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Below Human: On Porosity and Pervasion

Human after Man

Susanne Witzgall, Marietta Kesting (eds.)

In this article, I would like to focus specifically on the idea of im/penetrability as it re-emerges starkly at the wake of the pandemic as both a bodily and epistemic imago of the modern/colonial subject-aka-nation-state by going back (and forth) in time, interweaving theories of body as they are articulated in the medical classics of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and philosophical cosmology.  


We will first depart from a crucial aspect of the human body as it is conceived in TCM’s medical theory, specifically in the Huang Di Nei Jing or the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon  : the bodily orifices or the body as orifice. We will examine the ‘reverse anthropocentrism’ of this body-of-orifices as the connector between heaven and earth, and as a porous entity that is both a part and a reflection of the cosmos. Then we will see how this model of the body tells us about world’s maintenance and flourishing.

We Need to Talk about the Penis

What does epistemic decolonization mean for contemporary rethinking of the body, gender/sexuality, and knowledge in feminist and queer scholarship? Through a close reading of Chinese medicine’s classical text Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), this essay proposes a “body-of-orifices” in which the penis like the vagina and the anus is but another orifice among other more visible bodily openings. In feminist and queer theorization, the penis has been almost only accounted for as something else, as the metaphoric pen, the psychoanalytic phallus, as anything other than the organ itself. Meanwhile, in pornographic, cinematic, and other visual representations, the Asian man’s member(ship) is largely denied, nowhere to be seen. This invisibility mirrors the overrepresentation of white male philosophers in much of queer theory’s theoretical foundation. Engaging closely with feminist and queer re-readings of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis while delving deeply into the philosophical and cosmological concepts of Chinese medicine, the essay also argues that the body-of-orifices entails a different heuristic model for a less hegemonic practice of knowing based on cultivation of passivity and receptiveness, which is very different from the colonial/modern model of knowledge-acquisition as mastery, penetration, and possession.

The Ceremony Can (Not) Be Found in the Serpent(ine)

When Huang Yong Ping put two books into the washing machine for a two-minute cycle in 1987, Berlin was still separated by an artificial border—the infamous Berlin Wall. The books were History of Chinese Painting by Wang Bomin and A Concise History of Modern Painting by Herbert Read. This simple gesture could easily invoke the much hailed idea of “cross-cultural dialogue,” the buzzword which would circulate in the decades to come in the neoliberal global (art) market, as central to its “order-stabilizing/legitimizing symbolic codes.” However, in the case of Huang’s gesture, the symbolic replicator codes of art histories (one Chinese, one modern) were rinsed of their very legibility.


Three years earlier than Huang’s provocation, Sylvia Wynter wrote her “The Ceremony Must be Found” (1984). It’s unlikely that Huang read Wynter, but he seemed to hear her call for a ceremony nonetheless. (Art) History is dirty and therefore needs to be washed. However, the more one washes the books, the dirtier they become. Book-washing therefore “is not about making culture cleaner; rather, it tries to make its dirtiness more evident to the eye.” After two minutes in the washing machine, words disappeared, and images were destroyed. A ceremony was found.

Anthropologie du trou et trouer comme méthode

Políticas y narrativas del cuerpo = Politiques et récits du corps = Politics and Narratives of the Body

« Queer », dans l’usage théorique, est une catégorie paradoxale, car c’est une catégorie dé-catégorisante ou une non-catégorie, dont le sens qu’elle reste toujours changeante et impossible à fixer. De fait, si l’on comprend le verbe queeriser (queering) comme une stratégie critique et réflexive, une manière d’insinuer le doute, de faire défaillir les normes sociales et intellectuelles, cela nous interpelle sur les outils dont nous disposons à cette fin. De même, le concept de queer ne peut en réalité exister qu’au pluriel, puisqu’il s’agit toujours de déstabiliser et de dissiper la fausse clarté des classifications, des hiérarchisations et de l’essentialisation du temps, de l’espace et des corps (les corps au sens le plus large, et la sexualité n’étant ici qu’un aspect parmi bien d’autres).

La nécessité que survive cette manière de penser, mais aussi l’espoir que des sujets puissent se l’approprier en pleine conscience, tout cela compte donc autant, voire plus que la préoccupation de « pureté linguistique » du concept et sa traductibilité. Cette problématique est évidemment trop complexe pour que je puisse aller au-delà de l’esquisse et la développer. Mais brièvement, je noterai simplement que le manque (c’est-à-dire finalement le trou) du mot queer dans certaines langues est en soi une question qui mérite d’être posée.

Je partagerai ma propre hypothèse méthodologique, qui consiste à « trouer » les savoirs, à envisager ce fait de « trouer » comme une méthodologie qui s’applique, réflexivement, à l’autocritique des études queers elles-mêmes à travers la polémique autour de la question de la reproduction.

Transdualism: Towards a Materio-discursive Embodimentm

The author introduces the concept of transdualism to critique dualism without relying on a dualistic model of critique, the modus operandi necessary for a critique against sexual dualism and hetero/cisnormativity. Transdualism offers an opportunity to dwell within that operation by staying below (not beyond) the “dualism,” that is, below the logic of either/or. The essay will explore the notion of “transdualism” through the hexagram Tai of the Yi Jing, which is often used in medical contexts to illustrate the body-of-orifices of Huangdi Neijing or the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. The author reads this body-of-orifices, which is primarily represented by its nine major bodily tunnels, with yinyang philosophy as gender/sex indeterminant and shows that the Inner Canon's yinyang body-of-orifices points to something more transgressive, which could unsettle from within the naturalism of gender and sexual dualism and the nature/culture as well as other dualistic divides that have informed contemporary critical rethinking of embodiment. By unpacking the hexagram Tai alongside Inner Canon's body-of-orifices. as well as contemporary feminist, queer, and transgender theorizations of the body and sexuality, this essay aims at rethinking the materio-discursive complexity of the body-of-orifices, which has been either dualistically separated into antagonisms between man and woman, sex and gender, body and discourse, yin and yang; or one-sidedly reduced to a function of “social construction,” knowable only through language—or problematically lumped together in a gender-is-fluid postmodern “both-and,” which supposedly overcomes the metaphysico-theological “either/or.”

The Ontology of the Couple: or,
What Queer Theory Knows about Numbers
co-authored with S. Pearl Brilmyer and Filippo Trentin

GLQ: A Journal for Lesbian and Gay Studies

vol.25, no.2 (2019)

Can one be queer and coupled? Or is the duality that defines the couple form fundamentally at odds with queer existence? In 1998 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner wrote that “making a queer world has required the development of kinds of intimacy that bear no necessary relation to domestic space, to kinship, to the couple form, to property and to the nation.” Since then, however, we have witnessed the couple form become the major vehicle through which gays and lesbians have achieved access to cultural and legal institutions as well as broader social acceptance. While before the late twentieth century, same-sex relations circulated largely outside what Michel Foucault called the “monogamic and conjugal cell,” today many such peripheral sexualities have been absorbed under the couple’s ever-expanding jurisdiction. Does the present moment require a more honest reckoning with the increasingly central role of the couple in queer life? Or do we need, now more than ever, to revitalize our commitment to the production of a sexual politics that would resist the ideology of the couple? It is the premise of this special issue that before one can be for or against it, split it up or repair it, one must first understand what the couple is. The special issue thus takes an ontological approach to the question of the couple, asking what it means to be in two – that is, to have one’s experience bound up for some duration with another.

Below Either/or: Rereading Femininity and Monstrosity inside Enuma Elish

Often seen as a typical Chaoskampf, the cosmic struggle between Marduk and Tiamat in the Babylonian epic of creation, Enuma Elish, looked at closely belies this reading that has been dominating scholarship since the nineteenth century. Through a close-reading of the epic’s narrative against its modern/colonial reception, the article argues that Enuma Elish provides a rich and complex narrative in which motherhood and monstrosity do not oppose each other (as some early feminist critiques would like), nor do they run together with each other (as misogynist readings would like). The textual, historical and philological analyses, as well as reception-critiques, ultimately serve to theorize from within the ancient cosmology an immanent and decolonial logic that is beyond ‘either/or’.

'adam is not man: Queer Body before Genesis 2:22 (and After)

in: Unsettling Science and Religion: Contributions and Questions from Queer Studies,

eds. by Lisa Stenmark and Whitney Bauman, Lexington Press (2018) pp. 183-197


The famous “contradiction” of two creation accounts of the “Creation of Man” in the biblical Genesis has exerted a lasting puzzle for modern scholars of religion, literature, and sexuality. The creation story has been commented by generations of theologians, biblical and literary scholars perhaps ever since these pages were written and gathered. This paper will retake the task of analyzing the creation(s) of “man” through an agglomeration of three perspectives: literary close-reading, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and “quantum queer theory”. Part 1 takes Erich Auerbach’s analysis of the “truth-claiming” style of the biblical narrative as a starting point to re-read, following the linear flow of the two accounts of “creation of man” in Genesis 1 and 2 while comparing different renderings in modern languages which either retain or suppress the Hebrew pun on ‘adam and Adam. Part 2 will continue to ponder the sexually entangled body of ‘adam with the help of the model of “sexless gendered body” theory that I develop, through a combination of TCM’s body-of-orifice and Karen Barad’s queer reading of quantum superposition. Part 3 will conclude the article by combining these ancient and contemporary texts and theories, through a queer strategy of anachronism to suggest that the biblical text, far from proposing a sexist theology of male dominance actually retains an ambiguous space of constant queering. That “’adam is not man and lesbians are woman” before Genesis 2:22 therefore leaks into the “aftermath” of the primordial creation, turning the linear biblical Alpha-Omega against its heteronormative certainty, and providing invaluable theory for contemporary queer rethinking of the body and beyond.

Camp as a Critical Strategy in Gu Changwei’s
And the Spring Comes

in: The Dark Side of Camp – Queer Economy of Dust, Dirt and Patina,

eds. by Ingrid Hotz-Davies, Franziska Bergmann, Georg Vogt, Routledge  (2017) pp. 56 - 70

The film is constructed through a series of juxtapositions of different and supposedly incongruous realms: the local, the global, the foreign, the Chinese, the Western, the colonial, the ethnic, the deliberate and the naïve. This chapter theorizes camp's simultaneous downward and upward movements as the film's critical strategy with which the very categorical certainty of what constitutes the "high" and what the "low" is, if not called into question, rendered frivolous and clumsy. The voice-over by our protagonist Wang Cailing on the "Spring-Comes" and its sensitive wind at the outset of film is sentimental and artsy. The claustrophobic social surveillance of any possible trespasser of normativity starts to make the film viewers' laugher uncomfortable. The encounter between Wang the singer and Hu Jinquan the dancer is the climax and also end of film's campiness. The habitual equation of "West" with the "global", despite its historical actuality, is rejected in film by the so called postcolonial ethnic community at "local" level.

The (De)Coloniality of Conceptual Inequivalence: Reinterpreting Ometeotl within Nahua Tlacuiloliztli

in: Decolonial Readings of Latin American Literature and Culture

eds. by Juan Ramos and Tara Daly, Palgrave Macmillan

(2016) pp. 39-55

Xiang coins the term “conceptual inequivalence” to analyze the coloniality of translation between indigenous and European languages and cosmologies through a close survey of the colonial/modern reception and translation of the Nahua duality deity and principle Ometeotl. He argues that the negation of conceptual inequivalence accompanies the colonial imposition of Western cosmology to the indigenous one. Seeing this imposition as coloniality/modernity’s intellectual limitation in comprehending the complex Nahua cosmology, he considers conceptual inequivalence to be the space for decolonial resistance. “The (De)coloniality of Conceptual Inequivalence” tackles these issues through a learning to learn from Nahua cosmo-philosophy conceived in its pictorial writing system tlacuiloliztli, for which he includes statues like Coatlicue Mayor and the calendar stone.

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