Trans Desire by Micha Cárdenas

Zach Blas | Duke University

Cárdenas, Micha. Trans Desire. Cárdenas, Micha and Barbara Fornssler. Trans Desire / Affective Cyborgs. New York: Atropos Press, 2010. 150 pages; $16.95 paper; CH$12.00.

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In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze describes the world as Nietzsche posits it, as “neither true nor real but living” (1962, 184). In this world of the living, life gains value—not truth—by being evaluated and interpreted. These actions suggest we frame the living in a particular way to return certain values and sensations. Framing, in this sense, is an act of creation that is political: to frame is to create new values, generate new experiments, and produce new possibilities.


Micha Cárdenas’ Trans Desire frames desire as the basis for a radical collective politics that is queer, feminist, and anti-capitalist. Building from a Lacanian notion of desire, Cárdenas reveals desire itself to be ontologically trans, that is, desire as in-between, liminal, becoming, and in process. Framing desire as trans allows Cárdenas to formulate a desire which contests standards, rigidities, and binaries of all kinds. This desire is a transcendental empiricism, always extending beyond the known to materially make the world and us anew. In Trans Desire, Cárdenas offers us nothing less than a practical theory of desire that creates livable, affirmative worlds that resist the violence of capitalism and heteronormativity.

Trans Desire is a game of seduction rather than a mastery of discourse. Cárdenas wants to attract her readers, so her frame seduces. Her book is less about getting a certain theoretical argument right or articulating a carefully plotted path rather than an incitement to desire. Cárdenas even suggests that language is always a “misfire,” (11) identifying her task as creatively generating resonances with others. This book is a call to desire, to the promise of desire as a powerful, erotic politics of resistance.

Trans Desire resonates wildly. Throughout, the text flip-flops between Deleuzian materialism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, but perhaps more profoundly, the text puts itself into relation with several praxis genealogies: the feminist philosophy-in-action of Shannon Bell, Colectivo Situaciones’ militant research, and the radical autonomous gestures of the Zapatistas. The book also resounds with current queer theoretical writings, like those of José Muñoz, that move away from the anti-social frameworks of Lee Edelman and Leo Bersani, and towards new relational structures. Cárdenas works heavily from Michael Warner’s claim that queerness is a world-making project. For her, the abilities of desire to build worlds are acts of biopolitical resistance. This is expounded upon in a discussion of Sharing is Sexy, a collective project that Cárdenas participated in to create and share queer porn through a Creative Commons license.

While Foucault taught us some time ago that sex and sexuality are entangled within biopolitics, contemporary biopolitical thinkers like Agamben, Hardt and Negri, and Esposito engage the biopolitical without directly addressing sexual desire. In the wake of these works, Sharing is Sexy might seem to miss the biopolitical question: how does queer porn resist institutional structures that manage life and death? Yet Sharing is Sexy insists it is just that, an alternative managing of queer bodies and sexuality through desire. Biopolitical resistance here insists that blockings of erotic desire are deaths and that the circulation of new kinds of political erotics are openings to the living.

We could critique Trans Desire on many theoretical quibbles: Does a Lacanian notion of desire connect to a biopolitical resistance of our cells, as Cárdenas desires? Does theoretical promiscuity cause this game of seduction to reify into a failed attempt at mastery? These questions seem to miss Cárdenas’ point. We have been offered an unknowable material conception of desire that is of the body and beyond, and Cárdenas urges us to ethically experiment with this. Thus, when she asks the question “what is to be done” (27) for radical resistant practices, the question she inadvertently asks is “how is it to be done?”

Trans Desire is a re-iterating “how,” an art of doing. Cárdenas hints at this when she writes that “the concept of a politics of desire is incomplete-able” (69). If we cannot know the “what” of desire, then we can experiment with the “how” of desire. We do this through praxis, pedagogy, and framing. It is a question of creation, style, and aesthetics. Through the “how,” not through the “what,” we move from individual desires to the worldly desires of collectivity. Trans Desire performs this quite seductively.


Zach Blas is an artist and writer working at the intersections of networked media, queerness, and the political. His current project, Queer Technologies, is an organization that develops applications and situations for queer intervention and social formation. Zach is a PhD student in The Literature Program at Duke University. He received his MFA from the Design | Media Arts Department at UCLA in 2008.    For more information visit www.zachblas.info.


Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles. 1962. Nietzsche and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.