, mutate, or change planets, even if that something consists of intentionally accelerating our demise, mutation, or cosmic move. Let us be worthy of our downfall, and let us imagine, for the centuries to come, the constituent principles of a new pornopunk philosophy.” So, at the time, you’re not at all thinking in terms of the end of history. You have a sense of urgency: over the mutation.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — You have to look at that also as the philosophical effects of the testosterone I was starting to take in the late 1990s, which caused a political mutation in my life and body.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, because as you were writing, you were taking doses of testosterone. It takes you elsewhere.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — In any case, I certainly can no longer speak from the so-called “identitarian” position that was assigned to me. For me, the future, the mutation, is “now.” And everything else, what we call the “present,” ties in with the archaeology of past identitarian positions.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The present is the tattered but enduring ruins, of the past?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Totally. Something that has lain in ruins since the decadent 19th century. I was starting to take testosterone. It wasn’t just something personal. I was in a context where hormones were starting to circulate like any other drug. Drug culture has always interested me as a culture of the technology of consciousness, the production of modalities of subjectivation that can’t fully be absorbed by the norm. I’ve never been an addict because I don’t have an addictive nature.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your nature is experimental.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — That’s right. I’ve always been surrounded with and exposed to drugs, both in Spain and in New York, but I’ve always taken a creative, experimental approach, rather than falling into addiction.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That was also the position of Félix Guattari, who saw drugs as subjective coordinates are not just an escape.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Totally. But that’s a stroke of luck because there are people — as I know from people right next to me — who turn into utter addicts the very next day because of something in their chemical make-up, whereas I could always move on to something else.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And continue to write.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Right, exactly. But if, on the other hand, you write without having any experience whatsoever — whether with drugs, sexuality, the exile of migration, or something else — your writing is completely empty. So, what
interests me is how to weave these two experiences together and put them into a creative feedback loop. For example, what comes of testosterone and writing?
OLIVIER ZAHM — You started taking testosterone in 2008?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I started microdosing T in 2004. I was in a gender-fluid mode and could identify as a man and a woman; both were possible. I was in that for a long time, but after a while, your body grows accustomed to the substance… The interesting thing about testosterone is, of course, that it modifies your body, your chemistry, and your consciousness — not because consciousness is just a physical effect of the substance, but on the contrary, because consciousness is purely relational, it doesn’t exist outside its relationship to others and to the world. So, when you take it regularly for four years, at some point either you go beyond the threshold dose or you stop taking it. You have no choice. I reached a point where I decided to increase my dose, and I somehow started to cross the social and political line that separates the feminine from the masculine. I crossed over to the masculine side in the eyes of others.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But it’s a temporal line, as well, because it puts you in a future position insofar as you connect with another code, a hormone. You enter into a mutation, a transformation. It puts you into relation with becoming, which, in turn, sets you years in advance.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — And then — I don’t know — the very notion of the future…
OLIVIER ZAHM — The term “future” seems to bother you.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, a bit. I prefer the notions of transition and experimentation. Take, for instance, the normative discourse of medicine and psychiatry on hormone treatment. That is a futurist discourse. Medicine confronts you with what is to come, once you’ve taken the hormone. Medicine will tell you: “You’re going to become a man and prepare yourself for your new ‘identity.’” But that doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is not at all the future of what is to be — because that’s something nobody, neither medicine nor myself, knows anything about… What interests me instead is the process of becoming, and that lies entirely in the present. It’s a question of dilating the present or giving it a different density, and working in the present. That’s why it’s the very notion of transition that interests me as an epistemological and philosophical notion. More than the notion of a “future.” See what I’m saying?
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’d say that taking testosterone has set you onto a corporeal transformation that goes beyond your own transformation and has revolutionary implications: it has led you to understand that the world can change.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Maybe I already knew that, but it’s been intensified with the testosterone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Seeing a cyberpunk film and living one are two different things.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes. I myself like watching films… Don’t think it doesn’t cause me any trouble. When you start down a train of thought, begin an experiment, or undertake a creative project, and your own body and subjectivity are caught up in the project, you end up in a very complex position. Right now, I find myself in a position of white masculinity… And in everyday life, people sometimes think I’m a hetero guy. Now and again, I see myself in a kind of hallucinatory dream where I think I’m going mad. I come from the cyberpunk, lesbian culture of the 1990s and 2000s, and sometimes I find myself…
OLIVIER ZAHM — … in the position of the most hardcore guy?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I find that I’m part of the “nuclear sperm.” [Laughs] That’s why what interests me — more than the production of identity or gender changes — is a set of strategies I call “de-identification.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is de-identification like escaping the cage of sexuality and gender? You’re transitioning, but not so as to end up within a new norm.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — That’s the problem. And that’s why it’s urgent for the current transition that we start producing or inventing practices of critical de-identification. And to do that, we must speak of this history and of an epistemology. We must get out of the current epistemology, and that’s not something you can do individually. There’s a collective dimension that concerns us if we really want to mutate.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you mean by “epistemology”?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — A regime of dominant signs, an institutional and political regime, and also a regime of knowledge, a cognitive regime that produces the reality in which we live and that hems us in. The epistemology that I call “patriarco-colonial” is a sex-racial taxonomy that has been working since the 15th century. For me, this epistemology is archaeological, but we’re not talking…
OLIVIER ZAHM — … about 3,000 B.C.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly. It’s very recent history. It was historically constructed by us and it can be modified.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In sum, it’s the history of modernity, no?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly. That epistemology is now being deconstructed. It’s reached a point of collapse. Being a philosopher is a bit like being an architect. You look at this epistemological apparatus as a crumbling piece of cognitive and political architecture. You stand before it and say: “Ah, this political building can’t stand. The ratio between violence and submission is changing. It’s going to collapse. It’s crumbling right now.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, the future is the epistemological collapse of the “patriarco-colonial” regime, but in favor of what?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — That’s where the question of the future gets interesting. We’re forever faced with an ongoing task of deconstruction. We must continue the undermining. Oh, yes. We have not yet, not completely, defined a new epistemology to replace it. Right now, we’re in a moment of planetary transition, a moment of epistemic mutation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Because there’s always conservative resistance of all kinds, with incredible violence. Would the basis for this new epistemology, this change of regime, be to establish a sexuality or human relationship that is not assigned to gender? Is this your point of departure?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I don’t know if that’s the sole basis. For me, the grammar of that epistemology is complex and multiple, and built on a great many binary oppositions. One of the major binary oppositions is, of course, the opposition between the masculine and feminine genders, but it’s not the only one. Racial oppositions have been also foundational. There are multiple binary oppositions: human/animal, citizen/foreigner, organism/machine, etc. These binaries are shifting, which means that the political position within the institutional and discursive hierarchy of modernity is changing. The question is now the following: will the shift occur under the control of a kind of digital techno-fascism? This is a reactionary, totalitarian, and violent possibility, which was already envisaged as such by the culture of cyberpunk dystopia. Or will things change in a radical way?
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, what’s at stake is the destiny of the human, and it’s playing out between the risk of totalitarian control and the possibility of an emancipating de-identification?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — You’re right — it’s the human species that’s at stake, but also the question of life at large, if we go deep enough… Because what continues to interest me is the whole set of techniques for the production of subjectivity, the body, and, of course, the animal and human genome, with the de-coding and publishing of the genome. Now, your average lab on the corner will have the technology for genetic publishing and start actively transforming the genome. This potentially entails, de facto, the end of the masculine/feminine opposition, the human/animal opposition, the father/ mother opposition. All of these oppositions are being undone and rebuilt with terrific speed. Like the difference between private and public, which Internet and social media are now deconstructing. Same with the difference between the domestic and the work space, which Covid-19 and remote working have sent into a tailspin. And this is just the beginning.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s the advance of what you call “pharmaco-pornographic capitalism.” And isn’t capitalism itself inherently revolutionary?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — With respect to the traditional notion of the repression of pornography, we have indeed entered a totally different configuration. Just think that in the 19th century, pornography was thought of as a waste of force, a waste of the sexual energy that was supposed to go into either the production of labor or the reproduction of the species. By comparison with the repression of pornography that still existed in the early 20th century, the super production and maximization of pleasure have become the fundamental aspect of capitalistic production. But the pornographic economy remains a mechanism for the normalization and subjection of the body — and for its control. We have now entered a new and fairly dangerous time. It’s easy to imagine a political hybridization of certain archaic and reactionary aspects of the patriarchy and colonialism, on the one hand, and new genetic and cybernetic technologies, on the other. And this could lead us to something beyond dystopia! And the smartphone, which is by no means a tool but an extra organ…
OLIVIER ZAHM — An extra organ of control?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Totally. It’s like what Marshall McLuhan called the “extensions of the body.” I think if McLuhan had lived to see the smartphone, it would have blown his mind. To consider smartphones as…
OLIVIER ZAHM — … simple tools.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — It’s utterly naive. They’re an organ of the contemporary body. But what does that mean?
OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re looking for a way to graft it onto us, in any case.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — It’s already grafted. When do you separate yourself from your phone? Never. You’d sooner lose an arm than your phone. The graft is already complete. What’s happened during the Covid-19 crisis has helped the world’s few remaining holdouts receive their phone grafts. Emergency surgery! And those who can’t receive the graft are dead. Sorry to make fun!
OLIVIER ZAHM — This collapse or initial crumbling of all those dichotomies — human/animal, masculine/feminine, public/private, bodies electronically grafted or not onto networks — if we bring this all back to the recent history of sexuality, is it also the end of heterosexual and homosexual as categories? Or of sexual categories, in general? Because, in the end, if you make love with a trans man or trans woman, you no longer know what sexual category you’re in. You’re lost.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — So much the better! In any case, we’re all lost.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Sexuality is knowing how to lose yourself and being able to do it. It’s staking your loss in the game with the other.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — It’s engaging in a process of intimate de-identification. Where this binary epistemology has really succeeded is in giving people an individual illusion of confidence in their own identity — in other words, the fact that at a given moment, everyone can say, “Me, I’m a man, a woman…”
OLIVIER ZAHM — And “I’m gay” or “not gay.”
PAUL B. PRECIADO — “I’m homosexual.” “I’m heterosexual.” The few bisexuals to be found, here and there, also fit into this binary configuration, in the difficulty of the back-and-forth.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For you, the future is what you call “sexual dissidence.”
PAUL B. PRECIADO — For me, dissident practices are not necessarily homosexual practices insofar as there exists a normative homosexuality. If you take gay culture, for example, there’s a valuing of the masculine that is not at all dissident. It’s almost the re-invention of a norm. Truly dissident practices reside where binarism, the machine of sexual reproduction, comes into question, where it is found to be lacking. Because sexual reproduction is not just a matter of physical reproduction, of having children. The reproductive machine is operative also in cultural reproduction, the social reproduction of gender: in other words, in the reproduction, or even in the alternative reaffirmation, of masculinity and femininity, and of the binaries that ensue.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Reproduction begins with the reproduction of gender?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Absolutely. Basically, sexual reproduction — children — is just a confirmation of the reproduction of gender. It’s the consequence.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s such a violent situation for intersex people, in particular, who, we should say, undergo surgery at birth. A whole population is being eliminated from the species, through well-concealed medical eugenics.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly. And that, for me, is crucial. When I assert that sexual binarism is a historical epistemology, I mean that sexual binarism is not natural, despite what they’ve had us believe since the beginning. I’m not denying ontology or saying that there’s no division of sex in general. What I’m saying is that there’s a multiplicity of bodily, chromosomic, morphological variations that are irreducible to binarism, which seeks to divide, regulate, and control everything. Since as early as the 1940s, it’s been possible to cast some serious doubt on this binary epistemology. In the face of these discoveries, and the proliferation, and the astonishing multiplicity, medical discourse — backed by the political discourse of the time — went about reconstructing sexual difference ad hoc. Although gender-transition techniques were developed, they were always within the binary framework. You could change your sex/gender — but not to anything at all. You had to go from here to there, and so you couldn’t go all that far…
OLIVIER ZAHM — And without the scalpel, without the surgeon, would this sexual kaleidoscope exist?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, absolutely. What I’m saying isn’t new. The queer, crip, and intersex movements have worked on it since the 1990s. It’s eugenics, but it’s fear… The problems that intersex children present is political: what to do with intersex children, with a sex that’s different and deemed a “malformation”? The medical system does not want to deliver to a family an intersex child because of the fear that the family won’t know what gendered name to give the child or how to raise the child, as a girl or a boy. What bathroom will the child use at school? How will the child dress? The fascinating thing is that the very existence of the intersex body allows us to see the unspeakable, naturalized, and controlled aspects of the architecture of sex, gender, and sexuality.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In this sense, then, is the inter-sexual the creature of the future? “Can the Monster Speak?” — to go back to your essay — is a critique of psychoanalysis, which continues to avoid this critique of gender.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — But we have to be careful not to transform the “inter-sex body” into a political tool. The notions of inter-sex — as well as those of homosexuality, heterosexuality, and transsexuality — are medical categories. One of the difficulties that comes up in this gender revolution is that the fundamental notions we’re faced with were invented not by ancient theology or religious discourse, but by modern scientific and psychoanalytic discourse. We’re faced with a scientific discourse that presents itself as a language of truth.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did it go when you confronted that gathering of psychoanalysts? Were they very hostile?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — They were violently hostile! But I sort of took them hostage… At the same time, they were naive enough to invite me to a conference called “Women in Psychoanalysis,” as if it were 1910! I’d have called the conference “Alien or Cyborg in Psychoanalysis,” for your subject on the future. That way, we could have inquired into the evolution of the species in psychoanalytic terms. How do you analyze the post-humans of tomorrow once they land on your psychoanalytic couch? Now, that’s a question! But “Women in Psychoanalysis”? [Laughs] Listen, guys. Time to wake up, please. I heard there’d be 3,500 psychoanalysts, and I showed up for battle. The thing is, though, what seems problematic to me is that psychoanalysis presents itself precisely as a progressive discipline.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Which it was!
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I don’t even know if this was the case. I see it as part of the control disciplines of modernity. And maybe it had a revolt moment in the 70s, but not anymore. Unless it totally reforms itself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you define your particular radical feminism, which not all feminists necessarily like?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — What I advocate today is abolishing the regime of sexual difference. For me, any form of feminism today that does not seek to abolish sexual difference implies a refounding of identitarian power. It’s no longer enough to say that as a woman, you have been and still are the object of violence and discrimination. Yes, it’s true. You’re still the object of patriarchal violence, but the question is: how are we going to transform this regime of masculine violence? We won’t be able to transform it radically if we don’t lay into the regime of binary gender. Ending this binarism could bring about a major social and political transformation. Never in history has there been such a transformation. I can’t even imagine it. The shift from Roman Empire to Christianity was cosmetic by comparison. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is the invention of an ungendered society a plan for the future?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — What do we mean when we say “ungendered” society? It’s a society to be invented, in which we wouldn’t reduce each body to its reproductive capacity. That’s why sperm is so important here, why milk is so important, why the ovaries and uterus are so important. In the end, what we need to lay into is the matter of bodies, “somato-politics,” that whole regime, the craziness all around us. The interesting thing is that the binary regime of sexual difference is crumbling not just because of us — not just because of the feminist, trans, and queer movements — but also because of the current mutation of capitalism. If you think of colonial capitalism, the body of the worker and the slave had to be one that would reproduce forever as a force of production for the colonial nation. Later, with the transformation of capitalism in the 1970s, you needed a consumer…
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you needed children in a family.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — On the one hand, you needed to produce. On the other, to consume.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How is capitalism changing today in your view?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — We’re witnessing a chemical, digital, and cyber mutation of capital. That’s why I call it a “pharmaco-pornographic regime.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — Because capital no longer needs as much productive and reproductive force?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Capital still needs these forces of reproduction, but in a very different way from the period of colonization, or from the 1970s to now. Very soon, probably, capital is going to enter into a severe restriction of births, as is already the case in China, with the one-child policy. This will give a boost to automation, artificial intelligence, working from home, genetics, cryptocurrencies, etc.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Capital, along with robotics and accelerated automation, will head in that direction. Maybe, in this sense, it will be an ally to the non-binary revolution…
PAUL B. PRECIADO — We don’t know… Yes, we could end up with a capitalism that can accept a de-binarization of gender. We can imagine, as is maybe already the case, adolescents who can eventually extract their reproductive cells — in other words, their sperm and ovules — and drop them off at a laboratory or clinic for future use, or maybe not use them. And change their own reproduction.
OLIVIER ZAHM — With an ability to intervene in the genetic code, change their DNA, so as to live better or longer lives and modify their descendance.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — What seems, to me, more complicated in the question of abolishing sexual difference is that masculinity has historically been considered in terms of sovereignty. In patriarchal regimes, sovereignty is defined as the political right to use the techniques of violence. I say this to bring us back to the notion of “nuclear sperm.” Historically there’s a lethal and fatal equation of masculinity and violence, between (re-)production and destruction, between wealth and war. What are we to do with this? For me, this, too, is one of the great questions of what you call the “future.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — That opens the way to a rather optimistic future, for if capital begins to break with binarism or enter into a gradual erasing of gender — because for purely technical reasons, we can reproduce in other ways, or reproduce on our own with our own cells — we will no longer need the masculine/ feminine opposition to reproduce. In consequence, we’ll shift away from the domination of the monogamous and heterosexual mode. Can we imagine entering an era of “postcapitalist” de- identification, thanks to these technologies, pharmacologies, and new economies? In your view, might we be surprised by an objective or historic alliance between the gender revolution and a capitalism that has no further need to control reproduction, with its architecture of heterosexuality, patriarchy, institutionality, medicine, etc, where suddenly we truly enter into a future — that is, into a new social given?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I wonder whether you’re not falling into a “future” trap that doesn’t much appeal to me… The idea of social progress is a bias of leftist thinking. What interests me instead is how to provide ourselves today with subjective and collective contexts of experimentation, whose effect might indeed surprise us. And I think that new technologies for life-recognition are going to open up a new cartography of subjectivity. Look at what’s happened in alternative countercultures in the 1960s-1980s, which you know well — the counterculture in music, rock, electro, punk, glam. We’ve witnessed a proliferation of incredible models of gender. But it will all be re-codified, nevertheless, within the language of Hollywood and of consumption, and then through network censorship.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Even as we discover this variety, we immediately set up measures to control and reformat?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — New techniques of normalization. Except that there are always dissident tendencies. There are always spaces where things proliferate differently. What I mean is: we’ll never be able to say, “It’s done.” We won’t be able to say we’re in a sexual revolution just because capitalism no longer needs that mass of production and reproduction or because, ideally, there are no more gender norms! Because the archaic mechanisms of power — and by “archaic,” I mean the patriarchy and the colonial model, but also the capitalism of property rights — are going to try to fit everything back into a binarism revisited. You can see this now in the new apps on your phone, for example.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The censorship on Instagram is crazy.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — The censorship on Instagram, on Facebook…
OLIVIER ZAHM — But how do we explain it? It’s a historical contradiction, no?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — No.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s just pockets of resistance? The authoritarian model retaking the upper hand? What is it?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — It’s totally that. Cybernetic capitalism today is precisely that. But that’s why the notion of epistemology we were speaking of is essential. I often draw a parallel between the epistemological regime in which Earth is considered the center of the universe and how it took about five centuries to get to a heliocentric regime. That’s not at all the ultimate truth, but just another representation of reality, until one epistemology…
OLIVIER ZAHM — … replaces another?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It takes five centuries…
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Or not… Until there’s a regime of knowledge that can totally displace the capitalist-patriarchal-colonial epistemology. Otherwise, every advance in cybertechnology will automatically be fitted back into the old epistemology. Because a regime of knowledge is also a regime of power. During the shift from terra-centric to heliocentric regime, there was also a radical displacement of the church’s power.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you optimistic about the speed of the change?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Whatever the case may be, I’m very optimistic because I think that after a certain time, things have to go very badly before they get better. And right now, things are very, very bad, so either there’s an epistemological transformation or…
OLIVIER ZAHM — … we’re going to die under reinforced cyber-power.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it’s urgent that we create a dissident sexuality — or could we even use the term “monstrous sexuality,” to borrow from the title of your essay “Can the Monster Speak?” Does this mean couplings in whole new arrangements, with plants, drugs, animals, machines, with all sorts of other codes?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly! But it’s not that we’re going to be able to perform these couplings. It’s that they already exist — but are not recognized for what they are, as relations. They’re recognized as modes of consumption, modes of pleasure — the consumption of drugs, for example… And it’s an ever-present danger. The connection between consumption, domestication, power.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How can we avoid returning to consumption and the intimate, domestic, conjugal, familial, national space, in which we are ever more tightly enclosed, solitude and depression included?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — One possible way is to de-sexualize sexuality — in other words, break sexuality out of the normalization to which it has been subjected throughout its own history. That’s why my first book was titled Countersexual Manifesto. We must oppose the regime of sexuality as a regime that defines the relationships you should have with your own body — the very fact that you see your body as already having a sex, a sexuality, and that you immediately link your desire and your sexuality. For example, if you think you like men, then you’re a homo, and if you like women… You see what I mean?
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it’s in the non-identitarian relationship that sexuality is de-sexualized?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, and that its inner barriers are breached.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And so, sexuality leaves the human realm — of the relationship with the other?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, but in leaving the human realm, it, too, will be de- sexualized. If you look at the epistemology of some of the indigenous people in the Amazon, they don’t think of “sexuality” the way we do, just as they have a different relationship with the living world and plants. They will say for instance, “I’ve spoken with ayahuasca.” We don’t speak with plants. When I started taking testosterone, I told myself that I was really going to talk with the testosterone! And to enter into a different relationship… When you take testosterone, you de-sexualize your sexuality — you utterly take it apart. You no longer feel the same at all, you’re not perceived the same way, you can’t feel what you felt before, you have another name… Do you see what I’m saying?
OLIVIER ZAHM — I understand “de-identify” but not so much “de-sexualize.”
PAUL B. PRECIADO — The notion of sexuality was invented in the 18th century. In other words, before the 18th century, under the medieval Christian regime, there was no sexuality — there was the flesh. The flesh is, in fact, impulses, and these impulses are carnal and bind you to Earth, to the devil. So, every exercise in Christian subjectivity is an attempt to control those impulses, which are linked to matter, to be freed from them in order to reach God spiritually. The 19th century constructed the understanding of sexuality that we have still today: a mix of medical (the definition of sexuality in terms of reproduction), legal (the idea, for instance, that your body is your private property), institutional (its relationship with marriage, for instance), and literary fictions that will be embodied and completely naturalized by the 20th century. When we talk about our sexuality, we are living in the past! We have nothing but these semiological ruins coming from different languages of modernity. For me, it’s totally obsolete. Since you’re interested in the future for this issue of Purple, I can tell you that we live in the past and never emerge from it. We’re always working with historical, naturalized categories that we cannot see and that we take to be the truth itself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, we live in sexuality’s past, even with traditional non-normative, non-heterosexual sexuality?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — To an extraordinary degree, we remain prey to the discourse of medicine, sexology, the law, psychanalysis, and so forth. That’s why when I say “de-sexualize sexuality,” I mean that we have to tear it away from that discourse, so as to transform it and make it into something else. What does it mean to de-sexualize it? Maybe it means vegetalizing it, mineralizing it, digitizing it, or maybe cyber-organizing it. It means removing sexuality from the language to which it has been subjected from the late 18th century up to now, and which is just an aberration. What a stifling regime! What a nightmare! That’s why, for me, this stuff about progressive history is not credible. In reality, maybe the sexuality of the third century A.D. was a thousand times more interesting than our own, in its complexity, plurality, and possibilities. Ours is a nightmare of narrowness! The most interesting thing to do is to de-sexualize it, to make it into a sort of space for artistic experimentation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s physically possible today, with all the prostheses available, all those augmented organs that we’re going to be able to generate with stem-cell cultures, maybe also hormonal possibilities, and unexpected possible genetic mutations. Because if we receive a graft, have our DNA modified in an animal direction, and develop some stronger sense, maybe we’ll experience orgasm in a different way.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Of course. There you’re talking about biological or chemical technologies…
OLIVIER ZAHM — And genetic ones.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, but don’t neglect text and literature. If you think about how sexuality has been constructed in the West, the most powerful technology of sexuality has been literature. Modern sexuality was invented in the boudoir, and the boudoir is a library. It’s a place where you imagine sexuality. We’ve projected and imagined it, and we’ve produced it through the solitary act of reading.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, if sexuality is also in language, then it’s symbolic. That’s why Jacques Lacan is always an interesting adversary.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — On this subject, Lacan understood perfectly what the mechanisms of modernity’s sexualization were and that they were indeed symbolic. The problem is that he’s an exemplar of the binary patriarchal epistemology, with his way of considering feminine orgasm as non-knowledge, like the non-possibility of speech.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Because he wasn’t afraid to make that statement…
PAUL B. PRECIADO — No, which is nevertheless incredible. There are people today who still call themselves Lacanian. Reading Lacan seems like a good idea to me, but using Lacan as a clinical tool is truly crazy. It’s as if tomorrow I set about trying to heal people after reading Valerie Solanas. Solanas is somewhat equivalent to Lacan, but on the other side. With Solanas, you couldn’t heal many people, and not with Lacan, either. They’re interesting to read as fiction, but not as clinical tools. It’s incredible to think that Lacan’s philosophy has had great success in the West as a clinical tool.
OLIVIER ZAHM — If Western sexuality has been constructed through language and in the symbolic realm, will we be able to escape it through the scientific realm of DNA modification crossed with the disappearance of gender?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Careful. The question of symbolism extends all the way to DNA because DNA is already thought of as text, as code. The question is: what are we going to do with this new code of life, this code of the human? I don’t distinguish between the multiplicity of technologies and techniques of subjectivation. Lacan thinks there’s the real and then the symbolic, in a sort of hierarchy. What I’m telling you is that, in this sense, I’m totally with Derrida. Deleuze and Guattari would have said the same thing. There’s a plateau, a horizontality between all technologies, whether they’re medical, cyber, or media-related, and the productions of subjectivation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And is the world of cyborgs and prostheses aligned with the de-sexualization of sexuality?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — With the plasticity of sexuality and the apparatus of subjectivation, in general, everything is a prosthesis. That’s the magnificent thing. Everything is subject to being a prosthesis. Text can be a prosthesis and, in fact, is one. Writing is a prosthesis. The one who really noticed this was William Burroughs, who said that writing is a virus that has inoculated us. Once we’ve learned language, we can never escape it. It’s actually terrifying.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Prostheses are not limited to the dildos and the sexual prosthesis?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — The way I see it, the body itself is a political prosthesis. In other words, the body shouldn’t be seen merely as a natural thing. We have a naive relationship with the body. We see ourselves as a sort of subject in control of the body, and the rest — everything that’s a bit outside the body — is machine, matter, exteriority. What do we mean when we say that our body belongs to us? Anti-vaxxers, for example, make me laugh because suddenly they’re all saying: “Oh no. Nothing foreign is going into my body!” But what was your body before? A bunker? Nothing’s ever gone into it? No micro-plastics — or hormones when you take the pill? And then the masculine body, the virile body, is supposedly a sort of fortress from which things issue — “nuclear sperm” — but into which nothing enters. No, my friend. The body is by definition an orifice. When you say “organ,” you’re talking about relations, relationality, the penetrability of all the orifices. And so our relationship with power is, obviously, penetrative, addictive, and abusive.
OLIVIER ZAHM — If this epistemological change you’re working on, which can take five centuries or five minutes — on that score, we don’t know…
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I don’t think it will take five centuries because we no longer have that much time if we continue living according to the capitalist sexo-colonial epistemology.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We need to speed up the change.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — It is sped up de facto by the very speed of production, the very speed of immaterial, cybernetic capital.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Which operates in nanoseconds.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — So, it’s certain that it’s de facto accelerated. But it’s accelerated also because it’s synchronized. The shift to a heliocentric epistemology, for example, was valid only for Europe, for the West, because there was a multitude of other people in different cosmologies. Now, though, for the first time, we’re synchronized. In other words, the Anthropocene or the Necrocene, the Capitalocene, or whatever you want to call it…
OLIVIER ZAHM — The Spermocene.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Exactly. The Spermocene is a synchronized, planetary condition. The critical conditions for the production of life today are such that we won’t have 500 years to carry out the change, and, at the same time, we have the cognitive conditions to do it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And the technological ones.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — When we say “technological,” we shouldn’t think of machines. We should think that the machine is us. The living machine, the carbon machine, is us. When we say “technology,” we just have to pay attention to the ramifications.
OLIVIER ZAHM — All of it is ramifications. It’s all connections. So, the machine is us. Technology is us. The organ from stem cells is us.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — If technology is us, then any change is intrinsically a change in ourselves. We’re going to have to change the carbon machine that we are. That’s how it’ll happen. It goes through the transformation of that machine. Hence the need for an epistemological change, a change of knowledge-regime, in what we consider true or false. If we continue the way we’re going, there’ll be an environmental collapse… But the epistemological collapse is also already happening.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, we need to change the code?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I prefer the notion of the trace to that of a code. If I’m intent on traces, it’s precisely because we are the carbon machine and leave traces behind, and because we are ourselves traces. We’re not just codes. We’re also materiality. The changes we need to make, we’re going to have to make them not just in the code, but in matter.
OLIVIER ZAHM — To avoid entropy.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — We struggle to deal with matter. We’re more comfortable with the code, but the question is that matter has been smashed, destroyed. We are the result of at least five centuries of a technology of death. Either we learn to repair what we’ve busted, to collect the traces and take care of them, or else we’re screwed. Let’s return to the album Lovotic, which you talk about in this issue, in which I took part with Stephan Crasneanscki and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The idea was that we were already in this sort of future of sexuality and recovering traces of a blurred history — scraps, pieces, fragments. And with these fragments, we were managing to construct something new. Lovotic is about love after the separation between the carbon and the silicon ma- chines.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There again, we have to break free of the carbon/silicon opposition?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes. It’s the same binary as when we say “masculine/feminine.” That difference is blurring, too. We need a new category to look at our relationship with cybernetic machines. And I am not just talking about AI but, more radically, about us. That’s what the album Lovotic is.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you remain optimistic about these changes? The course of history is going in your direction, no? It was already the case in 2004-2008, when you were talking about this situation. You were all alone. You were in an invisible avant-garde when you spoke of “nuclear sperm.”
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Back then, it seemed crazy.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Now, a conference of psychoanalysts will lend you an ear, even if they reject you. And, more generally, a new, hyper-politicized generation… And then, there’s the increasing evolution of capital in the reproductive system, which we cannot continue, with almost eight billion humans. We’re going to have to stop it.
PAUL B. PRECIADO — There’s no need to insist on it all that much because we might witness a reorganization of power relations, which will no longer turn at all on the question of gender or the question of sexuality, and might find new antagonisms and new oppositions. Capital could very well absorb gender difference and mutate while absorbing it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And continue like that?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, of course. That’s one possibility. I’ll be putting out a new book soon called Dysphoria Mundi — in January or February — in which I am working on what I’m calling a “super-string” theory. There’s an attempt being made in physics to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics. I think it’s time for philosophy to unify the struggle against capital, on the one hand, and what until now we’ve called “identity struggles,” on the other. Questions of feminism, race, homosexuality, heterosexuality, and, political ecology and the environment — all of them have been perceived as secondary problems because the true struggle was against capitalism. So, we’ve had a left that’s remained macho, masculinist, and anti-environmental but says it’s against capital. What we need to invent now is a “super-string” theory across sexo-racial capitalism.
OLIVIER ZAHM — A union of all struggles?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — I call it a “somato-political rebellion,” a rebellion of living bodies against the technology of death. We might establish a synthetic alliance — not an identitarian alliance: not whites with whites, heteros with heteros, homos with homos. Something much more complex.
OLIVIER ZAHM — All bodies. Human, animal, vegetal, cosmic?
PAUL B. PRECIADO — Yes, all over. In any case, all the identitarian divisions we’ve created over the course of “patriarchal-colonial” modernity are, in the end, technologies for the extraction of life force. What’s needed is a true alliance of all living bodies against the technologies of death and the invention of another technology of life, one that is not under the control of capitalism.
all artwork courtesy of the artist and downs & ross, new york
[Table of contents]
a purple future
by Daniel Pinchbeck
cover #1 ram hanRead the article
the fragile skin of the world
by Jean-Luc Nancy
the future is everywhere
by Emanuel Coccia
the sources of time
by Carlo Rovelli
artificial intelligence the eclipse of human discretion
by Adam Greenfield
individual future and collective future
by Marc Augé
what will we eat?
by Grace Denis
by Mark Fisher
best of the season s/s 2022
by Haley Wollens
cover #2 loewe s/s 2022Read the article
cover #3 fendi s/s 2022Read the article
by Aleph Molinari and Olivier Zahm
cover #4 jon rafmanRead the article
cyber porn punk
by Ada Navarro
saint laurent s/s 2022
by Haromony Korine
cover #5 saint laurent s/s 2022Read the article
cover #6 saint laurent s/s 2022Read the article
by Olivier Zahm
balenciaga summer 2022
by Juergen Teller
cover #7 balenciaga summer 2022Read the article
paul b. preciado
by Olivier Zahm
bottega veneta s/s 2022
by Bruno Staub
cover #8 bottega veneta s/s 2022
by Bruno Staub
comme des garçons s/s 2022
by Takashi Homma
cover #9 comme des garçons s/s 2022
by Takashi Homma
by Aleph Molinari
by Jean Baudrillard
is there another future for fashion?
by Marta D. Riezu
by Roland Topor
courrèges s/s 2022
by Henrik Purienne
cover #10 courrèges s/s 2022
by Henrik Purienne
the will to power as disappearance
by Hakim Bey
the genesis machine
by Caroline Vreeland
for the world to come
by The Invisible Committee
body fillers and plastified diets
by Bárbara Sánchez-Kane
lovotic by soundwalk collective, charlotte gainsbourg
by Olivier Zahm
lovotic by soundwalk collective, paul b. preciado
by Paul B. Preciado
by Jérôme Sans and Olivier Zahm
chanel s/s 2022
by Philippe Jarrigeon
cover #11 chanel s/s 2022
by Philippe Jarrigeon
by Olivier Zahm
cover #12 eliza douglas
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
louis vuitton s/s 2022
by Kristina Nagel
cover #13 louis vuitton s/s 2022
by Kristina Nagel
imre and marne van opstal
by Olivier Zahm and Aleph Molinari
givenchy s/s 2022
by Markn and Brigita Žižytė
cover #14 givenchy s/s 2022Read the article
miu miu s/s 2022
by Casper Sejersen
cover #15 miu miu s/s 2022Read the article
by Olivier Zahm
loewe s/s 2022
by Colin Dodgson
cover #16 loewe s/s 2022Read the article
by Anfisa Vrubel and Aleph Molinari
by Bobbi Salvör Menuez
by Sandy Kim
celine s/s 2022
by Olivier Zahm
cover #17 celine s/s 2022Read the article
french afro futurism
by Suffo Moncloa
cover #18 calvin klein jeans s/s 2022Read the article
vanmoof bikes by purple
by Mathias Kiss, Nina Kraviz, André Saraiva and Mei
cover #19 vanmoof bikesRead the article
by Moni Haworth
by Aleph Molinari and Anfisa Vrubel
by Aleph Molinari
by Aleph Molinari
by Boris Bergmann
mount analogue by philippe parrenoRead the article
the only person with a plan
by Vivienne Westwood