Queer Dharma and Docile Bodies: A Response to Zach Walsh’s “Mindfulness Under Neo-Liberal Governmentality: Critiquing the Operaton of Biopower in Corporate Mindfulness and Constructing Queer Alternatives”
Zack: quoting your paper: “In Buddhism and Cultural Studies”, Edwin Ng (2016) advances one step further, experimenting with mindfulness as an ethico-political practice that transgresses the limits of neoliberal governmentality. He examines how ethical self-cultivation and vipassanā meditation can “defuse normative modes of subjectivity and catalyse the transformative processes of un-becoming.”
I agree with Ng’s argument about mindfulness and ‘unbecoming.’ I argued so myself in a blog article called “Conduct Unbecoming: Trans*Queer Dharma.”
But I challenged Ng on the question of Foucault’s notion of “docile bodies” and how the practice of meditation produces “docile bodies” (Discipline and Punish). Bodies that are subjected to a particular physical discipline—silent, still, emotionless, expressionless—produce “docile bodies”. This is precisely what I identify as ‘anti-queer’. (Ng did not respond to the challenge but he was probably just busy.)
The best and most recent example I can find is a tweet from a twitter friend ‘gaynycjew’ who posted this video as an expression of queer ‘nirvana’. Just in case there are some who can’t read the tweet, I quote it here, as it was written, in ALL CAPS:
“MY GAY ASS IS FOREVER SLAYED. I’M HAVING A GAY SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE, GAY NIRVANA. I AM NOW THE GAY BUDDHA.” My queer response to her tweet was “Oh Honey, I am forever your disciple, sweet Ananda to your Gay Buddha. Namaste, fags!”
MY GAY ASS IS FOREVER SLAYED. I’M HAVING A GAY SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. GAY NIRVANA. I AM NOW THE GAY BUDDHA. pic.twitter.com/WxMoByGIy1
— gaynycjew (@gaynycjew) March 21, 2018
To create a ‘queer dharma’, I must start with Queer Embodiment, an ethnography of queer bodies, how the body is ‘queered’ by movement, by voice, by speaking, by clothing and other cultural markers of queer identity and expression.
If one were to observe a person sitting in meditation in loose ‘sensible’ clothing, one would have no way of knowing if that subject was queer. Identifying Queerness requires queer expression: movement of the hands, the eyes, the postures and gestures of the body in relation to other queers and/or straight people. It requires queer vocalization, queer slang, ‘fag’ dialect, identifying queer categories applied to self and others; queer clothing markers (cross-gender or just loud and non-conformist), queer emotional excess otherwise known as “drama” and “flaming”—whether jouissance, rage or desire—queer sexual desire, queer desire for other-genderedness, queer responses to dominant culture and sub-culture; music, dance, visual arts, and so forth, all the features of culture.
Meditation produces a ‘docile body’ that does not exhibit any marker of difference, except perhaps the most obvious racial or stereotypical gender presentation; but even then one does not know if that Black meditator is a ‘queer’ Black meditator, or that ‘woman’ is a cis or trans or queer woman. That can only be ascertained by voice, movement and speech, self-identification and group affiliation and cultural expressions.
If there is going to be a Buddhism or a Meditation regime that works for me at all (and I doubt there ever will be) it must take into account Queer Embodiment, my queer body, how the Queer Body signifies, how it speaks; how it is not docile, it is not quiet, it is not still, it is not devoid of culture or sub-cultural affiliation. Queer Embodiment resists docility, fights against it tooth-and-nail. In Queer politics, “Silence = Death” and in queer dharma, “Silence = Erasure.”