Integral Thought and Queer Theory, a reply to Daniel Gustav Anderson

Daniel Gustav Anderson
The following letter by Daniel Gustav Anderson‘s just came to my attention this morning:

An Open Letter to Joe Perez

28 October 2011

Dear Mr. Perez,

We do not know each other well. So I hope it not too impertinent for a stranger like me to make a public demand on your time and attention. I do this in a spirit of friendship, and with an eye toward pushing the horizons of contemporary integral thought forward.

Here is the thing: It seems to me that you are in a unique position to contribute to the integral studies discourse in a productive and creative way, and not only because you already have a readership of significant numbers among those who are interested in this material. I am referring instead to your legitimacy in writing on issues of gender and sexual identity. You are able to write the queer with authority, as you did in Soulfully Gay.

That is point A.

Point B: There exists a lively, provocative, and occasionally problematic body of scholarship and reflection uneasily categorized as Queer Studies. You may be surprised to hear that there is significant and evocative overlap between your project in Soulfully Gay and the concerns of queer theorists such as Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, and most especially Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who describes her experiences in meditation in Touching Feeling. I am also of the opinion that Juana Rodriguez’s Queer Latinidad is a quietly soulful book.

I am writing you to bring points A and B into meaningful dialogue in your mind. I am asking you, Mr. Perez, to give this work a careful and critical reading, and then to write about it. The readers of the JITP would surely benefit from this. How so? In a few ways. This will take some explaining.

I bring this up with the understanding that there is nothing particularly “postmodern” about the material I am drawing your attention to. Seriously. If anything (and Berlant spells this out in Queen of America), the practices described are a reaction to, a resistance to, the postmodern condition, to cultural life under Reagan and neoliberalism. (See David Harvey’s classic The Postmodern Condition, and Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, to specify my meaning. You surely know this work, Mr. Perez, but since this is also a public document, I want to foreclose public misunderstandings before they arise.)

Engaging with queer theory in detail will give you a chance to broaden the understanding of queer identities and experiences and practices in integral theory (which you are uniquely positioned to do), and along the way to tighten up the concept of the postmodern as it circulates in integral studies. That is the take-away. You can do this effectively, and this discourse will benefit when you do.

So please. Enlighten the counterpublic.

In friendship,

D.G.A.
Annandale, Virginia

Hi Daniel,

First of all, I really appreciate your remarks in the letter and that you’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty silent on the topic of Queer Theory since the publication of Soulfully Gay. If I’ve largely ignored writing about LGBT/Queer Studies scholars, it’s fair to note that they’ve ignored Soulfully Gay, so far as I know. That’s not true in the non-academic discourse of Gay Men’s Spirituality, by the way, even though my own work is located as a critical voice within that movement.

On my part, this is an oversight I intend to remedy in time, but I am blessed and cursed with several different areas and modalities in which I desire to contribute.  I do not foresee writing another book or substantial essay on Queer Theory for another year or more. I have a shelf on my bookshelf devoted to the latest developments in Queer Theory including some of the books you mention, and will be writing short pieces in the months ahead.

Let me be blunt: apart from a few authors such as Gilles Herrada, I have not yet read a single Queer Theory book even closely approaching an Integral or post-postmodern level of consciousness. That’s not to say there aren’t glimmers of post-postmodern insights in different writers, as one would expect a few decades into the rise of postmodern discourse in academia. Of course there are. However, academia is pretty abysmal right now. I perceive more interesting emerging integral voices in the LGBT community in spirituality, literature, art, and music — but not yet among academics.

I take issue with your judgment “there is nothing particularly ‘postmodern’ about the material…” of Queer Theorists. We clearly disagree. I guess that depends on your definition of postmodern. In 2009, I wrote a post for a popular audience called “Top 10 Signs Your Spirituality Might Be Integral” for Integral Life. It’s not intended as an academic paper, more of an “at-home self-test” of integral perspectives.

But if you ask questions like those 10 of your typical Queer Theorist you will find that the answer is definitely “No, their writing is NOT integral.” There are two important senses in which I intend this point: first, that the authors’ writing so far as I can tell probably does not evidence levels of ego-development centered at post-Individualist maturity in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s scale of ego-development maturity; secondly, that the positive values articulated by Integral Theory such as inclusion of developmental diversity, comprehensivity, non-dual perspectives on spirituality, etc., are not valued as such.

I try to hold the former judgments lightly (and generally privately), given that I have not administered any diagnostic assessment of the author and in any case it’s rarely necessary to talk about an author’s implicit psychological profile when it’s much easier to talk about the author’s explicit values.

A telltale sign of a postmodern Queer Theorist is that they value diversity in its own right and refuse to situate their discourse in a “big picture” of an evolving human nature; a sign of an integral LGBTQ/gay theorist is that they value both diversity and unity together and situate their discourse in a model of gender and sexuality capable of making sense of the facts of development in their particularity and in their general principles. An early exemplar of this approach is my own Soulfully Gay.

I want to add that there’s nothing wrong with Queer Theory as a vibrant, healthy postmodern (but non-Integral) expression of critical consciousness. “Not Integral” is not an insult in my book, it’s a tool of criticism itself, a pointer to the ways in which a writer has omitted something essential that could provide a wider and more useful perspective.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was a brilliant theorist whose contribution to scholarship was seminal; without her work in developing various postmodern critiques, integral scholarship could not stand on her shoulders. Her brilliance as a postmodern thinker is not diminished by the fact that she had not made certain connections obvious from a more integral perspective; indeed, it is from an integral view that her brilliance is all the more valued even as the partiality of her methodology comes more clearly into view.

Healthy postmodern perspectives are needed today inside and outside academia, just so long as they are willing to allow integral voices to work alongside them. There are destructive and constructive phases of postmodern criticism, and as writers naturally flow away from tearing down reality into appreciating and beautifying reality, they naturally progress into more integrative modes.

Warm regards,

Joe

P.S.: I contract every time I hear you talk on your blog about “Wilberians” and “Wilber and his followers,” or attaching “dynamics of exploitation” judgments to spiritual teachers without a justification that I find persuasive. Such dismissive pigeon-holing is a major turn-off to me; it’s a common tactic of academic writers, I know, but I find it cringe worthy. I’m looking forward to having time after my vacation to cutting through the contractions and commenting on your work including your new essay. Overall, Integral needs to pay more attention to justice issues, and I’m glad there are folks out there who take them seriously.

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