Academic Alert! Michael Cobb’s “Lonely” June 24, 2009Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Academic Alert!, Essay review, Food for Thought, Reviews, single and happy, Singles Resource, We like. . ..
Tags: couples and terror, hannah arendt, loneliness my ass, michael cobb, queer theory, singles and sex, south atlantic quarterly, the origins of totatitarianism
We here at Onely–as well as our Copious Readership– have always known that society’s obsession with coupling is “toxic” and a form of “terrorism”. But now we’ve found an established literary theorist who has expressed this idea using those very words, albeit articulated in academic language.
As most of our regular readers know, I am currently working on a Ph.D. in a Rhetoric and Composition. This summer, one of my major tasks is to compose proposals and reading lists for two of the three exams I will take in the fall. One of my exams will focus on feminist and queer theory — and as I was doing research for the reading list last week, I came across an article in the South Atlantic Quarterly called “Lonely,” written by Michael Cobb. Cobb, who specializes in queer and critical theory, is interested, as the title indicates, in the effects of American culture’s stigmatization of singles.
So, I thought I’d share some of Cobb’s finer points (my apologies to Cobb for not raising ALL of his fine points — limitations of time, space, and audience attention prevail):
As I mentioned above, Cobb is interested, first, in how (or if) singles might fit into queer theory. Here’s how he puts it:
Not too long ago, at a queer conference, I toyed with the notion of attaching the letter S to the LGBTQ acronym (LGBTQS) so I could affiliate those who are “single” with the ever-elongating list of nonmajority sexualities. I was hoping to provoke serious reflection on why “relationships” and “coupledom” were often the most important objects of my fields of study. I wanted to inquire why there was always the demand to be oriented toward sustained, intimate relationships, especially since the single felt (and still feels) like one of the most despised sexual minority positions one could be (446).
Cobb then relates the reactions of his audience at the conference, noticing especially how hung up on “sex” their responses tend to be. So, he wonders, what would it mean to get rid of the sex issue/angle altogether?
I want to suspend questions of sex and sexuality altogether, at least for a few moments, to start asking other questions about what it means to be alone, to be in solitude, and whether or not that is now permitted when the world wants people to feel desperate, lonely, and ready for toxic forms of sociality (447).
These “toxic forms of sociality,” Cobbs goes on to argue, may make humans more vulnerable to oppressive cultural and legal structures. Using Hannah Arendt‘s The Origins of Totalitarianism to ground his argument, here’s how he explains it:
But, and here’s the strange twist my work after sex has taken, this “being together” is one of the primary totalitarian logics that accelerate the feelings of alienation and dislocation. The loneliest of us are not necessarily those who are actually alone but rather those of us trying our hardest not to be alone (449).
For the remainder of the article, Cobb considers the following questions: To what extent does culture’s obsession with loneliness have to do with social alienation? How does culture’s perpetuation of the ideology of the couple — “the logical leap away from loneliness” — work, in some senses, to “terrorize” us and lead to further isolation/alienation?
So, Copious Readers, how might you answer the above questions?
PS: If you’re wondering how queer theory fits into what we’re doing here at Onely, check out our “About Onely” page and also our definition of “heteronormative” (a term made popular in feminist and [later] queer theory by Adrienne Rich).