A Mouse Hole: Ramblings on Liberalism with and Without Guillaume Dustan
The following text appeared in the first print issue of TROU NOIR magazine, May 2022.
TROU NOIR magazine has set itself the task of bringing together scattered fragments dealing with the forces of desire and how they work on bodies, ideas and sexualities. Not a new grand theory, but a constellation of differences capable of contributing to the emergence of an emancipatory politics.
A Mouse Hole: Ramblings on Liberalism with and Without Guillaume Dustan by Olivier Cheval
Translation: Tatiana Besser
Fortwomonths,Ihadamouseinmyhouse.Atfirst,itwasduringthenight.Icouldhearitsmovements consisting oftinyaccelerations.Tutpshhhhhhhhhhhhhhut tut. Starting, a frantic run, sudden halt in a quiet, reassuringcorner.Then it happened during theday.I was on my couch, on my computer - just an ordinary day of this winter that we cannot seem to get out of lockdown. She appeared out of nowhereonthespottedcarpetofthelivingroom.Hersoftnessabsorbedthesoundoffootsteps.When the unconscious perceptions on the edge ofmyfield of vision detected movement,myhead turnedinstantly.She abruptly stopped, and the axis of her head on her neck made the same kind of ultra-fast rotation. Ourgazesmet, and we recognized eachother.Wereacted in the sameway:there was an intruderinthisapartmentthatwethoughtwehadsolepossessionof.Shewenttohideinthekitchen. A littlelater,I found her in a bowl placed on theshelf.Once again, we saw eachother,and once again, we panicked. In the suddenterror,she could not climb back up. I thought it was an opportunity. All I had to do was grab the bowl and toss it out thewindow.But I was afraid she would climb onto me.Touchme. The idea of contact with her was forbidden. I could not bring myselftograb the bowl. So, I poured water into a glass to create a small lake at the bottom of the bowl, where she would swim without being abletoescape. There, certain of her defeat, I would gathermycourage andmakeher soar from the firstfloor.She had every chance of survival; I would act withmercy,determination, and responsibility. The only risk was watering a neighboror,worse, landing a mouse on someone’s head. I fully accepted that risk. But by the time I had thought these things, I had only transferred a glass ofwater,mylakewas just a puddle, the mouse had regained composure, she had escaped her plastic prison,andbeforeIcouldevenscream,shehadfoundrefugeunderthewhitecabinetbeneathmysink.
I wrotetothe agency that handles the rental ofmyapartment, I called, followed up, but it was like talking into thinair.They dragged their feet, and then one day a worker cametoinstall strips against the baseboards inmybedroomtoprevent mice from entering. Strangely enough, it was the same guy who had come a year earliertofix the damage caused bymymacerator.He must have been a clogger andunclogger,a manager of flows in all directions. He told me,’Watchoutforyour parquetfloor.If youcanslideatwenty-centcointhroughthegapsomewhere,thenthemousecanpassthrough.’That sameevening,shemadeherusualracketagain.Eithershecouldstillcomeuptotheapartment,orshe was trapped here with me. In case the first option was correct, I sealed offanyspaces larger than half a centimeter between the worn-out floorboards of my bedroom with cotton soaked in peppermint essentialoil.Theysupposedlyhatethesmell.Ithadneversmelledsogoodinmyapartment.Butitwas notenough;shestilllingeredinthecorner.Oneafternoon,myfriendJeangavemeatraphehadmade. It works with an Orangina bottle and a small wooden latch that locks it once the mouse enters.Wewent through a whole bottle at his place, while admiring his latest paintings. It was festive, and then I broughtthetraphome.Iputcheeseinit.Themousewasthere,livinginmykitchen,leavingdroppings behind the cabinets, but she would not enter the trap. The trap that wouldhaveallowed me to send her offtolive a little further from Passage. So, running out of patience, afewdays ago, I bought a traditional mousetrap.Twohourslater,her lifeless body lay there, her hind legs dangling. I put her in anemptyplasticbag,herprivateburial,andtookherdowntothetrashroom.Inolongerhadamouse, but for the past tendays,I had been reading the second volume of Guillaume Dustan’s CompleteWorks.Yet,mymindwasstillnotatease.Ihadbeenwaitingforitforalongtime.Sincethepublication ofthefirstvolume,actually,in2013.IamnotquitesurewhyIhadbeenwaitinglikethat.Idonotreally like his books; I am a communist. But I want to read them, I must do it. I would feel like I am missing out on valuable information about the era if I do not. And now the book was being released,atthis fateful moment. A month aftermytext about orgies – I did not write itlikethat, but quickly it had become this, a text about orgies – whereforthe first time, people read it, whereforthe first time, peoplewrotetome,friends,strangers,orgy-goers,tothankmeorinsultme,intheend,Icouldnottell
thedifferenceanymore.Twoweeksafterthemetoogaythatposedsomanyquestionstowhichnobody claimedto haveanswers. And at the end of this grim winter of 2021, approaching the anniversary of the first lockdown,ata time when one health crisis followedanother,where the question of masks replaced that of condoms. That is what struck me first. Dustan writes from a distant era. The turning point of the 1990s-2000s. A time when Le Marais was the center ofgaylife in Paris, when ecstasy was thegaydrug. A time withoutGrindr,where the internet was still in itsinfancy.A time withoutPrEP,wherewewerestilldyingmassivelyfromAIDS.Atime,ourtimestill,butwiththetaintedfreshnessof definitive beginnings. There is something touching in seeing Dustan, with his relentless youthfulness, his futuristic progressivism, his desiretoconfront the sharpest edge of the present, being somewhat surpassed by what has outlasted him. He paved theway.That it has been followed beyond his expectationsmakeshimstrangelycloseanddistant–italmostgivesrisetosomethingromantic,likein thoselongpageswhereherecountsweeksofresearchandnegotiationtoorganizeanorgythatGrindr wouldhaveallowedhimtodowithinanhour.Dustanwasapioneer,aprecursor.Butwhatpathdidhe open?
In Guillaume Dustan’s literature, on one side, there is the world, entirely coded: a world of commodities, fetishes, brands, logos, proper names, a world of numbers, measurements, objective physical value, signs of recognition, belonging,’gayhair length,’ ’hung black tops,’ ’passive mini- muscle guys’ - we’re all prototypes - a world of tribes, micro-societies, a world marked by porn, television,andtechnology,aworldwhereexistencemeansexistinginthemedia,whereonlythewriter who appears on TV is considered a writer -Beigbeder,Angot, Houellebecq,Rey,his friends - where everything onlymakessense if filtered through television discourse or the abbreviation of the hookup network’s internet slang, where it’s only worth mentioning if it has already become a code name. The world of clones, as he says. On the other side, there is thebody,narrated as the endless sequence of physical sensations, the flow of humors, the expulsion of waste, the exploration of organs, the drug’s high, the come-down, the awakening, theshower,the pee, the poop, the excitement, the dance, the cocaine-fueledenergy,the amphetamine-fueledenergy,the ecstasy-fueledenergy,the relaxation under marijuana, the dilation of fisting, etc. And between the immateriality of the code and therawmaterialityofsensation,thereisnothing:noimaginaryescaperoute,nosymbolicgroundtoconstruct a narrative, an adventure. It is a literature without childhood, Dustan’s. Without nature, withouthistory,andwithoutgeography,withoutadistantpast,withoutanywhereelse,aliteraturewithouttheother.Just an eternal and selfish present, stretchedlikean already fully coded loop, only punctuated bytherepetitionofphysicalsensationsofabsorptionandrejection,ofascentanddescent,oflack and fullness. A flat world. Thegrayplanet.
Dustan had already described in detail his days and nights in the first three novels, the sex and drugs, the partying and solitude. I never believed he did it innocently. For thesakeof literarybeauty,forexample. Renaud Camus had described the scenes better than him in’Tricks’- Dustan himself is the firsttoadmitit.Whenreading’NicolasPages’and’GénieDivin’-thethirdbookpublishedhere,LXiR, is illegible - everything became cleartome. Dustan’s work was entirely ideological. In the firsttrilogy,itwasaboutmarketingawayoflife.Notdescribingit,notnarratingit,notcapturingit,notsublimating it, not questioning it: selling it. The second volume launched an attack, vigorously defending, through smalldissertationsandlengthyinterviews,thepoliticalidealthataccompaniesit.Theliberal-libertarian ideal, which could also be called anarcho-capitalism orlibertarianism
That’s whatkeptme going during those ten strangedaysof extreme cold, locked up at home, reading Dustan while preparingtoconfront the unstoppable mouse. That idea. That Dustan reveals liberalism initsrawestform.Usually,liberalsareontherightanddisguisetheirliberalismwithbourgeoismorality,using patriotic sentiment and family values. Or theyareon the left and disguise their liberalismunder
thehumanistictrappingsofthecosmopolitanglobalfamilyandtheprogressofhumanity.Dustandoes not give a damn. He is completely liberal, without any other value than liberalism, withoutanypretense. He is nothing but liberal. Which means... He is entirely individualistic: the only morality is individual responsibility. He is entirely hedonistic: the only value is bodily pleasure. He is entirely progressive: there are no limitstobe placed on technological progress. He is entirely presentist: the past is a sorry sight. He is entirely technocratic: there is no sphere of life that should beexemptfrom technology. He is entirely capitalist: competition is the only conceivable and desirable mode of existence for human plurality in everydomain.
WilliamBaranèswasbornintotheParisianupperbourgeoisie.Hehadabrillianteducation,leadinghim fromwinningtheFirstPrizeinLiteratureattheConcoursGénéraltostudyingattheNationalSchoolof Administration(ENA).HepursuedacareerasanadministrativejudgeandmagistrateinVersaillesand later inTahiti.Dustan, who hides nothing, says as little as possible about this. He would not wanttospeak on behalf of a class or from a position of knowledge. When he theorizes, he does socasually,as if it were nothing. In passing, with a hint of provocationto keepus uncertain of his seriousness.However,he does touch on the philosophical origins of his liberalism: Adam Smith and individual responsibility,RenéDescartesandcompletemasteryofnature.Anothertime,herecommendsreading Jacques Attali.
Sex? It is not primarily about desire,intimacy,recognition, tenderness,fantasy,or choice. It is a set of bodily techniques thatforma skill set. Just as each individual can be assigned a physical rating, one’s sexual technicality is measurable. The combination of these two ratings determines an overall, unbeatablescore,whichestablishesone’spositionintheultra-competitivemarketoflovers.Thisisnot tocomplainaboutit;itisaboutoptimizingone’sphysicalratingthroughsportsandone’ssexualrating through practice. The republic of sex is ameritocracy.
Technique?It is entirely positive, withoutanyreservations. Eugenics is the brightest prospectforthe humanspecies.Itmayseemlikejustanotherprovocationatfirst,butitreturnsobsessively,persistently,ten,fifteentimesin’NicolasPages’:theuglyandsmall-endowedmustbeeliminatedfromthefaceof theEarth.Forus.Forthem.Sincethereisonlyacompetitivesexmarketwhereeveryonemanagestheir capital, and since the only value of human existence is pleasure, the life of an ugly person with inadequate genitalia is the cursed part of progress. It must beeliminated.
Individualism? Amorality.Awayof life. A legal foundation. There are no limits to individual responsibility;eachpersonisfullyresponsibleforthemselves.IhavecontrolovermybodyasIdoover myproperty,and if I askyouto mutilate me, you should not be judgedforthat mutilation; if I ask you to kill me, you should not be judged for thatmurder.
Consumerism? Purejoy.The realexerciseof freedom. Sexual consumption is just a part of it. There is an almost touching phrase of naivety where Dustan speaks of his happiness in shopping at a supermarket,choosinghisproducts,beingthetyrannicalmasterofhisplasticbasket,placinginitonly what he wants and nothing else, exercising his absolute freedom. (It is worth noting that he is in the Prisu supermarket in Le Marais, and the absoluteness of this freedom is indexed to his magistratesalary.)
The State? The public sector should be abolished, a collection of lazy individuals made mean by the system. All drugs should be legalized. Children should be educated in sexual techniques and drug use. Otherwise, the State should be kept to a minimum. Prioritize free competition, encourage entrepreneurship. In California, you can already go to work without wearing a tie. Dressed as you please. True freedom. It will come from Silicon Valley start-ups.
Of course, by getting rid of the values of the right or the left, where it is usually anchored, Dustan’s liberalism is not purely given. It is because Dustan has wrapped his liberalism in the rainbow flag to establish another grand heroic narrative, that ofgayliberation. That is where things get complicated. Slouched in myarmchair,with the heating on full blast to counter the -5 degrees outside, I was telling the mouse that was scurrying aroundto staycalm.Toavoid getting lynched on social media, proceed methodically.Letusbegin.Thepreviousgeneration,theoneofFHARandHocquenghem,hadtiedtheir activistactivismtotherevolutionaryenergyofthepost-’68era:revolutionwaspossible,anditshould include minority struggles. But above all, to avoid falling backintothe trap of Soviet authoritarianism, this revolutionary utopia had to be made insane. It was not just about including queers among the populationstobeliberated;itwastheresponsibilityofqueerstoaltertheverymeaningofrevolution. It was not just a community struggle in anticipation of the upcoming revolution,tobe well served by it; it was a struggle over the very essence of that revolution, about the good it would bring, about the formitwouldtake.Queershadtheirplace,amidsttheanarchists,thesituationists,theDeleuzians,the Maoists, the feminists, so that the revolution could emancipate desire and beautifylife
Then came the 1980s. The left inpower,its turnaround. The distancing from the specter of revolution inatwilightpast.AndAIDS.WhenDustanbeginstowrite,revolutionisnolongerevenonthehorizon. The organization of survival has replaced the libertarian impulseforthe past ten years.Yetit is with thisimpulsethatDustanwantstoreconnect,despitetheillness.Thelibertarianwithouttherevolution. Freedomwithoutequalityandcare.Communityactivismthenentersintoabsolutesecessionfromthe rest of political activism: there is no longer a global revolutiontopush towards our utopia. There aregayrightstoclaimandawayoflifetodefend.Dustansaysitplainly:hedoesnotwanttobebothered. Thatishispoliticalmorality.Andtoavoidbeingbothered,itwouldbenecessarytostopjudginghiswayof life, which primarily includes sexual consumerism and drug addiction. It would require both a hedonistic shift in the rest of society—this is the only dialectic that insinuatesitself,sliding the other towards oneself—and an absolute liberalization where the individual reigns supreme over oneself, so that everyonestopscoveting theirneighbor.But how can this be achieved without resulting in total indifference towards others? This is where Dustan’s utopia opens and closes. The individual is master ofoneself.In Descartes’ motto, man as master and possessor of nature, Dustan replaces nature with: hisbody.Theindividualislikemasterandpossessoroftheirbody.Theyaretheirowncreators,without roots,withoutpositivegiven.Gaysarenolongerdisorderlycreatures;theyaretheirowncreators.But elsewhere Dustan says:weare clones. He never acknowledges theparadoxthat silently runs through thetrilogy.Gayshaveabsolute freedomtocreate themselves, and yet they all shape themselves accordingtothesamemodel.Thefreedomofclones.ItisbecauseDustanreducesfreedomtofreewill and embraces all determinisms with the enthusiasm of a multi-addict. It is clear that he triestofind awayout:bycallinghimselfqueerhereandthereinsteadofgay,orbyattemptinganescapehedoesn’t yet fully understand. But most of the time, he is categorical: either you aregay,or you are a traitor to yourcommunity.Thereisnonon-heterosexualexternalitytotheghetto.Youareentirelyfree,butyour freedom istoclone yourself according to a predeterminedmodel.
ThereisasentencewhereDustan’spoliticalharmlessnesssuddenlyshoneinmyear.Asentenceahead of its time. He denounces the ills of society: it is racist, misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic. And classist. It is this word, which wasn’t yet widely used at the time, that caughtmyattention. Theboywhowouldliketofireallcivilservantsandwhobelievesonlyinpersonalmerit,thewealthybourgeois fromLeMaraiswhoindulgesinsmalldosesoffreedominthePrisu,isthesamepersonwhodenounces the classism ofsociety.It is the depoliticizing operation par excellence, onefromwhich we have not yet emerged. The one that the mainstreamradicality,from PreciadotoDespentes, by making Dustan their hero, has not yetescaped.
This word, classism,refersto the idea that class is the object of discrimination. What is serious is not the existence of a classsociety,in which the working classes are economically dominated by the bourgeoisclasses.No.Whatisseriousisnotthecapitalistsystemthatreproducesthisclassdomination from generation to generation. No. What is serious is the discriminatory value judgment against anythingassociatedwithaparticular,naturalbelonging.Someoneispoor,justassomeoneisawoman. It happens.Wejust should notmakefun of them toomuch.
Bypresentingtheliberalsituationasanewstateofnature,whereindividualscoexistwiththeirmultiple individualizingaffiliations,weendupflatteningpoliticsthroughmorality:demandingtoleranceinstead of wishing for equality, seeking equal consideration instead of demanding substantive equality. The poor are discriminated against among others at the entrance to nightclubs.Wehave not yet emerged from thisimpasse.
I have not said everything I wantedtosay yet.Toobad, it istoolong. I would have liked to talk about Dustan’s passion for Duras. Our passion. For the same Duras. Not the one from The Sea Wall or ModeratoCantabile.No,theoldlittleDurasofthe1980s,theonefromPracticalitiesandOutside,fromThe Whore of the Normandy Coast and PetitGregory.Dustansaysit in several places: breaking with the previous generation meant breaking with the literary spirit of May ’68. He writes in defiance of literaryhistory,writing with techno and television.However,in the 1980s, Durasbrokeawayfrom something like that: from literary communism that connected hertoBataille, Blanchot, Des Forêts, Mascolo,andAntelme,toventureintosolitaryandanarchic,sublime,andslipperyterritories.Sheeven wentasfarastocallherselfReaganian,supportingtheinitialAmericanattacksintheMiddleEast.Itis asifDustanlovedonlythat,thetragicirresponsibilityofthelaterDuras.AndyetSummerRain,withits brothersandsistersfromVitry-sur-Seine,isthelastgreatcommunistnovelinFrenchliterature.
I would have likedtotalk about Guiraudie, the anti-Dustan, his antidote. The filmmaker of the Grands Causses against the writer from Le Marais. The communist of desire against the liberal of pleasure. Guiraudie, the artist who reminded us that every desire isarbitrary,unique, and sovereign: when a young guy looksatan old pot-bellied man, when he desires him, there is no objective note, no competitivesystem;there are two bodies, and between them, the imaginative and amorous space of desire. The artist who reminded us that between lovers, it is not technique that matters first, but friendship, tenderness,joy,desire, imagination,history, geography,politics: camaraderie. That sex could come out of the shadows of the bedroom or the backroom, that it could also be experienced in theopenair,inthecountryside,bytheedgeofalake,inacruisingspot:thatsexualjoyalsocarriedthe beauty of the world, opening it up to newexcesses.
I wouldhave liked totalk aboutmetoogay,about those strange pages where Dustan complainstohis roommateaboutbeingrapedthreetimesinoneweekend,aboutthebrutalityofhispartners’desires, thedifficultyofreactingwhilehigh,andtheimmensecasualnesswithwhichheironicallyusestheterm ’rape,’ a sign of the times. I would haveliked todiscuss the indecency of certain feminists who would saytousonsocialmedia,’Youtooarevictimsofhetero-patriarchalviolence,’whenitmostlyinvolved violence betweengaymen, violence inherent in contemporary forms ofgay sexuality,collisions of meanings, feelings, interpretations that arise from the coexistence of differentsexualcultures within malehomosexuality.It involves questioning the meaning that a sexual act can have depending on contexts, situations, individuals – a hand on the ass in a club, a hand on the crotch in a sauna, the possibility of discussing consent when drugs are involved, when participating in a chemsexparty,the ultra-liberal voracity of dating apps that dehumanize interactions, the infinitesimal and infinite difference between a failed encounter and abuse, all those timeswehad sex without desireforsocial convenience, unableto sayno because the other person had made the effort, all those complicated negotiationswithdesire,absenceofdesire,theeaseofthesexualact,itsdisinvestmentthrough
intimacy,its investment through performance.Metoogayis not an easy thing to understand, to untangle,andIwouldhavelikedtobeabletodiscussit,especiallysincenobodyreallywantsto,exceptto kindly say that speaking out isgreat.
I had never really been interested in the barebacking issue or thecontroversybetween Act-Up and Dustan untiltoday.I had no opinion. I am a simpleguy,born in 1988, who started having a sexuallifein2005,theyearDustandied,whenantiretroviraltherapywasstillnew,whenunprotectedsexwasstill controversial,whenonebegantheirgaysexualityinfearofadiseasethatwasinseparablyintertwined withtheguiltofone’spleasure.Ihavealwaysusedcondoms,ithasneverbotheredmemorethanthat, I have never considered takingPrEP.The further Istay awayfrom doctors, medicalexams,and health centers,thebetterIfeel,evenifitdrasticallylimitsmychoiceofsexualpartnersinthelongrun.
But after a year of enduring the vertical power of the state falling upon each one of us in the name of the precautionary principle, and of a solidarity duty that it disregards in all other realms of its reign; after witnessing everyone’s fear of one another and the transformation of some under the impulse of self-preservation;afterrealizingtheimpossibilityofdistinguishingahealthmeasurefromadisciplinary measure,aswellastheacceptanceofthesemeasuresbysomefromaloveofrulesandtheirindefinite proliferation; after living in a state of health emergencyforalmost ayear,I understood Dustan. I understood the urge that told him to enjoy without constraints the little time he had left to live. I understood the community of barebackers as the last space,forhim, of a literary communism that he had otherwise fled from all sides. I understood it as I understand the position of Act-Up and Lestrade, the utopia of care within a community byitself.Tounderstand them both means that it must have enteredhistory.Perhaps that is it, the coronavirus has brought AIDS intohistory.
Of course, Dustan’s position was also the ultimate consequence of his ultra-liberalism, the absolutizationofanethicsofindividualresponsibility.AndIcanseethatmyanarchistimpulsesagainst the management of the health crisis border on those of liberals, ofTrumpistsorwhoever.Buttoday,this is where we are. Amidst many antagonistic positions, amidst manymistakesnot to be repeated, amidst many dead endsnottoventureinto,there is little space. Betweenmyrefusaltobeg thestateforrightsandanevenmoreabsoluteindividualismthanDustan’s,onethatwouldnolongerrecognize itself inanycommunity—even the community of those who have no community—there is not much space.Betweenmycommuniststancethatcondemnslibertarianliberalismandareactionarymoralism thatcondemnsthedecadenceofthetimes,thereisnotmuchspace.Betweenmyrejectionofminority morals as the sole political horizon and blind adherence to republican universalism, there is not much space. In this absence of space, I believe we are condemned unless we wanttocontinue wearing big, self-assured boots. That is how it isnow.I try to inhabit these mouseholes where a twenty-cent coin can slip through. I trytobe as flexible asmyformer roommatetosqueeze between one crudely ideological plank andanother,and thus hopetosee whatmaylie elsewhere, in the black and secret lining of this place I call theworld.
28 FÉVRIER 2021
« Le sexe ? Ce n’est pas essentiellement une question de désir, d’intimité, de reconnaissance, de tendresse, de fantasme, d’élection, c’est un ensemble de techniques corporelles qui fondent un savoir-faire. »
par Olivier Cheval